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March 29th, 2015

Thou Shalt Not Tell The Mirror Lies

This came across my Facebook stream this morning…one of many stories about the so-called Religious Freedom bill the governor of Indiana signed into law the other day…

Swarens: Gov. Mike Pence to push for clarification of ‘religious freedom’ law

Gov. Mike Pence, scorched by a fast-spreading political firestorm, told The Star on Saturday that he will support the introduction of legislation to “clarify” that Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not promote discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Pull the other one. I’ve seen apologists spinning criticism of the Indiana law as some kind of militant gay hysterics, that the law has nothing whatever to do with discrimination against gay citizens, it’s just about preventing government from forcing The Devout to violate their Sincerely Held Religious Beliefs.  We all believe that people should be free to practice their faith don’t we?  But in Georgia a similar law was amended to make it clear that it wasn’t a license to discriminate and rather than pass it with that amendment they withdrew it. And in Oklahoma when a legislator proposed that businesses wanting protection under that law had to post signs alerting customers they would not serve anyone if it violated their religious beliefs, that law was also withdrawn.

Laws like these aren’t actually originating in the various state legislatures. The new thing is to first cook up a law in a right wing legislative think tank like ALEC and then pass it around to friendly state representatives. If you want to know the purpose of these ersatz religious freedom laws, ask the folks pushing them on the states…

Bryan Fischer (@BryanJFischer): “Dear Indiana legislators: any legislation “clarifying” RFRA will be abject surrender to the homosexual agenda. Don’t do it.”

I’m sure part of the song and dance now is Don’t Say The G-Word during hearings on the law. But there’s plenty of talk about what the purpose is elsewhere and if you doubt the actual legislative purpose take another look at what happened in Georgia when they added the clarity that Pence claims now to be seeking.  Or take a look at this image from GLADD…

gladd_indiana

There will be no clarification forthcoming, Pence knows it, this is just wash, wash, washing his hands before the angry multitudes.  What?  What?  I asked the legislature for Clarification…they did not provide any…so don’t blame me!

Some of you may recall a lot of this started when a same sex couple wanted a wedding cake and the bakery refused, citing their Sincerely Held Religious Beliefs. There have been several more cases like that, but in the one case I’m thinking of, I think it was the Colorado bakery, what hasn’t gotten as much press was a local radio station had various people go to that same bakery and ask them to bake cakes for divorces, out of wedlock births, heterosexual couples shacking up but not getting married, and so on…and they were perfectly willing to bake those cakes. Just not the one for the gay couple. I don’t think that even qualifies as Sunday Morning Christianity.

The ninth commandment is you don’t tell lies about your neighbors. There needs to be one for telling lies about yourself. Because, really, that’s where soul rot begins. All this yap, yap, yapping now about how everyone is completely misinterpreting Indiana’s law would be hilarious on The Daily Show but it’s pathetic to watch people really saying these things with a straight face. Anyone saying this law has nothing to do with nullifying the effect if not the reality of same-sex marriage needs to go look in a mirror and ask that poor lost soul staring back at them which is worse: repeating a lie because you don’t want people to know the truth, or repeating it because you don’t want to know the truth.


Posted In: Politics
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
March 26th, 2015

Message In A Bottle

Yes, you got an F-Bomb out of me.  It was that “you think I deserve all this” crap.  I was so flustered I couldn’t muster the words I needed just then. Well it made you smile anyway.

Firstly, you have a pretty good job, considering what might otherwise be. Ask someone who works at some other chain restaurant how good they’ve got it. You work for a big company that gets lots of traffic into its eateries and if cheerful friendly hard working and handsome you isn’t getting way better than average tips I’m surprised.

And as for what I think you deserve…damn you…you know how I feel. You saw the look on my face. Don’t you Know?  I’ve always wished you the best, and all the happiness and contentment life could provide. Regardless of anything you could ever give back to me. It isn’t a transaction.

If you told me to go away I would still wish you that. Always.

…and I’d just keep tossing these little messages in a bottle out here, like I did for decades before I found you again. Except now you’ll know they’re here. It isn’t a transaction.


Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | React! (2)
March 24th, 2015

Comfort Zone

I respect your comfort zone. However, don’t be reducing anyone to “acquaintance” status that you ever did a mock strip tease for in the cafeteria during an SGA meeting where nobody else but me could see it. You’re better than that.  

SGA-Minutes
From the minutes of the October 1971 SGA Meeting…

And yes, you’re Still really good at flustering me. But that was classic.


Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
March 12th, 2015

The End Of The Natural Law Excuse

This New York Times article came across my Facebook stream this morning. It’s well worth reading…

Unraveling the Church Ban on Gay Sex

Last month, Salvatore Cordileone, the archbishop of San Francisco, made controversial changes to a handbook for Catholic high school teachers in his jurisdiction. The changes included morals clauses, one of which forbids those teachers from publicly endorsing homosexual behavior. There are plausible legal and educational objections to this move. But there is a deeper issue, one that raises fundamental questions about Catholic teachings on homosexuality and other sexual matters.

Those fundamental teachings being the notion that the Catholic hierarchy can justify its dogmas about morality not merely with an appeal to supernatural authority but so-called Natural Law reasoning. The deep thinkers of this Natural Law tradition assert that morality flows…naturally…from that which makes us human and that homosexual acts can be rightly condemned simply on the basis of careful reasoning about what behavior nurtures our humanity and what behavior degrades it.

But can you can see the problem here? An understanding of what it is that makes us human is at best a work in progress. But it can also be a dandy rhetorical sleight of hand for presenting one’s bar stool opinions about human nature as settled fact when they are anything but.  And that is how it usually works with the deep thinkers of Natural Law, such as NOM co-founder Robert George, who use it as an excuse to cull gay people out of the human family. Homosexual acts are contrary to Natural Law, so the deep thinking goes, because they run counter to what makes us human, and that makes them morally objectionable and also not coincidentally a grave sin.  See? Religious dogma and science properly understood agree!

The problem as the article points out, is that a good faith search for understanding of what makes us human would seem to support not object to homosexual behavior.  But good faith is hard to come by in the Natural Law crowd, and their objections to homosexual relationships have two fatal flaws.  Gay folk if not always straight people usually see the first problem with it right away in the relentless focus on homosexual Acts.  As the article points out…

The courageous uncloseting of many homosexuals has revealed them as people like most everyone else, searching for and sometimes achieving a fulfilling human life through rich and complex relationships.

It’s our visibility that’s moved our struggle for equality forward. I’ve said this repeatedly: proving that we do not choose our sexual orientation, while it addresses many issues, does not get to the heart of it. Which is…the heart. Homophobia’s central immovable dogma is Homosexuals Don’t Love, They Just Have Sex. You see it running throughout the so-called Natural Law rhetoric this article discusses.  It’s always the Acts.  The heart is never considered.  It was easy once upon a time, before Stonewall, when the persecution of gay people was so relentless most gay folk stayed tightly inside the closet, to reduce our lives to the sex we have. But those days are over. The closet door has opened. And as we live our lives out in the open we are seen as every bit as human in our desires and needs as our heterosexual neighbors. That alone does the Natural Law Excuse irreparable damage.

“The natural-law argument might make some sense to those who see homosexuals as dominated by an obsessive desire for pleasure, to which they subordinate any notion of fidelity or integrity.” That is its only recourse, against which the argument that same sex sex is fundamentally sterile because it cannot lead to reproduction, but which excuses opposite sex couples who cannot naturally bear their own children is seen as hypocrisy.  There is the second fatal problem.  As the article notes, “Just trying to formulate the argument shows how strained it is.” Well…yes.  It’s strained just like every hypocritically dishonest excuse for hurting your neighbor is strained.

The fact that heterosexual couples can still love and desire each other wholeheartedly and live lives together deeply devoted to one another, absent an ability to bear children, proves the power of love over biology, which pulls the rug out from under the Natural Law dogma. And it Is dogma, because the central premise about what it is that makes us human are ultimately and irreducibly matters of religious dogma.  And the transparently bogus attempt to rationalize discrimination against same-sex couples but not sterile opposite sex ones anyway proves the intent here is not some sort of search for truth, but an excuse to hate: a little bowl of water to wash, wash, wash their hands before the multitudes of the harm they’ve done to innocent people in love. We were only doing what we thought was moral and right. No.  No you weren’t.

This is Exactly why bigots like Salvatore Cordileone and his kinfolk in the anti-gay industrial complex want so badly to shove gay people back into the closet, and silence our heterosexual friends and family. The lie that sex between same sex couples is innately selfish and sterile, that Homosexuals Don’t Love, They Just Have Sex, dies the instant people can see our lives and our humanity for themselves. It becomes obvious we share the same human heart the rest of humanity does.

And then the question becomes, what kind of person wants to persecute someone for being in love…

 


Posted In: Politics Thumping My Pulpit
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
March 7th, 2015

Your Evidence Does Not Reach The Conclusion You Think It Does

You know that feeling when you start reading something and your almost instantaneous reaction just a sentence or two in is, Er…no…?  Yeah.  That.  Just now.

Before I get into it let me say once again and for the record that my own atheism isn’t a reaction to the idea of religion or to any one particular religion or my experiences being raised as a Baptist or the crappy way fundamentalist Christianity treats gay people like me. I was raised in a Baptist household by a mother who loved me very much, and there is still much about the faith of my childhood I consider valuable and worthwhile and that I still hold dear…particularly that stuff about Soul Competency or Soul Liberty, which as I still understand it means we’re all capable of answering the Big Questions for ourselves, that is our right, it is our responsibility and also our obligation to Let The Other Person Do That For Themselves Too.  But I am an atheist now.  I became that when I finally admitted to myself that belief had stopped making sense to me. That’s really all there is to it.

I’m open to having my mind changed about it. I’m open to the possibility that I might one day find myself walking down Newton’s beach and finding one of those prettier than ordinary sea shells he spoke of, picking it up and finding God inside (oh there you were…). But honestly I doubt that’s going to happen. I need a reason to think there might be a greater intelligence behind the entire universe as we see it, and what is more, a reason to think that intelligence is the origin of the universe and all of creation, and that it always existed. Otherwise it’s Gods all the way down, and while I can appreciate a sublime mystery as much as the next person, basing my entire worldview on one makes the left side of my brain cranky.

I appreciate the sincerity of this man’s attempt to convince me.  However, it isn’t working.

4 Responses a Non-Scientist Christian Can Give to Science-Based Atheism

Mmmm…?

Here are four simple responses to those who say that science has either disproved God or has made belief in God unnecessary…

Er…no.  Just…right out of the gate, no. Science can demonstrate that a lot of what is written down in the Bible isn’t factual, but those are testable things like The Great Flood or the evolution of humankind. Researchers can compare biblical accounts to other historical artifacts and written accounts from those same periods. Those are testable things, which are the sort of things science preoccupies itself with. But it is not the job of science to prove Odin, Zeus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster don’t exist either.  Make a testable claim concerning any of them and we’ll see.

As far as necessary goes, it simply isn’t necessary to believe the biblical account of creation. Belief in God isn’t necessary to cure cancer, though a lot of folks suffering it take great comfort in that belief all the same and I would not challenge that for the world, unless it was to deny someone, particularly a child (there’s a reason why Baptists don’t baptise the very young) factual science based medical care in favor of faith healing. Philosophers and theologians still argue fiercely as to whether belief in God is morally necessary. In his book Science and Human Values Jacob Bronowski makes an excellent case for the moral values the practice of science teaches…

Theory and experiment alike become meaningless unless the scientist brings to them, and his fellows can assume in him, the respect of a lucid honesty with himself. The mathematician and philosopher W. K. Clifford said this forcibly at the end of his short life, nearly a hundred years ago.

If I steal money from any person, there may be no harm done by the mere transfer of possession; he may not feel the loss, or it may even prevent him from using the money badly. But I cannot help doing this great wrong towards Man, that I make myself dishonest. What hurts society is not that it should loose it’s property, but that it should become a den of thieves; for then it must cease to be a society. This is why we ought not to do evil that good may come; for at any rate this great evil has come, that we have done evil and are made wicked thereby.

This is the scientist’s moral: that there is no distinction between ends and means. Clifford goes on to put this in terms of the scientist’s practice:

In like manner, if I let myself believe anything on insufficient evidence, there may be no great harm done by the mere belief; it may be true after all, or I may never have occasion to exhibit it in outward acts. But I cannot help doing this great wrong towards man, that I make myself credulous. The danger to society is not merely that it should believe wrong things, though that is great enough; but that it should become credulous.

And the passion in Clifford’s tone shows that to him the word credulous had the same emotional force as ‘a den of thieves’

The fulcrum of Clifford’s ethic here, and mine, is the phrase ‘it may be true after all.’ Others may allow this to justify their conduct; the practice of science wholly rejects it. It does not admit the word ‘true’ can have this meaning. The test of truth is the known factual evidence, and no glib expediency nor reason of state can justify the smallest self-deception in that. Our work is of a piece, in the large and in the detail; so that if we silence one scruple about our means, we infect ourselves and our ends together.

-Jacob Bronowski “Science and Human Values” 1956

But this is different from the knowledge science reveals. Science may render dying from certain diseases unnecessary (get your shots), but to render belief in God unnecessary you need to explain what made it necessary in the first place.  If you’re telling me that belief in God is necessary to prevent rabies I would question that. If you’re saying belief in God is necessary for moral behavior I would question that but we might never reach a mutual understanding let alone agreement because first we have to agree on what moral behavior is. Some arguments are like that. If you’re telling me belief in God is necessary for a job at Baylor University well then I would have to agree with you.

So… (if you’re still bearing with me…): Four simple responses…

1) We cannot know from science if science itself is the best source of knowledge. 

The only way to definitively prove that science explains everything would be to have exhaustive knowledge of all reality, and then be able to explain (using only scientific data) what all reality is and what it means. Such a feat is impossible.

I think there’s another way of putting this: If medicine can’t cure every disease then faith healing is better.  The mistake here, and you see it a lot, is that science doesn’t actually claim to know anything. What science claims to have is a way to discover what can be known. Richard Feynman said of science simply that it is a way of not fooling ourselves. But the mistake here goes further.

In the twentieth century science developed what is now called the Principle of Uncertainty. Speaking on that, in the chapter titled Knowledge or Certainty in his series The Ascent of Man, Bronowski pummels the concept of science as being a dry storehouse of knowledge gathered in the pursuit of absolute truths. That desire for absolute truth Bronowski insists, is outright poison to the human spirit, giving rise to endless examples of human atrocities. Science is not another secular kind of dogma, science and dogma are exact opposites. And where you see that clearly is in this one brief passage:

The symbol of the University [in Göttingen] is the iron statue outside the Rathskeller of a barefoot goosegirl that every student kisses at graduation. The University is a Mecca to which students come with something less than perfect faith. It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known but to question it.

I am unaware of any religious institution where questioning the revealed knowledge therein is tolerated, or tolerated for very long. In the end, authority must prevail. But in science it is nature, by way of experiment and test, that is the authority.  Always it is nature which speaks for itself. Science is not a book of revelations about nature. It is a way of asking the questions and not fooling ourselves about the answers. That is why its answers are conditional: There may be facts we haven’t uncovered. There may be understanding we missed because we are human and we make mistakes. Think of how the proposition of continental drift was discarded because no one could see how it was possible that continents could move. It seemed absurd on its face.  And then the deep ocean was more precisely mapped and the mid ocean ridges were discovered, and the realization came about that no, the continents did not move, but the plates they were sitting on did. When we make new discoveries our understanding changes. That is not a flaw in science, it is its profound and beautiful strength.

2) Scientific consensus can and frequently does change. This limits its epistemological authority. 

This is the My Country Right Or Wrong model of authority, and the best retort to it was G. K. Chesterton’s that it was like saying My Mother Drunk Or Sober. Authority needs to be…well…authoritative. So when I was a kid the encyclopedia was the authority I consulted for my school projects. The yearly updates never made me question that authority…if anything they helped reinforce it by showing me it was a living growing thing not a dead Easter Island statue, correcting its mistakes, added fresh new things for me to learn as they became evident.  But there’s something else going on here besides the idea of authority. Epistemological is it?  Ah…you mean…Meaning.  If knowledge changes how can we hope to glean and hold on to meaning from it?

And yet meaning and knowledge aren’t so separate from one another that the falsehood of one conveys nothing to the other. Ask the children of Marx and Lenin what happens to a society that broadly accepts a model of the human identity that is false. Ask the Germans who survived the war. Ask the tombstones in Gettysburg. The intellectual authority of science is right here:

“The state of mind, the state of society, is of a piece.   When we discard the test of fact in what a star is, we discard in it what a man is.” -Jacob Bronowski, Science and Human Values

Which refers again to that quote from Clifford about society become credulous. It is precisely the case that the consensus of scientists change when new facts or new understandings become apparent that give the practice of science its authority over dogma that never changes and cannot be questioned.  Or as the economist John Maynard Keynes once said: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”  Lots of people just close their eyes.  There is meaning in that, but not one suitable for human societies to do anything except spiral into darkness. To survive and prosper, humanity must always ask itself What do we know, and how do we know it?  There is meaning in the honest asking of those questions. There is meaning in the bravery with which we face the answers nature reveals to us. There is meaning in our willingness to acknowledge our mistakes, and move forward. There is meaning in our willingness to not fool ourselves. Meaning is not a stone you can carve into a face that never changes, never sees what its stone eyes behold.

3) Only supernatural theism provides a rational justification of scientific work. 

I quote this one thing from his explanation of that because I think it’s the nugget…

There is little survival value in knowing, for example, the complicated workings of time–space theory, or the genus of certain insects, or the distance of Jupiter from Mars. All of these facts are pursued by scientists as being intrinsically valuable, yet they offer very little information that can help guarantee a species’ continued existence on the planet.

He offers this as a way of explaining that scientists pursue their lines of inquiry out of a supernaturally built-in innate desire to pursue truth, which he says cannot be justified on scientific principles alone. But simple human curiosity needs no supernatural explanations…we are evolved from predatory meat eating east African plains apes and the survival value of predator curiosity is not hard to understand. And if scientists know anything it’s that simple questions can have profound and unexpected ramifications when the answers come back. Science-Fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke wrote this parable once concerning support for space exploration, but it could easily apply to any human endeavor that aspires to science…

The analogy I often use is this: if you had intelligent fish arguing about why they should go out on dry land, some bright young fish might have thought of many things but they would never have thought of fire…

To say that there is little survival value in knowing the workings of time and space or the genus of certain insects is basically to say there is little survival value in human curiosity. And it is true there are many authorities, both secular and religious, that like nothing more than stifling that most basic human of urges. Particularly when it comes to questioning Their authority, and all the dogmas it is built upon.  The search for truth begins with a question, whereas a set of received answers serves only to suffocate it.

4) Only supernatural theism gives us assurance that real scientific knowledge is possible.

Here he reaches for a “philosopher” for some help (yes the scare quotes are deliberate)…

If human beings are a more evolved species of primate, then our cognitive faculties (ie, the parts of our body and mind that allow us to be rational creatures) have evolved out of lesser cognitive faculties. But, Plantinga says, if God does not exist, then the only factors that affected human evolution are time and chance. Based on time and chance alone, why should we be confident that our rational minds–which are merely the sum of lesser evolved minds plus time and chance–are actually rational at all?

Well speaking as a Cold War baby you could certainly argue that Mutually Assured Destruction makes a pretty strong case against humanity being more highly evolved and rational than the lesser evolved brains of howling tree monkeys. How rational is it to destroy nearly all life on earth as an act of self defense? On the other hand, howling tree monkeys don’t produce nuclear weapons either.

Yes there is as the “philosopher” he quotes says, “a tension” inherent in our evolutionary nature. And you not only see that tension in the headlines of your daily newspaper every day of the year, but also in the thousands of years of recorded human history that came before. Which would also include the Bible. Witch stonings anyone? But this is exactly what evolution would predict. Evolution doesn’t erase the old and replace it with the new, it builds the new right on top of the old. The lesser evolved is within us also.  We bear within us every day of our lives, the living history of millions of years of life on Earth.  It can lift the cities high. It can also burn them to the ground. Murderous religious extremists calling themselves ISIS are currently on a rampage destroying priceless ancient artifacts because the very existence of those ancient works of art and human culture challenges and offends them. There’s the lizard brain at work. But it was the more evolved human brain that made those artifacts in the first place. Along with the AK-47s the men of ISIS have slung over their shoulders.

Tension?  Oh yes. But if the darkness was all there was to us, there wouldn’t Be civilization. We are not fallen angels, we are risen apes. There is hope for us. But only to the extent we keep asking that question so central to the practice of science, What do we know, and how do we know it, and by the courage with which we face the answers we discover.

He finishes by referring to Nagel, that “It makes no sense to assume that humans can really make sense of their world on a conceptual level if human consciousness arose out of the very world it responds to.” But that is what makes perfect sense. A being that evolved in an entirely different different universe with a different physical nature might find this one close to impossible to grasp. Think of that classic thought experiment of the two dimensional being trying to make sense of a three dimensional world. The fact that we’re capable of understanding this universe well enough to create the civilization we have is itself evidence that our evolutionary lineage is firmly rooted here not elsewhere.

You can wave your hands and say, but a supernatural force could have done that too, and I’d have to agree. But the simpler explanation is we were born here, we grew up here, and that’s why we fit in here.

 


Posted In: Life Thumping My Pulpit

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
March 3rd, 2015

Simple Is Only Better Conditionally

This came across my Facebook stream just now…

My libertarian vacation nightmare: How Ayn Rand, Ron Paul & their groupies were all debunked

In America, libertarian ideas are attractive to mostly young, white men with high ideals and no life experience that live off of the previous generation’s investments and sacrifice.  I know this because as a young, white idiot, I subscribed to this system of discredited ideas:  Selfishness is good, government is bad. Take what you want, when you want and however you can.  Poor people deserve what they get, and the smartest, hardworking people always win.

I know this place…sort-of. I stayed for a time at the libertarian vacation resort myself, when I was mostly young, and yes I am a white guy, and yes I had high ideals. I like to think I still do. But what attracted me to it back in my early twenties wasn’t the idea of my own Galtish godhead and sticking it to all the lesser beings who were dragging me and my innate man-of-the-mind genius down.  It was the nerdish appeal of its beautiful social simplicity. I was being raised by a single working mother, so it isn’t as if I was surrounded by family wealth exactly, and visiting Dad in prison is probably more life experience than a lot of kids my age had. Plus I was being raised by Baptists and the whole idea of selfishness as being good was anathema for a number of reasons; materialism, vanity, greed all being big deal sins. Harder for a rich man to enter heaven than a camel to pass through the eye of a needle was what I was told. The moral being that not only was wanting things bad but also that having them blinded you to the essential spiritual Truths. Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God…blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…and so on…

(Just try to find that attitude in the republican party of Jesus these days…)

No.  What attracted me to Rand and eventually to the Libertarian party was the beautiful simplicity of its ideas: All human interaction is based on trade. To initiate violence is always wrong. A decent stable productive society will emerge from the free and unfettered marketplace. More Is Less! Make It Simple Stupid. Here at last, was the beautiful elegant answer to all our social ills!

What I failed to realize was something H.L. Mencken said many years before I was born:

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

I thank Ronald Reagan for showing me the error of my ways…

[Update…]

The shining city on the hill Reagan promised America…look, look…here it is:

The greatest examples of libertarianism in action are the hundreds of men, women and children standing alongside the roads all over Honduras. The government won’t fix the roads, so these desperate entrepreneurs fill in potholes with shovels of dirt or debris. They then stand next to the filled-in pothole soliciting tips from grateful motorists. That is the wet dream of libertarian private sector innovation.

On the mainland there are two kinds of neighborhoods, slums that seem to go on forever and middle-class neighborhoods where every house is its own citadel. In San Pedro Sula, most houses are surrounded by high stone walls topped with either concertina wire or electric fence at the top. As I strolled past these castle-like fortifications, all I could think about was how great this city would be during a zombie apocalypse…


Posted In: Life Politics
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off

Beauty Is Only Heart Deep (To Whom It May Concern)…

This came across my Facebook stream just now…

beautiful young heart

What is doubly so dehumanizing about “people who look like that want people who look like that”: it not only denies the humanity of the person you are calling ugly, it is denying that humanity to the person you think is more beautiful than they are.

But of course, it depends doesn’t it, on what it is you think people “want”.


Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
February 28th, 2015

Old Enough To Remember When TV Came Over The Airwaves

And perfectly willing to go back to it.

I finally got around to cancelling my DirectTV service today, after years of hemming and hawing about it. My viewing habits have declined a lot since I was younger, and surfing the Internet tubes takes up much more of my time nowadays. Paying to get a signal has been looking less and less attractive as the years have gone by. There’s a line in The Wall by Pink Floyd that goes Got thirteen channels of shit on the T.V. to choose from. Well I’m here to tell you there’s a lot more to choose from on the cable networks these days, and it’s still mostly crap. Sturgeon was an optimist. And don’t get me started on the satellite radio I have in the car, that I’m paying several hundred dollars a year for. I did a test recently where I wrote down all the times I randomly turned on the TV, usually to The Weather Channel (a friend of mine calls it MTV for old guys) but sometimes to something else, and instead of getting content I got a commercial. It was, I kind you not, about five to one. That is, for every six times I turned on the TV, five of those times the first thing I saw was a commercial. After a while you start wondering Why the hell am I paying 80+ bucks a month mostly just to watch commercials?

When I settled on the house back in 2001 I knew I wanted satellite TV because it was the only alternative to Comcast which was loathsome even then. Everything including HBO and Showtime amounted to about 80 bucks I think. Eventually it got costlier and when it hit over 100 bucks and I dropped the movie channels and that got it back down to 70. But of course it keeps creeping up and up and you can’t just pay for only the channels you want. Sorta like how the music industry pushed albums onto listeners so you’d have to buy a whole bunch of songs you could not have cared less about just to have the ones you liked. This month my DirectTV bill ratcheted up to $90 a month and that jogged me out of my inertia.

I don’t need it. I am so close to my local TV towers I can put a coat hanger on the TV and get a good signal…

tv-hill
Looking east from the street in front of my house

I still own an old Sony 32 inch CRT TV that’s so heavy it would take two people just to move it to the recycling drop off. I got a digital converter for it when they changed the broadcast signals over instead of getting a new HDTV flatscreen. That’s how much I care about TV. Oh…and I still have a VHS recorder, a Betamax and a Laser video disk player attached to it, along with the DVD player I play my collection of favorite old TV shows with. And I have a ton of stuff I can just pop into any of those players and enjoy whenever I want. But mostly these days I just sit in front of the computer and…well…write to my blog like I’m doing now for one thing.

At some point I might get a nice HDTV and a Blu Ray player so I can watch some of the new computer animated movies because you can’t really appreciate how amazingly good computer animation has become unless you see it in high rez. But I dropped a grand on refurbishing a 54 year old Leica M3 this month (I checked the serial number for the date of manufacture…it was made in July 1960) so that’s where my priorities are. 90 bucks a month to watch TV that’s mostly commercials anyway is just too much.

Just for effect, I’m going to try and find me some rabbit’s ears. It’ll be like old times!

 


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Road Adventures…Somewhat More Expensive Than I Remember…

My first big cross-country road trip was the one I took in 1971 with mom in her 1968 Plymouth Valiant out to California, to see my dad’s side of the family for the first time since I was two. A few years later I took another road trip in my 1973 Pinto with some friends in their Dodge van, in which we wandered around the southwest for a bit and then I split off from them and went to visit my California family again. Back then most gasoline pumps could only handle prices of less than a dollar a gallon, which gives you an idea of how cheap it was, and everyone thought it would always be.

Taking a cross country road trip used to be a thing you did when you were still young enough to have summer vacation and a newly minted driver’s license in your wallet. It got you out of the familiar world you grew up in and gave you a first hand look at the rest of the country you’d mostly only ever seen in TV shows and you noticed that it was…different than what the TV said it was. Later you might discover that most of your favorite westerns were actually shot just outside of LA. The real west was different…way more expansive and beautiful. And mysterious. Timeless. Travel is broadening like that…I highly recommend it. And back then it was cheap. Because fuel and food was cheap and when you’re young you don’t mind driving for hours into the night and the next day, and sleeping in the car from time to time.

Whenever I get back on the road I feel that same rush of excitement I felt those first road trips. It never fails. But at age 61 I have to keep remembering that it’s not like it was back in the early 70s. For one thing, the Interstate Highway system is complete now. It wasn’t then. I remember parts of it between Arizona and the coast suddenly becoming two lane roads in the middle of nowhere. What are now the “business loops” through a lot of small towns were all you had before the highway around them was completed. I-40 dumped you right into the center of Barstow. Also, fuel isn’t less than 40 cents a gallon anymore and motels cost more than 20 bucks a night.

When I got home from my trip to California and back last December/January I added up my fuel chits and posted the result to my Facebook page. I was particularly interested because the sudden drop in fuel prices would mean my trip had to have cost me less. And it did, by a substantial amount. The total fuel cost was $511.06. Previously I’d spent around eight to nine hundred for fuel, but that was to feed gasoline burners. I own a diesel now and notice right away my fuel costs had dropped.

But there are other expenses to take into account on a road trip, particularly the motel bills which I knew would add a big piece of change to the overall cost. I just now got around to adding up the motel bills, and they amount to $565.86. So there’s about a thousand bucks just for fuel and a place to sleep. Still not so bad. But I’m in a place now where I can afford that too. Were I still the youngster I was back in the 70s my jaw would drop and I’d turn white as a sheet to see that bill. And that wasn’t all of it either.

I know from the credit card I put all my travel expenses on that the total for the entire thing came to around two grand, but a bunch of that was grocery shopping and eating at nice places when I finally got to California. My brother and I took turns picking up the tab so it wasn’t all on me, and I got to stay with him so that saved me renting a place out there. Plus I spent $240 bucks to give Spirit a lovely full detailing and hand wax job.

spirit after detailing

You take care of the car that gives you the open road. This was my second trip to California with Spirit and it is a pure pleasure to drive. I can drive it for hours at a time and not feel fatigued, and being a diesel it has an 800 mile range on a full tank. Best road trip car I’ve ever had, and I’ve not really ever had any bad ones. The Pinto got me further longer than I had any right to expect from economy class Detroit. But Spirit is bigger, nicer, surer footed, way more powerful, takes everything from the desert heat to the winter deep freeze in stride, and its massive amounts of torque (for a passenger car) gives it a magnificent indifference to the steepest of mountain highways, either going up or down. You have to experience engine braking on a ten mile plus downhill grade with a diesel to really appreciate it.

Anyway…as I was saying, vacations aren’t cheap but the surprising thing for me looking at my chits lately is not even road trip vacations are inexpensive anymore, which is surprising when you think about it. It’s obvious a stay at a nice beach vacation spot, or Disney World, is going to be costly. You don’t expect just bopping around the highways and staying at cheap motels every night is going to cost all that much. But it actually does. I have to remember when I start planning these things nowadays that it’s going to cost a lot more than it did back in 1974.


Posted In: Life

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
February 13th, 2015

Christianity’s Identity Crisis: Older Than You Think

This came across my Facebook Stream this morning…

What Many Christians Can’t See About The Culture War

On any given day you can find endless social media chatter among Evangelical Christians debating “culture”, and the “culture wars”, and lots and lots of talk of us, “fighting the culture”. There’s recently been a great deal of similar discussion surrounding the promotional push for a new book by popular pastor David Platt, whose forthcomingCounter Culture, seeks to once again position Christianity (as represented by The Church) as the sole solution to our numerous societal ills. I’ve really enjoyed Platt’s past books, and have found inspiration and wisdom in them.

The premise of Platt’s latest is a fine one, and it echoes the ministry and message of so many of those sharing his overall theological perspective; that Jesus was always counter-cultural, and so the Christian Church is called to be that as well.

So many American evangelicals have existed for so long in a materialistic, affluent, largely white, male-dominated religious bubble, that they mistakenly believe they are by default, living out the radical, upside-down mission of Jesus…

It’s a good read, and for me especially when he writes this:

When Rome commandeered Christianity, it affixed to the faith something it was never meant to be marked by: Power.

I think this may actually be the first time I’ve ever seen anyone mark the beginning of the decline of Christianity as being when the Roman Emperor Constantine made it the official imperial religion (in exchange naturally, for helping him win a war). I’ve been thinking this for years now. But it was inevitable. What Ta-Nehisi Coates said a week or so ago about how “The interest in power is almost always accompanied by the need to sanctify that power” is obvious yet it keeps needing repeating. Christianity could never keep speaking truth to power without power eventually co opting it. Power is always attracted to power, for the sake of power. The more powerful Christianity’s message became among the common folk, the more attractive it would inevitably become to The Establishment of any age. So Constantine overthrew the old gods, and not so coincidentally rivals to the throne who followed them, and Christianity became the very thing its founder hated most of all, a religion of the establishment. The Pharisees put down their Torahs and picked up their Bibles, spoke in Latin to the masses, and served the new boss, same as the old boss…

The political sway, the financial storehouses, the abuses of power, the gender disparities, the gentrification, and the bullying dominance of the marginalized, which so often characterize the Church today; these all embody a huge part of the culture that Jesus was running counter to.

You can argue that the religion of Jesus of Nazareth never died, but is reborn in every person who takes his teachings to heart and walks his walk. Yes. Just so. But that is not the religion of the Establishment and the high priests of that Christianity take no prisoners. Ask them in South and Central America what happened when Christianity threatened to actually become the champion of the poor, the oppressed and the outcast. It had to happen. The surprising thing is to finally see with clarity how long ago it was that it happened. The risk in speaking truth to power isn’t you are led to the gallows, but to the throne. The king is anointed by God, and it’s good to be God.

megachurch

 


Posted In: Politics Thumping My Pulpit
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
February 9th, 2015

How About We Both Share The Road

The cyclists got a new law passed here that requires cars to stay at least three feet away from them while passing. It’s a good and necessary safety measure, but this morning I could see the coming spring downside already. In many city streets cars simply can’t pass a cyclist unless they go into the oncoming lane of traffic. And at least one cyclist I saw on the way to work this morning was taking full advantage of that fact to quite deliberately slow traffic to a crawl. Because I guess, cars are evil things and people who own them in the city deserve it.

I know the mindset, it’s why the Washington D.C. suburbs have a horribly inadequate highway infrastructure. If we don’t build the roads we won’t get the cars the thinking went. So they didn’t build the roads…but they kept on building the offices and shopping centers and condominiums and the cars came anyway. Lots of them. And now the joke is someone gets a flat tire in College Park and it backs up traffic in Tyson’s Corner.

I appreciate that continued reliance on fossil fuels is unsustainable. I appreciate that bicycles have to be a big part of the solution, along with walkability, especially in the urban and residential zones where speeds are low to begin with. Mass transit is not a magic pill. Unless we’re talking about putting Disney’s “people movers” everywhere in cities like he had planned for E.P.C.O.T., his prototype city of tomorrow, urban mass transit can’t even come close to solving the problem. But having cyclists and automobiles together on the same pavement is a recipe for accidents, not to mention road rage. They need to be kept physically separated and for all the same reasons as automobiles and pedestrians need to be kept apart. It’s the simple physics of it. But at least pedestrians in the city have sidewalks. Many city streets simply aren’t wide enough to support a dedicated bicycle lane. I see those “share the road” signs everywhere now, but someone peddling along at 7 miles per hour in a twenty-five mile per hour zone and nobody can get past isn’t sharing the road, they are appropriating it.

I don’t know the answer. But I know this because I’ve seen it over and over: Americans are never more obnoxious than when we get started on moral crusades. At least consider letting traffic go by if you’ve got a bunch of it backed up behind you and you can’t peddle any faster than 30 percent of the posted speed limit. You’re not making the drivers any more likely to reconsider owning a car by bottling them up behind you. Most of them probably live in the suburbs and can’t do without a car.  You are not making them any more likely to reconsider commuting from the suburbs either.  In the current economy you go wherever the job you were lucky enough to have is. You are not making them any more likely to consider relocating to the city. You want to do that, improve the fucking schools and crime rates. Trust me, I love my city life and I have tried often to talk my co-workers into it.  And always what I hear back is yes, But…schools…crime.

God how I would love for the cities to undergo a big fat urban renaissance.  It’s so lovely…you can walk to your job, and to the grocery store and nice restaurants and bars and if you decide to go out drinking it’s no problem for the highways because you just walk back home and everyone stays safe.  I have just about everything I need within walking distance of Casa del Garrett and I love it. I wouldn’t trade it for the suburban life I grew up in for anything. Every day I am out and about in my neighborhood I find myself thinking, This is the life! I But transforming American commuting habits isn’t going to happen overnight. It will take decades and in the meantime you have to let the cars use the city streets.

Understand this if you understand nothing else: You are not saving the planet by slowing traffic down. You are keeping those fossil fuel burning engines burning those ancient forests for longer periods of time where they are least efficient. Show your concern for planet earth get off your high horse if not your bicycle and let the damn traffic get by you from time to time.

Or not. I don’t care. I normally walk anyway (and get treated like shit by both drivers and cyclists from time to time) and even if I’m driving in to work, because of the weather or I have cargo I need to transport, it’s only a mile away from my house and if you got off the bike and walked in front of my car I would still get there at the speed of walking. But I’m an outlier in the traffic bottleneck behind you. Most of those commuters probably just got off I-83. You are making them furious, and furious people do stupid things and I don’t want to have to see it when it happens.

[Update…]

Yes, as a pedestrian most of the time in my neighborhood, I am well aware drivers can be complete assholes too. I was reminded of that fact just today as I was leaving work, when I saw a co-worker almost get run over by a driver who just blew through a crosswalk like it was a mere suggestion. The road in front of the Space Telescope Science Institute building where I work, San Martin Drive, is within the campus of Johns Hopkins University and there are signs all over the place telling drivers to be aware of the students. Students jog that road all the time…it’s a nice road that borders Wyman Park on the other side. It has several blind curves and you can hit someone if you’re not careful. And there are raised crosswalks periodically along the road to give pedestrians some safety and to slow traffic the f*ck down since it’s a 25mph speed limit there. They have these little signs posted in the middle of the crosswalk telling drivers pedestrians have the right of way and if one is in that crosswalk you have to stop.

This lady apparently thought that was optional. She almost hit my co-worker who was In The Crosswalk (I saw it happen) and if that wasn’t enough, rolled her window down and shouted at him to get off the road. Most drivers in my experience will stop for you, but there are assholes everywhere.

Some days I think instead of telling people to Share The Road what’s needed are signs saying Don’t Be A Dick

 


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February 6th, 2015

Outcasts On The Road Less Traveled…

This came across my Facebook stream today, forwarded by a gay friend. It had resonance for both of us…

Elgin Park from Animal on Vimeo.

The man, Michael Paul Smith, is the creator of dozens of magical photographs that seem to be images from another time long in the past. But they aren’t. He’s following in the method of the great special effects artists Howard and Theodore Lydecker, whose work stunned audiences all through the 30s through the 60s. While others also used scale models in their effects, the Lydeckers perfected a technique of forced perspective and filmed in natural sunlight. Smith is masterful at it, and his images have attracted fans all over the world.

It really resonated with me on one level, because the scenes of him working on his models brought the memories back. Modelmaking was a childhood hobby. Throughout most of my grade school years I had shelves in my room full of the models I’d made. Most were from plastic kids when I was younger, but also things I made from scratch. When I was 7 or 8 I watched my first episode of Gerry and Sylvia Andersen’s Supercar when mom took me on a Florida vacation and I was immediately hooked. But no Supercar toy was to be found in the stores so I began making my own from paper and cardboard. After the show was syndicated back home my model became a hit with the other neighborhood kids and I found myself making them for everybody.

Later in my life all the things I’d figured out how to do with models, plus the things I’d learned teaching myself how to paint in oils, led me to a job as an architectural model maker. So the scenes of Smith working…all the tools and tricks you could see him employing…it brought the memories back. But its how he came to be doing it that resonated deeply with me.

In the video he says..

“I was bullied in school, and I was bullied because I was different. (wheew…) I think I’m still…dealing with that, still struggling with what that means and all that. I don’t think about it a lot but it does bubble up.”

I know that feeling. More than I care to. And this one…

“I come into this reality at a slightly different angle”

I found myself thinking as I watched this, Oh gosh that guy is so much me. His experience with being gay and being different…not just different because you’re gay but different on top of that because you come into this reality at a slightly different angle…and the bullying that comes with it. I knew that too. How recognition when you finally get it after going through all that makes you very uncomfortable. It brought the memories back, and all the feelings that come with those memories.

I still have my modelmaking tools but it’s been ages since I’ve used them. I moved on to a different thing. I had to because the modelmaking jobs suddenly dried up when the savings and loan scandal in the 1980s killed off many of the firms I made models for, and I was back to job hunting again. And that’s the other thing about this video that I really related to. He talks about all the jobs he had before, and how his resume looks like “what’s available in the job force.” I could say the same. He goes through and lists all his jobs and and then he says…

“Everything you do you will learn from it and you’ll use it later on in life.”

Yes…so much Yes. Time was I really hated how I kept having to go from one job to another, often when my employer found out he had Teh Gay working for him. Looking back now I have to realize that haphazard pinball ricocheting here and there path through the work force gave me a lot of intellectual tools I can still call on whenever I need them. Sometimes I catch myself doing something…maybe it’s at home maybe it’s in some other context…and I remember where I first picked up that odd bit of knowledge I was using just then and it takes me back for a moment and I find myself thinking…yeah, I guess it was worth it after all. Time was I’d have given anything to have had the comfortable life others did. Now I count my blessings.

The weirdo, the outcast, if they survive the wilderness end up having seen so many things others haven’t, and knowing how to navigate through strange territory others can’t. Because they had no choice. And sometimes because of that they end up doing pretty well. Sometimes.


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
February 2nd, 2015

Why I Hate The NRA…Part The Upteenth…

This came across my Facebook stream just now…

morons at target practice

More Here.  This is incredibly idiotic. As a gun owner I cannot fathom…I am actually at a loss for words…as to how anyone who has ever shot a gun cannot grasp the level of danger here.

In my younger years, a friend of mine and I would go to another friend’s house to shoot our guns in their backyard. But they lived in the sticks, far away from anything and we could do that safely. There was a county law prohibiting shooting within a certain designated distance from any home or structure. And they had lots of property surrounding their home. Enough that we could just walk far enough away from the back of the house to be legal, and still be on their property.  At the edge of the cleared area was a fence and over that a forest that went on for miles. My friend and his often went hunting back there. I knew it as a place where we could blast away to our hearts content and not bother anyone.

I remember quite well as we fired at various targets propped up on a board in the backyard…cans, bottles, plastic jugs…the sound of our bullets ricocheting off trees in the woods behind the fence. I’d be there with one of my .45s and I’d touch off a round and if I missed we’d listen for the sound of the slug bouncing around in the forest off one tree and then another and then another…bip…bip…bipbipbipbip… It was a warning: just because you’re aiming at something that doesn’t mean that’s where your bullet is going to stop. It can take a bounce and then it might go anywhere. This is why the law was you couldn’t be shooting anywhere near another structure and never mind which direction you’re pointing.

I remember once we were shooting at a stack of empty soda cans we’d propped up on a large piece of scrap metal. One of the folks living there was a welder and we found something in the yard we thought we could use to raise the height of our targets. I was shooting my single action .45 with rounds I’d hand loaded with soft lead bullets. I took a shot and missed and immediately felt something brush up against my right leg, looked down and saw several shards of lead embedded in my blue jeans. The bullet had hit the piece of scrap metal and fragmented and some of the fragments had bounced back at me with enough force they almost penetrated my pants leg. Occasionally the lessons you learn are non-fatal. We never propped our cans on anything bullets couldn’t easily punch through at that distance after that.

That target shooting so close to other people’s homes (look at that photo again) is much too dangerous is something anyone who has ever shot a gun in their lives should know. But of course this isn’t about guns, let alone public safety, it’s about culture war…

So Florida law is cool with this. The cops are not cool with this, but tell me there’s nothing they can do. The city attorney says he can do nothing. The NRA threatens any town that dares try to pass an ordinance against this. And best yet, crazy governor Scott made certain in 2011 that any public official trying to pass a local ordinance or otherwise prevent this would be removed, fined $5,000 and barred from using public resources to defend him/herself.

They’ve degenerated down to outright idolatry now. Guns have become the new crucifixes of the right, the fetish you keep close to protect you from evil spirits and wave at the heathens to keep their demons away. And their sins are so many it isn’t enough that Jesus died for them. Their neighbors have to die too.


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
January 29th, 2015

Could Come In Handy

Maybe I’ll ask a certain someone who serves bier to tourists in Florida to buy me one of these, since he says I’m a drama queen…

emergency

Get me one with a travel case I can put next to the Mercedes’ first aid kit, for when I go visit.


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January 26th, 2015

Cute Little Bird

No…it is not Portuguese for Thomas…

 


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