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June 12th, 2020

We Must Turn Our Rage Into Action. . .

A Pulse survivor speaks…

I remember the thumping Latin music. The unbridled joy of a space safe for me to bring my whole self. A plastic cup teetering on the edge of a bathroom sink. Gunshots — endless gunshots. A panicked sprint for the exit. I remember waiting on a street corner for news, dialing my best friend Drew’s number countless times. I remember when I finally realized he would never pick up. By sunrise, 49 people, including Drew and his partner Juan, had been killed by a man filled to the brim with hatred and armed with weapons of war… – Pulse survivor: We must turn our rage into action, The Orlando Sentinel

Probably the most heartbreaking thing I read in the aftermath was from a homicide detective investigating the scene. He was new to the job and had always thought homicide scenes would be quiet as the detectives worked it. But this one had the cell phones of the victims constantly ringing, and he knew every ring was from a loved one desperately hoping for an answer that would never come.

Go read the whole thing. He links the shootings then to the police killings of unarmed black Americans now, and the bigotry and hate that fueled them both. We have work to do to honor their memories, and drag this nation inch by inch back to its promise of liberty and justice for all, and make it real.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on We Must Turn Our Rage Into Action. . .

June 7th, 2020

Remembering What’s Important In Life

Saw this on Twitter just now…

 

It’s good to remember the important things in life during these stressful days. Or to paraphrase a certain someone who swears he never reads this blog, when you’re on your deathbed it won’t be all the times you had sex you’ll remember, but all the people who helped you dump that slave owner’s statue in the river next to where his ships once docked…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Remembering What’s Important In Life

April 24th, 2020

Evil Does Not Require Malice

From our Thump Your Pulpit In Lieu Of Climbing The Walls department…

This came across my Facebook stream, via Songwriter Janis Ian…

Evil does not need malice to spread, or even to exist. Malice is probably the least of its needs. What really gets it going is that absence of empathy. Or as I like to say, sympathy. It’s when other people simply become a means to your ends, whether economic or emotional. It’s when your neighbors in this life stop being people, with their own hopes and dreams, their own human desires, and needs, but become faceless means to whatever your needs may be. And there is no more needful thing than empty pride.

“Our greatest pretenses are built up not to hide the evil and the ugly in us, but our emptiness. The hardest thing to hide is something that is not there.” -Eric Hoffer

They say faith can be a source of strength and inner peace, but the hard lesson to learn is faith is utterly neutral. It can give you strength to stand side by side with the oppressed. It can grant you peace as you turn away from them. It can be the calm self assurance that persecuting them is both righteous and just. It is Himmler telling his troops after they’d just massacred a village in Poland that because we can do such as this and still remain moral men is what makes us strong. It is Ntakirutimana telling the Tutsi congregation, about to be slaughtered and begging for his help, “You must be eliminated, God doesn’t want you anymore.” Their faith was strong. The evil that grew within them found it a completely willing ally.

“Absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power.” -Eric Hoffer

I’m in my sixties now and I think I can look back on everything I’ve seen in this life and make a few judgements now. And as to faith, I’ve seen it give battered hearts hope, but I have also seen it take people’s brakes away. Faith will come to the aid of whatever a person has within them, whether good or evil. But I have seen the most miniscule shred of sympathy in a bitter person finally soften a heart I was certain had been hardened beyond any hope of redemption. I have seen it turn people away from great wrongs they had been calmly certain of being good and righteous, and atone for them. It isn’t faith we need in this life, it is sympathy. Even if it’s just the size of a mustard seed. It will save your soul.

[Edited a tad…]

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Evil Does Not Require Malice


Hubble Turns 30 – Scientific American

I am still so amazed to be a part of all this…

A Birthday Message from the Hubble Telescope

I have seen 160,000 sunrises and sunsets, more than anyone could hope for. Circling hundreds of miles above the surface of our big blue marble for 30 years, I’ve had a remarkable view of the universe. I haven’t always been comfortable up here, but thanks to many of you I have outgrown a host of problems and found a purpose far more expansive and satisfying than anything my creators envisioned.

 

 

Go read the rest. Happy Birthday Hubble!

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Hubble Turns 30 – Scientific American

April 20th, 2020

Disturbing Echos Of The Past

This came across my Facebook news stream this morning…

 

A friend posted this with a comment about how it reminded him of that iconic photograph of the solitary Chinese man standing in front of a line of tanks during the Tiananmen Square massacre. And if you think that’s hyperbole recall how in Charlottesville Virginia a neo fascist drove right into a crowd of people peacefully protesting the Unite The Right rally there killing one and injuring 28. These were more of Trump’s Very Fine People in those cars.

These healthcare workers were risking their lives here. Which, yes, they do anyway. But they shouldn’t have to do it like this.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Disturbing Echos Of The Past

April 18th, 2020

When The Abyss Looks Back Into You And Speaks A Name

The people I let into my life, become friends with, hang out with, enjoy the company of, get the very rare crush on, are broadly folks who are smart, have big hearts, are curious and imaginative, and…just don’t quite fit in. These tend to take two very different paths through life. I have walked them both.

Some make their way up the economic ladder. They eventually snuggle into some small nitch where they can use their minds in ways they either enjoy or at any rate are very good at, and in which their odd little quirks, as seen from the herd, either don’t matter or add decoration and color to the workplace. Many of my own group of friends eventually found work in Information Technologies where we’re kept safely away from the public, behind our computer screens where we can can geek out to our heart’s content. But some I know are lawyers, musicians, cartoonists, theater people…

For a while I was earning a bare bones living as an architectural modelmaker. It was as basic a lifestyle as could be, but I was enjoying myself. At various points in my life I’ve tried earning a living as a photographer, an illustrator, a political cartoonist. It wasn’t until I got work as a computer programmer that I could breath economically. That’s typically how it goes. The arts kids I know generally don’t make a lot of money, some of them live hand to mouth. But if you’ve ever tried to make a living as an artist you really have to respect anyone who has managed the trick, regardless of how low income their lives are. Most have their “day jobs”. Work they hate but which allows them time and money to do the work they love.

But there’s another, darker path some of these take: they go down the economic rabbit hole. Then they find themselves living on the edge of society. They never get the break they need, never find the good nitch to occupy. They become drifters economically, then eventually if they can’t find their nitch, transients with no fixed roof over their heads.

Invariably these attract the attention of the police, too many of which seem to thoroughly enjoy harassing them. And one minor offense snowballs into another and another and late in life they’re in and out of jails and/or halfway houses. If not sleeping on the streets. 

That is how the economic system in this country works. Oh, you don’t have a bank account? Oh, you haven’t held a job longer than a few months? Oh you don’t have a mailing address? An automobile? A phone? Good people. Smart, decent, big hearted, beautiful souls who could make their contribution to civilization if they could just catch that one lucky break. But not only are they a bit odd, they’re in pain. The kind of pain doctors can’t cure. They may not even know they’re in pain because they’ve just lived with it for so long. Hemingway knew the risks of having that big heart inside of you:

“The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.”

I have seen the system get hold of one of these and grind them down just for the shear pleasure of doing it. Because they can. These are not violent predatory people but they are easy marks for bullies. Because the inner beauty still there within the destitute man in front of them is a rebuke. 

As I said, I’ve walked both these paths, though luckily not to the degree I’ve had repeated run-ins with the law, or been homeless. A classmate gave me a place to live when I had nowhere else to go and I was mowing lawns and doing Manpower jobs to make ends meet. Then I got my lucky break and now I’ve a nice little Baltimore rowhouse and a wonderful job and a very good income. But it could have been lots different. Within I am no different from a bunch of people I know, who are living hand to mouth and just couldn’t catch that break. We’re all just a bit odd. If you can’t make your oddness work for you the culture tosses you into the garbage heap without a second thought. Well, he shouldn’t be so odd, he needs to straighten up and make something of himself. But he was something. And now his contribution is lost to all of us.

Straighten up and fly right. Yes. Quite. It’s a double whammy if you not only happen to be a bit…different…but also gay. Particularly my generation, or older, or a bit younger. Maybe you clawed your way out of the closet. Maybe you accept yourself, as the old song goes, just as you are. But growing up under a torrent of social fear, hate and loathing does it’s work on you all the same. And especially so if your own family has abandoned you. You avoid confrontation, stay hunkered down lest you step on yet another social landmine. Risk aversion is wired into you. You accept being less than you could be, because good enough carries with it less personal and emotional risk, then being all you can be does.

It is the ball and chain you wear every moment of your day, and maybe you don’t even know it’s there anymore it feels so familiar. It degrades your economic life, and for certain it impacts your love life. How can damaged goods see themselves, present themselves, as a worthy lover?

Why am I telling you all this? Maybe in a day or two I’ll explain. Or maybe not. It isn’t about me. Mostly. I am however, very much afraid.

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

May 27th, 2019

Boomer

Normally on Memorial Day I simply give a silent nod of thanks to those who served and died for their country and for the American Dream. When I bought the house my nextdoor neighbor was a man named Joe who had served during WWII in the merchant marines. We would somedays find ourselves out on our front porches (Baltimore rowhouse front porches are where you really get to experience what a neighborhood is) and he would tell me stories about the war, often insisting that he was no hero, just some guy who moved supplies back and forth across the ocean because it was his job.

Me: So tell us again Joe about that time your ship got itself into a minefield and you looked over the side and saw a mine almost right up against it…

Joe: (slightly amazed voice even after all these years…) Oh yeah…that was a Big one too…

Through him I came to realize that the heroes to those guys were the ones that didn’t come back. So I usually refrain from calling them heroes or saying rote thank-you-for-your-service because I never know whether I’m making someone who was there feel better or digging at old and terrible wounds.

My generation’s war was Vietnam. I came close to getting drafted but failed the pre-induction physical, and before they could call me back in for another go at it Nixon had turned off the draft and I was spared the Vietnam experience so many of my generation were thrown into. So when Memorial Day comes along I don’t feel as though I have the requisite life experiences other do, to get too enthusiastic about this holiday.  And considering what it is we’re memorializing (our war dead) it strikes me as offensive to make it a celebration. It’s a solemn day of remembrance. People, young kids mostly, died in our wars. Some of them were unavoidable and there was no other way. But not all of them, and perhaps this is not the day to be bringing that up. But there’s one other thing I think that needs some discussion, especially today, while the veterans of the Vietnam war are still with us. When you use the word ‘Boomer’ as a curse, who is it you think you’re spitting on?

This was posted on a Facebook memory group I follow. The group is focused on memories of growing up in Montgomery County Maryland, which was my stomping ground for much of my kidhood in the 60s and 70s. Those are times we remember fondly, most of us. Boomers, as we are called nowadays…usually by much younger people who have no idea what a Boomer actually is. Lately I’ve begun to feel like I don’t know what it is and I’ve always been one. This man is 70. I am 65. The difference between us is he was drafted, and had no choice but to go, and I just barely escaped it. But we both had to walk into our local draft board office the instant we turned 18, we both had to carry our draft cards with us at all times, and I was called and went for my pre-induction physical. He must have passed his. Then this happened to him…

WHAT I AM ABOUT TO SHARE IS A VERY PERSONAL STORY.IT HAPPEND 51 YRS AGO IN VIETNAM WHEN I WAS JUST A 18YR OLD FROM WHEATON MD. AND I ALWAYS CONSIDERED MONTGOMERY COUNTY HOME…I NEVER TOLD THIS BECAUSE COMMING HOME NO ONE WANTED TO HEAR ABOUT NAM OR THEY JUST WOULDNT BELIEVE.I WAS DRAFTED IN JULY OF 67 AND WENT TO NAM IN JANUARY 68 JUST BEFORE THE 68 TET OFFENSIVE.AFTER DOING SOME RESEARCH I HAVE FOUND THE GRAVE SITE OF MY GOOD FRIEND GENE COLLIER WHO IS BURIED IN A GRAVE YARD IN EASTON MD..I PLAN TO GO THIS WED. AND PLACE A QUARTER ON HIS GRAVE WHICH MEANS THE PERSON WHO PLACED THE QUARTER ON THE HEAD STONE WAS WITH THE SOLDIER WHEN HE DIED.GENE WAS THE FIRST GOOD FRIEND THAT I LOST AND THE FIRST MAN I EVER SAW DIE..IT WAS PRETTY DRAMATIC FOR THIS 18YR OLD…I REMEMBER FEELING SO HELPLESS AND CRYING LIKE A NEW BORNE…I STARTED CUSSING GOD AND CALLED HIM EVERY VILE NAME I COULD EVEN THROWING HAND FULL OF DIRT AT THE SKY..AND I DIDNT CRY AGAIN UNTIL ALMOST 40 YRS LATTER.GENE WAS THE FIRST I SAW DIE BUT NOT THE LAST.I TURN HARD AND COLD HEARTED .ONE TIME OUR COMMO BUNKER BLEW AND KILLED 3 GUYS INSIDE.WE WERE MADE TO GET DOUBLE ARM INTERVALS AND HANDED A EMPTY SAND BAG AND TOLD TO GO THROUGH THE COMPANY AREA AND LOOK FOR PEICES OF THE THREE..I SAW PEICES ON TOP OF THE SUPPLY TENT AND THEN I LOOKED DOWN AND SAW A BABY FINGER AND RING FINGER ATTACHED TOGETHER.AS I WENT TO PICK UP THE FINGERS A STRAY DOG RAN UP AND SNATCH THEM UP AND RAN OFF.IF I HAD MY RIFLE OR PSTOL I WOULD HAVE SHOT THE DOG BUT I THOUGHT HOW DO YOU TELL A MOTHER OR WIFE THAT A DOG RAN OFF WITH PART OF THERE LOVED ONE.THERE WERE OTHERS CHICO AND BOB WETZEL JHONNY AYERS AND MEDAL OF HONOR WINNER TERRY KAWAMURAI NEW TERRY AND HE WAS KILLED AFTER I WAS HOME BRAVE MEN ALL.BUT GENE WAS THE HARTEST.YOU SEE HE GOT A LETTER FROM HIS WIFE THAT HE WAS THE FATHER OF A LITTLE NEWBORNE BABY GIRL.SOME HOW WE FOUND A 1/2 BOTTLE OF SEGRAMS TO CELEBRATE.A MONTH LATTER GENE WAS DEAD..THIS IS WHY MEMORIAL DAY IS AND ALWAYS WAS SPECIAL TO ME..I AM 70 YRS OLD NOW AND HAVE THOUGT OF ALL WHO I SERVED WITH THROUGH THE YRS.I HAVE CRIED AND MADE PEACE WITH MY PAST AND WITH GOD..I WAS JUST A YOUNG PARRATROOPER FROM WHEATON MD WHO HAD TO GROW UP FAST..WAR IS SUCH A WASTE..FIRST TIME I EVER TOLD THIS BUT HELL I’M AN OLD MAN NOW AND JUST HELD ON TO THEM ALL THESE YRS…STAY SAFE THIS WEEK END..AND NEVER FORGET WHY YOU ARE STILL FREE..P.S. VERY APPREHENSIVE ABOUT SHARING AND POSTING THIS AND I THINK I KNOW WHY…FROM ALL THE NEGETIVE CRITICISM OVER THE YRS ABOUT SERVING AND THE WAR…BUT HERE IT GOES

How about on Memorial Day we rededicate ourselves to fighting right wing war mongering, and the leaders, pundits, and classless morons who never served, let alone actually saw combat, that cheer us on into the next splendid little war? How about we rededicate ourselves to not letting this happen to our teenage sons and daughters for no reason other than realpolitik, or national pride, or the sick vanities of celebrity politicians and pundits? And next time you hear someone say Boomer with contempt remember this man and consider there are thousands like him. ‘Boomer’ is too general a word to describe a generation just over half of which had the draft and Vietnam haunting them then…and now…and just under half who never had to carry a draft card in their wallets on threat of arrest and imprisonment if they didn’t always have it on them. I am on the cusp of that divide, and I see across it. They are more different landscapes than ‘Boomer’ can embrace with a shred of meaning, let alone understanding.

And there was more going on back then besides the war. There was the civil rights movement. The struggle to integrate the public schools. There was women’s liberation. There was the fight against censorship (After Grove Press published Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” in 1961 obscenity lawsuits were brought in 21 states against booksellers that sold it. Also in 1961 Lenny Bruce was arrested for using the word ‘c*cksucker’ in a comedy routine on stage. This was even before the underground comics started rattling cages everywhere.). There was the gay rights movement. And yes, there were people in our generation on both sides of those fights…which is partially my point here. But mostly it’s this…

…AND THEN I LOOKED DOWN AND SAW A BABY FINGER AND RING FINGER ATTACHED TOGETHER.AS I WENT TO PICK UP THE FINGERS A STRAY DOG RAN UP AND SNATCH THEM UP AND RAN OFF…

People bled. Inside and out. People are Still bleeding from what happened to them back then. I see it all the time. I don’t have the horrific memories some do (I have my own struggle with things that happened to me as a gay teenager and young adult), but I walk among my generational peers and I see this stuff and it makes me angry, livid at times, to hear ‘Boomer’ thrown around like a spitball. If you can offhandedly lump everyone born between 1946 and 1964 together with a single word spoken like a curse then you have no clue about that period in your own country’s history, let alone the threads in this one that have their origins in that one. Read this man’s testimony. And maybe understand why, when I hear anyone use the word Boomer with contempt (Hi Ezra Klein and VOX!) I block them. Instantly. You have nothing to say to me. Or to anyone else, really.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Boomer

March 21st, 2019

Atheism: Not What You Think It Is

A friend on Facebook shared this, from of all places Scientific American…

Atheism Is Inconsistent with the Scientific Method, Prizewinning Physicist Says

In conversation, the 2019 Templeton Prize winner does not pull punches on the limits of science, the value of humility and the irrationality of nonbelief

I had to do a double-take when I saw the direction this came from, but then again this man is a well respected physicist and the sciences are just as diverse as any other crowd. Marcelo Gleiser, a 60-year-old Brazil-born theoretical physicist at Dartmouth College and a science popularizer. The article’s headline is a tad sensationalistic…the body of the article is mostly about a need for humility in science, and his evolution as a physicist. But there is a passage about atheism where he says 

“I honestly think atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method. What I mean by that is, what is atheism? It’s a statement, a categorical statement that expresses belief in nonbelief. “I don’t believe even though I have no evidence for or against, simply I don’t believe.”…”

But this gets it entirely wrong.

This is mischaracterizing atheism as a positive declaration that there is no god. That’s a pretty common mistake and I suppose a lot of folks who call themselves atheists make it too. But then you’re boxed into the position of proving a negative and that’s how believers like to tie atheists in knots and how he gets to where he can say it’s inconsistent with the scientific method. But atheism is simply unbelief. And if declaring there is no god is unscientific then so is declaring there is when the evidence simply isn’t there.

I’ve written previously that in his book Science and Human Values Jacob Bronowski makes an excellent case for the moral values the practice of science teaches…that scientific method Mr.Gleiser says is atheism is inconsistent with. And it begins and ends with respect for what a fact is…

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 in the end Carl Sagan said it best:

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Science, as Richard Feynman once said, is just a way we have of not fooling ourselves. Where is the evidence for the existence of god? Where is the science? My atheism isn’t a reaction against religion. It’s one day I finally had to admit to myself that belief had stopped making sense to me. But I can be convinced. Perhaps one day I’ll find myself walking on Newton’s beach and pick up one of those prettier sea shells he spoke of and find God inside (oh…well there you are!). But at this point in my life I just don’t believe. I am not asserting a negative, I’m saying I don’t see the evidence and even the concept makes no sense to me anymore.

That isn’t unscientific. And more than that, it’s respecting my human identity and that of my neighbors. We are a thinking animal, we’ve benefited greatly in the struggle for survival from having minds capable of rational thought, and Bronowski also said that the state of mind and of society is of a piece, and when we discard the testing and verifying of facts, we discard along with that what it is to be human.

Your mileage may vary on the question and the evidence and that’s fine. And it’s true that some questions put to us can be frustratingly subjective. Details matter. Science can demonstrate that Pluto exists, but some folks might disagree as to whether or not it’s a planet. I happen to think “planet” fits little Pluto just fine but I’ll listen to arguments to the contrary…or at any rate Much Better ones than I’ve heard previously. What is God? What do we mean when we say we believe or not in God? What would William Jennings Bryan say? What would Albert Einstein? Frank Lloyd Wright had this wonderful saying, I believe in God but I spell it Nature. For a long time that was me, but at some point even that became untenable. It had just stopped making sense to me.

Maybe as the concept of God evolves and changes so does the concept of atheism. Maybe as atheists listen more to why believers believe, and to their understanding of God, atheists better understand what it means to not believe. Maybe some decide they’re actually agnostics. Maybe others eventually figure out that it isn’t actually about proving a negative, proving that there is no God, and that they really and simply just don’t believe.

And if even an eminently respected physicist says my atheism is contrary to the scientific method I think I’m rightly allowed to object. He needs to understand atheists a little better.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Atheism: Not What You Think It Is

November 25th, 2018

Those Little Books That Have A Big Impact

Whilst wandering Google searching for a quote I found this…

“A popular cliche in philosophy says that science is pure analysis or reductionism, like taking the rainbow to pieces; and art is pure synthesis, putting the rainbow together. This is not so. All imagination begins by analyzing nature.”
-Jacob Bronowski, Science and Human Values

I still regard this book with something akin to awe. In it Bronowski showed me the likeness between science and art that helped me a lot back when I was a teenager and my science geek side and art geek side were at war with each other. Also, how the practice of science is at its core a profoundly moral endeavor.

It’s short…just three essays on the topic, “The Creative Mind”, “The Habit of Truth”, and “The Sense of Human Dignity”, which combine to make a very powerful whole in such a slender volume. You can read the whole thing in under an hour. But it will stick with you long after.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Those Little Books That Have A Big Impact

October 26th, 2018

Atheism, Religion And Morality

This article from The New Yorker came across my Facebook news stream the other day.

I’m a subscriber and I need to make some time to sit down and read it. But just seeing this post stirred some thoughts. Specifically, it reminded me of this quote of Penn Jillette’s…

“The question I get asked by religious people all the time is, without God, what’s to stop me
from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want.
And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want,
and the amount I want is zero.
 The fact that these people think that if they
didn’t have this person watching over them that they would go on killing,
raping rampages is the most self-damning thing I can imagine.”

I think there’s probably a little more to it than they don’t act on the every urge of their id because they know God wouldn’t approve. The fact is sometimes God does approve…or they think so anyway…

“You must be eliminated. God doesn’t want you anymore.”
Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, the head of Rwanda’s Seventh-day Adventist Church,
who stood trial for luring Tutsi parishioners to his church and then turning them
over to Hutu militias that slaughtered 2,000 to 6,000 in a single day.

He got ten years for his crime, and upon release from prison had the good decency to die the following month. I don’t think so, I’m an atheist, but it is a bit pleasant to wonder if perhaps God almighty had a word or two with him at the gates of eternity, about who and what He wants. Or even better still, The Ghost of Christmas Present…

“Man, if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant
until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is.
Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die?
It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and
less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child.”

There’s someone who knows how to preach. The scenes with The Ghost of Christmas Present have always been for me the highlight of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Because it’s there Scrooge is taken out of his own life and presented with the lives of others, and the way his life has touched theirs. It was not for the better. And now that he has seen it, he has to know it. There is where he begins to walk slowly, tentatively, toward his salvation. Because there was still some small something within him that we all need, lest we fall into the Pit.

Here’s the thing about morality and all of us atheist or not: Whether or not a God Almighty exists, we know our neighbors exist. We know the poor exist. We know the sick and the infirm exit. We know the refugee exists. We know those fleeing from persecution exist. We can see them. We can talk to them. We can listen to their stories. Belief in God stopped making sense to me some decades ago. But I know my neighbors exist. In my entire life I have never once seen faith turn someone away from the Abyss, or melt a heart of solid ice. But I have seen the tiniest little spec of sympathy awaken the better person within, finally, long after I was certain they were done for. I have seen it turn lives around.

It isn’t faith you need, it’s sympathy. Even if it’s just the size of a mustard seed, it will save your soul.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Atheism, Religion And Morality

June 27th, 2018

Just Never Let Yourself Forget Why It Matters

 

We’ve a long and dirty fight ahead of us. It’s okay to be angry. But don’t become anger. It’s okay to be afraid. But don’t become fear. Because then you will forget why it mattered that you were angry and afraid. It matters because love matters. It matters because without love and trust and hope, and dreams of what could be, civilization is not possible. Then there is only the jungle. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be afraid. But don’t let the jungle in. You will get lost. Remember you are not anger, you are not fear, you are human. Remember the possibility of love is why it matters.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Just Never Let Yourself Forget Why It Matters

May 10th, 2018

Flashback: April 22, 2017 – March For Science Nixonian

I’ve been a couple hours wandering around the March for Science rally zone near the Washington Monument with my camera. I’ve grown up in the Washington DC area and this is a familiar routine for me. So many marches and rallies I’ve attended and documented as a photographer, occasionally for a small local newspaper, but mostly to satisfy some inner need to turn my camera eye on current events. But today I begin to feel my age. My body wants rest now. And…food. Being a local, I know there is a hot dog kiosk run by the national park service near the old Smithsonian they call “The Castle”, and with some regret because I know it’s going to make me miss some good shots, I make for it. 

I walk further and further away from the crowd around the Monument, but not so far that I can’t hear the speeches. Once upon a time I felt lucky that I lived so close to such an important focal point of current events like the nation’s capital. Now I live in Baltimore and I can’t just hop on the subway and stroll down to the Mall with my camera bag. I have to pick my battles. As I did for the rally in front of the Supreme Court during the arguments on same sex marriage, I got a hotel near Union Station so I wouldn’t have to deal with traffic on I-95. I figured the subway was also sure to be mobbed with science marchers that day. I wanted to just walk out of my hotel room and spend the day in the middle of things, then go back and take a nap and maybe find a good place later for dinner.

Now I’m standing in line at the hot dog stand wondering if I can even make it through the rest of the event. I get my food, and a diet soda, and wander over to an empty table and chair. It’s been drizzling off and on here and most of the seats are wet, but I find one that’s close enough in to the kiosk that it didn’t get rained on.

Eventually a man and wife couple about my age come over and ask if they can have the empty chairs next to me. I tell them sure, but they’re probably wet. The man goes to get some paper napkins to wipe the chairs off and his wife sets their boxes down on the table and we begin to chat. She’s a science teacher in a deep southern state, and here to support her student’s education. I have a spiel I go into about how it was Khrushchev who gave me my good science education because he scared the hell out of us with the launching of Sputnik and suddenly teaching kids science was a good thing. As her husband joins us she tells me of her struggles teaching science where teaching anything that flatly contradicts fundamentalist dogmas can get you fired, if not shot. We chat amicably her husband joining in from time to time to say how much he supports his wife and admires her determination. 

The wife finishes up her sandwich and gets up to leave. She has a friend she has to meet up with. The husband is tired from all the walking and stays behind for a while. I know how he feels. We began to chat about making the trip here and how nice DC usually is this time of year. In the distance we can hear the speeches from the rally stage. Someone is comparing Trump to Nixon. I shake my head sadly. No, no…I was there… The husband says disgustedly “Now they’re getting political again.”

If I was a cat my ears would be pricking up now. “Well,” says I, “Nixon at least had some experience in government and politics, and he was smart. Trump is no Nixon.”

He shakes his head and says with more than a touch of bitterness, “Nixon was framed.”

In an instant I’m 21 again and I’m hearing that shifty voice on the TV again and all the memories of that time, and the anger and frustration and outrage come rushing back. But I’m not actually 21 anymore and I don’t jump up on my pulpit and start thumping away. I’m a 60-something and I’ve just had a head on collision between what was then and here I am now, and my voice fails me. Probably that’s for the best. It was such a nice conversation we were having. Maybe he sees the astonished look on my face, or hears it in my sudden silence. What the hell!? But we agree without saying so that our conversation is now over and because I’m four decades removed from the 21 year old I used to be I leave it at this. We part amicably. 

I toss my hot dog box in a nearby trashcan and walk a short distance away. I can still hear the speeches in the distance, but now I just want to go back to my hotel room and sleep. It seems now that any food makes me tired. But also my legs are starting to hurt. I think about the shots I’ve managed to get so far and decide to just skip the march. I remember Don Juan’s warning about the forth foe and allow myself to feel even more gloomy. The walk back to the hotel is going to be about as much as I can handle now. But I know there is more to it. I’m 63, and reckon I’m just beginning my walk into the country of old age. I still find it hard to really believe. A therapist I was seeing after mom died told me once that I “present young.” It was the only thing she said to me that managed to make me feel better. But it’s getting harder and harder to ignore my body’s insistence on it. And I’m coming to realize that the weight of everything I’ve seen in my life seems to somehow add to the fatigue. So many times I’ve let my guard down, only to have reality suddenly jump out at me and laugh in my face. I want to believe in the human status. But humans make that so damn hard.

You present young… There is no such thing as growing up. There is only growing. That, ultimately, is why we practice science. To learn. To discover. To grow. And if you’re not doing that you’re just waiting to die and life is so damn short. How can you just let it all slip away like that. A joke I heard once is that it isn’t that life is so short but that you’re dead for so long. There is so much, so painfully much that you will never know…how can you let everything you Can know get away from you? The earth is round. Evolution happens. Global warming is real and burning fossil fuel is causing it. Trickle down economics is grift. Nixon was a petulant resentful cheat and yes…a crook!  We are all on Newton’s beach, finding this or that pretty sea shell or pebble while the great ocean of truth around us is all undiscovered. But at least we can find those.

I turn toward the Capital dome and start walking…and thinking… 

The first foe is fear. You walk into the unknown and it scares you and you back off and then you’re finished before you have even started. Defeat the first foe, defeat fear, and you will learn and you will grow and a moment will come when everything becomes clear. And so you have encountered the second foe: clarity. Its weapon is certainty. You believe you know all there is to know and you stop searching further, and again you are defeated, because that clarity you think you have is just a small part of a greater whole you will never know. Defeat the second foe, realize that for all that you do know, it is only a small portion of what there is to know, and taken by itself it is almost always wrong. Then you will be wise and strong in your searching. Your knowledge will grow and you come to realize that knowledge is power and you begin to seek out even more knowledge and bask in the power it brings. And so you have encountered the third foe: power. Its weapon is hunger. Now your knowledge is a powerful weapon you can turn on your enemies, but it is never enough and you want more. And more. And even more, because as you become stronger so do the enemies you encounter, and so you will seek knowledge only for the power it brings, and so you have become a tool of power. Defeat the third foe, realize that power is never yours to have, but only to yours to hold in trust for a short while, that you are never its owner but merely its guardian, and do not hoard it, but pass on to others. Then you will continue to grow and learn and continue down the pathways of knowledge, though the weight of all the years you have now spent learning and growing begins to bear down on you. And so you will encounter the forth and final foe, the one you can never completely defeat but only push away for a time. The forth foe is old age, and its weapon is fatigue…

I go back to my hotel room and take a nap. I miss the march entirely. Later I wake up and it’s not nightfall yet, so I go back out with my camera, and wander the streets taking pictures of the discarded signs and march ephemera…

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Flashback: April 22, 2017 – March For Science Nixonian

February 12th, 2018

Openly

News is flashing all across the Internet tubes about Adam Rippon’s bronze medal at this year’s winter Olympics. And the news articles I’m seeing now are all very positive and hopeful that this represents the dawning of a new era, where athletes can be honest about themselves, not just to the world but more importantly to themselves. Because the closet is a ball and chain sapping them of their strength, limiting all they can be, and you can’t accept limits and expect to reach the Olympics. In a recent interview Adam Rippon put it this way…

“Being gay isn’t what defines me, but it’s a big part of who I am and I like to talk about my coming out because that’s when I started to own who I was as a person,” said Rippon, who spoke to TeamUSA.org on the topic in honor of June’s LGBTQ Pride Month. “That’s what’s important, not the being gay part but at some point — gay or straight — you need to own who you are. You can’t be afraid of who you are or else you’re afraid of your own potential, and if you don’t own who you are then you can’t grow.

“When I came out was when I was able to breathe. When everyone knew, I didn’t feel like I was hiding anything. I didn’t feel like I was putting on a show. I was being me and it was easy. It was a lot easier to be me than to be who I thought I was supposed to be.”

In another interview, which I can’t find again now, he relates how, having failed to qualify in prior Olympics, he became determined to seek out and deal with anything within himself that was holding him back, keeping him from finding and owning his place of strength. What he eventually figured out was it was the closet that was playing a big part in keeping him from getting there, and that when he came out, it was not only liberating, it allowed him to grow as an athlete, find his strength.  And he made it to the Olympics. And now he’s a medal winner.

All my life I have watched the closet suffocating people. Good people. Decent, loving, hard working, beautiful people. This is truth: the closet is no sanctuary. It is a prison. Maybe now is not the time for you to come out. But for you to be everything you can be, that time must eventually come. Find a way to make it happen. Don’t accept the half of a life in exchange for security. The security of the closet is an illusion, and we only get one life. 

They’re calling him and Gus Kenworthy the first openly gay U.S. athletes to compete.  Actually according to Smithsonian Magazine that honor belongs to Robert Dover representing the United States in 2004 in the equestrian events. The first out gay athlete to compete in the Olympics was English figure skater John Curry, and he did not come out voluntarily, but was cornered by a hostile press about his sexual orientation after his win.  He acknowledged it, and later gave the traditional victory performance, which allows the media to call him the first out Olympian.  But he operative word here is ‘openly’, as opposed to ‘outed’. In fact Lots of gay athletes have competed at the Olympics. But fear of hostility from officials and judges, both at the Olympics and in their home countries, kept them closeted.

And it still does for many. Already I’m hearing stories about closeted athletes confiding in Rippon and Kenworthy. So it goes. Yes, it’s progress. Yes, every tiny little inch of that progress, every tiny little baby step forward, comes with a torrent of pain stabbing at beautiful hearts that never deserved any of it.

Someday…someday…we will all shine…


Adam Rippon, photo by Rick Bowmer, AP

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Openly

July 5th, 2017

I’m Sorry

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I wasn’t braver back then. It might have made a difference in both our lives. Maybe.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on I’m Sorry

April 23rd, 2017

The Science Of Shadows And Light

I went to the March for Science in Washington D.C. More about that later. But I’m back home now, and the first thing I did naturally was offload my digital photos onto the network drive. I’ll put them into Lightroom in a bit and post a new photo gallery later. The rally was taxing enough on my sixty-three year old body that I had to bail out before the march actually happened, and retreat to my hotel room. But I got a bunch of good shots at the rally on the Washington Monument grounds so I’m happy.

Later, after my legs recovered a bit and I got some energy back, I took a dinnertime walk around D.C. and snapped off a few shots with the mini Hasselblad (Sony) of what was left of the march ephemera after all the crowds were gone and the streets were nearly empty and it was still drizzly because I’m a weird old fuck and I was in a gloomy mood just then. If you’ve seen my art photography here you know what was coming. And I wasn’t sure even as I was taking those shots whether or not I wanted to include them in a gallery of shots of the March for Science. What comes out of me at those times when I’m doing it for the pure art of it is pretty dark. I can see that photographic eye in everything I do and I don’t really like it. But it’s worse when I’m not working on a theme or an event. Then it’s the pure inner photographic eye that comes out. I was pretty sure none of that belonged in a gallery with the science march.

As I wandered, I found a street sign…one of those historical markers D.C. has been putting around town. This one told me the studio of Mathew Brady was nearby  on Pennsylvania Avenue, and that it was relatively unchanged from when he lived there. So I tried to find it just to nod in fellowship to whatever memories might still be lingering there…

Mathew B. Brady was one of the first American photographers, best known for his scenes of the Civil War. He studied under inventor Samuel F. B. Morse, who pioneered the daguerreotype technique in America. -Wikipedia

But of course it had no marking plaque or even a street number over the door so I’m still not sure I saw the right one. But something had drawn me there. Obviously since I’m at the March for Science, I count myself as a person  of science. But I am also an artist, and those two sides of me were excruciatingly difficult to reconcile when I was a teenager, until I read Jacob Bronowski’s little book, Science and Human Values.  I try to be rational about things, but there are moments when I feel moved by a spirit I have no name for. That was one of them.

I am not a camera, the camera is me. What comes out of it is me. But also what was actually there. The reality within and without. The cold grey drizzle. The nearly but not quite empty streets. What I saw. How it made me feel. In no other art are both those things quite that literally true. The photographic image is fixed by light entering the camera and it exists in a fixed time and place, but the what the photographer sees is within and timeless. Brady was the first to show us what war looks like via the camera’s unflinching deterministic eye. But it was also a mirror held up to ourselves. This too is human. In retrospect it was a perfect sort of serendipity being drawn to Brady’s studio that evening because probably no other art owes as much to science as photography. Chemistry, optics, the physics of light. The camera shows us what was there, and in the process tells us what it is to be human. Whether or not we want to know it.

 

Mathew_Brady_1875_sm

 

reflection-sm

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Science Of Shadows And Light

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