Monday, June 17, 2013


The Japanese struck Pearl Harbor and we citizens were devastated. In the maelstrom of reports, we were heartened by the report of a genuine American hero, Colin Kelly. He, we were told, dived his bomber down the smokestack of a Japanese capital ship and blew it to pieces and we went wild with joy. His son was voted an automatic entrance into West Point and a Brooklyn machine gunner on his plane also achieved some notoriety. 

Even at thirteen, it seemed dubious to me, but along with the rest of the country, I believed. Later on we learned that our country had lied to us, that the Colin Kelly story was fiction but by then things looked better and we were not too distressed.

The story had all the elements of heroism, personal sacrifice for a worthy cause. Still, the Japanese Kamikaze pilots did exactly the same thing and we called them all sorts of names, but heroes was not one. German pilots rammed American bombers, again heroic from the German perspective but I think we called them cowards on the home front.

An essential part of heroism is the hero’s vulnerability; an invincible character surely does not qualify. Achilles could not be defeated in battle; all he did was chop down the enemy, hardly heroic. Superman’s authors had to invent kryptonite to add vulnerability. Batman? Totally vulnerable so he fully qualifies.

In truth, there are two defining characteristics of a hero. The above is one; the other simply is the hero of a story. More precisely, it is the protagonist, but what do we generally call characters that do great things in our stories? You got it: heroes.
The general notion: “He that fights and runs away lives to fight another day,” does not fit our concept of hero . . . all of which takes us to Sanborn.

The details about Sanborn are somewhat murky. We know he worked for a company that contracted with the CIA to do what I have no idea. Suddenly, he disappears with many documents, his story exposing the NSA surveillance systems appears in a British newspaper and he has zipped off to Hong Kong. In a public announcement, he tells us that the people have a right to know about their loss of privacy and states he is willing to face the consequences. Somewhat irrelevantly, he also tells us that he trusts the Hong Kong courts more than American courts, thus he is now an expert of jurisprudence.

There is some talk that he has given the Chinese government some information but he also has exposed that the UK has spied on friendly and not-so-friendly governments. In spite of his willingness to face the consequences of his behavior, he continues to hide. There is no hint about what resources he has. I mean, it costs money to live and I doubt he qualifies for Hong Kong charity. Surely, before he made his move, he amassed sufficient funds for him to live and apparently comfortably. This clearly was not a spontaneous adventure but a carefully planned one.

Well, here there is an extraordinary argument about whether he is a hero or a traitor. On the hero side are the extreme right and the extreme left wings, both of which hate government secrecy. On the traitor side are those who insist that the NSA has acted lawfully, that he has broken laws and should punished.

Of course, there are not certainties about such matters. A case can be made that however he did it; he opened up a debate long overdue. Senator Udall has already , or will introduce legislation that will curtail the Patriot Act and I think that is a good idea though it probably stands not a chance. But, now we are hearing that our allies are less likely to share information with us because we leak too easily. Shaking our relationship with our friends cannot be good.

I come down on the side of traitor. Had he been willing to face the consequences, hero would have been better. In the event, he seems a bit too self-aggrandizing for my taste.

Is this fellow named Sanborn a hero?
Or simply a traitorous zero
He exposed many secrets
And expressed no regrets
The ethics of his act seem clearo.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Some decades ago, when the women’s liberation movement was fully in swing, some coed published pictures of all the male students under the heading of potential rapists. As you might imagine, this shocked the sensibility of the young men so listed and sent a tremor through the American male population. Of course, there were many women also so shocked and protests filled the media denouncing the young woman who had been so blatant in her distrust and hostility toward men.

Me? I knew I was not a rapist and could never imagine any situations in which I might act so and thus felt the unfairness of her accusations. Time passes, the women’s movement loses some of its fervor though not its concerns and it appears as if society understands women’s concerns. Rape, was once thought to be a consequence of a woman’s provocative behavior. “Your honor, what could I do, she looked so enticing and I’m a red-blooded man. I only did what any man would do under the circumstances.” That was often enough for an “innocent” verdict. Or, rape was thought to be a function of time and place. I knew a number of men, somewhat ashamed of themselves, but not much, who raped “enemy” women in Viet Nam. They also (not all) engaged in rather sadistic behaviors, but that is not this essay’s topic.

Well, here we are and while rape is perhaps less common, we find old men of some authority telling us about legitimate rape in which pregnancy is almost not possible. I suppose if no conception the rape itself is of little consequence. What’s the phrase, “No harm, no foul.”?

Clearly, the readers of this essay likely remember some of the above and are enraged by some current attitudes, but I suspect that the issue has currently seemed less significant. Until, the generals gave testimony at a recent Senate hearing. As you are aware, the incidence of sexual assault and rape has grown considerably in our military services. Commanders have refused to try men accused of such behavior and at least once, a commander overturned a verdict of guilty. The officer in charge of the military’s effort to curtail such activities himself is now accused of such. In spite of the warnings to the generals, what has been accomplished is an increase in such ugly behavior.

The solution seems obvious; create an independent judicial system that would take commanders out of the loop. But, but, wait, that would interfere with the sacred chain of command. The commanding officer is in charge, period. He or she has to weigh the accused importance to the service and sometimes may decide that the needs are greater than justice. It’s as if the accused is so important that he (yes, he) can get away with anything.

It’s important to understand that the military likes to change only on its own terms. President Truman desegregated the military, but there were black divisions well after that. They did poorly because their white officers were not very good and desegregation occurred only when those black divisions were broken up and mixed in with the white divisions, those that had better officers. What happened? The black soldiers performed as well as their white counterparts.

I suspect that the generals, in spite of their promises to do better will be forced to give up a bit of their power and things will be better. When John McCain said that a woman’s daughter could not be safe in the military, we know they have to get better.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


This is not about the TV show in which the good wife manages to be unfaithful to her husband and still smell like roses. After all, she is super competent and plucky and has much to complain about re her philandering husband.

No, this is about the concept of a good wife, not something I know much about, but as you know, I don't have to know much about anything to write a few hundred words exposing my ignorance.

First, what is a good wife? Dumb question? Not at all. Once, a good wife brought land and money into her new family and hoped they'd treat her well. Once, a good wife had wide hips and promised many children, males preferred. Mothers desperately hope their sons will marry, preferably a good woman who will treat them with love and respect. Lacking such criteria, the mother can usually put the kibosh on any future enterprise. There are always issues of fitness for the new role in the particular family and social culture so good wife is always hard to predict. After all, Anne Boleyn looked perfect for Henry VIII but she produced only girls and a feeble son so off with her head to clear the way for another. His first wife was good to cement a relationship with Spain, but lacked in the production of sons. At least, she kept her head.

In our sophisticated, modern way of freedom in love, there are fewer such objective concerns. There are some guidelines, such as similar background but such are like a wisp of smoke in the wind when confronted with love. When a king gives up his throne for love, what cannot it conquer?

Just about everyone knows about that. For most, it starts like a tickle. In some cases explodes into massive passion and demand called the “thunderbolt.” Whatever it is called, it dominates all existence and demands, yes, demands gratification. In looser days, women have been abducted into new families and even now, men steal women seeking a good one.

Other ways of getting there are slower to develop. Mine took three days, Shirley's four. But however it grows, love includes, the intense desire to be in the others company, difficulty in keeping hands off, a demand for exclusivity and threats, usually implied if that is violated and promises of a glorious future together.

If both are of the same mind there is much hugging, kissing, canoodling and, dare I say it bedding until finally formal declaration in front of family and friends (Or at least, two witnesses) and all is signed and sealed into perpetuity or divorce, whichever comes first.

Do you notice there is no place in the formula for a good woman? Love has no use for the concept but somewhere down the road, the excitement, the passion slow down. In a lovely movie with Judy Holliday and Aldo Ray, he passes by her and farts. Startled, she mutters “Animal noises?” Clearly, she has a new perspective about her husband.

When the honeymoon ends, the good wife construct enters and many a man (women also) wonders, “What have I done?”

So, we come back to the conundrum: What is a “good wife?” If you can figure that out, let me know.

If you find yourself a good wife
You have clearly augmented your life.
She will satisfy your needs
With many good deeds
What, no strife in your life, what a wife!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

WHAT DO I DO TO STEAL? (Or Cheat or lie)  blog

First, you must understand that I am four square honest. I don't have no truck with sliding into dishonesty. Of course, as a lad I had no such qualms. My first dishonest act, when I was ten or eleven was to steal a fishhook from the local Sears. Understand that in the middle of Williamsburg, Brooklyn the only water I knew about came in a bathtub, the sewers or the Gowanis canal. Understand that the latter was almost mythical; I have never seen it or knew anyone who had ever seen it so the notion of using my illegal hook to catch fish misses the point. I stole for the excitement of it.

I had not known of such stealing until a few years before the above when I saw a little old lady steal three bars of candy from a theater vendor. In those days, the wares were open to all and the expectation was that kids would do the dirty. That an elderly woman would commit a criminal act changed my perspective about honesty and women forever.

In the night, my friends would raid local warehouses and wanted me to join them. I would gladly have done so except my parents, incomprehensibly found evening tasks for me. I'm convinced now that they bought a piano to keep me too busy to embark on a life of street crime. Sometimes I think I might have become a master-burglar much like Raffles who confounded the Surete, certainly a more exciting pastime than, yawn, doing psychology. Lost opportunities have a tendency to haunt us.

Because of my parent's malign influence, I became less criminally active and pretty soon I would not lie, cheat or use foul language. My friends thought I was a paragon of absurdity though I admit they knew not such words. But, I was content to be as I was and then, I married. After marriage, not before but after, I discovered that my new wife was a thief who upon arriving home would boast of her achievements in pilfering. It did not take me long to understand that her family was pretty much the same. Her younger brother whenever he had the chance shoplifted or smuggled cigarettes or stole TV sets from motels. During holiday season, he'd work at Macy’s or Gimbels and always, I mean always came home with piles of loot. To her credit, his mother, while giggling and accepting his “presents,”
always told him he “shouldn't.”

Whenever she wanted something but thought it over priced, Marilyn would “acquire” it. Her family mantra was, “They're all crooks so stealing from them is just getting back a bit of one's own.”

Marilyn gradually shifted toward honesty, though sometimes I emulated her. Imagine, you have a lamp and an obscure part of it became inoperative. The small part was available only from the manufacturer, otherwise, toss the lamp. Well, I found a similar lamp in a shop and lifted that part. Damn them for turning me into a crook.

Some of you know that I was an indifferent student so some cheating was for academic survival. Obviously, it worked because here I am with PhD and all the appurtenant perks. Do any of you suggest that I return the degree? Good luck, goody-two-shoes! It turns out that we trailblazers showed the way to current students who apparently never honestly take a test.

OK, so crime pays, but with advancing age, I have come to realize that civilization requires some trace of honesty so I now provide that trace. I don't steal or cheat thus preserving our basic tenets of decent behavior. I have again become a paragon of absurdity. Well, most of the time.

If there is something you want, just steal it
And, if convicted you can always appeal it.
For any massively fraught crime
Judges might fine you a dime
And suggest you not be such a dimwit

Sunday, May 12, 2013

MAY 6, 2013

Shirley and I take an annual trip to Las Vegas where we eat, and make merry We eschew drinking) in my time share (. We would run to wonderful shows and restaurants and spend money like water. There is a certain amount of exhilaration in all such. Gambling? Of course, we do some of that but it is not the purpose of the trip; instead, we love the glitter, and the throngs of people. Las Vegas is one of the few places where class and caste matter little. Except for the special places for the extra rich, all are together in the mad passion for pleasure.

Our trips were daily lunges toward this or that excitement and for the most part they were well worth the effort. If you haven't seen Cirque du Soleil, well they travel to Denver and you'd be wise to hie ye to that venue for the chance to observe extraordinary human capacities. Or, we'd never miss Rita Rudna, funny as hell, or the Blue Men . . . but Shirley hates the Harley-Davidson restaurant so that is off limits. Don't ask me why, but it no doubt is a minor example of that human capacity to find neuroticism in anything. I, for example will never eat okra and if you ask me about that rejection I'll mutter the equivalent of “because” and change the topic.

And, there are really great restaurants. There is the one which exists inside a great bird cage made of gracefully curved wooden bars and with wonderful food and immaculate service. And an English pub which provides meat pies that are rarely found elsewhere. The extraordinary Belagio buffet offers foods from around the world and their amazing display of gelato not to mention the amazing taste of the stuff must be experiernced. Also, Bellagio is gorgeous.

But, if such are too pricey, you can find two eggs, potatoes and toast for $1.98 with lunch and dinner equivalently priced.

We'd spend our time running from hither to yon and back, but this time was different. Our flight to Las Vegas was not direct. In some fashion what was to be a direct flight went to Phoenix first and we were somewhat flattened when we arrived at our destination. We wanted to run to our room but were diverted by a concierge who offered, a “catered” dinner (hot damn) lunch the next day at an obscure Italian restaureant and a show for $179 and all we had to do was sit still for another sales pitch. Ah, those sales pitches, the hard sell in action. Their assumption was that if only we understood the joys we could purchase tem for much gelt and no wild horse could stop us from showering them with money. I hate the damned things and refuse to go which produces the usual “Why not?” from sundry staff and to which I responded in a curmudgeonly tone “none of your business.”

Anyway, we fell into our room, refreshed ourselves and went to a formerly favorite restaurant and realized how the food had deteriorated. But, the next day, instead of cavorting about we lay in bed. Perhaps we climbed out at 10 AM and I went down to their general store for two news papers and some breakfast food. Back in my room, we leisurely ate, read the papers, thought about what we might do, finished the papers and finally decided to wander over to MGM where we would be part of a survey of potentially new TV shows. This time, they gave us each $20, so before gambling were ahead. After that, we wandered around MGM, threw a few nickles in some slot machines and then took a cab back. And, that was how we spent our trip, lolling (a wonderful word) about until the early afternoon, later dropping in on various hotels and finding nice places to eat. Once we saw a terrific magician and later we dropped in at the Mob Association. I got to speak with a “mob boss” who warned me against spilling the “beans” to a lurking policeman. The policeman tried to worm out of me the secrets I learned from the “mob boss” but I held to my oath of omerta. We learned about the seamy origins of Las Vegas gambling, the big shot bad guys and how things were cleaned up. If you ever get to Vegas, it's worth the $25.

Mostly, we enjoyed each other, enjoyed lolling (that word again) around and had a hell of a good time . . . even though it was the dullest vacation ever. I guess love is the difference.

Las Vegas is quite a neat city
If you like garish, it really is pretty
But, now the truth I'm exposing
We really preferred dozing
Laying around was the real nitty gritty.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

4-8-13 HUMANITY The Ego-centric Animal  blog

If you trace human history as far back as is possible, you will find evidence of some sort of worship. While I do believe that paleo-anthropologists over-estimate the meaning of some artifacts as religious still there is no doubt that humans have always built religions. And, it is reasonable to wonder for what reason.

We originally hunted and gathered fruits and nuts for sustenance; life was a commodity that we took from animals so we could eat them. But, somewhere along the way, perhaps because of guilt, perhaps because the children loved their pets or perhaps simply because we have a highly developed sense of empathy (not enough but that's a different topic) we began the practice of apologizing for our killings. Still, that begged the question: To whom, or what was the apology directed?

The world, a mysterious place had to have spirits and godlets to make sense of things and, the self-love of humans required immortality.

Well, bodies deteriorate - no eternal life there. So, to preserve our self-esteem, to preserve the notion that we could not simply disappear from existence we argued there is more to us than the body. We postulated an essence, and a different kind of existence populated by the souls of the dead.

We a simple stroke of the brain, we had conquered death. To augment our new idea we developed a set of understandings called religion with rituals and idols and the comfort provided by a gathering place for the dead. Heaven beckoned.
The soul idea, providing comfort in harsh, unpredictable environments has lasted even until now though; in spite of the wisdom of our elders we cannot find any evidence for it. Of course, before humans learned and continue to learn to understand how the universe works there was no significant challenge to the idea. Of course, burning heretics at the stake certainly cooled the ardor for soul investigations. But, the religious had disagreements and with the reformation the disagreements became bloody. The Vatican sold indulgences so that loving relatives could get the souls of their loved ones out of purgatory. Luther put paid to that. Do you get to heaven by doing good works or because you have proper faith? Again, blood was spilled. Baptisms at birth or when the child could reason disputes provided another occasion for killing

No solutions seemed possible and after more bloody warfare, perhaps only by exhaustion things settled down . . . until science. Science is nothing but an attitude about the material world. The question shifted from why to how. It no longer was why did God make the grass grow, but what were the circumstances under which grass appeared and prospered. Did the flood actually occur? Of course, look at the fossils high in mountains where the flood deposited them. Wonderful explanation until geology described how mountains formed; they rose high carrying with them the desiderata of dead animals. Yet, the argument persists even now.

Again, many wise people have attempted to use science to prove the existence of the soul. In one experiment, as people lay dying they were weighed and after death weighed again. The religionists anticipated lost weight because of the disappearance of the soul but no matter how much they finagled, they could not demonstrate a physical difference before and after death.

So, is there a soul? It is important to understand that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. To say that differently, because we cannot find evidence for a soul is not proof that soul does not exist. The lack of evidence means only that we don't know. Of course, we can ask the believers why they believe in the absence of evidence but surely their response would not satisfy. There is a bumper sticker that says, “Don't believe everything you think.” I love it.

So, when the day comes when I die, who knows perhaps I'll be happily surprised. Nah, I don't think so.

If you want to fit in with society
Belief in soul is a necessary priority
Their mentation is lazy
So soul believers get crazy
But, as ecclesiasts says, "All is Vanity."

Sunday, April 7, 2013

NRA:  In the American Tradition

According to our history as presented by American and Italian film, this is a nation built on gunfire. John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Hopalong Cassidy, Lash LaRue, Tom Mix, the Lone Ranger and a vast number of others all fought for the American way by shooting up the bad guys. We boys (girls too?) surely identified with such American heroes and John Wayne has reached near Iconic proportions as the personification of American values. Self-reliance, impeccable ethics and quick with a gun.

And, now we have the NRA to continue the tradition. Our American heroes cleared the land of Indians with their Colts, Winchesters and Henrys; shooting it out is part of our heritage. So, it is no surprise that the NRA urges that we transform our schools into mini-forts. Of course, they are not so designated. I mean, who would wish to send their children to Fort Overland or Camp Erasmus etc. Yet, that is what they urge. Never mind banning assault type weapons, or large magazines, or creating background checks for would be purchasers. According to the NRA, such laws could never work perfectly so no law is preferable. By the standard of failed perfection, they ought to prefer school shoot-outs; after all, school guards might not be able to do the job perfectly.

Let’s not quibble and consider the ramifications. Each school would have either police officers on site, or teachers, volunteers, would receive training in the handling of hand weapons and in small arms combat so to be on a par with murderous invaders. Would there be bulletproof glass? That would seem reasonable. Would the doors be locked? Better that than permit shooters to simply walk in and start their deadly fandango. And, if someone knocked at the door asking for entrance, the armed protectors would have to gather at that site just in case the visitor would come in shooting. But, if the shooter came in with a thirty shot magazine, he or she could likely handle pistol-armed defenders . . . unless the defenders also had such rifles. What a sight that might be. The OK corral revitalized with enough heroes to go around.

The reality is somewhat different. As experts have pointed out, in school is one of the safest spots for children. Mass school killings are rare. That means the protectors would become bored with their assignment and bored defenders are not exactly what we might prefer. The cost? Millions, with thus less money for education. And, if bad guys decided that school forts were too dangerous for them, well, there are always the movies or the malls or buses or restaurants where they could do their nasty work.

What is so distressing is the sheer dumbness of the NRA’s proposal. The old saying: “If all you have is a hammer, all problems look like a nail,” describes their mental cul-de-sac.

NRA experts argue that there is no evidence of reduced gun crime after assault type weapons were banned. They don’t tell us that the congress made it illegal, that’s right, illegal, to gather any evidence of the efficacy of such banning. So, yes, the NRA is right, there is no evidence.

Let’s do it, let’s contact our legislatures and urge them to pass gun-control laws and make them work. As I’ve pointed out, there are always exceptions to constitutional mandates, how is it that our constitution loving, gun-toting zealots don’t go mad in their defense of them. Yes, let’s get it done.

Sunday, March 31, 2013


In a recent article in the Denver Post Mike Rosen, in his usual attack on rationality and sanity actually made a sensible point. First, he tore to shreds the new and proposed gun control laws in Colorado suggesting, for example that they were not perfect, that criminals and the crazy could still be able to acquire guns illegally. Thus, in his usually brilliant prose, he again pointed out that the good is never acceptable. Only the perfect must be achieved or the whole idea of limiting guns must be eschewed. Because he writes clearly, it is easy to assume he knows what he talks about, but alas not except for his one flash of, dare I say it, brilliance.
Instead of those, useless, mindless, imperfect gun laws, he suggests that we should all be prepared to defend ourselves should a shooter aim at us with evil intent. We, of a certain age, have all seen John Wayne, and others of his ilk, dispense with two or three black-hatted baddies with his six-gun, his six-shooter his peacemaker. We knew his town was a safer place because of him and his crowd of merry shootists. Hurray for Wayne and hurrah for Rosen.
But, now comes the brilliant part. His Waynesque solution, getting more guns into the hands of good guys is really a disguised way to keep the mass killers under control. You see, Rosen understands that without guns, the they can attack with fists and knives, but more, they can use flame-throwers or poison gas or IEDS, or loosen packs of hungry lions or dogs or pigs into a mall where they would munch on tasty us. You see, he understands there is no limit on the second amendment; anyone can own any weapon. Your disgruntled neighbor can defend him/herself against you with an rpg or a 20mm cannon because the second can never be weakened as a bulwark against tyranny. Lawsuits are expensive and one might lose, but ammo is cheap and essentially killing is instantaneous, problem solved.
So, Rosen is on to something. Let’s give him that melodious cheer from the Bronx for his wisdom.
We all know the constitution is sacrosanct, that it offers essential commands which may not, never be violated. That is the construction placed upon it by the NRA, an organization that holds us to the strictest construction of amendment 2. According to them, there can be no deviation; anything that hints at modifying it must absolutely be rejected. Thus, they oppose gun registration, they oppose the banning of civilian assault rifles, they oppose smaller magazines and they oppose background checks.
Yet, consider that our first amendment, that which guarantees free speech has restrictions placed on it. Slander and libel are actionable. The FCC determines which words are forbidden on our public airways. Shouting fire in a crowded place is illegal. Loud preaching in schools by zealous students is forbidden. And, I am sure there are many other examples.  

Or, notice that our Supreme Court has declared abortion to be constitutional. But, a number of states have laws that regulated when it may be accomplished. After certain dates, abortion is illegal.

Where is the uproar from our constitution lovers decrying restrictions on constitutional rights? Alas, they are silent; they don’t give a damn (whoops, a proscribed word) and often demand them because they violate their moral sense. Hypocrites, all of them.

Strict construction of our constitution
Must continue lest bloody revolution
By our friends with their guns
Who have threatened to be Huns
Their madness can provide no solution.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

POLYTHEISM: Where did it go?  

Polytheism came first; it was a logical extension of humans projecting themselves into the universe. If they had motives, desires and agency, they could only assume that such were ubiquitous. They built idols who literally were gods, but idols can break so the gods were elevated to the heavens. Just as there were leaders and followers, just as there were experts in a variety of tasks, the gods were arranged in a hierarchy and gods appeared whose expertise matched the human model.

Hinduism, perhaps the first organized religion grew by accretion. The concept calls for a single god with three manifestations and many other lesser gods. There is some argument that Christianity followed that model with its Trinitarian god and a host of lesser gods called saints. Both models are called henotheistic, having a main god but acknowledging their existence of other gods.

Because Hinduism is considered a tradition, because it gathered itself over centuries nothing occurred which produced major upheavals. Religious bigotry until recently had no place in its ethos and, if I understand correctly it was not designed to proselytize; they did not have religious wars. The Hindu system of polytheism worked until in the late nineties when it became the state religion and that always causes trouble; there has been considerable violence between Muslims since.

Ancient Greek polytheism, henotheistic with Zeus (or Jove in the Roman system) in charge of a group of experts worked quite well. There were no religious wars; depending on circumstances, prayer could go to this or that god depending on what was needed. No Greek city-state made it the official religion, so there could be no accretion of wealth and thus power. The Egyptians had roughly the same system, but had state recognition. When the pharaoh, Akhenaton proposed worshiping the sun, the priests conspired against him and that ended it. Egypt was essentially ruled by cooperation between religion and politics.

Generally speaking, the henotheistic system worked pretty well raising the question: Why did monotheism replace it?

For reasons not clear, the Greco-Roman system left the people dissatisfied. I suspect the earliest indications, fascination by Judaic religious belief because it presented a new concept of god provided them comfort. (Were it easier to become Jewish, perhaps it would now be a Jewish world.) Up until then, the gods cared not a fig for humans. The gods did what they did quite indifferent to human suffering. The universe had no warmth, no sense of purpose, no empathy for human pain. Judaism provided a universe that cared about people, became involved in their lives, provided help in terms of duress. That surely felt good, but as noted, joining up was not easy of accomplishment. The Hebrew people became first henotheistic, then monotheistic primarily as a way of unifying the tribes. Without such unification, the tribes could not successfully defend themselves; with it, they became formidable. Poor Pharaoh, poor Canaanites, the unified Hebrews, all under the same god, hammered them.

Then came Joshua, (Jesus, according to the Greek version of the bible) a rabbi who promised salvation, who promised heaven and by implication, hell, who promised love and resurrection all rewards for good and bad folk. People need not complain about a rough life, their reward, heaven, became the goal of living. If you were poor, or a slave or a gladiator, in Roman days many many people the message of salvation became irresistible. Still, only poor people resonated to the message and Christianity would have become only one of many. People could opt for one or the other religious understanding until Constantine, for purely political reasons declared Christianity the state religion. With enough on his side, he could rule more comfortably. The consequence of his decision meant that the Christians could wipe out paganism. Originally, the Romans had hated Christianity because they saw it as atheistic and realized they wanted to convert everyone.

Noted above, when the state chooses a religion problems arise. Church and state connive to get greater control over the people. The church gathers immense resources because there is no other organization competing for financial support. The church demands that others join up; remaining aloof often meant death. Religious tolerance disappeared. What we consider a matter of conscience became state mandate. Religious wars appeared; no competition could exist.

The three Abrahamic religions, often called “great,” could not find common ground though they all express worshiping the same god. Humans traded away considerable comfort for the promise of a caring universe. And, most still don't accept the notion that it does not give a rat's patooty for humanity. If we ever get back to the Greco-Roman system, I would worship Aphrodite.

If you're looking around for religion
Monotheism is a lousy decision
If you have lots of woes
It will lead you by your nose
And screw up the human condition.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

GOD How Come?  

This is not a screed against the existence of God. By now, most of you know that I doubt that such a being exists. In formal language, I'm a probabilistic atheist, that is, the chances are negligibly different from zero. Still, in spite of my enlightened opinion, it is clear that belief in God is epidemic among humans. But, the begged question is how did that happen. I must say that a cursory examination of the net provides little that informs so I will leap in here to explore what I think is a plausible understanding. Please note that plausibility is not evidence, I doubt if any evidence can be found and thus we are all entitled to our points of view.

Animals live in a state of nature. They know enough to find food, produce progeny and how to respond to danger. Lacking any one of three, the species could not exist. Think of the buffalo; they are with us only because of human sufferance; we slaughtered them. Animals do not wear clothing and do not have the capacity for abstract thought, so unfamiliar with predators they never figured out that humans became their deadly enemy.

Well, we are animals and thus we also lived in a state of nature. For millions of years our forebears reproduced, ate and survived enough so that they could change into us. These activities required that they learn the habits of animals and plants, that is, the regularities they saw around them. But, they also saw disruptions, sometimes violent and deadly: babies died, hunters died, people died, etc. With all their practical knowledge of nature, they faced considerable chaos; and chaos meant they could not make any sense of their world much less make useful predictions. Without knowing the why of things,l they could not determine solutions.

Still, they had a model at hand, themselves. They knew they had motives and made plans and thus assumed there was plan-fulness and motivation in the world around them. Why did a tree fall? Perhaps, in emulation of human experience, its spirit (Soul; Essence) died. Whatever, they shifted from state-of-nature living to populating living things with spirit and thus perceived orderliness. Again, using human models of hierarchy, they shifted to higher order spirits, they developed over-arching gods who could be asked for favors. May Poseidon give us fair winds. May Zeus favor my enterprise. Ares, let me survive the battle. And, it worked! Either the winds were fair or if not, they were angry for some reason and required atonement (recompense). In either case, the universe remained orderly. Remember how Oedipus staggered through life unaware of his crimes? Everything he did as king provided benefits to all, but the angry gods did him in. Unwittingly, he had broken their law and they broke him for that transgression. But, the gods had rules, motives and reasons; their universe was orderly.

The gods accounted for everything, had their own sense of justice and punished humans or rewarded them often capriciously. They were human writ large. Zeus was a womanizer and a rapist. He and his wife bickered and often opposed each other in marriage. The gods became angry, did stupid things, felt guilt and randomly interacted with humanity, but they explained things. Ares in charge of war, Aphrodite, love, Apollo, the sun, they kept things going. And, they could be urged to do to this that or the other thing. But, they also were perceived to be in conflict with each other with humans as their pawns.

The Greek Philosophers struggled with understanding the gods and humans' place in the universe. The Stoics thought the only difference between the gods and humans was that the former were immortal. Otherwise, no difference. Epicurus insisted that humans soul dissipated at death and that the gods had nothing to do with us. Aristotle offered a considerably more sophisticated version of an indifferent god and Plato talked around the topic and concluded that belief in god was good for maintaining civic order.

Things remained as they were for thousands of years. The Hindu religion has the distinction of the oldest extant, but Judaism has a strong claim. While the Hindus have a single god, she/he/it remains aloof with three manifestations and a multitude of other gods. Some have called that religion a tradition as well as a belief system. Judaism, following earlier manifestations of idea developed first henotheism (many gods with a preeminent one) and then monotheism.
More about monotheism v polytheism next week.

Through space we are inevitably hurled
On a planet we egotistically call our world
Tossed often into the pits
We can only live by our wits
Ignostically with flags unfurled.

Ignostic refers to ignoring the problem of getting god (if such exists) to help us. I emphasises that we humans have to solve our own problems.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

RELIGION: A Human Delusion  

Yes, it is a human delusion; other animals seem not to have such ideas. Of course, they might but we have no way of knowing, but animals have a hard enough time without worrying about a deity. I think there may be a religion that does not include the supernatural so if you think of one, what follows does not apply to it.
Still, I've called religion a delusion and it should be obvious why. No one nowhere has ever produced a scintilla of evidence that the supernatural exists. . and it is surely not for lack of trying. Human history is festooned with attempts to justify the idea but without any success. Believers believe and that's about it. I've written that supernatural explanations likely arose because life experience was chaotic; religion is an attempt to put planfulness into life with at least some possibility of influencing the results. Hence, prayer.

People, in their religious behavior gather together and jointly pray and it feels good to be one with the universe. There are protestations that morality comes from such and religious folk of all stripes insist they are more moral than others. And surely, good works are done in religion's name. Still, even a cursory glance at the evidence suggests that religion has been responsible for much of the ugliness in human history and surely so in daily life. Priests, rabbis and other paragons of virtue have behaved detestably and their misdeeds have been hidden by their coreligionists. Rumor had it that the resigned Pope wanted to gain immunity from prosecution because of the cover-ups of sexual malefactors. But, even in ordinary life what can we expect from the religious? In a newspaper report, we learn that those who strongly identify as Christians routinely stiff wait staff. Instead, they are more likely to leave good advice about reading certain sections of the bible or complaints that tithing takes less of their cash than tipping.

All the above is irritating and laden with hypocrisy. When has a rabbi denounced a fellow rabbi for nasty behavior? Or bishops? Or Wiccans? Like any other organization, they make sure to hide their malefactors.
Yet, the real problem is at the core of religion. Essentially, religious views about the universe (everything that has existed, existed or will exist) are polar opposites to materialism, and here I mean science. Both religion and science are ways of knowing and the religious claim to know what God wants of us; and such “knowledge” is inviolable. There is a devil. There are angels. If a religious expert tells us that God made marriage and that marriage can only occur between a man and a woman, that is a Truth not a suggestion.

Contrast such Truth with science. Scientists say that any of their theories can be profoundly in error; there is no Truth, only probabilities. Some of you may not know that if the Higgs boson had not been found, sub-atomic understandings could not be maintained.

This simple distinction affects every aspect of our lives. Religion and science persistently grind against each other; lack of evidence does not dismay the former and requires the latter to rethink their ideas.
I don't believe that religion should be outlawed; people have a right to their delusions. But, I think it incumbent on any society to challenge the absurdities religionists propose as universal rules.

People complain more about pigeons
Than they do about fanciful religions
The latter they enjoy
Because it gives them a ploy
To manipulate our civic decisions.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

 GUNS: An Astonishing Passion.  blog

A few days ago, an apparently solid citizen sent ugly, vicious, derogatory Emails to a black state legislator because he opposed her desire to put some controls on guns. And, if an anonymous letter can be ascribed to him, he seemingly sent threatening statements along with more vituperation. His attorney accused the legislator of using the incident to further her political career and suggested that as a public official, she should have a “thicker skin.” Did he mean skin thick enough to keep bullets away from vital organs?

What struck me is that such ugliness was perpetrated by a seemingly ordinary citizen who (likely) owns a weapon . . . and one might assume he would easily pass a mental health check.

So, what’s going on here? Whence the passion for protecting guns from a perceived legislative onslaught, as if the anti-gun crowd is eager to confiscate all such as soon as possible. Humbug! These passionate folks are frightened lest a “slippery slope,” which they perceive is part of a nefarious plot to deprive them of their weapons, start the slide to confiscation.

Their arguments are two-fold. First, they insist that the second amendment was put into place so that if our government becomes tyrannical, armed citizens could revolt and take back their freedoms. The second is the absolute right of self-protection, the image offered is a woman shooting an intruder who threatens her family. And, of course, she needs an assault rifle with a 30-bullet magazine.

The arguments speak of fear, fear of tyranny and fear of physical threats, and both are based on a profound sense of helplessness. Without guns in their hands, without the power of guns, they are terrified of personal disaster. And, the truth about us humans is that often our fears are transformed into anger. Both are a consequence of perceived existential threats; fear leads to avoidance and anger leads to violence. It is no surprise that the passionate gun owners talk tough about what would happen if an attempt is made to confiscate their source of power. They want to secede from the union; and, one way of the other, they threaten to fight.

Guns have become a symbol of both the hidden fear and its fraternal twin, public anger. Any shift leads straight to the imputed slippery slope so any change must be avoided. And, the constitution is on their side and does not permit the slightest variation.

Yet, there are constitutionally protected behaviors which have been somewhat curtailed. For example, the Supreme Court has said that a woman as a right to abortion, yet many states have concocted ways to make getting one more difficult and/or more uncomfortable of achievement. Or, we have constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech, yet we cannot shout “fire” in a crowded area, nor can we libel or slander others. The gentleman who denigrated the state legislator claims freedom of speech; it will be interesting to see how that plays out. But, the passionate gun lovers cannot even accept the notion of universal background checks. Do they really mean that mentally disturbed people should be eligible to own guns? Gack!

Even though the above curtailments and more exist, the passionate gun owners and constitution lovers do not go into rages and make absurd threats. Within varying degrees, there seems to be a general consensus that unrestricted access to abortion would not serve society well, nor would certain kinds of speech. But, the passionate gun owners, for example the NRA, insist that the only way to ensure the safety of our schoolchildren is more guns. Women should have assault rifles to fight off predators. Citizens should pack weapons so as to be prepared to fight off criminals and we are back to the horse opera, the oater, the movie western, the fantasy that good men shot it out with the bad guys and posses went into the badlands to capture the bad guys.

John Wayne or at least the characters he played epitomized a man who could out think malefactors, but if that didn’t work, he could blow holes in them in righteous indignation for their rotten behavior. He stalked through movies, the apparent essence of a good man with his ethics and morality, who was nice to children and courteous to women, the aged and the enfeebled. He had the power, and though a peace lover he was ready to slaughter the desperados who disturbed his peace. But, that tradition goes back to well before the movies. During the late eighteen hundreds, dime store novelists produced stories about gun-toting heroes who shot it out with Indians and bad guys. Such an idealized version of manhood dominated American thinking.

Is it not clear that such vision of manhood is well out-dated, that it no longer pertains to our industrialized lives? More guns to solve the problem would most likely make the situation worse. What to do? There is no quick solution, but a transformation of the ideals of manhood will ultimately reduce the problem. Imagine a society in which there are no assault rifles, guns and ammunition are registered, dangerous people cannot have access to weapons and magazines can hold a limited number of cartridges. That’s where we should be headed!

Some insist upon owning assault rifles
As if can’t having one in our lives truly stifles
Our freedom to shoot
Oh, to hell with fun shooting such rifles.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


My earliest recollection of him is the chocolate covered pineapple chunks he stashed in his top dresser drawer. When I discovered this, every morning I'd sneak into my parents bedroom and dig in. Most of the time the delectable tidbit was there. I never knew if he left it there for me to find, but that expresses most of my relationship with him.

There was a lot of shouting between my parents at the top of their lungs and both not stopping until exhaustion. I was too young to understand their quarrels but I think they were mostly about money. My sister, four years older also had to put up with them but she and I never talked about them. I suppose they seemed like normal parents. Didn't they all scream? I'd sometimes listen in while my mother and her sister across the street denigrated their men to each other.

My father worked two jobs and little time for us. Mother's poker game rotated from house to house; on poker night, she would send him and me out for a movie or what not. Alas, I always felt stiff with him and didn't trust his judgment. I remember once he wanted to go into a bowling alley to watch the action but I adamantly refused because such places were reputed to be centers of crime. Dumb me.

I felt his absence as I grew older and wanted some kind of relationship with him, but I didn't understand that two jobs made that unlikely. At sixteen, I got a job as a waiter in a summer camp. My mother used to write about all the distress in her life, hardly much fun for me and I asked her to get him also to write to me. After several begging letters to her, I received mail from him consisting of one paragraph in which he hoped I was well. Feh!

You might not remember that I was a deplorable high school student and almost failed to graduate. But, I did and as that time approached, I could only think of enlisting, nothing else loomed. My idiot uncle Jack, a well-educated man with a stick up his butt said the only place for me was Yale and I jumped through their admission hoops until receiving their inevitable rejection. Then, my father swung into action. He found a college placement agency and they determined I could get into a military school or Florida Southern College. And, he determined to send me to stenography school so I could take notes. I chose the Florida school and discovered it was mostly a rehash of my senior high school year. That, plus transcribing every lecture got me straight A's and then my father arranged for me to go to Syracuse University. Clearly, what he did for me transformed my life. Mother was silent through this phase of my existence.

Still, my father remained something of a shadowy figure. Whenever he answered the phone, he'd say,”Hi Bert, I'll get your mother.” She would gossip about relatives whom I hardly knew existed and when he was not in the room, she would tell me about his failings. She never spoke about his heroic efforts to keep us in shelter and food during the thirties, something she might have been proud of, but she never failed to complain.

After WWII, two friends and I decided to buy a car and drive to Mexico. Alfred was nineteen, I eighteen and Big Bert (bigger than me) was seventeen, the three of us hardly aware of what the country was like. My father opposed the idea and offered to buy me a car I could have at school, but my mother thought it a good idea so off we went. In retrospect, I sometimes think he was wiser.

After graduation, the Korean “Police action” started and I was drafted. All during that time, my mother again wrote letters that complained about my father and about my sister. My sister she thought was “crazy” and my father not only incompetent but also unethical in his treatment of friends. It got so that I tossed some of her letters unopened and I had learned not to expect any communication from him. If you get the idea that I mostly raised myself, you'll be correct. I felt very alone in the army and turned to drink . . . and boy, did I drink.

When I got home, I went to graduate school and met my future wife; someday I'll write about that disaster. My parents, in despair that I had no prospect of marriage urged that I pop the question. I did and the rest is misery.

All along the way, though we had not a relationship to speak of, my father made sure to provide help. When Marilyn developed cancer and could not work, my father was ready to provide us with whatever we needed so we could keep going.

Things continued pretty much the same way until my mother died. I remember leaving Brooklyn to go to the airport. My father stood on the sidewalk and said, “Don't forget me. Don't forget me.” That shocked me, that thought had never crossed my mind. Over the next year, every Sunday, I'd call him, we’d speak for about an hour and I discovered the man he was and he, I hope, discovered me. We covered a spectrum of topics including my nephew, sports, local politics, national politics and he always knew what's what. Well, he died and for the first time in a million years, I cried.

When I think about that fellow, my father
Who never, never, seemed eager to bother
To complain about his wife
And their years of bitter strife
Ah, she stood between us, my matriarchal mother.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


When I was a lad, perhaps twelve or so, in the middle of walking across a busy street I had an ecstatic moment. I mean, I was infused with a sense of intense pleasure that transcended any reality; and if the light had turned against me, onrushing cars might have mashed me flat. There was a purity to the experience that I had never known before but it lasted only a few seconds. I reached the other side of the street safely and wondered that had happened, and I surely wanted it to re-experience it. Alas, in that form, never again. Of course, I tried to replicate it by walking across the same street many, many times but to no avail. Never again did it happen with no relationship to reality. I have read that some describe such as having been touched by an angel's wing, but even at that early age, my reading filled with magic spells and sorcery, I never thought of a supernatural explanation. It was too mindless for that idea to have legs.
But, I surely since I have had ecstatic moments and have sought them out because they all had direct links to reality which, to some degree I could control. Some years later, while washing sand off my body in the shower I suddenly almost fell over consequent to an extraordinary burst of pleasure and delight. And, it was pure, powerful, obliterating time and place during those exquisite moments; I wanted more. This time, I knew what had happened: I had vigorously washed that magic part of my body and voila, ecstasy. Knowing what to do, and wanting more, I tried again and achieved only a pale imitation of the first time. Reality intruded  . . . rats. But, I understood that time would fix it.
You can be sure, that following my plan to try crossing the street I realized that taking showers was the key and my mother was astonished at my newly discovered penchant for cleanliness. While she might have figured it out, it was not a decent topic of discussion between mother and son. Still, sex became an important part of my life. Ah, ecstasy!
Much later, in graduate school, I struggled with finding a dissertation topic. It became a matter of some urgency and my professors looked at me with the proverbial fish eye, almost like parents demanding grandchildren. Do you know Sullivan's song about fooling around on the organ (no pun intended) and out of the soul of that organ came the sound of a grand amen. Well, that's what happened to me. I typed this and that and suddenly the idea popped into my head. Whence, I knew not nor did I care. I began putting it into words and it held together; and it grew to cover vaster territory than when first it appeared. My pleasure and joy transcended reality and I leaped from my chair and danced around the room. Every now and then, I rushed back and typed a few more words as the idea grew even greater. The whole experience lasted half an hour, but I knew it to be the Truth.
Well, my mentor who will read this did not share my happiness and doubted the whole thing would work. Knowing the Truth, I challenged him to find a flaw in my logic. He could not. The compromise was that I would run a pilot study and demonstrate I had not gone bonkers. Well, it worked and the rest is history. He urged me to send it to the American Psychological Association for their annual competition and I received honorable mention. Hey, not a bad outcome for an ecstatic moment.
Combat veterans have told me about ecstatic moments when they killed an enemy. There is ecstasy when the home team wins, when a first baby is born. Reading great literature does it; a painting, music, etc. can do it. I remember the first time I heard La Demoiselle Elue, and how for a brief moment I became suffused with extraordinary pleasure. The experience is everywhere. Oh, yes, I must include varieties of religious experience in which some religionist consequent to the experience proclaims she has had contact with God. Of course, no one can gainsay such a statement; it is best received with a shrug.
Except for once hearing some neurologist explaining ecstasy as stemming from the spinal cord, I have no recollection that any work has been done in that area. Clearly, the experience is too elusive to be replicated easily for science to examine it. It remains for us to enjoy. Wonderful

I admit I am truly fanatic
About anything that results in ecstatic
For those who would doubt
I derisively shout
Go suck on your thumb in the attic.