Sunday, January 27, 2013


The other day, while browsing I ran across something that truly astonished me. You know me well enough to know that such an occasion is quite rare; there is nothing much in the universe that has that WOW quality. But, that's what I said when I came across how science views menstruation.

When still a lad, I asked my mother about it and she gave me to understand, it had to do with readiness for conception and how the old eggs had to be flushed away. That was enough to keep me going and her wisdom was confirmed by what I learned and believed until I read that fascinating article.

First, the human female is the only one that menstruates. Our brethren, the great and lesser apes do not nor do lions and tigers and bears. The human, female animal is unique … and no one knows why. The explanations offered fall flat once the comparison with other animals is considered. If it is good for the human female, why is it not for the other animals? Conversely, if menstruating is not good for the others, why not for our lovelies?

For reasons unknown, obviously menstruation evolved for survival; perhaps someday evolution science will figure it out.

Women continue to be a puzzle. Freud famously said, “What do women want?” Eve was seduced by the snake and seduced Adam into sinning so it is said we stagger around in reality rather than live in our original home, tranquil Eden. Adam was happy where he was, but Eve talked him into sin and that fantasized pattern has persisted throughout history. But, we are in the midst of a great revolution, which struggles to give women their equal status in society. Hey, they are finally considered competent to kill alongside our men: but, variations of Freud's question persist. It is built into our social structure that men have to watch out because women will lead them astray. Religions preach this as capital t Truth.

Some argue there is no difference between men and women except for what biology has determined they will wear, a female or a male body. There are some, a bit loony I think, who argue that whether male or female, is a consequence of social determination, not biology. Yet, evolutionary science has slowly sorted out some important differences. Apparently, we and most all other animals would not have survived if men and women were designed for the same tasks. If everyone hunted or everyone tended the baby, it would take but a generation to eliminate us.

In general, females wound up as infant protectors and champions. Otherwise, the men might eat the helpless creatures; you know the rule, never get close to a mother and her cubs.

But, baby tending meant she would go hungry unless she had an accomplice in life, a man will to give her a portion of food so she and hence the infant could survive. So, unless women are in heat when they prefer a physically attractive male, they prefer one who can provide for her and the child. Man’s evolutionary role is to knock up as many women as possible and to accept responsibility for protecting his offspring. He will kill to protect his spawn and to keep his female from procreating with others. For men, life is thus simpler. Women have to be clever enough to find the right kind of man who will produce a child, support her and make sure he protects her and kid. Men just want to get laid; when the baby appears that urge is often thwarted. No wonder men don't trust women; they know every other male is out there trying to do the same thing and don't understand that women prefer monogamy.

Civilization provides a mechanism for sorting out and regularizing the family while permitting the gratification of both men and women. Alas, civilization is a shaky construct and the rules change over time. What confusion! And scientists have not yet figured out that core event in women's lives, their monthly obeisance to the moon. Perhaps, just perhaps science will finally get it and Freud answered.

Women are surely unique.
To understand them is like studying Greek
Their language seems plain
But here I maintain
You'd do better at hide and go seek.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


When I was a lad, we played cops and robbers or its variant, cowboys and Indians. We all had cap pistols, and slaughtered each other out of hand. No one wanted to be a robber or an Indian, but the game had to be played; somehow we figured out who was which. While it is true that I lived where Murder Incorporated hung out, we never were aware of its activities. None of our parents had guns that we knew of, but good guys and bad guys were always on our minds and guns were part of life.

Not much has changed. The Newtown killer's mom was a prepper, one of those anticipating some sort of apocalypse and prepared herself with weapons, in the process familiarizing her son with shooting and the general usefulness of guns. John Wayne and his ilk had some sort of ethic which always resulted in his shooting faster than the bad guys thus cleansing the world of evil. People have a holy need to kill animals for sport and there is the belief that a weapon in the home will protect against invaders, free lance or governmental. And for those of a more paranoid bent, the expectation of having to fight off the bad guys in the city streets requires they pack heat. I'm told that several Jewish men of the orthodox sort, carry weapons, I suppose because killer anti-Semites are everywhere. And now, people are buying guns, often more than one either anticipating anarchy or anticipating they might make a huge profit when the government decides to ban their sales.

What to do? As far as I can tell, unless Mr. Biden is particularly clever (the devil is in the details), the ideas tossed around will be almost useless. Yes, they will probably reduce the killings by moderately deranged killers who hate schools and children but do little to curb the more massive gun violence in our society. There is not a problem, there are two. What to do about the loner, his (Do women do this?) life filled with rage, who goes off and shoots in some kind of passion requires different solutions from the criminal who uses his weapon to commit crimes.

Banning assault weapons, and large magazines, restricting the sale of ammunition and mental health background checks will not, I repeat will not affect a criminal's use of guns. Yes, background checks would be useful so that known bad guys and bad girls are weeded out. But weapons are so easily acquired that such would not solve the problem. The solution I offer is Draconian, but considering the slaughter in out society, I propose that anyone who has ever provided a gun in a crime be equally prosecuted. “Your honor, my gun was stolen; I'm not responsible for how the thief used it.”
Sorry, you should have kept it locked up.” Bartenders who give a drink to a drunk who crashes a car into someone can be prosecuted. Surely, we can do that with guns.

You all notice the hoorah raised by the NRA and gun lovers in our fifty states. Their passion is not fake, on the fringe they speak about killing people should there be an attempt to take their guns away. Yes, they usually have more than one. Whence this passion? I suggest that owning a weapon creates a sense of power much like we felt as children. We live in a society which purportedly infringes on our freedoms; there are too many rules, we cannot make choices without stumbling over some regulatory nonsense. People who express such concerns are persistently in fear of attack by criminals or the government and their solution is to get a gun.

Keep in mind that gun ownership is sacrosanct, that the second amendment guarantees that we are free to own whatever instrument of mayhem we choose without governmental permission. There are even some who walk around with their weapons in a holster, is that not flaunting power? I heard of some men who walked around with assault-type weapons; when the police came they said they wanted to show how peaceful they were. It is the thrust for power that drives the current madness. And, the way to beat bad- guy power is to make sure there is balancing good-guy power. Don't forget John Wayne ; killing the bad guys makes for peace.

I am really likely to cower
When facing one who demands personal power
Rooty toot toot
He might draw and me shoot
Unless when I draw he is slower.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


As is my wont, I lay in bed this morning thinking about what to eat for breakfast. Salad (with balsamic vinegar or sherry vinegar or cilantro, spicy vinegar), tuna salad, salmon salad, poached eggs, egg white omelet, a small steak, bacon and tomatoes, etc. I doubt if I have exhausted the possibilities. Nothing seemed interesting and then, not with an audible pop but surely close I knew I would poach two eggs and eat them atop the two halves of an English muffin, the eggs separated from the muffin halves by slices of black forest ham. I leaped out of bed with a glad song on my lips and thoroughly enjoyed the food accompanied by strong coffee, mixed with honey and almond flavoring.

You may have noticed that I did not decide; I only followed the system's instructions. By the “system” I mean the sum of my genetic inheritance, my general physical state and the totality of my life experience. All of me decided on breakfast, it only remained for what I call my mind to determine if I could fulfill the command. Eggs? Yes. English muffins? Yes. Black forest ham? Yes. Was there time? Yes. Was I too tired? No. Was it too caloric? No.

The system wants to get certain things and to avoid others. How can it get more money? Rob a bank, steal from a friend, knock someone down and run, get a job; I suppose the possibilities are legion. But, I evaluate whether such solutions are desirable. Having decided not, the system gets disgruntled and decides it wants candy, or in the old days, a drink, or an ear to cry into.

The system sometimes gives contradictory orders. Buy the Ferrari, but don't spend too much money. Obviously, both cannot be accomplished but sometimes I ponder selling my house. I don't and ultimately buy a much much cheaper car, but the system longs for the Ferrari. It demands consolation so I argue that Ferraris are way over priced and designed to satisfy the greed of the owners and the egos of the purchasers. The system mollified, I drive off in my Echo.

Humanity has pondered consciousness. Apparently, it proved we were different in kind from the beasts. Such rejection of our mammalian siblings could not withstand scrutiny. Observing them, we see ourselves writ small. It is clear that some animals are self-aware and their consciousness serves the same function: satisfy the system.

Consciousness (What we call our mind.) keeps us alive. It evaluates reality (as perceived at the time) and makes plans, all with the approval of the system. It could not have come into being over night but incrementally; the early bits of it kept some individuals alive; they reproduced and pretty soon (I mean millions of years) we became us.

Rather than being the lords of the earth, with free will guiding our daily lives, but we are merely servants of our systems. We cannot escape from our system because the system, it is us. Perhaps giving up the grandiosity will make it all palatable.

I've made some plans for the day; it will be interesting to see what my system will permit.

We are efficient, and well organized congregations
Of genes and life’s myriad of combinations
We boast we are clever
But, alas, it is rarely ever
We satisfy all system expectations

Sunday, January 6, 2013

MORALITY: Why do we bother?

The whole issue stood Darwin on on his head. His theory, one of the most successful in science suggested that altruism should not exist. We should not be giving charity, boy/girl scouts should not be helping old ladies across the street, soldiers should not throw themselves on hand grenades to save their buddies . . . you get the idea. Evolution says we should be trying to spread our genes, yet we persist in the notion of marriage for life, surely a limitation on spreading our spawn. While evolution has succeeded in helping us understand much of biology it has failed to justify altruism.

Some economic theorizers postulate the “rational” man notion, persons always function in terms of their best interests and the devil with the rest. The epitome of such thinking is Ayn Rand's vision of government. In her system, the landscape would be littered with human detritus, society's failures. In spite of not understanding why evolution should make us so, we do not accept such draconian solutions to societal problems.

Religion, once the source of all knowledge (if it is not in the holy writings it isn't true) has gradually been forced to scale back; science has erased many of its ideas. This should be no surprise. After all, religious books reflect what seemed believable to nomads and tribes people but it is antiquated to speak of floods and celestial spheres, the earth's age of 6,000 years, souls, etc. Such wisdom has faded with our better understanding of how things work. But, religionists have one card with which they trump all others: Morality is impossible without god. Without a belief in god we would all be murderers, thieves, rapists, liars, etc. That we are generally not so becomes evidence for the existence of god. We don't act immorally because our faith forbids it. If you don't mind going in circles that might satisfy you.

It seems pompous to declare the beginning of a new age, but if current science is correct the tendency to morality is genetic. If you ever wondered why you don't take candy from babies, it is now likely that your genes won't let you. Ayn Rand and the others of that ilk, to the contrary not withstanding are wrong. Most of us are pre-disposed to feel bad when we act badly. What, after all, is guilt except the awareness of doing wrong. Fairness is apparently built in and we don't like it when we see others violating that rule.

Assuming that morality is built into our brains, what does that mean for religion? Obviously, they will lose their raison d'etre; they no longer can speak the Truth about reality unless catching up with science (The Vatican finally accepted the reality of evolution though postulated that god had set it all in motion. Also, after hundreds of years they admitted that Gallileo was right.). Truth becomes truth. And now, morality is no longer in their bailiwick, they cannot argue that it depends on belief in god and that belief in god depends on morality. Of course, they can argue that god set it all up, that he or she or it adjusted our genes to nudge us in the direction of goodness. Well, so much for free will, another religious fantasy.

Some might conclude that if it is all genes, we no longer have to think about our behavior, that our brains will automatically decide on the morality of a deed,. Sorry. Keep in mind that we need to learn out society's culture, IE its moral values. That we want to be moral may be a given, but we have to learn how. Cultures around the world vary in such details. There was, for instance, a group on some Pacific island that extolled the virtues of murder. Enough said. The thrust is there but the content varies.

And so, is it possible to conceive of a universal morality, I mean one in which all societies agree so that murder is murder everywhere and rape and thievery and meanness are looked upon with the same distress around the world. Why not; our genes will cooperate. Religions have declared themselves to provide universal values and often does so by torture and killing unbelievers and apostates. No thanks!

Western civilization has begun to eschew religion. Perhaps if only out of sheer exhaustion we'll be left with some general sense of how humanity might get along.

People have struggled to figure out the causality
Of what is generally understood as morality
Some tried religion
But that led to division
It's all in our genes, that seems the reality.