17 December 2012

Too Good Not to Share

I have attempted to tell people this, but they simply do not want to believe it.  Their wrong beliefs regarding other religions are nearly as strong as the beliefs they have for their own.

It seems as if religious faith and open mindedness cannot co-habitate in the same mind--at least in the cases I have encountered.

Don't be closed minded....

Think About It

11 December 2012

Review of Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation

Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and CreationMagic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation by Tom Bissell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is upsetting: I wrote a review here, about an hour ago. It's gone. I wrote the whole thing, clicked save down there at the bottom and ...

What have I learned from this? In future I will write reviews in a word processor or text editor and save them; then, I will cut and paste them here. This is a very frustrating experience: first, because I don't like writing reviews about collections--whether of essays or short stories or poems. My mind tries to go too many ways, even when, as in this collection, there is clear connection between the individual works.

Bissell connects his essays with the theme of the creator and the act of creating, whether that is in film, TV, fiction or video games. I'll confess that I did not read that essay: i.e. "The Invisible Girl," because I have no interest in video games or in how they are made.

The essays I most enjoyed are: "The Theory and Practice of Not Giving a Shit," in which Bissell visits the author, Jim Harrison (Legends of the Fall) and "Writing about Writing about Writing."

Harrison has the persona of the gifted artist; that special person who has been touched by the Nine Muses, maybe he has. There is a definite agon, here, with Hemingway, et al; it could be fun to look at Harrison in light of Harold Bloom's Anxiety of Influence.

Well, sadly, that's about all I can recall from my earlier attempt.

I do look forward to reading more of Tom Bissell's work, which I'll approach with curiosity and pleasure.

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07 December 2012

A Review of The Book of J

The Book of JThe Book of J by Harold Bloom
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bloom shares his interesting ideas about the parts of the Torah/Pentateuch which were written by the Yahwist, whom he calls J. Rosenberg's translations of these parts is amazing; really bringing out the irony that Bloom mentions so often in this book.

Religion doesn't play a part in this project, in fact, Bloom makes the argument that J should be considered blasphemous when taken in conjunction with the orthodox views of God, Yahweh, or whatever one happens to call this character; that is what Yahweh is to J: a character.

Knowing something of the Bible is more than helpful; and actually, I can't imagine anyone who doesn't know the Bible fairly well being interested in this book. Even lit geeks, if a knowledge of the Bible is lacking, may have trouble with most of what Bloom says about the sections which scholars believe were written by J.

Bloom discusses J, E, P, D and R: writers and redactors who had a hand in what we now call the Torah or the Pentateuch. Some religious believers don't like this, because the Bible itself says that Moses is the author. However, scholars have been able to recognize different styles, and certain aspects of an earlier writer which were missed inadvertently by a later one.

I will spare the details, because Bloom does a much better job of expounding them. But, he doesn't go into depth with any writer, except J.

My interest in this book was from a textual comparison point of view; I have been fascinated by the differences, often glaringly contradictory, in many translations of the Bible (as well as other books). This is evidence that translations do indeed usually signify interpretation. Therefore, no translation can be 100% accurate, as even the original is open to interpretation. This can become a thorny mess and has led to many arguments, which thankfully, Bloom doesn't spend too much time on. His interest is mostly literary, so he avoids much of the theological/philosophical arguments concerning the meanings, etc. This also gives him freedom to take off the "rose colored glasses" of religious interpretation, which often blind readers to what is actually written.

If you are at all interested in the history of the text of the Tanakh/Old Testament, specifically the Torah/Pentateuch/Books of Moses; or in textual comparison, interpretation, criticism, etc.; then, I recommend this book. It does lack a scholarly apparatus, as many of Bloom's books do, making it difficult to do further research, etc. from this text. It is, however, a good place to begin, and (as it was meant to be) to be enjoyed by the lay reader/general public.

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13 November 2012

Is Secession in Your Future?

What a mess people make when they don't get their way....  All of these people who wish to secede should have to move one place and start their NEW government there.  
Residents in more than 30 states have filed secession petitions with the "We the people" program on the White House website.
Petitions to strip citizenship of individuals signing onto petitions to secede and exile them have also been submitted. 1
Maybe I'm over-reacting, but I know they are.  Anyway, what about the people who live in those states who aren't into the whole "Let's secede and start our own government" thing?  What if secession happens?  You know this country will no longer be a country and there WILL BE 1000 Years of Darkness.  

They won't have to worry about other states or the federal government going to war; they'll have all kinds of other countries coming in and bombing the shit out of them.  Then, who will they call for help?  That's right: the same U.S. of A. that they told to go screw itself.  What then?  I think we should let them be conquered.  They want their "NEW government" let their "NEW government" help them.  Yeah, that's gonna happen.

I'm so fed up with all of this.  It's just politics!  The world is going to Hell, because we are driving it there with our "my way or the highway" attitudes.  If we don't get what we want, we take it.  We don't give a damn who we hurt; all we care about is our rights; screw our responsibilities: We are the most selfish, self-centered people that history has ever seen.

Think About It

^ 1. Residents In More Than 30 States File Secession  Petitions - Huffington Post

09 November 2012

Self-Awareness Through Irritation

I like this.  It shares my thoughts which were arrived at by someone before I was born.  And I like the presentation; the torn, battered leaf is like a life.  If one leaf begins to look down on another leaf, because the latter is tattered, worn, brown, then, the first is, in all reality, looking down on  itself.

If we are bothered by something, we should make sure that we do not have that something living in our hearts before we hastily judge others.

The links to the source are below the image.  Clicking the image itself will take you to the same.

Think About It

06 November 2012

If I Was a Prayin' Man

If I was a praying man, I would spend this day on my knees crying out to whatever divinities there may be; my petitions, like incense before the altar, without ceasing, would rise up to the very nostrils of the gods.

What would be the theme of my prayers?  What would be the cry of my heart?

Gott im Himmel, pleeeeease let Obama win this election, for the sake of our children and our children's children; for the sake of all the women who will be in bondage to cruel, unforgiving laws in regards to their own bodies; for the sake of this fragile planet which we call home; and for the sake of my sanity, because, frankly, that Romney guy gives me the creeps.

But.... since I am not a praying man, I will just ask all of you that read this, if it's not too late, please think about the long-term outcome of this election; not just the next four to eight years, but on into the future.  Please, think about any women in your life, including your wife, daughter(s), mother, sister(s) and friends: think about how the Republicans' plan will basically plunge us into a near Middle Ages as concerns women and how they are treated; they really should be allowed to make their own decisions when it comes to their own bodies.  Please, don't let the rhetoric against Obama make you choose poorly; and Romney is a poor choice.

Am I saying Obama is the best President in the history of the United States?  No.  But, I am saying that he deserves another four years to finish the plans he started, and to clean up the mess that was left us from the Bush administration.  Also, I am saying that we should not go backwards, by choosing another president after the order of W.

Peace!  I'm going to vote!

Please, Think About It

31 October 2012

What is Love, Really?

The word love is thrown around, misused, abused and often misunderstood.  One of my biggest pet peeves, for example, has to do with one of the most popular uses of the word: i.e. "We made love."  It makes me crazy because people say it even when love, per se, is not involved.  Why must they use the word euphemistically?  Why can't they just say, "We had sex"?  I won't go on that rant just yet...  I'll save it for the post I do on eros (ἔρως); whenever that is.  

I would like to look at the types of love (more in a moment) in different ways and in different places: literature, symbols, ritual, sacred writings, spiritual/mystical writings, philosophy, and many, many more!  Yeah, that might happen.

I am not a Christian, but I have, over the years, thought many times about a sermon[*] I heard once (when I was Christian): the subject was the types of love: agape (ἀγάπη), philia (φιλία), storge (στοργή) and eros (ἔρως).  It was one of my favorites and it keeps coming back to me.  It's just a good topic; the world needs love, of whatever kind, right?  True love, I believe is about commitment: this is apropos with regard to any of these types of love.  All of them come down to being committed to the other person.  Anyone that's not you is an other (I guess I shouldn't open that topic here), so commitment is necessary.

After deciding I wanted to dwell on the subject of love for a few, I searched for, found and am currently reading C. S. Lewis’s book, The Four Loves, which covers this topic; I'll try to quote from it from time to time and hope that others find it as interesting as I do.  

What really interests me in this study is that “storge” (στοργή) is not in the New Testament.  I searched The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament [1]The Complete Vocabulary Guide to the Greek New Testament [2], and Strong's Exhaustive Concordance [3]; none of them have it.  So, I thought that perhaps it was a Platonic word, being that much of Christian doctrine was merged with Plato’s philosophy during the Middle Ages. 

Doing a little search online, I found that the word “storge” (στοργή) was used eight times by Flavius Josephus in his Antiquitates Judaicae (Antiquities of the Jews).  A tie is held, as far as usage goes, by Aelian, whose work I don’t know, but it is also used eight times in his De Natura Animalum (On the Nature of Animals).  Next, it is used six times by John of Damascus, of whom I also know nothing, in his Vita Barlaam et Joasaph (The Life of Barlaam and Joasaph). 

Several others, including Aristotle in his Metaphysics, use the word four or fewer times.  It is interesting that it is not in Plato, but is in a few of the early Church fathers: Saint Basil, Bishop of Caesarea, Epistulae (Letters), John of Damascus, mentioned already, Eusebius in his Historia ecclesiastica (Church History).[4]  So, here, I guess, with the early Church fathers we can see how it eventually made it to us.  There is the possibility that we could have acquired this word, as “affection,” from Josephus, but it is most likely that it came through the Church doctrines which have not changed all that much over the centuries, even if there have been major splits and disagreements among the various sects of Christianity during that time.

This makes me want to intensify my Greek and Latin studies…. 

Maybe I'll look at storge (στοργή) in my next post (which most likely will be in December), then work my way through the others and hopefully learn something along the way.  These may come slowly.  That sounds confident, doesn't it?  Anyway, please don't hold your breath waiting for the next post on this topic. 

Also, I want to be very frank here: I am going to participate in the NaNoWriMo challenge during the month of November, so right now I have nothing planned to post during the month.  I may post something, but I don't plan to.  And, I may not even do an entire series on love, but will sporadically post about it.  As I do with everything, right?  Like I said, don't hold any breath.  An interest hits me and I run.  Sometimes, the interest is sustained, other times, it's not.  

Till next time ... 

[*] This sermon was given by Mike Beecham.
[1] William Mounce
[2] Warren Trenchard
[3] James Strong
[4] http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/resolveform?type=start&lookup=storgh&lang=greek and: Word frequency information for στοργή:  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/wordfreq?lang=greek&lookup=storgh%2F

29 October 2012

Review of Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird

The Painted BirdThe Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosiński

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Everything the blurbs on the cover said. It is heartbreaking, amazing, powerful. At times you want to turn away, but you don't; then, you realize that life is not always nice.

The protagonist changes many times throughout the book. He changes in order to survive, he changes because he sees something that he believes is better, or he changes because his eyes are opened and he sees how life really is.

Kosinski was accused of betraying his country, he was also accused of not going far enough in showing the horrors of war as the boy experienced them. Maybe it's autobiographical, maybe it's not. What is important is that it is a true picture of what happened to many during the years of the Second World War.

The author pulls no punches, so be prepared to read about depravity, hatred, racism, violence and even death when you pick up this book.

And prepare to be changed. I was.

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28 October 2012

Review of Cormac McCarthy's Child of God

Child of GodChild of God by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Coming to this book, I knew only that the main character, Lester Ballard, had some strange ways, but I didn't know how strange until several chapters into the book. It is an interesting read; McCarthy has a way of making it seem dream-like: broken up, but still flowing together. I'm not sure that makes sense, but that's how it reads to me. He kept the chapters short, most being only a single scene: some shorter, some longer. The short chapters coupled with Lester's bizarre behavior keeps you turning the pages, not to mention the "need" to know what happens....

There is a strong link to mythology in most of McCarthy's work and this book is no different. There are trips to the underworld, shape-shifting and tragedy among other motifs.

Without giving away too much, I will say that this book is not for the faint of heart. If Nabokov's Lolita bothers you, then there is a possibility that this will, too. It isn't exactly the same as Lolita , but the deviance of Lester, the main character, is very pronounced as is that of Humbert Humbert. But, in the case of Child of God, Lester is not the narrator.

I wonder if you could still call Lester a protagonist? He does change, but not much. The reader gets the sense that he is depraved right from the beginning. It's the level, or depth, of his depravity that changes.

The writing itself will not disappoint fans of McCarthy. His prose, as always, is tight and musical; the critics like to call it poetic, which it is. It damn near sings. I give it four stars simply for the prose. The content gives me pause; that's not to say that we should ignore it, it's just more unsettling than a book with a happy-go-lucky attitude and a bright happy ending. McCarthy almost never has happy endings and this is no exception. He does have "just" endings on occasion, or endings in which those who deserve it get it, if you get my drift.

I will read it again, simply because I love McCarthy's writing and want to learn from him. If I were reading it as a reader only, once would be enough--maybe more than enough.

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27 September 2012

Does Anyone Else See the Problem Here?

We all know that e-books are outselling hard copies.  We all know that fewer and fewer people are actually reading: e-books or otherwise.  But, this news story has me absolutely flabbergasted.

BBC News - Disappearing ink gives books in Argentina read by date
Disappearing ink gives books in Argentina read by date 25 September 2012 Last updated at 16:18 GMT Help A publishing company in Argentina has begun printing books with ink that fades away after just two months. Publishers hope readers will be inspired to finish off their books quickly, rather than leaving them languishing on shelves forever. Tom Santorelli reports.

The first problem I see is that if you spend anywhere from $15 to $45 on a book, you aren't going to want the ink to disappear.  What if you don't have time to read the whole thing in that two months?  You just lost your investment, or you have a very expensive journal with the cover or an unfinished book.

Another problem has to do with re-reading.  A person obviously can't re-read a book if the ink has vanished.  While it may inspire a sprint read to finish it in those two months, what happens if it is a book you want to return to, to slowly chew on and think about.  That is not an option with this kind of book, evidently.

While there are probably many problems with this idea, one that will hit the sellers of books the hardest is this: people will not buy as many books.  I'll rephrase that.  Book sells will decline rapidly.  They will fall drastically because people will be less motivated to buy several books at once; instead, they will purchase a book at a time.  AND, if they fail to finish one of these two-month books, they will be even less motivated to buy another.  They will begin to see that they are wasting not only their time, but their money.

I for one would have shelves of worthless, unreadable books.  I read everyday, but I also have a rather large and ever growing to-be-read collection, and more importantly, a to-read-again collection.  If the ink is going to vanish, I may as well not plan my reading; maybe I'll stop reading and start watching TV.  Yeah, that's gonna happen.

I'm not saying boycott these books, but I am suggesting that you think about the repercussions and the consequences of buying them.

Think About It

20 September 2012

Too Good Not To Share!

I wanted to share this letter from this Huffington Post article.  This is too good not to share.  

Dear Governor Romney, 

I’d like to say congratulations on winning the republican nomination. But, I wish you stayed in Massachusetts. You’re plan for America isn’t what we need, and would hurt us more than it would help.
First, repealing Obama care and other health plans he’s put in place have helped families across America, including mine. I live in a middle class family, and two years ago my little sister; Kennedy was denied insurance because of her pre-existing condition. This was a huge emotional stress and financial burden on my entire family. Under Obama Care, insurance companies can no longer deny Kennedy and kids like her, the coverage they need and deserve. Because of Obama care my little sister was able to have the several surgeries she needed that helped save her life. Once the President was elected he put Obama Care into action, just like he promised and made it so that you could get insurance with pre-existing conditions. This has made a direct impact on my family. My family is with out a doubt better off now, than we were four years ago!
It is to my understanding that you stated that you were going to repeal Obama Care, including the part I have mentioned, which will take away the insurance we have and need for my sister Kennedy. Why do you think she doesn’t deserve health care? Also, when you were interviewed on “Meet the Press”, you stated that you would NOT repeal this part of Obama Care, but then your campaign backpedalled and on the “Tonight show with Jay Leno”, you said that you WOULD repeal this. 
Also, you’re domestic plans (birth control, gay rights etc.) are horrible! Women should get to manage their own health, and if you wonder why you’re not appealing to many women voters, rethink your birth control and women’s’ rights plans. And people should be able to marry whom they want. We built this country so people could have freedom, and not have religious beliefs control them to that length. This country was in no way built on any religion, so we should not create laws that repress the American people in a religious way and hurt our most vulnerable.  

Jackson Ripley, age 12

You can read the entire article here.


18 September 2012

Vague? From the Heart

James Poulos, on HuffPost Live: We Are the 47% episode, claims that Romney's statements, which I began discussing yesterday, were vague and simply campaign rhetoric.  Alyona Minkovski jumps in and asks, "Is it just about imprecise language?"  She goes on to question it.  And she nails it.  She asks if it isn't the general thinking in America that anyone who needs help from the government is a freeloader.  Sadly, Romney's words and attitude are part of our culture.  But in one way, these attitudes keep many who need help from asking for it.  So, where does that put Romney?  It's not simply about taxes, it's about caring; and clearly Romney doesn't.

I cry foul on Poulos's statement of imprecise language.  Romney's language is extremely clear, achingly precise.  He even uses the rhetorical repetition of "who believe ..."  He's trying to convince others, who most likely already think as he does, of something that is very real in his mind; but that's beside the real point. 

The more important issue is that this is Romney's attitude being revealed in a situation in which he thinks he is safe to say what he really feels, believes.  In this meeting, Romney speaks, as Poulos says, "almost stream-of-consciousness."  That makes my point all the more relevant.  Stream of consciousness means that you are not taking time to filter what is coming out of your mouth.  He is, in other words, speaking from the heart.  And his heart is hardened toward a very large number of United States citizens, including his own voters....  

You can read Romney's statements and watch the videos at here at Mother Jones.

Think About It!  

“I disagree with Gov. Romney’s insinuation that 47 percent of Americans believe they are victims who must depend on the government for their care. ... I know that the vast majority of those who rely on government are not in that situation because they want to be.”

17 September 2012

Romney's Falseness Revealed

Mitt Romney never had my vote, but today he showed the world who he really is: "Romney already has trouble relating to the public and convincing people he cares about them. Now, he's been caught on video saying that nearly half the country consists of hopeless losers."

"On the tape, Romney explains that his electoral strategy involves writing off nearly half the country as unmoveable Obama voters. As Romney explains, 47 percent of Americans 'believe that they are victims.' He laments: 'I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.'"

These people he's talking about are responsible, or are trying very hard to be in this economic environment.  I know from experience that it is difficult to "care for your life" if you can't make enough money to do that; or if you're disabled (i.e. unable to work) and can't even afford the medical care you need.  Romney has an over-inflated self-opinion.  And worse, he doesn't care about others.  What's sad is that many of the people who will vote for him feel the same way. 

It's interesting to me that those who have never had to struggle to make ends meet, who have never had to work from dusk till dawn trying to keep a roof over their family's heads, who have never had to wonder what they would do if they became sick and unable to work and medical bills started mounting: it is interesting that they think all the people who need help are lazy losers. 

The people who need help are human beings. 

They are human beings.

This arrogant man needs to get off of his high and mighty pedestal and realize that. Sadly, he won't.  He's convinced that he is better than those people on welfare, those people on disability, those people on Medicaid or Medicare, even those people who will cast their precious vote for him.  

They are human beings; many of them are proud, they have their dignity, and don't want to ask for help; they struggle between swallowing their pride (which they only have because of thinking like Romney thinks: i.e. anyone who needs help is a loser) and letting themselves or family members go hungry, lose their homes, or die from treatable illnesses because they can't afford to live in this America we have all made. 

I'm much angrier than I may sound here; I am watching my language, because I want people to read this and especially to think about it.  Please, just seriously think about it.

Article by Josh Barro on Bloomberg which spawned this post and from which I quote above: "Today, Romney Lost the Election."

Think About It!

31 August 2012

Review of Alone With All That Could Happen

Alone with All That Could Happen: Rethinking Conventional Wisdom about the Craft of FictionAlone with All That Could Happen: Rethinking Conventional Wisdom about the Craft of Fiction by David Jauss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just finished this; there is much to absorb, but for starters Jauss, as is hinted at in the subtitle, comes at writing from a different angle. At least one I haven't seen. There are several chapters dealing with many aspects of writing, but none of it is prescriptive: I loved that.

Not that I dislike prescriptive books on writing. They have their place. But, sometimes, you have to be reminded why you're doing this (beyond the "I just have to write" thing). Jauss shows some ways to make the connection between craft (which is necessary) and art (which is vital). Without art, fiction feels plastic: and I'm not talking about the good kind, i.e. flexibility. I'm talking about it feeling fake, lifeless. Art without craft makes for some tough, and let's be honest, boring reading on occasion. So, we need both, and Jauss helps.

It was refreshing to read a book about writing that isn't trying to make you sit down and write a set number of words everyday, or to write for a set number of hours. Jauss brings out different aspects that many beginning writers probably never even get around to thinking about. And I know some published writers haven't gotten around to them, either.

One of my favorite parts was the last chapter: in it Jauss argues that writers, in order to really be creative, must learn to think differently: they must learn to hold contradictions in their mind; they must learn to negate themselves in certain situations in order to spark the creativity.

That may sound weird, but I don't want to give away too much. If you are a writer, or are even interested in literature, this is an excellent read.

I'm going to read it again....

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17 August 2012

Review of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury

The Sound and the FuryThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Faulkner was not afraid to break from mundane and predictable writing; that which later leads to obscurity. If you are looking for a nice point A-to-point B type story, this is not it. This leans more toward something like a mixture of his other work and Joyce/Woolf amalgamation. Yes, it has that in it (stream of consciousness writing). That said, it isn't Joyce or Woolf. It is Faulkner rollicking in the intoxicating power of words, at the height of his game. I love it because of that. Stick with it and you will see that there is a method to the madness; it is not for the faint of heart, to be sure (please excuse the cliché); it requires breaking out of the trained-laziness that much of contemporary literature and internet reading is breeding in us.

On that note, it is disheartening and nauseating to read about people who get bored because there wasn't tension in the previous two sentences, or because an author wants to take some time and really have a play with language. Editors, agents, publishers, writing gurus all spew the same thing: tension, tension, tension. It's as if the entire world is suffering from learned ADHD (not to take that disease lightly: I struggle with this condition myself, so I understand the pain it can cause; but, we cannot allow it to govern everything: i.e. make literature easier, more exciting, tension, tension, tension; but instead, we must make ourselves stick to something and why shouldn't that something be great works of literature?). If this is to change, we have to change it. Reading great literature requires sacrifice and sometimes it requires breaking out of the the blasé expectations of how literature "ought to be." "Oughts" are very ugly things....

Faulkner's writing, especially in this case, is more art than craft. Many of his other works are very tight, craft-wise (as is The Sound and the Fury; but it's tight in its own way: i.e. when there is what seems like a lot of jumping around, it really should not bother a contemporary reader, whose attention span has been hacked down to nearly nil by television and internet; this part of the book is very much like a movie: quickly switching from scene to scene, bringing into the reading the dizzying effect that the character is experiencing on the page).

The Sound and the Fury is one of Faulkner's more difficult books and didn't really catch on until after he had published Sanctuary. It isn't my favorite of those I've read of his works, but it is a strong book and has a lot to recommend it: chief being the way Faulkner plays with language and builds his characters.

Don't give up, it's worth the time you put into it.

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17 July 2012

Agnostic Seeking

"The important thing is not to stop questioning."
- Albert Einstein

For awhile now I have called myself an atheist.  I’m probably more of an agnostic, because I still look for something outside myself and something that could be called a “spirituality” (yet, paradoxically without spirits or other super-natural beings).  That being said,  I still believe there are no gods, goddesses, divine beings, spirits, ghosts, demons….  There is no way to be absolutely certain, one way or the other, I know, but from my experience (which is no more than most religious believers use to argue their points for those things), the evidence is stacked against their existence.  So, on my agnostic scale, I lean more toward atheist than theist (in all its many forms). 

Understand, I don't scorn religions, belief systems or faith; and I especially have nothing against believers.  I simply seek; I delve into questions on morality, on good and evil (and what those ideas may or may not mean), on whether there is life after death (e.g. eternal life, reincarnation, metempsychosis), and on why very bad things sometimes happen to seemingly very good (or innocent) people. 

I seek answers to these questions in science, literature (sacred and profane), art, current and past world events, conversations with friends and family, and in movies.  Some questions are unanswerable in our existing state of knowledge and awareness, others are trivial and/or unconvincing. All the same, I still ask the questions.

09 July 2012

The Responsibility of Freedom

I tend to lean toward Existentialism in my philosophy of life.  So, when I came across this site: Freedom, Responsibility, and Agency, earlier, I had to let others know about this.  This is not the first time I have felt compelled to remind myself and others of the responsibility that comes with freedom.  As a matter of fact, I wrote a blog post about it, which can be read here. 

It was nice to find others that think the way I do in regards to this.  When I read the opening paragraph, I immediately felt as if someone had reached into my mind and pulled the thoughts out and put them into words:
Freedom, from an existential perspective, cannot be separated from responsibility. With freedom comes responsibility. Yet, it is common for many people to seek freedom while trying to avoid responsibility. While, at times, it appears that people may be able to succeed at this, there remains a psychological consequence. This consequence is often not very noticeable, but may find expression through guilt, anxiety, depression, or even anger.
The website makes a distinction between existential freedom and political freedom, such as the freedom of speech.  However, I think they are closely connected, though many people think of American political freedoms as god-given rights which should not be subject to responsibility in any way.  In my post I discussed comments (which I see as a form and example of the freedom of expression, but also as a violation of this existential idea of responsibility), but, of course, responsibility goes beyond that.  However, from reading comments, one can often get a good idea of the way in which people are shirking their responsibility, while exercising their freedom of expression.  

Closely related to this idea is the misconception that has been prevalent in recent years concerning the word “responsibility.”  Somehow, it has obtained the meaning of “the ability to respond.”  Well, it might mean that, but in its truer sense it has a meaning closer to “duty.”  And many people despise that word and that idea.  It sounds too much like work, or worse, slavery. 

Well, all it takes when it comes to our freedoms and the responsibility that goes with them, is a few seconds to ensure that what we say and do does not negatively affect others.  Can you do or say something that will hurt others?  Yes.  But, even if there are not legal consequences, even if they don’t retaliate in some way, you still have consequences.  And as the site mentioned above states, these are often mental or emotional problems. 

I have seen this happen.  I have experienced it in my own life.  I know people who think it is fine (they even brag about it) to just say whatever is on their minds, even if it is hurtful to someone else.  And, yes, they experience anxiety, depression and anger, and even though I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist I am able to tell that they struggle with guilt.  It’s in their speech.  It’s in their behavior.  It’s eating them alive. 

Here is the link to the website again: Freedom, Responsibility, and Agency Please take the time to at least skim it.  It is very informative and useful.

02 July 2012

Freedom, Faith and Responsibility - Part 2

To glorify democracy and to silence the people is a farce.

— Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed)

With this democracy, which I began to look at last time, comes the right to say whatever one wants (within certain bounds, of course). The problem comes from two directions. The first is being faced in the very act of allowing these people to comment and to speak and to flaunt their ignorance and to spread their worthless stupidity all over the place. But, who is to judge what is ignorant or stupid or worthless? Good question? So, those who allow this sort of commenting to continue are trying to show a basic trust in other humans. We should trust each other to do what is right. According to Paulo Freire, without that trust there will never be true democracy.

Now, I want to go back to the American Revolution. They were writing pamphlets and others were writing pamphlets to counter the first pamphlets and there was a serious dialogue happening. The entire process actually helped shape the ideals of the early America. Not that those ideals were complete and perfect, but they were the beginning of democracy in the world and the freedoms that those pamphleteers enjoyed were then written into law so that future generations could blabber away on the internet.

It seems that most people, today, think of the American revolutionaries as quaint old guys and a bunch of windbags that were only interested in not paying taxes. But, they established the very right which allows me to publish this essay on this blog. I have freedom of speech.

There is a cliché that says, “Freedom is never free.” And I believe that, and I’m sure you believe it, too. So, in taking the liberty, not only to write this essay, but to post it for all the world to read, I take that saying into consideration. I do not want to betray your trust and at the same time I have the faith that we as human beings can make democracy the powerful political and social ideal that it has the potential to be. That requires something else, which Paulo Freire mentions: “true words.”

Freire says that true words embody both action and reflection. If action is missing, then we see what we see today on the internet—what Freire calls “verbalism.” Without reflection we get mere “activism.” To truly change things we need both. We need “praxis.” Freire writes, “Thus, to speak a true word is to transform the world.”1 So, we have freedom, especially in this country, and every voice should be heard.

Ultimately, it comes down to how we choose to use our voices. We can use them to spread hatred and tension, we can use them to merely throw empty words into empty space where their lack of authenticity will change nothing. Or, we can choose to follow Freire's words of wisdom and we can speak "true words" that engender both action and reflection and thus have power to change our world.

Happy 4th of July! Remember the First Amendment and The Golden Rule!

1.     Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th Anniversary Ed. (New York: Continuum, 2000). 87

25 June 2012

Freedom, Faith and Responsibility - Part 1

To glorify democracy and to silence the people is a farce.

— Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed)

Since we're coming up on the month of July, and that reminds me of revolutions, I want to think particularly about the events leading up to the American Revolution. There were people taking the freedom that they believed to be theirs by right and they were using that freedom to write pamphlets.

Today, we are witnessing the largest experiment in democracy that the world has ever seen—the internet. People can comment on just about every news item and if they can’t comment directly, they can save the article on any number of social bookmarking sites. This, is in effect saying to everyone else that this is the news that I think is worth reading.

The problem I have with the democratic, free speech of comments is that many of the comments are irrelevant, degrading to others, disrespectful and some are simply a waste of cyber-ink. But, to take the right to comment away would be worse than if it had never been granted in the first place. So, what is the solution?

Comments are not the only thing. Blogs, “tweets” and status updates on Facebook all share the same pros and cons. It is important to some people to be able to tell the entire world that they just relieved their bowels and are now going out for a night of wild partying. And the next day we get to hear about the hangover!

I know! I don’t have to read these things, but they are there. This is why comments are especially bothersome; one has to read through all the garbage to find one useful or even meaningful comment. People cannot refrain from replying to the first idiot commenter and so the stupidity soon begins to fly and before you know it there are pages and pages of worthless bantering about which President is to be blamed for the color of toilet paper in the bathroom of some backwater gas station. It is asinine and annoying and democratic!

1.     Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th Anniversary Ed. (New York: Continuum, 2000). 87

18 June 2012


Sacred and profane are not mutually exclusive.  If you read sacred literature closely, you will see how it is often the profane that is set aside for destruction, i.e. set aside for the deity.  The meaning of "set aside for destruction" is to "make sacred."

Spirituality and secularism are exclusive.  Or are they?  I have often pondered this question.  I consider myself secular, humanist and atheist, but I also have an aspect to my way of seeing and being that I cannot label anything other than spiritual.  It's not that I believe in fairy tale creatures or deities or ghosts or anything else supernatural.  It is more like a connection to Jung's collective unconscious (a term I find amusing, because to be unconscious is like being, you know, passed-out/fainted/...errr, unconscious).  While I'm not sure how much I hold to this idea, I do have a need to spend time in quiet contemplation, which could be equated to the spiritual practice of meditation -- which I am also interested in.

But, and this is a big-O but, I don't believe that we are genetically spiritual.  Some scientists have found "evidence" of spirituality in the brains of subjects.  I think a good experiment to follow this, is to have atheists go through similar tests, but to use non-spiritual language, images, etc., to see what kind of result they come up with.

No 'God Spot' In Brain, Spirituality Linked To Right Parietal Lobe

“We have found a neuropsychological basis for spirituality, but it’s not isolated to one specific area of the brain,” said Brick Johnstone, professor of health psychology in the School of Health Professions. “Spirituality is a much more dynamic concept that uses many parts of the brain. Certain parts of the brain play more predominant roles, but they all work together to facilitate individuals’ spiritual experiences.”

There should also be the caveat here: spirituality does NOT by default mean YOUR specific brand of spirituality.  If there is a neuropsychological basis for spirituality, that does NOT mean there is a basis for a deity.  It is non sequitur to reach such a conclusion from this data.

I believe that people can have a form of, what could be called, spirituality without having recourse to deities or spirits.

I also believe that atheists can hold things as sacred.  What do atheists deem as sacred?  Sacredness usually connotes holiness or has a spiritual aspect, but can it not simply mean "set apart"?  They might hold their families as sacred, their friends, their intellect, even science.  They may hold the quiet beauty of the deep forest, or top of a mountain as sacred: not because it is inhabited by a spiritual being, but because it is a place where they can reach the deepest parts of themselves.

Atheists still have faith, right?  So why not sacredness?

Think about the things you consider sacred/profane; and about your outlook: is it more spiritual or secular?


Merriam Webster's Dictionary: Sacred - 1. a : dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity <a tree sacred to the gods> b : devoted exclusively to one service or use (as of a person or purpose) <a fund sacred to charity>

31 May 2012

I Was Poisoned!

Maybe it was something I ate, maybe not.

Whate'er the cause may be, 
it brought great pain to me, 
for, I have been down, you see,
battling a most grievous infection of E. 

Poetic, huh? Yea... no!

So, because of other medical issues, this could keep me down for awhile.  I'll be back when I can.

Here's more info on E. Coli, if you just can't help yourself: CDC on E. Coli

15 May 2012

In Shakespeare's Defense

Shakespeare is one of  the best writers of all time. Of course that is my opinion, but there are many who share it. He has inspired and influenced myriad writers, and his works have been re-done, made into movies, told in different ways, plots stolen, characters pilfered. Much as Shakespeare has done, has been done unto him.

Why are others from the late 1500 and early 1600's not adapted as much as Shakespeare?  D'uh! The reason nobody else from that time is being regularly adapted, is because they were too ordinary. Yes, they may have been popular at the time, but they did not also simultaneously reach a high character-driven level of literature.

Shakespeare is one of the most serious writers I have ever come across. He went away from his family, his home: to act, then to write. How many writers do that today? They usually read in one of the writing magazines about how they can balance their writing and personal life, then they try it until the next article comes out telling them they need to have their space. For Shakespeare there seems to be no difference between the personal and the writing life. He was a writer, first and foremost.

Shakespeare is still going because he was able to write many plays that (had they been written today) could be considered popular fiction, but at the same time he was able to write at a level of literary above any before or since.

I think people want to stop reading Shakespeare simply because they are too lazy to learn to read the Elizabethan English.  They fail to see the variety of characters that come alive in Shakespeare's works.  I know no writer today who is able to achieve the high level of popularity, as he did in the theatre: and, at the same time, have such realistic characters and the ability to make his audience suspend disbelief in those situations where that is necessary.  And on top of all that, maintain his level of output.  It just isn't being done.

Shakespeare has plenty to say to us, if we will take the iGarbage away from our ears and faces for five minutes and actually pay attention.  This is the trouble: all the tech is causing brain rot.  Soon, we'll all be zombies who won't know how to piss without first consulting an app on our phone.  Jesus!  But that is for another blog post....

All hail the Bard!  Bardolatry for life!

08 May 2012

WTF Is This Blog Even About?

I know, I know.  I have no rhyme or reason to my posts.  Well, I do to some of them... Right?
I have a tendency to blog about things that strike me at the moment, and thus require almost immediate comment or they will be lost to the archival darkness and my chance to have my voice heard will be gone.  I know this, because I have let these opportunities slip by uncommented upon too many times.  I'm ashamed, really.

Well ... anyway, often I read a news article or another blog post or hear someone say something while I'm out and about (which is rare, by the way--since I am something of a recluse), and it sparks ideas that I cannot get away from.  So, I start pounding away on this blog.  (That almost sounds naughty).

As you can tell, if you read enough of my posts, there is a sort-of thread or connection.  No, I don't know what it is, but it has to be there, right?  I mean, I'm not doing all this writing for nothing.... am I?  Am I?  Hmmm....  Good question.

The blog is a conglomeration of my thoughts spilled out into words and posted here for all the world to ignore, if they so wish.  Or to read and comment on, if that is more to their liking.  Or to take and make better, which I hope is what happens most.

I am a writer and I write about things that are important to me, about things that move me, about things that make me think or wonder or just shake my head in utter dismay....  For example, my last post about heeding warnings.  How many people ignore those?  Why do they do that?  If I was involved in preparing those warning systems and those people didn't listen and died, and lost their dogs and their homes and their belongings and everything else, it would eat me alive!  I would want to scream from the rooftops, "WHY????"  even if I am a reclusive introvert and don't want that kind of attention.  Lives are important, life is important.

Wow!  I have officially ranted and raved on and have basically said nothing.  If you've read this far, I'm not sure if I should congratulate you or be afraid of you.

Now, a point (which according to all the rules, I should have made much earlier, but, hey, I didn't wanna!): it is writing that ties this blog together.  I'm not published in the strict sense of the word.  Yes, I have this blog and that is a form of being published, but I would be hardpressed to use this as an example of my writing that would win me a book contract with a publisher of books.  That was a clunky sentence, huh?  O well.  This is my place to practice publicly.  You know you can practice writing all you want, but you have to let someone read it.  I mean, what else is the purpose of writing anything other than a diary/journal?

I write because I feel compelled to write.  It drives me.  Most of the time I am writing in a journal, or notebook or working on a novel (that is not in a state to be seen by anyone, yet) and so I have to write a blog post, to get that feeling that someone, anyone, is reading what I write.  It  may sound crazy, because I'm just writing about all kinds of things that are not closely related when I write here, and in my other writing, I am hopefully keeping a cohesion and a tightness in my writing.  But, this is a necessary part of my writing.

This blog is my way of discussing ideas that are important; some of those ideas will eventually end up in my other work, simply because I took the time to hammer out some of the kinks in my thinking right here, for all the world to see.

You have to be getting tired of all this by now, so, I'm shutting up.

Thanks for reading....

02 May 2012

Prion Rising!

I don't know about you, but variant Creutzfeld-Jacob disease scares the bejesus outta me.  This is the disease that is caused by the the same prion that causes Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, aka: Mad Cow Disease!

See, what this prion does (caveat: I am not a scientist, but I subscribe to the advice, "Know thy enemy," and this is definitely NOT my friend) is replicate like mad.  Let me rephrase: They SELF-replicate.  This is too much for me to try to write about without copying too much from here.  So, you should probably read it for yourself.
Prions, more than just brain rot. | biobabel
Here in the UK, we don’t need reminding about the horrific consequences of transmissable spongiform encephalopathies. Over one hundred and fifty britons have died of variant Creutzfeld-Jacob disease, and the images of cattle suffering the effects of BSE (and ministers feeding their daughters burgers) are still fresh in the mind.
VCJD is like science fiction that is not fiction.  I think I would much rather be attacked by the alien creature from the eponymous film, than have the slow, excruciating, horrific death by this little prion.  It, for all intents and purposes, turns the brain into a sponge and melts it.  "In the brain, the prions form toxic aggregations, causing neurodegeneration and death."

Anyway, it sounds like these scientists are using this scary little thing to learn about evolution and the way the brain degenerates in other neurodegenerative diseases.  It, again, reminds me of Alien, in that some of the crew wanted to bring the nasty thing home to study it.  That is until it killed them all....

Well, all except Ripley, the only smart one in the bunch.

25 April 2012

Book Recommendations From Hell: A Cry For Help

I recently (well, if you consider a couple of months recent) began reading A Frolic of His Own by William Gaddis.  My reason for choosing it was because several "what-to-read-next?" websites recommended it as being like Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow.  I can't think of any way that the two books resemble one another.  Now, if I had typed in Catch 22, by Joseph Heller, say, or maybe even A Broom of the System, by David Foster Wallace, A Frolic as a recommendation, would make sense.  But, Gravity's Rainbow?  Well, I guess you live and learn; you can't always trust technology to steer you in the right direction, can you?

How do those things even work?  I've noticed on YourNextRead.com, that there is an option to thumb-down a recommendation.  PLEASE, if you come across one that you know is NOT a good recommendation, thumb that shit down!  It does NOT mean that you don't like either of the books; it DOES mean that someone looking for a similar book will be baffled by that recommendation, and said bafflement may cause recommendationophobia or something.  Do you want to be a cause of these persons contracting an extending case of Luddititis?  I mean, come on!  If you have read, say A Frolic of His Own and Gravity's Rainbow, and you see one of those being recommended because of the other, what are you going to do? THUMB-THAT-SHIT-DOWN! Repeat after me: THUMB-THAT-SHIT-DOWN!  You can give each book five stars, LIKE I DO.  They are both excellent literary fiction.  BUT, they are not alike.  Okay, I guess I have probably beat the holy bejeepercreepers out of this dead horse.  You get me.

Don't misunderstand.  I like A Frolic, but every time I pick it up to begin reading, all I can do is think about how much it is NOT like Gravity's Rainbow and that just knocks me right down.  I'm trying not to give up and try some other year.  I guess I'll just keep at it and bitch away here on my trusty blog....
Later gators.

20 April 2012

Complacent or Vigilent?

Sometimes, the most cautious are still caught unaware by severe weather, e.g. my friend in Joplin, who was driving home with his family from his daughter's graduation, in May 2011, when their world was turned upside down by that unexpected change in the weather.

Today, in the news, they are asking:
Could better tornado warnings cause complacency? - msnbc.com

Meteorologist Rick Smith said he hopes that for residents who prepared and were spared, that their work doesn't lead to complacency.
"I don't want people to think preparedness efforts are ever wasted," Smith said. "The weather radios people bought, the plans people reviewed on Friday and Saturday, it's not like you're never going to use those again.
"If you didn't use them on Saturday, you should be thankful and glad."
Having myself lived in an area where tornadoes are prevalent, and watching peoples' reactions to them, I have come to the conclusion that people are going to be what they are: that is: if they are already complacent, they will continue to be; if they are not, they will continue to be vigilent.  All things considered. Still, I agree with Rick Smith quoted above, that preparedness is not wasted.  People need to take that stuff seriously, without regard to how many times they have survived or their relatives have survived or whatever.

Those people involved in developing these warning systems are doing all of this to save as many lives and as much property as they can.  When people disregard their warnings (even if they turn out to be not as bad as they sound at the time of warning) they are, in a sense, slapping the developers, scientists, storm-chasers, and all the others involved in warning them, in the face.

I moved away from that part of the country, and one of the major decided factors in my doing that was the weather.  I had grown up with that as a child, and don't remember being overly cautious or frightened.  But, as an adult with a family, it was a completely different game.  I know some people can't move, or refuse to for whatever reason: family, land, fear of the unknown, jobs.  This list could go for days.  But, if they stay, they should be vigilent and give heed to the warnings.  The warning system does save lives.

There is probably a metaphor, or a symbol of some kind in this.  At least a lesson that could be shown in a story without going all Aesop on the reader, right?  Kind of like the movie The Day After Tomorrow is a lesson about screwing up the environment....  Hmmmm....

18 March 2012

God is What?

Two things:

"He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love." 1 John 4.8

 "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Matthew 10.28


Do I fear him because he loves me so much, or do I love him because if I don't he will send me to hell?

Second Question:

If I fear him and love him for the first, it is without merit; if I love and fear him for the second, I deserve to go to hell anyway for attempting a Blaise Pascal feint on him, and if God sends me to hell, then how can he say he loves me?


I would never send someone I love even to prison, much less to an everlasting torment in fire that never stops. And I'm not even as good as God, right?

Several will almost assuredly immediately yell, "You took it out of context, you took it out of context."

Bull! Context is a golden calf that must be melted down, crushed and drank.  If these are out of context, then the Christian god is love only in a certain context and will send sinners to hell only in a certain context. That is not what the Bible says, is it? Does it say, "God is love, only in such-and-so a context"? No. Read the "context" and you will see that you cannot dispute this.

You want to see a biblical contradiction? It is this Matthew 10 verse alongside 1 Corinthians 13. Love and Hell from the same source? It is like attempting to mix clear water with bitter; all will be tainted..... None fit to drink.

Just think about it...

22 February 2012

Music While Writing?

I mentioned a few posts ago about Stephen King's listening to music when he writes. I know people who listen to music while they study. Many arguments/debates have taken place between me and my children and between my college student peers and me on this subject.

They claim that they can concentrate BETTER with music or TV playing while they read and study. I have told them, and stick to this: the human brain is not capable of handling this efficiently. And this is especially true if there are vocals. Classical music may work for short periods, but the human voice is one of the most distracting sounds to other humans; so, if you are listening to music while reading, writing, or studying, you are in effect causing your brain undue stress by making it attempt to pay attention to two separate things at once. Not good.

Now, on to listening to music while writing. In some cases listening to hard and heavy music while writing is extremely helpful:
  • When your inner critic refuses to shut the hell up
  • When you are attempting to drown out other distractions
  • To increase your feeling of energy while you work
  • Because that Homeric Geek guy said I shouldn't

There are probably other reasons for listening to music while writing, but those are some that I have argued for.

On the other hand, it is a bad idea to listen to music when you are:
  • trying to work your way through a difficult plotting issue
  • trying to hear your characters' voices
  • writing at 3:00am and everyone else in your house is sleeping

Seriously, it is nearly impossible to truly give your undivided attention to deep issues while Ozzy is cranking in your ears. Dr. John Medina in Brain Rules states that it is actually impossible to multitask, which is what thinking and listening to music amounts to.

So, next time think about what you are attempting, then make an informed decision about cranking up the Metallica while writing....

14 February 2012

Attention Spans Are a Terrible Thing to ... to Something ... I Can't Remember

We should use technology to push our minds to new breadth and new depth. Don't simply give up on the old technology (such as books), especially at the expense of the attention span. Technology should be used to learn about new areas in which to spend more time thinking deeply. But, online reading, online browsing will change our brains to the point that we will have trouble thinking deeply; our attention spans will be incapable of handling that sort of pressure.

What will happen as fewer and fewer books are read; what will happen as fewer and fewer teachers and professors actually require students to read the books assigned? Nicholas Carr interviewed several people for his book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains; people who were students, teachers, etc. One philosophy major stands out. He no longer reads actual books. How is that possible? Another interviewee states that he is no longer able to read War and Peace. (That may not be a fair example, because I know plenty of people who make that claim and it has nothing to do with attention span). For that person, Tolstoy's novel is too long and complex. That is disheartening. People are allowing themselves to be changed to such a degree, by reading online -- only online -- that they can no longer enjoy complex and tedious tasks. Their brains are changed. Literally.

Already, people are more impatient than they used to be, in general. (No, I don't have any statistics for that, it is a personal observation). Is that the kind of world we want to live in? A world filled with impatient people who are incapable of thinking deeply?

Think about it.... if you still can.

06 February 2012

Attention Contention

Publishers and editors seem to suffer from what appears to be adult ADHD (Disclaimer: I am not a psych doctor, so I can't make this diagnosis for real).  They press new writers to maintain constant tension for their potential readers; keep the pressure on, keep them turning pages; in other words, don't bore them with anything that might strain their weak, failing, meager attention spans.

It won't be long that novels will have to be the length of short stories and short stories will have to be one word that captures the entire emotional and psychological life of a character: e.g. Jesus wept.

I contend that we, as humans, as readers, as writers, have the responsibility to rebel against the publishers and editors, for the sake of our children and their children.  Attention spans are quickly becoming endangered and if something drastic is not done, will follow the Dodo into extinction.