My blog contains a large number of posts. A few are included in various other publications, or as attached stories and chronicles in my emails; many more are found on loose leaves, while some are written carelessly in margins and blank spaces of my notebooks. Of the last sort most are nonsense, now often unintelligible even when legible, or half-remembered fragments. Enjoy responsibly.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Welcome to Michigan, Please Lie to Us

Several weeks ago Mitt Romney won our Republican primary by blatantly misleading the people of Michigan. I can’t see how anyone living within our state borders believed him. It was put best by last weekend’s Wait, Wait... Don’t Tell Me on NPR:

Governor Mitt Romney won Michigan, a state where his father was governor and where he promised the people he'd bring twenty billion dollars in subsidies, that he would bring back all the auto manufacturing jobs lost during the last few decades, and that he would spend his fortune to build a dome over the greater Detroit area so that they could grow palm trees. That's good and it worked but the big question is with three major primaries in three winners who are going to be the nominee. Given that every leading candidate is hated by a larger constituency than the one that supports him, we anticipate a brokered convention this summer with a nomination finally going to a signed eight by ten photo of Ronald Reagan hanging on a coat rack.

During election time people get stupid and believe a) wildly unbelievable crap and b) that the president actually has the power to change most things.

The president is head of only one branch of the government. Sure, the Bush Administration has worked very hard to dissolve the other two branches, but they still exist and will remain. Moderation and balance will always be restored, but that is a different argument. So this leaves the President with the ability to make or stop wars, appoint individuals to political posts, and make appeals directly to the public for either support or condemnation of certain policies. Any serious changes must be approved in the Senate and pass through the Justice system. This check and balance assures, for the most part, that the president does not have nearly enough power to make and serious changes alone.

So during any election you are going to hear a bunch of election promises that are destine to be broken. These broken campaign promises lead to an overall apathy with voters, a stereotype of lying politicians, and, eventually, a lower voter turnout. Election promises in this country have been around since we have had elections and will always continue, but it is the seeing these promises as the BS that they are that quells their tide and ultimately defeats their pushers.

Mitt Romney promised the impossible to Michigan because he was under incredibly strong pressure to win this state. There is no way that the jobs that we have lost are coming back. The new plants have been built elsewhere, new employees have been trained, and profits have increased for the companies. There is no reason why these companies would ever move back. He knows this and we know this. So why, why did he do it?

Was it that our local inhabitants are so desperate to believe that there will be jobs coming back to Michigan that they are willing to set aside reality and believe these empty promises?

Have we lost so much hope in ourselves that fantasy presents itself as a viable alternative?

Or is it that he knew that we would rather be openly lied to then to have to deal with the reality of our current situation?

I am afraid that it is all three. So here, let me welcome all future political candidates to Michigan and remind them to please lie to us, because it’s obviously what we want to hear.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Good Morning

I don’t sleep very much, maybe a couple of hours every night, and any more and I’m exhausted and worthless all day. It’s just the way that I am and I’m comfortable with it. During the time when everyone else sleeps, I usually read or write and that makes me happy. The other morning, while watching the sun rise over a fresh blanket of snow, I realized that most people will never know the quiet of the morning and how it is a constant balance of delicate silence and unlimited potential. It is that time, before the world wakes, that is mine. I covet it and it really is truly precious to me. I wish that I could share with each of you the serenity of the hours you waste asleep, but I’m sure you would all just extol the virtues of a good deep rest. So, for now, I get my time and hope that all of you wake rested and prepared for a new day.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Entry for January 23, 2008

On any given day the news is barely interesting enough to maintain someone’s interest for the shortest period of time. This is because everyday news pales in comparison to the average person’s life, is far less interesting, and rarely pertains directly to them. This leaves those in the news business trying all sorts of things in an attempt to grab the attention of viewers. No where is this more obvious than during an election season. Like eight-year-olds chasing a ball around a soccer field, organization is completely lost and the only objective is to frantically follow wherever the target may bounce.

This format only works to give fodder for the real bread and butter of the cable channel news networks. I will never quite understand the appeal of the talking heads of the infotainment world. It’s the same thing on almost all channels. A loud host talking far more they have coherent thoughts to support all to set up a fight between the in-your-face over 40 neoconservative talk show host yelling, pointing, and claiming that he’s right because everyone else is wrong while the liberal guest or co-host rolls his eyes and counters with some statement about “facts” before trailing off in exasperation once he has gotten in several shots about the conservatives view of reality and/or intelligence.

The conservative is either a pseudo-bad-ass who is against a world that won’t see reality and the liberal is someone who tries to talk over everyone, taking the moral and intellectual highroad, while simultaneously destroying his own argument. The same thing is on every channel, with the political bend coming from who the channel matches against whom and who has control over the mic.

What seems to further baffle me is that not only do these infotainers propagate the conservative and liberal stereotypes, normal people feel the need to carry on in their same vein -- as if they too need be that shallow, desperate, and one-dimensional in order to understand what it is that they are arguing. This may be the free world, but free thinking is usually in short supply.

All of this then roles back into the assault that the daily news does on our senses. The positions are assumed; the vague, leading, or horrible questions lobbed; and the waiting for any blood is sought so hungrily that everyone sits, salivating mouth in hand, waiting to be fed another morsel of mildly interesting that they can describe as the best tasting, most interesting thing that has ever been experienced. I, for one, find all of it unpalatable.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Coffee Shop Inhabitants (add to me)

While sitting at a coffee shop I realized that there are several distinct personalities that tend to frequent this type of establishment. So I started the list below and it has since been added to by people more talented than I am. Please feel free to add to it:

The first and most obvious is the Loud Talker. This male, and it's usually a male, talks to everyone in a voice more properly suited for a canyon echo. All within ear shot cannot only hear the entire conversation that the Loud Talker is conducting, they've created an internal dialog with him over a) how they would respond to the other side of the conversation and b) all of the different ways in which they would like to tell him to shut up.

The next is the Living Room Dweller. Conducting business usually reserved for the privacy of ones own house on a work at home day, this model tends to spread out and claim all areas surrounding him. No topic is off limits, no conversation inappropriate, and no business accessory has been excluded from his table. This model is inclined to take off shoes, hoard all power outlets, and, somehow, make an entire fax machine materialize out of his bag.

There is always the 2+ Gaggle of Gossiping Girls who, no matter of what age will chitter on endlessly about the most inane things possible and increasing decibel and pitch. At some point their conversation we'll degrade into a high-speed squeaking with only an occasional comprehensible word about celebrity, personal hygiene, or shopping.

You can always identify the iPod Human because of the white wires leading from their dramatically places iPod directly to their down turned head. Occasionally this person will fumble with said iPod in a combination gesture to make sure that you see that they do indeed own an iPod and because they cannot find the right song to express the ambiguity of their contentment that they have a soundtrack to life and you must deal directly with people in your non-musical hell.

The Writer is there to be inspired to write. To let the pages flow in a rhythmic procession of nuance and substantiated prose while building to a crescendo of literary gold that can only be fueled on by caffeine and the knowledge that everyone is watching them write. They know that without the external stimulation through everyone's acknowledgment of the fact that they are indeed writing, the writer would be writing for nothing besides themselves.

The Regular is there like clockwork on a specific day at a specific time. He or she knows the name of every one of the proprietor's children, grandchildren, and pets, and will be the first to bring in any newspaper clipping containing mention of any of the above. The Regular's drink is always out on the counter before he or she steps into the establishment and, speaking in tones almost on par with the Loud Talker, ensures that everyone knows that he or she knows the owner and his or her family personally. This makes the Regular a more important customer than anyone else. On the day that the Regular doesn't show at the prescribed time, it is assumed that he or she has gotten into some horribly disfiguring accident and the coffee shop will expressly fold without his or her patronage.

If you are missing any of the current events magazines or newspapers from the rack, they are undoubtedly at the table of the Waspy Couple. This husband and wife, usually middle-aged, is easily spotted at the coffee shop after church on Sundays in their finest. They will calmly discuss the week's news over swapping each section of the paper, and not a visit to the coffee shop goes by without the husband asking the wife, at least once, to remind him to pencil in this or that auction or event into his calendar when he gets home. No topic is off limits or, like the Living-Room Dweller, inappropriately too private. Though they do not expel bank account numbers to the entire shop, they will make sure the whole place knows how much they donated to the trendiest charity last month.

The Student has decided that the school library, a room built with the sole purpose of allowing a student to have the resources, space, and comfort for optimal studying, is just not up to the standard of their educational needs and has sought out a busy coffee shop as a reasonable alternative. Unfortunately, the Student will spend most of their time casting divisive glances and threatening sighs towards everyone else who dares to breathe too loudly in this public place. Not lasting long, the Student will give up and move to a new coffee shop every 30 minutes.

LAN Party Over Here! is almost always present in the form of several younger people, located within feet of each other, typing frantic messages to the person within arms reach. Also easily recognizable because of the occasional outbursts of synchronized laughing and occasionally laptop swapping. Expect this group to consume the largest amount of caffeinated beverages and make the biggest mess. Most coffee shop LAN Party Over Here! groups emanate from being outcast from one, if not all of the group members' parents' homes.

An uplifting member of the coffee shop culture is the Happy to be Breathing. They are overjoyed at everything. If the little old woman asks the little old man if he wants a prune spiced bran muffin, he will excitedly say, "Yes! I'd love a prune spiced bran muffin!" and after consuming said muffin he will wipe the saliva off the corners of his mouth with a hankie and proclaim, in as booming a voice as his shriveling vocal chords can manage, "That was the best prune spiced bran muffin I've ever had!"

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Baby Registry & Shower

Several of you have asked about our registry and whether or not there will be a baby shower. We are registered at BabiesRUs and BabyDepot and the shower is on January 27th. Please feel free to contact me if you need more information and I will get you in touch with the official party planner.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Incredible article from the Humanist

The Post-Theological Umbrella
by David Niose
Published in the Humanist, January/February 2008

Surely one of the biggest barriers keeping humanism from being a more prominent force in the United States is its nontheistic character. Two relevant surveys provide compelling proof that Americans just don't feel good about openly rejecting belief in a divinity:

A University of Minnesota survey in 2006 found atheists are the most distrusted and disliked minority group in the country.

An American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) from 2001 indicates that over 13 percent of the population identifies as secular/nonreligious, but only 1 percent identify as atheist, agnostic, or humanist.

The University of Minnesota results no doubt help to explain the results of the ARIS survey. That is, the fact that atheists are so vilified explains why only less than 1 percent of the population will identify as atheist, even though over 13 percent will identify as secular/nonreligious.

For humanist activists trying to advance their worldview in a culture that discourages open nontheism, there have traditionally been two ways of dealing with this issue. Some do so by trying to hide the nontheistic nature of humanism, avoiding discussion of nontheism with the hope that maybe nobody will notice it. This approach rarely works, however, because most discussions of humanism with nonhumanists inevitably result in the question: So are humanists atheists?

Another way to address the issue is to attempt to improve the public's perception of the atheist identity. This is a worthy goal, and surely it should be encouraged. Given time, the image of atheism in America might improve, as people slowly realize that atheists are more likely to be found in research labs than in prisons or drug hideouts. But this approach, even if it works, will take time, and one must consider whether other strategies might be possible.

This question of atheism, and specifically how the public's poor image of atheists makes the advancement of humanism difficult, became a topic of discussion with a friend at a recent conference. Her response pointed to a third way to address the issue: "When people ask me about atheism," she said, "I just tell them I consider myself post-theological."

How brilliant, I thought. Rather than discuss and debate the existence of God, she focuses attention on the concept of theology itself. She dismisses not God, but the entire notion of theology as an area of inquiry that is worthy of consideration. By calling herself post-theological, she isn't making the rejection of God-belief the key ingredient in her identity; she is pointing out that, from a historical perspective, theological inquiry itself is no longer a valid means of finding truth or morality.

In fact, my friend's historical view of theology is accurate. Before humans reached the level of intelligence necessary for theological inquiry, our ancestors were in what might be called the "pre-theological" stage. Like other animals, our distant ancestors lacked the intelligence necessary to achieve theological thought. But at some point in our historical development humans became intelligent enough to ask deep questions about the world, such as: How did we get here? Who made this place? Why does the sun rise, and why does lightning strike? What happens to us when we die? These are big questions that can only be asked by an animal with remarkable intelligence.

Interestingly, though the human animal became smart enough to ask such deep questions, it wasn't smart enough to answer them accurately. And that's where theology came in. Lacking true scientific knowledge to answer these deep questions, humans instead speculated, inventing myths, superstitions, and tribal doctrines to provide answers. In doing so, they left the pre-theological stage and entered the theological stage of their development.

It's noteworthy that humans aren't the first animals to reach the theological stage. Scientists tell us that our older cousins, the Neanderthals, buried their dead and had religious relics that suggest that they also asked deep questions that required theological answers. Hence, we can see that theological speculation is a natural stage in the development of extremely advanced animals.

It's also noteworthy that theology, once invented, had significant survival value as a human institution. That is, the religious rituals and beliefs of a clan or tribe became imbedded in its culture, helping to bind the in-group together and separate it from out-groups that had different beliefs and rituals. And as human organization and civilization changed, becoming more complex, theological concepts have been able to adapt and change as well, always serving numerous social and political purposes. This process continues even today.

From pre-theological to theological, the human species still faces another stage in its development. As it continues to acquire knowledge and understanding of the universe, the human animal finds that it is answering many of the deep questions that were once left to religious speculation--questions of universal origins, natural history, the development of life, and the explanation of natural phenomena. In fact, having filled many of the gaps in knowledge that were once explained by religion, and having confidence that the remaining gaps can be explained without religious superstition as well, some humans now conclude that the entire theological approach no longer has relevance. Such humans are reaching the post-theological stage.

From the standpoint of a humanist activist, it's important to recognize that the post-theological view is one that focuses on the big picture, not the singular issue of the existence or nonexistence of a divinity. In fact, the post-theological view can even acknowledge the psychological inclinations that are common in a still-theological society, where religious belief has traditionally been widespread. Since the vast majority of us grew up in households that were theological, we recognize that the transition from the theological mindset to the post-theological mindset isn't easily made, at a personal level or societal level.

Because of this recognition, and because the post-theological view is not one that must overtly attack the notion of God itself, the umbrella of post-theological identity can be a big one. As the 2001 ARIS survey showed, very few who were raised in our theologically inclined society will openly accept the "atheist" identity, even though over 13 percent will identify as not religious. But it's likely that many who aren't religious would gladly accept the term post-theological as a less threatening alternative.

In fact, one can even have a post-theological outlook while acknowledging a personal psychological tendency to sympathize with theistic notions. So long as one recognizes those notions for what they are--psychological leftovers from the recent past--one can associate with the post-theological movement without a feeling of inconsistency.

Open rejection of a divinity is very difficult for most Americans because "God" has personal characteristics that are often etched deeply into the psyche. To some who were raised in a religious environment, there can be a feeling that the concept of God, and even more specific concepts such as Jesus as the son of God and the Virgin Mary, are an integral part of one's being, making the direct rejection of them possible only for the most disciplined and rational.

But an indirect rejection, via the embrace of the post-theological way of thinking, is less personal and perhaps allows for the psychological wiggle room that many find necessary. If that's difficult to grasp, consider the following alternatives. It's relatively rare that one hears a typical American state: "I'm a lapsed Catholic--I consider myself an atheist" because the label "atheist" is so scorned. But that same person saying: "I'm a lapsed Catholic--I consider myself post-theological" might not be so hard to imagine.

The post-theological identity should be seen as an umbrella term, one that includes not only those who openly identify as atheist, agnostic, and humanist, but also many of those 13 percent, and possibly more, who are simply ambivalent and apathetic about religion. With these natural allies joined under the same umbrella, movement-building can only be made easier.

David Niose, a lawyer in Massachusetts, is a board member and the treasurer of the American Humanist Association and facilitator of Greater Worcester Humanists

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Call Waiting

My cell phone is no more.

(In Monty Python/John Cleese voice):

It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet his maker! It’s a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! If I hadn't put the battery back in it, it would be pushing up the daisies! Its electronic processes are now history! It’s off the twig! It’s kicked the bucket, shuffled off its mortal coil; run down the curtain and joined the bleeding choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-CELL PHONE!!

So if you have been waiting for a call from me, or have tried to reach me, I apologize. I know that I am still making up time from being sick, but I know no numbers as it has taken over responsibility for remembering that information.

I should get a new phone here in the next day or two and will immediately call all who have left messages. Until then please feel free to email, but understand that I am at my computer very little this week.