Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Deposit for the Savings Account

I just had a nice time at the bank opening up a savings account for Gretel.

The bank manager mentioned how calmly and quietly she was sitting in the chair and asked if she was always so well-behaved. I said that she usually was, but that she could erupt at any time. Nearly on cue she reached for me, sat on my lap, and puked all over the front of me.

The bank manager ran to get some paper towels and while she was gone Gretel must have become possessed by a demon. I don't know how to explain how much puke came out of her. It was like she was trying to imitate Pete Brady's science experiment volcano. It was like she was trying to start a Stand By Me-esque Barf-O-Rama. It was like I took the Baby Puke Bucket Challenge. It was epic. It was monumental. It was... is magnificent the correct word?

The bank manager returned with like 8 napkins. I was for some reason compelled to state the obvious- "the situation has become much worse." I guess that was my way of telling her she was going to have to get her nice office chairs pressure-washed. We mutually decided that it might be better if I came back later to finish creating the account.

Out at the car I took off my shirt, took off Gretel's pants, put her in the car seat... and I swear we shared a look of understanding and each started giggling.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

My Final Statement in a Debate About Gay Marriage

I wanted to get down the rest of the stuff I’ve been thinking on this subject. I’ll consider this my final statement and then you can have the last word. You know what I like about this debate- most people would think we’re wasting our time trying to convince each other, but really we’re each just trying to get down our thoughts on the subject(s) as clearly as we can, and perhaps make a difference to anybody else who is reading.

You say you don’t want to quote the Bible to defend homosexuality because it wouldn’t do any good. You’re right, but divine inspiration IS the foundation of your belief. Concerning using the Bible as a moral guide- did the writers forget about listing genocide, rape and slavery as evils? We certainly believe now that they are- a testament to how times have changed, and pretty good evidence that the Bible is not the word of God, but “the word of God” as invented by men living thousands of years ago in a morally outmoded society. God is really omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and good but he says nothing against genocide, rape and slavery? And you think we should trust Him on the minutiae from the Old Testament, most of which you discarded anyway?

What have you discarded? It doesn’t just say that a man should not lie with another man as with a women. It says (or “reads” if you prefer) “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” It’s not just wrong, they should be killed. You somehow think that’s divinely inspired???

Your other reasons against homosexuality fall apart. The health argument is countered by the fact lesbians get less AIDS, and gay men live longer than straight men. Even if that weren’t true, everything we do has the chance to affect our health. If your actual concern is health, you should instead be telling people to not to drive, to get exercise, and have their heart checked regularly.

Your “things don’t fit properly” argument is ridiculous on the surface and appropriately countered by others previously.

Rodger’s links show that children raised by homosexuals are as well-adjusted and children raised by heterosexuals, etc, etc. It’s clear that homosexuality is not harmful to anything and it’s helpful to many things… that is, to anyone who hasn’t accepted its wrongness a priori.

You see the fact that some gays want to be straight as evidence that God doesn’t want it. You really don’t see Catholic guilt as a human construct? Shame over one’s sexuality (heterosexuality or homosexuality) has nothing to do with inherent rightness and wrongness… it has to do with what people are taught. If you weren’t Catholic you might correctly see Catholic guilt as a form of social engineering. Without teaching it you could have a society without shame of homosexuality- which like I said is true in some aboriginal societies and in ancient Greece, for instance.

Bringing “child rape” into the debate of ancient Greece’s acceptance of homosexuality is a smokescreen and a backhanded emotional appeal. It has nothing to do with anything. I gave an example of a society without shame of homosexuality- it’s an insane leap to suggest I condone everything that society did. I’m glad Hitler was nice to his dog- it doesn’t mean I agree with anything else the Nazis did! Feel free to apologize for the insinuation… but at the very least, let this be the end of that absurd line of reasoning.

Through all of this you still never said that you believe in equality. Although you didn’t say it outright, you do wish America was a Christian theocracy. You want non-religious people to be forced, through the state, to live their lives and follow laws according to your religious beliefs. I don’t believe you would argue against this point. If so, please state the contrary outright- “I do not believe America should be a Christian theocracy.” Next I’d ask you which of your Christian God’s laws do you not think the country should adopt?

You’ve stated we should be ruled by some sort of “natural law” but what is this natural law and what proof is there for it? (Sounds like “natural food,” which is meaningless.) The “natural law” of our ancestors generally included subjugation of women, acceptance of slavery, etc. Why is your natural law the correct natural law, and not something that in hindsight will be seen as an outmoded belief system? You have a very HEAVY burden of proof because you are using it to limit people’s freedom in a very fundamental way.

Rodger is right that you are using pedophilia and bestiality as a smokescreen to obscure the real issue. (Your husband might say you’re chasing rabbits.) The issue is this- can two loving adults of the same sex have equal rights under secular law to marry. For some reason you think the question is this- can anything marry anything? It’s not about having sex with a chicken, or joining NAMBLA, or whether Blackbeard’s peg-leg can marry George Washington’s false teeth, or any other nonsense. Let the Supreme Court weigh in on those separate issues if they like. Take note of their use of the terms “consent” and “animal rights” in their dissenting decision. You’re looking for an answer to a question that nobody asked. Again, we’re asking if two loving adults of the same sex have equal rights under secular law to marry. It can be weighed on its own merits.

I still maintain that you are on the wrong side of history and this is why. Everyone can feel the tide turning against opposition to gay marriage. People are recognizing it as an equality issue. What happened to other equality issues that people supported by using the Bible- slavery, subjugation of women, miscegenation, segregation, etc? They became accepted under the law, a generation passed, now everybody overlooks those passages in the Bible and thinks “my goodness, how could have my ancestors justified such horrible beliefs???” (The video I posted at the beginning gives examples of the Bible being used to support segregation… readers are welcome to google examples of the others.)

The question was raised of whether I am an atheist or an agnostic- let’s just say I’m a skeptic. Give me a reason to believe and I’d be forced to accept it. Someone once asked Bertrand Russell what he would say to God if he found himself at the entrance to Heaven after he died. “I would say, “You didn’t give us enough evidence.”” So what is the evidence? You didn’t say. Maybe God exists, you’re right that I have no proof that he doesn’t. Neither do I have proof that Zeus doesn’t exist, or garden gnomes on Pluto. There’s no reason to believe in either of them either. We can believe in them through faith, but why would we?

You said everything must have a cause. But then you said there’s an uncaused cause, and that is God. What? Where did you get that? Does everything need a cause or not? I talked about emergence as a possibility. Yes, people were the medium for music, tool-making and language. Yes, nature was the medium for people to exist. You believe God is the uncaused cause that brought nature into being. But wait a minute- why can’t nature be the uncaused cause??? You’re putting an extra link in your argument without justification. You’ll have a very hard time proving that the uncaused cause must be an entity rather than a process, but be my guest in trying. It’s like saying an entity must be responsible for gravity- nope, it’s just a force until proven otherwise.

Not only must you prove it was an entity, but a god, and the Christian God, and the Christian God who supports Catholicism, and the Christian God who supports YOUR version of Catholicism which thinks homosexuality is wrong. That might be a tough task, but you believe it and I’d like to hear your reasons.

Let me say this another way, because it’s important. Maybe God caused the Big Bang, or maybe it just happened. If God must have caused it because everything needs a cause, what was it again that caused God??? IF there’s one thing that doesn’t need a cause, that thing could be nature.

Let’s say that one day the Big Bang “just happened.” If you want to call that “God” perhaps we can agree. If God is the word for the things that just happened, then who doesn’t believe? If you define God vaguely enough, as Aquinas does, then the word God has no meaning.

I was forthright in saying I don’t know the origin of the universe, but I don’t think you do either. If you do know it, you haven’t said what you know or shown how you know it. You say it’s illogical to believe that something came from nothing. That’s the wrong word- it’s counter-intuitive. Once we’d understand the process, if that’s indeed what happened, it would no longer be thought of as illogical or counter-intuitive- it would be considered commonplace. There’s a long history of discovery of reasons behind what were thought of as magic and miracles.

There are other options too, why can’t time go back forever? There’s nothing illogical about that. What do we really know about the nature of time, space, and matter? I say not much. You say, everything we need to know, they came from God. The burden of proof is again on you, if proof is something you care about.

A thought experiment for you- a sufficiently advanced alien species COULD be indistinguishable from God. Am I right? There are big problems answering either way.

Concerning faith vs. reason- it’s true that it might be reasonable to have faith, like maybe people with faith in God live longer, but the faith in God itself is belief without reason. You’d admit that there’s no possible evidence that could subvert your faith? If so, what is it? You believe in God a priori, without reason, an unquestioned truth to you. It’s accepted before all else. I’ve said before that if there is a reason for you to believe, then your belief if only as good as that reason. Subvert that reason and your faith is subverted, which isn’t allowed as a possibility. If the existence of God is questioned by you, it’s only questioned in a way that the only possible answer would support your premise that He does. Again, if you have a reason, let’s hear it. But proof is not necessary for those who have faith and it would even subvert faith. Faith is unnecessary when you have proof. Yes, I do agree with you that belief without reason is superstition.

You’ve countered that I believe in love a priori, without proof. Yes, and of course I do have subjective proof, as everybody does, and all of the empirical evidence that helps to explain it* is only additive to my belief. But this is all philosophical, and skirts the earthly issue of people in love being able to legally share their lives with each other. I’m reminded of the Johnny Cash song “You’re So Heavenly Minded You’re No Earthly Good.”

Concerning love, you don’t even respect (much less accept) the love that some people of the same sex feel for each other. God created them sick, and commands them to be well- is that something a good god would do? You and I didn’t choose our sexual orientation, so why would we assume they did? You think they should be ashamed to pursue it, and you don’t want it to be allowed by law. You assume a moral source only agreed upon by a fraction of the denomination of the one religion to which you belong. I’d call that narrow-mindedly moralistic, and that’s the definition self-righteousness.

Am I self-righteous? I certainly think I’m morally right on this issue, but I’m not narrow-minded. If I were shown evidence that there’s only harm, and no benefit to homosexuality I’d have change my view. Nothing could possibly change your view- your book is closed. I believe from what we know about love subjectively, and as illuminated by science, it should be allowed to flourish. That’s my argument as best as I can make it.

* “What science offers for explaining the feelings we experience when believing in God or falling in love is complementary, not conflicting; additive, not detractive. I find it deeply interesting to know that when I fall in love with someone my initial lustful feelings are enhanced by dopamine, a neurohormone produced by the hypothalamus that triggers the release of testosterone, the hormone that drives sexual desire, and that my deeper feelings of attachment are reinforced by oxytocin, a hormone synthesized in the hypothalamus and secreted into the blood by the pituitary. Further, it is instructive to know that such hormone-induced neural pathways are exclusive to monogamous pair-bonded species as an evolutionary adaptation for the long-term care of helpless infants. We fall in love because our children need us! Does this in any way lessen the qualitative experience of falling in love and doting on one’s children? Of course not, any more than unweaving a rainbow into its constituent parts reduces the aesthetic appreciation of the rainbow.
-Michael Shermer, The Believing Brain

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Mono-No-Aware of "The Wizard of Oz" (from December 2006)

Friends! I want to share something with you- the definition of the term mono-no-aware. Have you ever learned a word that had a profound effect on the way you see the world? I hope "mono-no-aware" affects you the same way it has affected me.

This is how Christopher J. Moore defines it in his book "In Other Words: A Language Lover's Guide to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World":
An awareness and appreciation of the ephemeral beauty of the world. The seasons change, the cherry blossom gently falls, the crops are planted, grow and die. Mono-no-aware is that poignant sensation one has of time passing, of the inevitable cycle of life and death. From the noun comes the idiom mono-no-aware. Roughly translated as "enjoying the sadness of life," it's that bittersweet, vaguely poetic feeling you get around dusk, on a long train journey, looking out at the driving rain... a few autumn leaves still clinging to your coat.

The thing I like most about Jim Jarmusch's films is that they often capture the beauty and sadness of life, particularly Down By Law. Not long after I learned the term mono-no-aware, I saw Lost in Translation and I was struck at how it captured the same essence of a Jim Jarmusch movie. The Virgin Suicides captures the same feeling. I thought about the similarity between both directors' movies and realized that both Lost in Translation and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai both focus on Japanese culture. Possible both directors stumbled upon mono-no-aware in their research? Or maybe that's why they were drawn to Japanese culture to begin with.

As I watched The Wizard of Oz tonight I was faced with the unfortunately inescapable reality that the people involved with the great movies of the 30's are all dead. I know what you're thinking, and I thought it too. "Nuh uh Ben, there are probably three Munchkins who are still alive." Yeah, true- but when you see hundreds upon hundreds of Munchkins marching around singing, just try to focus on the fact that three might still alive.

The Scarecrow's dead- his brain stopped thinking. The Tin Man's dead- his heart stopped beating. The Lion, I'm sure he faced death with... you know. The inept man behind the curtain, he's dead too although he lives on metaphorically as the current president. Dorothy, the beautiful voice, the personification of innocence, she grew old and became nothing. The animals too, Toto and the farm pigs... they're lucky if they saw V-J Day.

But they all created something beautiful, something that has lasted- something that will last at least until I'm gone too. They have significance because we are here to appreciate what they've done. The autumn leaves of these movies cling to our coats.

Mono-no-aware is not a Japanese concept- it's a human concept and learning the term helps us recognize that. Perhaps Jim and Sofia were influenced early on by The Wizard of Oz, and later on by the Japanese films- and perhaps that's why their films are appreciated across cultures.

Yes well, I have to wake up for work in five hours. It won't be enough sleep, but it will be beautiful. Good night friends.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dream Interpretation, part 2

Posted by Leon:

just awoke from the craziest barrage of headcold-induced dreams, including but not limited to (and in no particular order) telling Lindsay to run off to the hospital for her "beginnicals", listening to a moth flutter around his ears before it crawled inside his head and emerged from a nostril in a caterpillar form, feeding the dog a peach and having him bark back in a southern accent, and ordering a "Tebow steak" at a restaraunt only to have the waiter/angel cross his arms, shake his head and murmur "tsk, tsk, tsks" as he ascended into the heavens.

My interpretation:

God, where to even begin! You've got several of the most basic mythological archetypes there. 1. The creation story- lindsay going to the hospital (where we all "begin") to get her "beginnicals"... certainly something that would somehow shed light on our strange emergence into the world. Can our emergence be explained? Not in any normal way, so a word must be invented. 2. The peach- forbidden fruit? I associate southern accent with racism. Incorrect sustenance (dogs don't eat peaches) leads to negative effects. Have you been eating well? Is a lack of nutrition or bodily maintenance leading to a Pandora's Box of health problems, like your sickness? 3. The transformation of the hero- a simple moth fluttering about enters your head and emerges in glory, transformed, not unlike a Native American sweat lodge or a bar mitzvah... but obviously, and oddly, your HEAD is the medium! It symbolizes your own act of becoming. When I think of moths I think of the woods, camping, and them flying into the fire. Brings up issues of duty, compulsion, and action- not unlike your own act of becoming, in the woods, running the trails, getting faster, rising through the ranks, becoming more than you were, but also sacrificing your body, in a way. 4. Which brings us to- the rise to transcendence. It's as if Freud himself wrote the Tebow sequence, with it's transubstantiation metaphor, the chiding of the one thinking he can judge himself worthy of entry to the heavens, and then the rapture. The rapture in runners' terms I suppose would be losing the race, getting left behind. You have misgivings about your rising stature and your ability to maintain it. Remember that existentially we make our own rules, we are not beholden to rules from above. Transcendence is not given, it's taken. We are free. Free to run as fast as we want, or not at all. The journey is what's important, not the beginnicals and not the endicals- THE JOURNEY. Run free Leon.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The New Liquor Store Cashier

I just had the strangest cashier ever. I put two bottles of wine up on the counter at the liquor store and he said “Can I help you?”

It took a couple seconds to figure out how to respond- “I want to buy these.”

He stared right at the money in my hand and asked, “Do you want to pay with cash or a credit card?”

I held up my hand slightly and said “Cash.”

He kept looking at it and asked me “How much?”

Again, how do I answer? I’m trying to not be rude but everything he's saying is completely backwards. Obviously it’s his first day on the job, but how does he not know this routine? Certainly he’s bought things in a store before, probably thousands of times. The customer puts things on the counter, the cashier rings them up and tells the customer how much is owed. How has it been this much trouble up to this point? I asked him, “What do I owe?”

He looked, “$14.71.”

I handed him $15 and wondered what else was going to happen.

He rang it up and said rather confidently, “You’re change is twenty-nine cents.” He had said it too early though, he still needed to put all the money away and get the change. A minute later he handed me a quarter and four pennies. Except he didn’t really hand it to me. I wouldn’t say that he “tossed” it either, but whatever he did resulted in two of the pennies falling to the floor.

I picked them up and he handed me the bag. As I grabbed it he asked me if I wanted it double-bagged. I said no, realizing later that this was a huge mistake. My wine bottles made it back home intact, but I should have taken him up on his offer just to see what else would have happened. Would have he put them in a trash bag? Would have he then have asked if I wanted it triple-bagged? Paper-bagged? Tea-bagged? No way, but something very weird would have happened and I wish I knew what it was.

I know one thing though- he’s my new liquor store cashier.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wax On, Wax Off?

The Karate Kid... classic story of The Hero's Journey, for those of you familiar with Joseph Campbell. The hero is placed in an unfamiliar setting, is taken under the wing of a master of some skill, and then succeeds in proving his new skill without the help of the master. The story is a metaphor of any rite of passage into adulthood. Where do these archetypes come from?

What marks the physical rite of passage into adulthood? And how do you think the screenwriters came up with "wax on, wax off?" Wax on... wax off? Wax on...... wax off? After he refused to continue doing it, he discovered that he already possessed the desired skill- a skill he had to use responsibly.

Can you figure it out, or do I have to spill the beans?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Last Place You Look

When people can't find something sometimes they say "It's always in the last place you look." Of course it is. That's because you found it. What kind of maniac would keep looking? Beware if you ever hear someone say, "It was in the third to last place I looked."