November, 2014

Nov 14

Me, Snow White, and Woody Woodpecker

I was in the garden yesterday watering the new plants when I saw a lark sparrow watching the spray, eyeing it from within a shrub. He was very interested in the arc of water and seemed to be contemplating a shower but he kept looking at me nervously. I knew if I sprayed right at him he’d be startled away. I very carefully turned off the sprayer and then angled it so the water fell on the shrub from directly above, not too forcefully, to give a rain effect. It pattered down through the leaves and he stayed in the shrub, took the dripping for rain and began to flick his wings and shake himself in it, reveling in the rainshower. Yes, it looked like something from a Disney animated film circa 1940, but I didn’t care, it gave me and the bird pleasure. . .

A few days ago I was working on the stairs I’m putting in on the hill, and heard a distinctive drumming, a tone I hadn’t heard before. A tock tock-tock tock, a bit hollow sounding. I was surprised to find it was a woodpecker–surprised because it wasn’t the usual sound. Realized it was because he was tapping at a palm tree, which being a bit spongier and corklike produces a different sound. The woodpecker then went to an oak tree, harder wood, and it made a different clack clack clack sound, quite distinct from the palm tree tone. It was a different *note*. Theoretically you could make tunes by following woodpeckers around to different trees, each type of tree producing a different note from the impact of the bird’s beak; record the variants, cut and mix, make a coherent melody. I leave it to you.

Nov 14

Thanksgiving–Is it Meaningful? Yes, Even for Atheists.

I sympathize with people who dislike the commercialization of every holiday, certainly including Thanksgiving. I sympathize with those who wonder if the Native Americans who are said to have given the Pilgrims a helping hand that day were only opening the door to misery and inexorable invasion. But the concept of ritually or consciously giving thanks, as well as the notion of celebrating “harvest”, whatever it may be, with family and friends, makes Thanksgiving, perhaps, the most sensible of holidays.

I give thanks I’ve got my wife Micky Shirley–I’d be lost without her. Thank God I’ve got the friendship of those few close friends who have put up with my eccentricities, my fits of depression, and occasional louche backsliding over the years. I’m thankful I encountered a few adventurous book editors willing to take a chance on some quite outre fiction. Thank God I’ve got three sons who are employed, intelligent, kindly people. I fully appreciate the fact that I’ve got opportunities to earn money to pay a mortgage on a home, to pay for a celebrative meal, and, thanks to America’s first African-American president, full healthcare coverage at a reasonable cost.

These considerations are valuable. The underlying idea of Thanksgiving, if I open up to it, makes me a better man than I usually am, however briefly. If I give it a chance, it lifts me out of my self-pity. It reawakens my feelings of charity toward others even as it encourages volunteerism and charitable thoughts in many people who otherwise are caught up in their own troubles; these same people are sometimes found handing out hot dinners, on this day every year.

The philosophy implied in thanks-giving is a holiday even my many friends who are sturdily atheist can appreciate; praying Pilgrims or not, the occasion has lasting ramifications for a healthy secular society. One doesn’t need to thank God, in particular. One can simply be thankful. (In the end, the same thing–but don’t tell the atheists.)

Thank God for giving thanks.

Nov 14

The Horror In the Treetops

My dog Iggy Pup wants to write a book–that is, he wants to dictate it to me for publication. He just told me this. It’s to be called THE SQUIRREL THREAT TO AMERICA: A Study in Evil. I asked him for a sample. He thought about it and then cleared his throat and growled, “Squirrels. Harmless, bushy tailed pseudo-rodents? Those bushy tails are flicking, signalling to one another in a code known only to the squirrel. To what end, as it were? What could be the content of these messages? Secret messages, surely, are secret for a reason.

“Everything about the squirrel hints at the diabolic; its razor sharp incisors, which can deal a painful wound when the squirrel is cornered, its devilishly efficient claws which enable them to climb trees to escape safely away from justice; their cold, beady eyes suggestive of murderous purpose.

“The squirrel’s typical passage through tree, or over fence top, takes them past your window. They look in–and they see! Is this preparation for blackmail?

“Squirrels mock the faithful, heroic family dog–chattering at them sneeringly from just out of reach. They mock more than the dog–they mock America herself.”

Nov 14

Ah the Memories–of childhood Satanic sex abuse

I have had suppressed memories of Satanic sex abuse arise,locked-away memories out of my childhood–I remember how me and the other kids caught the Satanists when the Satanists were giving out food to the poor at their food bank. We tricked each one into going down a basement stairs of the food bank; we told them there was an injured puppy down there. One by one they ran down, worried about the puppy. Then one of the other kids–I think it was Geraldine, or was it little Timmy–would hit the unsuspecting Satanist on the head with a crowbar, stunning them.

We’d tie them up and…it’s shameful to remember the way we abused the Satanists. Eventually we let them go, promising we would get therapy.

Nov 14

It’s not true that Klingons did not have bathrooms aboard their spacecraft!

The Klingons did in fact have a method for eliminating bodily waste on the ship–it was much like the holes cut into projections over the sea, in old Earthly wooden sailing ships. You sat on a bench and did your business into the sea. (that was for officers. I think the sailors used chamberpots and had to dump it to leeward.) The problem with the Klingon system is, there’s vacuum outside. So after opening the covers on the holes, they’d quickly turn and get sucked onto the hole, with painful rapidity and force, and their was then rump exposed to the extremes of space. Getting off the elimination hole was difficult due to the suction and one usually lost some skin. But the Klingons felt that it was a sign of TOUGHNESS, of Klingon fierceness. So a few of the smaller Klingons got sucked into space, what of it?

So all the crew had lost most of the skin on their rumps–what of it? Coward! What is it to be a warrior? To pooh into space is to mock its dangers, its darkness!

Nov 14


My little half-Dachsund dog Daisy–made me think of Fred Astaire. This is because her claws are overdue for clipping and when she ambles along on the hardwood floor I hear a distinct pattern, TICKeta TICKeta ticketa TOCK, TICKeta TICKeta ticketa TOCK… sounding just like a tap dance pattern. So I’m bemusedly listening to my dog, and this tap dance association brings an image of Fred Astaire to my mind. I flickeringly see him dancing. This leads to an image of Ginger Rogers, which associates its way through my mind to another cinematic memory of Glinda, which leads to the Wizard of Oz and suddenly I hear the song Ding Dong the Witch is Dead in my mind. Because I’m trained to keep some attention separated out to watch my mind I see visual images that go with each link of associations–I glimpse Fred Astaire, visually, and eventually see happy Oz residents singing gleefully about the witch, all in a moment or two.

Patterns of free association are of interest to me. They’re not so free, really. You could, in fact, break down an essay by, say, Emerson into deliberate linkages of associations; it’s a verbal sculpture made of associations, leading to an overall shape. Is everything just associative? Do the linkages constitute largely meaningless concatenation that, via an Emerson, might be ordered to reflect subjective human reality? Are they too another indicator of reductionistic hopeless randomness?

Or do they, broadly viewed, signify the unity of things, and the ongoing musical soloing of events playing out?

Nov 14

The President is Driving a REALLY Big Truck and Sitting Beside Him Is…

I don’t agree with Pres Obama about everything–HOWEVER, people who feel he’s too moderate, not forcefully progressive enough, make me think of a guy sitting beside the driver of a large truck. The truck is being driven across a busy, traffic heavy city to deliver its goods. “But you’re heading north and the delivery point is to the west,” the passenger protests.

“I have to take the truck north before I can turn west because it’s too large for these side streets and they aren’t cut through anyway.”

A bit later the passenger asks, “But now that you’re headed West why don’t you accelerate?”

“Because there’s cross traffic, and there is construction and there are traffic cops stopping me for long periods and because there are small vehicles in the way going slowly.”

“This is taking too long.”

“We’re getting there.”

“Why don’t you ram the truck to the west, just smash over those cars, you’re driving a big truck after all, and crash through the fences.”

“Because that would crush people and destroy other people’s legitimate personal property and I’d be arrested before I got there for breaking the laws.”

“You’re not forcefully progressive enough.”

Nov 14

Lies, Damned Lies, and Lying to Ourselves

When and how does a small child learn to lie? By imitation? Is it a program that’s there, inserted in him by nature, should he or she need it? I can remember one of the first lies I was aware of making–my father was angry about something and –though he was not a violent man– his demeanor frightened me. I lied as a way to escape what frightened me. So it was an instinctive survival strategy–even though I wasn’t at risk. As a child of three or four, I didn’t know I wasn’t really at risk.

I was thinking yesterday about lies, and liars. I had my own period of being, well, unreliable and quite loosy goosy with the truth, when I was much younger. Most of it was a kind of “it’s a matter of interpretation” dishonesty. “Yeah girl, I’m not married anymore”. Well, I didn’t actually say I was divorced but in fact we *were* separated… Eventually and thankfully I was forced to grow out of that. But I wonder how lying developed as a strategy, in humans; perhaps it seems self explanatory to you but to me (and these researchers in the linked article) it seems counter intuitive as a sociobiological strategy since cooperation (which usually is not enhanced by deception within the cooperative group) would seem a better overall strategy.

It’s interesting to me, too, and a little unsettling, that the linked article on lying appears at a physics site–it’s about behavior, not physics. But human behavior can be more quantifiable than we’d supposed, it seems…

Here’s the link:

Nov 14

Is Money in Politics the Problem? Or is the Problem You and Me?

Money in politics is the problem? It’s part of it. But blaming money is like saying, “Giving lots of candy to children is the cause of their tooth decay”–no, it’s just as much the fact that children haven’t learned to say no to candy, like most adults have. The problem is that children are just…children. They’re supposed to be innocent and impulsive, of course. Nothing wrong with that. But the problem is not so much candy–it’s the person.

The problem with money in politics is the people who are easily swayed by propaganda, and, in the case of politicians being greased by lobbyists, by self interest. The problem is the person.

A percentage of people seeing an ad funded by the Koch brothers slandering a candidate will be skeptical–but a great many people, maybe most, will take the ad’s propaganda in wide-eyed, gape-mouthed, and with no conscious filter at all. They aren’t actually conscious when watching the ad. Their eyes are open, the words are heard on some level, but they’re not bringing enough to the process to be skeptical about it. They are not going to invest energy in checking the facts. As the saying is, they’re being spoon fed.

It’s going to go on. We can try to raise money to provide spots that wake people up to the facts, and that could help–but we could also go for the root of the problem. We can look for ways to show people how they’re asleep when they think they’re awake. And that in itself could startle them into skepticism about the latest production of the Big Lie. It could even startle a congressman into discovering his conscience.

No, I’m not saying that people who have different political opinions from me are low consciousness. I’m saying that almost everyone everywhere is low consciousness, I’m lower consciousness than I should be, and I’m saying that consciousness affects, among other things, how we make social decisions. Including political choices. My *opinion* is that right-wing extremism and blind conservativism is characteristic of low consciousness–and there are studies that suggest that it’s a fear-driven politics, grounded in bigotry–but ultimately, I don’t make a definitive claim about the correspondence. I think–work on consciousness…and see where your conscience takes you. If an increase in the scope of awakeness leads one to choosing a conservative path, so be it.

We can literally become more conscious–more awake. There are paths that offer this possibility.