Random ramblings of a mind damaged by years of disuse and abuse. Also a place to go to be bored to tears.
The Random Comic Strip
Words to live by...
"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."
(The right to looseness has been officially given)
"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."
Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.
And that is what I face today. Not TV but life in this country. So many issues to think about but no way I can keep up. The strife in Ferguson that is spreading throughout the country, pushes for a raise in the minimum wage and calls for $15 per hour for fast food workers, the lack of belief that life will be better for our children and grandchildren than it was for us and so much more.
What can I write about these topics that hasn't already been said by others... and more eloquently? I am a hack, I know that. I have so very little talent for writing that it amazes me that I have not thrown in the towel long ago. It also amazes me that some people actually read what I write. I have an urge to pity those who read my posts. And, yet, I am grateful when I find out that they have.
i can only repeat the words my mother often said: "Life ain't fair! get over it!"
Ferguson, Missouri erupted (predictably) in violence after the grand jury decided not to indict, on any count, the police officer who shot and killed the unarmed teenager. The destruction was localized, it appears, to the area where Mr. Brown was killed but it was also devastating. Once again, the "protesters" wreaked havoc on businesses and cars. In other words, they took their anger and frustration out on innocent people in mostly their own neighborhood. And did a little "shopping."
Ever been in a riot? It is what happens when civilized behavior gives way to emotion. Businesses take the brunt of the anger of the mob as it is used by the greedy to take things they want. In the end, all the citizens pay. But the law-abiding citizens were likely cowering in their homes, afraid to challenge the thugs who saw opportunity. Prior to the grand jury announcement, I saw pictures of people holding signs that read "BLACK LIVES MATTER." And I am sure they do. But rather than be outraged by the wanton killing of black men, women, and children by other black men and women they became outraged at the death of one man... a 6'5", 240 pound, teenager... simply because it was a white police officer who killed him. Forget all the other senseless deaths of black men, women, and children... they no longer matter. What matters is this one young man who apparently cared little about the owner of a small mart where he shoved and bullied the manager over a packet of cigars that he couldn't be bothered to pay for.
And now black people all over the country will wonder why they get little respect. It wasn't the vast majority of African-Americans who rioted and looted and burned, it was a very small minority. But that won't matter, the racists (white, black, and brown) will feel justified in their irrational feelings and life will not improve nor will civilization change.
I am a crossword buff. I used to play them on my desktop then I discovered The "Shortyz" app for my android tablet. 6-7 puzzles each day to solve. Wonderful! I was in crossword heaven. It was one of the first apps I downloaded. But no longer. The latest update has ruined it. It was once a black background grid with the clues also using a black background. It was just fine. That's gone, replaced by a garish white background. And the keyboad, which once resembled the native keyboard (white letters on gray "keys"), now is also using that garish white background with no keys, just letters.
Still, I gave it a shot. Instead of giving you a green vertical bar on the right edge for each puzzle name when completed it (you would get a partial orange bar in the same place for an uncompleted one), it now puts a checkmarked circle on the left ... but only after you exit it completely and re-open the app. In other words, feedback is delayed. After completing six of the seven puzzles today (Monday, November 24), I started to work the final puzzle (a "New York Times Classic" from May 7th, 1998) when I ran into a glitch. As I was filling in a three letter word for zero (obviously, "NIL") where I already had the "IL", the app jumped me to a word I had already filled out correctly and placed the "N" in that word. And I found yet another glitch when I tried to fill in another word where it just jumped to an unrelated space and put the letter I was entering into that.
To sum it up, the update BROKE the app. I cannot even complain to the author of the app because I "do not have permission to comment." The website is http://www.kebernet.net/Home/projects/shortyz if you wish to know and it appears that a guy named "Robert Cooper" is the author.
Do not download this app. Do not encourage the author to do anything to further ruin what was once a great app. Encourage him to FIX IT!
There are a number of people (a quite large number, I'm sure) who think an atheist cannot have anything of value to say about religion, that atheists want to impede it or tear it down. And, in part, I would agree... mostly that atheists are perceived as the enemy of religion. Some of us who profess to be atheist are enemies of religion. I will try to explain why I do not consider them atheist but "anti-theist" and what that means.
An anti-theist wants to undermine theism (religion), he is as intolerant as any member of IS but without (so far) the beheadings and murders. He finds offense in the mere mention of a god, such as "In God we trust" or "One nation, under God." He will bring suit after suit (or just support them) to remove mention of a deity from public view. He is often found ridiculing those who believe. He is not well-liked outside of his circle of like-minded friends and seemingly revels in that dislike.
I do not understand the mindset of such a person. He is not only un-persuasive, he is counter-productive. He does not realize that he is not only acknowledging religious belief but empowering it. Think about the concept of reverse psychology. Telling people not to do something often has the opposite effect, making them want to do it. Telling your teen-aged daughter not to continue dating that hoodlum, for example, often just makes him more attractive to her.
I have observed that people rarely choose a religion of their of their own free will but tend to follow the religion of their parents. That is quite understandable. You will be more comfortable with the familiar than the unfamiliar. It is the primary way religions grow in size. Oh, children often go through rebellious periods but not all and that daughter I mentioned will eventually dump the creep you don't like (often in favor of another creep you don't like) for one you do like or learn to like. Likewise, people who stray from their parents' religion usually return to it.
I think of my sister when I consider such things as religious preference. She wanted to become Catholic but never mentioned this to me until she was on her fourth marriage (one might say, "a bit late"). To understand why, I need to explain about my father and mother. My mother was raised Catholic, her family was Catholic, and when she and my father wanted to marry she dragged him off to see the priest to get permission to marry in the Church. My father refused to convert and refused to promise to raise any children as Catholic. The priest told my mother not to marry him and threatened excommunication if she did. My mother married him anyway and walked away from the Catholic Church. We (my family) think of it as a beautiful love story and I think it was behind my sister's Catholic desire. I am also fairly sure that it had an influence on my becoming atheist.
My mother adopted my father's Protestant faith and remained religious throughout her life. My father was somewhat religious but, being cynical, was opposed to organized religion. I never saw him go to church. I was, however, sent to Sunday School each week. When I "graduated" from that, I realized only my mother, sister, and brother attended church while my father remained at home and stopped attending myself. I think I only attended church once (the Sunday after "graduating" from Sunday School) but it is quite possible that's a false memory.
What I learned over the years was to respect other's religions. The neighborhoods I grew up in were religiously quite diverse, consisting of Catholic, Protestant (Methodist for the most part), and Jewish families. I absorbed some knowledge of these religions from my friends. Later, I tried to learn about other religions on my own. Being "outside" of religion allowed me a more objective perspective on the subject, I believe, and a more tolerant attitude toward religious belief.
There is a lot of things in the news, some of it scary, some not so scary. A shooting at Florida State University was reported... I found this in the report from USA Today: "There has been a shooting in the library. Stay where you are," and instructing people to call 911 if they have been shot.
Apparently, college students do not know who to call when shot so they had to be "instructed" in case they were thinking of calling Domino's and ordering pizza. I am not hopeful about America's future. In other news, a New Jersey school district was being sued by some athiest parents over the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, saying it discriminated against atheist children. Never mind that the courts have ruled that students can opt to not recite the Pledge and also can simply not say the "under God" part. To its credit, the school district is asking the court for dismissal of the suit.
Those who follow this blog know I am atheist but people like this offend me. What possible harm can this pledge do to an atheist child? The parents exhibit no principles because they are identified only as "John" and "Jane" "Doe" in the suit. There are likely millions of people in this country who believe that the parents are causing harm to their children by indoctrinating them to follow atheism. I am atheist and I think that. Let the kid(s) decide on their own whether they want to believe in a supreme being or not. I think anyone who demands their children follow the beliefs of the parent (a) have no conviction in their beliefs, (b) have no respect for their children, and (c) do not practice any kind of tolerance. I "came out" as atheist when I was 12 years old, though I had been thinking that way for a few years before that. I was in a 7th grade English class when the teacher began asking the students about religion (it turned out that he minored in theology while in college) and asking them to raise their hand as he rattled off various religions. He noticed that I did not raise my hand at all and asked me what I was and I told him I was atheist. He handled that knowledge well enough but, for the rest of the school year, challenged me on it and thought of me as a "communist" (yes, he actually said that). We had some interesting conversations which I enjoyed but I am not sure he did. The other thing that has been in the news is the reduction in the price of gasoline. Locally, the price has been around $2.85 for regular. I am happy to see this but I am not celebrating it. After all, it will not last and I still remember when it was well under $1.00. I realize that nothing stays cheap and that prices always rise but it is downright silly to think gas will remain relatively cheap. It's a bit like thanking a mugger for not beating you as hard as when he began.
I have what appears to be a simple question. Apparently, it isn't all that simple.The Democrats, who have been against the Keystone Pipeline, are now pushing for a vote on it. The Republicans are happy to accomodate them. The president is against it and is threatening to veto any legislation which would permit it.
It all seems to revolve around Senator Mary Landrieu and her fight to retain her seat in the Senate. If she somehow wins re-election in the run-off, will she retain her support for the pipeline? Will the rest of the Democrats also retain their support for it?
The politics are obvious. I think it is all for show. If the Democrats pass the legislation and the president vetoes it then will that help Landrieu in her re-election? She could say "Well, I tried" and that might be enough for Louisiana voters. It would not be enough for me but I wouldn't be inclined to vote for her anyway.
I believe the pipeline would be good for the country. You may not believe that is so. I would be interested in your opinions. The Senate failed to pass the pipeline legislation. It garnered 59 votes and needed 60.
I wish I had some! Instead, my thoughts are run-of-the-mill (ever wonder about that phrase?), routine, and mostly boring. Yet I still conjure them up... or perhaps they conjure me up: "cogito ergo sum" ("I think therefore I am") said Rene Descartes... and then I lay them out here to bore anyone who happens to drop by.
What brought this self examination on? I was perusing the cartoon strips I have collected and came across this:
I often muse on how we came up with certain things. Calvin wonders how we decided to drink milk and I wonder about things like how did people all over the world come up with the bow and arrow. Foods are easy, we likely saw animals eating things and tried them. They were either tasty or filling and so we continued to eat them. I am sure that the more adventurous food tasters died in the process or just got sick and so we learned to avoid those foods. Look at little kids, toddlers... they'll put just about anything in their mouths... I suspect that is how we determined what foods we can eat. There's a verse in an old Crosby, Stills, and Nash song that goes:
Say can I have some of your purple berries?
[Crosby:] Yes, I've been eating them
For six or seven weeks now haven't got sick once
[Stills:] Probably keep us both alive.
It goes back to the, I think, primary instinct we have: the survival instinct. It may be the only real instinct humans have. I was once taught that the difference between humans and animals is that humans do not rely on instinct to function, that we are taught what we need to know and the so-called lower animals are born with the knowledge they need. I believe we have learned that this is not true. Animal young learn skills, often through "play" and so do humans. Then I was taught that only humans fashioned tools... until we discovered that many other animals also do it. What that taught me is that humans fool themselves into thinking of themselves as unique creatures. Which just means we have huge egos and maybe that is what makes us different
Now, finally, the truth is coming out and from one of the architects of the plan! I felt that the administration was lying from the beginning. How? Simple.... You cannot add millions of people to health insurance and see the cost of that insurance go down. How do I know that? I live in a state that has mandatory auto insurance. The companies claim (and claimed while lobbying for the mandate) that it would reduce the cost for the average driver. It didn't. Then they claimed that it slowed the rate of increase. Which is almost impossible to prove or disprove. More covered drivers means more claims and more claims mean higher premiums.
With health insurance, more people covered means more people in doctors' offices, longer waits ensue. Add in things like mandatory coverage for pre-existing conditions and you force premiums up. Then there were the obvious lies:
You can keep your doctor.
You can keep your health insurance.
Both of which were untrue but the lies weren't acknowledged until well after the law was passed. Now we are learning about Jonathon Gruber, an MIT economist who provided the numbers used by the CBO to evaluate the costs of the plan. Numbers that we now are learning were fudged (at best) or outright phony (at worst) and that Gruber is happy about the deception because you, the average voter, are stupid and would not have allowed your representatives in DC to pass it if you knew the truth. Because, as I said, he thinks you're too dumb to know what is best for you.
So... you've been lied to and manipulated but it's all been for your own good... Don't you feel better now?
Once again I am faced with the empty page and an empty mind. Only the empty page is new, the mind is often empty. But I plod on anyway. I got my hair cut yesterday. And the barber went "Hmmm..." at the start. I asked why and he told me I had a thinning patch just past my left ear that was not mirrored on the right side.A "gift", I suppose, from Mom. My father, like his father before him, had no thinning at all. My mother, on the other hand, had wispy fine hair that eventually barely concealed her scalp. And that was the legacy handed down to me... along with low blood pressure and acrophobia. I am convinced now that there is a genetic component to acrophobia. We already are aware of the genetic component for baldness.
I often wonder just how much is passed through genes and whether we can learn to overcome these things. B. F. Skinner was a pioneer in the field of behaviorism. Wiki says this about him:
He was a firm believer of the idea that human free will was actually an illusion and any human action was the result of the consequences of that same action. If the consequences were bad, there was a high chance that the action would not be repeated; however if the consequences were good, the actions that led to it would be reinforced. He called this the principle of reinforcement. Obviously, I disagree with him... to a point. I think we are born with a genetic based "filter" which defines how we process the the data we receive from our senses. This is what defines how we view those consequences Skinner talked about. You see, I think "good" and "bad" results are subjective things. I inherited my father's physical features (darkish skin, brown eyes, Patrician nose) and his stubborness. With the latter, I tend to ignore the "bad" results if the goal of the behavior is deemed (by me, of course) to be "good." Skinner, I think, was close to obsessed with the "nature vs nurture" controversy. I go with "nature" as the ruling factor whereas Skinner seemed to believe that "nurture" was more important. It is difficult to prove which is the controlling factor because few people are unaffected by their upbringing, which is mostly familial. Studies of twins separated at birth is helpful but it's important to note that these are limited situations. I suspect we will not learn which is the dominant influence in my lifetime and maybe never. I agree with Skinner on one thing: free will doesn't really exist.
Yesterday was Veterans Day, a day originally called Armistice Day to celebrate the end of the First World War. On the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour, the fighting ended. Since the First World War was called "The War to End All Wars" that was thought to be the last large scale war. It wasn't, of course, because it is human nature to fight, to conquer, to dominate others. And so wars continued. A number of scholars believe WWI and WWII were the same waywith a 21 year cessation of fighting between them. I tend to agree with them because the seeds of the Second World War were planted during the First.
I am a veteran of the "bad" war, the Vietnam War. I volunteered. Not because I wanted to fight, I had no desire to fight or to be in harm's way at all. But when I went in it was starting to ramp up. Technically speaking, I suppose it was not truly a war because it was undeclared. Still, close to 50,000 americans died in that war that wasn't and it lasted 10 years. Many more Vietnamese died, both soldiers and civilians, during that period than Americans. All, it turns out, for nothing.
Wars spark big advances in medical treatment and in technology but they are still bad things and the price paid for these advancements is too steep. Some wars seem necessary, some do not. But we seem to have one for each generation.
When you meet a vet, thank him or her for serving.
In the next few weeks I was planning to announce that I had reached 10,000 successful Freecell games. But that won't be happening. Last Thursday, I had won 9916 games out of 9917. But then I tried it again, to add to that total and found that the game had changed, it had been reset somehow and that record was wiped out. I do not know how, I am very careful not to hit the "reset" button. Could it be that it just arbitrarily reset because I was within a certain number of that 10,000th game? Perhaps I am just being paranoid.
I don't know. But I do know it is behaving weirdly now. It also reset my options to the default, the animation is slower, there were tips being displayed, and the sound had been turned back on. I am baffled!
On the other hand, my tablet has the following record:
Games won 13311 (99.81%) Games Lost 25 Shortest Winning Time 01:30 Longest Winning Time 89:52 Fewest Winning Moves 81 Most Winning Moves 1219 Wins Without Undo 7055 High Score 16585 Current Winning Streak 75 Longest Winning Streak 2543 As You might guess, I am quite proud of these stats. Why? I have no freaking idea! I obviously spend too much time with that tablet.
The elections of 2014 are over... the struggle for the next election cycle begins. There is a lot of mumbling about how small the turnout was. The turnout, according to Al Jazeera was 33.3%. We just don't get as excited about mid-term elections as we do about the presidential ones. It's understandable. We think they are less important so we don't make as much effort to get involved. Yet they really are just as important because we are electing those that make the laws we all have to live under. Presidents do not. Presidents propose policies and are supposed to execute those laws. I think we tend to look at presidents as we once looked at kings and queens. We shouldn't, that isn't how our system of government is designed. Incidentally, see this story... also in Al Jazzera.
For the next couple of weeks, we will be hearing from the pundits about what the election meant and what they didn't.
But the best thing about the elections being over? The huge reduction in political ads! Until the next election looms, that is.
I wonder... the other day I watched a bit of "The O'Reilly Factor." A lot of people watch that show. Likewise, a lot of people refuse to watch that show. These are people with a particular political point of view that differs from the political point of view that is found on Fox News Channel. It doesn't make sense to me that people would flat out refuse to watch a channel that they disagree with on a political level. You see, I watch a lot of channels which have a slant which I disagree with. I think I am not alone in that.
Anyway, I watched that O'Reilly show because it promised a segment called "Watters' World" where Watters interviews mostly young people about the elections on Tuesday. I like these segments because they reveal a lot about average people. Some might think Watters edits the clips to show people in a bad light. He swears he doesn't do that, though he acknowledges that he doesn't leave out the most outrageous comments. In general, the people he interviewed were ignorant of many things: who controlled the Senate, for example, and who was running for office.
I can believe Watters doesn't do ideological editing because I have known many people in my life who paid no attention to politics, local or national. And studies show a large portion of the electorate are, well, ignorant. Yet who we elect matters a great deal, especially according to the political parties involved. But what else would you expect of them?
What really bothers me is the lack of some basic knowledge about our system of government. How many senators in the Senate? Who is the vice-president of the United States? Who is the governor of your own state? I remember a "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" (it's on HBO) where the host opined that people had no idea who their state representative was. I have to admit that I have no idea who mine is. I know who my Congressional Representative is (Tom Rooney-R) but my state rep? No clue. And Oliver talked about how many laws they passed (well, more likely voted on... not necessarily passed) in the last year in comparison to Congress. A total of some 24,000 bills were at least considered by state legislatures. Most of these impact your life in one way or another. His point? Why get all bent out of shape about the federal government when it's unlikely you know what is happening in your state capital? It's a good point.
Still, it's upsetting to me that so few people seem to know the history of this country, how it is supposed to work, and don't seem to want to know. Scary... especially when they are urged (exhorted, really) to vote. Each party hopes their base will turn out and vote blindly for party. Yet, these would likely be votes of ignorance. We have poor turnouts at the polls, especially for mid-term elections (most presidential elections see no more than a 70% turnout, mid-terms are much lower). I would rather most people stay home if they don't really have a clue about what is going on politically but I also know that isn't going to happen.
By now, the results are in for Tuesday's elections. I have no idea how they turned out because I am writing this on Monday. I can only hope good decisions were made... but I am not holding my breath.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." [Jorge Santayana]
An important saying, full of truth and heavy in meaning. Yet I wonder if we really understand it. It's easy to remember past events but there are lessons in those events that are more important than the events themselves. A part of that past is the events that led up to the period one is emphasizing. It's not enough to remember the Holocaust but all of the things which led to it happening. The first World War, the treaty of Versailles, the Great Depression, the rise of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party, The Nuremberg Laws, and Kristallnacht. All of these played a part in creating the Holocaust; each one leading to the next and permitting the next.
So, in my opinion, without World War I there would have been no devastated Germany and, without a Great Depression there would have been no need for a Hitler and his party. Without them, there might not have been a Holocaust. But without widespread and deeply rooted anti-Semitism there also might not have been a Holocaust either. The lessons of history are not easy to grasp, they are murky and complex and often misunderstood.
Could such a thing happen again today or in the near future? I would say... perhaps... You see, antisemitism is still pretty rampant. Some might say it happened to Africans caught up in the slave trade of the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Like the Jews, they were seen as subhuman and fit only for labor, like beasts of burden. Their holocaust went on for centuries while the Jewish Holocaust lasted a decade (but anti-Semitism has been around for 2000 years). It is the culture of treating our fellow humans as lesser creatures, as unimportant, or as scapegoats that is at the heart of such atrocities.
On Friday, I talked about some biases I have. I described medical practitioners as "arrogant" and "smug" and "superior." I labeled them. I denigrated them. And, even though I believe what I wrote about them, I respect them. I understand that this makes me seem hypocritical. I am, in many ways, very hypocritical. I am human, after all, and humans are easily capable to believing in one thing while acting in a way that belies those beliefs. We have, as humans, the ability to hold two or more contradictory thoughts wand believe them all to be TRUTH.
I have asked readers a number of times to examine their own biases, to accept and understand them, because I believe that is the only way we can control them. I also believe that our biases were (and, perhaps, remain) a part of the primary instinct we all share: the instinct of survival.
And I also think we occasionally fail to remember enough of the past, the events that lead to the horrible events we do not want to repeat, and that is why we often repeat them.