Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Friday, March 30, 2007

Plus ca Change

I caught Shrub doing his contritional shuck and jive at Walter Reed today. I also caught comments from the official punditry, and also from a couple real live veterans' advocates.

Guess who's missing, as usual?

It rather seems that our good and beneficent government is gearing up to palliate 60 years of guilt by showering services on the tens of thousands of very deserving wounded of the current conflict and, perhaps, those of the Gulf War. As it easier to buy yellow ribbon magnets for suburban SUVs than to care for any veteran, so it is easier to do everything possible for today's tens of thousands. It is easier than keeping the same promises to the hundreds of thousands of equally deserving veterans of Korea and Vietnam.

Coming home today, I followed for a while a car with a bumper sticker reading "The Korean War: the forgotten war." Well yes, by most people. Not by me, for a number of complicated reasons.

Today, Korean War veterans are in their 70s, mostly, and still forgotten. Not on purpose, mind you. It's just that Americans today generally can't remember anything past the last TV news cycle. Vietnam veterans, in their 50s and 60s, are not so much forgotten as ignored, like the disturbing relative you wish would go away but won't. Korea veterans, I salute you. Now, move over: there's another detachment joining the Legion of the Lost.

I have just turned 60. Parse it as you will, there is not much time left. It would be nice to check out knowing that someone gave a damn about us.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Baby Drivers

Now we know (if we did not before) how the religious right reacts when science tosses one of its cherished prejudices--excuse me, beliefs--in the trash can.

The evangelical mind reacts with denial of course, then in this case goes beyond that to propose changing the world (god's world, isn't it?) to fit its preconceptions.

Here we have the fundamental failure of fundamentalism: an inability to adapt. No wonder they don't like Darwin.

Keep in mind that it is uncertain that any treatment of the sort Mohler proposes could even exist, and, were it possible, it is uncertain what its unintended consequences might be.

If it were possible to change psyche in utero, let's start by treating religious fanaticism. That has done far more damage to the world than anyone's sexual orientation.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Working the Crowd

There is, usually, a decided line between Republican and Democratic invective. The Republican variety draws its inheritance from the schoolyard bully, the middle school clique leader, and the frat boy. The loudest conservative mouths often seem to have been one or the other of these people, and to have never grown up. The verbal barrage is essentially aggressive. It is on the offense at all times, and those against whom it is directed are seldom in any doubt about it. If the words don't do the job, a fist will.

The Democratic line of invective finds its roots in the commentary of the class nerd, from grade school through college. It is not so much informed as subtle, even sly, and often self-deprecating. It is generally defensive. To the continuing fury of the schoolyard bullies, nerdish commentary nearly always draws a smile or a laugh from the unengaged audience. The bully can't understand this success with the audience, can't understand what the nerd was on about, is sure it was about him (or her), and generally responds with more bullying.

Here then we have Ann Coulter, Fox, most of the pantheon of conservative media, and their audience, in a nutshell. I wouldn't want to suggest that the nerds of the universe give up their principal line of defence, but it seems appropriate to suggest that the schoolyard bullies grow up.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Irvin McDowell, Your Time Has Come

The Union Army's first commander, Irvin McDowell, is one of history's more forgotten figures. During the first eighteen months of the war he showed an absolute genius for doing the right thing at the wrong time, or the wrong thing at the right time.

However, he did one thing exactly right, and it is for this that we should remember him. With beautifully understated irony, he commented in a despatch that he had made arrangements for war correspondents to take the field with the army. "I have recommended that they wear white uniforms as an indication of the purity of their character."

It seems fair to expect the same of every political reporter in captivity, especially the broadcast variety. If we are to depend upon the judgment of the political media, there is not a single politician in the country fit either to hold office or to run for office.

Perhaps all of us should take counsel of our own opinions and ignore the media altogether.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Rest in Peace?

There seems to be a great deal of commotion over corpses these days. There is, at least, if the corpse is that of a former celebrity, or one of the rich and/or famous.

Get over it: they're dead.

There's no reason to anticipate celebrity in what's left of my life, much less fortune, but I have a plan and I expect it's time to write it into my will.

The EPA will undoubtedly deny me either a Lakota or a Viking funeral, but they are what I'm driving at. Human consciousness seems more and more to me like a barrier between us and our part of the wholeness of the universe. If that were not bad enough, our civilisation's mummification rituals will certainly place a substantial barrier between our remains and the universe.

I'd like to be cremated someplace where the smoke rises shamelessly to the sky, then have my ashes scattered someplace where they will do some good to green and growing things. If anyone cares to remember me, they can do then every time they look to the skies, and every time they look at something growing from the earth.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Bedtime Reading Report

I'll skip past my regrettable (but occasional) interest in Bernard Cornwell novels as literature to put one to sleep: which it does.

My latest reading, which does not induce slumber, has been Carl Sagan's The Varieties of Scientific Experience. In case you missed it, this is Ann Druyan's recent edition of Sagan's Gifford lectures of 1985, just issued. Apart from a occasional, single-minded obsession with the Cold War arms race, the ideas are as relevant, and attractive, as they were a generation ago.

At the end of 221 pages of elegant arguments, self-deprecating humour, and tolerant insight, one comes to a section called "Selected Q& A." Turning into this section is rather like discovering one has turned a corner and been accidentally locked in a psychiatric ward. With a few welcome exceptions, the questions come from religious people who, one presumes, had been present at least for the lecture in question. They were, apparently, asleep or catatonic. The contrast between Sagan's exquisitely sensitive replies to these questions, and the questions themselves, may say more about the nature of religious belief than did the lectures.

I may be mistaken, but I do not think the Gifford lectures on natural theology, held in Scotland, attract a large crowd of redneck bible-thumpers. One would suspect the audience is rather more mainstream. Nevertheless Sagan's content, which was logically complete and rooted in his own ideas of personal faith, clearly presented an intolerable challenge to the faithful. Certainly, the lectures elicited what I can only describe as psychotic babbling from a good number of his questioners.

Some while back, I passed the point of thinking it possible to hold any sort of meaningful philosophical dialogue with anyone professing any of the desert religions. In the Q&A pages of Sagan's last work, you see why. It is all mad, all of it. I can hold back and treat the hearer with courtesy and respect, but my courtesy doesn't change what seems fact to me. It is all the stuff of madness, bereft of any shreds of reason. Distinctions between liberal this and conservative that, between Christian, Muslim and Jew fade to insignificance. The only distinction worthy of the name is between those who have shaken free of three millenia of insanity, and those who have not.

For those of us who have cast off these chains, Sagan is an admirable role model. I may not be able to match him, but he has certainly given me something to aim for.