Wednesday, September 2, 2009

If I Were King of the United States

Another Topic du Jour.

We would all live in the projects. There would be no such thing as private houses anymore. All the projects would have the same basic design, structure, materials, etc. The rent would be thirty percent of your income.

Five years of college or a bachelor's degree (whichever comes first) would be mandatory and funded in much the same way as the rest of the public school system. Which would mean that by the SAT/ACT standards of most state universities, there would be none of the functionally illiterate high school graduates that are running around now.

Military service would be mandatory for two years after high school and before college, because a.) you never know when you might need a largish standing army and b.) you value citizenship more when you have to defend it. Pacifists will be given non-combat duties but still expected to serve. People who want to stay in the military will have that option after college.

Voting at the state and national levels would be mandatory. Anyone not voting would be subject to double taxes.

Community service would be mandatory. At least eight hours a month volunteering at any non-profit organization.

Everyone would have Medicaid. To hell with the insurance companies.

...More later. Tomorrow is gonna be a long day and it's way past my bedtime.

Monday, August 31, 2009


All right, I'll admit it: I'm addicted to reading. Fiction, nonfiction, fluff or hardcore intellectual stimulation, at some point I will read it. About the only things to which I won't subject my poor brain are romances and westerns.

To illustrate my point, recently I have read (am reading) Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series, various magazines ranging from Popular Mechanics to Cabella's catalog, Dean Koontz' Odd Thomas series, the His Dark Materials series, an anthology of Romantic poetry that I can't lay my hands on at the moment, various and sundry metaphysical books and Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary.

That's just in the past couple of weeks.

The written word is mankind's greatest achievement. Civilization started there. Not with fire, not with the creation of a social structure, but with the ability to make our thoughts outlive us. Every so often, I have to just sit back in awe at the genius involved in that concept.

There, that takes care of the big, important thoughts. Now on to the whining and complaining.

The Sword of Truth. Good fantasy, but Goodkind is in love with capitalism. Seriously. One of these days, I'll be bored enough to count the number of pages which he devotes to denouncing socialism and be shocked at how much of it I waded through.

Odd Thomas. This is about as close as I come to reading sentimental trash. Only because there's some really clever dialogue and occasionally a good idea or two.

His Dark Materials. These are supposed to be kids' books. I can imagine me reading them as a kid, but I just can't see your average kid reading them. My friends have a nine year old daughter, and I can just picture how bored and frustrated it would make her to wade through the antique language. Still, well written and good stories...worth the price of admission.

The poetry. This is a whole other discussion which will no doubt come up later at some point. In my opinion, the Romantics (Romantic movement, not genre. Keats, Blake, Shelley and so on. Not romantic as in insipid, uninspired valentine's day card stuff) did it best, so they're the ones I read when I'm in the mood for good poetry.

The metaphysical books. If you don't stretch regularly, you lose flexibility. This is true for both body and mind. I recommend the Tao of Pooh, the Principia Discordia, the Devils of Loudon (sp?), and anything by Lovecraft.

The Devil's Dictionary. The. Best. Bierce's style is a little dry for my taste sometimes, but he's still funny as hell. Like an evil Mark Twain.

The only problem with loving to read is finding shelf-space for all the books that seem to accumulate. If you know what I mean, then it'll be familiar. You try to use the library, to borrow from friends, but some books you just have to own and they just take up more and more space.
Still, I take comfort in the fact that my problem is nothing compared to my parents' or my late grandmother's. The walls in their houses are pretty much invisible due to all the books blocking the view. So far, mine would only fill a couple of shelves.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Self Destruction/Improvement

I've always believed in a changeable model of human nature. That is, that people are basically stupid and self-centered, but can change when they want to. Well, the self-centered part, anyway. Like the comedian said, you can't fix stupid. You can, however, deal with little individual stupidities of thought and action.

But it seems like every time I put this belief into practice, whether it's for me or on the behalf of someone else, it's just ridiculously difficult. I mean hard all out of proportion to what it seems like it should be. Humans have a psycho-spiritual inertia that would rival a black hole.

I think I'm finally beginning to understand why, though, and it's tricky, so pay attention. We identify with our problems. Our bad habits and ugly character traits feel good to us in some way or allow us to be lazy in some way. This makes it hard to change them. But over and above all that, we feel that the bad things are part of who we are.

Since we don't want to destroy ourselves, we resist changing. This kind of occurred to me when I saw Fight Club, but it seemed too trite at the time. The whole headlong rush to self-destruction as a means of self-improvement thing. I still don't really buy it, not on that scale.

I do think, though, that unless we're prepared to embrace some self-destructive behavior, nothing changes. It helps if you have something besides yourself to change for. A kid, a love interest, family, hell a deity if you must. Because for most people rationally knowing you should change just doesn't have enough power to overcome our inertia.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


So I'm sitting in Hastings (Barnes & Noble being too far to walk to) and looking at art books. And it comes to me. I don't know what I'm looking for. Not in the sense of not knowing which artist or style I want to see, but in the sense of being completely lost. Sort of like those dreams where you can fly, only forget how when you're a hundred feet up. That same stomach-clenching sense of WTF?!

Now as I sit here, I'm still at a loss. Let's see what Oxford has to say about it.


noun 1 the expression of creative skill through a visual medium such as painting or sculpture. 2 the product of such a process; paintings, drawings, and sculpture collectively. 3 (the arts) the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, and drama. 4 (arts) subjects of study primarily concerned with human culture (as contrasted with scientific or technical subjects). 5 a skill: the art of conversation.

— ORIGIN Latin ars.

Hmmmm. Not very helpful. That covers everything from oil painting to graffiti. How, then, do we differentiate between the Mona Lisa and Kilroy Was Here? The technical quality of the work? That would leave a lot of modern art out of the equation (not a big loss, to my way of thinking) and include a lot of things not normally considered art (comic books, anime, video games). The subject matter? (Personally, I'd prefer to look at weird monsters and giant robots than to stare at a bowl of fruit or some blotches of color.) Maybe the emotional response from the viewer? (Seems like porn would win hands-down in that case...:P)

My understanding still seems incomplete to me. I suppose I'll have to actually take an art appreciation class some time.

Religion and Spirituality

Today you get two for the price of one because I was zonked out of my head on medicine yesterday. Of course, I'm in serious need of a good sleep at the moment, so it may just be six of one and half a dozen of the other. Anyway, let's get on with this.

Religion is like dandruff: almost everyone has it and most people seem to derive a fair bit of pleasure from fiddling with it. That's paraphrasing Heinlein, since I can't lay my hands on the book to check the exact words. The point is well made, though. As humans, historically we like our religion. We like to play with it, just like we like to play with all our other toys, in the same competitive fashion. The whole "My God's better than your God" thing.

It's tied up with a way of thinking that should run directly counter to our evolution. Religion is based on the concept that belief should override the evidence of the senses. It's a very antiquated way of looking at things, and yet shockingly applicable to modern times as well. Because as I posted earlier, how many of us are really scientifically literate? This continued ignorance definitely fosters religion in society, because if we can not understand everyday things and yet they still work, why shouldn't there be gods who are just as mysterious?

But I think ignorance and the search for mental and emotional comfort is only part of the answer. The rest is spirituality. Or at least, what I take to be spirituality. Bear with me.

We have a need to not only be part of something greater than ourselves, but to invest qualities, values, even emotions into things that really don't (sometimes shouldn't) have them already. From this need spring morality, ethics, religion, patriotism and so on.

Please note: I'm not saying that either religion or spirituality are bad things. I am both religious and spiritual myself and I expect to hear about this post from my gods in no uncertain terms. We just have a problem with accepting this need as a part of ourselves. We make excuses: "It's how I was raised." or "God told me so." or "Such and such a book spoke to me." And then we get defensive when we're called on it.

I am of the opinion that just as the more rational parts of the mind developed to understand and use the world around us more efficiently, so did the irrational parts develop to help us understand and use the subtler connections between us and between us and the world. Just like any other trait some people have a more pronounced tendency to display one or the other, but I think we all have the capacity for both rational and irrational (magical, mystical, whatever) thought.

Just my opinion. I'm now going to go and make sure my house is well-grounded.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Philosophy and Other Nonsense

So what good is it to tinker with your understanding of life? To really examine life, the way it's lived, your place in the greater scheme of things, and so on and so forth?


I put it to you this way: except for a narrow, technological sense, there is no such thing as an original thought. If you suddenly have a blinding flash of insight into things and understand better, chances are someone has had that epiphany before you and put it into words already.

The advantage in studying these things is that you don't have to reinvent the wheel. The disadvantage is that unless you have had the experience that would lead naturally to the same conclusion, then it won't really make sense.

Besides, knowledge can be fun for its own sake. *gasp* Yeah. The more you know, the better you can understand things and the better you can understand things, the more it is possible for you to know. Philosophy lets you understand understanding.


It also lets you tie your brain in knots, which is fun. At a more advanced level, it lets you tie other peoples' brains in knots, which is a lot more fun. Read about Socrates some time if you doubt it. Or Diogenes. Or Lao-tzu.

As a matter of fact, here are some resources to get started (I know wiki is not a source, but it's a good starting point):

WikiPedia Philosophy Portal

WikiPedia on Logic

Online Philosophy Classes

Now go forth and embrace your ignorance.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Topic du Jour: Politics

Another TdJ because I promised myself I would do this daily and I'm sick as a dog, so originality is not my friend today.

Getting to the point, then. I'm a little irritated with our president. I like him. I voted for him. So far, he's tried to get things done that need to be done. He started out in a horrible position and has handled it pretty well so far. Just think what dubyuh would be doing right now if he were still in charge...yeah.

But I'm irritated on three fronts. First, the health care thing. It's one of those things whose time has come. All he had to do was keep laying the shame on Congress, maybe make a few PSAs to drive things home. But no. Now we're waiting.

Second, the gun thing. This is America. We need our guns. We feel all puny and insignificant without them. And - most telling - they would be in our hands were they legal or not. So, he needs to get up on a podium and make it clear. Something along the lines of, "I'm not going to try to take away your guns. Period. Now quit bringing them to my speeches."

And third. I sent an email to the white house not too long ago and requested an answer (some links to information on pending legislation). To be honest all I expected was a form letter thanking me for my interest and so on. Instead, I got a piece of propaganda that had only the slightest bearing on what I had asked. The same one my wife got when she asked for a response on a completely different issue. Seriously? Is our government so cheap that they let volunteers do this? Or an automated system? This is what we can expect from the most technically literate president we've ever had?

For shame. I'm gonna vote for Cthulu next time around.