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A public conversation about our worlds.

  • Monday: Morgan J. Locke
  • Tuesday: Madeleine E. Robins
  • Wednesday: Maureen F. McHugh
  • Thursday: Bradley Denton
  • Friday: Steven Gould
  • Saturday: Caroline Spector
  • Sunday: Rory Harper

Brain Activity



Defending Freedom of Speech Thru Gag Orders or Belief Versus Knowledge

January 11th, 2010 by Steven Gould

I am a fervent supporter of the separation of Church and State for several reasons.  Among other things, I believe that people should be able to hold any spiritual, religious, and crackpot notions in their head that they want.  Thus, if Tom Cruise wants to believe that the director of the galactic confederacy (a guy named Xenu) brought aliens to this planet, stacked them around volcanoes, and killed them with H-Bombs 75 million years ago, causing their essences to pollute us ever since, then that’s fine.  If Christians want to believe that children are born inherently sinful, great, go for it.  If Buddhists want to believe that they will be reborn after they die, not necessarily as a human, but reborn nonetheless, fine.  None of them should be able to tell the others what to believe anymore than I should be able to tell them that when we Frisbeetarians die our souls go up on the roof and we can’t get them down.

That’s what faith is about.  A belief in something without evidence.  Yes, the Catholic church believes in miracles.  Documentation on the other hand, is iffy.  Never mind.  Let them believe.

Behavior on the other hand is a different thing.  If we are to agree on public policies that affect everyone, they really need to be based on things we can demonstrate to each other.

For instance, it is generally agreed that stepping off a cliff is a bad idea.  You can demonstrate this in many ways.  I prefer dropping a watermelon rather than an actual person, but we can clearly demonstrate, time and again, that whether the watermelon hits the ground or the ground hits the watermelon, it’s not going to end well for the watermelon.  This is called evidence.  Whether I’m an atheist, a Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Scientologist, we can agree, stepping off cliffs–generally bad.

Interestingly enough, it was probably only anecdotal, at first.  “I heard this guy, named Ugh went off the cliff after the mastodon and it was not pretty.” “Yeah?”  Then, through something we call inductive reasoning, we saw that every time someone went off the cliff (and lets not be petty, we’re talking cliff, not a slight drop–fifty feet minimum) there was clean-up involved.  (Unless you landed in a big pile of dung like what happened during the second defenestration of Prague.  And there was still clean-up involved.)

So, here’s where I get really incensed.  I believe that our public policies on health should be based on this evidence thing.  I don’t want people going, “Oh, my brother-in-law got aids and they threw him off a cliff.  It cured him completely.”  In particular, I am upset with the Anti-Vaccination movement, a “health” movement that is killing people daily. In the 1980′s there was doubt raised about the safety of vaccinations and ingredients used to preserve those vaccinations.  When concerns are raised, people conduct studies.  They investigate the concerns.

Consider Vioxx (rofecoxib).  On September 30, 2004, Merck voluntarily withdrew rofecoxib from the market because of concerns about increased risk of heart attack and stroke associated with long-term, high-dosage use.  Previous and subsequent studies demonstrated an 4-fold increase of heart attack and stroke.

In the late eighties, a concern was raised about vaccinations, the preservative thiomersal, and autism.  There was a concern so studies were done.  There was no correlation.  Tiomersal was removed from vaccines though in 1999 and in the interval since, there has been no drop in autism.  More detail here.

And still the anti-vaxxers claim it causes autism, though they’ve mostly shifted their attacks to the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine.  Again, evidence is against them.  Unfortunately, their influence has increased the number of families who don’t vaccinate their children leading to increased outbreaks of these diseases, some leading to death or permanent disability.

Here’s a related insanity, aptly described by Rebecca Watson of Skepchik and the Skeptics Guide to the Universe.

Posted in Medicine, Politics, Religion, Science | 13 Comments »

Let’s Agree to Disagree

January 6th, 2010 by Steven Gould

Scott Edelman, over on Twitter, pointed out this amazingly awful attack on the great writers of science fiction by David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service.  It’s not quite James Bond, Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but it does have a ring to it.

Anyway, his post, titled Beware of Science Fiction, uses Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Kurt Vonnegut, and Gene Roddenberry, as examples of agnostic or atheistic proponents.  His descriptions are factual, using quotes from the writers in question.  After reading every one of the quotes, my reaction is “Right on!” but he seems to see them as, uh, damning.

He finishes with:

Science fiction is intimately associated with Darwinian evolution. Sagan and Asimov, for example, were prominent evolutionary scientists. Sci-fi arose in the late 19th and early 20th century as a product of an evolutionary worldview that denies the Almighty Creator. In fact, evolution IS the pre-eminent science fiction. Beware!

So, I’m guessing that evidence based science is just right out of the picture, for him.

I laughed when I read the informational paragraph at the bottom of the website which includes:

OUR GOAL IN THIS PARTICULAR ASPECT OF OUR MINISTRY IS NOT DEVOTIONAL BUT IS TO PROVIDE INFORMATION TO ASSIST PREACHERS IN THE PROTECTION OF THE CHURCHES IN THIS APOSTATE HOUR.

In conclusion, I’m making a unilateral deal with him.  He shouldn’t read ANY Science Fiction and I’ll promise never to read his web site again.

(also posted at Steve’s blog, An Unconvincing Narrative)

Posted in Daily Life, Religion, Science Fiction | 8 Comments »

The Wedding of the Century

November 30th, 2008 by Rory Harper


Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you — Mr. Jesse Hawkins and Mrs. Rachael Hawkins.

 

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They were married last Saturday afternoon in an outdoor amphitheatre at Brownwood State Park, to my delight and to the applause of approximately 45 friends and family.

 

This is the terrible loss that I suffered, mentioned in my previous post. I gave up my most beloved daughter – but gained both a wonderful son-in-law and a vast herd of cattle in payment.

 

More below the cut.

 

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Posted in Barb, Bob Y., Brad, Caroline, Hope, Maureen, mp3, Personal History, Rachael is Awesome, Religion, Rory, The Dude | 9 Comments »

Why I Have Hope

October 20th, 2008 by Steven Gould

Watch it before you decide what it’s really about.

Posted in Politics, Religion, Sex, Sin, Steve | 4 Comments »

Okay–Just Once More

April 18th, 2008 by Steven Gould

I wrote about this back in 1990. From Chapter 13 of Jumper:

“One of the problems with American public policy on terrorism is that our government insists on blurring the line between armed insurgence against military forces and installations and attacks on uninvolved civilians. Now, obviously attacking unarmed civilians who have no involvement with a particular political issue is terrorism. But an attack on an armed military force occupying one’s homeland? That’s not terrorism. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, I’m just saying that if you call that terrorism then the U.S. is also involved in financing terrorists in Afghanistan and Central America. See what I mean?”

“Yeah.”

“Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that the proportion of American dead from terrorism is way out of proportion to the response it generates. We did nothing to stop the Iraq-Iran war because we perceived it in our interests that damage be done to both of those countries. Personally I think that’s inexcusable, but I’m not in the position to make government policy. Certainly both leaders were crazy with a long-standing personal grudge, but their people paid a horrible price.”

“I wasn’t aware that there was a personal grudge.”

Read More »

Posted in History, Politics, reading, Religion, Steve | 13 Comments »

Pessimism – Part Two

April 14th, 2008 by Rory Harper

Is the glass half-full or half-empty?

It’s half-empty.

And there seems to be a crack hidden in its base that’s sucking the remaining liquid from it as I watch.

You’re a smart, reality-based person, or you wouldn’t be reading this. So you have the same problem that I do – which is that all the research indicates that pessimists have a firmer grasp on so-called reality than do optimists. It really is as bad as we think it is, and it’s going to get exponentially worse. That’s the fact, Jack.

So — Would you rather be delusionally happy, or would you rather be right? Yeah, me too.

I don’t know how I got to be such a pessimist. Oh, sure – George Bush. As with the rest of us. But my world darkened long before his evil shadow spread beyond Texas.

Perhaps it started the day I realized that I’d probably never be an astronaut, which was my secret ambition when I was 12. Worse, being an astronaut became less cool than it should have been. NASA screwed the pooch when they didn’t make Chuck Yeager an astronaut. Dammit, he should have been the King of the Astronauts. If Yeager couldn’t be the poster boy for space exploration, the world was a dismal place.

I also stayed in a marriage that made Satan laugh, for about twenty years longer than I should have. If I’d been smarter, I’d have just stolen some eggs and created Rachael in a castle tower hidden in the Carpathians.

Pessimists generally blame themselves when things go badly. If I’d been a better, smarter, more disciplined person, the world as we know it would be much improved. If only I could have persevered and built my time machine and gone back and strangled all those bastards in their cradles! You know the ones I’m talking about, the ones who’ve wrecked it for everybody else. It would have kept me busy and happy and productive for a dozen years. And my allergies would trouble me much less today, too.

The weight gain might have been inevitable, though I suspect I could have avoided it if I was a better person. It was a mistake to move to College Station, because it’s completely full of Thems, and has almost no Uses. And what’s with all that white hair? Especially in my ears?

Here are the two cognitive mistakes that I constantly make, which trigger my worst bouts of pessimism:

  1. I can’t tell the difference between events that I can affect in some way, versus those that will crush me no matter what I do. It all feels the same, and this completely immobilizes me on occasion, because there’s ALL THAT BAD STUFF that’s unmanageable.

  1. I focus on the wrong time periods. I experience negative emotional and cognitive internals because I frequently dwell upon the mistakes I’ve made in the past, and fear what’s going to happen in both the near future and the much farther-along End of It All.

Swirl these two bad mental habits together, and it’s tough to even keep looking at the glass. Stephen Petranek’s sorrowful TED presentation makes for a perfect example of the combination punches that can be created with this mix. I just want to crawl off and hide in a culvert somewhere, hoping to avoid the worst. Of course, it’ll rain then, and the culvert will quickly become more than half full.

So, I’m going to try to make some changes. I’m going to focus on issues where I have some chance of at least optimizing my outcomes in an uncontrollable environment. And I’m going to try to stay in the present mostly, and then plan for the intermediate future, right beyond all the terrifying near-term future events that I’ll struggle to survive.

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Posted in Daily Life, Environment, Personal History, Politics, Pop. Culture, Rachael is Awesome, Religion, Rory | 9 Comments »

Watch the Skies

April 10th, 2008 by Bradley Denton

The Great Bronze Jayhawk, or 'The Pterodactyl' 

I am writing today to warn everyone in every U.S. city, and perhaps every city on Earth, of impending danger and doom from above.

But first, some lengthy historical background:

In Lawrence, Kansas, in front of Strong Hall on the University of Kansas campus, there sits a 600-pound bronze sculpture that has been displayed on campus since 1958 and has been in its current location since 1975. This bronze, created by sculptor Elden Tefft, is ostensibly of that mythical flying creature (and KU mascot), the Jayhawk.

But everyone at KU refers to the Strong Hall Jayhawk as “the Pterodactyl” – perhaps because of its strong resemblance to the non-mythical (yet extinct) flying creature of that name, or perhaps simply to distinguish it from the various other Jayhawks to be found all over campus.

The night after the Pterodactyl first appeared at KU, the Mystical Oracle of Mount Oread (MOMO) convened at midnight at the Rock Chalk Cairn on the hill above Memorial Stadium in order to determine what unearthly powers the Great Bronze Jayhawk might possess, and how MOMO might shape them. For if MOMO did not do so, then the sculpture might shape its own powers – ensuring that havoc would ensue.

Read More »

Posted in Brad, Dammit!, Health and Safety, History, Horror, Religion, Sports, You | 6 Comments »

The Last Gospel

March 24th, 2008 by Rory Harper

Okay, maybe I should have resisted the urge to do this.

But I didn’t, because I’m too damn self-indulgent

Here’s my podcast of the piece formerly titled ‘Vengeance is Mine’.

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I’m still not sure this is the right name for it, and am very much open to suggestions for a better one.

I’m also open to critique, if any of you have ideas for improving it. I thought about adding some music at the beginning and end, maybe a heavy organ rendition of a few lines of ‘Easter Bonnet’.

But then people might think I wasn’t taking it all entirely seriously.

I hope it’s an easy listen.

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Posted in EOB-Podcast, reading, Religion, Rory | Comments Off

Vengeance is Mine

March 23rd, 2008 by Rory Harper

I’m in some sort of hole now, I think. The walls are stone and dirt, and there’s a huge damn boulder blocking the only way out.

The light in here is messed up. It’s over my head somewhere, but I can’t see it; it moves out of sight, no matter which way I turn. It’s barely bright enough for me to write in this journal until I feel strong enough to do the next thing.

I don’t know how I got here. The last thing I remember is endless, exhausted agony. Then nothingness.

I was just about dead for awhile. But I got better.

The Old Man told me it was going to be tough, but I had the moxie to take over this territory. The Italians are getting lazy and soft, he said. With his help behind the scenes, I recruited the dozen smartest peeps around. Then we started organizing from the ground up. It was working. Everybody loved me, thought I was the greatest thing since sliced challah. The Old Man said we were all going to go totally legit. No more of the killing that he’d done constantly to claw his way up to the top. Said I was like a son to him, that one day I’d run it all.

Then one of my most trusted peeps turned me over to the Italians.

Yeah, Ponty and his soldiers got me. I remember now. Ponty thinks he’s gonna wash his hands for doing me in. Oh, it wasn’t my idea, he said to me. Your people made me do it. Wrong. They’re all just a bunch of sheep, and I am the shepherd. I know who nailed me. I ain’t done with any of them.

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I feel stronger now. My hands don’t hurt so much, and my feet have stopped bleeding. I’ve been pushing against the boulder and I can feel it moving a few inches. I worked construction most of my life. I may look like a pansy, but I’m tough enough to last three days nailed to a piece of wood. And still kick some ass afterwards.

I’m going to get out of this hole. I’m going to hike into town and find that weasel Judas, and show everybody what happens to snitches.

After that – I gotta take out the Old Man. Yeah, I know who set me up. I realized he’d double-crossed me while I was nailed up. I can’t figure out what his plan was, seems like nobody ever can. But I know he was behind it all. He’s always behind everything that goes on. I think he just can’t let go, make room for the new generation.

And he always liked the killing.

He’s been hiding out, thinks nobody knows where he is. But I do. I’m gonna make him vanish permanent-like. Never be seen again, never heard from again.

First, though, I get with my peeps and get my organization set to roll even while I’m gone. Big Pete’s ready to take it to the next level. Been organizing to spread the word, go intercontinental. Man’s like a rock.

Those greasy wops think they can hang onto their turf. I have soldiers, too — more every day. And we’ve already started infiltrating to take over from the inside. It’s just a matter of time until my organization owns it all, no matter how ruthless we have to be. No more nice guys.

Judas. Ponty. The Old Man. They all thought I was soft like a bunny. They’re gonna find out just how hard-boiled I am.

After I take out the Old Man, I’ll need to stay on the down-low till things cool out.

But I’ll be back.

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Posted in Dammit!, Fiction, History, Religion, Rory | 18 Comments »

Knock, Knock. Who’s There?

March 21st, 2008 by Steven Gould

Knock, knock.

 Who’s there?

Terrorist.

COME ON IN.  I’m just so relieved you’re not the homosexual agenda!

Apparently the most serious threat to America is not terrorism, it’s not radical Islam, per Republican Representative from Oklahoma and Bigot, Sally Kern.  No, it’s the homosexual agenda which, among other things, she claims “It will destroy our young people and destroy our nation.”  Lest I be accused of picking things out of context, feel free to read her entire unedited screed here.  Wear a hazmat suit, though.  This stuff is toxic.

If you’ve been paying any attention to this, you know that I’m not the only one who thinks so but my favorite response to date is from a young man whose mother died in the Oklahoma City Homosexual Agenda Terrorist Bombing:

On April 19, 1995, in Oklahoma City a terrorist detonated a bomb that killed my mother and 167 others. 19 children died that day. Had I not had the chicken pox that day, the body count would’ve likely have included one more. Over 800 other Oklahomans were injured that day and many of those still suffer through their permanent wounds.

That terrorist was neither a homosexual or was he involved in Islam. He was an extremist Christian forcing his views through a body count. He held his beliefs and made those who didn’t live up to them pay with their lives.

Read the rest here.

Am I alone in believing that our country has a great deal more to fear from intolerance, than this so called agenda?

Posted in Dammit!, Religion, Steve | 4 Comments »

What He Said

March 16th, 2008 by Morgan J. Locke

Jeff Fecke at Shakesville has really been on a roll. He’s been blogging the Obama-Rev. Wright controversy, and has this to say:

Look, I know many of the readers of this blog have wandered from the religious paths we once followed. But having belonged to churches over the years, I can tell you that I didn’t always agree with what my minister was saying; still don’t, always. Nobody’s said anything as outlandish as Wright’s anti-Hillary sermon, but I’ve definitely heard people say things I disagree with, and say them from the pulpit. And criminy, I’m a Unitarian.

I have a good friend who’s Catholic, as is his wife. They’re also in favor of birth control, pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-women’s equality. So why do they remain in the church? Well, it’s where they feel most connected spiritually. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things they disagree with in their church, nor that they weren’t disappointed by the selection of the current pope. But they still feel grounded in that church.

So do I tell my friend that he’s horrible for staying in a church that sometimes preaches things at odds with what he believes? No, I don’t, because I’m quite fine with him finding and staying in a church he feels connected to. And I feel the same way toward my friends who are atheists and agnostics and Lutherans and Methodists…all of us find things we disagree with in our chosen faith traditions, but that doesn’t mean we must chuck them all.

Obama seems to be saying that he found faith in his church, but not necessarily a political ideology. Unstated, but also true, Obama found a community in that church — one of the major reasons people join churches is to find community, after all. …
Will the conservatives make an issue of this in the fall? Of course they will, but they were going to blow something up ridiculously out of proportion. If they didn’t have this, they would have run ads comparing Obama to Farrakhan. If Clinton somehow gets the nomination, they’ll run ads saying Hillary Clinton was a secret lesbian who killed her lover Vince Foster. If John Edwards is given the nomination somehow, we’ll hear that he used his wife’s cancer to get ahead.

If 2004 taught us anything, it’s that the conservatives will seize onto anything, no matter how small, and use it to tar good people. Barack Obama joined a large, prominent African American church, one that included among its membership Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods, and Michael Jordan. And at that church, he found community and a faith that fit him — as well as a minister who sometimes went over the top. Obama’s now said, flatly, that when his minister went over the top, that was wrong. I was satisfied when the Clinton campaign rebuked the statements by Ferraro, and I’m satisfied with Obama rebuking these statements by Wright. As for this sentence — “I also believe that words that degrade individuals have no place in our public dialogue, whether it’s on the campaign stump or in the pulpit.” — everyone’s chosen candidate should tattoo that to their foreheads.

I have to say, I have been impressed with how Obama has been handling this controversy.

Jeff goes on in a later post on the subject to point out that calling out racism isn’t racist, and anger isn’t hate.

Anyway, go RTWT.

Posted in Morgan, Politics, Religion | 7 Comments »

God and Man at Manchaca

February 28th, 2008 by Bradley Denton

Consider it done. 

I do not speak ill of the dead.

Or at least not the newly dead.

Joseph McCarthy, for example, has been gone long enough (he died in 1957, a year before I was born) that I have no qualms about describing him as a foul drunkard who indulged a paranoid, psychotic need to persecute and bully by cloaking it in false patriotism. Nor do I have any qualms about asserting that this description is overly generous.

But William F. Buckley, Jr., who defended McCarthy in 1954′s McCarthy and His Enemies, died only yesterday (February 27, 2008).

So I’ll not speak ill of Mr. Buckley.

Instead, I’ll just describe one of the three instances in which Mr. Buckley’s life almost-but-not-quite-and-not-really intersected with mine – with no purpose other than to illustrate what a strange universe it must be that would allow even the slightest of connections between the right-wing, Ivy-League likes of Mr. Buckley and the labor-union-joining, State-School likes of me.

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Posted in Brad, Dammit!, History, Labor Relations, People, Politics, Pop. Culture, reading, Religion, Sin | 8 Comments »

Losing My Religion and Finding Comfort

February 24th, 2008 by Rory Harper

Religious belief has always been a painful subject for me, sometimes quite literally. I like to think that my beliefs are grounded in rationality, but the end of my belief in a present and attentive deity ended abruptly and for entirely emotional reasons.

When I was eleven years old, I was helping my Dad lay down stripes in a parking lot, a fun and profitable side-business that he maintained for many years. We were in downtown Houston, and I have a clear snapshot memory of this.

I was standing at the edge of the parking lot when a lost baby bird wandered out into the street. I had taken a couple of steps to retrieve it, when a car flashed by, and there was suddenly only a messy brown splatter where a second before had been an innocent infant life.

At that exact moment I decided that, if there was a God, and he actively made the universe run, the way I had been told he did, he wasn’t a guy I wanted to hang out with. I can still remember how I thought that, if God had a purpose for that brief life and death, I didn’t want to fathom it. Maybe it was to test my belief in an infinitely-powerful and infinitely-loving being. If so, I failed the test.

I already understood that things die. It wasn’t the first time that I’d seen that. But the utter callous meaninglessness of this particular tiny death also killed the Christian God for me, because He was all about meaning. It was an instant conversion to an unpleasant Existentialism.

I mentioned my apostasy to a couple of people at West University Elementary in the following days, and got beaten up a couple of times by small gangs of pre-adolescent boys as a reward.

As I got older, I continued to be surrounded by hard and soft Christianity, and some occasional Judaism. I couldn’t respond to the emotional appeals, and any attempts at logical argument in favor of the existence of an involved God simply fell apart under even the most cursory examination. I did try to follow the reasoning presented to me, because it would be important if there was an underlying purpose to everything.

But the arguments always boiled down, sooner or later to: My religion must be true, even though wrong-headed people interpret the details differently than I do, because our Holy Book says it’s true. And our Holy Book is unquestionably the word of God, so it must be true. Completely circular logic.

So, let’s continue to talk about emotion rather than logic. Many people find comfort in their religious belief. They make what is commonly called the Leap of Faith, and then they get to turn their attention to predicting which football team is going to win the Superbowl this year. It helps them cope with the on-going struggle that inevitably leads to the end of Superbowl predictions.

Me, I just deal with the struggle and the darkness as best I can — which isn’t always graceful or attractive. I can’t and won’t make the Leap of Faith, not because I’m too damn smart (though I am indeed too damn smart), but because it feels cowardly and dishonest. I decline to adopt a deep belief simply in order to be comforted. My universe is an uncaring, unmanageable enormity.

My mother tried to do some religion with me and my sister, briefly. Here’s my memory of it:

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Posted in Personal History, Rachael is Awesome, Religion, Rory | 25 Comments »

My Samaritans

February 11th, 2008 by Morgan J. Locke

Rationalists – Effing the ineffable. Woo!

A friend of mine recently called me a Christ admiring Pagan. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I realized, that’s exactly right. That’s what I am.

I think Christianity has some major flaws — primarily that it’s too with-us-or-against-us, as all the monotheistic religions tend to be — and I distrust organized religion on general principle — as a UU, I don’t believe any authority can stand between each individual and their own conception of the divine. I have no confidence that anything awaits us, after death, other than the memories others hold of us, and the ways in which the world is different, because we were once here (though I could be wrong, and have no way of knowing).

And that’s enough for me, frankly. Einstein’s theory of relativity teaches us that time is merely another dimension of space. If we were once here, the universe contains an us-shape etched in time-space, forevermore. We leave traces of who we are and what we do, permanently imprinted on the fabric of reality. So it goes.

But I think the teacher, Jesus son of Joseph and Mary, was onto something important, with his teachings. Yes. I admire rabbi Yeshu.

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Christianity and I parted ways when I was in my teens. I was brought up a United Methodist. I always felt a close connection with the unknowable, the unknown, when I was a child, and I called that connection God. I was going to grow up and be a missionary. I was going to save people — heal the sick, as Jesus had. Give people hope. End poverty. End hunger. When I read about the sufferings of others, I felt as if something had to be done. The church seemed most concerned about alleviating people’s suffering, and I shared that concern.

But as I entered adolescence, my faith wavered. What I was hearing from the minister and my Sunday School teachers was different in some fundamental ways from what I read when I cracked the covers of the Bible open. The cognitive dissonance got to be too much. I had to settle things. So when I was fifteen, during summer vacation, I read the Bible cover to cover. Twice. Just to make sure.

I took notes. I slogged through all the begats, the boils and plagues and horrors; I compared Matthew to Mark to Luke to John, found the gaps in their narratives, pondered them; I gaped at the psychotic splendor of Revelations.

And as I did so, the scales fell from my eyes.

The Bible was a clearly compilation of many hands, across many years. Not the unfiltered Received Word of God. You could even distinguish the different voices. What was with all those begats, anyway? Why should God care who begat whom? And frankly, some of prophets were real assholes. I mean, come on — plagues, butchery, damnation. And they were happy about it. Screw them. I’d rather go to hell, than claim those beliefs as my own on the chance that some ectoplasmic patriarch might get pissed off if I didn’t.

But when I stripped away all the parochial stuff, the stuff clearly tethered to the writers’ upbringing and cultures, Jesus had many important things to say about how to be human.

Help one another, he taught. Stop worrying about how much money and power you have. People are more than their tribal identity. We are all sons and daughters of God.

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When I was eighteen, I worked for a local fast food chain called Tastee Freez. I quit the job when I started college, but they talked me into staying another seven months till they found a replacement. Finally, my last day came and went. A week later I drove down in my little tin-can Toyota, with my friend, to pick up my paycheck. $712 went a long way back then.

As I pulled out of the parking lot, I looked first left, then right. Then I pulled out. In front of a half-ton pickup going maybe 60 miles an hour. I remember none of it, other than the truck bearing down as I slammed on the accelerator.

We almost made it out of the truck’s path. It struck us a glancing blow, but the relative mass of the truck versus the little Toyota was so great that it sent us flying. We rolled (I’m told) 360 degrees vertically, and 720 degrees horizontally, and ended up on the shoulder. The impact collapsed the roof and lengthened the car by three feet on the driver’s side.

I came to as I was being dragged from my car by bystanders. We had a few scrapes and bruises, and I had a mild concussion, but we were both OK.

No, I don’t think God saved us. I don’t believe in that kind of miracle. Too many people who did not deserve to, have suffered and died. No. I was just really, really lucky. My carelessness nearly resulted in the deaths of myself and my best friend. I shudder, when I realize how close to the brink I came.

Here’s something else. I had just finished writing a novel, one I had been laboring over for years. Back then, there were no personal computers. I had written it on my typewriter, and I didn’t have a copy. It had been in the back seat.

The book was dreck. But it represented a huge investment of time and creative effort. I remember as some people helped us sit down on a nearby bus bench, I looked out in horror at the pages of my book, tumbling out across the landscape in the New Mexico winds. They must have been scattered in a plume of a half a mile or more — a plume that widened as I watched.

When they realized that it was my novel, a small group of bystanders started chasing the pages up and down down the road and into the fields, rounding up as many pages as they could. They brought pages in wads and clusters, unsorted, upside down, torn, all higglety pigglety. I clutched them in my lap while we awaited the ambulance. I figured I would fill in the gaps as best I could, later on.

When I got home later and reassembled the manuscript, not a page was missing. Not a single one.

Those people didn’t know me. I wasn’t of their tribe. I was just some young idiot who hadn’t paid close enough attention, and had nearly gotten myself and my friend killed. And that manuscript had no intrinsic value to anyone but me. We’re not talking Hemingway, or Steinbeck, here. I was young and still learning my craft. If that story were ever to see print, I’d cringe. But it meant everything to me then.

:

You all know the story of the Good Samaritan, I’m sure. The Hebrews reviled Samaritans. They were not of their tribe. They did not follow the right cultural practices; they did not believe the right things. Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan reminded his fellow Jews that it is our actions that define us; not our beliefs.

I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the way and the truth and the light,” when he said, “Follow me.” He meant do as I do. Help each other. Don’t pause to ask how you will gain. Don’t worry whether the person you help deserves to be helped. Just do it.

Learn how to love even your enemies. Set aside your fear. Help each other. Strive to forgive those who have wronged you.

Those people whose names I don’t even know, they were my Good Samaritans. They probably don’t even remember what they did. But I remember them. I honor them. They are my tribe.

And so are you.

Posted in Dammit!, Fiction, Morgan, Personal History, Religion, Writing, You | 6 Comments »

Ruin and Renewal

January 28th, 2008 by Morgan J. Locke

I’ve been terse, of late.

I haven’t posted about global warming in a long time; so many well-informed writers are posting on the subject now that I don’t have much new to share (though significant progress continues to be made — at least on the scientific front). My posts on bird flu come from my background in public and environmental health, but I don’t have a lot more to say other than (in various ways) think about what you would do, if the worst becomes real. How will you survive it? How will you help your family and neighbors, your community?

(Come to think of it, there is plenty of overlap between bird flu and a zombie infestation. So, you know: stockpile food and weapons, keep away from infected individuals, and whatever you do, don’t eat brains.)

And I have some great posts queued up with regard to humans in space, but not a lot of time to devote to them (and to be worthwhile, they need time. rsn, I promise).

My fellow Brainiacs have been sharing some great stuff lately. I’ve been reading avidly. Hungrily. Zombiliciously. But the output has been minimal.

All this magma is moving around inside. There’s this tectonic plate activity under the surface of my thoughts. Quakes, geysers, upwellings. Subduction of old rock, old patterns of behavior and thought. Processes beyond my control are busily destroying the ruins of my old life, making space for new processes. I don’t even know what it all means. It’s hard for me to know yet how, or even what, to share.

But these images spoke to me.

Komanskop. Images by Richard Erhlich on artnet.

(Via Group News Blog.)

Someday, in some far distant future, the ruins of Kolmanskop, Namibia will lie beneath a tropical rainforest. Or maybe an ocean. So will the skyscrapers of Singapore, London. New York. Where Everest is now, we’ll have a savannah. An unimaginably advanced city. The remains of a vast, nanite disaster. The site where a new savior is hatched and raised, whose writings will later transform the lives of uncounted posthumans.

Someday the ruins of Komanskop will be crushed, along with the bones of their occupants. They’ll be obliterated. Sucked into the mantle, dragged down to the dense iron core of the earth, super-heated, pressurized, and spewed out again to make new rock, new minerals that plants and animals will take up. Someday, they’ll be taken up by new stars, and made into new starstuff.*

There is a link between death and birth. Between destruction and renewal. Tossing out the old — old habits, ways of thinking, crap you don’t need anymore — makes room for the new. Hurts like hell. Burns the shit out of you. You can’t survive that process. You’re nothing but atoms, you know, in the final analysis. The universe makes use of those atoms, but you don’t get to decide whether you get to stay in one piece. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones who survives and passes on your code, your DNA, your ideas. Maybe not. Maybe you won’t even be a bump on somebody else’s tarmac. It’s not in your control.

But fuck. What a fucking amazing dance it all is.

____________________
*I’ve definitely been spending too much time trolling in the dusty hinterlands of my brain.

PS Btw, did you guys hear? Somebody is postulating that the reason the universe appears to be expanding at increasingly fast rates is because time is sl-o-o-o-owing down!

I love cosmologists. It’s like they are getting paid to create code for an acid trip. (Ask me for a link in comments, if you really must read more. I’m too lazy to hunt it up gratuitously.)

PPS How many other people read about Bush’s SOTU Address and your brain changes it to STFU Address? Let’s have a show of hands.

Posted in Dammit!, Health and Safety, Morgan, Personal History, Politics, Pop. Culture, Religion, Science, Technology, You, Zombies | 9 Comments »

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