Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Planet Sardon: On Ethics, Morality, and the Greeting Card Fund

It has been said that morality on Sardon is determined through riddles, some of which contain no answers. In fact, the vast library of spiritual and inspirational guidebooks resemble Earth-based 1980s joke paperbacks mixed with collections of chiastic expressions. In one tome, this journalist discovered that the morality tales hidden therein create palindromes, leading to the ultimate wisdom on the last page: Always do right backwards to cover your tracks before committing justifiable wrongness when you face forward again. In similar fashion, one terrible joke of unknown moral message asks, What says oh, oh, oh? The mysterious answer seems to be Santa walking backwards. Sardon, having a complex web of requirements to become sainted, is virtually bereft of them, but this joke could lend a clue as to why these few, well-fed men perpetually walk backwards, hooting oh ho! whenever they run into vehicles, people, or furniture.

Notwithstanding, the state of warfare fares better when the state is left standing after the war. This peculiar chiastic expression is inscribed on the dedication page of their “Jolly Book of Military Jaunts”. Thereafter, the passages in said book create their own individual chiastic paragraphs and chapters. Likewise, each chapter leads with advice of this sort: Go deliver a dare, vile dog! And this: Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era? The image illustrating the latter palindrome demonstrates that drawing onward involves sitting on the enemy wards of the state while using tattoo guns on their shirtless backs.

Recently, owing to Sardon’s continued obsession with using old-Earthian technology to inform their religion and morality, they’ve taken to creating morality-based CAPTCHAs that act as guardians at computerized entrances into government buildings, train stations, schools, and airports. The rationale behind these CAPTCHAs is that robotic terrorists are unable to correctly answer moral questions and, ergo, anybody else who can’t answer them must also be a robotic terrorist, or might possibly be, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Sorry, but not safe is the actual result: Few beyond the educated elite are able to answer correctly, and even those at the peak of academic success often only stumble onto the correct answer by their third and final try. In defense of their failings, these holders of Sardonian doctorates claim the CAPTCHAs are too simple for their minds, that morality is much more complex than simple answers, which is why–of course–they must give a string of three to unlock doors. But the uneducated masses, cynical as they are, don’t buy their stories–literally speaking, due to the word-based currency. Unfortunately, this archaic technology has offset the economy, resulting in the government bailing out the affected industries to the tune of trillions of words (see this entry for further information on their currency). This abuse of word-printing has subsequently lowered all standards everywhere, in speech, literature, education, and, most importantly, travel to leisure spots. Hence, the gourmet vegetable marrow production has dropped to an all-time low, as well (see this entry for more on the staple diet of Sardonians).

As crises often snowball in ways nobody can imagine, so has this CAPTCHA crisis. Leading scientists have attempted to cope with the new poverty by inventing genetically engineered super marrows, but because they experimented with splicing Sardonian genes into the marrow genes to increase crop yields, a strange pollination has occurred. Many Sardonian people are currently being born with heads shaped similarly to what we know of as turnips. Conspiracy theorists wander around mumbling, if they have any words at their disposal, “And where do you think the dirty seed came from that spawned the beasts? Ah, the giant marrow monster’s done the dirty deed.”

This brings me to the Greeting Card Fund that I’m currently supporting and promoting, using the divinely free words of my planet. The Sardonian people are in an economic crisis, but more than that, they are in a morality crisis. As interest rates rise, and the government continues to print empty words, those with access to the libraries of ethics and morality are surreptitiously cutting out the most valuable words in the joke books to trade for black market goods, and for cheat answers to CAPTCHA riddles. The League of Planets has come to the conclusion that the Sardonians simply need to be nuked to prevent their spawn from reaching other planets in the solar system and beyond. I disagree.

I ask you–you may hate the Sardonians–you may hate marrows to the core of your being–but do you want this race of intellectual thinkers to vanish from the universe? Do you? If not, I humbly request that you donate greeting cards of upright moral sentiments to the Greeting Card Fund. These impoverished Sardonians need words, and they need words that express truth and love and joy and pure feeling.
Would you have a heart for those whom you may despise? My heart breaks for the poor turnip babies.

Help the cause! Donate today!

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The Existential Angst of Denialism

And this week’s award for the most ridiculous quote goes to Shawn Laurence Otto in his article entitled “America’s Science Problem”:*

“By turning public opinion away from the antiauthoritarian principles of the nation’s founders, the new science denialism is creating an existential crisis like few the country has faced before.”

Huh? Who’s turning away whom from the antiauthoritarian principles of our founding fathers? Did our founding fathers actually hold to antiauthoritarian principles? What exactly is “denialism”? I’m not certain denialism is a word in any current dictionary I own, but if it exists in one of yours (or his), I would be quick to admit that all humans must suffer from it for the sake of their mental health. But, honestly, I would like to know what the difference is between a sceptic and a denier and, although I could scrap together a fairly good critical comparison, why should I, when I have Michael Shermer to do so for me in his article “Living in denial: When a sceptic isn’t a sceptic”?**

“What is the difference between a sceptic and a denier? When I call myself a sceptic, I mean that I take a scientific approach to the evaluation of claims. A climate sceptic, for example, examines specific claims one by one, carefully considers the evidence for each, and is willing to follow the facts wherever they lead.

A climate denier has a position staked out in advance, and sorts through the data employing “confirmation bias” – the tendency to look for and find confirmatory evidence for pre-existing beliefs and ignore or dismiss the rest.”

Ah, thanks, Mr. Shermer for giving us the low down. Scientists, it seems, are Lockean clean slates–or, on a deeper philosophical level, they are re-birthed each time they set about to scan and interpret data, their slates cleaned at each birthing experience. They are virtual chalkboards, cleaned and shined daily by command of Mrs. Prue, the English marm, who is scrupulous in the realm of detail and cleanliness. But, wait, don’t climate deniers often come packaged as scientists? They do, and I’m left to conclude that their slates haven’t been overseen by Mrs. Prue, or, at the very least, their boards haven’t been tacitly written over by their scientific authority figures. Tsk-tsk. These credentialed deniers must be scientists with messy psychological worlds, too messy to untangle a web of data from their own anxieties or hopes.

I actually (gasp) agree with Michael Shermer on his definitions, even though he has allowed himself a position of authority by being master of such, and then subtly–or not–applying them to whom he sees fit. Indeed, in a perfect world, a scientist would interpret data without bias. Does that also mean a scientist must leave out the biases of his science colleagues and educators, or other established science authorities? This question leads me directly to the absurdity of Otto’s quote: Our forefathers weren’t antiauthoritarian. In fact, they weren’t all one way or another. Essentially, they were English and loyal to the crown until, well, they decided not to be (to gloss over a lot of history). At that point, they (Ben Franklin, to be exact) worked an alliance with France because the colonies needed the monetary assistance of one monarchic authority in order to defeat another monarchic authority, as well as his lackeys, the Redcoats. After helping the Americans, the French went ahead with their own Revolution, deposing their own grand monarch. What is the point of this oversimplified version of American/French history? Ah–the point–I have trouble with that sometimes. Humans, including our forefathers, tend to have shifting paradigms of what constitutes authority.

Aside from Otto’s quote simply being bullshit (existential crisis?), he doesn’t seem to understand human beings very well. Most people are swayed by authority. Most are tied to authority, whether they wish to be or not. I may claim (somewhat sardonically) that I’m an anarchist, but this doesn’t loosen my ties to my actual, larger-than-life authorities. Most people hold to their authorities because they have to, because it gives them a feeling of security, or because they can’t comprehend the difference between their own ideas and the ideas they’ve been taught by their authorities. Who’s to say that a non-science-denier isn’t simply holding fast to the authority he chooses, while denying the authority he doesn’t? Um, well, yeah, that’s exactly what true-blue loyalists to fill-in-the-blank-with-whatever-is-mainstream do.

I would go so far as to say, despite my tentative approval of Shermer’s definitions, that a non-biased human is impossible to find. Humans cling to authorities; they discard them; they create new ideas that change the mainstream authority’s talk points. In short, humans are in a never-ending process of personal evolutions, in which they can’t shed their pasts. But most humans love authority because they’re like children. Oh, yes, I only have my experience and observation to lend credence to the former proclamation–no evidence, sorry. However, to finish my non-evidenced assertion, conflict arises when we the people–so like children–hold to disparate authority figures. And that’s a good thing. If we all held to the same “thus saith so and so” we would have no comparisons to make, and in no sense could we make sound judgements based off critically mulling over the options, and casting off the ones that make no sense based off evidence.

I am NOT a scepticalist involved in scepticalism, nor am I a denialist involved in denialism. I’m a sceptic shaped by the world around me and the unending wealth of information found therein, and sometimes I deny the truth that my authority figures impart to me because it’s wrong.

*from Scientific American, November 2012
**from New Science, May 2010

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A Call to Just Servanthood

We are wards of the state. Open your eyes. Look around you. Neither presidential candidate is going to give you your freedom. This is NOT your year of jubilee. As the indentured servant of the state, you vote as a pretense of power and liberation, but you are merely voting for the candidate who will make your servitude more comfortable. You must now ask yourself: What will my candidate do for me after all my years of hard work? Will he provide me free healthcare, no strings attached? Will he provide me free food if I need it, or a retirement package so that I won’t have to provide labor for him until the day I drop?

This is a major decision for all of us–as wards–because the implication is that, if we accept the benefits our chieftain offers, we will also have to live our lives the way he tells us. We may have to send our sons to fight his endless wars. We may or may not be able to marry the person we choose–remember, our chieftain doesn’t believe in the ideal of free association, but desires that we act honorably by forging a contract with him. Later, our daughters may or may not be able to have abortions the way they want them, and they may be forced to use his idea of birth control, OR they may be forced to vaccinate their children against their wills. On the other hand, he may provide all of us with free birth control and free vaccinations because we deem this as part of our birthright as servant sons of the state. We demand it, not because we can’t legally buy these medical treatments for ourselves, but because we’re tired and we deserve to have the things we want at no cost.

You see, it’s tiring being a ward of the state. It’s tiresome when we realize that we will work all our lives and buy all kinds of fancy things with the money our beneficent chieftain allows us to keep, but we will never own the ground where we squat to raise our families. We will never own our property. We will never be able to pass it down to our children and grandchildren in any legitimate fashion. Only our chieftain-state has the legal right to the land; only our most honored landlord possesses the final say-so. He holds our birthright, our blessing. Open your eyes. If you don’t believe this is the case, then I challenge you to stop paying your property taxes. Your landlord will not be happy with you, his rebellious ward. He’ll confiscate your land–seize it from your family–and sell it cheaply to a better, more compliant tenant. He will render you homeless because you haven’t honored him. You aren’t a jewel in his crown.

Open your eyes. It’s crucial that you see the truth. It’s crucial in this most important election just around the corner. You need to vote for the candidate(s) who will create a pleasant space for you, his ward, in your retirement–and even earlier, perhaps. You need to ensure that you’re able, after all is said and done, after you’ve worked for so many years, to have everything your heart desires–for free! As wards of the state, you deserve no less than whatever it happens to be that you want.

Vote accordingly.

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Friday’s Hedge Hog*

I lost count of how many times I opened the “Add New Post” box this week, only to leave the text windows blankly staring at me, begging me to write something that wasn’t in my mind. I’m going through a transition in my life and, sadly, I’m under a fair amount of self-induced stress. Some of my stress is not self-induced, but I have little capacity to cope with stress whether it comes as a natural causal effect of living, or as a means of self-regulation. I impose so many rules on myself that it’s no wonder I lean toward an anarchist political philosophy and always have. Really, how is it feasible to follow my own rules to the nth degree while also following the petty ones the state or self-proclaimed do-gooders yoke me to?

Some of my rules are arbitrary and involve useless counting. Do I, for example, count steps every time I turn in the drive? No, but I did when I was younger. I’ve given up some of my most ridiculous self-imposed rules (please don’t ask my children if I still fall apart over not being able to count the ounces in my beverage glass!). My point is this–my rules are both logical and illogical at once. They keep me productive when I replace counting steps with counting written words or, these days, math problems, but having to follow them drives me insane (and so does a lack of productivity!).

When it came to filling in the blank text windows this week, I opted for sanity. I had a series of banging headaches that forced me to follow a rule plan I call the bare minimum. This bare minimum nonsense allows me to trick myself into accomplishing as much as I would normally. If my brain is a computer, then this a crazy sort of trickster algorithm and, this week, I was not able or willing to follow the results it spit out for me. Aside from banging headaches, I’ve recently suffered from other signs of ill health I’d prefer not to discuss. Nevertheless, my undisclosed health issues forced me into a lowest-level daily rule-following plan that looked about like this: care for children and their schoolwork; complete one self-study math tutorial; take a walk with the pup. I also managed some laundry and cleaned the toilets. As far as I’m concerned, the latter accomplishments should earn me a medal. But, alas, medals aren’t doled out over my concerns, or my accomplishments or lack thereof, despite the Nobel Peace Prize and its insistence on rewarding others in hopes they will stick to a specified/engineered program. I’m sorry, but I believe I’ve done far more at balancing my own personal economy and running my household than has a collective group of countries. And what is it with the collective mindset, anyway? Why do groups of scientists now win honors together as teams, when it’s the infighting of scientists that has, throughout history, caused certain disgruntled men to disappear into their basements until they’ve invented genius concepts all by themselves? The collective–the team–should work for the individual, and not the other way around. People should not merely “get along” for the sake of the collective. They should get along because it’s in their best interest to do so (or not, if they happen to be disgruntled geniuses in need of some self-righteous indignation to put a skip back in their steps).

Moving on past that rant about the team-player society we are forced to live in due to the socialization dictocrats–deep breath–I decided to attend a faith and science meeting last night, despite wanting to chop off my head. My mom has invited me to attend a series of lectures with her on the convergence of science and faith from the perspective of scientists. Living in a science town, I’ve run across the hostility that scientists have for faith of any kind. In my experiences, religious people cede authority to scientists far more than scientists will cede anything to religious folk. The religious are left with a reactionary stance, demanding, ridiculously, to force the public education system to teach creationism so that their children won’t be consumed by the complete antagonism of the science community. Of course, creationism is ludicrous when taught as science, per se, but I could see it taught in a where science meets philosophy class, in which students learn to philosophize unknowns based off known scientific principles.

And how did I meander down yet another rabbit trail? I took a left at Albuquerque! What I meant to discuss–the crux of everything–had to do with this science-meets-faith lecture, given by a young Chinese researcher of cosmic magnetism, who converted to Christianity while attending college in the states. She talked about her magnetic research a little, and then gave her testimony. Throughout the testimony section, the astronomy professor sitting in front of me grew more and more visibly uncomfortable, even shaking his head in disgust at certain points.

I tried to ignore the professor because I was fascinated with the researcher on a level that had little to do with her faith or education. Her personality–her responses to life–are so similar to my own. This strange convergence of personality obviously crosses cultural boundaries. Throughout her talk, it became evident that she has many rules she places on herself. She can’t cope with stress. She gets caught up in the details and often must pull herself back so that she can grapple with the big picture again. She suffers from anxiety, but has a bizarre sense of humor, perhaps to create balance. If she doesn’t win topnotch honors, she feels that her efforts have been completely wasted. And she thinks all those other people out there in the world are a lot smarter than she is. Yes, that’s right. A harsh lesson that–a woman with a PhD from Harvard who has recently earned a coveted research fellowship actually believes “all those others” out there are a lot smarter than she is.

Sigh. I know what it is to be a smart person trapped inside a stupid one or, conversely, a stupid person trapped inside a smart one. I have a lot of lessons to learn about life, about survival, about stress, and about the ego messages that taunt particular people even after they have “arrived”. I’ll never arrive. Period. Nobody other does, until they arrive at death’s door.

Thanks for listening (figuratively speaking).

*I was going to go with hodge podge, but thought hedge hog sounded better, even if this has nothing to do with hedge hogs. Also, I was probably influenced on a subconscious level by Katherine Coble’s Fridays With Magpies.

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Before and After Tankas

The Flood, High Tide © 2012 A Leon Miler

The night room closes
With Crumbling roses and tea,
With dust and ginger
Steamed in the whistling sea,
Then chilled in old empty sheets.

The round table waits
With silent morning sun-bursts,
Waits for toast and eggs,
For tea poured from decanters,
Sweetened to smooth the bitter.

The night room closes
As lilies unfold slowly
To white butterflies
And kisses that whisper songs,
That flutter cold cheeks at dawn.

The round table waits;
It waits until the clouds will
Spread the cloth and plates,
Cut fresh the morning roses,
Pour the tea out, steeped in rain.

p.s. Yes, I randomly steal my dad’s images for my blog. Please visit his blog here. His artwork always makes my poems seem better, somehow.

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