Archive for July, 2014

Satan and justice for all

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Satanism became attractive to my son so I looked it up. It’s a remarkable religion with some history and depth – not to be confused, it turns out, with most of what any traditional monotheist might ‘instinctively’ suspect. ‘Devil-worshippers’ are scorned by Satanists because all deities – the devil included – are a joke. My not-so-lengthy review of the literature describes a sort of promiscuous self-worship. Without the name ‘Satan’ attached I imagine it could disappear like any other brand of atheistic hedonism. But with the name!

When Evan first mentioned Satanism I started humming, ‘if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao…’

Something cool has happened. In its burgeoning enthusiasm to promote a theocratic state by judicial decree, the Supreme Court has declared corporations tantamount to real human beings, and designated their professed faith as sufficient to disregard secular law. A lawyer I know responded, ‘the flood-gates are open!’

Indeed they are. There’s an obnoxious legal imposition known as ‘informed consent,’ which in some states requires women desiring abortions to first meet with professionals who try to talk them out of it. According to the Satanists, this amounts to a violation of religious liberty for all those whose devotion entails a commitment to serving their own opinions alone. Presumably, if you’re a Satanist, you can legally think what you want.

At least according to the Supreme Court.

Steady state

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

The news from Iraq seems familiar somehow, even though the story’s told differently. It sounds like the people are intractably violent and hateful. That’s what it sounds like. But I think it’s just a story. It doesn’t seem sensible so it’s probably not being reported accurately. I remember it being reported a decade back, when we went in and started shooting people ourselves. It was a big deal. As if winning and losing mattered. Today I guess we’re content with our fracking.

From here, the whole world seems impossibly placid. Advertised mayhem is getting boring. Every day I go to work. We all just do. And people remain bizarre. They’re downright outraged that immigrants still come to this country. They’re furious about health insurance. But not really. Just like Iraq, it’s a story. It’s not a report.

The higher ups seem like they’re out to lunch, but maybe they’ve finally got it figured. If you know how economies work, you know everything in ours is impossibly ‘over-valued.’ Nothing is worth what’s being paid for it, and usually before now things would have collapsed. But it’s the only game in town, so we’re just printing free money and playing with ourselves. Thing is, when absolute power is genuinely absolute, maybe it really can go on forever.

I’m hearing the story about Israel. It sounds bloodier than usual. I don’t think it’s supposed to sound so bloody. Like the money people in this country, the Israelis are supposedly invulnerable masters of their own situation. Never mind the old saying about nukes in the Middle East – ‘if you drop one on Iran, in the morning it’s Iran; if you drop one on Israel, in the morning it’s gone.’

And Jesus descends through the clouds.


The warm gun, mama.

Monday, July 21st, 2014

I’ll be auditing an on-line course called ‘the psychology of happiness’ at Berkeley in the fall. Happiness relates to consciousness in this country because we have something of a cultural mandate to ‘pursue’ it. It’s one of those ideas, like ‘consciousness’ itself, I find most people don’t like to look at quite directly.

Scientists, of course, look at it quite directly – measuring multiple dimensions of ‘subjective well-being’ and objective comfort. I’ll bet they come up with a number. Who knows? My happiness is a 6.2. Yours is a 7.9.

Somebody used some such numbers to color a map of the U. S. the other day. Oddly, blue states were happy states, red states unhappy. It was a remarkable map because the colored regions seemed well-aligned with the famous red-blue maps of political party representation. Politically red states (Louisiana, Mississippi) are the happiest. Politically blue states (New York, California) are bummed out. Maybe San Franciscans are down because their opposition is so content with itself. Of course, these are self-reported surveys. It’s likely everybody’s lying.

Wondering if everyone is lying, I quickly searched for color-coded happiness maps from other sources and, behold! There are plenty of maps on which the colors are reversed. Which reminded me of global warming, because even though politicians announce ’97 percent of scientists agree’ on the phenomenon – for some reason, if I search for ‘global surface temperature’ all the top responses claim it’s either flat or going down.

Furthermore, I read an optimistic piece by some NGO the other day, predicting global absolute poverty can be eliminated by 2030. If everyone is fed and put in a house, the whole unhappiness thing starts sounding like sour grapes.


The mortal coil

Monday, July 14th, 2014

I’ve been home with Evan for a couple weeks while the other half of the family visits Europe. Evan didn’t want to go and, well, I’ve been to New York. What else is there?

I’ve been reading so hard in neuropsychology it’s hard to think anything exists outside my own brain. I have new explanations for my general snobbishness. The social result is the same.

I must exercise our dog, or she becomes impossible. I take her to the ‘dog park,’ where I sit on a bench while she dashes back and forth. A woman sits down next to me and asks, ‘isn’t it amazing how they all descend from wolves?’

I don’t know what to do with this. She isn’t sexually compelling and it isn’t that amazing. So she asks, ‘isn’t it amazing how much corruption there is in government?’

I begin looking for a lesson here. I imagine her thirty years from now in the nursing facility, asking, ‘isn’t it amazing how corrupted all the wolves are?’

Not really.

In the garden, there’s a ‘giant pumpkin’ vine. Only the female flowers turn into pumpkins. The bigger the vines are, the bigger the future fruit is supposed to be. I’ve been pinching off the females while the plant grows, so all its life flows into its leaves. I’m told I should let one female survive on a vine, and keep pinching off the others. That’s the way to get a really big pumpkin.

My personal savior

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

I enjoyed a breakfast of decaffeinated Fair Trade coffee and organic dark chocolate while reading about hippocampal atrophy among born-again Christians and atheists in the southeast United States. Hippocampal atrophy is thought to have something to do with memory loss. The idea is, since most people in the southeast US are ‘born-once’ protestants who make it tough on those who don’t think like they do – born-again Christians and atheists in the region experience long term stress which shrinks hippocampi.

Halfway through my cup I was reviewing some text on how meditation is associated with big, healthy hippocampi. I’ve always liked the idea of meditation, but I’ve been put off by the sorts of people who advocate it. It seems like a sensible practice, which I understand as applying one of myriad methods to temporarily remove conscious content from my mind’s attention. This morning I thought, ‘hey, that’s sort of like praying.’

My lifelong approach to praying has been straightforward. As an early teenager, growing up during a contemporary mantra-repetition fad, I decided to make Jesus’ instruction – the so-called ‘Lord’s Prayer’ – the mantra I would repeat. I liked it not only because I thought I was Christian, but because it’s way too long and complicated to be an acceptable mantra. Ever since, I have inwardly repeated that prayer many times daily, far more frequently than you would imagine.

Well into my twenties, it was quite difficult reciting the prayer without thinking of something else. I would get to ‘give us this day’ or ‘lead us not’ and my mind would wander. I would suddenly be thinking a different thought, and I would have to begin all over. I wanted to pray it through without other conscious phrases occurring, so I had to learn, simply, to ‘not think.’ I went through long periods unable to do this. Inevitably, some idea forced itself into the prayer that I couldn’t shake. Somehow I learned how to lose the idea without shaking it at all, how to avoid without resisting, how to recognize distractions before they arrived. After many years, I learned to think only the prayer.

I have occasionally resented my commitment to this. It interferes with some things. I pray a lot while reading, and I have to pause, clear my mind of whatever I’m attending to, and devotedly repeat my silly prayer. I remember a long interval many years ago when I couldn’t begin the prayer at all without cursing Jesus Christ and the whole ridiculous business. I just let myself do the cursing and went right on with the mantra. Eventually that interruption, too, passed.

And now, lo and behold! Meditation (for perhaps I’ve been meditating all this time) may be saving my hippocampus.