Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Which Alice In Wonderland Character Are You?

I can't resist posting my response to this internet quiz...

I don't need a quiz to tell me I am the Cheshire cat. Not only am I philosophical, but (as Wiki Answers reports) my avatar
" sly, mischevious and completely mad, but he is very rational about it..."

A Terrorist Is A Terrorist, For A' That

I thought that this response which I made an old friend's musings about where all these vigilantes are coming from was worth posting on my blog.

When the left went crazy in the 60s and 70s with bank bombings and attempted assassinations, Democratic officials condemned them. I can't recall a single elected official supporting any of the left-wing terror of the time. When the right wing nut cases started exploding, especially after the election of Pres. Obama, the right wing embraced them. Numerous elected officials, including congressmen, currently praise the crazies. That's why the left wing crazies died out pretty quickly and the right wing crazies just seem to keep on getting stronger and stronger.

Perhaps even more significant is the response of the media. The media uniformly and universally condemned left-wing terrorism back in those decades. Fox News and many other right-wing party organ, propaganda machines regularly praise and encourage this type of vigilante behavior. There is a causative relationship.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Our God and Evolution Given Rights

Hi, Susan!

As usual, I take a position that doesn't seem to fit what we usually hear. I know there are those who express utter contempt of the very idea that animals have rights, but on the other hand we have PETA actually bringing a lawsuit saying that pet animals are enslaved that need to be liberated. Which makes me wonder what they want. We should just turn all our dogs loose and let them roam the streets in packs?

PETA always makes me think of one of my favorite stories. A French philosopher, I'm pretty sure it was Voltaire, made the satirical comment that there really was nothing wrong with killing a man, the real horror was murdering a carrot!  After all, he pointed out, Christianity tells us that if we kill a man all we are doing is setting his soul free from the horrors of this world and sending him to his final reward. (Or punishment,if that's what he deserved.). But in any event, we were just liberating his soul, no problem.  But, since it has no soul, to kill a carrot is to kill it forever.

I'll have to take the evolutionary viewpoint. Everything we have and everything we are came through evolution. That's just scientific fact. Where you put religion into the equation depends entirely on your own personal beliefs, but the facts are clear.

If human rights are truly rights, not just something granted by governments or societies, then those rights evolved. And if they evolved, they came to us as an inheritance from our more primitive ancestors.  Human dignity evolved out of animal dignity. Human rights evolved out of animal rights. Human emotions evolved out of animal emotions.

So I have no doubt that animals have rights and that those rights should be respected as surely as human rights should be respected.  It is just that I believe that they don't have the same level of rights as humans. Just as animals can communicate, but not as well as we can. Just as animals can think, but not as well as we can.

Levels of cruelty in meat production are truly horrific and should not be tolerated. We should pass laws preventing these extremes. As you know, I will not stop eating meat. But I do advocate that we must produce that meat in as humane a manner as possible, which will of course raise its price. That might actually be good for our health!  More expensive meat means less consumption. Not that that's the purpose of this conviction. The purpose is to protect animals' rights.

Even more, I dream of the day, which I do believe will inevitably come, when we will grow our meats and our other animal products in tanks. There will be no living creature to suffer. There will be no nervous system. We will never raise another farm animal, just the desired animal product.

As I pointed out to you in an earlier Facebook post, lab grown skin will already begin to replace many of the animals used as test subjects. It's a beginning, and it will continue to grow, as will its impact on animal well being.  Think of lab grown leather!

I am well aware that my own positions are contradictory on the subject. I want animal suffering stop, yet I won't stop eating meat. It isn't hypocrisy, because I'm well aware of the contradiction and freely acknowledge it. However, it is my compromise made between many of my deeply held moral convictions and the way of life I have chosen to follow.

This is one area in which I believe advancing science will ultimately resolve the problems for us. We will one day look at the kind of casual cruelty practiced on animals, including even some of those which currently are against the law, but not felonious, and regard them as marks of the days when we were a society deeply infected with mental illness and all too tolerant of that fact.

On a personal note, it's nice to see you looking so happy in the pictures you've been posting lately. Also, I really miss you. You were always a joy to be with. You will always be my friend.

Do I Know You?

A long delayed response from Facebook to a friend who was concerned about a rather sharp remark I made. It was aimed at the person she was quoting, not at her, and I've made that clear. However,  the question still needs answering, just exactly where do I stand?

 Where to start? Well, as I have so so many times, I despise liberals and conservatives both. I refuse to consider myself a liberal. A progressive, yes, but not a liberal.  

Today in many school districts it is so horrible a violation of school rules for a boy to make a gun shape out of his finger that the child is likely to be  suspended or even expelled. In some cases it is apparently against the law because police have been called into the "incident".  This attitude is a direct gift from the liberals to all of America. Criminalizing little boys for acting like normal healthy little boys is the product of diseased minds.  America's war on children is a liberal war on children.  I have no doubt of that.

On the other hand, the conservatives have declared war on just about everyone and everything except the narrow, tiny minority who completely agree with them.

In the 60s and 70s I put most of my effort into condemning the liberal extremists. The Students for a Democratic Society, the protesters who  burned American flags and praised Ho Chi Minh, and all their supporters. I was disgusted by every symbol of Che Guevara I ever saw. Back before my prodigal daughter decided to shun me, I was driving with her and saw Che's face painted on the building. I expressed my disgust. Her response was, "Who?"  That pleased me. This once ubiquitous symbol of left-wing insanity wasn't even recognized by the next generation. That was years ago. His popularity has continued its resurgent rise. That's sad. The only bad thing about Che's death is that it came years too late to save many of his victims.

If you are interested, my political attitude is well expressed by my blog post:

As far as Obamacare or the ACA, it's just about the worst imaginable law possible. It has only one good thing going for it -- It is a big improvement over the way things were before it was passed. That is not to say is a good law. Is a rotten, bad law. But again, it's better than what we had before it passed.  This nation can do much better. We can join every other industrialized, every other wealthy, every other civilized nation, in the world and pass a proper single-payer system. We are the only wealthy, powerful, industrialized, nation that has not done so.

I think of the ACA in terms like this: if a starving man is granted access to all the garbage cans in town, his condition has improved very much. It is certainly better that he has access to all that fresh, not yet rotten garbage, than if he died of starvation. On the other hand, it really could be a lot better than that. Couldn't it?

And  my reference?  Let's just say that while I considerate it harsh, but accurate, I am certain that there are probably millions who, if they heard it, would say it was inflammatory.  To put it another way, this particular man is one of what ever brassy Ann Coulter refers to as "our blacks".

He is a brilliant and gifted neurosurgeon...well, here's a link that expresses my feelings:

For anyone who happens to read this and has encountered my ideas before you will find a lot of repetition contained in this statement. But that's because while I may have said it to you, I haven't said them to everyone.

Anyone interested my positions can take a look at:  Just use the taglines philosophy and politics to get my views in those areas.

So I'm accustomed to liberals considering me a conservative and conservatives considering me a liberal. But I am neither. And I never will be. Both are ideologies. Both require you to have certain shared convictions. If I share convictions with you, is because we happen to agree, not because I know what I'm supposed to believe.  I work very hard to look at the facts. I believe that reality is real. I believe that only a fool refuses to face the facts.  Over the years I've had to give up many a cherished position; positions that were emotionally deeply satisfying to me, but which conflicted with reality. It hurt. But I was true to my beliefs and my philosophy. That was more than adequate compensation for what I lost.

People think I'm crazy when I say that you can be a progressive and be a liberal, or be a progressive and be a moderate, or even be a progressive and be a conservative.  A conservative progressive is someone who believes we should continue moving forward not go back into the past. They just want to go carefully and thoughtfully forward and make sure that what we are doing is the right thing. One example of a person I would regard as a conservative progressive is Pres. Eisenhower.

The reason people are shocked by this concept is that ever since the days of Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party has been driving everyone out of the party who did not agree with their rigid doctrinal declarations. To be a conservative was not sufficient. You had to be a particular kind of extremist conservative, otherwise you were declared a RINO and expelled from the party.  This is made Republican Party more and more a religious organization and less and less a purely political one.

This from the party that considers the left to be "politically correct"!

So that's a summation of who I am. You can't assume anything about where I stand on a position unless you have a good grip on the facts. You can be fairly certain that wherever they lead, I will be there. Other than that? I can only repeat that when I navigate I navigate with the stars which are actually there in the sky. I consider one of the most awful statements the entire history of philosophy to be the comment made by Plato, "If we are to discuss the cosmos we must not look at the stars."


I can't even begin to get into religion. It's enough to say that I am a deeply religious, but--surprise surprise -- a very independent thinker who prefers my God like I prefer my whiskey, straight.

The Times That Try Men's Souls

A Facebook post to my middle girl, whose husband is fighting cancer:

In your grief and struggles, remember, we are with you. 

 When the American Revolution was going badly and many were thinking of just giving up and going home, Thomas Paine wrote the following:

These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

Take those words and realize that these are the times that try your soul and that cancer, like hell, is not easily conquered.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Hanoi Hannity versus George Washington

AKA: Sinners,  the time of judgement is upon you!

Now that Cliven Bundy has shown some of his true colors, many of the very Republicans were so eager to shove their noses up his butt suddenly are even more desperate to declare they have nothing to do with him. Reports indicate that many of the "militiamen" who came rushing to his defense came specifically because they heard about the situation from Sean Hannity of FOXNews. He and Fox and the rest of the seditious party organs of the GOP actively aided in recruiting these thugs who came charging in and rescue the poor "patriotic" Bundy.

Long ago Jane Fonda took a visit to North Vietnam, an incredibly stupid thing to do in the middle of a war, and then famously was shown sitting in an antiaircraft gun wishing that she could shoot down some American airman. From then on she was known as Hanoi Jane.  It took her years to finally apologize for it. To tell you the simple truth, I have never forgiven her. I hated the Vietnam war and was always a bitter opponent of it. But I never blamed the troops were doing their duty to their country. I blamed our feckless government and the dimwitted Americans who kept electing that government into office. Never the troops.

As far as I'm concerned, I must grudgingly accept Fonda's apology because it seems sincere, but I can never let it go completely. She will always be Hanoi Jane to me. From that time on I have never paid money to see one of her movies. It is a point of honor, and I still live by it.

Right wing extremist? Left wing extremist? I condemn you both! Conservative or liberal, you extremists are my political, intellectual, and philosophic enemies. I don't care which side you are coming from, you all look alike in my eyes.  Students for a Democratic Society, Militiamen Patriots, inner-city rappers and Crips and Bloods, all advocating armed resistance to the police in the name of liberty and freedom.  You are all the same to me.

So now we can add to the list. The word Hanoi may seem way out of date but it has emotional power for me and is perfectly applicable in my opinion. Hanoi Hannity has joined Hanoi Jane. Hanoi News formerly known as Fox News has joined her as well. So has Hanoi Rand Paul and the Tea Party, along with most of the GOP.

I will not forget this. And I don't think the rest of America should forget it either.

How bad did it get? Consider the following:

Kevin Williamson of the National Review Online stated that he believes that rancher Bundy is the equivalent of Gandhi and George Washington because they were British subjects who believed that the legal situation was "something deeper and more meaningful".   There are two problems with this, Mr. Williamson, both of which relate to the same issue -- you need to learn a few facts about history.

George Washington and his fellow patriots (the real ones) did everything they could to make peace with the king. Anyone who knows any early American history knows that at the beginning the revolutionaries weren't revolutionary. They respectfully, even obsequiously, requested that their beloved sovereign make peace with them. I haven't noticed Bundy or anyone on the right wing attempting that with our government.

And Gandhi… Gandhi!? The nonviolent, passive resistance leader who abhorred and utterly rejected violence is like Bundy in what way?  Bundy has said he will engage in armed resistance if law-enforcement or military personnel are deployed against it.  Armed resistance?  You mean fighting the U S Army and killing law enforcement officers and American soldiers if you fell the need in order to protect your "rights" to steal public land. Gandhi was a totally non-violent individual. There is no relationship between Gandhi and Mr. Bundy other than the fact they are both human.

And how does Williamson respond to the latest  disgusting behavior on his great hero's part? He continues to excuse it!  He wrote:  "I very strongly suspect that most of the men who died at the Alamo held a great many views that I would find repugnant; we remember them for other reasons."

And, "On April 15, Williamson wrote in defense of Bundy for National Review Online: "Of course the law is against Cliven Bundy. How could it be otherwise? The law was against Mohandas Gandhi, too, when he was tried for sedition."

And as far as Washington goes…I've already put it on record but I guess it bears repetition. During the whiskey rebellion when similar sorts of complaints were raised by citizens who called themselves a patriot militia, Pres. Washington became the first and only US president to personally lead the army into combat-- combat to crush the rebellion. If Washington were here today, Mr. Bundy would be facing George Washington's sword and the army behind it.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch:  Democratic Congressman Stephen Horsford, who represents the Nevada congressional district in which Bundy resides says, "...many people in...the surrounding area... feel terrorized by these armed militia groups. They are not from our community. They are not from Nevada. They're coming here and they actually have set up kind of a military police state where individuals who live in the community have to go to their checkpoint in order to get to their house. 

The militia groups have set up their own checkpoints and so the people who live there actually have to go to those checkpoints to get to their home.

We have people I met with yesterday who told me that their kids can't walk around the corner from their house to their school because there are armed militia in the hills. They tried to go to church on Sunday and there were armed militia in and around the church because Cliven Bundy was there. They want them to leave so that our community can go back to normal.

... What we need first is for these armed militia to leave our state! We need them to leave Nevada, so that we can solve our own land use issues ourselves!  He is a lawbreaker. He is not a hero!"

Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie said, "He knew very well from my position that I felt that the federal government was within their bounds to do what they were doing in regards to the grazing area.  As I explained to Mr. Bundy over two years ago: there's a federal court order. He lost in court…"

So all you people who think Bundy is such a great American patriot who is bravely resisting the federal government's evil actions, let me repeat a few things that have turned out to be happening back there at the wonderful patriotic Bundy Ranch.

Outside gunmen have  come into the town and established an armed military outpost.

Local residents are forced to pass through illegal checkpoints in the presence of armed gunmen in order to get to their own homes.

Parents are afraid to let their children walk to school or play outside because of their fears of the armed militiamen wandering the hills.

When people go to church they are met with armed patriots. That really makes for a wonderful religious experience, doesn't it?

The only thing that surprises me about all of this is that it is been allowed to go so far. Anyone who knows anything about these militiamen and these patriots knows exactly what these people stand for. It amazes me that Americans who say they support our troops also support these groups who actively arm themselves in order to kill our troops if they dare to perform their sworn duty.

So the next time you meet a Republican who says he supports our troops, ask him if he supports Bundy.  Because if a Republican supports Bundy and supports our troops, then he supports our troops, all the way to the bottom of their graves!

Professional Amateurs, Amateur Students

America's bizarre obsession with college and high school athletics continues to puzzle me.  I'm perfectly willing to go along with Aristotle's basic concept of the Golden Mean. You should be strong in body and strong in mind. But that isn't what high school and college athletics are all about.

A tiny percentage of the student body actually engages in these athletic events. It does nothing to increase the physical capacity of what is often as much as 99% of the student body.  One could even argue, quite convincingly, but it actually weakens the student body by encouraging them to become passive spectators of others' physical activities.

At least in the case of basketball and football, there is an explanation. The colleges make a huge amount of money by exploiting the activities of these "student" athletes. In a nation which continually attacks and is highly suspicious of higher education and which  consistently under funds this investment in our future, colleges and universities must seek funding sources where they can.

However, no one is fooled by this unconvincing fa├žade.  We all know the scandals which regularly plague the system are not exceptions.  They are just the cases where the university or college was caught.  Let's just allow them to hire professional athletes and use them appropriately.

I doubt there is anyone who actually believes that student athletes are, for the most part, serious students. There are exceptions, and those young man should be greatly admired, but let's be honest, most of these students are students in name only.

Furthermore, our national habit of labeling athletes as great heroes is deeply disturbing on an entirely different level. As a professional, you are paid millions of dollars to play a game which you love to play. Wow!  How heroic can you get?

When I first heard about this publication, I was disturbed by the idea that another book come out about the Duke University Lacrosse team. I was angry, because I assumed that the matter was going to be raked over the journalistic coals  long after it was settled. The athletes in question were treated badly. They were innocent. The matter was ended.

It turns out that the book is taking a very different viewpoint. It brings up questions about the whole obsession with student athletics and the incredibly bad behavior of college authorities and, because of their permissive attitudes, the athletes in question.

A few facts from the NY Times book review:

One professor described '...some of the athletes as “openly hostile” to intellectual endeavor.'

The author "...reports the astonishing fact that while members of the team amounted to less than 1 percent of the total student body, in the year of the rape case they accounted for 25 percent of the university’s disorderly conduct cases, 50 percent of its noise ordinance violations and one-third of all open-container violations."

Need we say more? Tell a group of impressionable young men that they are great. Say repeatedly that they are above the law. Demonstrate through cover ups that they have the right to misbehave because they are so superior to everyone else. Guess what the results will be?

The answer is American higher education.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Idle Thoughts -- Danish Ham, Is That What's Rotten in Denmark?

Okay, Kid. Here's my guide for you on those issues. Read them over and think about them. Then you can call me and we can discuss them.

Act three scene two what is Claudius's mood as he stops the play. How does Hamlet respond. Has he learned the Claudius is guilty?

So, Hamlet having created his clever attempt to prove that Claudius is guilty, sets up a really awful play. Remember everyone is still in grief. The death of King Hamlet has hurt everyone and caused instability in the kingdom. There are real problems of a political nature which may tear the kingdom apart, an enemy nation is threatening war, and everyone is still in an deep state of emotional distress trying to recover from the death of their loved one. On top of all that, Hamlet has been acting like a madman.

Given the horrible nature of the play, after all it's talking about the death of the king to people whose king has recently died and not only a king but a loved one, it would be surprising if Claudius did not find this emotionally disturbing .  

It is very unlikely, for example, the family that had recently lost a loved into a horrible car accident would immediately rush out to go see a movie which was full of action scenes involving brutal car crashes.

If someone invited this family over to watch a movie and began to show them exactly that type of action, it would be very surprising if at least one of the family members didn't jump up in shock and disgust as the cars began to crash.

In other words, Hamlet saw what he wanted to see. And he interpreted what could be perfectly natural response to a heartless and cruel exploitation of grief into a confession of guilt.

Hamlet interprets what may well be a perfectly normal and healthy reaction into guilt, because guilt is what he is looking for.

It need not even be a reaction of horror at being reminded of a loved one's death. Since Hamlet has been acting so strangely the fact that he has chosen to present this play could be interpreted as a sign that Hamlet has descended into complete madness. If Claudius is innocent, the moment he sees this play may be the moment at which he realizes that Hamlet thinks he is guilty of murder. When a person, innocent or guilty, suddenly realizes that a dangerous madman thinks that he has murdered that madmen's father, even the innocent individual don't usually just sit there and say. "Oh really, how interesting."  He is far more likely to jump up in shock and fear, and even rage.

All that Hamlet has proven is that his play, which he intended to be provocative and emotionally wrenching, was provocative and emotionally wrenching. It proves nothing about anything else, least of all Claudius' guilt.  What is proven by this scene is that Hamlet will take any action as proof because proof is what he really wants.

Act three scene three Claudius's prayer scene. What does he admit? Why can't he ask for forgiveness? Why doesn't Hamlet seek revenge?

Now in privacy where no one else can hear him, Claudius confesses, but only to God, that he has killed his brother. This does not justify any of Hamlet's actions or overreactions. Hamlet has no proof only his passionate need to find proof that the man is guilty.

Strangely enough in Claudius's prayer there is a sign that part of him is still a quite decent human being. He really wants to repent but he recognizes that he is still enjoying the benefits of his crime therefore any such asking for forgiveness a repentance that he offers will be false. He must give up the benefits of the crime if he can really expect to be forgiven by God.  (This mirrors Hamlet's inability to make up his mind.)

This is a point often missed by individuals asking for forgiveness or in the Catholic rite of confession. You need to truly repent the sin in order to be forgiven. It's not enough just to say, "Oh I am sorry. Please forgive me."  Those who say this are not forgiven. The sinner must regret the sin, must repent the sin, must be determined not to benefit from the sin, must be determined not to commit that sin ever again.  Claudius admits to himself and to God that he has not met these standards. Therefore he cannot be forgiven. It remains a blot upon his soul.

Hamlet, not having heard this part of the prayer or any part of it, wants to kill Claudius but cannot because he fears doing so will send Claudius straight to heaven.  This grows out the conviction common among Christians at that time that if you sincerely repent your sins, at that moment you are free of those sins. And Hamlet is upset because if he kills Claudius as he is praying, Claudius will be free of sin and therefore go straight to heaven. On the other hand, he is angry because his father was not killed in prayer. Therefore his father's sins were not forgiven and he had to pay the price for them.

This Christian belief reminds me of Jodo, or Pure Land, Buddhism.  By chanting namu amida Butsu (it has many translations, but all refer in some way to homage to Buddha), one gains salvation and freedom from sin or error.  Some say you only need to do this with a pure heart and true intent once in your life to gain the salvation, others say that you must do it regularly because it can only cleanse the sins or errors you have already committed, not those you make in the future,  which sounds a lot like Christian beliefs to me.

Act IV scene 2 discuss Hamlet's interactions with his mother Gertrude

Before Hamlet even comes to Gertrude who is now frightened for her son's sanity and probably for her own safety, Polonius urges her to be really strict with him with because Polonius thinks this will straighten the young man out. Obviously this is bad advice but it is well-intentioned.

It's not clear exactly what Hamlet wants, but whatever it is, he feels it is urgent that his mother comply. So she is trying to be firm with him while he is planning on being extremely harsh with her.  The results are not surprising.

Hamlet is so cruel and violent toward his mother that she actually cries out in fear that he will attack her. This suggests that Hamlet may think his mother has actually helped murder his father, but as usual in this play, that isn't clear.

Poor old Polonius calls for help and is murdered by Hamlet who thinks he may be Claudius. The horror of the situation seems to completely escape Hamlet.Whether it was his step father-uncle or innocent Polonius, killing someone should be shocking, but it just makes Hamlet even more angry. This suggests that his madness may indeed be true, but doesn't prove it.

So Hamlet in this discussion in which his mother is trying to be firm with him to bring him back in line, quickly turns into a series of atrocities. Hamlet kills innocent Polonius, and shows no regret that he killed the wrong man. He begins talking to a ghost that his mother cannot see. He verbally assaults her with graphic details of her sex life, clearly something no son should ever do to his mother.

From her point of view the evidence is complete and absolute. Her son is a violent maniac. He may kill anyone at any time, including her.

Act four scene three 

Hamlet, confronted by his old friends Rosencrans and Guildenstern and king Claudius, instead of showing any grief for having killed for Polonius adopts an arrogant, nasty, and hateful attitude with a verbal display of wit about death.  He insults the king by,in effect, calling him a corpse fed worm, saying the worm fed the fish and the fish fed the king and thus the worm becomes the king, or at least the King's flesh.

This terrifies the king. To him, it is more evidence that Hamlet is indeed insane and dangerous. That is certainly one interpretation. But Hamlet's attitude also reminds me very strongly the attitude taken by men in combat.

Soldiers often make wild and crude jokes about death and slaughter as a way of handling their own strong feelings. They are human, so they feel horrified by what they have done. In order to make what they have done more acceptable, they turn it into a cruel joke.

For example, a popular song among American troops in Vietnam was sung to the tune of the Camptown Races. The original song was light and amusing. The Vietnam version included the line, "You'll go home in a body bag, do da, do da. You'll go home in a body bag! Oh, do da day!"

Was Hamlet feeling that he had gone to war with his own family and this was his way of handling it? Was he insane? Was he just an insensitive, self-centered little thug? Was he striking out at his stepfather with words because he didn't have the guts to do it with a sword? Make up your own mind. You can justify any of those positions.

Act four scene 4 soliloquy theme, resolution, transformation

The theme is simply Hamlet struggle with himself. He wants to get revenge but he keeps finding reasons not to actually do it. He feels that he isn't accomplishing anything of any real importance,  just surviving like an animal.

He complains that God has made man brilliant but we don't make us of that intelligence and yet then complains that taking time to think things out only allows you to delude yourself.

He resolve his conflicts by looking at the foolishness of an army of men going to invade another country for the single and sole purpose of acquiring some useless land and making a prince able to be proud of himself as a great conqueror. But he is inspired by the fact that the prince at least is taking action. He isn't dithering and blithering and blathering like Hamlet is. The prince actually mounted his horse and is leading the army. He is risking his own death in order to gain a useless and worthless piece of land.

He compares himself to this. He believes that he, Hamlet, has a real reason to risk his life but won't. Yet here is this prince who will risk his life for something that isn't worth it.

This resolves his dilemma. He will act. Better to act and at least be a man than survive like a beastwho accomplishes nothing. Hamlet then is transformed from the I may, I might into the I will, and that is that.

Let me add on a note: Another song popular among American troops in Vietnam was the 12 days of Christmas. Except that it started on the first day of Christmas the VC gave to me. You can imagine where that goes.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

On the Front Lines

I just realized in the midst of a rather harrowing experience for my family that the posts relating to the situation are only seen by a few of my Facebook friends. So, to update the rest of you:

My middle girl lives in Kansas.  She is married to the kindest, gentlest man I've ever met.  He has given very much to her and they are deeply in love.  Not long ago a growth was discovered on one of his lungs.

For those of you who have struggled with cancer I'm sure you know what came after.   Patients can keep informed of every preliminary finding or wait until all the facts are in.  It's a long and terrifying wait, stretched out over weeks of testing.  They chose to know each set of test results as they came in, rather than remaining in ignorance until the final diagnosis. It ran something like this:

It might be benign or it might might be cancerous. We need more tests.

The preliminary results of the first tests indicate that it probably is cancer but we hope we caught it in the early stages. We need more tests.

The tests confirm that it is cancer but they are not conclusive as to the exact type or prognosis. We need more tests.

It is a very dangerous form of cancer called squamous cell lung cancer. It appears to be at a more advanced stage that we originally thought but...We need more tests

The current test results indicate it is likely to be at an extremely advanced stage which may have metastasized and may be already untreatable. But we can't be certain of this until all the doctors involved meet together and study all the test results.  We will have a final answer in a few days. In spite of the urgency, this can not be rushed. The team must study all the data very carefully and very thoroughly to ensure that we finally have the correct diagnosis.

Final diagnosis. It is in a more advanced stage than we originally believed, but not as advanced as we feared.  That makes it extremely dangerous, but treatable. Both chemotherapy and radiation are indicated.  Treatment will begin next week.  

This type of cancer is not predictable. Some patients respond very well to treatment and recover surprisingly quickly. Others do not. Only time can give us the answer.

Support has been freely given.  We are all grateful and determined to fight the good fight.  If you believe in prayer, pray hard.  If you do not, think good thoughts.  Both are welcome.

Idle Thoughts --Hamlet, Oedipus, and the Order of One

So what did you learn from your literature survey especially from Oedipus and Hamlet?  You're not sure where to start or how to focus it?  Based on our conversations as you took the course, I think you should consider including the following in your response:

One thing that comes through in any study of literature, but especially when you're focusing on those tragedies, is just how hard we humans struggle. We try to find a little control in our lives, a little security, yet, whatever we can build can be swept away in a moment by forces completely beyond our control.

Living is just a game of chance. Every day we make bets and take gambles. We do the best we can, we make decisions we think will result in rewards, not damage, and when we make a mistake there's no way to go back and change it. And of course, it isn't really a game. The stakes can be life itself.

That isn't to say we have no control at all. Things aren't purely random. Good choices do tend to result in safer outcomes. But then again, sometimes they don't.

I don't know how much national coverage there has been on that bus accident recently. As far as we can tell right now, the bus driver was doing everything right and certainly the students in the bus were also following the rules. But somehow the driver of the semi truck lost control and smashed into the bus. Through no fault of their own the driver and passengers suddenly found themselves fighting for their lives.

Look at poor Oedipus. He did everything right. He left his father and mother and moved to a strange country so the evil prophecy couldn't come true. He had no way of knowing that they weren't his real mother and father and that by staying home he could have prevented the disaster he was desperately trying to avoid.

And Hamlet teaches us that we may never be able to really know the truth. Was he insane to begin with? Did his pretending to be insane lead him to actually become lose his mind? Did Ophelia kill herself or was it an accident? There are no clear and simple answers. Frankly, life is a great big mess.

However, the tragedies don't need to lead us into despair. There certainly are things that these people could have done to make things better.  Although the point of Oedipus was that you are trapped by your fate, we don't accept that in this era.  From our point of view, if Oedipus had not been such a vicious, brutal man who became a king by murdering a stranger and then forcing that man's widow to marry him, the prophecy would have been averted. Again, that's not how the Greeks felt things could have gone, but it certainly makes sense to us today.

There can be no doubt that Hamlet had many, many choices. Time after time, he made the worst possible choice. Part of this was because he believed the worst possible interpretation of the few facts he had at hand. In spite of all the long soliloquies it's clear that Hamlet was not thinking very clearly or very carefully. He let his emotions take charge and run wild with him.  Then he talked himself into doing the worst possible thing.

This is in contrast to Oedipus who tried to think things out very carefully and found that even logic failed him.

For us, for you, in your daily life, especially in the struggle you are now facing, these tragedies might make you feel ready to just give up in despair. But however rough life can be, it's not likely to be as bad as those tragedies.

The best thing we can do is to do our best. When there are good moments to enjoy, enjoy them to the fullest. When bad times come, work hard to get through them and then put them in the past and don't dwell on them.  Instead, take the time to enjoy what you have now. Whatever it is, good or bad, it will not last. Enjoy the good and stretch it out as long as you can. Endure the bad and make it as short and as rare as possible.

I'm not sure if this is helpful, but it is very important to me that I engage in a set of rituals that I have established for myself. However I feel, good or bad, I almost always do these things every day. They provide a framework for me in the midst of all the craziness that Oedipus and Hamlet and all the rest of us have to suffer.  

First, at sundown I respect the child I was and I play taps on my pan flute. On air bases around the country and in Germany, this gave me an achor point.  It still does.  It also ties me to my father, so long lost to me.  Sometimes I play it surprisingly well. Other times I can barely get it to sound properly or I get the timing way off. But I do it every day, unless I am sound asleep at sundown or too sick to get up. And however sick I am, I usually manage to at least do taps.

After that I sing the lyrics to myself and to God. To God, because all of these things I do are religious observances. Monks and friars have orders that they follow. They're different for each order (Franciscan vs Jesuit).  They are called (surprise, surprise) the Rules of the Franciscan Order or the Rules of the Jesuit Order.

I'm certainly no monk or friar but I do have rules for my order of one. Just me, but they're my rules and I follow them devoutly.

Since taps is  at sundown, it is quickly followed by the next observance, also in recognition of the child I was. The first star I see in the night sky gets the old starlight, star bright treatment except that now instead of a wish as I made when I was a child, I pray.

That's twice every day that I say a prayer. And I do pray thoughtfully and carefully. It is also part of my meditation which is so important to me. There are two other times I also make a point of always praying.  I have a prayer and a ritual I follow every time I light incense. I like incense for itself, but when I light it, it is always with prayer.

I also pray every time I hear a siren. Whether it's police or fire is not important. The point is that someone is in trouble and someone else is rushing to give aid. Considering how close we are to the hospital that happens several times a day.

To bring this back to your class, this gives me a pattern. This gives me a structure. This gives me time to pray and meditate even when I might otherwise forget.

In a difficult and unpredictable world were terrible things happen even to ordinary folk, even to those of us who are not  the King of Thebes or the Prince of Denmark, these things give me comfort and strength. They also ensure that I take time to calm myself and to clear my mind so that I CAN pray and meditate. This helps me to think clearly, which helps me to deal with the troubles of the day.

It also helps me deal with the joys of the day. To appreciate them even more and to feel the closeness of God.

I'm not sure what else to say right now. I hope this helps. Call me if you need more. I love you both.  Be well.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Big Bang Theory Meets String Theory

I just finished watching the most recent Big Bang theory episode. The central theme is that Sheldon decides to give up his search for proof of the superstring Theory of Everything because it is unprovable. While this criticism has been steadily leveled against the theory, I have always noted that just because a theory cannot be tested now does not mean that it cannot be tested sometime in the future as technology develops. For example, there was a time when atomic theory could not be proven. That time passed.

Naturally, this does not mean that if a theory cannot be tested now it will inevitably be proven in the future. The theory of the luminiferous ether, when it finally could be tested, was proven to be false.

In fact, Sheldon surely would have been aware that there have been recent developments in a number of areas which offer hope that string theory can in fact be tested. This would end the primary objection which has been raised by conservative physicists.

I did note with some amusement that loop quantum gravity came up again. Naturally, as a former string theorist, Sheldon could not possibly accept that as an alternative. See my earlier post:

Back to possible proofs. A very quick look at the Internet revealed the following:

Yet inspired by Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton, Towson University scientists say that precise measurements of the positions of solar-system bodies could reveal very slight discrepancies in what is predicted by the theory of general relativity and the equivalence principle, or establish new upper limits for measuring the effects of string theory.

Read more at:

“If experiments prove that our predictions about quantum entanglement are correct, this will demonstrate that string theory ‘works’ to predict the behavior of entangled quantum systems,” said Professor Mike Duff, lead author of the study.

Read more:

Actually, we may already have our first evidence that can lead us toward confirming supersymmetry, with the potential discovery of the Higgs boson.

(Supersymmetry is an essential part of string theory. It is possible to conceive of supersymmetry without string theory being confirmed. However, it is not possible to conceive of string theory without supersymmetry being confirmed.)