Friday, December 30, 2011

Everything In the Medicine Cabinet Is Available

in book form. If you're interested in buying a copy, click the link below:

 


I think I've put all of my best pieces in this collection. If you buy it, I hope you like it. Let me know what you think either way.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

'I Celebrate Myself, and Sing Myself'

“Each person who ever was or is or will be has a song. It isn’t a song that anybody else wrote. It has its own melody, it has its own words. Very few people get to sing their own song. Most of us fear that we cannot do it justice with our voices, or that our words are too foolish or too honest, or too odd. So people live their songs instead.”

- Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Newt Gingrich Sums Up Ron Paul Concisely.

"Gingrich said Paul's "total record of systemic avoidance of reality" makes him unthinkable as a president."

Right on. I know Paul is a fetish candidate for certain segments of our population to whom 'passionate' is the default p.c. way to refer to their and their dear leader's nuttiness, but Ron Paul is a terrible candidate for president. If you have any interest in protecting America & Democracy on a global scale, or would like to prevent America from falling into a serfdom, you shouldn't vote for Ron Paul. He is that crazy customer at the coffee shop who comes in daily to talk deeply to you about the very narrow slice of history and philosophy he has internalized, reconnecting all thoughts to his very specific belief system, all the while spraying your sweater with bits of moist scone and flecks of cappuccino foam.

Ron Paul should be annoying and entertaining Starbucks baristas somewhere. He shouldn't be in charge of the nuclear weapons (not that he'd ever have the nerve to use them).

Monday, December 26, 2011

On Evil

Today, I heard someone refer to a film as 'evil'. After recovering from the jealousy I feel whenever someone sees something that I have not created as sufficiently harmful to the social and spiritual fabric of mankind to call evil, I became a little perplexed. And then I was offended, because the film in question wasn't evil by any stretch of the imagination. It was slightly irreverent, a little bawdy, and contained a few favorable references to Satan. All in all, a good family film. Not high brow, but definitely not evil.

It's been so long since I've heard someone refer to some pop-culture trinket as evil that I am shocked and amused to remember that this is the mindset of some folks. In a world where people starve to death not long after birth, where dictators crush democratic movements, where children are taught not to question authority, where people mutilate the genitals of infants at the behest of ancient crime anthologies, there are individuals out there who lose sleep over Harold & Kumar's latest hijinx.

They say that the smartest thing Satan ever did was to convince people that he doesn't exist. As a person who looks favorably upon Satan in general, I think this move was probably just good self defense. If the plebians who believe Lady Gaga has been sent to corrupt the souls of our young ever got wind of such a sophisticated and moral being, they would undoubtedly tear him limb from limb, or crucify him, just like they have done to all of our truly original thinkers. But there's something to this idea though: if you ask me, the greatest evils in this world are the evils Charles Dickens warned us about in A Christmas Carol: Ignorance & Want. Ignorance of the true extent of our human freedom--from gods, leaders, parents, authorities, traditions--ignorance of each other that leads to tribal thinking and insular protectionism. And then there's the want. Want of education, housing, healthcare, a steady food supply, access to the arts and other culturally enriching treasures. Want of justice. Want of equality. These are the real evils.

As long as there are people out there who think their ears are too precious to be defiled with 'swear words' and ideas that challenge their personally preferred paradigms--and think that the naked human body is the most vile type of blasphemy--the real evils of the world will continue on unchecked.

If the devil is the same kind of vulgarian as many of the people who believe in him seem to be, then his best idea wasn't to convince the world that he didn't exist, but to distract it with something shiny.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Everything In The Medicine Cabinet Will Be Published

I am going to self-publish a collection of my favorite stories, poems, and essays from this blog some time in 2012. Below is the introduction for the book version of Everything In The Medicine Cabinet Has Expired:

This book is a snapshot of my mind and things that happened to me between 2007 and 2012. I think the reason I have resisted self-publication for so long is vanity; If I was ever to be published, I wanted it to be 'legit', i.e., paid for.

But I don't care about that anymore. Life has a way of beating vanity out of you if you don't abandon it willingly.

I'm publishing this book mainly for my wife and children, and the people who have cared for me as a record, so they can visit me--in a way--after I am dead. The specter of being murdered, dying in a terrible car crash, or having my heart suddenly explode in my chest is ever looming, so I thought I should get down to business putting this thing together.

Mainly I'm publishing it for my sons, Spencer, Jack, and Langston. Fathers have a strange effect on their sons, and I thought that if my kids had a record of where I was at emotionally and mentally during their formative years it might help them to understand themselves better at some future moment. I hardly trust myself to give an objective account of my mindset and motives at some future date--the tendency to rationalize and justify is strong--so better to capture it all now.

If I can preserve a few copies for Abby & the kids, and maybe sell enough copies to friends and family to make up the cost of publishing, I will consider this book a success.

-Spencer Troxell, December 20th, 2011.

That's it. I'll let you know when I've got it all together. I assume I'll use a venue like lulu or something.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Moving Into a World Without Hitchens

"We barely got our trousers off" ~ Christopher Hitchens.

I'm not inclined to turn public figures into heroes, because I think it dehumanizes them and also removes the impetus from us to try to do great and good things ourselves. We don't have the whole picture of what public figures are like. Even they probably don't have that. What we have is our perceptions, and the recorded perceptions of others.

Many people share many of my perceptions of Christopher Hitchens. I'm sure there are loads of pre-written obituaries being tinkered with and published today. I don't know how many of them I'm going to read, but I'm sure most of the positive ones will notice (and try to subtly equal or outdo) his eloquence and rhetorical skills. Many people will hail him as an important journalist, and a champion of reason and democracy. Some will also relish capturing every idiosyncracy he possessed, and will celebrate his death.

Before he began writing and talking about his atheism, he amused me. After he began writing and talking about his atheism, he inspired me. I began to look into some of his other thoughts a little closer, and found some I liked and some I didn't. I usually had a good time reading anything he wrote about. His most superficial public persona was entertaining, but the more you watched him and read him, the more you saw his essential honesty and humanity. In public he was a passionate defender and believer in human freedom, an epicurean spirit who threw himself into the wonderful carnal aspects of life, and ultimately a deeply moral man. I got a shiver when in a debate he said that if a god asked him to kill his children to please the divine will he would respond with a heartfelt 'fuck you'. I appreciated the moment in another debate where he said to a person in the religion profession who stated he didn't think he'd be a very good person if there wasn't a god, 'don't give up on yourself so easily'. I loved how frankly he talked about dying. I took great comfort in seeing the issue approached without any sugar coating, and with great humanity and reflection. Death is something that I think about a lot, and in Christopher Hitchens I can refer to a person who took it seriously, and didn't move towards it with any blinders on.

Hitchens didn't believe in an afterlife. Neither do I. He is gone, and he'll never make an original statement again. We have his writings and various recorded appearances, but it's not the same. He's dead.

But if it turns out that Hitchens and I are wrong and there is an afterlife, then let me say this: Mr. Hitchens, I'll see you in hell. If it exists it's full of all of the people I have ever loved and admired while on this Earth, so it can't be such a bad place after all.


this was posted in the comment section over at Why Evolution Is True:

Monday, December 12, 2011

Not Dead.

Just busy.

Unfortunately, no one pays me to write these blog posts, so it's something I have to do in my leisure time. Right now there's not a lot of leisure time.

I hope to be back at it soon.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Horrible Possibility

“In the midst of great tragedy, there is always the horrible possibility that something terribly funny will happen.” ~ Phillip K. Dick

via Neil Gaiman via things Greater Than Lapsed likes.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Wa Habibi

Kronos Quartet has been scratching an itch for me this winter:



To me, music is intimately tied to seasons. In the Autumn, it's folk music and smokey sounding jazz. As winter approaches, give me strings. Maybe a little piano. I want sincerity and intensity when there's snow on the ground, maybe punctuated by a little awe.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On Guilt

"But never did Henry, as he thought he did,
end anyone and hacks her body up
and hide the pieces, where they may be found.
He knows: he went over everyone, & nobody's missing.
Often he reckons, in the dawn, them up.
Nobody is ever missing." ~John Berryman, from Dream Song 29

Originally I was going to call this piece 'On Christian Guilt', but then I realized that would be somewhat disingenuous. Even if you can put an interesting spin on the kind of guilt Christians experience (they are guilty for the wrongful execution of their deliverer, thousands of years before they were born), we all experience guilt. There is some kind of crucifixion--real or imagined--hanging over everyone's head.

And I harp on the Christians too much. I harp on them like a person in recovery harps on people who are still 'stuck in the lifestyle'. The harping is incessant, and probably misplaced, but it's done--at least 25% of it--in love and concern.

There is a pressure to live right. Or if not right, then at least authentically. To live right & authentically would take a true feat of skill and attention, so maybe the only thing we can really aim for is to live attentively. But even that is hard, because we tend to want to fall into a rhythm. In this regard, maybe music is our worst and most beautiful enemy.

Isn't that what the Buddhists want us to do? To disappear into the process, to become one with the ebb & flow of life? Don't they want us to be just one small motion in a great dance, each of us amounting to the twitch of a muscle or the falling of an eyelash? Can we have it both ways?

Surely there are some of us who feel guilty but aren't guilty, and some who are guilty and do not feel guilty, and some who feel guilty and are guilty, and some who don't feel guilty and are not guilty. Regardless of whether we actually have free will, we feel like we have it, so it bothers us when things don't line up the way we want them to. It makes us feel guilty when we look back on our past and see how badly we've behaved. Anybody with any kind of aspirations to an ideal state is going to be constantly disappointed in themselves. Anybody who's ever known anyone who has committed suicide is going to have plenty of 'what if' questions to ask themselves, and none of us will ever get any rest over it. I don't know if we should want to, really, although maybe it would be nice to take a break every now and then.

Grief is the dirt under the fingernails life. Grief is the understanding that something has gone wrong, and--for me at least--guilt is the result of feeling that more could have been done.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sin Boldly...Or At Least Be Able To

"Provided that we can keep a young man's will and appetites under control,let us boldly make him used to all nations and all countries, to irregularity and excess, if need be. In his practice he should follow custom. He should be able to do everything, but only like doing what is good. Even philosophers do not find it praiseworthy in Callisthenes that he forfeited the favor of his master, Alexander the Great, by refusing to keep with him in drinking. He should laugh and sport and debauch himself with his prince. Even in his debauches I would have him surpass his companions in vigor and persistency, and refrain from evil-doing not from lack of strength or skill, but only from lack of inclination. 'There is a great difference between a man who does not want to sin and one who does not know how to'." ~ Montaigne, from his essay On the Education Of Children

Saturday, December 3, 2011

There Are Other Fish In The Sandbox (Romantic Advice For a 6 Year Old Boy)

My son Jack is an amorous young man. He is very interested in the ladies. Once during pre-school recess, he made a bouquet of flowers for a little girl in his class, got down on a knee and proposed to her. He shows a lot of interest in all of his little girlfriends; holding their hands, practicing active listening, etc. I am half impressed and half terrified by this disposition.

When I picked Jack up from school the other day, he seemed a little down. 'What's up, buddy?' I said. 'My girlfriend broke up with me today', he said.

'Oh!' I said. 'That's too bad. What happened?'

'She said we're broke up'.

'Well', I said, 'There are other fish in the sea'.

'I'm confused by your fishing metaphors'. Piped in Spencer, my 10 year old.

'What that means,' I said, 'is that there are other girls in the sea. And the best way to to turn one of them into your girlfriend is to dangle a worm in front of their face'.

Spencer laughed. 'For some reason I don't think that will work'.

'It has always worked for me'. I said. I patted Jack on the shoulder. 'Don't be too upset about this. She's the one who's losing out, really. You're a cool dude. You don't need a girlfriend to be happy. Besides, you've got to be happy to be by yourself before you can be happy being with someone else'.

I'm not sure that last sentence made much sense to either me or Jack. I have a bad habit of trying to fill empty space with wise words, especially when I don't know what to say. Cliches pour from my mouth when my kids are struggling with something that I don't have the answer to.

Kid: Dad, I miss our pet bunny. I wish it hadn't died.
Me: a bird in hand is worth two in the bush.

Kid: What happens when we die?
Me: Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

Kid: What is a eukaryote?
Me: A just man is like a tree planted by a stream.

I'm glad to have my little Don Juan, I just hope he doesn't turn me into a grandfather by the time he's in 6th grade.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When I Get Dry, I Go Back To The Well

“...the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!” ~ Jack Kerouac
Am I too old to still be drawing inspiration from Jack Kerouac? I still draw inspiration from Dr. Seuss too. And Kurt Vonnegut. Whatever heals over that raw and urgent feeling you have in youth must have short-circuited in me, because I'm still wide open.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Newt

"He's being rewarded for thinking" ~ Bill Clinton, on why he thinks Newt Gingrich is enjoying a surge in the polls

Newt & I have some core disagreements. Our main area of departure revolves around what we want (and don't want) from the welfare state. In my view, the welfare state is the philosophical linchpin of a working democracy, and the bedrock of a fully functioning capitalist system. To Newt, it is a wasteful system that incentivizes failure and dependency.

I think his view has merit, because certain aspects of the welfare state don't work. Where we disagree is that I think they can work, and I think Newt is mistaking one aspect of the larger system for the whole.

But--of all the Republican contenders--Newt is the one I respect the most. In him I see a fellow nerd & thinker. I see an idealist and pragmatist. While it is highly unlikely that he will receive my vote, I think the Republican party and republican voters would be doing themselves a disservice not to choose him as their candidate. He's the only one among them who is fit to challenge President Obama in the general election, and the only one with a troubleshooting mentality that can win independent votes. I believe Gingrich--like Obama--sees himself as bigger than the party he works within, and would be able as President to think outside the box in a way a candidate too beholden to the party would not be able to.

I don't have anything to say about the so-called baggage that Newt carries around re: his previous marriages or various consultation jobs with different companies. If you'll remember, I'm the guy who defended Anthony Weiner to the end; if you can't beat them on ideas, you don't deserve to win. Newt is someone I'd like to beat on ideas. I hope he wins the primary.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Why Live?

Qualia Soup put this video out last year, but I thought it might serve as an appropriate sidebar for that 'what's the point of it all' post I wrote a couple of days ago.


I'll tell you a few things I am currently living for.

I'm reading Moby Dick for the first time, and I love it. I don't think I would've gotten it if I had tried to read it earlier in my life. I needed to live a little first; the road to Melville was a long and winding one for me.

My youngest son, Langston, has discovered drumming. He drums on all kinds of surfaces, all over the house. He shakes his little baby-ass when I beat box, and it's adorable.

I love my job. I feel like I'm doing something worthwhile.

I love my wife and my kids. I savor the time I have with them.

Homemade Brand Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip ice cream. It will eventually kill me with diabeetus, but it's wonderful.

Patchouli oil. I love the way it smells. I have a little ritual for applying it that gives me a small pleasure.

Movies are great. Good TV shows are great. The new BBC version of Sherlock Holmes is everything the Guy Ritchie version is not.

Cats. I respect their individualism and self reliance. They've managed to retain their wildness, yet are able to thrive alongside humans. Unlike dogs, cats have not sold out.

I love this time of year. There's something really beautiful about Fall. I love the smell and the feel of it. It's a beautiful time of year. I also like this period now, right before winter. It's kind of austere and there's something vaguely ominous about it. The clouds are all fluffy and heavy, and the cold is moving in. It's exciting.

I enjoy the fight. I enjoy the struggle of life, trying to live it right, and trying to live it honestly. The discomfort that comes from my everyday jihad fills me with vitality. I don't know how long I'm going to be on this planet, but however long or short the time, I want it to be as consequential as possible.

And of course there's the music. To borrow a Joe Zawinul quote from one of Lodo Grdzak's posts:
"Music can do it. It can't save the world, but music can bring something out in a human being. ...Simmer it down a little bit. ...Less volatile. A little friendship in the heart. You know..."
Happy Thanksgiving, y'all. Go boldly forth, and do whatever it is you do on this particular holiday.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Good Parenting Advice

'Anyone can give them answers. They'll get plenty of answers in school. And they'll be tested on them in school. What we give them is an environment where they can question safely.'

That came out of a conversation between the guys at Penny Arcade about talking to your kids about religion.

I would imagine this advice isn't limited to religion alone. All kinds of people have all kinds of ideas. Some of them are good, and some of them are bad, and most people (including us) aren't hesitant to share their ideas with our kids.

A long time ago I realized that the people who go around 'telling it like it is' are often the most full of shit*. If I can teach my kids how to wade through the shit to get to the good stuff--and how to recognize good stuff when they get to it--I think I'll have done a pretty decent job in a key area of parenting. If I can teach them how to wade through my shit as well, I'll have gone above and beyond.

* as someone who spends a lot of time sharing his opinions with folks, maybe I should meditate on that a little bit.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Planes, Trains, & Automobiles

As Thanksgiving approaches, I thought it would be appropriate to share a few scenes from my favorite movie of all time:

"I want a fucking car, right. fucking. now"




"You're going the wrong way! You're going to kill somebody!"



"You wanna hurt me?" A funny movie with a big heart that reveals its depth early:



You'll never beat Kevin Bacon in a race for a taxi cab:



and, the scene that never fails to make me cry:

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Drinking the Mortal Brew: Come Join Our Hopeless Cause

"Some men spend their whole life furnishing for themselves the things proper to life without realizing that at our birth each of us was poured a mortal brew to drink" ~ Epicurus, 30th Vatican Saying.
"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." ~ Samuel Johnson

I have a disease that is eating away my intestines. It has spread to my stomach, created great ulcers, and has the potential to eventually form a cancer that will kill me. I'm sorry to bring it up, but it's a fact. There's often a mild pain in my gut that reminds me that I'm not immortal. I'm thankful for it. I may not die from this specific condition, but I will die somehow; this is a fact that can be forgotten as we carry on with our day-to-day business.

In my best moments, I am always trying to affirm life--always reminding myself to appreciate clouds and bright Autumn leaves and the sight of children playing; but it's impossible to affirm life without factoring in decay. After all, clouds dissipate. Leaves fall, children grow into adults, and adults grow old and die.

It's good to remember death. We are all dying. We are all transitioning. We are short, strange bursts of energy, and we are as alone as we are together. It's humbling to realize that one day all memory of us will be erased. These words, and the handful of people who read them, will be gone. There will be a world that doesn't know Shakespeare. One day, there will be no world at all. While we're alive, we're those brightly burning Autumn leaves.

So, if all of our work amounts to stitches in a great fabric that will one day be unwoven, why work? And if our lights will one day go out, what difference does it make when they go out?

Of all the advice I've received on this issue, I think Albert Camus puts it in the best (and possibly least comforting) way:

"The absurd man will not commit suicide; he wants to live, without relinquishing any of his certainty, without a future, without hope, without illusions ... and without resignation either. He stares at death with passionate attention and this fascination liberates him. He experiences the "divine irresponsibility" of the condemned man"

I guess the reason we keep going on is because we can, as an act of sheer will in a mechanical and impersonal universe. We provide the universe with the personal. Our lights will go out, and we will accept the extinguishing when it comes, but until then we will persist, because we can. And we will do good work because there is nothing else worth doing. If we're all residents of the Titanic, what's the point in pillaging the rooms of rich evacuees and transporting the goods they left behind to our own rooms, which are rapidly filling with icy water? The only thing worth doing is good. We will play our instruments as the ship goes down. We will help others to higher ground while there is higher ground to go to. We will value each other as intensely as we can in this moment, because our last moment is rapidly approaching.



for more posts in this series, click here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Voted

No on Issue 2 (Ohio's infamous Senate Bill 5), No on Issue 3 (tea party backed initiative to allow Ohio to opt out of 'Obamacare'), yes on my school district's levy (because my kids need art, music, and gym, goddammit), and I wrote Hunter S. Thompson in for the board of education. So, if things go the way I want them to, union bosses will be running through the streets naked & insane with power, Ohioans will be stuck with death panels & long lines at the doctor's office, and all of my neighbors will have to pay higher taxes just so my kids can do a little finger painting during school hours.

I have done my civic duty for the day.


PS: you would think death panels would shorten the lines at the doctor's office, but I guess government isn't efficient at anything.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Why Should I Cry For You?

This is a great version of what is easily my favorite Sting song:



Men are brought up in my culture to be very low in emotional intelligence, and when I discovered (around 15 or 16) that Sting wrote this song about his father, I was surprised and intrigued. Lines like 'sometimes I see your face/stars seem to lose their place' aren't written for fathers! We write lines like that for girls that we want to fuck.

In my cultural context, guys aren't supposed to be sentimental about each other. We're not supposed to love one another. Fathers raise their sons to be soldiers, and sons raise their sons to be soldiers. Creatures of mere utility. Like replaceable liners for garbage cans. I know I don't want to raise my children like that, and I know that I can't be reduced to some utilitarian function. I love my boys, and I want them to feel comfortable loving me.

I'm not sure if I'm ready to write this post. Maybe I need some more years on me before I'll be able to make enough sense of this subject to talk about it. Maybe it will never make enough sense to talk about. All I know is that life is short, and there are aspects of it that can be difficult to understand. Our relationships are constantly evolving, and if we don't pay attention to them, they can atrophy.

I'm glad to be a father, whatever that means. I think it's supposed to be a support role. As our father below did, I suspect I'm responsible for sharing some kind of illumination with my children; some kind of hard-won knowledge plucked from the tree of my experience. I think fatherhood is about stories, and games, and openness, and daydreaming; but also discipline, and hard work. Christ, I don't know what the hell I'm talking about.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

October, Cincinnati, 2011

A few snapshots from my 5 day interlude...

the structure at friendship park by the Ohio river:


inside the structure:


getting rid of some unwanted furniture in the fire pit in my backyard:


it's easy to take nice pictures when everything is naturally well lit:


corn maze at Shaw's Farm:


laying on my back on one of the supports on my front porch, looking up. Half sky, half roof:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Some Truth About Kids & Parents

“The more boring a child is, the more the parents, when showing off the child, receive adulation for being good parents — because they have a tame child-creature in their house.” ~ Frank Zappa

Friday, October 21, 2011

New Approach Needed In Care For The Mentally Ill

Check out my piece at the Cincinnati Enquirer.

There is a division in thinking among mental health service providers and civil rights activists that has led to stagnation rather than solutions.

We have advocates for civil liberties who have decided that principle should overcome pragmatism when it comes to involuntary committal and treatment of mentally ill individuals. The threat that untreated severely mentally ill individuals pose to themselves and others is viewed as secondary to the principled assertion that all should be able to self determine. This is the position that is endorsed by law and ethical standards in the United States.

On the other hand we have people who believe that severely mentally ill individuals are incapable of self determination while under the influence of their illness, and should be - in the name of their own well being and the well being of others - able to be committed or forced to receive treatment, so that their ability to self determine can be returned to them.

Both of these positions are principled and can be understood from various vantage points. Protecting the rights of those who are least able to advocate for themselves is a hallmark of the human services and liberal movements and should continue to be so. The principle that underlies the current law and popular thinking is admirable; but it has left a vacuum in care for individuals who are unable to self determine under the burden of their mental health issues.

Cincinnati's Drop Inn Center has a safe shelter for individuals experiencing homelessness to stay in, and - hopefully - to receive further appropriate services. A large portion of the population at the safe shelter could be classified as the "most difficult to serve." These are individuals who are experiencing various degrees of behavioral decline as a function of either substance abuse or mental illness. Among this population is a sub-group of individuals whose behavior is such that - for the safety and peace of mind of other residents of this shelter - they must be asked to leave until they have received treatment that would allow them to function passably within the community.

When these individuals are not in the safe shelter, they are roaming the streets. They're sleeping under bridges, on benches, in doorways, or in the jail house, because their behavior has caused them to break a law that has led to their arrest. It is possible for mental health agencies or police to "put a hold" on a person (requiring police to take them to the hospital for observation for up to 72 hours), but treatment cannot be administered without permission. Often these individuals are released to the street for the cycle to begin again, often only stopping when a severe enough crime is committed to warrant sending them to prison for prolonged periods of time.

This is unacceptable, but the solution to this problem need not be a full reversal of important civil rights victories.

What is needed is a forum. That's what I hope to achieve in my city. A forum where all of the players from all of the human services and civil rights organizations sit down and seek to address this unfortunate - and unintended - consequence of progress.

The solution may be something as simple as an extension of the allowed hold time in the psychiatric ward at the local hospital to the creation of more housing options with wrap-around services for those suffering from severe mental illness. Maybe our governing bodies should direct more funds toward our city's safe shelters so that we can adequately staff them with trained psychiatric staff. Maybe a middle ground can be found on the issue of involuntary committal and treatment. These are just a few ideas.

Whatever the solution is, it won't be discovered in silence. Hopefully by mobilizing a base of concerned service providers and advocates, we can start a discussion that will lead to real solutions for the populations we care for, and the communities we live and work in.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hunter S. Thompson Knew Why The Media Doesn't Work


"The most consistent and ultimately damaging failure of political journalism in America has its roots in the clubby/cocktail personal relationships that inevitably develop between politicians and journalists--in Washington or anywhere else they meet on a day-to-day basis. When professional antagonists become after-hours drinking buddies, they are not likely to turn each other in...especially not for 'minor infractions' of rules that neither side takes seriously; and on the rare occasions when minor infractions suddenly become major, there is panic on both ends." ~ Hunter S. Thompson, p. 194 'The Great Shark Hunt'

That's right. Conflict breeds creation. Sometimes we need to shout and bruise, and get shouted at and bruised. A person without enemies isn't doing anything important.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

October Soundtrack, part 2

1. Bill Frisell, Keep Your Eyes Open



2. Boccherini, Night Music Of the Streets Of Madrid, Opus 30



3. Bright Eyes, We Are Nowhere & It's Now



4. First Aid Kit, Hard Believer



5. David Bowie, All The Young Dudes




6. OK Go, End Love



7. King Curtis, Memphis Soul Stew



8. R.L. Burnside, Shake'Em On Down



9. Medeski, Martin, and Wood, End Of The World



10. John Zorn, Little Bittern



11. Tom Waits, Come On Up To The House

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The History Of My Love Life, part 1



This was my first girlfriend's favorite song. I was in 3rd grade, and she was in 4th grade. She broke up with me because I told some neighbor kids we were going out. The relationship lasted for about a week in the summertime, and the high point was when we walked down to the 'dead end' (a place on our street where two roads that once connected were divided by a  manufactured hill, some trees, and a big yellow rail) and held hands.

It was later on in the very same summer that this girl and I got into a fist fight on the sidewalk, over something I can't remember. She was tall and lanky, and I was short and pudgy. She ended up on top of me, wailing me as I tried to get back up. My next door neighbor's dad came home from work and yelled at us to cut it out through his car window as he pulled onto our street. She got off me, and I got up, brushed myself off, and said to my neighbor, 'you just saved her a whole lot of trouble'. And he said--with a voice pregnant with sarcasm--'Yeah, it looks like it'.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Why I Still Read Lovecraft (In Spite Of His Racism)



I was going through the 'likes' over at Greater Than Lapsed, and came across the following post from a blog called wtfwhiteprivilege:

"Just so we're clear: Lovecraft's racism doesn't make his work null and void. I just won't be reading any of it.
I think about what it would mean to have his work on my bookshelf. I am not a person of color, but my children will be.

What if they were to find that poem? What if they came to me,

“Mama, look at this. Did you know about this?”

I’m not going to lie to them, yes I did know. I disregarded what this man thought about my children for the sake of art. I knowingly read to them from a book by a person who thought they were sub-human. I hurt my children. Do you really think saying,

“Well, the author’s beliefs are separate from his work” is going to undo that hurt? Really?

Didn’t think so."
I am a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft's writing, and I am a white person (in a relationship with a white woman, with whom I have 3 white children). I am also aware of Lovecraft's racism, and have had to think about whether or not it should be cause not to read him. Although I can sympathize with quotation above, I don't think Lovecraft's racism is a deal breaker; not because I support the view that we should separate artists' biography and psychology from their work--I don't--but because I think H.P. Lovecraft's racism was a byproduct of his mental illness, and what we get when we read Lovecraft is a trip through the mind of a mentally ill man. To me, Lovecraft's work is in it's very essence a manifestation of his psychology and biography.  Anyone who has experienced isolation, fear of 'the other' ( I hate that phrase), paranoia, or morbid fears of any kind should recognize what is truly chilling about Lovecraft's work.

I should clarify that I don't find his work appealing in the voyeuristic way some folks find Wesley Willis appealing; I think Lovecraft was a true artist--not a sideshow act to gawk and laugh at. Through his art, he gave expression to his deepest fears and neuroses, and allows us to experience a taste of them when we read his work. I also believe that Lovecraft used art--as many mentally ill people do--as therapy, and what we witness in his writing is a kind of momentary exorcism.

So his racism doesn't bother me; not because I separate it from his work, but because I understand it in the context of his psychology, and his biography. If I ever had to answer the kind of hypothetical question the writer of the above quote imagined their young bi-racial child asking them, I hope this explanation would suffice.



Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Cinderella Story. Outta Nowhere.


Every Fall I take my kids to Alms Park in Cincinnati to catch leaves as they fall from the trees. The story I used to tell them was that fairies would unhinge the leaves from the trees and ride them down to the ground; if we caught the leaves before they hit the ground, we might also catch a fairy.

Over the years the story part of it has kind of faded away, and we just catch leaves. In this video, we are waiting for the wind to pick up to blow some of them around. Suddenly a leaf comes loose, and an epic race against time and gravity occurs. Not for any real sports fan to miss!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

10.5.11

I love this fucking weather. It's impossible for me to talk about how Fall makes me feel without swearing. It's just a great fucking time of year that makes me feel fucking great.

I sat out on the front porch reading one of Henry Rollins's travel journals, drinking coffee, and listening to birds chirp to each other. Every now and then the wind blows, and because the leaves are all dying they get this rattling sound that I like.

The weather could even get a little cooler and still be to my liking. Since I work at the shelter now, my joy in cool weather is a little tinged by the knowledge that cold weather is not as welcome to citizens who have to sleep out on the streets, or do most of their business outside. Knowledge will do that to you; there's an up and down side to everything.

But I'm excited about the weather because it fills me with energy. I think our city is better prepared to deal with the cold weather this year too; we're going to have a cold shelter open every night, rather than just on the coldest nights. This will be a big boon for citizens who have to sleep outside. It will also be a big boon for the human services, because it will give us a chance to engage folks who we otherwise might not have a chance to engage; everyone will--hopefully--be persuaded to sleep in a shelter, so everyone will be in only a few places; this should make it easier for outreach workers to connect with people, and collect their information so they can help them find appropriate services.

I'm also glad during weather like this that i'm not bogged down with too many obligations outside of work and family. It took me 8 years to get my psych. degree, and I was working full time and going to school (mostly) full time the whole time. It's been two years, but I'm still grateful for my downtime. I want to make the best of it, because people weren't kidding me when they warned me my kids would grow up fast. In the short time that I have, I want to help them enjoy themselves and learn as much as possible.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pascal's Wager: Easy To See Through, Hard To Resist

Pretty much everyone openly admits that Pascal's wager is a lame and cynical path to religious faith. It's cynical in that it assumes God would be impressed by such a hollow kind of endorsement, and it's lame because it's so fearful, and requires no real thought to commit to. For a thorough dismantling of this cop-out, check out my friend Bridget McKinney's piece over at Greater Than Lapsed.

Even though it's pretty much dismissed publicly by anyone with even the smallest shred of sophistication, I submit that privately, it's adhered to quite often, and quite fiercely.

Hell is a scary prospect, and so is the thought of transitioning from a religious orientation to a reason-based orientation (this is particularly true for folks who are making their living in the religion business). Because we all realize that pascal's wager is bullshit, we need to trick ourselves into believing we're not subscribing to it when--in reality--we are. This turns out to be something that humans are particularly good at.

If privately we take Pascal's gambit and publicly declare that our faith is genuine, we still need to take measures to ensure that our case for belief appears feasible, or, if not feasible, then at least impenetrable. This is achieved through religious obscurantism, which is a well documented tool of the faithful.

When you hear really smart people saying very opaque things in defense of their faith, it is by design, conscious or subconscious. It allows them to keep their (conscious or subconscious) investment in pascal's wager.

So since we're all a bunch of gamblers when it gets down to it, I'd like to offer an alternative to all of the folks who publicly (and privately) take Pascal's wager. It's called 'Troxell's Wager', and it goes something like this:

If there's a god, and if that god is good, he/she is not going to send you to hell for unbelief. If there is no god and you don't believe, then you spare yourself the misery of trying to make heads and tails out of a bunch of religious bullshit during your life, and you still won't go to hell. So don't believe in god, and save yourself a lot of trouble.

I think this is as good a proposal as Pascal's, maybe even better, because it frees you up on Sundays.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

October Soundtrack

I prefer to listen to jazz & folk music in Autumn. Below, I've assembled the same collection of music that I'll be listening to in my car for at least the first week or so of the month (October usually yields a handful of soundtracks).

Enjoy.

1. Charles Mingus, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat



2. Dvendra Banhart, At the Hop



3.Laura Veirs, Where Gravity Is Dead



4. Miles Davis, Round About Midnight



5. Happy Apple, Very Small Rock (I'm liking Happy Apple a lot these days)



6. Bonnie Prince Billy, For Every Field There's A Mole



7. Django Reinhardt, Charlston



8. The Bad Plus, 1972 Bronze Medalist



9. Frank Turner, If Ever I Stray



10. Alasdair Roberts, So Bored Was I



11. Morrissey, I'm not Sorry



12. Thelonius Monk, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes



13. Chico Hamilton, The Dealer



14. Morphine, Cure For Pain

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Troll Hunter

was a really good movie. Aside from thoroughly entertaining me and sucking me into the fantasy, it also thoroughly entertained my kids and sucked them into the fantasy. Any movie that inspires my kids to make-believe after it's over is a good movie in my book. Even before it was over, Jack was fashioning a troll-catching device out of an empty diaper box, and Spencer was making plans for an anti-troll lego fort. We turned the back porch light on as well, just to make sure we were protected.

I also liked that you have to be an atheist to fight trolls. They can smell christian blood...



I liked Troll Hunter this much:

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Talking To Friends About God

Since I don't have a new post for you yet, I thought I would update you on the conversation I am having over at The Smoldering Remnants with my friend Steve Perry. Steve tossed out the following questions and statements (paraphrased):

1) Couldn't a god that doesn't do miracles exist?
2) The 'god brain' is good evidence for the existence of god.
3) our personal experience should be considered when tallying evidence for the proposed existence of supernatural beings.

my answers:

re: miracles as a god killer: I can conceive of a god that doesn’t do miracles.

Re: the god brain: That religious feelings arise in our brains should be no surprise; it hardly indicates the existence of god. People experience all kinds of things; I have met people who experience a belief that they have had microchips put in their teeth by the CIA. I’ve met people who thought they were characters from the book of revelations. that they experience these beliefs–and that these beliefs can be traced to certain regions of the brain–does not validate the claim. No extravagant lengths need to be taken to demonstrate that you’re overreaching if you claim the ‘god brain’ to be proof of the existence of god. Religious belief seems to be programmed into many of us by evolution. We look for patterns in the world around us, and as you go back in time, you’ll see mankind attributing more and more agency to things that we now know to be natural phenomenon. The god brain could be an atavism in that regard. Religious belief has certainly been an aid to viability.

re: the validity of experience as evidence: Our experiences shape the way we interpret information for sure, but we need something more impartial to interpret phenomena than that, and we also need a way to remove more apparent conclusions before jumping to less apparent ones. If I get a chill up my spine when I pray, is it more likely that I am in communion with god, or that I have accessed an area of my brain that rewards me with a divine chill when I have certain kinds of thoughts or perform certain kinds of actions? Has the CIA really put a chip in my tooth, or is there a simpler explanation?

I wonder if there is any argument or evidence that would cast doubt on your god-belief, or your acceptance of christianity as the true expression of what that god wants from you. Is there something that someone could say to you that would make you say, ‘maybe there is no god’, or would the appearance of such an argument lead you to to believe that your truth detection device wasn’t ‘big’ enough, because it could no longer support god?

Regarding things like the supernatural, we have limited means of confirmation. Things like gods, ghosts, esp, extraterrestrials, etc. may exist, we just don’t have means to confirm them. I may know that extraterrestrials are real because I’ve been abducted, but I can’t expect you to accept that if I don’t have some kind evidence to show you. You may have all the respect in the world for me, and think that I’m generally very solid, but is it more likely that I was abducted, or that I had some kind of realistic dream or hallucination, or maybe an underlying mental health issue? Or maybe I’m just lying–possibly to myself as well as you–to validate some kind of wish or hope I have? Even when I was a christian, I knew that the only good argument for belief wasn’t really a good argument; it was the fideistic ‘I believe this crazy thing for some reason. Maybe I’m nuts, but I believe it’. Faith, with a shrug of the shoulders. It puts the believer in a very vulnerable spot, but It’s the argument for belief that I have the most respect for now. It eschews the obscurantism of modern theology, and it doesn’t take a PHD to make the statement. I think it’s wrong, sure, but I think it’s the most honest and humble approach to belief in god.

Cross posted at Daily Kos

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Guy With The Sign


Don't get me wrong: I'm glad this guy has a job.

But, whenever I see one of these guys on the side of the road (there's a guy who puts a little extra verve into his act--swinging his sign around, pointing at cars and singing--at a mini-mall near my house), I become uncomfortable.

I never even notice what they're advertising because two thoughts rush to my mind when I see them:

1) I could never do that.

2) I wonder how that person feels about what they're doing.

I also wonder what the companies and franchise owners think they're accomplishing when they hire people to hold signs. I see more and more roadside sign holders in my area of Cincinnati, so I would guess there was some value in it for the companies. It's just vaguely creepy to me. Something about it seems exploitative, and I have a hard time imagining a person whose ambition in life is to do a job where their biggest competition for promotion is a yard post.

But what do I know?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

On Properly Expansive Gods

An old friend of mine recently suggested that I didn't allow myself to develop an expansive enough view of god, and that's why I turned to atheism.

If you read my writing on the subject, you may see me combating a pretty fundamentalist version of god quite often, because that's the god I grew up with; but I think the god I ended up with was pretty expansive, as far as those things go. I was reading Paul Tillich and Phillip Yancey and Thomas Merton, and was pretty sure they were onto something. The god I have now (none at all) is--if you ask me--even more expansive.

I get accused of not getting Jesus fairly often now that he and I are no longer hanging out. That's okay, because I think I understand the reason people feel compelled to accuse me of that. It's the same thing Job's friends did to him. It can't be God's fault. Somehow, there has to be something deficient in me; either I never saw the real Jesus, or I have hardened my heart to him. Christians can't entertain the thought that the real Jesus wasn't that great, or that he wasn't god.

but I disagree. Jesus was okay, I think, but definitely not god. God may exist, but he's definitely not tipping his hand. I think it's interesting that the most expansive comment I've ever heard made about God was issued from one of the most famous atheists around:

"If there is a God, it's going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed."

That's Richard Dawkins, right there. Talk about expansive!

I'm accused of having too shallow a notion of what god can be, but I'm not the one always making claims about god's nature. I don't know if there's a god. I doubt it, but I don't know. I definitely don't believe in any of the gods I've been told about by religion and the religious (or those who are not religious but have a personal relationship with god). But if there is a god, I'm sticking with Dawkins. Too big for us to understand, and obviously not interested in what we think about it. Definitely not so small as to require our constant adulation, or to make threats of eternal damnation if we don't fully surrender our will to it.

I feel like if there is a god, I give that god a lot of credit, and definitely a lot of latitude. I think most atheists do. If I were god, I would prefer that. But, of course, I'm not God, so who knows what such a being would want (if such a being exists). Certainly not me. Certainly not you.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

In Our Own Image

 Discover Magazine has a good piece about those who think they can discern the will of god. It's called Creating God In One's Own Image.

Excerpt:

"For many religious people, the popular question “ What would Jesus do?” is essentially the same as “What would I do?” That’s the message from an intriguing and controversial new study by Nicholas Epley from the University of Chicago. Through a combination of surveys, psychological manipulation and brain-scanning, he has found that when religious Americans try to infer the will of God, they mainly draw on their own personal beliefs.

Psychological studies have found that people are always a tad egocentric when considering other people’s mindsets. They use their own beliefs as a starting point, which colours their final conclusions. Epley found that the same process happens, and then some, when people try and divine the mind of God.  Their opinions on God’s attitudes on important social issues closely mirror their own beliefs. If their own attitudes change, so do their perceptions of what God thinks. They even use the same parts of their brain when considering God’s will and their own opinions."

It makes sense that if we project a lot while interpreting where real people are at (people who often are able to clear up any misconceptions we have about their position), that we would do so even more when interpreting the mind of a being that no one can honestly say exists. You can imagine how misinterpreting the position of another person may go either way re: personal fortune (imagining your parents like you the best versus thinking the guy planning to rob you in an alley is really only approaching you to solicit a donation to NPR), but interpreting the will of an all powerful being that a majority of your fellow citizens have been cowed (or cowed themselves) into believing could be very beneficial. Also, the amount of internal calm that is created when you know you are only trying 'to do god's will' can't be underestimated. Without having a God standing behind our moral suspicions and decisions, we're just humans trying to muddle through. Our positions suddenly become so...revisable.

Life requires us to make some tough decisions sometimes. Imagining that we are only trying to follow orders can allow us to make tough decisions fast without getting trapped trying to hash out the nuances of certain situations. This is clearly one of the more adaptable qualities of religion.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Songs About Recovery

One of the great and surprising things about being in recovery is how much it unites you with people who have had the same experience.

When I read Richard Lewis's The Other Great Depression,  I felt like I was reading about myself. When I watch Craig Furguson talk about his alcoholism on Late Night, I feel like I'm watching myself talk about my own past. When I listen to Brad Roberts sing It'll Never Leave You Alone, I know exactly what he's talking about.

The Vistas and connections that recovery opens up are amazing. Addiction is a terrible thing, but coming out of the other side of it in fighting shape, and seeing so many people fighting and winning the same battle (on a day-to-day basis) is a beautiful thing.

That's all. I was listening to Pearl Jam's The Fixer, and felt moved to write this little shout out to all of my brothers and sisters in recovery.

And for folks in recovery who are hesitant to share their testimony; there's no shame in where you're at, and if you're comfortable chiming in, you're voice is welcome in our chorus. It will certainly be appreciated, and you might be surprised by how much recognition you see in other people's faces when you tell your own story.

Craig Furguson on recovery:



Brad Roberts singing about a feeling I'm all too familiar with:

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Orwell Can Still Sting



"But because he identifies himself with the official class, he does possess one thing which 'enlightened' people seldom or never possess, and that is a sense of responsibility. The middle-class left hate him for this quite as much as his cruelty and vulgarity. All left-wing parties in the highly industrialized countries are at bottom a sham, because they make it their business to fight against something which they do not really wish to destroy. They have international aims, and at the same time they struggle to keep up a standard of life with which those aims are incompatible. We all live by robbing Asiatic coolies, and those of us who are 'enlightened' all maintain that those coolies ought to be set free; but our standard of living, and hence our 'enlightenment', demands that the robbery shall continue."
- George Orwell, on Rudyard Kipling's middle-class left critics.

About 10 years ago I bought a collection of Rudyard Kipling's poetry, and the essay that this excerpt comes from introduces the collection. I read it then, but didn't internalize it, and only kind of flipped through the collection. For some reason, I woke up yesterday morning with Kipling's famous 'lesser breeds without the law' line in my head, and went looking for it in the collection. Orwell quotes it at the beginning of his essay, citing it as an example of how Kipling's critics misconstrue him. Kipling was a racist and imperialist in Orwell's view, but the poem that this line comes from is really 'a denunciation of power politics, both British and German'.

I'll be toting my Kipling book around with me for awhile, because the above excerpt really turns me on; Orwell's critique of the middle class left is as true in industrialized nations today as it was when he wrote it. All of us liberals--all of us--if we're not putting our 'queer shoulder to wheel', are as honest as vegetarians who still eat marshmallows. And if we aren't the radicals we claim to be, we should--like Kipling--accept the responsibility of being in the 'official class', and replace our Che posters with posters of President Obama. I have never owned a Che poster, because doing so has always seemed really phony to me, and I've never seen the appeal of Che or any leftist cult figures; if you're looking for an icon for progressive leadership in the real world, Obama's your man. You have principle operating through pragmatism. The results aren't as clean as the kind you get from assassinations and guerrilla warfare, but they are more lasting, and more moral. History has shown that change that is brought about by bloodshed ends in bloodshed. The president is working within the system; although the change is slower, it will be easier to sustain, and will become more robust as it grows.

But the middle class leftist isn't for either form of change: they talk like a devotee of Che, but they consider their social obligation fulfilled by attending an occasional rally. They scoff at President Obama, but they're not stepping in to organize better solutions, or run for office themselves. They free themselves of responsibility, yet retain--at least in their own mind--their righteous 'voice in the wilderness' status.

The liberal member of the ruling class--in a global sense, if you are an American (at least for now) you are a member of the ruling class--is responsible for easing all forms of exploitation, while accepting that they benefit from it. The most progressive Americans of all are still western supremacists, and maybe we should be; There are many western values that are superior. And maybe we can't address global exploitation until we address the exploitation that exists in microcosm within our own borders. Income disparities are enormous. Access to essential resources and services are far from universal. The playing field is not level, so competition is not possible. These are considerations we have to make.

Kipling accepted that he benefited from the exploitation of others, and he understood the responsibility that this entailed. His perceived vulgarity lies in the fact that he celebrated his spoils rather than wrung his hands over them. But what's more vulgar? To look at how a factory farm operates and say, 'yes, it's worth the cost, the meat is delicious', or to look at how a factory farm operates and say, 'oh that's, horrible. Can I get mine with extra bacon?'



Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Epicurean Traffic

Since I have been getting a lot of blog traffic from people googling after Epicurus, I thought I would put the links to all of my little posts about Epicurus's Vatican Sayings in one easy to access spot. The series is called 'Drinking the Mortal Brew', and each piece so far has been named either after a favorite lyric or song title. I'll be continuing this series soon enough.

I. Intro: Epicurus In the Medicine Cabinet

II. You've Got To Tolerate All Those People That You Hate

III. Run On For A Long Time

IV. Send the Pain Below

V. Poor Old Granddad, I Laughed at All His Words

VI. The Future Is No Place To Place Your Better Days

VII. How Do You Afford Your Rock N Roll Lifestyle?

VIII. You Can't Always Get What You Want

to be continued...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Pulling Through & Famous Last Words



So, I have been absolutely miserable for about a month now. Clammy, sweaty skin, a vague, sickly odor following me around. Fatigue. Headache. Sore throat. chest congestion. I went to the doctor thinking it was my annual bout of bronchitis, and I guess my doctor agreed too, because he gave me a z-pack. That one didn't work, so he gave me another one. And then, about 2 days ago, I woke up at about 6 am and felt like I was trying to throw up some gigantic, stretchy, enormous thing that was blocking my air passage. It turned out to be my uvula. My uvula had grown overnight to the size of a grape! It was enormous, and it rested on my tongue and slid down my throat. I went to the hospital.

It turned out it wasn't bronchitis I had, but mono. They shot me up with steroids, told me to eat some ice cream and get some sleep, and I did. I felt much better the next day, and feel better still today. I'm still a little sweaty, and will be sucking on sucrets all day, but at least I know what the deal is. And that uvula thing...that was weird. I've spent my whole life ignoring that thing. I don't like it when organs decide they're not getting enough attention.


We had family movie night last night. We watched The African Queen together. We liked it, although Humphrey Bogart really reminds me of Bugs Bunny in that movie, which makes it a little hard to invest in. Abby & I were talking about the movie as we lay in bed. There was a silence as we kind of drifted off into our own thoughts for a minute, and then I said, 'You know, I don't think Katharine Hepburn was very attractive'. Abby said, 'I don't think that's why they picked her for her roles'. And then I started to fall asleep again; but then it occurred to me; Abby and the kids will be at her family's house all holiday weekend. What if I'm killed by a meteor or escaped tiger this weekend and that's the last thing I ever get to say to her? 'Katharine Hepburn wasn't very attractive'. That's not a good final statement. I told Abby about my problem, and she was nice enough to let me revise my final comment to her for the night. I came up with something much deeper: 'Audrey Hepburn was much more attractive than Katharine Hepburn'.

You can put that on my gravestone.



Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

More Fun Tax Talk

Sam Harris talks about why taxation is necessary:

"Why do we have laws in the first place? To prevent adults from behaving like dangerous children. All laws are coercive and take the following form: do this, and don’t do that, or else. Or else what? Or else men with guns will arrive at your door and take you away to prison. Yes, it would be wonderful if we did not need to be corralled and threatened in this way. And many uses of State power are both silly and harmful (the “war on drugs” being, perhaps, the ultimate instance). But the moment certain strictures are relaxed, people reliably go berserk. And we seem unable to motivate ourselves to make the kinds of investments we should make to create a future worth living in. Even the best of us tend to ignore some of the more obvious threats to our long term security.

For instance, Graham Alison, author of Nuclear Terrorism, thinks there is a greater than 50 percent chance that a nuclear bomb will go off in an American city sometime in the next ten years. (A poll of national security experts commissioned by Senator Richard Lugar in 2005 put the risk at 29 percent.) The amount of money required to secure the stockpiles of weapons and nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union is a pittance compared to the private holdings of the richest Americans. And should even a single incident of nuclear terrorism occur, the rich would likely lose more money in the resulting economic collapse than would have been required to secure the offending materials in the first place.

If private citizens cannot be motivated to allocate the necessary funds to mitigate such problems—as it seems we cannot—the State must do it. The State, however, is broke."

I thought this might be appropriate to share after our conversation in July about the necessity of supporting a robin hood government. What do you guys think? Does Sam nail it, or does he just hate America?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Update

Sorry for not being around for awhile. I have a pretty nasty virus that developed into an upper respiratory infection, and I've been spending all of my downtime in bed sweating my ass off. I'm on my second Z-pack, so hopefully things will clear up soon. I'm bummed because I was hoping to spend the last few weekends I had with the kids before their school starts again exploring local trails and parks, and doing lots of fun stuff, but instead I've been laid up the whole time, and they've been stuck watching movies all day (probably not as much of a downer for them as I imagine).

I have gotten a little reading done, though. I read What Do You Care What Other People Think, by Richard Feynmann, and finished reading Marcus Aurelius's Meditations. Both books were good, although I liked Feynmann's more in the final estimation. Aurelius has some good stuff to say every now and then, but he loses me whenever he gets too whimsical about the Logos. You can also tell he was used to having people listen to him without question, because all of his advice is given in an almost barking tone. Unlike other wisdom writers, he doesn't feel the need to seduce you. He's the emperor, goddammit! You will listen to him. Feynmann was more enjoyable because he just comes off as a real guy. I don't understand physics very well, but the little anecdotes about his experiences are really charming. Feynmann seems like the kind of guy you'd like to hang out with.

I've also slept a lot. That's been nice. Another bummer: yesterday was my 11th wedding anniversary. Our anniversary date consisted of me laying in bed and drinking 7 up while my sainted wife cleaned up the house and took care of me and the kids.

So that's it. Woe is me! If I survive this plague I'll write something for you real soon. If I die, feel free to make use of the archives.

Monday, August 22, 2011

When These Mountains Were The Seashore

by Hawksley Workman.

It's okay if I just use this blog to post awesome songs from now on, right?



This is one of those songs--and albums--that is great to listen to as Autumn approaches; It's got this great, crunchy-leaf feel to it. I'll be listening to it tonight as I work in the backyard.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Resurrection Fern



I used to work at a bookstore, and we would bring CDs from home to listen to on the store speaker system while we unloaded and stocked new books. One day I brought in an Iron & Wine CD and put it on, and this girl that I worked with said, 'oh, you're one of those guys'. She wouldn't explain any further than that what she meant, but apparently knowing that I was a fan of Iron & Wine told her all she needed to know about me.



Thursday, August 18, 2011

Stay Crazy, Rick Perry

That’s just a sensational title. I don’t really think Rick Perry is crazy. I have a thing for the swaggering cowboy persona, actually; maybe because it’s very much not my style.

Whatever the case, he’s my favorite personality in the republican presidential sweepstakes right now. You can just imagine him challenging Newt Gingrich to a duel. That‘s amusing. Not right for president, but fun to watch.

I’m glad he’s in the race now. Partially for the personality, but also for the fire he clearly has in his belly. He wants to be president, and so far, he’s been something of a firebrand. I don’t want him to win the presidency, but I kind of think it might be good if he won the republican nomination. It would create a stark contrast, both personality and policy wise; Cool, moderate, compromising President Obama versus right-wing, secessionist-baiting Governor Perry. Plus, President Obama basically ran against George Bush last time; running against Rick Perry is as close to running against George Bush as he’s going to get.

I would also hope that going up against someone who breaths fire like Perry does might bring out more of the fighter in our generally sober and reasonable commander-in-chief. A plague of liberalism is the tendency to want to sit back and thoughtfully stroke your beard while the world around you is all dried wood, ready to burn. In a climate like this, nothing is more impressive than a liberal leader willing to take it to the street. Maybe Perry can help us bring the fighter in Obama out.

So, I hope Perry wins the nomination (because I know John Huntsman doesn’t have a chance), and I hope he doesn’t work too hard to moderate his tone (like the president recently suggested he do, and the media has suggested he might need to as well, to widen his appeal).

Diplomacy and even-handed analysis didn’t get you where you are, Governor Perry. Don’t take the bait. Stay crazy*! It’s what your supporters want, and it might be just what my candidate needs to secure another 4 years in office.




*I know you're not really crazy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

This Song Puts Goosebumps On My Soul



especially when they get to this part:

"Love it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be.
"

I am grateful for music that makes me want to live up to my human potential.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

'Unless Experience Lasts Forever, It Is Meaningless'

~Sam Harris, paraphrasing the complaint of religious folk who say 'if there is no heaven and hell, there's no point to life'(in a way that the weirdness of their claim becomes apparent) , from his Ask Anything part 2.

The answer to that first question alone was worth the time it took to watch this video. Harris basically highlights the fact that knowing our life has a definite endpoint makes it so much more important to savor the brief moment that we have, and suggests that believing we will live forever dilutes the attention we pay to our life. He brings the absurdity of this position to the surface by comparing life to other things that end; meals. movies. relationships. Are none of these things important since they have an ending? No. They're even more important because of that. An illustration that was particularly resonant with me is where he reminds us that there will be a last time we pick up our children. Not something I think about all the time (ever, actually), but it's true; I haven't carried my 10 year old in awhile. Pretty soon, I won't be able to carry my 6 year old. It will only be a matter of years before I can no longer carry my 7 month old. Harris suggests that by remembering every activity (and even life itself) has a 'last ticket', we are more likely to savor these things, and treat them with adequate respect.

I agree with all of this, and am grateful that Harris put it the way he did. But--from experience--I can add that trading a worldview that has a person living forever and ever for one that only gives us 80 or so years if we're lucky, is not as clear of a trade-off as Dr. Harris depicts. At least it wasn't for me.

I am definitely a better person as an atheist. Living under the illusion that someday we would all be in the kingdom of god together, and all of life's many mysteries would be made clear, allowed me to behave somewhat indulgently towards the people I loved. It was easier to brush off making apologies or explanations, because I could just explain myself to God, and work things out with him knowing that in the end, the other person would come to understand what I understood too. It was also easier to justify inaction in certain instances, for similar reasons. Religious belief comes with it's own struggles (the self loathing of 'if it's good it came from god, and if it's bad it came from me', as well as the insecurity that comes with always straining to make yourself as open and subservient to god as possible), but overall, it's a matter of 'everything will come out in the wash'.

When I was religious, I was living under a general anesthesia of sorts. I would compare it to the person who needs a beer or two to get through the day. I was a little more comfortable, but I was also a little crazier*, and definitely more disconnected.

As I said earlier,I believe I am a better person as an atheist; and a more honest one.

But the price of being free from religious delusion is an occasional increase in anxiety: When you realize that this is the only shot you get, you really want to make sure you do it right. When you realize that it's virtually impossible to always do it right, or to even know if you're doing it close to right half of the time, things can get a little overwhelming.

So I get what Harris's religious questioner was insinuating; freedom is daunting. There is no referee, and there is no after-party. This is fucking it. That's a big pill to swallow.

But, in the end, Harris is right: sobriety can be hard, but the beautiful moments--and knowing that you did your best (at least) most of the time--is worth it. Even if I only live 80 years (or 70 years, or 60 years), at least now I'll be able to say at the end that I was actually there. 60 years of real living beats 100 living under a fog of delusion.

worth watching:



*it's crazy to communicate with invisible people and try to divine their will for your life by reading goose bumps and random turns of events as signs.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

An Open Letter To Penn Jillette: Ask What Your Country Can Do For You (But Also Ask What You Can Do For Your Country)

Dear Penn,

I enjoy your persona. I like the work you do. I think you played a part in softening my hard Christian heart to the beauty of atheism.

I also used to be a libertarian, but I question some of that stuff these days. I’m still a civil libertarian, but I think—economically—it makes an increasing amount of sense to share our resources, you know, for the common good (which ultimately is for our own good).

I watched this Penn Says video awhile ago, and appreciated hearing one of our culturally approved faith statements (…ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.) put under the microscope.



I left that video with a vague sense that I generally agreed with you, although suspected you might have gone off the rails a couple of times.

Recently, a facebook friend of mine posted that famous Kennedy speech as a piece of inspiration on his facebook page, and I thought it would be fun to post your rebuttal beneath his post, partially because I like to agitate people, and partially because I think culturally approved faith statements need to be questioned even more than religion-specific faith statements*.

I watched it again after I posted it, and this time I had some objections.

At one point you say,

‘I don’t think we owe jack shit to our fucking country. I think we owe our time our time our hearts our love our creativity to ourselves, the people we love, and the people of the human race.’

This—like the ‘ask not’ line—sounds good, but what does it mean? Why do you draw a line at helping out your country? Don’t you, the people we love, and a sizable population of ‘the people of the human race’ live in our country? When you help make our country a better place, you are helping to make the world a better place.

You are also creating a safe spot for you and the people you love to grow and be healthy. In essence, what JFK is saying on one level is to take care of all of those things you say you want to take care of. Don’t just sit on the sidelines, don’t just suck up resources and not put anything back into the system, contribute!

If that’s not a libertarian-friendly message, I don’t know what is.

You also boil government down to sheer force. You can think of it that way, sure. Sometimes it is that. Sometimes it has to be that. Oftentimes, government as sheer force is an ugly and evil thing. But it’s not always that.

Government (that works) can also be a tool for its citizens to use to create infrastructure to provide the kind of programs and ready-response to catastrophe that makes it easier for us citizens to do the things we need to do. It’s not here to tell us what to do (although certain representatives of government love to tell people what to do), but to allow us to do what we need to do in a better and more efficient way.

I detail why I think a working welfare state is worth investing in here and here.

So those are the major points of contention. A lot of life boils down to our perspective. I think the best way to look at government is not as some frightful, oppressive machine, but as a tool that we can climb into (we have to be careful), and use to build and sustain things.

Keep being awesome, Penn, and keep challenging our culturally approved faith objects. We could all probably benefit from doing a lot more of that.

Sincerely,

Spencer Troxell


*Why? Because culturally approved faith statements cross the boundaries of nearly all religion-specific faith statements, and are generally totally unopposed in the public sphere. They are assumed to be true by everyone; that makes them more dangerous if they’re false.