Saturday, July 30, 2022
Friday, July 29, 2022
The state of the world, and especially my opinion of the world, even my consideration of my place in the world, are all subjects that I try never to think about. I struggle like the hero in Children of the Damned to build a solid brick wall between myself and such matters. I get results that are mixed.
Just now an old memory came to me. A fifty year old memory. A memory from an age that is well and truly gone. I was driving taxis in New York at the time, and one night after one a.m. I found myself waiting on a taxi line at the terminus of the Seven train in Queens, listening to my radio and leaning on the open window, I guess it was not winter. As the District Attorney said to the witness, “did you see anything unusual?”
Why, yes I did. There was a pretty famous bar across the street. They sold hot dogs boiled in beer, and called themselves an “Oyster Bar.” They did a good business. I heard a commotion, and looked over to see two big white guys dragging a very intoxicated black gentleman by the arms between them. It's a broad street there, and they took him a couple of steps past the curb before they launched him, stumbling, out into the street. He landed right on the double yellow lines marking the lanes.
The man was no kid; he was about sixty years old. Or maybe a hardscrabble fifty-five, or, as things go, sixty-five or more, it being famously difficult to judge the age of individuals belonging to a race other than one's own. He laid there peacefully for a long moment before pushing himself up onto an elbow.
“Motherfuckers,” he said. There was no particular emotion in it, just a simple statement of fact.
“Low-down motherfuckers.” (With a bit more conviction.)
“Dirty, low-down motherfuckers.”
“Filthy, dirty, low-down motherfuckers.” (Anger slowly building.)
“Stinking, filthy dirty, low-down motherfuckers.”
He had slowly worked himself up to a seated position, leaning forward on his knees. He had some wind back in his sails now, as he looked back towards the bar and said forcefully, “pair of no good, stinking, filthy dirty, low-down motherfuckers!”
He found the strength to rise to his feet. He held his arms out slightly, for balance, testing his abilities before attempting to walk. Satisfied that walking would probably work out okay, he looked around a bit to get his bearings and set off up the street. He walked along the double yellow lines until he was well past the bar and then moved to the sidewalk, disappearing into the distance.
It occurs to me that the old man's opinion of the people who tossed him into the street is very close to my opinion of the world, and probably sums up the state of the world as well.
Thursday, July 28, 2022
My oracular faculties are such that I generally limit my opinions to things that are happening now or which have happened already. The result is that I am often blindsided by enormous events that come as a complete surprise to me.
Which is the more difficult challenge: seeing things coming in advance, or knowing that existing things are about to be eliminated?
For an example of the second challenge, I never expected to live to see the collapse of the Soviet Union in my lifetime. I knew that the day would come, but I was ball-parking the date at something like fifty to one hundred years after the actual event. It happened quickly too, when it happened.
Often the things that are coming are masked by larger, seemingly more important events. For example...
Going to the moon was nice, but the real surprise there was the miniaturization of all electronic devices, most notably computers. Up through the 1950s, computers were as big as houses, shrinking only to the size of cargo-vans by the early 1960s. It's been a rapid, amazing ride since then. I'll spare you the details, because they are too squalid. The whole thing has become an unbelievable waste of potential, both machine potential and human potential. All of us now have a computer in our pockets that serves as a vast library of facts and history, a device enabling instant, worldwide communication, and apps for the extent of which you must ask a younger person for an explanation. People use them mostly for exchanging obscure messages containing only photographs and/ or emojis, listening to music, and watching brief, weird videos that are intended to be entertaining.
That's a chain of events that began with JFK's “going to the moon” speech, and has left us in our present decadent situation, culturally and politically.
My first few commercial airplane rides were on equipment that had been designed and prototyped during World War II, driven by propellers, which were powered by piston engines that had been on the drawing boards since before World War II. Ah, the comforting hum of four Pratt and Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engines on a Douglas DC-6. The thrill of trusting your life to four Wright R-3350-23 Duplex Cyclone radials on a Lockheed Constellation! It was easy to see the jets coming. Jets quickly replaced all of those old relics by about 1960. The only really shocking thing about that bit of progress is that it now takes twice as long to get from Los Angeles to New York as it did in 1970. Efficiency, you know, and deregulation. Now you must stop once or twice, get off the plane, and wait between two and four hours to catch another plane. And people hardly complain at all! That's the amazing bit. We really are like cattle. Aim us at some food and water when we need it, and tell us where to go. Moooooo!
The changes are coming ever faster and more furiously.
I really did not see the end of the fifty-year trend of globalization coming. Sixty years ago, if you were watching TV in America, it was on an Admiral TV, or a Sylvania TV, or a Zenith TV. If you were watching TV in Germany, you were watching a Blaupunkt TV, or a Grundig TV. Cars, the same. Also refrigerators, stoves, washing machines, etc. All domestically produced, everywhere. Then, at first, more things were coming from Japan, and by now, everything is made in China. My Panasonic refrigerator and washing machine, and my Mitsubishi air-conditioners, were all made in China. This, in spite of the fact that both companies are Japanese.
All of that was working very well for everybody there for a long time. America, and everywhere else, was getting good products at good prices (made in China), the Chinese were employing all of their available workers, the foreign companies were enjoying the cheap Chinese labor. It was great. Most of the shoes in the world are now made in China or one of a few smaller countries where labor is cheap. Same with shirts, pants, underwear, everything. It's hard to find anything in an American Walmart that was made in America. Your smart phone contains sub-assemblies and raw materials from multiple countries. Your new car carries a famous old British name, but it was designed in Switzerland and made in a factory in Brazil that is owned by a Korean company. All of this was making most countries, most corporations, and many individuals unspeakably rich, and the average Joe didn't worry about it as long as the big-screen TVs remained cheap and very, very nice.
Then, of course, everyone had to go and fuck it up.
China is now leading the march away from globalization. Oh, for the good old days of that wonderful version of Chinese communism driven by the vision of men like Dung Xiaoping, and Cho En Lai. Those men, and others that followed them for twenty or thirty years, lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty and connected China to the entire world through commerce. They also, very hush-hush, used soft-power to expand China's influence around the world and bind developing countries to China by the careful application of debt. They were quietly on their way to taking over the entire world.
They were not angels, those old Commies, but look around! There are no angels, and there never have been any angels! The game is, of course, self-interest. The people that we remember as great heroes are those leaders who applied self-interest in ways that raised no dust and got no one killed!
The new Chinese leaders prefer to shoulder their way to the center of the room and shit on the carpet. They are not making any friends with this approach. If total control of every citizen, at all times, requires the country going it alone in the world, then fuck globalization. Let's start a war!
And Russia? Oye, vey ist mir!
I remember as a boy seeing articles about the USSR in magazines like Life, Look, and the National Geographic. I remember feeling great sympathy for the average people walking down the streets of Moscow, or Novosibirsk or something, wearing shitty clothes, never smiling or looking around, just grinding out their long walk to somewhere, wearing grim expressions and looking at their feet. When I became a teenager, I read more about the Russian people. I discovered that with their family and friends, behind closed doors, they were actually quite animated and friendly. I read jokes about the Soviets, Russian jokes, written by Russians and intended for the Russian audience, and in the jokes I discovered real respect for the Russian people and the deep hope that their burden would be lifted someday. So imagine my joy at the demise of the USSR!
You could see it, too, in the photos of Russian people. They were in the streets, laughing and hugging each other. They seemed to feel a great sense of relief. That feeling did not last very long. By now, they are back under the heel of a new brand of authoritarian bullshit. New bottles; old wine. Their smiles are fading.
Russia is also choosing to disconnect itself from the web of commercial interaction that was globalization. This is especially puzzling, because Russia has nothing to sell but natural resources, and nowhere to sell it but elsewhere. Oh, they also sell weapons, also “elsewhere.” They are poster-children for globalization, so what do they do? Piss off the entire world. They've already started their war.
War is a lot like the old “Cinnamon Challenge” that made the rounds on social media a few years ago. The rules are simple: just eat a heaping teaspoon of powdered cinnamon and successfully swallow it. Videos of the resulting eruptions and screams became viral on YouTube. There was general laughter, and mockery of those who had attempted it. War, like the Cinnamon Challenge, looks easy enough in advance, but turns wildly to the dark side of experience almost immediately.
And Now What?
I admitted at the outset that I am no oracle. My crystal ball is permanently in the shop. If, as seems possible, both China and Russia opt for hegemonic power in their immediate areas, we could see the rise of more local groups forming either alliances or areas of coercive exploitation. What happens to India, Brazil, Turkiye, and Iran? Can Europe keep itself together and remain democratic? Cracks are forming there. As usual, America is well placed geographically to face these new challenges.
It was Bismark that said, back in the 1880s or so, that “America is geographically beloved of God. It is surrounded on the north and south by large, weak countries, and on the east and the west by fish.”
In the words of the highly underrated social observer, Rodney King, “why can't we all just get along?”
Wednesday, July 20, 2022
Monday, July 18, 2022
“Faithless” is a word that I formulated to describe my relationship with the God idea. I was raised in a certain religion, and I received their sacraments on the usual schedule. I attended a grammar school and a high school that were fully committed to brainwashing me into following all of the rules of that religion. I saw around me, and read about, other religions. I noticed the powerful role that religion had had throughout recorded history, almost exclusively negative. The point of “faithlessness” is that none of this ever made any impression on me beyond expanding my understanding of the world. Religion, to me, was just some background noise. None of it seemed to involve me personally. I've never had faith.
One big problem was that I studied my family and noticed my relatives' behavior. There was quite a bit of racism involved, and there was a general lack of compassion for anybody outside of a small circle of family and friends. Our religion, the one that had tried so hard to get its hooks in me, preached a form of death that was temporary, and unimportant. It would be transcended, ultimately, when that particular God declared an end to his earthly experiment and called his people home. Home being heaven, in the direction of up, with all of the details being very sketchy, except that it would be 100% ecstasy all the time just being in God's presence and being able to adore him 24/7. This whole idea was the cornerstone of the religion, it was the number one selling point, and yet my family never acted like it was really a possibility. Whenever someone among the family or friends died, everyone was very sad, said their goodbyes, whether simply or demonstrably, and consigned the loved one to the finality of the grave. They were simply “gone.” So really, even a small child could tell that my family didn't have any faith either.
I have written in these pages about God and faith and religion, and I must admit that I have not always been gentle about it. I realize that I have been inconsiderate of the feelings of others, and please allow me to take this opportunity to apologize. That's an unreserved apology; an unqualified apology. Not some bullshit, “if I have offended anyone...” apology. Being condescending about any of the countless faith communities is wrong. It is a bad thing. I am sorry.
I should also apologize in advance for all of the times that I will violate this apology in the future, because I certainly will. I'm like a bad dog. I have opinions, and it is my nature to express them.
Religion is an idea more easily disposed of than the idea of God. Between human speech and the appearance of God, I wonder which came first? The Venus of Willendorf is dated to 25,000 to 30,000 years ago, and the existence in human minds of a fertility cult must precede the creation of this fetish object by many tens of thousands of years. Cave paintings go back further, and they include graffiti in the form of what appears to be the letter “v” split by a vertical line. There is no mistaking the meaning of this symbol, but is there any religious significance? It might be simple pornography.
The appearance of modern humans, homo sapiens, goes back around 300,000 years. Those ancient cousins of ours had brains very similar in size, and perhaps ability, to our own. I believe that these large brains developed to allow their owners to solve more complex problems more quickly. To identify danger early and allow those in danger to escape. To more cleverly identify useful things around them, like what things are good to eat, what can be eaten in emergencies, and what substances are poisonous. To design and create sophisticated, specialized stone tools. To observe the passage of time and the movement of the stars and how they relates to the locations and times for the best hunting opportunities.
A brain like that is liable to run away with itself sometimes, inventing problems to solve. Problems like, “what is this place?” and, “how did it get here?” and “is there an invisible hand at work here?” And, if so, “is the hand attached to a being that we can petition for assistance?” The creation of anthropomorphic, invisible God beings, specific to an important purpose, was inevitable. It was probably well underway before the popularity of farming. There have been tens of thousands of those Gods by now. Let's take a moment of silence to thank those of them who are lost in the mist of time. You were a comfort to our forebearers, and we thank you.
God remains a familiar presence in the lives of much of the world's population. The plural is useful here, in more than one sense of the word. God, as an individual entity, is worshiped in many ways and called by many names. There also remain religions who need many Gods to meet their requirements. This may be a religion with a thousand Gods, each with its own name and attributes, or it may be a religion that leaves the details up to each adherent. That last is a methodology that would be familiar to any Quaker. There are as many ways to commune with God as there are people on the earth. Many people have given up religion without abandoning the idea of a spiritual aspect to life. They may believe in God while declining to be pinned down regarding God's name or nature. Other people militantly take the position that there is no God, PERIOD, FULL STOP.
I think of those last two groups as either Godly atheists, or pure atheists.
The pure atheists claim to have achieved certainty with regard to the absence of God. If there is any hard evidence about the existence, or non-existence, of God, I'd like to see it. I fail to see any evidence either way myself.
That sums up my feelings about God. “I have no fucking idea.” Humans are so arrogant. That scientist, acting like he's got it all worked out, has no idea. He's got a long bullshit story to explain where the universe originated, and how old it is, and what it's all made up of, but it's all guesswork. They haven't even found all of the subatomic particles, much less learned how they all interact. It's all subject to change when the next Issac Newton shows up. In the meantime, our scientists have walls full of mathematics, and multiple Ph.D.s, but it's all a mask to hide their ignorance. That's why they all hang on everything that comes out of the CERN super-collider. They're terrified that it will prove them all wrong.
Do you think that your doctor knows the first thing about your health? All she can tell you for sure is your temperature. You get a “full check up” every year, and by autumn you get stomach pains and, son of a bitch, it's pancreatic cancer and you've got about a year to live. This just happened to a friend of mine. He's in his fifties, so it came as quite a surprise.
The worst of all are the arrogant sons of bitches who pretend to understand the nature of God, who pretend to speak with God, who pretend to know the mind of God. God is nothing if not mysterious. Beware most of all, you false prophets, enriching yourselves at the expense of gullible people who can be fooled by “speaking in tongues,” or “faith healing.” Beware also you meek preachers who “explain” your revealed literature to your flock on Sunday, especially those among you who include politics in your sermons. Preach what your preferred literature says, be humble and unpretentious, and maybe explain the parables. That's it. Pretend to know the mind of God at your peril. To do so is probably an affront to God, and if God exists, you may pay a terrible price for your arrogance.
If there is a God, and I'm not saying that there isn't, It is separated from us humans at a much greater remove than we are separated from a virus. At least we and the virus are both living organisms on the same planet. If God is out there, It's not limited to this universe, or the rather arbitrary rules of this universe. It would more likely be the sum of all of the matter, energy, time, and any other damn thing that has ever existed anywhere, or will ever exist. It certainly wouldn't care about you and me, or even this entire universe. Any “I am who am” God, any supreme creator God, would definitely have bigger fish to fry. God would certainly not concern Itself with whether you have a beard or not, or what you eat, or whether you live or die. Just believing that God loves you might be an affront to God, if God could even stoop to your level and understand you.
That's my take. Live and let live, I always say. Let God be God, and I'll just go on trying to be a decent person, doing as little harm as possible. If I'm wrong, I will pay the price, but I honestly believe that we die just like our first human progenitors died, nameless and alone, just dead and gone. Like dogs die. Like birds die. Everything dies. What's so damn special about us?
In the meantime, do good things, don't do bad things, and try every day to make yourself a better person. That's what the Buddha said, and it's good advice. Usually, it's enough. Buddha was not a God, and neither was Yeshua. Buddha created a philosophy of life; Yeshua practiced Judaism. Neither one ever claimed to be a God. They were teachers, and good ones. If you follow their advice, you'll feel better about yourself.
That's the message.
Sunday, July 17, 2022
Saturday, July 16, 2022
It sounds like a simple question. The answer could be a nickname. It could be a maiden name/ married name. It could be the name on your birth certificate, or whatever name you changed it to. It could be an aka (criminals often have several forms of identification from different states under different names). It could be a dba (Better Call Saul; Saul Goodman). Or the answer could be, “that depends.”
“That depends” is the answer in my case.
If I were to die in America, in a state, let's say, with a same-day, no hassle policy regarding the purchase of firearms, I could easily be turned over to the Veterans Association for burial. I am a veteran of the U.S. Navy. That's what my fingerprints would show. I have no history with law enforcement. The name on my Navy file is Frederick James Ceely. They would probably mark my grave with the name on my Navy file. Just the thought of that disturbs me.
If I were to die in Thailand, which is much more likely, I would be processed under the name on my passport, which is my true name, Frederick Ceely.
Where did that James come from?
My mother was a practicing Catholic, on the outside anyway. Her true self was a burning cauldron of hate and fear, where I'm certain there was no room for religion of any kind. She was never evaluated by a mental health professional, and I will not attempt an amateur diagnosis here. There was definitely something radically wrong, however. Her problems created serious problems for those of us who were forced by circumstances to live with her. She was, for instance, a Gaslighter. You know the term, “to Gaslight,” taken from the motion picture, “Gaslight,” in which a husband with bad intentions creates a web of lies around his wife intending to make her believe that she is crazy. The truth to my mother was anything that would advance any of her Gaslighting schemes. These were often directed at her children.
I attended Catholic school, and I received five of the seven sacraments of the church, lacking only Holy Orders and the Last Rites. One that I did receive is called Confirmation, in which a seventh grader takes a “confirmation name,” recites the answers to a few questions, is then slapped by a bishop, and is thereby welcomed as a full member of the Catholic Church. I was still engaged in a desperate attempt to love my parents at the time, and to win their love in return, so I thought it would be in my favor to take my father's middle name, Jesse, as my Confirmation name, thus making me a true junior.
My mother had other ideas. She preferred that I take the name of her father, which was James. I resisted, briefly.
One day, insuring complete privacy in the house, my mother cornered me in our dining room and explained to me that by taking the Confirmation name James, I would actually be honoring my father's own choice of James as a confirmation name. “But you must never tell your father that I gave away his secret. He is very embarrassed that his middle name is 'Jesse James'.” I went along with it, knowing that it was bullshit. I never mentioned it to my father in all of his long life. This may, in fact, be the first time that I am mentioning it at all. I went along with my mother's wish because it was always easier to do so at the talking stage, rather than waiting for the screaming and the violence.
Then came the compounding error. I was told, by my mother, that my full, legal name was now Frederick James Ceely. Since I was not yet versed in the law, being, at the time, eleven years old, I began to use that name. I was Frederick James Ceely until the day that I got out of the Navy. The revelation of my actual name came at my Navy recruitment.
The recruiter was a weathered Boatswain's Mate who probably had a bottle of bourbon in his desk somewhere. There is a ton of paperwork to be done when joining the American military, and it took us a long time to write it all out. I was writing and signing, he was typing and explaining. Finally we came to the end of the process, and at that point he realizes the significance of my attendance at Catholic grammar school and high school. Like he knew that this was a question he should have asked earlier in the process, he said, “I see you went to Catholic school. Do you have a confirmation name?”
“Yes,” I said, “James.”
That's when I found out that your Confirmation name does not automatically become part of your legal name. The recruiter was slightly deflated, he mumbled some bad words, and he said, “so, we either have to start all over again, or (reaching for a form) you can fill out this form.”
It was labeled, “Joining the Military Service Under an Assumed Name.” We were both somewhat embarrassed, each for his own reasons. I had a lot of handwriting to do on this form. I disclosed my true name, and gave a reason for using a different name. I had to swear that using a fake name was not an act intending to defraud any person or entity, and that it was not, in any case, malicious.
Luckily, at that point in my life, it would have been impossible to hate my mother more than I already did.
I am, therefore, really hoping that I get the chance to die in Thailand. I have discussed the matter with my wife, and I wish to have a typical, but not fancy, Thai funeral, culminating with my cremation at the temple where the bone chips of her family members reside. My wife wishes to locate any remains in her family's ossuary. Those are smallish compartments built into walls around the temple. They burn the hell out of the body, and then rake the ashes for bone chips. There are always a few, usually parts of the long bones, like the femur or the humerus, or a piece of the forehead, or a tooth. Then they will engrave my name on the face-plate: