2.26.2004

There is a mathematician in the Congo hoping he carries enough ammunition. There is a poet in the Gaza Strip with a heart filled with vitriol. A biologist sells drugs on a street corner in Mexico City wondering why his brother was kidnapped last week. A playwright wastes away from his drug regimen in the Sudan. There are two siblings, comedians, weaving carpets in India unsmiling. A physicist wanders outside my door looking for a warm doorway or an air vent.

The day must come when we can all do the things we should be doing. Change must be brought to our systems and societies, our cultures of consumption and disposability, our selfishness and short-sightedness.

Do it. Do it today by taking the time to evaluate your purchases and the companies you buy from. Do it now by volunteering your time, the only thing you can truly give. Do it immediately by identifying and challenging hate and fear in all its forms but most importantly identify and challenge the hate and fear in yourself. Do not placate your conscience with vague promises of "later". Act locally and try to see the consequences of your own everyday actions. Do it so that we individuals can shape what small spheres we do control. Do it so others are not forced to surrender their dreams, their contributions, their roles in our lives to man-made tragedy for surely nature has an infinite store of them.

2.25.2004

I should mention that I have a bet going.

My claim:
The Catholic church will allow either
1) Priests to marry,
OR
2) Women to become priests.

His claim:
A human will set foot on Mars.*

*Not human remains, real live person walking around like we did on the moon. The astronaut doesn't have to come back.

The first person to have their claim come true has to visit the other person's house.

The Catholic church is seriously screwed. There are nearly no new priests coming into the system. They have been rocked by sexual scandal after scandal (and will continue to be hit). I really think they will allow priests to marry before they let women become priests but I figured they could go that route. Besides, I think I have slightly less chance of winning so this helps balance the odds out a bit. There is talk that a new Pope would make one of these changes (maybe, big maybe)

There is also talk, however, of going to Mars. Yeah. Right. We haven't gone to the moon in over 25 years. We aren't going to Mars until we go to the moon again. We aren't going to the moon until the ISS is done. The ISS has another 15 years or so. Which makes a trip to the moon 15-20 years away, add 15-25 years to go to Mars, and then a couple more years for the trip itself. I figure I have a minimum of 50 years to win this one. I might well be very dead (or just plain dead).

I think the church has only 25-35 years (one generation) to make some changes or risk facing long-term obliteration. Something's gotta give, Popester. If people land on Mars before the change is made, the Church will be as done as Monarchy. I can live with that. That's almost like winning.

Besides, in either case, I get to visit or be visited by a good friend of mine years down the road. I know my friends will move away, or I will, at one point or another and I will definitely go out of my way to visit them.

We're not going to Mars, though. Not in my lifetime. I think it's cool but cool only gets you to the moon. Mars will require a taikonaut.

2.16.2004

Scottish jurist and historian, Sir Alex Fraser Tytler (1742-1813):
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess of the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's great civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependency; from dependency back again to bondage.

2.15.2004

True genius is not finding out that 'silence' rhymes with 'violence'. True genius is not beating mailboxes with baseball bats as you drive by in a car. For me to see beauty in an idea, my definition of genius, there needs to be two things: synthesis and emergence.

Synthesis takes two different and unrelated (not necessarily but the more unrelated, the better) ideas/objects and merges them together to make something new.

Emergence occurs when two ideas/objects merge and a property emerges from the entity that neither of the components possess on their own.

Synthesis does not guarantee emergence but emergence requires synthesis. Taking different things and making them new is one of the best things we, as humans, have ever come up with. It is the basis of our innovation and what drives our curiosity. Tolkien, despite what I think of his execution (average), gets a nod from me for a masterful merging of his love of languages with a European mythology. Gehry took curvilinear design and brought it to achitecture. Dirac took his knowledge of math and applied it to the physics of his age. These are examples that I would choose of stunning synthesis and emergence. Each of us admires and respects different types of achievements so take those you would choose to describe as genius (if you capable of the act) and determine if it was the result of synthesis/emergence. I'd be willing to bet that the answer is that it was.

Those who say you can't get something from nothing are wrong. The act of creation lies hidden in making two things into three.

2.09.2004

When I lie, when I hurt someone's feelings, when I go against a promise, things I strain to avoid but invariably fail to do, I feel bad. A sense of unfairness, a sense that I have done wrong, washes over me. It gnaws it way into my mind, it burrows into my thoughts and eats. It feasts. It holds lavish festivals of gorging upon copious amounts of guilt. It is my conscience and it lives well.

We humans have devloped social codes of conduct and I have been bred with my own flavour of right and wrong. My parents instilled many qualities in me, to many of which I'm sure to be oblivious, and with that I have developed my own sense of fairness and justice, my little code of honour that I adhere to as strongly as possible. My ability to self-justify is as developed as yours so I am quite aware of my guaranteed hypocrisy. My actions can't possibly align with my beliefs all the time. I'll settle for 25% of the time. I sleep 1/3 of the time, so perhaps I should aim higher?

What is equally certain is that I have a sense of right and wrong. Some people practice zero-impact camping, where they leave no impact upon the environment in whch they visit for a little tent pitching. Obviously, you can't have zero impact but you can try to minimize that. I would like to live a zero-impact life. I won't even come close. Not by a long shot but I can try to minimize my personal environmental footprint. It makes me feel ill when I knowingly violate that personal belief but I usually don't think about it until afterwards, or I manage to convince myself to indulge.

These personal crimes do not tickle the back of my brain. They marinate my mind in a searing sauce of self-loathing. I cannot violate the laws of nature but I can and do readily commit sins against my own codes of behaviour, my own definitions of right and wrong. The orbit of Mars will not be altered by my guilt. Fermat's Last Theorem is still solvable even if I trash every belief I have in a ten minute binge. The universe cares not one whit about my definitions of right and wrong. I, and I alone, am responsible for my actions and the ascription of "good" or "bad" to them.

When people talk about there being an absolute right, it seems unlikely to me. There certainly is an absolute law of gravity. I can give you pretty quick example if we ever meet atop a tall building. The absolute wrong seems to me to be the ability to travel backwards in time, or some violation of the laws of nature. Absolute morality in terms of behaviour is not looking at question correctly.

Our minds are conditioned to believe what is right is also what is good for the community. Our survival as a species requires a built-in motive force to prevent us from acting against the common good. This is our conscience. We have developed social codes imprinted via both nature and nurture that allow human society to function. The scale of our society has always been growing so these codes have proved flexible enough to allow their modifcation over time. Witness the ever-evolving role of the female in society. We forbid murder, and our consciences, in proper working ordrer, should not permit us to commit it. We know how bad we feel when we transgress in minor ways and we are taught that even bigger violations bring even bigger pains. Small fire hurt, big fire hurt lot.

So our consciences act not only after the fact but also in a pro-active manner to prevent anarchy from arising in society. We don't need the Minority Report. We already have an evolutionary appendage that prevents all sorts of "bad" acts (ie: destructive to society and the individual), our good ol' conscience.

Unfortunately, I can work around my conscience, often in ways I'm not even aware of. And you can, too. We all do it, daily. Comforting, isn't it?