The Thinker

Craigslist casual encounter weirdness: November 2014 edition

It’s that time of the month for me to scour the Craigslist Northern Virginia casual encounters section. It’s easy to do. I don’t have to think about it too much, it brings in search traffic, and it rarely fails to be entertaining. You simply can’t make up some of these posts because often they are so bizarre that we regular people simply lack the imagination to think of some of these things. It’s also the Friday and thus the start of the weekend. You can almost feel libidos rising as great expectations get set for kinky casual encounters this weekend, virtually all of them to be dashed.

Some statistics. I’m just over 200 posts of Craigslist traffic this month. There are at least 204 hits that I can document but possibly more that I can’t. So I may have milked this trend for all I can get from it. Regardless, after I move next year I expect to drop this feature from the site. I’ve looked at Craigslist in Western Massachusetts where I’ll be living, and due to its lower population density there are far fewer of these sorts of posts, and they are far more pedestrian.

Anyhow, bringing up the first page, I see:

  • 37 men looking for women
  • 43 men looking for men
  • 3 men looking for a couple
  • 1 man looking for multiple men
  • 3 men looking for transsexuals and cross dressers
  • 0 women looking for women
  • 5 women looking for men
  • 3 women looking for multiple men
  • 5 transsexuals or cross dressers looking for men

Onward:

  • Men, do you want to be some guy’s slave? This guy is taking applications. It sounds like he has one already and you would just be another one. You can be bi or straight, and given the latter I’m wondering why any heterosexual would apply. He’s looking for you to primarily do housework but you do get occasional opportunities to be tortured in his dungeon. What could be more fun? Well, just about anything. He must save a fortune by not hiring a maid service.
  • Some months back I mentioned a guy aroused by the Latino men in a local Home Depot. Not sure if this is the same guy (probably not as he is in Leesburg) but he’s going with a similar theme. He’s hot for Latino men and their crotches, except it’s Walmart Latino men that have him hyper salivating. I hope Walmart security there keep tabs on the men’s room and also keeps the Loudoun County police on speed dial, because he is into giving you oral sex in one of their men’s room stalls. However, he is open to doing it in a car as well. My guess is he’ll be easy to spot because he’ll be wandering around the Leesburg Walmart and licking his lips at anyone that might pass for a Latino guy.
  • She used to be a man, is done with her sex reassignment surgery and is now looking for a man to penetrate her. (Warning: explicit picture.) The good news for men into this kind of sex, as she says, is that you can’t make her pregnant, which if you think about it would be a trick on par with immaculate conception. Maybe womb and ovary transplants will be the next brave new frontier for these new women.
  • Ladies, do you like to watch a couple in heat? You can get as close as you want to this couple (38 and 40) in Alexandria. Maybe bringing a large magnifying glass is in order. Undressing is optional.
  • Here’s another man (see last month’s post), this time from Burke that is in his 20s who is looking to buy women’s used panties. But this one has a catch: it has to happen in person. He will compensate you for your trouble but it looks like he has more than used panties in mind. “I’m open minded, if you are too, maybe we can do a little bit more.”
  • A couple from Woodbridge would like to do a “soft swap” this weekend, maybe. They are both in their 50’s and want to meet for dinner first to see if there is chemistry. It sounds like this lab experiment will fizzle out from lack of combustible material.
  • Lots of “women” will advertise on Craigslist for men but are basically looking to sell their bodies. Their ads are quickly flagged, which is probably by there are so few postings from women. This 31-year-old man though at least is different: he is openly soliciting for women (two women at the same time) to fulfill his fantasy, and apparently he expects them to be whores, as he is willing to pay with “Benjamins”.
  • He’s a buff 21-year-old guy in boxers looking for a woman to screw. To improve the odds, he also posted an ad for a transsexual. The same photo and text are in both ads.
  • Twister was basically a game to allow underage girls and boys to get into each other’s intimate space. You are never too old to play the game however. Since you are an adult now, how about Naked Twister? This six-foot man from Alexandria is all set. I guess he is clueless on how totally lame this ad is, which on Craigslist says a lot.
  • Are you into playing with daddies? He is a daddy all right but at 67 he’s old enough to be a granddaddy and maybe even a great granddaddy. So are you into incest role-play with a grandfather? If so please respond to him. My guess is he is the least likely poster on Craigslist tonight to get a reply.
  • I like the occasional truth in advertising in a Craigslist post. This 32-year-old married guy from Reston says he nearing the end of his marriage and is “a bit of a hot mess”. What woman could possibly resist this offer?
  • This 21-year-old woman knows how to have a great time: get high as a kite sniffing coke and then get screwed by an over-endowed man. It’s unclear whether as host you get to provide her skiing package.
  • Attention autistic women like Temple Grandin: you too can take comfort from being kenneled. He wants a picture but it’s unclear whether it should include you with a dog collar in your mouth.
  • Craigslist ads for men looking for men in particular would make most sailors blush. Here’s a 29-year-old gay guy who simply wants another man to kiss and cuddle with. He’s looking for something truly bizarre: intimacy. If it weren’t for the venue, this ad would be sort of sweet and romantic.
  • A 28-year-old local woman wants to invite 8-10 men to bed, all at the same time. She is not into “lame campus stuff”. Strangely, here’s a 36-year-old woman looking for basically the same thing. I suspect this is the same poster. This is probably her as well. Someone(s) are definitely in heat! Maybe they should just go to this party.
  • Ladies: an Arlington man wants to suck your toes and nothing else, scout’s honor!
  • This post from a 26-year-old guy in Leesburg wins the most disgusting post of the month award. Don’t read it! You have been warned!
  • Can a Korean lady be a redneck? Men are invited to find out.

More in December.

 
The Thinker

Suffer the little kitties (and humans)

It’s tough being without a cat. It’s been this way since March, when our last feline Arthur passed away. Normally there would be a grieving period (there was) and then we would be at a cat adoption agency selecting a new cat. But this assumed that we would be staying put. We’re not. If you read this blog regularly, you know that we are planning to move.

Cats may be independent but overall they are much more attached to home than dogs. They want their space and they don’t want it to ever change. Given this reality learned from cohabitating with cats for many years, we opted not to get another cat until we have resettled, likely in western Massachusetts next year.

This is an easy decision to make unless of course you are used to having cats around. Going cold turkey was not easy. I am having a somewhat easier time of it because my childhood was largely pet free. For my wife, going without a cat is a major stressor. There has almost always been at least one cat in her life. As something of a substitute, along with half the nation she watches cat videos online. Curiously she was doing that when we had a cat as well. Watching cat videos though while not having one you can pet is something like torture to her.

What to do? We are tempted to violate protocol and just get a cat anyhow, even though it will be relocated five states away in a few months. That of course is quite selfish because while living without a cat is stressful to us, it is nothing compared to the stress a cat undergoes when it gets relocated. There are exceptions of course, but overall it’s bad for the cat and bad for its owners.

Which is why we are volunteering to take care of homeless cats instead. It was actually my idea. My wife was actually getting depressed over not having a cat in her life. Watching cat videos was becoming an obsessive-compulsive behavior. Watching these videos simply drove the addiction and there was no way I could order her to stop watching them. Fortunately, we have a couple of friends who help with animal rescue and fostering of felines. They work for Four Paws, a local cat-only rescue organization. I practically ordered my wife to volunteer us already.

This ended up with a biweekly gig whereby we go to the Petco at the Greenbriar Shopping Center in Chantilly, Virginia and take care of two rescue cats staged there. The Petco is nice enough to provide a glass-enclosed room and a couple of large cages that amount to two cat condos, one stacked on top of the other. Each cat effectively has three rooms: an eating room, a pooping room and a play/rest room. It’s up to us volunteers to clean the rooms and play with the cats. During the day of course Petco customers come by to see the cats. They can’t play with them as they are behind Plexiglass but there is information about the cat and adoption forms.

Volunteering for this duty is a mixed experience. It gives us some time with actual live cats, but it’s also clear that these rescue cats don’t like being there. They are all looking for permanent homes. They seem more than a little traumatized being in a temporary home and don’t particularly like being on display like zoo animals. The sad reality of course is that for a rescued cat there are likely going to be several temporary homes before they get a permanent placement.

So these cats at the Petco tend to move in and out. Rarely are the same cats there when we visit that were there two weeks earlier. As part of the cleaning process we open their cages, allowing them to get out if they want into the enclosed area. We lock the door to the store first to make sure they cannot escape. Some cats gleefully bound out onto the cat trees in the room. Others (usually the new ones) will cower in the back of their cages. Some will let you play with them. Some will not.

Volunteers like us come by three times a day to check on them, sanitize things and make sure their litter box and food are freshened. This is far more personal care than any cat of ours ever got. Typically I cleaned the litter box twice a week and put out food once a day. The cat would then disappear until it wanted attention. This usually worked out well for both cat and human.

These cats for the most part not only resent being in the cages, but also seem obviously scared by the whole experience. There are these constant humans coming by, all smelling differently and sticking their fingers through the holes in the cage and saying inane stuff like “Here, kitty kitty.” Most of them do get placed, but occasionally an older or a black cat will stay in the condo for a few months. Sometimes they come back to the foster home because they seem too stressed by the experience. Their condos are sanitized three times a day, which might contribute to the stress. They have little opportunity to impart their odors on the cage, making it not feel like home.

Recently, my wife helped out at an adoption fair at another Petco in Fairfax sponsored by Four Paws. Dozens of cats were there in hopes some would get adopted. About half were adopted. It was clear though that the vast majority of these cats were traumatized by the experience. It’s bad enough being in a foster home, but to be put in a cage and placed in a room with lots of other cats to be poked and petted by people they did not know really stressed them out! It’s a sad but necessary process in getting them adopted. Mostly these cats live in foster homes with other cats. A typical home will have six to ten cats, carefully watched over by a volunteer.

One of the cats at this fair was a sleek black cat, a female named Cupid, who is about a year old. Our daughter Rose, who had recently moved into her own studio apartment, picked her as her very first cat (that she owned). Curiously, this black cat was brought to her forever home on Halloween. She was promptly renamed Mimi, and went to hide under the couch. Mimi is still getting acquainted with her new home and her new human, and it is likely to be a long and stressful process for Mimi. The same was true with our cat Arthur. He must have been moved around a lot because it took him about a year to accept that he was in his forever home, and always would be. Once he fully made the transition, he turned out to be a great cat.

It’s not widely known, but most cats (certainly the domesticated ones) are not native to North America. They are in fact an invasive species, and they eat or dismember billions of birds a year. So humans who choose to have cats should keep them inside, or ensure that if they have access to the outside that they can’t hurt anything.

Because cats are an invasive species we must be careful to limit their numbers. Obviously we are not doing a great job in making sure all cats are spayed. All of ours were, of course, and any cat Four Paws places are spayed or, if a kitten, the owner must agree to spay them.

As traumatic as the placement process is for most of these cats, considering the obsessive way they are catered to while in placement, some should feel jealous. Who? Our homeless, or really any of the millions of Americans struggling at the margins. These cats may be traumatized, but at least they are cared for, eat healthy food and have their medical needs attended to by regular vet visit. It makes me angry that we simply refused to do the same for those you would think would matter even more: the actual human beings around us.

 
The Thinker

Election 2014 postmortem

The victors write the history they say. Those who show up write election results. That Republicans won a majority of the U.S. senate last night, as well as added to their majority in the House, did not surprise me at all. The only thing surprising was that Democrats did not do worse.

Democrats were of course hopeful, but most of us did not have a misplaced hope. Midterms tend to favor the power out of party, particularly in a president’s second term. Republicans also had an almost ideal environment for making gains. Many seats, particularly in the Senate, were ripe for the picking because Democrats held them in Republican leaning states. So it’s no surprise that it’s goodbye David Prior and Kay Hagan.

In general where there was some hope of Democrats eking out a victory, they didn’t, and that was due to the general dynamics of who took the time to vote: mostly Republicans. Republicans voted disproportionately because they cared more about the election, and that was because they are out of political power, not to mentioning their ever-festering hatred of Obama. Democrats did not vote for the most part and stayed home, same as in 2010. With rare exceptions, Democrats only exercise their majority during presidential years.

Unquestionably there were dynamics that made it harder for Democrats. One of the overriding themes was Obama fatigue. The truth is most of the events Obama got dinged for yesterday were beyond his control, but certainly Obama has set a tone since his reelection that has turned off many. He used to be seen as cerebral and cool. Now he is seen as haughty and detached. Mitt Romney would have been just as stymied and ineffectual addressing Ebola and the rise of the Islamic State as Obama. Actually, it is likely he would have been more ineffectual, as government spending would likely be lower if he were president, and there would be fewer resources to draw upon.

Democratic candidates, who tend toward cowardice, exacerbated the problem by running away from Obama in their reelection and election campaigns. The underlying dynamics of our economy are actually pretty good. Those millions of jobs that Mitt Romney promised to create in four years? Obama created all of them in less than two years. Inflation is at historic lows. Unemployment is below six percent. No modern president has been better for stockholders in recent times. All this is good for the economy, but very little of this prosperity trickled down, mostly due to obfuscation by Republicans on issues like increasing the minimum wage. Voters though simply look at their own pocketbooks and if they don’t see prosperity they blame it on whoever is in charge. The truth is that both parties share blame here. The failure of prosperity to move toward the middle class is a result of dysfunctional government, not of Democratic governance in particular. Republicans would simply not play ball with Democrats these last six years, and it has proven to be a good political strategy for them.

By voting for Republicans, voters simply heaped on the dysfunction and kicked any real solutions to our problems to 2016, where they probably won’t be resolved again. The sad reality is that we voted last night to point fingers, not to solve any real problems. So among those applauding the results last night were our enemies. Barring some summoning of the national will that seems absent, this election simply contributes to the likely demise and dis-unification of the United States of America. In that sense we hammered a nail in our own coffin.

 
The Thinker

Rant of the month

I haven’t had a rant all month, but it’s not from lack of opportunities. There is so much political craziness going on before midterm elections next week that it’s hard to choose what to rant about. Then I read this today and it managed to ring all my bells:

Republicans are calling on Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu to apologize after she suggested Thursday that President Barack Obama’s deep unpopularity in the South is partly tied to race.

What did this senator in a very uphill battle to retain her U.S. senate seat actually say?

I’ll be very, very honest with you. The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans. It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.

To her credit, Mary Landrieu is not walking her comments back. But why on earth should she? What could possibly be more obvious than the truth of her statement? Of course historically the bulk of slavery in the United States occurred in the southern states. What could be unfriendlier to blacks than being enslaved? We fought a civil war principally so blacks could enjoy freedoms, freedoms that were subsequently largely taken away from them, if not by regular lynchings, then by Jim Crow laws that set up poll taxes to keep blacks from voting.

But even if you selectively forget all that arguably dated history, upon hearing Landrieu’s remarks the only thing you can really say is, “Well, duh!” It’s been decades since a black has been lynched in the south, thank goodness, but it’s quite obvious that blacks in the south are still being discriminated against and harassed every damned day because of the color of their skin. That Republicans reacted so vociferously clearly indicates that they are sensitive to the issue. And that’s because it’s so obviously true.

I know I would be much happier if they would simply come out and admit they are a party principally full of racists that are out to promote racial inequality. Most of their anger is still directed against blacks, but of course it’s not just blacks, just principally blacks. They don’t much like Hispanics, at least the “illegal” ones, as if a person can be illegal. And of course they are working actively to make sure anyone they don’t like (principally blacks of course) can’t vote. This is not the least bit American, of course, but they have zero qualms about doing anything they can get away with to disenfranchise those they don’t like.

Let us count just a few of ways blacks in particular feel unfriendly behavior from those in charge in the south:

  • They are stopped and questioned by police in greatly disproportionate numbers compared with whites
  • They form a majority of the prison population in the south despite being in the minority
  • They are the ones who are shot and/or killed most often, principally by whites, who feel threatened by them, even when no crime has been committed. Trayvon Martin is the obvious example here, although there are plenty of others that did not make the papers. It’s okay for whites to shoot blacks to “stand their ground”. If a black did the same to a white, does anyone in the south honestly think the black would get off?
  • Their states disproportionately have onerous voter ID laws, often requiring only certain picture IDs in order to vote, pictures that are hard to attain and cost money to acquire
  • These same states have cut back or eliminated early voting or mail in voting, making it harder for these people who often work two or more jobs to vote affecting, of course, principally blacks
  • If blacks can make it to vote on Election Day, they tend to wait in longer lines, discouraging them from casting a vote, because they get fewer voting machines per voter than more well moneyed and whiter precincts
  • Whites at polling sites question their right to vote harass many of them. Some take pictures and engage in other forms of harassment.
  • They often get misleading robocalls about voting on or before Election Day, sending them to wrong precincts, providing them with bogus information on credentials they will need or telling them they are not allowed to vote
  • Since blacks form the bulk of the prison population, and many are convicted of felonies, they often lose voting privileges for life
  • Just today we have a story of a Texas judge caught on tape saying he doesn’t want blacks to vote.

As for President Obama, he’s hardly the first Democratic president to get a hard time south of the Mason-Dixon Line. John F. Kennedy died from the bullet of a redneck in Dallas. Even fifty years ago they were hostile to liberal Democrats in the south. But anyone who doesn’t think that Obama’s race isn’t a huge factor in the way he is loathed by Republicans in the South clearly isn’t looking very hard:

  • There have been numerous examples in the south where Obama has been hung in effigy, often with accompanying racist signs and slogans.
  • It doesn’t take much looking to find racists signs about Obama in the south. Often you just look at the bumper of the car ahead of you.
  • Upon his election as president, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared it would be his mission to completely undermine Obama’s agenda. This included filibustering all judicial appointments, a policy that would still be ongoing had not Senate Democrats changed the rules after the start of the last Congress.
  • The language used by Republicans about Obama is frequently racist.
  • So many of them believe he is a secret Muslim and was born in Kenya, and promote it on news outlets
  • So many of them don’t believe his birth certificate is legitimate

Of course there are reasons for Republicans not to like President Obama that are not racist, but no modern Democratic president, even Bill Clinton, has come close to getting the complete obfuscation and stonewalling that President Obama has gotten. Rather than simply oppose him, Republicans have proven they will shutdown the government in order to get their way, and stonewall his appointees when they can to keep him from governing. They will put party before country.

This response was knee jerk and predictable, but no one, especially those who are protesting Landrieu’s remarks, believes their remarks were sincere. Their actions speak louder than words. Just a couple of the items I documented above would be plenty of evidence of overt and damning racism.

Republicans are a party consisting mostly of racists unwilling to compromise on pretty much anything. They are spoiled and pigheaded brats. It’s hard to think of anything Landrieu could have said that was milder in acknowledging the obvious problem of racism in the south today.

 
The Thinker

The joys, glee and occasional giddiness of virtualization

We are living increasingly virtualized lives. From posting about our lives in Facebook, to wearing Google Glass, to playing games online where we don alter egos, most of us mask ourselves behind walls of electronic processors, networks and software. I’m typical. As for me, aside from Facebook there is this blog, which is not quite a true representation of me. Rather it is a projection of some part of me, perhaps my ego that I choose to share with the world. Most of you don’t know who I really am, which is by design. I go so far as to hide my domain details behind a proxy.

But there are other meanings to virtualization. In the computer world, virtualization is running a computer inside a computer. In my case, I am running Windows inside my iMac. It used to be I had separate machines, and the Windows box was a laptop provided courtesy of my employer. When I retired, I turned in the laptop, leaving me Windows-less. This normally would not be a problem, unless you need to teach a class where students will be doing work on Windows. That’s when I decided that rather than buy a new computer just to run Windows I would cheat. I would run Windows virtually inside my iMac instead.

There are a couple of ways to do this. The cheapest (free) way is actually to use Bootcamp. This allows you to boot to a Windows partition when you start your iMac. This works fine but is inconvenient. You must shut down Windows and go back to Bootcamp to boot your computer as a Mac. What I really want it to run is Windows and the Mac operating system at the same time and be able to share content between them. In short, I needed virtualization software.

Ah, but how to do it on the cheap? Windows computers aren’t that expensive, after all, so a virtualization solution would have to be cheap. It helps to be teaching a class, because I qualify for software at an academic price, roughly half the retail cost. That’s how I acquired Parallels, neat virtualization software that allows me to run Windows (and lots of other operating systems) virtually on my iMac. With discount it cost me just under $40. The only downside was I had to wait a couple of days for the USB drive with the software to arrive in the mail.

There was also the question of how to get a cheap license for the Windows operating system, as I didn’t have one lying around. Fortunately, the college where I teach has an agreement with Microsoft, which it uses on its desktop computers, wherein we teachers could install a free Windows license at home so we could do our work without having to come to campus. If you already have a license for Windows, you could install it in a virtual instance too. And after installing Windows, that’s where I stopped. I did not feel the need for a license for the Microsoft Office suite for Windows. I already have one for the Mac. Frankly, Microsoft Office is becoming obsolete. My needs are modest. I can generally do what I need using Google’s free tools, and they have the bonus of being easily sharable not to mention accessible in the cloud pretty much anywhere.

I did wonder if virtualization technology really would be reliable. I thought there must be some Windows software that simply cannot work in a virtualized environment. And there may be, but I haven’t encountered it yet. It all works perfectly fine. On my spiffy new iMac it runs at least as fast as it would if I had a dedicated Windows box.

Why bother in the first place? It’s not like I like Windows. For the class I teach, the students install a “lite” version of Oracle, Oracle 11g Express Edition, and it’s available for Windows and Linux, but students will install it on Windows. Even in a “lite” version, Oracle is a CPU and memory hog, so I was skeptical it could be run virtually, but it worked fine.

There was some puzzling installing Windows in a virtualized environment. I needed a Windows image file, which I got from the college. Since Parallels is a virtual wrapper around Windows it is software too, specifically it is a hypervisor. This is software that oversees virtual operating systems. In principle, a virtual operating system instance runs in its own little sandbox and cannot harm my iMac’s operating system. In practice though, the Windows instance may be virtual but it is still susceptible to viruses like a non-virtualized operating system, so I loaded the free Avast antivirus to keep it safe.

Aside from my needs for Windows for teaching, I have found it’s useful for other purposes. In retirement I earn income from consulting. Since I am doing web work, it helps to have web environments to do work in. Over the weekend I was involved in a hairy upgrade of a very large forum (about 670,000 posts) from phpBB 2 to phpBB 3. I tried it a number of times on my client’s shared hosting, and it kept failing. I ended up downloading both the programs and the database to my machine. I placed it in my virtual machine and converted it there. While it’s possible to install web server environments on the Mac, it’s more of a hassle. There are turnkey solutions for Windows web server environments, like XAMPP that I am using, that are so much faster to install and maintain. On my machine of course I did not have the limitations of a shared server and I was able to convert the forum.

There are some things that are just done better or more elegantly on Windows. Obviously, if you do any work for a business, they are likely using Windows, so having a Windows environment may be necessary. But there are some programs for Windows that are so nifty that there really is no equivalent for the Mac. Winmerge comes to mind and it is also free. I do have DeltaWalker for the iMac, but it is much harder to use. I have a version of Quicken for the Mac. The Windows version is much better. At some point I may move my Quicken files into my Windows virtual machine and take advantage of all these new features.

Beyond Windows, all sorts of virtual machines can be created using Parallels. I don’t have much need to install versions of Linux like Debian, but I can install it rather easily if needed and still have my iMac purring away. Parallels is also smart enough to allow copying and pasting rather easily between operating systems. In the Windows world, copy and paste is done with CTRL-C and CTRL-V. In Parallels, it will recognize the Mac’s CMD-C and CMD-V, which is more intuitive. Sharing files is more problematic. There are ways to do it, but so far I’ve been moving files on flash drives.

Overall, I am impressed by the ease of the Parallels virtualization technology. I effectively got a Windows machine without having to buy any hardware. With a free Windows license, my only real cost was the cost of the Parallels software. I have the benefits of both a Windows and a Mac without a lot of Windows hassles. I can do eighty percent or more of my work in the Mac operating system, but when I need Windows it is there reliably and transparently. Should I choose to get rid of Windows, it could not be simpler. I simply tell Parallels to remove my Windows virtual instance. Bing! Done!

So my computing life is good. I feel like I won the lottery. Among all the other benefits, virtualization technology is also environmentally friendly because I am running one physical computer instead of two. In short, it’s a slick and easy to use solution. Don’t be afraid to virtualize this aspect of your life.

 
The Thinker

Ten years later

One of the benefits of writing a blog that’s been around a really long time (this one started in December 2002) is that you occasionally get to go back and look at posts made a long time ago and compare it to where you are in the present. In July 2005 I tried imagining my life in 2015, then ten years in the future. I did it as part of a topic discussed by my covenant group. At the time, the exercise had me breaking out in a cold sweat. Then, at age 48, the idea of being 58 seemed pretty scary.

It’s not quite ten years later but it is more than nine years later. So it’s time to see how good a prognosticator I was back then.

  • I wanted to be in good health at age 58. I have subsequently learned that good health is relative. In some ways I was in worse health in 2005. I did not know I had sleep apnea back then, and even back then my sciatica was starting to make my life miserable. I’m surely no younger; in fact I am about a decade older. I take medications I never took then, but overall I am in less pain and healthier, much of it due to modern medicine. However, most of my chronic problems, like sciatica and sleep apnea, were problems that I had to figure out. No physician had diagnosed them. I had to persist and keep trying. So you can be in better health as you age, but you have to take ownership of your health and you must make it a priority. Don’t assume doctors can figure it all out for you. At best they see your problems through a gauzy curtain.
  • I wondered if I would be retired. The answer is yes; I retired in August. Back then retirement seemed very scary. How could I feel good about myself if I wasn’t doing something I felt was important to society? It turns out at least so far it’s not an issue. I am just as busy, if not more so, being retired and I have much less stress. Jobs can kill you particularly those jobs that come with lots of responsibility. A well-planned retirement where you keep engaged in stuff you like is a great blessing. I am fortunate to have started mine comfortably and long before most people do.
  • I thought if I were retired I might take up something like golf. I still have no desire to do so, in part because age has not made me more agile. But this is also because I did not expect to be so busy in retirement. That may change after we relocate. I still have goals to do more physical activity. So far in retirement that hasn’t been the case, but I have been actively fixing my house. I don’t sit in a chair as much and move around. As for golf, I’d prefer to take up mini-golf instead.
  • Would my Mr. Hyde come out? Would I do something perverted or weird like exposing myself on street corners? I’m not sure where this fear came from. The answer of course is no. In many ways the lower testosterone levels that come with age in men is a blessing. It makes it easier to stay rational and stay out of newspapers and jail cells.
  • I was worried about losing my youth. Well, you either lose it or you die. Given the alternative, losing your youth is pretty good. I didn’t have youth at 48 and I have less of it at 57. The funny thing about aging, at least for me, is you age so slowly that it doesn’t bother you very much. I still think I look pretty youthful, at least for my age. I realize it is part self-deception, or maybe even total self-deception, but as long as you think it’s true you can get through life more happily. I obviously am not attracting any younger babes, but I wasn’t at age 48 either.
  • I thought both my parents would be deceased. Thankfully, my father is still alive. My mother, however, died some months after I wrote the original post. My dad is 88. He might make it to 98. I know he wants to. Both of us aren’t counting on it. But life will go on, assuming I survive to 67, even with the passing of my father. Death is not so scary anymore; it is a path I am becoming familiar with.
  • I wondered if at 25 my daughter would be out of the house. The answer is (as of today) no. As of tomorrow: yes. The movers come tomorrow and we’ll be official empty nesters. More about that, probably, in a subsequent post.
  • I figured there was a good probability that some sort of calamity would affect me. This was in part due to witnessing 9/11 as I worked in Washington when it happened. No nuclear bombs have gone off unexpectedly near me. I may be unduly paranoid, but I still think Washington will suffer something like this in my lifetime. But experience with real life suggests I worry too much. Overall society works, just imperfectly much of the time. Bad stuff happens but a lot of good stuff that doesn’t make the press often does too. More good stuff than bad stuff must be happening, because we are still here, the money is still green and I am in a retirement zone.
  • I was worried I’d end up hating my job. That did not happen, but it did wear me out. I felt like a juggler with one too many balls in the air wondering how long it would be before I dropped one. Things changed, it got increasingly stressful and I realized I didn’t want to do it anymore. Today, I am glad I retired and happy that someone likely younger and more agile will pick up the work and probably do a better job than I did. I also realize I did quite a good job overall considering the minimal resources I was given.
  • I was worried about insolvency. It’s curious what happens when we worry about the things that bug us the most. I took a lot of steps to make sure it didn’t happen, and mitigated a lot of risk through various insurance policies, including an umbrella insurance policy. It also helped to move into my peak earning years. When my daughter got out of college, I could finally save gobs of money. I can’t see insolvency happening unless there is some widespread breakdown of society. And if it happens, we’ll do better than most.

Overall, there was value in thinking about things that made me break out in a cold sweat back in 2005. Instead of fearing them, I was drawn to grapple with them. Fears and reflecting on them made me think through what is really important to me. In that sense, the exercise was valuable and it succeeded.

Life at 57 for me is quite sweet. Life at 58 I expect will be even sweeter.

 
The Thinker

Lessons in campaign histrionics

I am politically active so I contribute to political campaigns. I don’t contribute a whole lot of money, particularly now that I am retired. During a given election cycle I try to at least throw a few hundred dollars toward worthy candidates. I must say though that I don’t enjoy it very much. This is because once you give you will be petitioned ceaselessly to give more. Worse, once you are on one mailing list your email address will be shamelessly sold or given away to others. The result is a predictable avalanche of emails in my inbox from all sorts of Democratic candidates and progressive causes pleading for money.

Pleading for money is to put it mildly. Pleading implies maybe a little humility and supplication. Not for these campaign managers. I wish I could turn them off but simply cannot. I occasionally go on unsubscribe binges but it never does more than reduce the volume of pleas a bit. My email address simply gets passed around or the candidate will conveniently forget I unsubscribed, particularly as a particular FEC reporting deadline nears.

If I had been more proactive I would have created a junk email account for this sort of mail. I don’t know why, but when I started out giving email to campaigns I sort of assumed that people of a better sort populated them. Apparently they are recruited from hucksters outside carnival sideshows.

Since I don’t have a whole lot of money to give, I have to be very selective about which candidates get my money. Fortunately, I spend a significant part of my day reading about politics, so I feel I am well informed. Most recently I gave these donations:

  • $10 to Jim Mowrer. Jim is running for Iowa’s 4th congressional district. He’s trying to win in bat shit crazy Steve King’s district. How crazy is Steve King? Well, he’s an open racist and xenophobe. He wants an electrified fence on the border with Mexico and he complains that drug smugglers crossing the border on foot have calves the size of cantaloupes from hauling drugs on their backs. Iowans are supposed to be sensible people, but those in this district have yet to prove it because they keep reelecting this clown. I hope my modest donation to Jim might help knock some common sense into these voters. But probably not.
  • $25 to Michele Nunn. She’s the Democrat running for Senate in Georgia. Polling suggests she has a better than even chance to change the seat from red to blue. Her opponent, David Purdue, is the worst sort of Republican, bragging about his ability to outsource jobs. Georgia is slowly swinging blue anyhow, and the Nunn brand carries some traction in the state. Giving to Nunn is an excellent use of my money and recent polls suggest she has a better than even chance of winning.
  • $25 to John Foust. This genuinely open seat is in my district, Virginia’s 10th, which has been filled by Republican Frank Wolf the whole time I’ve been in it. He’s retiring but the Republican candidate Barbara Comstock is trying to convince voters that she’s a moderate while voting for infuriating stuff like transvaginal ultrasounds while in the Virginia legislature. Comstock will probably win this slightly red district, as it stretches all the way to Winchester, but probably only for two years as it keeps getting bluer. Still, it’s worth a donation to see if I can live in a blue district for however short a time before we relocate.
  • $25 to Mark Warner. He is running for reelection against Ed Gillespie and is virtually certain to win. Ordinarily I would not give Mark any money, as he is quite popular and suspiciously moderate. But lately I’ve decided the dynamics in Congress won’t change unless we have more moderates, so I’m giving Warner money. I don’t always agree with him, but he’s a good guy.
  • $25 to Bruce Braley, running to keep retiring Tom Harkin’s Iowa senate seat blue. He’s running against a kind of crazy Tea Party type, Joni Ernst. She’ll probably win despite her crazy views, simply because of Obama fatigue and Republicans are chomping the bit to vote, while Democrats will probably fail to engage during midterms, as usual. But maybe a little nudge from me we can keep the seat blue.
  • $25 to Mary Landrieu. She’s got a tough challenge retaining her seat in the red state of Louisiana, but her opponent Bill Cassidy is as usual pretty extreme, and maybe too extreme for Louisiana, but probably not. I disagree with her on lots of stuff, but I’d rather have her on team blue.

I’m not sure how much more I will give, but one thing’s for sure. Apparently there is no chance of Democrats winning at all unless I give great gobs of money every day to all sorts of candidates. At least that’s pretty much the crux of all the emails coming into my email box: it’s a few seconds before a nuclear winter. Most of these are beyond ludicrous and have recently reached the frighteningly embarrassing stage. Here are some from my recent emails:

  • John Foust, or at least his campaign manager says, “we’re going home” because they can’t compete against a $1M ad buy from one of John Boehner’s PACs. But there are links to instantly give them anywhere from $5 to $250 immediately in the email anyhow.
  • Mark Warner, or rather his campaign manager, says this multimillionaire needs more money in spite of being more than ten points ahead of Ed Gillespie in lots of polls. He says Ed Gillespie just bought $400,000 in TV ads, but that’s not true. Gillespie just canceled his advertising, basically understanding he doesn’t have a chance.
  • Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader of course, says disaster is imminent for Democrats, but maybe not if I cough up some money. Democrats are going to lose house seats this cycle but there was no chance they would regain the majority anyhow. Losses though should be minimal. That’s the upside of all these highly gerrymandered districts. Nancy could work on recruiting better candidates for those few districts that are open. In any event, to really change the dynamics in the House we have to work at getting a majority of Democratic governors and legislatures in place for 2020, when the legislative districts will be drawn. That’s a better use of my money.
  • There were no less than four emails from Brad Schneider’s campaign in the last twenty-four hours, which is surprising because I have no idea who he is. For some reason he thinks were BFFs.

Negative ads seem to be effective in persuading voters. Apparently campaign managers believe that histrionic emails are the only way to effectively shake the donation tree these days. Issue them frequently and the scarier they sound the more effective they believe they will be.

Whereas the truth is all of us donors are suffering from extreme campaign fundraising email fatigue. A recent shrill email from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, where I actually worked in the 1980s had me composing a reply:

“You know, I get conservatively 25 pitches like this a day. If I gave $25 to each plea, I would be donating $625 a day or over $225,000 a year. That’s more than double what I earn every year! Stop it! Just stop it! I’ll contribute when I can afford it to the candidates I feel deserve my hard earned money.”

Of course I followed the unsubscribe link. Unsurprisingly, the DCCC never replied back. And within days, new solicitations from the DCCC were filling up my inbox.

Perhaps a good use of my time in retirement would be to set up a donation site where donations are given anonymously, or at least not shared with candidate organizations. Donors deserve some respect, not this relentless email harassment. In any other context, it would be illegal. Yet there is no equivalent to mass opt out list like there is for telephone solicitations. In fact, everyone in Congress would be hostile to the very idea. They depend on the money tree.

I wish they would give me some peace. For a few days after the election, I may get some. But I am sure it will quickly restart.

 
The Thinker

Death by religion

Some years back I wrote about Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, and how I thought it was not only so much crap but dangerous and thoroughly discredited crap as well. It received some modest attention and still gets regular hits.

There are actually a lot of these addictive ideas that are killing us. Arguably capitalism is one of them but there are many others, including communism, fascism, socialism (in its pure form) and today’s topic: religion. Lots of people, mostly atheists, have been saying for a very long time that religion is harmful. They have lots of history to prove them right, as so many wars and so many millions of people have died because of religious conflicts.

Two related stories in Sunday’s Washington Post brought this home to me. One was the influx of foreign fighters into the conflict in Syria and Iraq, including hundreds of people here in America, to fight a religious war. Related to it was a disturbing article about Anjem Choudary, a Muslim cleric based in London who is a propagandist for the Islamic State. This “state” of course is busy overrunning much of Syria and Iraq not to mention beheading people and selling women into slavery. I zeroed in on this part:

Iraq and Syria, Anjem Choudary says confidently, are only the beginning. The Islamic State’s signature black flag will fly over 10 Downing Street, not to mention the White House. And it won’t happen peacefully, but only after a great battle that is now underway.

“We believe there will be complete domination of the world by Islam,” says the 47-year-old, calmly sipping tea and looking none the worse for having been swept up in a police raid just days earlier. “That may sound like some kind of James Bond movie — you know, Dr. No and world domination and all that. But we believe it.”

In other words, none of this peaceful persuasion that Islam is the true faith crap, but lots of war, death and mayhem to make sure we are all compelled to believe his version of the truth. Christians shouldn’t feel so smug, after numerous crusades not to mention the Spanish Inquisition in which we tried (and failed) to make the infidels (read: Muslims) believe our version of religious truth.

There is not a major religion out there, including Buddhism that has not killed to promote its values, despite doing so is arguably the greatest hypocrisy against their religion possible. All these centuries later, despite our vast knowledge and understanding of history, despite technology and the Internet, large numbers of us are utterly convinced that only their religion is correct. They are so vested in it that they will wreak literally holy mayhem to make sure their religion, and only their religion is the only one anyone is allowed to believe and practice.

It’s quite clear what people like Choudary would do to those of us unenlightened enough not to become Muslims: lop off our heads like they are doing to infidels in Iraq and Syria right now or, if a woman, sell her into slavery. This is, by the way, quite similar to what Columbus did to the natives of Hispaniola shortly after discovering America in 1492, and what Cortez and many other conquerors did to the unenlightened natives of South and Central America as well. Killing infidels with the sword often had the desired effect. The natives were soon proclaiming to believe in Jesus Christ while also working as slaves for their enlightened conquerors. Infidels are going to hell anyhow for refusing to be enlightened, so they might as well be dead, is what passed for their rationalization. Choudary doubtless agrees but worse is working to facilitate the transfer of fighters into Iraq and Syria to spread this sort of enlightenment.

It doesn’t seem to matter much what the form of religion is. They all seem to have this fatal flaw, which allows zero uncertainty to come between their religion and their actions. I believe this is because the human species is hardwired toward addiction to memes. And the religious meme is a powerful one: it promises us eternal paradise and the absence of all suffering, forever, in the glory of God if we just do precisely what some people say God wants us to do. People like Moner Mohammad Abusalha, a Florida native, who on May 25 became an American suicide bomber for the cause of Islam. He blew himself up in a Syrian café frequented by Syria soldiers. In his farewell video, Abusalha says:

“You think you are safe where you are in America,” he said, threatening his own country and a half-dozen others. “You are not safe.”

Doubtless he is enjoying paradise now with his 72 virgins. That should satisfy his sexual desires for a while. Or, much more likely, he is simply dead, another pawn cruelly used in a much larger game of pointless chess. Chess is a game and on some horrific level these religious crusades are games too. Games may be won, but winning them doesn’t really change anything. Thanks to conquerors like Cortez and the missionaries that followed him, South and Central America today is suitably enlightened, with Roman Catholicism dominating society there. But it is still as infected with evils as any other religiously “enlightened” state. If you need a recent example, try this one. Or this one.

No religion, no matter how universal, will change the fundamental nature of man. It never has and never will. Choudary and Abusalha are ultimately playing the parts of fools, helping to feed chain reactions of generational war, death, trauma and suffering wholly at odds with the religion they proclaim will solve these problems. The religious meme – the notion that one size of religion can and must fit all – that has been proven over and over and over almost to the point where you can’t count anymore as fundamentally false and destructive. Religion in this incarnation is harmful to man, creates chaos and retards the enlightenment these people profess it will bring.

I speak as a cautiously religious man. My own religion, Unitarian Universalism, is creedless so perhaps we have earned an escape clause as a toxic religion. Still, my denomination is hardly free of its own very human evils. A previous minister of my church, for example, was sexually involved with a number of women in our congregation (while married), a scandal some thirty years in our past that still affects our behavior. But Unitarian Universalism at least does not proselytize. We don’t assume our religion is the only correct one. This will occasionally drive others nuts. It resulted in some deaths some years back in a congregation in Tennessee, and more recently a very disturbing takeover of a service in Louisiana by some local antiabortion nuts.

So here’s my new rules on religion and I hope it is a new meme we can spread:

  • I will not consider believing in any religion that assumes it has all the answers about the nature of God and how humans must behave
  • I will not consider believing in any religion that thinks has succeeded when everyone is believing in its version of truth
  • I will not consider believing in any religion that cannot peacefully co-exist with other different faiths
  • I will not consider believing in any religion that has at any time in its past caused religious warfare
  • I will actively do all I can to civilly and peacefully undermine any religion that promotes any of the above
  • I will encourage everyone, including you, who may belong to such a faith to leave it

Such faiths are not worthy of the God you claim to worship and are ultimately far more destructive than helpful. Reflect on it. Pray on it. God will tell you it’s true.

 

 
The Thinker

The meat of Meat Loaf

You miss a lot during your busy years. There are so many things I just gave up when real life consumed me. This included most television, most leisure reading, lots of movies and music. Now that I’m retired I’m trying to catch up on a lot of stuff that I missed. I’ll never catch up, of course, so it’s kind of futile to try, but I am trying to catch up on Meat Loaf.

His record Bat out of Hell soared to the top of the charts in 1977 and sold more copies than Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. In the world of rock music it was something of a nuclear warhead, flattening the competition for months. The album’s success was in part aided by the cover’s outrageously clever artwork. Still, I just had not gotten around to ever listening to it. 37 years later in semi-retirement, I found the time.

There were certainly many in the hard rock genre at the time. All sorts of artists were trying for the loudest and most outrageous acts on stage. We were looking for spectacle. We were looking for our eardrums to be pierced by music. In that sense, the artist formally known as Michael Lee Aday was just another screaming head. Still, when I finally got around to listening to the title track all these years later, I felt that he must have the loudest and certainly the most convincing of the bunch. Ably assisted by songwriter Jim Steinman, it’s not surprising that this album sold like gangbusters.

For a fat guy, Meat Loaf has had a remarkable career. Big fat guys aren’t supposed to be this talented, and if they are they are supposed to be spurned by the skinnier set. Meat Loaf was the exception but you can tell that his fellow artists begrudged his rise to success. Starting with a part in the rock opera Hair, not to mention a role on The Rocky Horror Picture Show, this accidental artist somehow dramatically beat the odds against him. Listening to Bat out of Hell, not to mention two sequel albums also enabled by Jim Steinman, it’s clear to me what makes him different. It comes down to one thing: authenticity.

Meat Loaf is a talented singer and performer, even when he did not have Jim Steinman’s songwriting talents to draw on. For artists like Alice Cooper or Gene Simmons though, music is just an act. For Meat Loaf, singing is a projection of the person he actually is. Consequently he brings a loud but honest sincerity to his singing that makes him unique. It was this I think that people latched onto, and why his album went nuclear. His songs were quite good, but they were by themselves no better than similar songs of his era. The reason they shown was simply because he puts one hundred percent of who he really is into them. Every word overflows with emotion.

Most big fat boys who grow up to be men are going to have issues. Meat had many, as will be clear if you read his biography. It would be hard to find an issue he didn’t have, but certainly they included the ones that usually bedeviled rock stars of his time, including drugs and booze. In his case it also included a dysfunctional family, something he sings about candidly in Bat out of Hell II, in the song “Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are”. As Steinman wrote the song, I assumed it was fictional. However, if you take the time to hear his story, this is not fictional at all. Meat’s drunken father did actually tried to kill him with a knife. Meat suffered the discrimination common to boys who did not fit in. It was these taunting boys and his father that gave him the name “Meat Loaf”.

So it turns out that spinning through Meat Loaf’s albums is a heady and enjoyable experience, if you don’t mind hearing pain leach out of his voice so frequently. He eloquently connects many of us to painful periods in our own past. You might say he is a grounded artist, both in real life and in his work. Unlike most artists who make a one hit wonder, he was able to resurrect himself. Bat out of Hell II was released in 1993, sixteen years after the first album’s debut and inexplicably moved his career out of the toilet and back into the stratosphere. Having heard all three Bat albums, the second is actually better than the first, and longer as well. It is also more personal.

The third Bat album was released in 2006. Steinman was the sole songwriter for the first two albums and contributed to the third album, with other songs contributed by Desmond Child, who also produced the record. The success of the Bat albums, all of which went gold, triggered disagreements and lawsuits between Meat Loaf and Steinman. Nonetheless, when their collaboration worked, it was to both their benefits. Steinman tried to put out some albums of his own, but he simply isn’t gifted with Meat Loaf’s voice, so they floundered.

Music is supposed to affect you. Sometimes music will touch you. Very rarely sometimes music will grip you tightly and rattle you with its power. Not all of Meat Loaf’s music qualified in the latter, but some of it, particularly many of the songs on his Bat out of Hell albums have that rare magic. Some of them can make you cry in spite of their loudness.

It took 37 years, but I’m glad I took these albums for a virtual spin. It’s curious that Meat Loaf has not yet been invested in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Let’s hope it’s not a snub, because he should be in its gilded ranks.

 
The Thinker

Our Wild, Wild Universe – Part Two

I don’t often write about the universe. It’s been ten years since I wrote about the physicist Brian Greene’s book The Fabric of the Universe. It seems that I cannot get enough of the story, at least when it can be brought down to the terms a layman like me can understand. Some months back Cosmos returned to television, a sort of sequel to the series of the same name hosted by the late astronomer Carl Sagan broadcast on public TV in 1980. This series is hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson and showed up, curiously enough, on the Fox Network, a network known more for its lowbrow entertainment than this nerdy stuff.

I’m catching up on the series now on Netflix. I find it compelling in a strange way, so compelling that I am putting aside other really compelling shows like House of Cards and Ken Burns’ documentary The Roosevelts to give it precedence. It tickles my curiosity and sense of wonder. The more you explore what we know about the universe, the more wondrous it becomes. deGrasse Tyson does a great job of conveying the immensity and the wonder of our universe. The series is aided by wondrous CGI as well, the sort that was simply unavailable when Carl Sagan hosted the series (although for the time his CGI was quite sophisticated). The combination of CGI, storytelling and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s infectious way of story telling makes it a very compelling series.

It brings out the natural pantheist in me. Natural pantheism is sort of a religion that simply expresses reverence for our universe the way it is. As you finish episodes of this version of Cosmos, you should feel the pull of natural pantheism too. Most of us who are religious tend to appreciate the faiths that we have been brought up in, in part perhaps because its message is much simpler to grasp than the amazing immensity and complexity of the cosmos, to the extent that we can understand it. Traditional religions also tend to concentrate on people and our needs, aspirations and questions. They are human centric. Studying the cosmos as it is, is not human centric at all except of course that we are self-aware creatures. We also have developed a scientific method that allows us to continually gain in understanding of the cosmos and our part in it.

deGrasse Tyson does a great job of explaining how we came to understand how the universe actually works. This too is a compelling story. In it certain scientists like Newton, Faraday and Einstein become something like secular saints, because they each solve great mysteries. In the process they reveal not just what is, but how the master clock works and sometimes how we can work it to our advantage. It’s a story of great detective work spanning thousands of years.

The series is spawning new thoughts within me, particularly in the area of evolution. It is clear to me that evolution does not exist merely here on Earth, but across the universe as well. The universe evolves too, creating more and more complex elements that make life possible. Is there life in the universe, aside from our planet, of course? Now the answer seems simple: yes. Life doubtless exists elsewhere, in many forms. In fact it probably permeates our galaxy and much of the evolved universe. This is because all the building blocks are there, particularly carbon and heat, which is hardly unique to the Earth. In addition, as deGrasse Tyson points out in Episode 11, it is probable that microbial life travels between planets and between solar systems, seeding life itself across the galaxy and the universe. It just happens so slowly and over so many millions of years it is hard for us to see.

To me it gets much simpler. The universe itself is a living creature. The universe does not necessarily think or breathe, attributes that we associate with life but at least to our understanding is something done very quickly. But it is clearly evolving and becoming more complex with time. It is unfolding and through nuclear processes and gravity it is creating the complex, like carbon molecules, from the simple: the collapse of hydrogen gases by gravity into stars and their subsequent explosion. And like all living things, the universe seems destined to die. Like our body though it does not all die at once. It will take billions of years to die as the forces of the big bang move objects further and further from each other. The universe will catch a bad case of pneumonia and then pass on. With the big bang so powerful that no contraction of the universe seems possible, its energy will dwindle out, much like a firework. Whatever happens after that takes us to realms beyond the known laws of physics.

So yes, the universe is alive and it is also a vast system. Systems by nature are complex entities, and the universe is complex almost beyond our fathoming. Systems imply rules and order and some understanding, which if you believe in God suggests your belief is not unfounded. Systems also are comprised of many pieces that interrelate with one another. Our universe interrelates with itself. Forces like the nuclear forces and gravity are the means that enforce an interrelationship. It also means that everything is connected to everything else. We sometimes suffer the illusion that we are alone. We may feel lonely, but we are never alone. We are always intimately connected with everything else simply because we are all a part of everything else.

It is individuality that is an illusion, although as deGrasse Tyson points out not only are we part of a universe so immense that few of us can understand it, there is also a universe within ourselves. Within a breath of air that we inhale, there are more atoms inhaled than there are stars in the universe. If there is a miracle, it is that we have evolved to self-awareness. We have a pretty good idea how it all fits together now, and our part in it.

With life must come death. On the universal level, our life is like the lifespan of a bacterium on a bar of soap: very short indeed. By nature we cannot maintain such complexity for that long and even if we could the universe will shift in ways that would kill us. It’s no wonder then that universe seems cold, heartless and unfathomable. We are destined to die, and die very quickly on a universal time scale. However, we remain part of the fabric of something far more immense and alive: the universe itself.

We are a part of something immensely grand and complex indeed, with our part to play. We have the privilege, thanks to shows like Cosmos, to understand our what it is and our part in it. And that is awe-inspiring and for this agnostic a fitting and satisfying part to play.

 

Switch to our mobile site