Saturday, October 31, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

Humanity Remembered...

I nursed it, fed it, watched it grow in pain and misery. Like the dark child it was, I groomed it for evil, raised it for a purpose, loved it in its darkness and pure maliciousness.

Unlike most dark children, however, I did not keep this one secret. I mounted it on a pedestal framed in black roses, shouted from the interior of my office at work, "Your time is coming!" Announcements followed on social websites, something wicked was to be born, destruction and misery were to be its children just as it was mine, this evil spawn, this Anger.

We had been on a tight rope for months, juggling this, managing that, barely squeaking through the weeks as bills mounted and costs were cut on every--and I do mean every--front. But then one missed payment--one missed payment in 9 years by two business days--threatened it all. A deduction from the checking account far exceeding, three times exceeding, the normal amount, had been raped from my hands, torn from my life without so much as a whimper.

Other things fell into disarray, funds that should have been there were no longer, and the negative balance grew as quickly as my child, my rage, my Anger.

After two more business days, I located the documentation I needed in the gigantic pile that passes for a filing system and punched the numbers into the phone. I brought forth the dark child and it perched there on the edges of my mind, crouched like a cat ready for the killing spree. The endless automated computer menus fed its already insatiable lust for blood. I kept her on a short leash as the real human being finally came on the line, waiting for the verification circus to come to a close--and then the time was upon us! I ripped off her leash and threw her forth into the wireless void! A whirlwind of emotions were unraveling in my minds eye as mental images of blood and death navigated the intangible realms between here and there! And as breath began to explode from my lungs to execute--

Credit Card Rep: Oh my god...
What was this, some trickery? A trap? A desperate attempt to buy time? I don't think so! my mind shouted, and once again the wellspring of evil filled my lungs, about to spill forth--

Credit Card Rep: Something has gone terribly wrong sir. I'm assuming that's the reason for your call?
Me: I-- er... Well, yes, actually, I--
Credit Card Rep: Just one moment, sir. I'm not sure how this happened, but I need to get my coworker as this is only my second week here, but I know this isn't right, please hold on...
Me: I--
So it's to be the "I'm new here" routine, is it? Battle strategies already formed, tactics planned, and Anger simply fed on the elevator music, growing to monstrous proportions!

Credit Card Rep: Hello, sir, sorry to put you on hold, but could you just verify for me real quick the reason for your call today?
Me: You mean, besides the fact that you took three times the amount of my minimum due payment from my checking account two days ago?
Credit Card Rep: I figured as much. We are in the process of refunding that amount to your checking account as we speak. We're also lowering your APR by half, and we'll also be waiving your next months payment. We are so sorry for this inconvenience and I can assure you we are looking into this issue and will get to the bottom of this. Did you incur any charges from your financial institution due to this unfortunate circumstance?
Me: Um, er... Yes, three overdraft fees of $30 each--
Credit Card Rep: So $90? We will include an extra $90 in the amount of money we will refund to your account sir. Again, we apologize for this and want to assure you that this should never have happened. We will of course let you know immediately the cause once we are aware of what has occurred--
Me: So--you're refunding all of it? The entire amount?
Credit Card Rep: As we speak, sir. I'm getting ______ on the line from Accounts Payable as we speak to ensure that this isn't delayed. We will also be calling your financial institution first thing tomorrow morning to ensure that this money is available to you first thing in the morning.
I felt my child dying. It wasn't prepared for this, an attack of decency and fairness, of understanding and compassion. It's a credit card company! she screamed in her death throes. They are the embodiment of my soul, my life! They are my god! Anger screamed as the essence of her dissipated into nothingness. As I watched her whither and die, I couldn't help but smile. A melancholy smile, to be sure. After all, for two whole days she had been mine. I had poured life and breath into her, prepared her for war, raised her for...

Well, for nothing, it seems...

I thank the representative for her candor and her help, and after we hang up, I simply sit in silence and stare at my walls. Crisis averted, I thought, and took stock quickly of the other calls that now needed made knowing that the missing money would be there tomorrow morning. As I ticked off the short list, I buried Anger without ceremony into the depths of my mind, knowing that like the vampire she was, she'd be ready to suck my humanity from me once again in preparation for war...

But hopefully, just hopefully, Anger will remember this moment--and hopefully, so will I. To remember the moment I spoke to a human being who reminded me of my humanity as she used hers...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Cart Before the Horse...

One of the things that comes up a lot in conversations with some Christians and other religiously-inclined individuals is their appeal to a higher power--i.e., morality must be absolute, and to be so it had to have come from a higher power--as if we, as thinking, conscience humans are incapable of deciding for ourselves what "good" and "bad" should, could, or would mean as we strive and struggle to create social groups in which we can live in harmony and propagate the species...

In one such conversation I am currently having over on Facebook, a young man said:

What about the "laws of nature"? Nowadays, when we talk of the 'laws of nature' we usually mean things like gravitation, or heredity, or the laws of chemistry. but the older "thinkers" called the law of right and wrong 'the Law of Nature,' they really meant the Law of Human Nature. The idea is that, just as all bodies are governed by the law of gravitation, and organisms by biological laws, so the creature called man also had his law--with this great difference, that a body could not choose whether it obeyed the law of gravitation or not, but a man could choose either to obey the Law of Human Nature or to disobey it. [...] There have been differences between their moralities, but these have never amounted to anything like a total difference. If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teaching of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, what will really strike him will be how very like they are to each other and to our own. [...] Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked.
The gist of his question/statement, if it is to be nut-shelled, is: Where does the moral nature of man come from? Evolution does not provides a satisfactory answer for all mankind sharing a common ethical set of principles. Man's semi-common sense of "right" and "wrong" must have come from a higher source."

The problem in this statement is that a much stronger claim is being made than is actually warranted by any of the evidence. There isn't a consistent code of ethics being followed by billions of people, although there are consistent ethical principles that people follow. There are principles against killing the innocent in most societies, but those codes inconsistently define who is "innocent" and who is not. There are many principles against theft in most societies, but those codes inconsistently define the nature of private property and what is to be done with it.

Both the consistency of the general principles as well as the inconsistency of the codes which express those principles are quite understandable in the context of evolution.

The reason why there are laws against murder in all cultures is because nobody wants to be murdered (believe it or not...). In every culture, people got together and agreed that having a law against murder is a good idea (although that society will still kill people based on other "moral" laws held by that same group). With a law against murder they can all worry a little bit less about being murdered themselves within their particular social group as long as they adhere to the other moral precepts and codes. Same thing with theft: People do not like having things stolen from them. They got together and enacted laws against theft (although people will still steal if they are short-sighted enough to think of their own survival rather than the societies' survival). It is evolution that is responsible for the desire to survive (not be murdered) and thrive (one part of which is keeping the the things we own and not having them stolen from us). The evolutionary process on each individual has made us all similar enough as a society (due to those particular individual traits surviving in individuals in those groups, expressing those traits would have been more desirable for mating as they were better for the group and/or society where potential mates were located) in wanting similar things. So when we get together and decide on a moral or legal code, there are things that will end up being illegal or "immoral" in all cultures IN PRINCIPLE. On an individual level, the societies mentioned still have the same basic laws (again, in principle), and if you ask the individuals in those cultures, they will tell you they have a conscience and know right from wrong within the context of their definitions of private property, innocence, public property, et cetera.

Religious morality claims to be based on absolute moral law given down by a god. However, it is easy to look at the varying moralities of members of the same religions over history and in present day, and see that in fact RELIGIOUS morality constantly changes as secular societies change and interpretations of religious texts change as well (and thus, the moral stances of that religion changes). One of the implications of this sort of moral code is that when you harm someone, the wrong you have done is disobeying God, not harming that person. The harm to that person becomes fairly inconsequential. If an action is to be objectively wrong, then it is to be wrong for anyone--including God.

One example is slavery. Using the bible, there is not one passage that flat out condemns slavery. Slavery existed for thousands of years under societies that were strictly controlled by religious forces. The bible was used in the defense of slavery before and during (and after!) the civil war. Nowadays, however, most Christians will say that the bible opposes slavery. They have simply chosen to take different passages and interpret them in a different manner than those who have preceded us for thousands of years. Both groups can quote from the bible to support their arguments, yet both are completely convinced that theirs is (or was, since pro-slavery forces have mostly died away and/or become unpopular) the God-given moral law.

There are hundreds more examples besides slavery, from basic rights that were once considered morally necessary but are now laughed at, to major issues like equality amongst the genders.

The fact is, religious morality stems from the same place atheistic morality stems from. People. There is no "natural" or "moral" law. If morality WERE part of the order of nature, it would be inviolable, like gravity, or the laws of thermodynamics. What is called "natural law" is actually social consensus, arising out of the fact that people need to cooperate with one another in order to survive.

Morality is credited to evolution, and it is worthwhile to remember that large society is a very new thing (mostly due to medical and technological sciences based on those very evolutionary truths). Before 10,000 years ago, we lived in small hunter-gatherer type groups with no formal government per se. And this is much too short a time span for any evolutionary change to occur. Natural selection (one part of the equation that makes evolution what it is) works on the individual and their genes, not on societies or populations as a whole. The catch is, just because a group is a small, hunter-gather society does NOT mean there is no government-entity to enforce socially-agreed upon moral precepts. It may be informal, yes, but a government it is. If you lived 100,000 years ago and you stole food from an individual in your group, then it doesn't take lawyers to decide you're harming the group--one pack elder could frown and have you killed as a liability to the group! These behaviors are not unique: they have been witnessed in other animals, such as ravens and great apes and others. This type of proto-legal government would quite rapidly tend to favor those with group-friendly behaviors. Thus, a common across-species "morality" is carried through the generations across the species who survive due to socially-accepted mores and laws which are then taught, through both words and actions to the next generation, not necessarily genetically (although genetic predisposition cannot necessarily be ruled out either!).

Saying morality and goodness must flow from a deity not only puts the cart before the horse, it disregards the horse (evolution) completely as the driving force of the cart (carries our common ethical principles).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Zen, and the Art of Heating Your Home...

1. Make sure you have all the pieces you need before it gets to 20 degrees F. outside on average.
a. Attaching the handle to the coal stove. It helps greatly if last year, your husband didn't break the handle into three separate pieces out of frustration due to a dying fire. New handles can be purchased at Home Depot, only costing you $10 for gas, 1.5 hours of time, and $1.23 for the handle itself.
b. Attaching the handle assembly. It helps greatly if, before you ran all the way to Home Depot, you also ensured that the bracket that the handle attaches to, and the bolt that also goes through the handle, bracket, and into the toothy interior, also wasn't broken during the unfortunate instance that resulted in the demise of the handle last year. Stoves & Stuff has the handle assembly. It only costs you about $12 in gas, 1.75 hours of your time, and $32.50 for the new bracket and bolt. It then only takes you another 3 hours to finally remove the broken half of the screw from inside the tooth. Again, if you had attempted to ascertain all you needed before beginning said project, you could have also replaced both drill bits you broke in the process of removing the broken screw.
c. Inserting the bricks. Stoves & Stuff also sells replacement bricks for lining the inside of your coal stove. As, when placing the bricks back into the coal stove (after reassembling the handle, of course), you break several of them, as it is a very tight fit. You get out some gunky stuff that your father-in-law left behind last year and glue the bricks back together as best you can.

2. Make sure you have coal.
a. Descending into the Basement of Eternal Darkness. One must then determine where the fire supplies are; i.e., coal, cardboard, and newspapers for starting the fire. If you happen to trip over the buckets used for bringing the coal up to the coal stove, that's one less thing you have to look for later.
b. Make sure everything you use to start the fire isn't important to anyone else living in your household. This could include bank statements, old newspapers with a certain ad, or the instructions to a mint-condition 1978 Tai Interceptor that others plan to sell on eBay. If, in the course of human events, you do inadvertently burn something that may have been worth money for spending on gifts for friends and family, kindly remind that injured person that they should keep their collectibles away from the wood pile and the newspaper recyclables. This should prevent any inadvertent burnings or sacrifices.
c. Make sure you have either matches, or a lighter. Lucky for you, convenience stores and gas stations keep these in great supply, and you can pick up a fresh pack of Marlboro Lights at the same time. Make sure you go to the gas station alone, though, or you may end up receiving a lecture on the dangers of smoking, and it won't be appreciated when you re-lecture back on the dangers your coal stove poses to the ozone layer.

3. Start the fire.
a. The proper way to start your fire for optimal burning and coal catching. First, make sure any other persons living in your house are present when gathering the burning material. This could save a lot of headaches later.
b. Designate a fire starter. Sure, this could be a character out of a Stephen King novel, which I would suggest using as kindling as it would be more useful, but make sure any other persons living in your house haven't suddenly become The Expert on all things pertaining to burning. Also be sure that if anyone in your household suddenly does decide that they are much better at starting fires than you, kindly step back, get yourself a cider or beer, and laugh as they do everything wrong, resulting in hours of coldness in your house as the sun sets and 20 degrees F creeps in through your not-so-air-tight house built in the 1940s. If you do, however, decide this expert is a fraud, don't risk frostbite laughing at their silly attempts. Retake command of the situation by claiming they are better at ______ (doing the dishes, renting movies, calling a friend) so that they are safely removed from the immediate vicinity, allowing you to start the fire uninterrupted and unchallenged. Warning: While others are performing these various tasks, set aside anything that may be designated as important later, despite where it may have been found (i.e., garbage, recycling, floor...)
c. Add coal generously. If the so-called Expert reappears long before they should have completed said assignment, kindly block their view of how to you are performing your designated task. You will avoid all kinds of phrases, such as "That's too much!" or "You're putting it out!" You will be vindicated when, an hour later, the inside temperature of your house is pushing 75 and well on its way to 80.
d. Keep the fire burning. This is where you claim, through all of your effort put into getting the coal stove started, you are exhausted, and appeal to the better nature of others in the house, whether former Experts or not. They will be so grateful for the fact that they can sit on the couch in their undies, they will take over ashing the stove and adding coal for at least three days, allowing you to regain your strength and not miss anything on prime time television. Be sure, though, to offer your help, so as others don't feel taken advantage of, ensuring a possible longer period of uninterrupted relaxation.

4. Keeping the stove burning through the winter.
a. Don't let others see you blogging about this experience. They will immediately rescind any offers of keeping the stove going for the next three days. They will also feel slightly hurt that the errand you told them only they could do was only a ruse so that you could heat the house in a more timely fashion. They actually get over it, though, when they realize you did get it started in a shorter amount of time.
b. Add lighting to your basement. This is probably better as a spring project, but if others in your house have watched any infomercials lately, they most likely bought handy-dandy little stick-em-up lights that can be used anywhere and anytime, not require being hard-wired into your house, as they are battery operated. Your basement will be transformed from total darkness to quasi-darkness with the blessing of QVC for only $5.95. These lights may also prevent you from kicking the coal buckets.
c. Designate a schedule. Don't assume that, just because you have off the next morning, others will let you sleep in and maintain the stove before they leave for work. Simply hope for the best when you do wake up with that icicle on your nose, and pray it hasn't gone totally out. Otherwise, you make pick up on Step 2. If, indeed, it has gone out, leave a message on other's cell phones, explaining to them how cold it was, how you were inconvenienced, and assert that you may need to find new others to sleep in your bed, one's more willing to allow a person to sleep in and stay warm. This will ensure that others will have as bad a day as you had when you had to spend yet another day restarting the coal stove. Warning: While you may think this makes you even, others will disagree, and will in turn leave messages on your cell phone telling you about their bad morning. In spite of the fact that their bad morning didn't start until they got to work, and that, prior to their bad day, they were having a good morning in which they could have shaken down the ashes and removed them from said stove, you let it pass, only so you can get back to whatever it is you had planned on doing anyway when you took this day off. Which, to begin with, didn't involve restarting the coal stove.
d. Remind yourselves how lucky you are to be warm. This is sure to put everything in perspective, and re-allow peace to enter your home, despite the fact that you knew you were right all along. Sometimes it's good to just let it go, and remember others may not be as fortunate.

Following these simple steps should allow for a warm, toasty winter with the least amount of inconvenience and overall pissy-ness. Remember that fire is dangerous, but so is a fag scorned.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

"I'm Not a Racist... I Just Don't Believe in Mixing the Races..."

One wonders what the qualifier is for being a racist then?

But apparently, Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish in Louisianna, has "piles and piles of black friends."

Perhaps he uses them for kindling?

He goes on to say, "There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage," Bardwell said. "I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it."

Has this man heard of President Obama? Mariah Carey?

This may be a case of "prjection" on Bardwell's part...

Bardwell also says in his own defense "I try to treat everyone equally," he said. He claims that if he married one interracial couple, he'd have to marry other interracial couples. So I suppose it's in the spirit of "equality" that he refuses to marry any of them, thus "treating them all equally."

Only in the south...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

This is Why Mom Stopped Buying Me Lunch Boxes...

Mom: Well, when did you see it last?
Me: (shrug) I dunno... (shuffle my feet, stare at the ground)
Mom: Did you have it at lunch time?
Me: Yeeeeess....
Mom: And then what did you do with it?
Me: I dunno... (more shuffling...)
Mom: Did you ask your teacher if it had been turned in to the lost and found?
Me: Yeeeeess....
Mom: I don't know what I'm going to do with you...
Lunch boxes, coats, gloves, scarves, hats... I still lose these things, a little too regularly for my ease of mind... I still haven't seen my Rehobeth Beach baseball cap since about mid-summer... I'm no longer seven but I lose things just as quickly, if not more so as I no longer have other adults reminding me about such things!

Like today, at lunch time, I was supposed to call this guy about a sink and toilet I had purchased through Craigslist. But what was I doing? Who knows! It completely left my mind that this was something that needed to be done. I just left the guy a message on his cell profusely apologizing for my forgetfulness. Even as I type this, I've sent an email to my work email to remind me to call him and had Rich place a Post-It on the front door where I can't miss it tomorrow morning when I leave for work.

At work alone, I have several dozen Post-Its at various places around my work station to remind me of the stupidest things, and why? I have the attention span of a kitten on crack, that's why.

Granted, over the years I've learned some tricks: whenever I'm working on a project, I keep all tools directly at my feet--not on the nearest surface, not in my pockets, not generally tossed about the nether regions of my immediate area; when I come home from work, keys and wallet and jacket go directly on the left-hand corner of the coffee table and remain there (well, until Beaux arrived they stayed there...); when I am making a meal, all utensils and pots and pans and ingredients stay on the dishwasher surface until all cooking is completed (lest I run out of spoons and forks before the meal is even ready to be eaten!); I only buy bright-orange lighters so they are easily seen when lying on any given surface; and so on and so forth.

But I still lose things. I haven't seen a flat-head screw driver in this house in at least a year, even though I had a whole matching blue-handled set two Christmas's ago. My copy of For the Bible Tells Me So has been missing for at least three years. And my copy of Extreme's Pornograffiti? I just replaced it at a Yard Sale to replace the copy I'd lost eons ago for $1, begged from the same mother who banished me from ever owning a lunch box after first grade...

I learned to make do with the brown bagged lunches (although truth be told some days I starved as I sometimes managed to lose even those before lunch even started!), to stick my hands deep deep deep into my denim pockets every time a pair of my gloves went off globe-trotting without my consent, to pretend I didn't want to mess up my hair when the real reason was I had no idea where my hat had gotten to...

I can only hope the gentlemen who sold me the toilet and sink didn't get pissed off at my forgetfulness and resell them...

But this is exactly why my mother stopped buying me lunch boxes...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Curing Lust with Gluttony Never Tasted So Good...

It could just be me--after all, having never been categorized as "slender" even in my best of days--it just seems like we've lost sight of The Big Picture. No, no, not the one hanging over your couch in the living room (a framed print of "The Lady of Shallot" in my case...).

Supposedly (and if I bothered to look it up, I could easily say "Factually"), we are becoming fatter and fatter. From all the news headlines, you'd think we rivaled the hippo for sheer girth! (And some of you do!)

Could this be because "gluttony" has become a not-so-sin sin? Having never been Catholic--but well aware as gluttony's status as a Top Seven on the sin-o-matic--I can't say for sure how much emphasis was placed on young minds in regards to this deadly humdinger as opposed to the other six (Lust, Greed, Sloth, etc.)--perhaps gluttony took a back seat due to all the inter-Catholic lust between priests and altar boys? One can only haphazard guesses at this point I suppose...

Realize, please, that I'm just ranting to fill the empty time I suddenly find myself with at work... I suppose this could be considered "Sloth" if I didn't find it so damn time-consuming, but that's another one of the deadly's that seems to have gone the way of the 30-inch waistline... I imagine they're related--we're too slothful to do anything but eat, which in turn makes us more slothful, and while it also may not make us lust less, it certainly does a world of good for people lusting us, and therefore serves some purpose in the great scheme of things... After all, isn't it the "sexual sins" most of us seem so concerned with?

I mean, if thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, it's a hell of a lot easier to keep such a command if she looks more like Rosalie Bradford than Jessica Rabbit, am I right? Could it be that toning down rhetoric on gluttony is really a right-wing conspiracy to control the sexual urges of the nation? To end all wanton physical pleasure in an orgy of Twinkies and after-church social potlucks?

Maybe? Golden arches? Golden Gates?

Forest for the trees?


Saturday, October 3, 2009