THE BIG PICTURE

The search for extraterrestrial life has always fascinated me.  The numbers alone make it a virtual certainty that something is out there.  Repeat after me, Carl Sagan’s “Billions and billions.”  Note how that rolls off the tongue.  More importantly, note what it does for the odds.  Come on, now.  With numbers that big, something has to be out there.

The operative question, then, becomes this:  Are they more advanced than we?  Or are they struggling to keep up/catch up to us?  In either case, the disparity creates a serious problem for the civilization lagging behind.  What do we know for sure about the clash of civilizations?  Yes, the superior takes advantage of the weaker.  Happens among brothers and sisters, happens when “civilized” encounters “primitive.”  Remember the smallpox-infested blankets our European settlers foisted on Native Americans?  You fail to do so at your peril.

Another intriguing question also crops up:  How would such an encounter impact our belief systems?  How do we re-calibrate our belief/non-belief in a higher power?  Ross Andersen, writing in The Atlantic, suggests that Buddhists would get off the easiest:  “Their faith already assumes an infinite universe of untold antiquity, its every corner alive with the vibrating energies of living beings.”

Similarly, he says that Hinduism, Islam and Judaism are big enough, flexible enough to withstand the concept of “Wait, it’s a lot bigger than we thought!”  Christianity, on the other hand, had a hard enough time grappling with a non-earth-centric universe.  How’s it going to handle something this big?  “There is a debate in contemporary Christian theology as to whether Christ’s salvation extends to every soul that exists in the wider universe or whether the sin-tainted inhabitants of distant planets require their own divine interventions.  The Vatican is especially keen to massage extraterrestrial life into its doctrine, perhaps sensing that another scientific revolution may be imminent.  The shameful persecution of Galileo is still fresh in its long institutional memory.”

The optimist in me wants to say that contact with another life form will benefit us immensely in terms of accepting one another at face value and according value to all forms of life, on this planet and on others.  The realist in me wonders if that’s just a pipe dream.  What do you think?

 

THAT’S JUST COLD

Long-time Philadelphia Eagles fan Jeffrey Riegel, who died last August at age 56, had as one of his final wishes the request that eight members of the Eagles football team act as his pallbearers “so that the Eagles can let me down one last time.”  Cold.  Really cold.

 

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

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WINTER BEGINS

Thus begins the winter.  Not so savage here in California.  It’s usually cold and, likely, a little wet.  But that’s about it.  It is the advantage of a Mediterranean climate:  two seasons, summer warm (not horrifyingly hot) and dry, winter cool (not bone-chilling cold) and a little damp.  Neat division, few extremes.  Except when wildfires get out of control (as they did this year, north and south).

Today is the day where you can see, in all its clarity, the division between the pessimist and the optimist.  The former, all doom and gloom, sees only the beginning of winter, the most difficult season, the most dangerous time of year.  The least fun season, unless you’ve got a couple of feet of fresh powder to ski upon.

Ah, but the optimist—me, in short—sees today as that moment when the days start getting longer!  First, by a minute each day.  Occasionally by even two minutes a day.  Yippee!  Longer days mean more time for baseball!  Pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training in just six weeks!  What could be better?

Much of life is defined by your approach to it.  Do you see only the dark side, or are you willing to admit to the possibility of light.  There is the old story of the two shoe salesman going to another country to assess their chances.  The pessimist reports back to his bosses, “No one wears shoes here.  Not a good potential market.”  The optimist, on the other hand, gleefully exclaims, “No one wears shoes here!  Unlimited opportunities!”

(I almost typed “equinox” as today’s title.  Another expression of my ADD, that heedless, headlong jumping right into something without a care or a thought in the world.  Reflection only comes later.  No, the days are not of equal length today, as they are at the two equinoxes.  Today’s length is totally unequal, hence its position as a “swing” day, one season changing to the next.  Rejoice in that difference.  Rejoice in all differences.  Nobody wants a world in which everything is the same, in which there is no “new” to celebrate.  Unless, perhaps, it’s those darned pessimists, who have the hardest time with newness, excitement or change.)

I am in the middle of the Arizona Republic newspaper’s “Big Crossword.”  This is a gigantic, double-truck (two-page) spread that’ll probably take me a month to complete.  One of the clues yesterday fairly defined the ADD/optimist character I have inhabited for more than seven decades.  The clue:  The way an optimist does crossword puzzles (two words, five letters).  The answer:  in ink.

Yep.  That’s me.  Crosswords in ink.  Often messy, but always full of fun and exhilaration.  Charge forward, full speed ahead, consequences (and torpedoes) be damned.  Get out there and live!  Cowering just doesn’t cut it, critters.  C’mon, let’s go.  It’s the first day of winter, and the days are only going to get longer!  Yippee!!

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

TEAR IT DOWN (TO BUILD IT UP)

There is a conversation on about, well, conversation.  Free speech versus censorship, the oldest battle of the mind.

It’s not enough to say that you’re in favor of free speech.  Everybody’s in favor of free speech . . . so long as mine is more protected than yours.  The entire thrust of most political endeavor is to control the passing on of information, to make sure that the press sees me favorably, you not so much.  Or not at all, if that be possible.

Magician Penn Jillette penned an editorial recently urging Brandeis University to more completely honor their commitment to freedom of speech on their campus (which he cites as just one of many colleges that he, Penn Jillette, did not attend).  Brandeis—ironically named for Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, a great proponent of free speech—had just banned the performance of a play about the late comedian Lenny Bruce . . . because it might offend student play-goers.

The poor dears.  Understand, these are elite college students, supposedly on campus to expand their minds, and they might be put off by the raw and unexpurgated mind of Mr. Bruce?  What the hell are they there for, if not to have their minds expanded by new, even revolutionary notions?  Let me remind you of another Supreme Court Justice’s most famous (to my mind) exclamations.  This from Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.:  “A mind expanded by a new idea never returns to its former size.”  Muscles get stronger after they are “torn down.”  So, too, with the mental muscle, the mind.

Jillette notes that Lenny Bruce was shocking, he was hard, that his whole gig was to push people to worry and to thinking.  “Brandeis banned this play about Lenny Bruce because students thought it might upset them,” wrote Jillette.  “Maybe it’s not a good play.  Who cares?  I don’t have a dog in this fight.  I never went to college.  I’m not paying for college.  College students can choose to spend their money to avoid the risk of being offended.  It’s a lot of jingle—family money, scholarships, government loans and personal loans.  Maybe they don’t want to pay to be challenged.  That’s a lot of debt to carry to be comfortable.”

I read a lot.  I read a lot not to be comforted, but to be informed, to know a teensy bit more today than I knew yesterday.  I like comfortable.  I am wearing fleece-lined moccasins and sweat pants as I type these words.  But I also know that my “comfortable” knowledge needs to be challenged and stretched by opposing ideas, otherwise I won’t know for sure that what I think and believe has any verifiable substance.

So I read the local newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, The Week, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, New York, Time, National Geographic.  I read intently, running a line in ink down each column as I complete each paragraph . . . so that I don’t accidentally go back and read it a second time.  ADD is a bitch.

Censorship is a wall that encloses us inside a festering prison of old, tired, comforting “truths” that are easy, safe, comfortable.  But they are also limiting and, as such, are neither useful nor helpful.  So tear down that wall of ignorance and shame.  Go out into the world of discomfort and worry.  That’s where real life is lived, where you get the glory and the exalted along with the puss and the garbage.  Live it up!

There was a poster that I always remember.  It was tacked to the ceiling at the old Irwin Memorial Blood Bank in San Francisco.  I looked up at it as I was lying on my back every time I gave blood.  The image was of a glorious tall ship, at sea, under full sail.  The caption?  “A ship in a harbor is safe.  But that’s not what ships are built for.”  So take Enya’s advice:  “Sail away, sail away, sail away.”   Engage.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

SOLITUDE

 

“He who does not enjoy solitude will not love freedom.”

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

 

There is a sort of splendor in solitude, those moments when you are alone in the universe yet, somehow, still connected with every atom therein.

Do not comingle solitude with loneliness.  Loneliness is that feeling of separation, where there is connection neither with the atoms nor with others of our kind.  Solitude is a choice; loneliness is a condition.

Solitude is that place where we go voluntarily—as Thoreau did at Walden Pond—to achieve a sort of clarity of thought and mind.  It is that place where creativity can be unleashed without judgment, without penalty.  It is that place where clarity and awareness, understanding and perspective often reside.

For me, solitude can be found most readily sitting at my computer keyboard, thinking with my fingers, playing upon the keys of expression and expansion (raising thought and understanding).  That’s where thoughts most readily take flight for me, where they delight in mental dog fights and inverted loops, in imaginative aerial wonderment.

A walk in the woods is another holy place of solitude, listening to the wind whisper through creaking boughs and filtering ideas through clear air and the smell of pine needles.  One needs to find someplace of refuge from the mundane, the routine, the normal.

One might note that solitude does not necessarily come pain-free.  Pain is how we know we’re alive.  Relationships, even the best of them, come with pain attached.  No pain, no life.  That’s the deal.  Living is risky, and pain is part of the contract.  That’s why so many of our friends and family make the unholy deal with the devil of drugs, to escape life’s concomitant pain.  Pain is hard, but it’s a necessary contrast, built in to let us know just how vital, just how good the highs are.  No high without the low.  No life without a little pain.

Paul Simon once wrote, “I am a rock.  I am an island.  And a rock feels no pain.  And an island never cries.”  Feel sad for the rock.  Mourn for the island.  Because it is the process of working through and beyond the pain of risk and life that gets us to whichever Nirvana defines our own personal paradise.  Solitude is often the best, most efficient means of reaching that place.  So, flex your mind, flex your muscles so that you can endure the pain portal that leads to happiness and joy and freedom.  Be not afraid of the solitude that helps get you there.  Hug it.  Embrace it.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

VERITAS MEANS “TRUTH”

I studied Latin in high school and in college, and the word that always carried the most weight, the most gravitas, was always veritas, which means “truth.”

Except, of course, when it doesn’t.  It is an expression of George Orwell’s prophetic impact from the novel 1984 when a word no longer carries its centuries-old meaning, but is turned on its ear to mean its exact opposite.  This ought to be considered a perversion far more weighty and more penalized than mere physical perversion.  For when truths become lies, what does language count for?  What is the point of thinking?  How are we then able to distinguish right from wrong, valid from invalid?

Today’s rant is brought to you by Project Veritas, a group so vile that it purports to be the voice of truth when, in fact, it is little more than a squalid, right-wing promoter of prevarication.  Lies.  “Facts” that are no such thing.

The big one was the “sting” they tried with the Washington Post.  The good folks at Project Veritas tried to pawn off planted information about a woman who was supposedly impregnated by US Senate candidate from Alabama Roy Moore . . . when she was fifteen years old.  They expected the newspaper to jump all over this “fake news” and be shown up as a bumbling, thus disgraced “news” source.

Problem?  The Post is a newspaper.  So the Post did what newspapers do.  They tried to vet the story.  They sent multiple reporters out to try and find corroborating testimony.  They could not find any substance to the “story.”  The only story was the reptilian folks at Project Veritas, who spend their time and money trying to goad news sources and other liberals into printing false stories based merely on their salacious appeal.

Did the good people at Project Veritas concede that the Post had passed their vile “test”?  No, they just went back to pressing their conservative cohort for additional funding to back the candidacy of a man accused by more than half a dozen women of pedophilia.

Today’s election in Alabama will go a long way to telling us just how “Christian” the good citizens of that state are in today’s world.  They may still be living in the 19th century.

This is the problem when you accept an “ends justify means” philosophy.  When you say that it is okay to employ evil tactics to defeat evil, you have stepped into the quagmire of their choosing.  Once that happens, civilization comes into question.  It becomes vulnerable to the worst of our primal, atavistic instincts.

“No party, no cause, no struggle, however worthy, is ever free from evil,” writes Andrew Sullivan in New York.  “No earthly cause is entirely good.  And to believe with absolute certainty that you are on ‘the right side of history,’ or on the right side of a battle between ‘good and evil,’ is a dangerous and seductive form of idolatry.  It flatters yourself.  And it will lead you inevitably to lose your moral bearings because soon, you will find yourself doing and justifying things that are evil solely because they advance the cause of the ‘good.’ Sooner or later, you’ll find yourself defending the molestation of a minor.”

The late Senator Barry Goldwater was dead wrong when he said, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”  This is the ultimate slippery slope.  Ends must never justify means, because when they do you find yourself enmeshed in the same slime pit as your opponent.  No good can come from that.  None.  Ever.

So keep Snopes.com at the ready to fact-check the “news.”  Our tendency to trust the printed page has been seriously impinged upon.  Some of the printed facts are actually true.  But you do have to pay attention.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

ODDS AND ENDS

I am delighted that we are making another connection with the mother country.  The engagement of Prince Harry and actress Meghan Markle proves out entirely on the plus side in my ledger.  It is, in a very small sense, a political alliance between our two countries.  But, in a far larger sense, it offers the opportunity of opening people’s minds a bit on the racial side.

This is important, because one British “journalist” panned the engagement, slyly stabbing that Markle, in an earlier era, “would have been the kind of woman the prince would have had for a mistress, not a wife.”  If that’s not racist, what is, exactly?

Ms. Markle has not been shy in pointing out the fact that she is bi-racial, and has spoken openly about the bald-faced abuse she suffered as a child from rude children . . . and ruder adults (who ought to have known better).  She seems to have an inherent grace about the way she handles herself and seems willing to continue the teaching moment, so I am chanting “Huzzah!  Huzzah!” in her favor and wishing the happy couple the best.  Change always comes little bit by little bit.  Here’s another little bit.  Bravo.

 

PROPORTION (AND THE LACK THEREOF)

I really don’t quite know what to make of this, but here goes.  Someone just bought the Christ-like painting “Salvator Mundi” . . . for nearly a half billion dollars!  What?  I know, it was possibly painted by Leonardo da Vinci.  I get that.  But $450 million?

That the critics don’t care much for the painting is almost irrelevant.  One tags its “meekness and monotony” and says that it “radiates no authority.”  He said, “This Jesus, far from saving the world, might struggle to save himself a seat on a crosstown bus.”  Zing.

In a way, it’s like the salaries currently paid to the best college football coaches, some nearing ten million a year.  For coaching football to kids?  When teachers struggle to survive, and have to reach into their own pockets to provide basic school supplies for their students (and are now threatened with losing their tax write-off for doing so) . . . what the hell is going on around here?  This strikes me as moral failure.

 

DOGS ARE GOOD FOR YOU

We knew this already, didn’t we?  Yet another scientific exploration has deduced—come on, work on stuff we don’t know!—that having Fido around the house (“Fido” comes from the Latin word for “faithful”) will help you to live a longer, happier life.  This Swedish study discovered that folks who live alone live longer and cut their risk of heart disease markedly by owning a dog.  “There are numerous studies showing that dog owners get more physical activity, which could help to prolong a healthy life,” said one researcher.  He also posited the possibility that “exposure to a dog’s germs, fur, and slobber could also strengthen the immune system.”  Who knew?  Here, gimme a kiss, pooch!

 

MORE VEGAN NEWS

Forgot to mention this in Tuesday’s post:  Oregon State researchers have created a new strain of seaweed that has three times the nutritional value of kale and, far more importantly, when cooked . . . tastes like bacon.  Now we’re talkin’!

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

NEWS HARASSMENT

The level to which sexual harassment charges have gone is highly disconcerting.  The volatility of the whole thing tells us both how new this thing is and how titillating it is.  You have a range of charges that run from ridiculous—Garrison Keillor’s hand on the bare back of a co-worker and Al Franken’s sophomoric attempt at television humor—to the brazen criminality of genital exposure, forced sex and pedophilia.  Not cut from the same cloth.

There is no excuse for the former, which were social faux pas and, so far as is presently known, were forgiven by the offended parties.  The latter, however, are and ought to be criminally prosecuted . . . and that includes the sitting President and the former President.  To lose one’s job for a faux pas seems a bit harsh and disproportionate; not so the latter.

This is not to suggest that meting out punishment is easy, or cut-and-dried.  It is not, nor should it be.  But there ought to be some sense of perspective, weighing the offense, the intent, and the injury in order to find some sense of balance and equity.

Purely in party terms, Amy Davidson Sorkin, writing in the 27 November issue of The New Yorker, says it thusly:  “[Equating Judge Roy Moore and Senator Al Franken] shows not only who Moore is but what the GOP has become.  Franken has worked hard for progressive causes in his political life.  But, here, too, whatever points that earns him, or his colleagues, are not spendable in some market in women’s dignity.  The Democratic Party is better than that.”  As both parties ought to be.

This is echoed and, perhaps, better said by William Falk, Editor of The Week:  “But what we’re confronting should transcend partisan point-scoring.  In this watershed moment, we have an opportunity to establish stronger norms and expectations for male behavior, and appropriate penalties for those who cross the line.  Let’s hope we don’t waste it.”

 

THINKIN’ VEGAN

On a (much) lighter note—though its implications may be equally far-reaching in terms of global impact—I am leaning ever-strongly towards a vegan approach to my diet.  The evidence is overwhelming that raising and feeding food critters is an increasingly large insult to our planet’s resources.  Cows (and sugar [raising cane, as it were]) simply cost too much to the environment.  Add to the equation the fact that our diets do not require animal flesh and, in fact, that it is far better for our health that we eschew same, I am investigating mushroom recipes and their like.  Mushrooms taste great and may be the ideal meat substitute.  It’s going to be oh so difficult to change a lifetime habit and my mouth-watering inclination for a rare cut of filet mignon or a juicy hamburger, but I know now that there are alternatives and that they are measurably and markedly better for me.

I’m told that our friend Nancy has a pretty good recipe for vegetable chili, so I’ll be asking for it.  Meantime, wish me well.  I’ll need your encouragement and your support.  You may recall my motto:  “I’m slow, but I get there.”

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle