Friday, August 24, 2012

Giggling In Disbelief

A valid complaint about “modern” atheism is that it posits no pleasant alternative. If there’s no Ultimate Reason, why bother doing anything? Like every other know-it-all philosopher, pastor, and “life coach”, I have the answer.

Fun. I’m here to enjoy life. To maximize pleasure and minimize pain. It’s what mankind has always tried to do, by codifying it with religion and culture, or justifying it with cold hard reality. Most of the ancient moral codes remain valid, they are the basis of stable societies.

Acting fairly and honestly makes people more likely to return the favor. Cultures based on such simple precepts thrive for millennia. Cultures based on greed and violence eventually break down in chaos, fighting among themselves for the scraps. Hmm. So I will “do as I would be done to,” because this makes life calmer and more pleasant. Why not use our energies for building and bettering, instead of brawling and bombing? Way more fun.

My offspring are the keepers of the sacred DNA, my only “after-life.” I try to parent well since this is my only chance. I love every precious moment with them, right here, right now. Seeing them thrive brings me joy. This is not magic, it is instinctual survival of the species. And we have lots of fun!

If you have no family, simply find somebody to love. Plenty folks out there need some, gods know. Those who love are, by definition, part of a loving universe. The vicious and greedy create the opposite.

Since nothing really matters, life is stress-free. No need to be depressed when you screw up, it doesn’t really matter. If you feel “successful”, good for you, but stay humble--it just doesn’t matter. Relax and enjoy!

Those who die owning lots of crap have traded their time on the planet for cold plastic and steel, industrial crap spewing from mines and oil wells and manufacturing plants. Sounds like hell!

If work or life sucks, grit your teeth and get through it, chin up. Accept the problems you can’t fix; buck up and fix the ones you can; then go have as much fun as possible. And instead of praising a corpse, do something useful, like, say, helping people. This counts as fun because it feels good, whether for humanity or for the Ineffable.

Special bonus: some of the natural instincts you were taught were ‘sinful’, like using intoxicants and getting naked, are lots of fun! Two survival rules: Moderation In All Things, and, Consenting Condom-using Adults Only.

If you want to believe in an Invisible Super Being, or any other Infinite Cosmic Explanation, go ahead. Even some atheists still pray when all else fails. Prayer has the same power it always had. Why not, if it makes you feel better? (Prayer made me feel childish and silly—if I was a god I would tell my followers to quit groveling and get to work.)

God knows I tried to believe in It. But the more I read and studied and, yes, prayed, the more plain the truth appeared. Every religion is “true”, which means none are literally true. We are a cosmic miracle, wonderful and exciting all by our silly selves. No other explanation is required. So why not have a little fun?

“Do not believe in something because it is reported. Do not believe in something because it has been practiced by generations or becomes a tradition or part of a culture. Do not believe in something because a scripture says it is so. Do not believe in something believing a god has inspired it. Do not believe in something a teacher tells you to. Do not believe in something because the authorities say it is so. Do not believe in hearsay, rumor, speculative opinion, public opinion, or mere acceptance to logic and inference alone. Help yourself, accept as completely true only that which is praised by the wise and which you test for yourself and know to be good for yourself and others.”

The Buddha, The Kalama Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya 3.65, Sutta Pitaka, Pali Canon

Life is one long dark comedy, and laughter our chief survival weapon.

Friday, August 17, 2012

How To Be Rich

The first question to ask of anyone trying to sell you a belief system is, “Will it pay my bills or clean my house?” If Mohammed, Jesus, or Tony Robbins starts handing you a paycheck each week, or scrubs your bathtub, go follow him. Until then, just keep working, take Sundays off, and skip the payment to the priestly caste.

(Also, “believers” take note: there is no Biblical edict to smell good. Thus you morally may smell like, but not covet, your neighbor’s ass. Quit wasting water!)


 Cheery Bug Apocalypse

The cheapest and “greenest” way to kill roaches: 1) Leave the last couple gulps in a bottle of beer. 2) Lean the bottle at a slight angle in a corner or against a wall, near your cockroach nation. 3) Come back in a week. Ick! A pickled mass, a dead party that none can leave. Entomologists and other bug lovers, don’t cry; death comes in ecstatic cockroach rapture, bellies full and stone drunk. We should all be so lucky.


How many people have jobs that mean anything, produce anything useful, have any intrinsic value? How many wake up happy to go to work in the morning? It is reason to be grateful if you do, even if you’re wiping old people’s butts. Most of us do not. Most paid activity is eternal paper shuffling, mind-numbing numbers, flurries of incomprehensible action, and complex plots to avoid actual work. Way too much of it is completely irrelevant in the cosmic scheme of things. Kiss your mate and kids and dogs at the end of the day, just to be sure you did one thing worth doing.


The Good And Drunk Housekeeping Institute

   If you put as much effort into house and yard work as you do at the “gym”, you can skip the gym. Plus, you can drink while “working out” if you wish! This makes housework less miserable, and no boss can send you home drunk because you’re already home drunk.
   In a perfect world, everyone who wants to drink and do housework should. Drunken exercise is still exercise. But it takes a lot of booze to make housework fun, and these are tough economic times.
   Thus I would like to announce a new charity, the Good and Drunk Housekeeping Institute. The endless pain of keeping useless possessions clean and maintained is real. Raid your change jar, and help us make the world a happier place. Friends don’t let friends clean house sober. Give, lots, now, to GanDHI.


Flip Flop Flap

The modern “flip-flop” is similar to the warm-weather footwear of our ancient forefathers, but much lower quality. Named, of course, for the noise it makes as it spanks your feet’s bottoms as you walk.
   I left my flip-flops at my sons’ house far away last week. Desperate to avoid shoes in three digit heat, I asked to borrow another son’s old pair. Boy was I in luck: “Those useless pieces of crap? You can have ‘em.”
   Sure enough, I had to reconstruct one soon, with duct tape. This fix lasted a week, then the other one blew out. Now it is you who is in luck, as I share my wisdom, in three pictures to spare you 3000 words. If carefully taped, no one will notice, and your fashion status remains intact. You’re welcome.


If words still made sense:
Liberals would be libertarians, and
Conservatives would be conservationists.


Those who mourned the death of “beat” poet Allen Ginsberg will be glad to know his death was faked. He now sells real estate in Flagstaff. There are worse jobs.

War Profit Litany
To Ezra Pound

These are the names of the companies that have made
money from this war
nineteenhundredsixtyeight Annodomini fourthousand
eighty Hebraic
These are the Corporations who have profited by merchan-
dising skinburning phosphorous or shells fragmented
to thousands of fleshpiercing needles
and here listed money millions gained by each combine for
and here are gains numbered, index'd swelling a decade, set
in order,
here named the Fathers in office in these industries, tele-
phones directing finance,
names of directors, makers of fates, and the names of the
stockholders of these destined Aggregates,
and here are the names of their ambassadors to the Capital,
representatives to legislature, those who sit drinking
in hotel lobbies to persuade,
and separate listed, those who drop Amphetamine with
military, gossip, argue, and persuade
suggesting policy naming language proposing strategy, this
done for fee as ambassadors to Pentagon, consul-
tants to military, paid by their industry:
and these are the names of the generals & captains mili-
tary, who know thus work for war goods manufactur-
and above these, listed, the names of the banks, combines,
investment trusts that control these industries:
and these are the names of the newspapers owned by these
and these are the names of the airstations owned by these
and these are the numbers of thousands of citizens em-
ployed by these businesses named;
and the beginning of this accounting is 1958 and the end
1968, that static be contained in orderly mind,
coherent and definite,
and the first form of this litany begun first day December
1967 furthers this poem of these States. 

Allen Ginsberg

The real work is not to judge or acquire; it is to love.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Everybody Is Nobody

Banned Book Report:
Nobody’s Son: Notes From An American Life, by Luis Alberto Urrea. Tucson, U. of A. Press, 1998

Information that is frightening to the rich and powerful should be the headline, the lead story, shouted, shared and splattered over the Interzone. As if it might change their minds.

Last June the Arizona Department of Education [sic] shut down the “Mexican American Studies” curriculum in Tucson schools, and in December a judge “justified” the action. No matter that students in the program had a nearly 50% higher graduation rate than the rest of the kids. The law (ARS 15-112) says you can’t teach a class aimed at a specific ethnic group. What this really means is that you can’t teach a version other than the “white”-washed European version.

No one is disputing the accuracy or quality of the censored texts; only whether they should be taught. So I borrowed one from the (socialist!) local library, to see what frightened the cowardly government into suppression of knowledge in the public schools.

“Nobody’s Son” might be a reference to Richard Wright’s classic “Native Son”, since the main characters could both be said to be an offspring of the societies that spawned them. Or not. This is not an epic novel, but a collection of stories from childhood, cultural criticism, and existential introspection.

Nobody’s Son is also the title of the first section, the tale of Urrea’s conflicted parentage, citizenship, childhood, and language. Blue-eyed Mexican dad, New York mom, rough ‘hoods, typical poor childhood and atypically vicious family fights, sometimes race-related. Harrowing and darkly entertaining, but nothing new as crappy childhoods go. And nearly all of us south, central and north Americans are mongrels.

The English language is a mixed breed to begin with, he notes, it’s impossible to speak “English Only.” No argument here; for business reasons alone it’s wise to be bilingual in border states. Intentionally creating misunderstanding does not help if we actually want “justice for all.”

His dad teaches him to be proud to be a “greaser.” Mexicans repaired the pioneer wagons and greased the westward wheels. “So when they call you that, hold your head up. It’s a badge of honor. We helped build America.” (p. 10) That seems safe, patriotic, and inclusive. Does suggesting Mexicans belong here threaten the power structure?

By the time Salem, Massachusetts was founded, his Spanish ancestors “…had been prowling up and down the Pacific coast of our continent for several decades. Of course, the Indian mothers of these families had been here from the start. But manifest destiny took care of us all—while we greased the wheels.
“Them wagons is still rollin’.” (p. 12)

Maybe this is where the book starts stepping on toes. To point out the fact that the war on native peoples is ongoing, is to subvert the accepted historical narrative. The United States is still trying to steal Natives’ water and land, and suppress what remains of their devastated cultures. Courts and classrooms are now the battleground; lawyers, judges, and legislators have replaced the cowboys and cavalry. Every treaty has been broken and innocents still die unnecessarily. The powerful may prefer to hide this fact lest we withdraw our silent assent.

Part two of the book is five short pieces, the first a fun memoir of early childhood in Tijuana. Life itself is “magical realism” when everyone believes in ghosts. Reminded me of my own hijinks, raised among religious folk. And, like mine, his childhood playground is now in the shade of a freeway.

Next is the obligatory “growing up Catholic” piece that everyone who grew up Catholic seems compelled to recount. The twist is the religious discrimination sub-text; black, white, or brown, you got beat up if you got caught wearing the Catholic school garb. This section made me laugh a few times, and ends with young Urrea getting a nun-administered ass-whipping, as if his street battles weren’t enough.

I guessed what the Ed Abbey essay was about before I started it. Abbey was pretty flagrantly racist toward Mexicans, but Urrea decides to forgive him and accept the rest of Abbey’s work anyhow. Which is what I had to do way back; you don’t have to like everything your favorite writers crank out. This section felt like it was stuck in to make the book fatter.

“Whores” is seething revenge on the macho culture that made his childhood miserable. After supper at a family holiday, a group of the most macho make a visit to a low rent Tijuana house of ill repute. As he recounts the darkly comedic evening, he savagely attacks the misogynist and bullying aspects of Mexican culture. A lot of solid punches in a short piece, angry and heart-rending.

“Sanctuary” is the strongest piece in the book. Chronically ill, with both parents working, the author ends up in the hands of his father’s co-worker’s “hillbilly” family. He gets well, but also learns how a loving household functions.

His own home felt like a battleground, but
 “At Mama Chayo’s house, however, everyone was loved. Period. There was always enough love to go around….
“By love I don’t mean drippy sentiment…. Love, in that house, was a bedrock fact, not discussed nor fretted over, never analyzed and barely recognized. Love simply was.”
Abelino and Mama Chayo “…had been married forever, and they still loved each other enough that they could love everybody else. True love seems to be a spiritual loaves and fishes; it doesn’t get used up, but keeps regenerating itself to feed all comers.” (p. 133)
The young author learned from his saviors what happiness feels like.

Mama Chayo dies suddenly of a stroke, and
“Right at the end, after all the many mourners had passed by…right before they closed the box forever and carried it to the hearse, Abelino stepped up to her. He didn’t weep. He stood silently, gazing down at his one love, his one true destined love, the companion of more than a lifetime, and he studied her face. Then, with no emotion showing on his face, he reached into the coffin and put his palm against her cheek. His big, iron, calloused worker’s hand. It trembled slightly, and it landed on her flesh as delicately as one of her butterflies. Just a second, no more. But all the love in the world was there, in his palm. All the love in the universe, and all the tenderness, and all the grief, and all the beauty collected there in his hand and lay against her lovely cheek.” (p. 151)

My God, people! You mean these Mexicans are capable of love like everyone else? Bad news for racists: you are wasting a lot of time, energy, and hate; people are the same everywhere.

The last section of the book is a meandering reverie, of a road trip undertaken after the death of his mother. Having driven many an aimless road trip across the same intermountain west, I found it a bit dull. The “old west” is full of weird people, far from their ancestral home, often stupid and/or xenophobic.

In that sense, this section serves once again to connect Urrea to the rest of us. Nearly all of us in the western States and northern Mexico are from somewhere else, rootless hungry ghosts. And, people are strange when you’re a stranger. I am fourth generation in Arizona but I still feel like a tourist sometimes.

Nobody’s son turns out to be everybody’s. Cultural differences aside, we’re all just humans and the way forward is with love. What sort of racist brutes would suppress such information? The good old-fashioned Arizona Department of Education [sic]! The common humanity of “Nobody’s Son” is a refreshing and often humorous antidote to such intentional hate and ignorance.


Do Not Be Ashamed
You will be walking some night
 in the comfortable dark of your yard
 and suddenly a great light will shine
 round about you, and behind you
 will be a wall you never saw before.
 It will be clear to you suddenly
 that you were about to escape,
 and that you are guilty: you misread
 the complex instructions, you are not
 a member, you lost your card
 or never had one. And you will know
 that they have been there all along,
 their eyes on your letters and books,
 their hands in your pockets,
 their ears wired to your bed.
 Though you have done nothing shameful,
 they will want you to be ashamed.
 They will want you to kneel and weep
 and say you should have been like them.
 And once you say you are ashamed,
 reading the page they hold out to you,
 then such light as you have made
 in your history will leave you.
 They will no longer need to pursue you.
 You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
 They will not forgive you.
 There is no power against them.
 It is only candor that is aloof from them,
 only an inward clarity, unashamed,
 that they cannot reach. Be ready.
 When their light has picked you out
 and their questions are asked, say to them:
 "I am not ashamed." A sure horizon
 will come around you. The heron will begin
 his evening flight from the hilltop.
-Wendell Berry

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Fun With Guns And Drugs

Our good “Christian” nation is proud that everyone is free to own as many killing machines as they want. Jesus Himself had an impressive arsenal. He told us to love one another, but carry a killing device just in case. If He’d been “packin’” on that fateful day, he could have died in an exciting gun battle, instead of that miserable ‘hanging on a cross’ affair.

Any country like ours is bound to have a shooting “incident” every now and then. Why does everyone still get so upset? The women and children murdered as we Europeans overran North America were as innocent as any other mass shooting victims, yet their slaughter was part of our righteous destiny. The occasional shooting of our own innocents, by our own fanatics, appears to be our destiny as well. And just as righteous.

Our beloved military has set the current standard. They routinely murder civilians—“collateral damage”—by the score. People guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time—just like our home-grown massacre victims. So get used to it. If your country is making war and selling death machines all over the world and to your own citizens, there will be random mass killings. Simple math. As a nation we long ago decided that this was part of the equation of so-called freedom. Jesus would be proud.

What goes around comes around, for individuals and for nations. Or, “…whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Galatians 6:7 KJV

(If we as a nation ever decide to be peaceful, maybe we should start by dismantling our multi-megaton atomic monster, still capable of world holocaust. The potential for global genocide/suicide turns every psycho killer and suicide bomber and their crying survivors into disturbing background noise. If you manage to hear anything.)


Call me brave or stupid, but there is nothing that frightens me enough to cause me to purchase a killing machine. Our governments’ evolution into a “police state” makes me a little nervous, but not enough to want to kill any of their hired gunmen--yet. Weapons are expensive, loud, require regular maintenance and “target practice”, and I have never needed one for anything in my 50-plus years in gun-happy Arizona. Also, I am unstable mentally.

Prophet Doug Stanhope:

“I don’t have a gun. I really shouldn’t have a gun. I’m against gun control, I think guns should be out there, but I know I’m a responsible drunk and drug user, and I should not--with a small man’s complex, a big weakling, and a lot of hate and talking sh*t in strange places--I should not be carrying a weapon, it’s just responsibility, it’s personal responsibility. Other people should learn that, know who you are. I also am a violent alcoholic and I know how I’m going to feel in the morning and there’s not going to be a lot to live for, and I should not have a Glock underneath the pillow before I can get a cup of coffee in me, a cigarette, and think things through.”
From the “From Across The Street” CD. 2009 Stand Up!/-ismist Recordings.


The Actual United States Policy on Guns and Drugs:

Fun for grown-ups.

Prohibition is impossible, and creates long term jobs for many.

Everyone should use wisely as many as they can afford.

Sometimes people die.

Carry on!