Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Worshipful, Worshipworthy

I really miss George Carlin. On stage ne was always a constant, hilariously brilliant, source of cantankerous reason. Ne turned normal things on their head to show us how wondrously silly they really were. During the early days of the Internet twenty or thirty sayings got tagged to the ends of peoples emails as part of their signatures with George as the author. Ne wasn't the author of them, of course, as with things ascribed to Einstein, Christ, or Buddha; since they reflected Georges on stage character and they were brilliant and funny people just thought the must have been said or written by him.

At different points of time I had several to a dozen of nirs routines memorized to share with friend, and acquaintances. Of course, they weren't nearly as funny when I did them - George was a genius professional comic, ne could do things with nirs eyebrows that would make people wet themselves with laughter. A few changes of expressions and people would be rolling in the aisles. I'm surprised nirs audiences didn't destroy entire theaters with paroxysms of laughter when ne did nirs acts.

I'm not a very religious person, but I do get the occasional religious feelings. I wonder where they come from and what evolutionary purpose they serve. I suppose we might have some bits of gunk in our genetic makeup we carry around for centeons. Crud that clings to our DNA, surviving from species to species, not because they influence our survival in a positive way, but they just stick to the beneficial bits and that's their way of surviving. Just sticky genetic bits that bloat our genetic code, so they can keep existing.

It's tempting to think religious feelings come from those useless sticky bits of DNA that hang around stuck to the more successful bits. Certainly there's a whole range of horrible things to hate about some religious organizations, and many of the people who focus on or specialize in the religious feelings of humanity. Most of them seem about as useful as those sticky bits of DNA, just hanging around poking us in our religious feelings so we pump out change into the collection plate.

Sun Worship
Photo by gollor all rights reserved.
Today I was walking around the track in the park next to where I work, and it was one of those cloudy days with many big fluffy white clouds. The kind of big white clouds that dream of the day real soon, they can grow to giant gray black thunderheads, throwing lighting and rain around. Today they were just big and fluffy, floating around blocking the Sun to amuse themselves as they grow.

I got one of those great shots of the clouds in front of the Sun with it's rays shining from behind - a grand collection of light and shadow. A shot that shows the glory of the sun by it's effects, rather than it's direct incandescent self.

A photo like this seems to inspire Christians to think of their god. I frequently see these great photos with some Christian's confusion about their bible printed across it. Those misused photos always make me feel a little sad, because they kind of miss the point of the photo. In Christian terms the photo shows a glorious piece of their god's creation, and a picture speaks a thousand words - why cover it up with your confused babble? I really don't get that.
Sun, sky, light and shadow that together created a unique beauty that just made me gape for a few seconds, my brain frozen in awe and worship of it's exquisiteness. In psychological terms, the numinous experience had captured my brain for a short time. In the words of that great mystic, Christopher Hitchens, "Everybody has had the experience at some point when they feel that there's more to life than just matter.".

We feel a connection with some aspect of the universe, and we feel a sense of worshipfulness. Things like that vision of beauty in the sky, seem much more worthy of worship than some invisible bearded grumpy dude with lots of rules about how you should eat, and cloth yourself, and really do every damn thing. Maybe those kinds of silly stories were helpful to some brilliant leader of the past, who wanted their people to stop killing each other for petty reasons; and not poison themselves with shellfish they couldn't figure out how to prepare or cook.

The numinous feelings of worship just seem to come to us. They bring a bit of special meaning to some experiences that would otherwise seem normal, plain or banal. I think we need better things to worship than those described in thousand year old dusty tomes. For example, the entity behind those clouds - our local star - The Sun. Everything in this solar system, including us, came from the corpus galactic of the ancestors of our Sun. We little parasites on the surface of this small rocky stellar child, live at her whim. All of our air, food, water and shelter come directly or indirectly from the Sun and her child.

Hopefully that sounds like something George would have written, because I'm paraphrasing one of my favorite of nems schticks. Hopefully that search string on YouTube shows a video of nirs sun worship bit, because it's one of nirs greatest. I would link to a specific vid, but some stupid algorithm of Google's or the MAFIAA would take it down eventually because they can't seem to fathom fair use.

It's from his, You Are All Diseased special. Which probably has more snippets up on YouTube than any other George Carlin special. Which it should, cause it's a damn fine show. So here's some key bites from this bit, where George describes these feelings better than I possibly could:

"I decided to look around for something else to worship, something I could really count on, and immediately I thought of the sun…Overnight I became a Sun Worshiper."

"Several Reasons: First of all, I can see the Sun, okaaayy?!...Unlike some other gods I could mention, I can actually see the Sun. I'm big on that, if I can see something… I don't know… it kind of helps the credibility along."

"So every day I can see the Sun, as it gives me everything I need - heat, light, food, flowers in the park, reflections on the lake,… the occasional skin cancer, but hey - at least there are no crucifixions, and we're not setting people on fire simply because they don't agree with us."

"Sun worship is fairly simple, there's no mystery, no miracles, no pageantry, no one asks for money - there are no songs to learn - and we don't have a special building were we all gather once a week to compare clothing."

"And the best thing, the best thing about the Sun - it never tells me I'm unworthy. It doesn't tell me I'm a bad person who needs to be saved. It hasn't said an unkind word - it treats me fine."

"So, I worship the Sun - BUT, I don't pray to the Sun. Know why? I wouldn't presume on our friendship. It's not polite."

Well said, George. I will speak for myself and the Sun and say we both miss you a whole bunch. Even though it was meant as a critique of conventional religion, I think we can take nirs words literally here and come off none the worse for it.

So take a look at that photo of the rays of the Sun; worship it's beauty; know that it will keep on rising each day, and helping the Earth provide us with a bounty of air, water, and food. At least a few billion years more - or until we fuck up badly enough the Earth really gets serious about killing us off.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Guns, David Brin and Meeting Your Heroes in Person(sort of)

I Love David Brin's works, both fiction and nonfiction. I've read nearly all the fiction, and some of the non-fiction. When I read Sundiver and encountered the idea of Uplift for the first time, it blew my flippin mind. In the cavity in my brain that the uplift explosion left, I found all sorts of other interesting ideas growing. I love reading an author, where not only do I feel entertained but also more intelligent after having read their books.

 Reading nirs blog posts as they come out forms one of the high points of my week. I usually agree with most of what ne says, and despite my disagreements I still feel smarter after having read nirs post.

 I Love Guns. I love looking at them, shooting them, smelling cordite and lead vapor at the range, and seeing a reasonably dense cluster of holes in the paper I just peppered with copper clad lead. I love that I live in a country, and state where the government authorities trust me to carry a concealed gun to protect myself and others. I love that I can just do it, that I can practice the right enshrined in the Constitution as the 2nd Amendment without having some bureaucratic ninny putting my name in some database.

I work in IT, I have worked for the federal government in the Air Force. I know the special kind of idiots that don't know shit about shit, but still can't be fired for not doing their damn job. If the government puts information in a database they are going to loose that info, give it away to the wrong people, or show it to the whole bloody world. At best they might accidentally delete it.

Anyway, I love that in my state I can take the training that I know I need to carry a gun from the best people I can afford, instead of some instructor with questionable qualifications at a gun range trying to shove too much information into too many brains in too short a time. Brains possibly contaminated with too much cordite and lead vapor.

It makes me feel like an adult, that the state government trusts me and it's other citizens to carry a concealed weapon and generally not do something stupid with it. Naturally there will always be problems - Law number one of The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity, nuff said. But the fact is that most of us are adults, we generally get along. My state has nearly 3 million people in it, and last year less than 100 of them were murdered by someone who should have known better. Naturally all those murders were tragic for the families of the victims and the perpetrators, but <100 out of 3 million seems like the vast majority of us are acting like responsible adults, even with around 80k or so of us running around with guns on our persons.

Even before "Constitutional Carry", we've had concealed carry for a number of years, and our murder rate hasn't skyrocketed, nor has our violent crime soared into the liberal gun hate fantasy land. If we had a murder by someone one with a conceal carry endorsement I couldn't find it - and my Google-fu is pretty strong.

Imagine my chagrin at bickering with David Brin about guns, well... people using guns to defend other people, who might be trying to shoot a bunch of other people at the time. Well... the idea of perhaps only potential people doing that. Not exactly the kind of introduction to a conversation with David Brin I had imagined before this week. Certainly more uncomfortable and confusing than, "Hi David, I love your work".

So Ooops. Not going to rehash the whole conversation, but in Guns vs Cameras -which are "equalizers" that can prevent tragedy?  David said that "'s worth noting that in not a single case has the perpetrator been brought down by an armed civilian bystander... not once. Ever.". While I enjoyed with and agreed with much of what ne said in that post, that statement floored me.

I frequently feel the urge to comment on things on the internet, but I nearly always refrain because what does it really accomplish? Having read David's blog for a while, I know that unlike many other blogs David has active conversations with many of the commenters on his posts, and they are generally convivial. So I really, really felt the need to comment. That absolute "not once. Ever." really bugged me, cause it seemed to devalue the valuable, if accidental heroics of quite a few people over the years.Indirectly, it seemed to devalue the very idea of carrying a concealed gun for the purposes of defending oneself and others.

So I posted some counter-examples, clumsily, and I think we eventually came to a grudging agreement that maybe some people with guns may have shot some other people with guns, who might have been about to shoot a whole bunch of other people without guns, for generally no good reason.
Nor did that conversation and conclusion really help him get the comments moving in the direction ne wanted.

I don't think either one of us felt very satisfied with this conclusion. I know I wasn't - but I also know that under no conditions can I imagine a satisfactory study of these kinds of events. No way, no how will a social scientist manage to show that conclusively shows that x number of people definitely stopped y number of mass murders by using a gun on the culprit in progress. Or less likely, the reverse.

It's an impossible task. I mean if some guy walks up to a firehouse and whips out nirs gun shoots up a couple of cars and then realize he's picked a firehouse where a bunch of the firemen have concealed weapon permits - is that a mass shooting prevented? or the plot to a bad high school film class project?

I do think the ample cases of armed civilians stopping other violent crime indicates that with more armed citizens we'd see a larger response of armed civilians in the case of an active shooter. Depending on the location, the gun free zones do seem to self-select themselves for potential active shooter targets a little more than you'd expect randomly. In those areas you'll find less civilians carrying.

I only posted the most recent ones this year in my comments to David. A search on the internet will pretty quickly show there are several like that from year to year each just as clear or fuzzy as the ones this year. Does that prove that armed civilians stop active shooters? I think so, but not as clearly or as definitively as I'd like.

More importantly, that conversation with David didn't get to my biggest gripe about news on mass shootings. These incidents in total seem like a tiny problem that gets blown all out of proportion to the overall problem of violent crime in the US - mass shootings make good grist for the 24/7 news grind. At least now that the news has to make it's own money. Unfortunately that gives the newscritters a disincentive to avoid using the mass murderers names - or anything else they can do to sensationalize these stories.

The day to day incidents should capture our attention more than the mass murders. Sure the events where three or more people get killed (to use the FBI's arbitrary line), represent a terrible cluster of pain for the surviving victims, and victims' families; but those numbers pale in comparison to the full catalog of our collective malfeasance to each other each year: 1,165,383 acts of violence last year, including 14,249 murders. Those points of pain deserve just as much of our attention as the few d>3 clusters that occur each year. They probably deserve more of our attention - they represent more clearly our predicament.

Those folks conflating the mass murders committed by firearms with another tiny part of the rest of each years violence, i.e. the talkers about mass shootings instead of mass murders or mass killings - surely have their hearts in the right place, but they help downplay the overall problem. They just add to the bullshit grist on the 24x7 news cycle.

So does the overall reaction to these mass killings. It's certainly more fun to twattle on Twitter or fatualize on Facebook about these killings. More grist, instead of thinking about how to solve the massive problems we keep turning away from. The root cause of the majority of these killings.

Poverty and violence together describe a strange loop of reciprocating horror. The million plus events of violence pale in comparison to the billions of tiny losses of freedom, dignity, and happiness to those stuck in poverty. Especially since the responsible culprits consist of few handfuls of families which have encouraged politicians to create the current massive income inequality and increasing poverty. Simply, so they can play with all the damn pennies.

I don't see what good either more guns or more cameras will do to help with that. But, maybe this conception of the problem just makes it feel too unassailable.

These families only have power to increase income equality because we've let them with this Citizens United bullshit, along with other bullshit we let our politicians do like gerrymandering. I think of all the candidates for President this campaign season (yet to be), Larry Lessig seems like the only one with a valid plan. A simple plan, a doable plan, and one the overly monied will do everything they can to derail. In fact here's the Washington Post completely missing the point of nirs campaign. Or maybe they're part of the PsyOps, the overly monied have already begin. Who knows.

Ne what, nem who?

English as widely spoken and flexible as it is, just sucks balls at some perfectly simple things. Genderless pronouns being one of them. I've just used they and them, knowing perfectly well those plural forms don't really work or fit, and it irks me.

Then I read about some authors in science fiction that I haven't read (which in itself was amazing), and other fields who have been playing with some genderless pronouns for English.  A Canadian school started using a set of genderless pronouns with the nominative Xe.

And of course wiki has a bunch to say on the subject.

Then I found this delightful post on a blog devoted to the subject. The author's table leaves out a few of the wiki variations:

Nominative (subject) Objective (object) Possessive determiner Possessive Pronoun Reflexive
Traditional pronouns
He He laughed I called him His eyes gleam That is his He likes himself
She She laughed I called her Her eyes gleam That is hers She likes herself
It It laughed I called it Its eyes gleam That is its It likes
They They laughed I called them Their eyes gleam That is theirs They like themselves
Invented pronouns
Ne Ne laughed I called nem Nir eyes gleam That is nirs Ne likes nemself
Ve Ve laughed I called ver Vis eyes gleam That is vis Ve likes verself
Spivak Ey laughed I called em Eir eyes gleam That is eirs Ey likes
Ze (or zie) and hir Ze laughed I called hir Hir eyes gleam That is hirs Ze likes hirself
Ze (or zie) and zir Ze laughed I called zir Zir eyes gleam That is zirs Ze likes zirself
Xe Xe laughed I called xem Xyr eyes gleam That is xyrs Xe likes xemself

But can't argue too much with his selections.

I don't know that I agree with the author's ratings of: ease of pronunciation, distinction from other pronouns,  gender neutrality. However, we did agree our favorite were the Ne series. After experimenting with some of the others they seemed to consistently based on English feminine pronoun morphology.

In some respects this seems fair, since so much of English uses he and him as the only pronoun. But I personally feel that a genderless pronoun shouldn't promote any other agenda besides being genderless.  I want to like Xe, Xem, Xyr, Xyrs, and Xemself... but X is the stupidest frakin letter in the English alphabet - I mean really? It can mean: /ks/, /ɡz/, /kʃ/, /ɡʒ/, /ksj/, /ɡzj/, oh and also /z/. It has to have just been thrown together randomly as a joke.

So starting from the bottom of the table above... and if I remember aright from the Canadian school article it's pronounced using a /z/ sound. So we got:
Ze(he), Zem(him), Zir(her), Zirs(hers), Zemself(himself).... 2/3 female/male bias to my ears.

Next the actual Ze, which is almost the same:

Ze(he), Zir(her), Zir(her), Zirs(hers),Zirself(herself).... 4/1 clear feminine bias

Ze(he), Hir(her), Hir(her), Hirs(hers), hirself(herself).... 4/1 again

Ey(he), Em(him), Eir(her), Eirs(hers), Emself(himself)... 2/3 slight male bias like Xe

Ve(he), Ver(her), Vis(his), Vis(his), Verself(herself).... 2/3 slight male bias like Xe

Ne(he), Nem(him), Nir(her), Nirs(her), Nemself(himself).... 2/3 slight male bias like Xe

 All the rest of the ones in wiki, except for Humanist, Thon and Per; they all use some variation of vowel and m/r that makes them sound like the existing third person pronouns.

The Humanist, has a little more interesting phonology:
Hu, hum, Hus, hus, humself

While the Thon and Per system, just use Thon or Per for every grammatic case.

Whimsically, randomly, maybe with some purpose I don't see yet, I like the Ne series. I'm not entirely sure why yet.

Who knows if any of them will gain any great adoption, we maybe stuck with extra random plurality for the foreseeable future.

Er, what? Oh, don't mind me.

I'm glad I finally got a decent name for this previously aborted attempt to blog. They, their them… bring me down a bit when I have to use them. Gun, David Brin, and genderless pronouns whizzed together in the Blend-o-matic of my brain and out spit some blog posts. Been flirting with the idea of blogging…in my head, for ages. I always come up against the road block, that reads: "I'm just a dude, who wants to read what I have the prattle about?". Today I realized, that I want to read what my brain has to prattle about. Something about putting the words into the electronic ether of blog posts, files, and such makes it look different...hell, even interesting. If nothing else, self-reflective. So if you happen to find yourself here, welcome. Don't mind me, I'm just talking to myself. Pulling some stuff out of my brain to look at before it goes back in. Glad you showed up. Maybe we'll find something to chat about. In the words of a much wiser being than myself, "…the least I can do is share a little bit of my confusion"