Sunday, November 28, 2010

George W. Bush remains certain

On June 2, 2006, I wrote to the president of Yale University:
I believe that Bush was so far from deserving the [honorary] degree [that Yale conferred on him at the 2001 commencement] that in the years to come Yale alumni familiar with Bush’s “accomplishments” will be as amazed as I was chagrined and embarrassed that in the year 2001 our alma mater conferred such an honor on such a man.
President Lewin didn't contradict that assessment1.

And neither, apparently, does George W. Bush himself, if his recent book is any evidence. I of course haven't read Decision Points, but my wife had told me, "There's a review of Bush's book in The New Yorker, I think you need to read it." She added, "The review, not the book."
    I said, "I understood what you meant."
    She said, "I would never read anything by that man. But I think you'll like the review."
    The review is "Dead Certain," by George Packer. He writes:
What's remarkable about Decision Points is how frequently and casually it leaves out facts, large and small, whose absence draws more attention than their inclusion would have. In his account of the 2000 election, Bush neglects to mention that he lost the popular vote. He refers to the firing, in 2002, of his top economic adviser, Lawrence Lindsey, but not to the fact that it came immediately after Lindsey violated the Administration's optimistic line by saying that the Iraq war could cost as much as two hundred billion dollars....
Packer says "what's remarkable" as though there's nothing else remarkable about Decision Points, but I attribute that to a momentary lapse by both the writer and his editor at The New Yorker. There's at least one thing even more remarkable than that:
The structure of Decision Points, with each chapter centered on a key issue...reveals the essential qualities of the Decider. There are hardly any decision points at all....
    In Bush's telling, the non-decision decision is a constant feature of his Presidential policymaking....
    ...Bush immediately caricatured opposing views and impugned the motives of those who held them. If there was an honest and legitimate argument on the other side, then the President would have to defend his non-decision, taking it out of the redoubt of personal belief and into the messy empirical realm of contingency and uncertainty. So critics of his stem-cell ban are dismissed as scientists eager for more government cash, or advocacy groups looking to "raise large amounts of money," or Democrats who saw "a political winner."
    ...
    Bush ends Decision Points with the sanguine thought that history's verdict on his Presidency will come only after his death. During his years in office, two wars turned into needless disasters, and the freedom agenda created such deep cynicism around the world that the word itself was spoiled. In America, the gap between the rich few and the vast majority widened dramatically, contributing to a historic financial crisis and an ongoing recession; the poisoning of the atmosphere continued unabated; and the Constitution had less and less say over the exercise of executive power. Whatever the judgments of historians, these will remain foregone conclusions.
I probably didn't "need" to read the review, but at least it served to remind me that I should be grateful that George W. Bush's uncritical evangelism played a helpful role in the progress of my thought from uncertainly theistic to confidently atheistic.
_______________
  1. Of course, in President Lewin's need not to offend anyone who might donate money to Yale, he didn't indicate whether he agreed or didn't agree with my assessment of Bush.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Je n'accuse pas

About a third of the way through Ayaan Hirsi Ali's 2006 "emancipation proclamation for women and Islam," The Caged Virgin, I came upon her statement that she "denounces God." Earlier in the book she has said she is an atheist (which, by the way, in the context of her having formerly been a devout Muslim renders her subject to the death penalty). But denounces God? How are we to understand that?
    Perhaps she means, If God exists (which she has said she doesn't believe), then she would denounce him as evil (by virtue, for example—according to the Quran—of his having relegated women to the status of slaves of men?). If she doesn't mean to say it with some such qualification, then she seems to be contradicting herself.
    From her point of view (and from mine), the Scottish Enlightenment philosophers were superior morally to the God portrayed in the holy books of the Abrahamic religions. I think that's where her denouncement is probably coming from. It's a moral denouncement.
    I gather from reading Hirsi Ali's memoirs that she has directly experienced much, much more religious evil than I have (being forcibly circumcised, being subject to rote indoctrination in the Quran by a young teacher who refused to explain what the words meant but resorted to banging her head against a wall to force her to "learn," being given by her father in marriage to a man she disliked, being threatened with execution—in a handwritten note pinned with a knife to the chest of her murdered colleague...), but I haven't seen any reference in her writings to the food chain, which, to me, is a more fundamental evil for not requiring the complicity of human consciousness. After all, on my view, God had nothing to do with the penning of the Bible or the Quran; they're purely human (and essentially male) artifacts.

And yet, I am not ready to join Hirsi Ali in denouncing God if "he" exists. I think I may be more into accepting and suffering a world that simply is and only has a moral dimension because consciousness evolved from material chaos.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A pregnant pause on Thanksgiving

We went down the street yesterday for Thanksgiving dinner with friends. I wondered about the awkward pause before someone took up knife and fork and started eating. Afterwards, Bill told us, "I almost said grace, just to see how Morris would react. But I decided it would be too awkward to say it with an eye cocked open to see whether he bowed his head or at least closed his eyes. Of course, I didn't expect that I'd see him moving his lips."
    We all laughed. But of course I was wondering in what manner Bill might have "said grace," whether it would have been sham or sincere. His ambivalence when we've talked has left me unsure whether he believes or not, has made me wonder whether he may be superstitious, reluctant to hazard provoking a god of whom he's not entirely sure he can say he doesn't exist.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful that not yet

A main thing I'm thankful for today is that there hasn't (yet) been another successful act of Islamic terrorism on American soil. Unfortunately, we have to qualify it with that "yet," for, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes in her latest book, Nomad: From Islam to America, A Personal Journey through the Clash of Civilizations:
The uncritical Muslim attitude toward the Quran urgently needs to change, for it is a direct threat to world peace. Today 1.57 billion people identify themselves as Muslims. Although they certainly have 1.57 billion different minds, they share a dominant cultural trend: the Muslim mind today seems to be in the grip of jihad. A nebula of movements with al Qaeda-like approaches to Islamic precepts has enmeshed itself in small and large ways into many parts of Muslim community life, including in the West. They spread a creed of violence, mobilizing people on the basis that their identity, which rests in Islam, is under attack. [p. 205]
While I grant that the West has provoked the Islamic world in a number a ways, including support for the creation of Israel ("seen in the Muslim world as theft and arrogance," according to my friend Ken—himself culturally a Jew), and also grant that, "when they are ready to discuss their grievances at a political forum, we need to listen and be fair" (as Ken recommends), we must not overlook the menace of the jihadist worldview itself, of which Hirsi Ali paints a much more detailed, starker picture in her 2006 book, The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Theological space [is empty]

I often fall to musing while doing household or personal chores. Like cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, or bathing in the morning. This morning (or perhaps it was last night), I fell to contemplating the billions of hours that human beings have spent theologizing. If God doesn't exist (which I believe "he" doesn't), how could intelligent beings waste so much time that way?
    As often (if not invariably) happens when I muse, an idea came to me, prompted by musing's tendency to pose questions and thereby invoke the principle, Ask and ye shall receive.
    The idea provided by my muse (so to speak) was that humans have also spent billions of hours contemplating mathematics, or what might be called "logical space." Well, inventive minds can also posit theological entities (gods, angels, devils, sins, etc.) and amuse (or torture) themselves for hours puzzling over their conceptual implications. And they have.
    But, though mathematical entities (numbers, for example) don't exist in the way atoms and avalanches and alligators do, they have proven themselves in all sorts of theoretical and practical applications (science, economics, technology, everyday commerce).
    God hasn't.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We didn't wear Prada

Alas that I am not myself pictured in the accompanying photograph. I might well have been. For when I was about the age of these youngstersr, I too wore clothes made from flour sacks. My mother made them. She also made herself dresses from flour sacks.
    A girl cousin (now in her seventies) recently sent me the photograph, along with some verse, which I have edited a bit so as not to embarrass Moristotle unduly (with apologies to the original author, said to be Colleen B. Hubert):
In that long ago time when things were saved,
When roads were graveled and barrels were staved,
When worn-out clothing were used as rags,
And there wasn't any plastic wrap or bags,
And the well and the pump were way out back,
A versatile item to have was the flour sack.
Well, actually, I think that's quite enough of that (without including the other eight or ten verses).

My cousin wrote (or maybe it was Colleen):
All these girls' dresses were made from flour sacks...
    Panties were made from them too.
    The boys’ shirts and underwear were made from flour sacks or feed sacks also.
I don't remember any flour sack underwear myself.

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Most Americans still don't understand..."

It keeps getting scarier. In Paul Krugman's column ("There Will Be Blood"), today in The New York Times, he writes that
one of our two great political parties has made it clear that it has no interest in making America governable, unless it’s doing the governing. And that party now controls one house of Congress, which means that the country will not, in fact, be governable without that party’s cooperation — cooperation that won’t be forthcoming.
    ...
    Right now, in particular, Republicans are blocking an extension of unemployment benefits—an action that will both cause immense hardship and drain purchasing power from an already sputtering economy. But there’s no point appealing to the better angels of their nature; America just doesn’t work that way anymore.
    ...
    These days, national security experts are tearing their hair out over the decision of Senate Republicans to block a desperately needed new strategic arms treaty. And everyone knows that these Republicans oppose the treaty, not because of legitimate objections, but simply because it’s an Obama administration initiative; if sabotaging the president endangers the nation, so be it.
    ...
    My sense is that most Americans still don’t understand this reality. They still imagine that when push comes to shove, our politicians will come together to do what’s necessary. But that was another country.
While it's morally uplifting to have a nice, conciliatory, bipartisan president, one wishes (too late) that Mr. Obama had been more effective over the past two years in keeping the opposition in check. One imagines that if he had done a better job in that regard, the Republican Party might not have been able to gain control of the House of Representatives in the recent election. Now our President's opportunities to "be effective" have been sharply curtailed.

The Portable Atheist concludes

The 47th "essential reading for the nonbeliever" included in Christopher Hitchens's Portable Atheist is Ayaan Hirsi Ali's "specifically written essay on her decision to say farewell to all gods." And the following paragraphs are its (and the whole book's) concluding ones:
Now I told myself that we, as human individuals, are our own guides to good and evil. We must think for ourselves; we are responsible for our own morality. I arrived at the conclusion that I couldn't be honest with others unless I was honest with myself. I wanted to comply with the goals of religion—which are to be a better and more generous person—without suppressing my will and forcing it to obey an intricate and inhumanly detailed web of rules. I had lied many times in my life, but now, I told myself, that was over: I had had enough of lying.
    After I wrote my memoir, Infidel (published in the United States in 2007), I did a book tour in the United States. I found that interviewers from the Heartland often asked if I had considered adopting the message of Jesus Christ. The idea seems to be that I should shop for a better, more humane religion than Islam, rather than taking refuge in unbelief. A religion of talking serpents and heavenly gardens? I usually respond that I suffer from hayfever. The Christian take on Hellfire seems less dramatic than the Muslim version, which I grew up with, but Christian magical thinking appeals to me no more than my grandmother's angels and djins.
    The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more. [pp. 479-480]
The point, though, is that, however much we might want more, we are not going to get it. An individual's project in facing la condition humain is as it has always been: Deal with it.
    I started to say that to deny the "nothing more" aspect of it (as religious indoctrination routinely programs children to do) is not to deal with it, but to avoid it. While in a purely semantic sense that is so, people "deal with" all sorts of things by simply avoiding them. If we aren't equipped to face up to something (and it takes a lot to be able to face up to the fact that we and all of our friends and relatives are going to die), what are we going to do? Many people party as much as possible—the "eat, drink, and be merry" approach...And others take shelter in the comforting myths of religion.
    Critical questioners like Ayaan Hirsi Ali find that they can't square that avoidance with the dicates of conscience and mental health.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Read it!

I hope that yesterday's post sufficed to send you to Hal Crowther's essay on the November 2 election ("Gone Missing: The Country's Conscience, Brain, and Heart," in The Independent). It's that prescient. All thoughtful citizens owe it to themselves to read it, and we should be thankful that we have a few fellow citizens like Crowther, who I believe lives only a few miles from me, over in Hillsborough.
    In case you need to sample some more of his essay before deciding to read the whole thing:
...Though the troglodyte triumvirate of [Rush] Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity is paid $114 million annually to seduce the subliterate multitudes—for nine hours daily on Fox Radio—the usual lavish smorgasbord of reactionary bile and gibberish was deemed insufficient for 2010. Unleashed by a Supreme Court majority who ruled that corporate campaign spending, even anonymous spending, was the exact equivalent of First Amendment free speech, those dark forces "outside" the political system reached deep into their well-lined pockets and spent nearly half a billion dollars, a quarter of it from "undisclosed" sources, to underwrite attack ads and steer a staggering, half-bankrupt nation to the right.
    ...Shrinking or neutering the government never helped anyone with a net worth less than eight figures. You can sell almost anything in America but common sense. This country is notorious, and unique, for all its poor people who want to keep wealth unchained, just in case they should acquire some.
    ...It may be that voters below a certain level of ratiocination, their logical faculties permanently maimed by reality TV and video games, are no longer able to resist the kind of attack ads that came at them in a $4 billion tidal wave. The big corporate contributors wouldn't fund this operation so generously if they weren't confident of a handsome return. Never in human history has so much cash and so much expertise been devoted to what would once have been called mind control, or brainwashing, and is now called free speech. [emphasis mine1] There's no apparent limit to what the right-wing coalition can spend, or will spend, to bring out the worst in Americans.
To paraphrase what many people have said with reference to Strunk & White's Elements of Style2, read Crowther's essay!
_______________
  1. George Orwell must be turning over in his grave. I'm thinking of his "Newspeak," from Nineteen Eighty-Four (which was only ten years before the election of 1994, with which this series of posts on Hal Crowther's writings began).
  2. "Read the little book!"

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Worse than 1994

Moristotle's previous post ("November 2, 2010: 1994 all over again") excerpted Hal Crowther's 1994 article that The Independent had reprinted recently because of its aptness to both the 1994 and 2010 elections. When I mentioned Crowther's article on Facebook, my friend Ken commented that
Today's problems are a lot more dire than [those of] 1994. The "cheap entertainment" that the D's and R's are treating us to is costing us dearly.
    In a democracy, you get the government you deserve. Ultimately, the ignorance of the ...electorate is the problem.
Well, now The Independent has published Crowther specifically on our recent election ("Gone Missing: The Country's Conscience, Brain, and Heart "), and he seems to agree with Ken:
The midterms...mark the most successful manipulation of the gullible by the cynical that this deceitful republic has yet witnessed. Billionaires and "undisclosed" corporate donors poured kings' ransoms into relentless attack ads against vulnerable Democrats. Right-wing broadcasters circulated myths and lies that would have made Joseph Goebbels blush, and every racist and xenophobic impulse threatening to a nonwhite president was exploited without apology. The secret money served it up, and the logic-impaired tea party irregulars swallowed the poisoned bait with relish. The net result of the vaunted populist rebellion of 2010 was a sharp turn toward corporate feudalism, as the House of Representatives and many state legislatures and governor's mansions reverted to a rudderless but ruthless Republican Party that has never been less deserving of another chance.
    ...America will survive this election. It will not, in the long run, survive what the voting revealed about our political system.
    We've finally achieved institutional incoherence....
    ...
    ...[T]here was nothing much in this election cycle to inspire confidence in the American electorate or the candidates it produces and elects. And far less to inspire confidence in the media that egged them on, and not coincidentally milked them and their "undisclosed" cash cows for several billion dollars in venomous, repetitive, content-free attack ads.
    The one way the media blitz swayed me was to change my stance on immigration. Though easygoing Australians have always been among my favorite national types, in the future I vote to keep them out of America. If we could have stopped just one Aussie, Rupert Murdoch, from achieving naturalization, what a much kinder, cleaner, smarter nation we would be. If Rush Limbaugh deserved a lion's share of the credit for getting out the Neanderthal vote in 1994, we can thank Murdoch's Fox News and Fox Radio, the boiler rooms of neo-fascist reaction, for the triumphant return of the American knuckle-dragger in 2010.
Whew! I think that Crowther more than agrees with Ken. And more than agrees with me, too, when I commented to Ken on Facebook that
it may be even worse than you say, for even if the electorate could magically become informed and wise, the money system Senator Mitchell mentioned back in 1994 has become even more entrenched and would hinder [I should have said prevent] the electorate's exercising their new-found smarts. Of course, no such magical transformation is going to take place anyway. Ironically, the electorate's predilection for magical thinking more or less ensures that.
I haven't defined "magical thinking" lately, although I use the term frequently. Magical thinking, which has an entry in Wikipedia, is not a precise term. It has different senses depending on context and theorist. Rather than attempt to define it, I'll give some examples. The voodoo belief that a practitioner can cause someone pain by sticking pins in an effigy of the person is magical thinking. Thinking that a prayer or ritual can prevent a plane from crashing, a child from dying, a nation from declining (or anything else from happening) is magical thinking. I joke that as long as I own books I haven't read yet I won't die; that would be magical thinking if I actually believed it.
    I recently gave an example of political magical thinking: the belief that whoever you voted for this time will be able to fix things. In a very general sense, it's magical thinking to suppose (or wish) a causal connection between one thing and another without any evidence that there is such a connection.
    According to The Skeptic's Dictionary:
Dr. Phillips Stevens Jr. [writes that] "the vast majority of the world's peoples...believe that there are real connections between the symbol and its referent, and that some real and potentially measurable power flows between them." He believes there is a neurobiological basis for this, though the specific content of any symbol is culturally determined.
Cleaning up after breakfast this morning, I felt a sense of the miraculous (or the providential) that I should be privileged to live (and to have lived for almost sixty-eight years now) when children die young (of defect, disease, starvation, accident, mayhem), when one of the almost always two young Nazca booby hatchlings is pushed out of the nest by its older sibling ("It always dies," said the narrator of the BBC program about Galapágos), etc., etc., etc., to the countless gazillions of blameless creatures on the Planet Earth who don't enjoy a long, full life.
    I suspect that Dr. Stevens's "neurobiological basis" promotes a connection between such a sense and whatever can easily explain it. Only, Loving God's somehow protecting me (or the older Nazca booby hatchling) doesn't explain it. In fact, to me, the fact of all those unfair deaths rather testifies to the contrary. That's using critical thought to break the neurobiological tendency to establish a magical connection.

Crowther concludes:
Where's the country's conscience? Where's its heart? Where's its brain?
I think it's in its knee, which jerks predictably at the slightest magical provocation.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November 2, 2010: 1994 all over again

In November 1994, Hal Crowther published in The Independent an article about that month's national election. Our current month's election seemed so similar to 1994's that last week, The Independent reprinted Crowther's article last week, under the title "We've seen this movie before: 1994 revisited." Some excerpts:
I remember my first editor laughing at me because I seemed to require logic in my politics. But can you deliberately block your opponent from achieving anything, then ask the voters to sack him for his lack of achievement?....
    The stuff that animates rightwingers in my part of the world is so inchoate and simplistic you couldn't accurately call it ideology. My guess is that neither ideology nor widespread misery derailed the Democrats...Throwing out some of the best politicians along with some of the most expendable was a voter's irrational reaction to a profoundly irrational system.
    The one thing in this country that's indisputably wretched is the way we conduct our politics, and the way we govern ourselves as a consequence of those politics.
    "Every Senator who participates in it knows this system stinks," says the [in 1994] retiring Senate majority leader, George Mitchell. "What matters most in seeking public office is not integrity, not ability, not judgment, not responsibility, not experience, not intelligence, but money...Money dominates this system. Money infuses this system. Money is the system."
    ...
    "We think the diametrically opposed party system is an absurd joke," one college student told The Washington Post [in 1994]. "We're just watching the whole American experiment and wondering 'Can this go on?'"
    ...
    Do Americans grow dumber as they grow older, through some insidious process that probably involves television? Is there intelligent life after 30? Trust the young people. If the two-party system isn't dead already, it smells pretty funny to me. Resisting even the most basic campaign reforms, perpetually posturing and positioning themselves for elections years away, the Democrats and Republicans have reduced democracy to a rowdy, childish tug-of-war that provides almost nothing but expensive entertainment.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Some questions for Pastor Ullage

Pastor Ullage, thanks for providing a summary of your sermon on P.U.S.H.: Pray Until Something Happens.  I'd like to follow up with a few questions, if I may:
  1. Why didn't you count your wife's coming into your study as "something happening"? I mean, her leaving seemed to qualify, so why not her arriving? Aren't you being awfully selective in what counts as a happening?
  2. When she was sitting there not interrupting your praying, what were you praying about (or for)? Your billboard didn't have room for you to specify what, if anything in particular, we should pray about while waiting for "something" to happen, but I can be forgiven for expecting your sermon to address this.
  3. Actually, your "Amen!," immediately following the information that "she got up and left the room," rather suggests that you were praying for her to leave. Is that what you were praying for?
  4. In connection with Question 1, was the reason you didn't count your wife's coming in perhaps because you weren't praying for that to happen?
  5. With regard to that, apparently not much is happening in your relationship with your wife. Would you care to comment on that?
  6. Do you do marital counseling as well as prayer counseling? Which do you figure you're more competent to do, if not equally competent in both?
  7. When something happens that you weren't praying for, is that because someone else was praying for it, or do some things happen without anybody's praying? How is that possible?  

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pastor Ullage's signature homily

Brethren, I say unto you, God hears and answers prayer. Nothing happening in your life? God can make it happen.
    God can make it happen. Let me hear it back!
    God can make it happen!
    Amen! God can make it happen. And you can pray to make it happen! When nothing's happening in your life, PUSH! Puh-ray until something happens!
    Puh-ray until something happens!
    God can make it happen!
    Amen. Just this morning, Brothers and Sisters, I was in my study, and nothing was happening. So I prayed. And I prayed. And I kept on apraying. And I prayed some more.
    And my wife opened the door and came in. She sat down and kept quiet. She knows not to interrupt me when I'm praying to God. And she sat, and she waited. And she waited some more, until finally....
    She got up and left the room. Amen!
    Something happened.
    God answers prayer!
    And I got the idea for today's sermon. Pray Until Something Happens, Brethren. When nothing is happening in your life, God can make it happen. And you can make it happen through prayer.
    Turn in the hymnal now to Push Through to the Promise Land....
_______________
October 10 Word of the Day from dictionary.com: ullage: –noun 1. the amount by which the contents fall short of filling a container, as a cask or bottle....

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Morning on the Carolina coast

Actually, the photograph was taken on November 10, on Pea Island, at about 7:15 a.m., just before my wife and I were met by our guides for a personal walking tour around the lake at this winter wildlife refuge.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wings over water

At Pea Island, dateline today (White Egret):

Added December 29th, after I finally incorporated the names of birds as identified to me by guide Audrey Whitlock, to whom much thanks, as well as thanks for her and Peggy Eubanks's companionship and guidance that day:

Black-bellied Plover in winter plumage:

Brown Pelicans:

Yellow-rumped Warbler (used to be called Myrtle Warbler):

Great Egret:

Pied-billed Grebe:

White Pelicans with two Great Black-backed Gulls:

Belted Kingfisher:

Raccoon:

American Coot:

Egrets:

More Pelicans:

Swans:

More Egrets:

The birdwatchers:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Watching Sherlock sitting still

As I may not have disclosed in this web log, which seems to have become a story of my life, I twitch. Most of the time, or at least while I'm otherwise trying to sit still.
    "We have two Sherlock Holmeses going now, you know?" I said to my wife this morning.
    "Two? I think we have only one episode of Sherlock we haven't watched." She was referring to Masterpiece Mystery, its new 21st century Sherlock Holmes.
    "Yes, two. Sherlock and Luther." I was referring to the British psychological crime drama. "Luther makes large deductions from minute observations, honing in on the likely serial killer."
    My wife said humph. "I guess we have one and a half Sherlocks to watch, since you fell asleep last night."
    "How did you know I'd fallen asleep?"
    "You stopped twitching"

Monday, November 8, 2010

Jané's diary

How strange, that conversation at Costco. Who says it so straight-out like that? There is no God. I never saw that coming. They usually say how true or nod their heads or at least say hmm. But to just come back with No, there is no God, God doesn't exist. And to say it so matter of factly, without heat, reasonably.
    And so, am I wrong, and God didn't plan things? How do I think I know that? Or how did I think I knew it? And did I believe it anyway, really? I wanted to believe, maybe. But why? Anyway, if God planned for younger people to take care of their parents when they get old, then why are fewer and fewer doing it?
    And can I say for sure that God has ever answered even a single one of my prayers?

I wish I could remember that man's name. He said it very clearly, but then he asked me what my name was and how was Jané spelled, and my husband's curiously pronounced last name. I should have asked him again after the restroom.
    But isn't the fact that he was still there when I came back, eating his yogurt, somehow a sign that maybe God does exist, after all? But why would God send someone with the message that he doesn't exist?
    Maybe I'll see him at Costco another time. I have so many questions.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ken Marks turned up

How fortunate for the rest of us that digital photographer Ken Marks took the Wilmington Turnout #3 on his trip to New England a few weeks ago:

See Ken's other photos from the trip at New England 2010.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

God comes up at Costco

I pushed my cart to the back of the shortest checkout line. I didn't notice that the couple ahead of me had a child in a stroller until its mother said to me, "We're going to purchase him."
    I dutifully looked the child over and said, "You can't afford him."
    "No, actually, we can't."
    "Well, maybe if you can hang in there with him for a few decades, he can help support you when you get old."
    The boy's mother thought for a moment and said,"Yes, that's the way God planned things, isn't it?"
    "No," I said. "There is no God. God doesn't exist."
    "Well, for me he does," she said. "I don't want to argue with you."
    "And I don't want to argue with you. But you did bring it up."
    "Yes, you're right. And I appreciate making this connection with you. You were very forthright."
    "And atheists can be good guys, right?" I said.
    "Of course," she said, and her husband agreed. "My father's an atheist," he said.
    "Is he also a good guy?" I asked.
    "Absolutely," he said. "My hero."
    While her husband checked out, she surprised me by asking me my name. I told her, making a point to say it clearly and distinctly.
    I asked what her name was. "How do you spell that?"
    "Just like Jane," she said. "With an accented e."
    Her last name was pronounced "back," but spelled like the members of the prolific musical family of the Classical period. She told me her maiden name, said she was native American. We talked about how many families don't take care of their aged anymore in America. People work, they move away.
    We could have talked a lot longer than it took them to check out.

Actually, it was a good day for Costco encounters. I'd laughed a lot with the two opticians earlier, whom I knew well from previous visits. They were both helping me, unusually their only customer on a Saturday morning, and we got into a partying mood exchanging banters while David checked whether they could obtain a replacement for the broken frame of my distance glasses and Christina adjusted two pairs of my reading glasses.
    Then a smiling exchange with the pony-tailed Hawaiian young man in the pharmacy who helped me find the Kirkland substitute for Mucinex. I greeted him by his famously familiar name, Blaise, which always reminds me of the wager.
    And next the booth for Charleston Coffee Roasters, where my wife had asked me to sample whether I liked their coffee too. I did, their dark roasted signature blend, beans from Colombia, Sumatra, and Mexico. I asked the man serving samples how they selected beans from those countries. "We taste and experiment, find what we like and what maintains its taste even as the coffee sits a while and cools off."
    I told him mine rarely sits, I drink it fast and hot.
    I remembered Jim Rix's signing his books at Costco stores out in Nevada and California. "You work for the company, don't you," I said.
    The man smiled. "I'm the owner," he said.
    I asked for a business card and got him to autograph it. "It's hard to get a product into Costco to stay," I said. "If it's books, they have to sell when you're not there to sign copies. Good luck."
    I put a two-pound bag of dark roast into my cart. "I love your coffee."

While sampling three kinds of freshly baked bread (the two plainest, French baguette and sourdough, were even more appetizing than the garlic-flavored), I noticed that the husband of the woman sampling ahead of me was standing listly aside not having any and apparently not particularly interested in bread. I tried to make eye contact with him, but I'm not sure I managed it.
    I saw him again outside the garden cooler, where he manifest the same facial expression and listlessness.
    And again near the cheeses and pies. I pushed my cart up next to his (or his wife's) and said, "You seem to be just suffering this shopping trip. You look as though you'd rather be home reading a book or conducting a scientific experiment."
    At last he brightened a bit, and even smiled. "Yes," he said, "that is correct."

At checkout, I prepaid for a cup of swirled chocolate and vanilla nonfat yogurt and while waiting in the canteen line for it, I asked the woman ahead of me whether her trousers with a stripe down the outside of the leg were part of a uniform. "Do you work for the post office?"
    She confirmed it and seemed pleased that I'd noticed the stripe. I asked her where she worked and whether she knew my post office friend whose son is a freshman at Carolina and has already made the All ACC cross-country team. She seemed to regret that she didn't.
    After she was served, she turned and said good-bye.

While I was standing near the canteen to eat my yogurt, Jané eagerly approached me from the direction of the restrooms.
    "I've lost my family!" she said a little theatrically. "Did you do something to them?"
    I smiled. "Are you thinking, Hey, that wasn't a good guy after all. He kidnapped my boy!"
    She smiled. "Oh, there they are," she said. Her husband was sitting at a table with their son, looking at us.
    She left me and went to them, thinking too, I imagine, How unexpected.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Steve Glossin is back!

Prophecy of the Medallion. "What happens when a Shiite Muslim cleric in Baghdad (‘the Imam’) goes on a fanatical quest to fulfill a prophecy of Muhammad and crosses the..."

I highly recommend this very satisfying read. Since the author is in the process of revising Prophecy for distribution on Kindle, remaining copies of a private early edition could become collector's items. They certainly deserve to be. Let me know if you want to acquire one.