What a wonderful world?

The following is a parody of the song “What a Wonderful World,” most famously performed by Louis Armstrong, written by George Weiss and Robert Thiele

 

I see fields of brown and skies of grey

The cold, bitter night and the dark, rainy day

 

And I think to myself, “What a wonderful world?”

 

I see trash on the ground and trash in the sea,

Trash that’s been thrown there by you and me.

 

And I think to myself, “What a wonderful world?”

 

The odors of the planet are so putrid all around,

There’s poison in the air and there’s poison in the ground.

I see strangers who shrug.  They say, “What can you do?”

They’re really saying, “I hate you.”

 

I feel pain in my back, in my legs, arms, and head.

I find myself thinking, “I can’t wait to be dead.”

 

And I think to myself, “What a wonderful world?”

And I stink to myself.

What a wonderful world.

Schrödinger’s Head

Schrödinger’s Head”

To be performed by: What’s in the Box?

Lyrics by Robert Elessar

Music to be written by Robert Elessar

Is the cat alive or dead?
Is the stop light green or red?
Is he awake or still in bed?
Is he hungry or well-fed?

I don’t know
What’s going on
In Schrödinger's head.

Is he in charge or is he led?
Is he below or overhead?
Did you take in a word he said?
You can go from A to Zed

And you won’t know
What’s going on
In Schrödinger's head.

Everything’s divided,
And everything in one.
Your view is so one-sided
But well-done is half begun.

Did he charge or has he fled?
Excited now or filled with dread?
Is he behind or far ahead?
We want to know, and yet, instead

We don’t know
You don’t know
I don’t know
What’s going on
In Schrödinger's head.

My response to a pseudo-patriotic Facebook post. Oh, and Happy New Year, by the way

[The following is a response to a meme shared by a friend. I’m posting it here because he’s a nice guy, and he means well, and I don’t see the need to get in a dust-up with him.]


Capture4

Is it really more heroic to risk one’s future and expose oneself to possible crippling physical and mental injuries (not to mention death) by going overseas and killing strangers (apparently endangering innocent and trusting dogs – who clearly have no idea what they’re doing or why, but just do what you tell them to do because dogs will do that – in the process), at the behest of corrupt politicians who won’t even take care of you after you’ve done what they brainwashed you to do…

…or over many years of dedication and hard work to hone your skills and ability in a sport that pits you against other highly skilled and disciplined people, all of whom have joined the contest voluntarily, bringing joy and excitement to millions of people on a regular basis, and occasionally to use the public recognition you freely receive to call attention to areas in which our own country is committing injustice and sometimes murder against its own citizens, in hypocritical violation of the principles for which it claims to stand, even though your protest earns the vilification of millions of people who don’t want to admit to and deal with the failures of their government (for which they are ultimately responsible), and may end your career, a career for which you’ve killed NO ONE?*

I’m asking for a friend.

War – and soldiers – are a necessary evil. They are necessary,** and we can admire and be thankful for those soldiers who do fight against legitimately evil forces (this does happen from time to time, though not as often as we’d like to imagine). We should CERTAINLY demand that our elected employees make provisions to take care of those soldiers afterwards. But we can, I think, all imagine and hope for a world in which war and soldiers are no longer necessary, and even become unthinkable.

We already live in a world in which sports are “unnecessary.” We play and watch football, basketball, soccer, baseball, the Olympics, all entirely because they bring us joy.

This, to me, demonstrates that they are a greater good. We do them for their own sake. After all, which would you prefer: a world in which your children play games and sports, and learn about subjects that interest them, and grow strong in ways that don’t require harming anyone else…or a world in which they spend their time fighting to survive, evading and/or being tormented by bullies (or being bullies themselves), scavenging for food, running from predators?

This is the juxtaposition of imagery you should keep in mind when you denigrate athletes, particularly ones who take a knee in protest against injustice committed by those who are supposed to defend justice, while you praise soldiers who, when they do good in the world (and they DO, not infrequently, do good), it’s because they’re “lucky” enough to have been ordered to do so, and it’s usually at the cost of death and destruction, including collateral damage (i.e. innocent people being maimed and killed).

I don’t mean to put down soldiers. I admire and respect their willingness to put their lives in danger to try to do good in the world, and I strongly suspect that almost all of them really, honestly, intend to do good. But their good intentions, and their courage, do not guarantee that they will, in fact, do good. Good intentions are not enough. They are just barely even the starting point. And it is only through the actions of people such as those who stand – or kneel – to bring attention to injustice, that we can hope to do more than merely intend good and actually, in the long run, achieve it.


*and that, by the way, is a compound, complex sentence

**but they are an evil

I’ll try not to feed my trolls

I’m going to try to keep it short, today, because I want to get back to writing and editing my fiction, especially Solitaire.  Apologies if this disappoints anyone.

It’s frustrating how little time I can find in any given day to get done what I want to get done.  I doubt that I’m the only one with this lament.  And yet, when the weekend comes, I find it hard to force myself to get up and write—or even to get up and edit—first thing in the morning, as is my goal.  This was why I decided to write my Iterations of Zero posts on Tuesdays:  I found that my intention to write them on Sundays rarely panned out, even when I had something important in mind that I wanted to get out there.

Instead of lancing those intellectual boils I often ended up just letting them fester, and sometimes I lost the urge to address them at all.  What happened to the underlying infection in such cases?  Perhaps it went the way of all overextended metaphors and faded appropriately into nothingness.  Or perhaps it will recrudesce in other places and other times.  Maybe that’s a good test of how important such subjects really are to me.

When I used to go out shopping with my kids, and they saw some random item they wanted, I told them say that we would wait a week.  If they still wanted the thing—without having to be reminded of it by going past it again—then I would get it for them.  If not, then we would consider their desire a momentary impulse, and not worth the money.

This worked out pretty well.  They didn’t feel absolutely stonewalled; I wasn’t saying that they couldn’t have this thing that they thought they wanted.  There was no angst such as might be present if I’d just said, “You aren’t getting that.  Full stop.”  But, as will surely come as no surprise, most of the time they forgot about their impulse completely.  On those rare occasions when they didn’t forget, I was true to my word (if memory serves).

Maybe that’s a good rule to follow with respect to writing.  If I feel a burning urge to comment on some issue—some momentary, outrageous flash in the social media pan, for instance—I should step back and consider well, for a while, what I might want to say.  If the topic fades out of my mind after a relatively short time, then it’s probably not that important.

It might even be nice if everyone on social media—and perhaps in all other media—followed this precept.

It boils down to the principle of not feeding the trolls.  If some meme or statement on social media arouses your ire and makes you want to comment—especially if your comment doesn’t really add anything new to the conversation—maybe you should count to ten…ten hours, if possible, but at least make it ten minutes.  If what you want to say is really important, then you’ll surely still feel the impulse to say it after a mere ten minutes has passed.

This is not to say that, if someone asks some factual question, like “what the heck is a black hole, anyway?” and you think you know the answer well enough to satisfy them, that you should wait to reply.  But if you see some post riddled with emotionally provocative imagery and/or information (especially without any references to confirm the truthfulness of statements made), it might be wise to hold off responding, especially if your response would be something like, “This is why I hate those kind of people,” or “This is why our society is doomed to destruction,” or similar ventings that add nothing to the discourse, but which do encourage people to post more such memes, and make your life a little angrier.

Trolls only have power over you if you give it to them.  Real issues, real concerns, real dangers, will not go away if you briefly ignore them.  This is one of the great tests of whether something is “real” of not.  If you can kick a rock even when you aren’t looking at it, then that rock is really there.

For the time being at least, I’m going to try to follow my own advice.  I’ve got three memo sections in my cell phone full of potential topics for discussion, and I’ve already written about some of them.  Many are real, legitimate concerns to which I will almost certainly return.  But I don’t need to go read through those notes periodically to try to inflame myself anew on their subject matter.  As the Tao te Ching says of the Master, “Things arise, and she lets them come; things disappear, and she lets them go.”  I’m a long way from being a Master, and I doubt that I have world and time enough to achieve that state, but it’s a target worth keeping in sight.

In the meantime, I’ll try not to feed my internal trolls, and I’ll try not to buy too many impulse items, literally or metaphorically (this is hard for me with books, but I’m getting a little better).  I’ll trust that those matters that are truly important will stick with me and will inevitably come out either in my nonfiction or someplace hidden in my fiction.

A subject doesn’t have to be steeped in outrage to be interesting, after all.  I’ll try to save my own outrage for situations in which I can’t seem to escape it.  Maybe that’ll make me a happier, more light-hearted person.  At least it will make me less subject to the whims of trolls, both external and internal.  And that has to be a good thing.

Screams and disconnections

I started reading the two bestsellers by Johann Hari (Chasing the Scream and Lost Connections, about the war on drugs and about the modern epidemic of depression, respectively) after hearing him on Sam Harris’s Waking Up podcast.  They’re powerful and well-written books, though reading them can be quite upsetting, as they both deal with issues that have profoundly affected my life.

As may be obvious to anyone who’s read this blog much, I’ve had a lifelong struggle with depression, which is often quite severe.  I say lifelong; it really began in my early teens, and I think in my case it may be more endogenous than reactive.  Thus, I might be a slight outlier in Hari’s thesis on the illness (but I haven’t finished the books yet, so I may be wrong in this).  Nevertheless, Hari’s point about missing connections and support is one that resonates with me. Continue reading “Screams and disconnections”

I don’t like the prodigal son

I’ve always had a problem with the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  This is the story Jesus tells in the New Testament about a father with two sons, one of whom is well-behaved and does what he ought to do, whatever that might be.  The other is a wild child.  He goes out into the world, doing the local equivalent is of drinking, abusing drugs, partying, having lots of unprotected sex with people he barely knows, gambling, spending too much time playing computer games…that sort of stuff.  Eventually, so the story goes, the second son hits rock bottom, as one might expect, and loses everything.  Then he comes crawling back to his father, contrite, supposedly having learned the error of his ways.  The father, in response, throws a gigantic party, and everyone celebrates the return of the prodigal son.

The other son, understandably enough, is miffed by this.  He thinks it’s unfair that the return of the ne’er-do-well is greeted with a celebration, while he’s been there all along, doing sensible things, behaving good, being loyal, and there’s no party to celebrate him.  The father explains that basically he’s always happy about the good son’s presence, and that everything he has is his, but that the other son, who was as good as dead, is now back and it’s worth celebrating.

I’m really on the side of the good son here, precisely because the parable of the prodigal son is a good description of how we often behave toward our families, friends, and others. Continue reading “I don’t like the prodigal son”

NOT voting is voting for the opposition

For those of you who will vote today, or have already voted—no matter for whom or what you’re voting—I want to thank you, as someone whose right to vote has been stripped from him.

For those who don’t, I want to make a few points.

First and foremost, something you might not have considered:  If you can vote, but choose to abstain, you are effectively casting a vote for every candidate with whose platform you would be least likely to agree.  How does this work?  It’s very simple:  If you informed yourself and voted—even if you cast your vote along straight party lines, without any deeper thought involved—your vote would be counted and would balance some alternative vote for the candidates or issues you wouldn’t have chosen.  By not voting, you unmask a vote that would have been opposed the one you would have cast.  By not being present, by not voting, you are allowing those who disagree with you to put forward their side unopposed.

Perhaps this is as it should be.  Perhaps those who refuse to vote should have their least-favorite candidates elected.  Perhaps this is a form of justice.  But if so, it’s a justice that doesn’t merely affect you, but harms all those with whom you might agree about any issue.

People give many reasons for not voting, and some of them are understandable.  In many places, specific laws and policies have been enacted that preferentially discourage people of particular political dispositions from voting.  That this happens is reprehensible, and it is to counter just such violations of the spirit of America that it is urgent that all people who can vote take the trouble to do so.

But many people who choose not to vote simply make excuses for what is ultimately just laziness.  It’s too difficult, the polling places are too far away, the needs of everyday life get in the way, all the candidates on all sides are corrupt, my vote doesn’t make any difference anyway.  These arguments seem to carry weight—for those who make them—partly because there is at least a grain of truth in each of them.

It can be difficult to vote.  Depending on one’s circumstances, getting to a polling place can be a chore, especially if one doesn’t have a car.  Sometimes this circumstance has been deliberately engineered, and sometimes it’s just one of those random imperfections of reality.

Voting can also require taking time off work.  For those paid by the hour, this can entail loss of income which they are ill-equipped to bear.  Some will even face threats to their continued employment if they insist upon taking time off to vote, and that such threats happen is a travesty and an insult to the spirit of this country.

To change such things, however, the people interested in changing them must run for and be elected to office, and this will only happen if those who face difficulties find ways around them to the best of their ability.  This may require absentee voting, this may require advance time-off planning, including setting extra money aside to make up for the hours of lost wages entailed in exercising this crucial right.*

As for the point that both sides are corrupt:  even if true, it’s vanishingly unlikely that both sides are equally corrupt or equally reprehensible.  If you don’t vote for the candidate who comes closest to your ideal, then you’re voting for the one who is farthest away.  (See my post, “The good/evil number line.”)

The feeling that one’s vote is unimportant can be powerful; each citizen is just one of hundreds of millions in America.  The sense that by voting one is just spitting in the ocean can be oppressive, especially where Gerrymandering has ensured that in certain districts, votes for particular political candidates do have less influence on outcomes than they should.  But even Gerrymandering can be overcome by a strong enough voter turnout, and only by making that happen can it and other such injustices be overturned.

Looked at honestly, though, the character of many people’s reasons for not voting seems like a child saying that his dog ate his homework, when really, the homework was just difficult, and he had other things on his mind so he didn’t do it.

The homework may be difficult.  There may be many, seemingly more urgent, matters at hand.  But if you don’t vote, you’ve given a free vote to those who disagree with you politically.  They will get out and vote.  And their vote will count…all the more so because of the absence of your vote.


*We treat this right rather poorly here in the US, which is something of a puzzle when you think about it.  There are nations on this planet where voting is not merely a right but a legal obligation.  This may be carrying things a bit too far, but there are also countries where election days are national holidays, where workers cannot be forced to work on polling days unless they provide essential services, as with those who work in hospitals, fire departments, police departments, and the like.  It seems like an idea worth trying.