Since I Never Get the Last Word
Saturday, January 14, 2006
When Mom Takes The Floor
Checking the weather report this morning, the meteorologists are predicting rain tomorrow. This is big news here at Thunder Mountain as we’ve had a different winter. No rain, no snow on the peaks, balmy temperatures, you’d believe Mother Nature granted us a dispensation from winter. Oh, we’ve had a few nights in the 20s (Farenheit) but, for the most part, winter has thus far passed us by.
With wildfires burning in the U.S. Midwest, torrential rains in the Northwest, blizzard conditions in the Midwest and East , Mom Nature has been strutting her stuff in all the U.S. From the Welshman’sblog, she’s even been giving the Brits what for. And, scanning the rest of the globe, there is weather everywhere.
What strikes me as most important about this fact is the clear demonstration that wehumans are not in control. We spend much time kidding ourselves that our science has mastered most of the available technical, religious, and social problems, that we are living in some sort of golden age where basic survival of the species is no longer in question except from the possibility of our usingtechnology against ourselves. Well, even if the fact that comic books cost more than $2 U.S. a copy wasn’t enough to convince one of the end of an age, Mother Nature has certainly taken up the gauntlet and smacked us in the face with a clear, concise statement of who’s in charge. It isn’t us.
Does this cause anyone to seriously reconsider what we are doing? Are we going to cease living on our coast lines? Are we going to stop building high rise buildings on fault lines? Are we going to make ecology a priority instead of a fad? Are we going to take any rational steps to control any aspect of our terrestrial footprint?
Nah! We’re just going to go on complaining that Mother Nature’s a bitch. That’s a whole lot easier than doing anything else and it doesn’t cost anything.
Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-01-14 10:52:38
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Choosing Between Two Evils
Aristotle wrote: of evils we must choose the least. Superficially, this is pretty straightforward. The lesser of two evils is always to be preferred. Or is it? Austin O’Malley wrote in his Keystones of Thought that when there is a choice of two evils, most men take both. Well, certainly. Men are like that, aren’t they? But what about women? When history has deigned to record women’s views on the topic, we discover practical advice such as Talullah Bankhead’s maxim “never practices two vices at once” or Mae West’s “between two evils, I always like to take the one I’ve never tried before.”
The underlying assumption, from Aristotle onwards, is that evil choices are always before us and we must define a program for handling them. Isn’t it odd that there are no programs for choosing between two goods? I’d sort of expect that more often than not the choices ought to be fifty-fifty, you can either choose this good thing or that evil thing. I’d also expect that occurrences for the choice between two goods to be as statistically probable as a choice between two evils. If these latter two circumstances are the case, then I presume it must be the case that men and women will always choose the good and never choose the evil so instructions to that effect are unnecessary.
Let’s build us a thought problem. Suppose we have the evening free and we are have devoted the time to reading a good book, say, Montaigne’s Essays. Whilst reading said tome we can either enjoy a pipe stuffed with Old Toby or a Beefeater’s Martini. According to O’Malley, I’m likely to choose both and, at first, this seems good and proper to me. Ms. West’s advice doesn’t apply because I’ve already done them both. But, Ms Bankhead’s advice insinuates itself into my mind to prompt me to decide between the two. According to Aristotle, I should choose the lesser of the two and who I am I to argue with Aristotle? Which choice might be the lesser?
Well, as the do-gooders continually harp at me, smoking will kill me. I am not certain if one pipe full of Old Toby will do the trick but from the tenor of the clamor, I suspect it might. On the other hand, there are equally ardent do-gooders who screech into the airwaves that alcohol fries brain cells, a finite asset at best, and those who partake of the grape – in this case, the rye and the juniper berries – will be assuring themselves of an enfeebled old age. Again, the clamor fails to distinguish how many cells are fried by a single martini or, for that matter, which kind of brain cells are fried. You know that my memories of wetting the bed as a small boy are expendable so that, if those are the cells to be fried, I’m more than willing to lose them. For that matter, that first date I attempted and was refused by the love-of-my-life-for-that-day could be easily sacrificed. But there doesn’t seem to be a mapping of which brain cells are targeted for frying by alcohol. Come to think of it, there doesn’t seem to be a good mapping for brain cell contents, either.
Hmmm, I’m already old so further enfeebling may not be noticeable. My days are obviously fewer in number than they used to be. How the hell am I supposed to decide which is the lesser of the two evils here? Does anyone have Aristotle’s cell number? I could use someadvice.
Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-01-10 11:24:01
Tuesday, January 3, 2006
Lying for Fun and Profit
Some of my favorite lies begin: “The Hegemony Council sat on the balcony of his ebony spaceship and played Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-Sharp Minor on an ancient but well-maintained Steinway while great, green saurian things surged and bellowed in the swamps below.” and “They say his father was a comet and his mother a cosmic wind, that he juggles planets as if they were feathers, and wrestles with black holes just to work up an appetite.” Both of these lies introduce even bigger lies that go on for pages and pages and have given me more than twenty hours of diversion and enjoyment. Even thinking about them now brings a smile to my face as well as an appreciation of the fact the liars who penned those words are far better masters of the art than I may ever be.
I enjoy reading other peoples lies almost as much as I enjoy writing my own. And they are lies, of that there can be no question although lying about the future is much less certain than lying about the past. After all, it is possible – if not probable – that some day there may be a Hegemony Council who owns an ebony spaceship and plays Rachmaninoff. Just as it is possible but not probable people at some future point in time will describe another figure of their time as the offspring of a comet and a cosmic wind. Lies about the future carry that added bonus: they may turn out to be the truth. When that happens, as it did with Arthur Clarke, you become known as a prophet and immediately lose all honor in your home town because you actually told the truth when people thought you were lying..
Nowadays, there are grand schools of lies. There are the mainstream and the mystery, the fantasy and the scientifical. Each brand of lying has its own rules although breaking the rules is as much a tradition as following them. I suppose once you start lying in one school, it’s hard not to lie in another. The secret to good lying is to make the lie interesting enough to capture the attention of a person of influence. In our times, such persons are titled ‘acquisitions editor” or “literary agent” and they are as insular as kings and presidents. I’m still working on that part.
Why do we lie? Because lying is much more interesting then reporting the facts. Reporting the facts hardly ever sells. Facts always need window-dressing, human-interest slants, a fact drummed in to journalism students at every uni in the world. Sometimes, the graduates apply the lesson too well and get caught but, hey, as the Eagles, renowned experts on lying eyes,lied: every form of refuge has its price. Just ask the NY Times and the Washington Post and The Christian Monitor.
Today, I have promised myself to work on the Wrong War. That’s another one of my favorite lies.
Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-01-03 10:51:58
Monday, January 2, 2006
The Limits of Human Endeavor
Suppose you invented a character who spent his life writing, writing about whatever engaged his mind. You’d make him nerdy, wouldn’t you? He’d be a know-it-all, a pain-in-the-ass corrector of trivial mistakes, a social gadfly, a persistent critic, an unrepentant raconteur. You’d give him spectacles, flambouyant hair, a gruff demeanor, a quirky sense of humor tending towards shaggy dog stories, and an aversion to things that most people accept as matter-of-fact but he would know better, things such as airplanes.
He’d write a bunch of sf novels, more than 30; he’d write a couple of mystery novels, and he’d do short stories in every genre imaginable until his name became a household staple. Some would argue he should enter into the body politic but you would give him more sense than to do something as silly as that. You’d write him so that he’d see himself as more effective carping from the sidelines.
He’d attend conventions but eventually achieve such rock star status that the whole effort of being presentwhile retaining some modicum of privacy would become too much.
You’d assign him all kinds of honors from every field of endeavor but they wouldn’t mean much to him as he would be more interested in his next project.
By the time he’d finished trying to explain reality-as-we-know-it to people, he’d have published more than 500 books, a feat that would have to be the world record for authorship.
Hidden among his work would be tiny gems such as the identification of life’s essential building blocks and the dwindling supply thereof. You’d write that people always remembered that he’d written a warning in the early 1960s that phosphorus is essential to life-as-we-know-it but the world’s known supplies are migrating to the ocean floor all because of laundry detergent.
Would anyone accept such a protagonist as real, as possible, as fitting within the human paradigm? Or would the critics say that such exaggerations make interesting fiction but the human being is more limited than that? No one man can have the ability to view the world from such a height. Of course, you’d have your nerd title one his books “View From a Height” to tweak their noses.
Four score and six years ago today, such a man arrived in our world. He may have been a one-of-a-kind and never again shall we see his like. But, then his very existence makes that proposition less than certain. He would have said that if he could do it, so could someone else. His name was Isaac Asimov.
Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-01-02 11:43:53
Saturday, December 31, 2005
Since everything is connected to everything else, one’s birthday is a time to search for connections that might not otherwise be apparent. Perhaps people born on the same as I share some attribute that sets us apart from the rest of the human race or perhaps we share some attribute that is distinctively human but manifests more brilliantly in we born this day or that day.
Sandy Koufax shares my birthday and, although he was left handed and I am right handed, I had an awesome fast ball when I was nine years old, just before I threw my arm out trying to throw that fast ball from deep right field to home plate. After that, my fast ball wasn’t and my curve ball didn’t so Sandy made it to the Hall of Fame and I sought another career.
Tiger Woods shares my birthday and my passion for golf. Well, he is somewhat more passionate about the game than I am. He practiced most of his life and still does and I believe my swing comes naturally and doesn’t require a great deal of practice. He wins golf tournaments and I don’t so that trait, the ability to hit golf balls in the direction and distance you are aiming, is something that not all persons born on my birthday share. I think that’s a shame as I’d like to hit the ball where I am aiming but, then, I’ve always said that accuracy is overrated on the golf course.
Rudyard Kipling shares my birthday. His poetry is several orders of magnitude more polished than mine but I think we share similar outlooks about what is funny and what is not as well as the value of soldiers to their society. He’s out of favor these days and I’ve not quite been in favor so we have that in common as well.
Michael Naismith and Davy Jones both share my birthday. I could have been a Monkie; I’m certain. I have the same irreverent, stream-of-thought kind of humor for which they were celebrated. I had an adequate singing voice when younger and you couldn’t describe their voices as anything more than adequate. So, I should have been a Monkie.
Okay, I’ve got it. People who share my birthday all seem to share a common wry humor at the things the world sends our way. We are pretty certain we don’t deserve most of it and appreciative of the good stuff that happens and not surprised when the bumper sticker applies.
Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-12-31 13:25:49