Monday, August 22, 2016

Avete -

Et nunc brevissime -

Among my blog-subscriptions is one that often shows old photos of Betty Page, in various states of attire.  A signal female model in a signal position in our recent cultural twists and turns, and yet another "pretty face".  In the un-simple confusion of biological life, being male involves being moved by "pretty faces" of various sorts. There is so much connected with that: how to sort it out? 

One way is this, to remember that "a pretty face" is a-dime-a-dozen in itself; that there is no "pretty" without some desire, some weakness on the part of the viewer; that more real than the impression that an image makes is the person (unknown for the most part) embodied within the source of the impression; that underneath said vision is a being, whether your superior or inferior or your more-or-less-peer, but certainly a creature with its own agenda; that we are morally bound to treat people well (if at all possible), and so to defer to her (or him or whatever); and, after all, that said creature is in the end just a messy-mixed-up-wonder of mucus, stomach acid, bacteria, noxious filth, and God knows what else! 

Such thoughts can push the superfluity of sexual excitement back a bit towards the proper indifference that we, as rational folks, should show towards strangers. 


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Not-so-Amazing, and Amazing, then Humbling...

Salve atque salvete! 

As a POST-post-scriptum to yesterday's dreary recital of self-pity and weary old dismay, let me say that it's remarkable and instructive what a difference food, fluoxetine and caffeine, and getting some work done, does for one's mood and outlook.  Reality doesn't change, but our readiness and attitude to engagement with it, our state, does.

And, in a conciliatory aside to the Christianos (qui tam plures sunt his in Civitatibus Unitiis), of which faith I have at times counted myself a provisional member, I expect that my petite and limited experience of mood-change is very similar to the long-term effect of being 'born again', a letting go of fear and helplessness and re-embarking on life, while trusting to God's control.  And this parallels what we gain from Stoicism - recognizing sad but necessary mortality, recognizing an underlying Universality in life and death all around us, and realizing that freedom is ultimately a humble thing, something that BELONGS to us in a simple and timeless way, and rarely a matter of what we would wish. 

Christianity is not a problem: Christians are good people, generally.  But fanatical Christianity is another story.  However, I'll let that be, at that point.

Recently I took up Goodman and Soni's book, "Rome's Last Citizen: Legacy of Cato the Younger", and heartily recommend it.  And I jotted this down in my notebook, from Lucan's Pharsalia (they don't identify the translation), speaking of oracles and other miracles:  

"Bound are we to the Gods; no voice we need;
They live in all our acts, although the shrines
Be silent...."

And from People magazine, of all things, I recorded a very good trans-belief-system quote from Muhammad Ali:

"Everything I do, I say to myself, 'Will God accept this?' Sleep is a rehearsal for death. One day you wake up and it's Judgment Day. So you do good deeds."
In a nutshell. 

And then, also in that People magazine, an amazing and humbling story - there are so many! - about Aimee Copeland, this young woman who lost legs and hands to disease, and has been reborn and re-equipped, in heart and in prosthetics!  It took me by surprise; horrible and then amazing.  A happy ending, by God!,,21011736_21011374,00.html


Worth pondering.  Valete.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Feet Slipping on the Rocks

Salvete, qui legant -

How many of us recall being in water up to our necks and trying to find toe-purchase atop slimy, mossy lake stones?  That seems an apt metaphor for my mental and moral state just now.  Trying to get a grip, as it were. 

My life is not that of a gung-ho hot-shot nor even that of a giddy, myopic gas-bag.  My firmament in life is a slippery rock of absurdity - being myself too-much-that and not-enough-this, and so on.  The world of youthful competition and 24/7 performance-merit passed me by long ago, and it is one part of human nature with which I've never identified, except in fantasy. I've worked in my life - mostly for attorneys and their ilk, piddly stuff, but for people who DO live in the 24/7 giddiness - and seen them from a distance, occasionally felt the breeze of accomplishment myself.

But it's not me; that stuff is not forthcoming.  I remain out-of-it, strange, aside, "oddly conventional", and so on.  I balance atop the rock, liquid mossy, but that's as much as I can manage, it seems. 

So it is from this perpetual perspective of anomy that I face society's daily push-and-shove, and in particular these days the lightning and thunder spectacle of a Presidential election.  A decade ago I stopped asking "Why?" and accepted that people have their bestial norms and must act according to them:  a need to find enemies, a need to blame others, an inability to understand strangers, and (for oh-so-many) those very plain internal maps to winning, exploitation, and abuse of the "other".  This is nature; this is sadness for me, gaiety for them. 

There are a few lights in the dreariness: the Symbolic Sun (Invictus so far, if not truly immortal), friends, material fortune (to have a job, income, a home), and especially the boon of simple love, of wife and kids at home. 

So I'm still here.  Still trying to breathe and balance near the banks of Chaos River. 


P.S.  Yeah, post-commute-blues, feeling sorry for myself.  But this did help re-center me, and - as Jackie Gleason used to say - "Awaaay we go!" 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Earthly Reality...

Salvete, qui hoc in loco advenietis.

My son texted me a question - only rhetorical, really; but I thought I'd post my reply.  We were discussing Frank Miller, celebrated hard-ass of comicsdom.  My son texted:

"Why are people like Frank Miller so cranky?"

And I replied:

"They have a superiority complex, you might say; they despise the quiescent, the average, the sinful, the foolish.  Their condition and outlook is biological; it's winnerism; it's Nature.  As inevitable as Al-Qaeda or viruses...."

The un-said part was this:  "And, as it is with viruses or Al-Qaeda, or with people like Frank Miller or Friedrich Nietzche or David Duke, it's the simple duty of decent people to resist them, see past them, and to say yes to life, instead of hatred."  

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Referral regarding a Name in the News

Salvete, quicumque legant -

One of my favorite Bloggers, Ciceronianus,  posted something good recently that I thought I'd feature here.  

I, like probably a lot of people, am still trying to wrap my head around the spate of cop-on-black-civilian and other killings going on domestically.  One of the forces in this whole controversy is the "Black Lives Matter Movement" and Ciceronianus's article deals with recent abuse of that name.

You'll notice he reserves judgment and analysis on the whole controversy for later.  So do I.  

Valete, et audete sapere. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Standing Up ...

The topic in "Standing Up..." here is Islam and what we can understand of it in the world today.   
More specifically, this topic began as the problem of the superficially "missing" moderate Muslims.  It's a common American prejudice nowadays that no one can be Muslim AND be a decent person at the same time; that the religious primacy of God and the Quran universally subverts Reason in Muslims and converts them all into passive or active supporters of Radical Muslim terror.  This isn't true, per se, but there have been more than enough murders committed in the name of Islam by fanatics and punks that the notion keeps presenting itself. 

But it behooves us to get "relative" about it.  (Yes, one can "get relative" without becoming a moron.  But if you're a dyed-in-the-wool absolutist anti-relativist for whom the world is always morally black and white, where only "we" are good and all others are bad, then you can just ignore what follows.)  While an exception may disprove the absoluteness of a rule, the exception is NOT the rule: the real world is infinitely complex and composed of endless Individuals.  Only bigots accept and apply pejorative "rules" to the exclusion of facts. 

My little investigation into the topic of moderate Muslims seems to show me (so far) four political and religious classes of Muslims:
  • Atheists who are, technically, 'Muslim' (like the many technical Christians and Jews and so on);
  • Moral Believers, people who are Muslim but judge others as people and not by labels; 
  • Overly Devout folks who are extra-religious or even fundamentalist Muslims who are, nonetheless, horrified and saddened by Radical Islamic terror; and -
  • of course - the Radical (Fundamentalist) Muslims who either support or perform acts of terror. 
I expect the same sorts of division apply to any group of a collective religious or political identity.  My point is that American and other reactionaries fail to appreciate the variance in Muslim attitudes and conditions, and instead lump every Muslim in the same trash bin with the Radical Muslims.  (The American Left makes the same mistake with Republicans and Christians and so on.)  They justify this by the murderous extent of Radical Islam's terror-movement, and its inhuman proclamations.  But the excesses of a few are still not the customs of the many. 
There are lots of modern Muslims who, in their own lives, can integrate God, the Quran, AND human decency, just as there are such people in any religious group.  We can pin a violent past (or present) on any of these other groups as well, whether Puritanical Christians, Communists, CEO's and "working men", Populists, et cetera; but that doesn't automatically make all the members of such groups murderers and rapists.  
I want to mention one author who speaks to the whole question of the "missing" moderates:  Ranya Tabari Idliby, author of two books:
  • The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew - Three Women Search for Understanding (ISBN 978-0743290487)
  • Burqas, Baseball, and Apple Pie: Being Muslim in America (ISBN 978-0-230-34184-5)
I am reading the second of these.  Ranya is decidedly Muslim; but she is also decidedly American.  She is heroic enough to condemn the murderers and criminals who slaughter and claim it as a service to God; and she is reasoning enough to have a commitment to Freedom and Goodwill - which makes her like a lot of un-sung decent Muslim folk who have not been interviewed or printed or otherwise published.  I hope to get back and sum up more of what I get from her book later. 
So, again, for people who think they're People of Good Will, don't condemn all Muslims for the actions of a few angry, crazy macho-types; but do read Ranya's book - very timely reading for all of us non-Muslims (Stoic, Baptist, Atheist, Catholic, Buddhist, whatever). 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

February Thunder

(This is an old entry I never actually published.  Found it today and - some five months or so late - decided to put it up.) 


Salvete, qui legentes - 

Which at this point probably just means ME! 

So is this a blog or a diary?  Nescio quid, sed Deo gratias quod hoc in loco nil Flammarum Belli pati debeo!  Quod sive totus mundus blogum meum frequentarent, nec mihi grave. 

Februarius is with us, and last night gave us some REAL WEATHER: thunderstorms, rain-drops big as marbles, a near-horizontal wind up to I-don't-know-how-many miles per hour.  It was a full-blown bluster, a soaker of a storm!  And it renewed itself again come midnight or so; the thunder was so continuous, extended and crescent; it mounted and mounted in volume -- I thought an airliner was crashing on our house. 

Actual thunder.  Still something of a novelty for us in the Eastern San Francisco Bay Area. 


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Some More about God and Men

From an earlier note, a week or so ago, that I made to myself.  Why I need to try to figure out all these metaphysical maybe's is attributable to Human Nature, and to the subject matter of my studies this term. 

Epicurus* asked:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not all-powerful.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?  Then why call him God? 
God exists as something real – the micro-, macro- and astro-scopic Universe itself – huge, infinitely complex, beyond men’s ability to control or comprehend. This is "the Creation", whether it was something created or remains perpetual or whatever its ultimate nature may prove to be. This God can be seen, analyzed, and learned from. Whether it is, as the Stoics claimed, a"providential" one depends on your definition of 'providential', and then upon your experience and your bent in life.

God also exists – subsists, perhaps? – as a feeling, as the experiences of thinking and of conscience – whether these come from the otherwise fanciful pneuma deduced by the Stoics, or from some sort of organic neural feedback, or from whatever.  We (at least most of us) carry these and participate in them, and we get the feeling that – well – there's something going on that’s not just material.  We can call it soul, pneuma, Daimon, Guardian Angel, Christ-in-us, Reason, moral sense, or even numina that lace the land about us.  This God cannot be seen, cannot be proven to be material, remains both hard to pin down but also remains self-evident to us.

Whether you claim a Single God (combining all divine attributes), or Two Gods (as I have crudely laid out above), or Three Gods (as in the Christian Trinity, united as One), or a full Pantheon (as in the many and endlessly various Pagan traditions), what we do know is that we are, for the most part, dealing with an Idea whose manifestation is both our whole physical world – the "works" of God – and also our own inner selves.  But there’s no other hard evidence, just "hearsay", as Thomas Paine put it.  And this evidence that we do have available – that we and the world ARE -- does not have a simple, intelligible signature that quiets all controversy.  It is much more complex than that.

The only honest notion about God or the Gods, I am convinced, is the Agnostic One – as in, "I don’t know, but I think … !"  The actions of worship (on one hand) and reasoning (on the other) are both indications of God, in us, at work. 

*   The only authority for this being Epicurus's argument is Lactantius, the only ancient source to quote it.  He may have been wrong about having Epicure as the author; in fact, Epicurus's notions of the Gods seem to run counter to the notions inherent in the quote. 

Writer Os Guinness

Salvete, qui legentes - 

(My Latin is so much bullshit!  I'm enamoured of it but am so ill-studied.  But that is quite beside the point today....) 

I want to mention a very good author, one whom I hold in respect -- while also, at times, arguing with in my lonesome journal:  Os Guinness, a man of reason and responsibility, a Christian writer who can bridge the gap (at least for me) between what is decent in the moral (and so, intellectual and political) stances of the American Left and Right.  It probably helps that he's not from around these parts to begin with. 

Amazon's bio of him lists this:
    OS GUINNESS (DPhil, Oxford University) is an author and social critic. Born in China, he was educated in England at the Universities of London and Oxford. He moved to the United States in 1984....
Whether he likes it or not, I count him a proper Humanist, concerned for both real people as well as traditions of wisdom, and keen to penetrate partisan dishonesty.  I've read only two of his many books and recommend them both. 

  • The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on It
but especially this one,
  • Unspeakable: Facing Up to Evil in an Age of Genocide and Terror .
Need more folk like him. 


Metaphysics from Iohannes

Salve, si aliquis has legit !

I am, as affiliations go, a Stoic -- at least, these days.  Have been since 2006, a decade or so.  I'm currently taking a course from the College of Stoic Philosophers (not accredited, I don't believe) whose classes are done over the Internet, are affordable, and are not bound up in the toils of professional academia.  Professional philosophers may sniff at this College (collection of colleagues) but it fulfills a purpose that the unaffordable and scholarly-professional schools do not address -- common people living their lives. 

Enough about the College. I'm grateful they've been around.  But I'm currently finishing up a quarter in which we've read on Stoic Physics, which -- for the Stoics -- was also Stoic Theology.  We're at the last section, and the subject is Piety. 

Looking over Erik the Scholarch's summation for this quarter, I find myself agreeing with most everything.  The one area where I can't agree with Erik and my mentor, Chris, is that of the Stoic God's Providence.  The Stoics had an interesting idea of God and of Providence:  They argued that while most of the universe is a system of causes (not a chain, not a domino effect), men are set apart, a section in them reserved for a minor sort of divine intelligence (all the universe being infused to greater or lesser degrees with a Cosmic Intelligence that orders things and creates movement and animation and consciousness).  What this does is set men (ie, people, humans, of both genders) apart as having a say-so in their own fates.  Fate rules all, and yet not finally, because men generally have the power to think and choose.  (Rather like Christianity, isn't it?  I'm sure there are endless parallels in other religions, too.) 

Where I part with Erik's and Chris's theistic notions is largely in this notion of Providence.  What does it mean?  I agree that God (as Universal Nature and as the divine Pneuma that pervades it) has provided for men and their survival as a species.  But I argue that that is about as far as it goes.  Erik and Chris might agree, but we part on the definition of Providence.  If the Stoic God (the divine Intelligence innate in the cosmos) were fully provident, we humans would have had a better nature to begin with; we would not be such a miserable, splintered, hostile, dissatisfied and ape-like species.  Erik's Providence goes only so far -- which is fine, actually, for Stoicism quite properly looks askance at most notions of Absolute Purity and Infinite this-and-that.  We have no Types, no Perfect God, no Perfect Other World; there is only what was, what is, and what comes to be. 

But then Erik quotes this, from our old drill instructor, Epictetus:

"For if we had any understanding, ought we not, both in public and in private, incessantly to sing and praise the Deity, and rehearse his benefits?" 

Well, yes and no.  We might, because we are small and insignificant, and incapable of the kind and degree of creation that Epictetus would have us thank God for.  But a question arises:  What's the purpose of this incessant praise?  Wasn't God doing what he is supposed to, that is, providing?  Moreover, isn't that Providence limited?  Yes, he's given us a bit for each, in terms of Intelligence, with which to affect Fate on our own; he's sort of 'deputized' us as Junior Gods, you might say.  But again, isn't that now our job, to be intelligent, to be good, to be so at the same time that we're being the particular kind of beasts that we (quite demonstrably) are?  God does his bit, and we do ours -- and that's the ticket.  God deserves praise only insofar as the entire World deserves praise, and most of the world is, to the Stoic, necessarily a thing Indifferent -- a world "not up to us" to control.  Moreover, indifference is the Stoic God's personal relation with us -- he's absent, except (again) as Universal Nature and as Our Individual Natures. 

Is this a big deal?  No, except that I can't join the Chorus of Theistic Stoics singing, "Praise God for this wonderful life!" when, no, it's not wonderful, but mixed and problematic.  Men and Women, Democrats and Republicans, Christians and Muslims?  War, serial killers, torture, disease, tooth-and-claw?  This may be a providence, a gift of animation, but it cannot be called "a wonderful life". 

"Thank you for the loan, God; I'll try to take care of it as I ought to, this Life, before you get it back from me."  I think that sums up the relationship quite well, "incessant praise" aside.   If you want God, read Thomas Paine and Camus and you will have a good beginning.  Stoicism is to be praised, I think, for putting all that -- earthly experience -- into perspective without resorting to either inflation of the Human Ego past its proper degree, or erecting Idols and demanding sacrificial victims, or simply sugar-coating the whole mess and ignoring evil.  Tie your shoelaces and save the drowning, as Thoreau advised; there's no need to get absurd in response to reality's absurdities. 

Vale, et aude sapere. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Friday Blues: Not Too Unusual

Salvete qui legentes êstis -

Sometimes Friday is graced, not with Venus or Friya or Frigg, but with the proximity of freedom.  Not true freedom, for that is rare and has to do more with ability and virtue than with a lack of fetters, but the relative freedom of the coming weekend, Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, closing in a kind of eclipse on Sunday evening. 

But sometimes Friday is simply Fatigue-Day, Down-Day, Out-of-It-Day.  So today for me.  I am in a down cycle, emotionally, and trying to find fresh sources of oxygen (as it were).  What is to hand? 

First - Only what is "up to me", what I can do and control or affect.  This includes my mood, but not all of it, not my body or my neurology or my complement of good sleep.  Those things I can affect, but not command.  Even my state of mind, available to suggestion and even command from the "ruling faculty", can be an obstacle and a pitfall. 

But here memory is important, and an internal vigilance: 
  1. To recall that your emotions and mood are susceptible to your Reason, that Reason is our gift from the Gods or from the Creation, that Great Source of Turmoil, with which to deal with its debris on earth. 
  2. I can keep a mental eye open for the self-defeating, the undeservedly-self-castigating, the either-or-despairing, and other fallacious tricks of the mind that -- quite automatically, in my case -- cripple my little self and urge it to self-destruction. 
  3. I can patch up what I can in the outside world -- whether at work, with my co-workers, with my family, with my friends and acquaintances, with problems financial -- patch things up with whatever I have of good humor and sensitivity and diligence.
  4. I can above all watch out for Fear, for the Habit of Dread that infects me and my family, and recognize its imprimatur on my thoughts, on my disposition, on my judgments, and pull myself back when I lean too far into it, or reverse my opinion when I see its fell influence on an opinion.
  5. I can look to the 'Engine Room' -- fuel supply, body status, metabolism -- and, quite literally, feed myself with an eye to decent fueling, decent material and nutritional input.  I can even improve the 'Guest Quarters' upstairs with a bit of fun food or a glass of wine, some luxury for the weary fool. 
  6. And, in terms of what's up to me, I can cut myself a little slack, remember that I'm just a beastie trying to emulate the Gods, a mortal, "only human" as Robocop once said, a multicelled macro-animal gifted with Reason, and that the world is -- above all -- IM-perfect, not made okay, not made safe or good or complete or glorious, but rather dirty and dangerous, uncaring and paltry: as a termite with some Divinity in him, I can rebel against defeat and decline and dismay. 
There!  I'm better already!  Improved thanks to Lore, Thought, Reason, thyroxine, caffeine, Ensure© and some sandwich from Subway©, and neither should I forget the affable conversation and amusement afforded us by my boss.  Now to the rest of the day, and on to the weekend. 

Omnibus, valete bene.