Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween 2015

Tonight is Halloween, a day that I've come to look forward to more and more as time goes by. I think maybe it's the atmosphere: we simply don't have many days when there is a true party feeling throughout the neighborhood. It comes to life in a manner which simply doesn't happen often.

Oh, they'll be the occasional annoyance, mild pushing and shoving, even an adult or two who want free candy. That last one used to burn at me, but not so much anymore. You can't let the twerps ruin your mood.

My family will take turns passing out goodies and walking around the hood. I'll wander a bit through my mother's yard, where my brother Patrick goes to town with the outdoor decor, and just be happy to be around it. Then when we're done we'll go inside and order the Charlie Brown Halloween special to cap off the night. And this year we have the added pleasure of falling back, as Daylight Savings Time ends overnight. I always liked that feeling: looking at the clock at 9 and thinking it's really only 8.

With a bit of luck maybe the rain will hold out until we're done. If not, ah well. Let's have a Happy Halloween anyway!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Thursday rambling. Or rumbling? Grumbling?

The guy throwing vice for me on Mondays pointed out as curling started this week that the last time we curled together, he had a heart attack. Literally. An actual heart attack! Then my play that night nearly gave him another. Keep your nitro pills close at hand Jim.

They're calling for a 100% chance of this rain this coming Halloween in Detroit. Really? All this relatively nice weather we've had this October and we're talking almost certain rain on Halloween? And a half inch at that. That's just not fair, rain gods. Or fair weather gods, or whomever we're expected to blame for this travesty. And it's supposed to be warm and sunny from next Sunday through Thursday too; beautiful weather for November. I can appreciate irony, but this is simply wrong.

I'm looking forward to falling back this weekend though. I know that it means night will fall earlier, but I'd rather have the daylight in the morning anyway. The extra hour of sleep isn't so bad on the nerves either. It's more time to lament the water logged Halloween as well.

Have I mentioned that I'm not happy with the Halloween weather forecast? Well, I'm not. It'll make my Heath Ledger Joker makeup run.

For years I hadn't watched much prime time TV. Now I find myself being sucked back into that vortex. To be sure, I have tuned into NCIS almost religiously for years now, but as my interest in sports wanes I find that regular television can fill the void nicely. Or should I drop this new devil for the devil that I know? After all, there are no time clocks, time outs, and poor officiating to be found in the Middle. Although the writing for that show has fallen off so far this season.

Still, I liked Brick's Halloween costume on last night's episode. He was the Rod Serling from Night Gallery, not Twilight Zone. Anybody should have seen that. Nice comic turn, I thought. And it didn't rain in Orson, Indiana on Halloween either.

Have I made clear my disgust with the likelihood of a rainy Detroit Halloween? Then my work here is done.

Until next time, folks...

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pops and the Steel Mill

There was this bearing, see? It would not come out of the end of the armature of an electric drive, a 300, and it would not come out, even with the bearing pullers. Even with the sledge, okay? It would not come out. Then my buddy, he said to me, "I bet that would come out a lot easier after some cold lemonade, wouldn't it?"

So we went out onto the roof of that old building of the Ford steel mill at the Rouge plant. It was a hot day, but there was this ledge, and it had a picnic table, and the guys would sit there on their coffee breaks and enjoy the cool breeze on their breaks. And we had some lemonade. And it was good and it was cold. And it sure tasted good.

So then, I go back to that electric drive, and I put the bearing pullers in, and I hit them with the sledge. And they break loose. I pull the old bearing, I put the new one in, and that old Hobart works like a dream.

That was one of Dad's favorite stories. Simple, and to the point. He replaced that old bearing, which was sounding off like a banshee, after a break with some friends on a common job site. He liked the story well enough to tell me the tale many times.

I hope that I did it justice.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Pops expresses an opinion to Joe

My dad and my Grandpa Joe got along well, despite the fact that Grandpa could be difficult to deal with (something which I will attest to from years of personal experience, and I really loved the old coot). Dad explained to me once that both he and his father had poor tempers, something I would never have accused Dad of having, but as Joe was here first, Pops had made up his mind early on that he would be the one to hold his tongue whenever he didn't see eye to eye with his old man. However, that didn't mean he couldn't get his point across when necessary.

Joe rented welding equipment and Pops worked for him. This was back in 1940s through the 1980s, before prefabrication, when a lot of fabrication had to be done right on construction sites. So Grandpa had for rent arc welders, torches, and things which I think were called buzz boxes. As that's good enough for the point of this tale, we'll leave it at that.

These buzz boxes were intended to make instant welds. As I recall, you would hold the thing up to a rivet on a steel girder and it was supposed to make three quick welds to secure the rivet in place. Supposed is the operative word here. The boxes were notoriously finicky, and it was Dad's job to go out to work sites to repair the them when they didn't work.

Pops hated them. They were as difficult to repair as they were to operate. Over a few years Dad learned to fully and completely despise them.

One day as he came in from a particularly tough repair of one of the buzz boxes, Joe could see that his son was not in a good mood. As Pops saw it, his father thought that maybe he could lighten things. He remarked with a slight chuckle, apparently trying to make a joke of it, "Those buzz boxes are tough to deal with, eh?"

As Dad told it, he replied quietly, firmly, and without looking up at his dad, "Old man, when you die, I'm selling those buzz boxes. Then I'll bury you." It's an old line, but used rightly, an effective one. Perhaps Dad had been holding it back, waiting for the teachable moment.

Joe laughed at it, but kind of nervously. The next day he began selling the buzz boxes.

Pops could let Joe know what he felt when he had to, and without the arguments Joe often had with others. And I think they respected each other because of it.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Football: not the only flawed sport

I've spent likely too much energy complaining about flaws in sports. Okay, I suppose it's more accurate to say I've wasted that energy lamenting flaws in American Football, not that those hardheaded players and fans care to listen to reason. Yet all sports have their weak points, and I've realized that they all might benefit from my wisdom. So I will now, from time to time, vent about those others. And I will begin with my favorite, the greatest game ever, baseball.

Let's start by helping the pitchers, shall we? How about calling the whole strike zone for starters (okay, and relievers too)? Why must they get only half to two-thirds of what the rule book says is a strike? It's no wonder that pitch counts are getting so high: if a hurler doesn't groove a pitch he doesn't get a strike. If the human umpires can't figure out what Fox Trac (or whatever they call their strike zone guide) clearly sees as a ball or a strike, then replace them with technology. It's no different than using instant replay really.

While we're talking about pitchers, let's make them bat again. It's only right. Everyone else has to play the whole game, and commentators regularly and rightly opine that, once a ball is pitched, the pitcher becomes an infielder. Make them bat too. Yes, the lament will be that who wants to see pitchers bat? I don't care. Baseball is a game where everyone else plays two ways. Pitchers should too. I hold the same for what is something of the converse: designated hitters don't play the whole game either. Get rid of them.

Throw the sabermetricians out of the ballpark too. Quite frankly, we knew who the great, average, and mediocre players were before Bill James came around, and with a lot less pointless analysis. I admire his love of and commitment to the game, but all he's really dealing in is minutiae. Which means trivia. Use the basic rubrics by which baseball has judged players for a century. They almost always point to the same conclusions as the number crunchers do.

And please stop changing pitchers so often. I've reached the point where I think each team should be limited to four pitchers per nine inning game, barring injury. Take the limit off in extra frames as well. If we help the pitchers with a true strike zone, they'll throw fewer pitches and not be so tired anyway, and can go longer. Get rid of that situational left hander too. He's another sabermetric invention we could do without.

Baseball is a great game. The best ever, by any honest and rational consideration. But like all human constructs it could be improved. Consider these ideas a start.

Ask the right questions

There are many things which no one seems to oppose. We're all for peace, correct? Education? The environment? Observing the Golden Rule, perhaps, if such references are not too religious? Yet so often these claims ring hollow. They must, you see: for peace and education are just words. By themselves, they really mean nothing.

It is critically important that we bring up and discuss the important questions which must follow these words if our actions are to mean anything; indeed, if the words themselves are at some point to be of value, of good use. WE must ask: peace under what circumstances? Peace for whom? Because of course peace in the sense of a lack of war was very useful for Hitler and Stalin yet was a rather poor mantra for Austria or the Communist Bloc.

Simply put, the next time someone asks you if you are for peace, or education, or the environment, ask them relevant questions before you answer. Ask them peace under what conditions? Education to what purpose and in what manner? The environment for whom and how? Before these issues are addressed we have nothing but a shallow and insipid pool of vacuous semi-thought. Yet afterwards, we may actually accomplish things.

Monday, October 19, 2015

What makes good counsel

Counselling has become a big issue in recent years. Indeed it's reached the point where whenever tragedy strikes one of the first things we are assured is that counselors are on the way. Not that's there's anything wrong with that of course. But what bothers me is when I hear that we are expected to counsel people in a value neutral atmosphere. The idea cries out for greater discussion.

So, there are those who suggest that the role of the counselor is to offer value neutral advice to the person being counseled. But that idea is not itself value neutral and thus self contradictory. It can dismissed out of hand as useless to the arena of valuable, helpful counseling. Still, people seek counsel, and often very wisely. Therefore, we must understand what counseling means, so that we can offer good counsel ourselves when and if asked. After all, it is not a realm given solely to the supposed professionals. Often, perhaps generally, family and friends with no actual training in the field can offer the best advice and support.

Counselors, as we understand value neutral counsel, are expected to make recommendations which are in line with the advice seeker's worldview. This must be seen as nonsense. What good can that approach achieve, especially on the rather safe presumption that the counselee already knows what their worldview expects of them. Yet should they not and desire clarification, wouldn't it make more sense for them to go to an adviser of their own stripe? Should not a Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, seek a counselor who is Christian, Buddhist, Muslim? Why go to some sort of generic counselor if what you want to hear is best offered by someone of your own stripe?

Indeed, that brings the whole idea of a generic form of counseling itself into question. How could such a counselor possibly be an expert in all areas: Christianity in all of its forms, Buddhism in its, Islam in its, and even secularism in its? Indeed again, what kind of a counselor would they in fact be if they merely told the person before them what they wanted to hear?

There are two basic ways in which we approach counsel. One is that we want to be told what we already believe is true. The other is when we need an objective, impartial observer to show or tell us why, and in no uncertain terms, our current approach to an issue or problem is errant and must be changed or altered. This is because if all we need of a generic counselor is essentially to be told that what we are doing is right based on the options our own worldview already allows, then such a job is superfluous. It must only encourage selfishness and self centeredness within the minds of those seeking counsel.

There is nothing wrong with being a yes man when the boss is right. Yet obviously when he is wrong it displays a complete lack of integrity. A decent and useful counselor must be willing to tell you you're wrong when you are. That must mean making judgments brimming with proper values. It means calling right things right and wrong, wrong. It does not mean that a counselor shouldn't be charitable towards the counselee's feelings nor inconsiderate of their background. But a refusal to call bad ideas bad and good ideas good, to wit, to be value neutral, fails on all levels. It leaves the advice seeker at best in Limbo and at worst in Hell. Meanwhile, it makes the counselor a sort of devil when he should be a friend.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

What if they played a football game and nobody showed?

This afternoon, as I write in fact, there is a big football game in Ann Arbor between in-state rivals Michigan and Michigan State. At one point in my life I would have been drooling over the match up. Today, I have no intention of watching a single down. I won't say I don't care, but I don't care nearly so much as I once would have.

I've watched very little of my beloved Detroit Tigers this past season, and I saw very little of the Red Wings last year or so far this year. I've watched hardly any of the Major League Baseball playoffs which are currently going on, and baseball is the greatest game there is by far. I only pay enough attention to the NFL to see how my fantasy league picks are doing, and I'm not sure I should be bothering with that. I've missed the last two Super Bowls, and probably will not watch the next one unless I like one of the teams playing. I'm not sure I'll watch even at that. Even curling, a game I've played for thirty years now and whose season for me begins October 26th, doesn't have the appeal to me that it has in years gone by. I love the curlers, of course, and everyone I've met through the game; they're my greatest friends as a single group. Hell, they're my greatest friends, period. Only family is closer. But the point is that I find increasingly that sports are, well, a waste of time and energy.

Some of it has to do with the games as they now stand. They need improvement, and could make themselves better with a little effort. I've complained about that before, primarily about football, yes, but they all could use a heaping dose of integrity quite frankly. Why can't baseball give Armando Gallaraga his perfect game? It would be so easy to do, no one would argue, yet MLB doesn't do it. How can we expect sports to teach sportsmanship if the powers that be won't serve simple justice? Justice very easily served, I might add.

I've gotten tired of game officials blowing calls where the response is, essentially, oh well. That isn't fair play. And shouldn't sports be about fair play? Unless winning is indeed everything, at which point, damn the whole lot of it.

I've blogged before about my Grandpa Joe's attitude: drop the ball for all it matters. He's right to the point that sports shouldn't be so dominant in our culture although wrong, to be sure, so far as you should play your best if you do choose to play. But I've reached the point where the only games I care about were the ball games with my kids as the grew up, and pitching, catching, and batting with my granddaughter now. Tossing the ball around with Pops back in the day. The rest? It's just kinda become noise.

A lot of the fault is with me. I know that. Sports meant too much to me for too many years and it may well be that I'm overcompensating in this reaction. Still, that doesn't mean that I and the world as a whole haven't reached the point where sports and games have become bread and circuses, especially at the highest levels. That idea works fine in a completely secular world.

And that, perhaps, is what bothers me the most. I fear sometimes that we've become too much of an eat, drink, and be merry world, and that that's becoming institutionalized through sports. I can't help but wonder if we'd be better off if they become mere diversions rather than passions. Because as it is, and as I've said it before and recently, I feel that anymore the games play us more than we play the games. That speaks ill of both us and the games we watch.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

You gotta stand for something

The people who are the most bigoted are the people who have no convictions at all.

-G. K. Chesterton

Ayn Rand, though a very entertaining author, has her philosophical flaws. But if she is right about anything, she is right about this so far as it goes: you must have a philosophy to live by or you will have no bearings for judging your actions. You will have no way of interpreting what to do or when to do it.

Too many people lack this. Set aside for the moment whether any given philosophy is right. That is surely the next question to ask, but it isn't my point just now. The thrust of today's commentary is that a framework is necessary for us to determine the value of our life's, in fact even of our daily, work. Certain frameworks will prove to be wrong; indeed I suggest that there can only be one right, basic set of guidelines when all is said and done. But again, I am veering from the issue at hand.

Rand says, if I remember her correctly, that if you do not discipline yourself towards thinking about things at the least within a context of ideas which you take as a given, you will eventually merely wander from day to day, from idea to idea, and find yourself eternally at the influence of other forces without regard for what you may actually want or need. You will discover, if the thought ever actually develops in your mind, that you have not become an individual of any value. You will be a sheep. The time of slaughter will one day consume you, and you will have no way of defending yourself from it.

Or something worse will happen. You will become a petty little dictator, self assured that all that you wish do is itself the standard of right and wrong. And why not? You would be at the point where whims and passing fancy will guide you, or, more correctly, you will be the flag proudly fluttering in the wind, too proud to know that it is the air which unfurls you and not your own knowledge or will. As the breeze fades and dies, so do you. And what will be seen of you as you are opened to the world?

So you need a philosophy. You need some way of determining whether the people and events around you are evolving into things useful or things destructive. You need coherency in your life. You need to, in the words of that old saw, stand for something lest you fall for anything. This approach may well leave you standing for the wrong things in the end. Still, it's better than nothing, and indeed your only chance of being found by the just and true lies in the firmness of your stance.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Science wants too much to be right sometimes

There has been for years a tremendous hue and cry from certain quarters about how science is the answer to all of our questions, and religion and philosophy are dying. Even the revered (perhaps overly revered) physicist Stephen Hawking has recently came out and said the the universe didn't need God for its creation. That is all very well; he is, after all, trying to sell a book, and it seems that whatever must be done for publicity is all right. That's hardly a reasonable approach to truth, however. Any truth, in fact: scientific, philosophical, or theological. Yet why should we stand on moral grounds when science and progress are all that matter?

Well, perhaps because what we need to do in this day and age is to take a step back and ask ourselves: can we indeed trust science?

It can be found that the scientific world is rife with scandal, should the media decide to take as a hard of a look at the world of science as they do with religion. Indeed, scientific fraud is at least as well represented within our history as scandal sometimes seems within things religious. The Piltdown Man comes to mind, or the Cardiff Giant. And before you begin grousing that those are old news stories made in times where we hadn't progressed enough scientifically to see they were frauds, let us remember two things: it was decades before science acknowledged the error of the Piltdown Man, and that science can be as rigorous in its unwillingness to bend as they accuse religion of being.

Piltdown Man was made of the jaw of an orangutan on the skull of a human. It is difficult to believe that anthropologists way back in 1912 could not have noticed that with little more than a cursory review of the evidence. Yet that did not happen. Why?

Could it be because the purveyors of science, and by that we mean the people who make money off of it, at the time were so married to the Theory of Evolution that they would not even think of it as a hoax because it seemed to blend so well into their pre-established arguments? It could be easily alleged that their desire for, ahem, orthodoxy, could not allow them to search for the actual truth, until it was so obvious that even the priests of science had to yield.

But it is not only the older hoaxes which call attention to the arrogance of what often passes as modern science. As recently as the late 1990's we had the fraudulent researches of Jan Hendrik Schön, who made up his research yet was hailed as a rising star among scientists. And there's Shinichi Fujimura, a Japanese archaeologist who buried his own artifacts to be dug up later. His fraud went on for almost 25 years before discovery.

Then, in 1996, we had the Sokol Affair, where physicist Alan Sokol submitted and had published a paper in the journal Social Text which was totally fraudulent. He had announced on the day the article appeared later in Science Wars that his work was an experiment to “publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.” The experiment was quite the success. Yet he was basically accused with a violation of academic ethics rather than hailed by exposing the lack of a healthy skepticism which is supposed to be so important to the scientist.

A similar incident occurred in 2006, known as the Rooter Paper, where a computer randomly generated a paper which then submitted to and accepted as legitimate by a scientific conference.

This is not to say that all science and all scientists are bad. Yet it is interesting to note that the fraudulent scientists are viewed as outside of true science while the sins of religion are seen as inherent to religion. Is that good science, or bad philosophy?

The bottom line is that science, like religion, is practiced by human beings. Human beings who are as subject to lie and cheat if they feel sufficiently threatened as anyone else. Our lesson is not to take science at face value merely because it clothes itself in the garb of truth any more than we take religion as purveyors of truth without an honest review of their credentials. Because the biggest liars might just be on the biggest stage, and may be wearing, not robes, but lab coats.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Ladies: ask for what you want

I am today intent on venturing into dangerous waters. I am about to offer a little bit of relationship advice. As a rule, I don't care to get into such things. Commenting on the, ah, eccentricities of the male and female mentalities tends to merely leave men cantankerous and women upset, a situation which I find rather uncomfortable. At least, that is, when the women are around. My male counterparts, being of like and sound mind, are fun to be with when lamenting issues involving the fair sex. Yet as my mind is otherwise a blank at this moment, something that my women readers will surely agree with not only for right now but as a general rule once they've read this ill-advised commentary, I am hoping, perhaps (or, as is more likely) foolishly, that will be enough to excuse what is surely poor judgment this morning.

Ladies, do not hint about what you may want in life, for a birthday, or right at the moment. Do not leave clues as to the thing which would really make you happy now or in the coming days. If you want something, ask for it. Point blank and straight up: men do not read clues well. We do not take hints. We are, by and large, willing enough to do the things which will make you happy. But we need to know what they are.

You may say that we men, or people in general, ought to be able to read hints and understand clues. I will venture deeper into the muddy strata of Venus and Mars, I will risk drawing your ire (and much worse than that, I fear) and say, I do not agree. If you want something and you don't ask for it in a straightforward and even bold fashion, and as a result you do not get what you seek, that is your fault. I will not allow that others, any others, mind you, male or female, young or old, single or married, should have to read signals. If you do not get what you want because you did not make your wishes clear, that's on you.

Maybe I am getting too far into the realm of the famous Professor Henry Higgins. Maybe I am asking his admittedly arrogant question: why can't a woman be more like a man? I do not mean it that way. I only mean that if you want your friendships of any kind to blossom you need to establish the boundaries in a clear and understandable fashion. Men understand, 'I want to go to Chez Richard for my birthday'. They do not get 'We haven't been out in awhile', as that could translate into, in his murky brain, 'She wants to go to the sports bar for hot wings and a big screen playoff game'.

So help us out. Throw us a bone; you may be right and we are dense. But would you rather have what you want, or chance that what you'll get is something far less satisfactory? Do you really want to be mad at him for the next two weeks for reasons he can't fathom? I hope that I do not know the real answer to that.

This has been a public service announcement. I will slither back under my rock now.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Humility

I only remember him as Father Ralph. He was often rather unkempt, rather unfocused. More so than I'd ever thought a priest should be. Yet he had a quality which I cannot quite put a word to. His hair was usually uncombed, his appearance nearly always unrefined, and indeed shallow.

I suspect he had his demons. That's okay, though. We all have our demons, if we were ever honest enough with our selves to recognize it. His demons seemed quite apparent that day, his countenance unsure.

I met him unexpectantly at the back aisle of a neighborhood grocery store. He seemed confused; his collar was askew. He had in his hand a package of hot dogs. He was looking for dinner that Sunday afternoon. I think he had settled on hot dogs for supper right before I had seen him.

We spoke. I had seen him first, and greeted him. He answered, "Hi Marty". I replied something like, "How are you, Father Ralph?"

We spoke for a few minutes, the small talk of the confused having stumbled upon one another. He eventually began to talk about, for whatever reason, humility. He opined that it is the most difficult virtue. He said to me that what is most difficult about humility is that once you realize that you're humble, you aren't humble anymore. He seemed at that point very humble. Far more so than I have seen among anyone I've ever seen.

I think that I am too familiar with his demons. That is, of course, presumption. I am being far too unfair to Father Ralph. He, however, is far more humble than I represent. It is a lesson which I pray I do not forget.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

I said I'd recycle this post

Seeking something to write about, I decided that I would look up what I had written on previous 11ths of October. This is from October 11, 2009. I have fulfilled my promise. But I did add a word or two. You know, for freshness sake.

My wife and daughter are very into recycling, and that's okay. There's certainly nothing wrong with it, and they do it all themselves, so it doesn't even really affect me.

Still, our son while on leave from the Army commented on it in a way I had never considered. Watching his mother prepare tuna cans and milk jugs for recycling he remarked, as she was rinsing the items out and even putting the cans through the dishwater, "So we have to wash our trash?"

Which leads me to my point. Do we really need to recycle things for which there is no demand? Steel, aluminum, copper; these things all get paid for by people who have a real use for them. They're worth money, therefore they get recycled. Paper, plastic, even tin cans aren't worth anything and therefore do not get recycled so readily.

Unless the government encourages or demands it, or your friends and neighbors try to shame you into it. Many recycling projects are underwritten by government or commanded by it through things such as curbside pickup. In short, they wouldn't exist without coersion. Things worth doing generally get done without any hint of force.

Think of that when you're washing your tuna cans, using extra water, or burning extra gas to take things to a recycling center. Are we really doing anything worth such effort? Indeed, perhaps we are adding to the supposed problem in the name of feeling good, and nothing more?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

You say you want an evolution?

Mr. G K Chesterton is quite an interesting man. I've read several of his writings and have yet to walk away unsatisfied.

I am currently a few chapters into The Everlasting Man, and I have to say I am happy to find, as we all are I'm sure in such cases, someone whom I agree with who can say the things I wish I were able to say as well as they do. Mr. Chesterton is speaking about evolution, specifically the evolution of man as a thinking being but also about evolution as a scientific theory.

His most significant point is that evolution is not a particularly scientific theory, something that the science community would be all up in arms about. Yet the Englishman is right: if science, as we were all taught in school, is based upon observation over time, then what is truly observed when bone fragments and skeletons and fossils are discovered and catalogued?

Bone fragments and skeletons and fossils, that's what. These things do not actually tell us anything about evolution: they only tell us, in and of themselves, that we have artifacts of the past. To put in place a grand scheme of evolutionary development in an attempt to explain a connection between them is putting the cart ahead of the horse; it is presumption. That so many skeletons have similar structure may well be a hint that we are in fact linked: the skeletal structures of the human hand, bird wing, and whale fin are somewhat near to one another. Yet it may be that an Intelligent Designer knew that a certain basic bone structure was what worked best in putting together flesh and blood creatures and thus employed it across the board, with certain variances.

Can we prove either of these from the standpoint of scientific evidence? No; it's that simple. We must step outside of science and into philosophy: we must get metaphysical about the origins of man and look at what science gives us under the light of a reason.

What science is doing is superimposing a belief system upon its discoveries of human and animal remains while assuming that all the questions will be one day answered. Scientists at one time spoke of the Missing Link which will tie it all together: yet that must, at this point in time at least, be seen as unscientific talk. It is like discussing in a literature class the play Shakespeare never wrote. What can we usefully say about what is not there? Or at least, not there yet?

We may well find it someday. Or we may not. But do we want to make the very unscientific mistake of assuming something's already present? How might that cloud our science, particularly if, as I've long understood, the real scientist is expected to put as much effort into disproving his theories as affirming them?

The short story is that too many moderns want evolution to be true, so they go about purporting that it is. And it may well be: my point here is only that I must agree with Chesterton and say that for any objective study of the truth about evolutionary theory, the jury is still out. Science is going beyond the evidence present, a fact which should not be overlooked in the consideration of our origins.

I am not saying that a certain amount of useful conjecture is not a good scientific tool. I am saying however that it must be seen as conjecture only, until and if something more concrete appears. A hammer is all well and good when you want to drive a nail, but I should much rather have a wrench when I am tightening a bolt. I will abandon in a second the wrong tool if need be. Will science, I ask, ever consider dropping the hammer?

Friday, October 9, 2015

October is all about everyone!

October is breast cancer awareness month. It is also anti-bullying month. It is as well Hispanic Heritage month and Italian Heritage month. It's even Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage in the Carolinas and Georgia. There isn't a thing wrong with any of these things, of course. They're simply trying to draw attention to very important things. Yet as we strangle our calendars with months of this and months of that all in the name of calling attention to things, how long before everything becomes lost in an ever larger shuffle?

A cursory internet search will find that every month is a month for somebody, and the list offers everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. We find everything from National Fish Month to Political Correctness Awareness month. Thanks to our friends among the Wikipedia crowd, a quite certainly incomplete list can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_commemorative_months .

There are some interesting ideas shared within given months; October further houses both National Work and Family and LGBT History month within its dates. We could go on and quibble about all this emphasis on all these things and about which do and do not merit accolades or jeers; perhaps another time. The main point here is that very soon no one may pay any heed to these causes.

Remember the yellow ribbon faze? It launched ribbon after ribbon in myriad color and design schemes, all meant to make folks sit up and take notice of whatever the promoters had in mind. Does anyone notice those ribbons anymore? Surely not. The market gets saturated and even the most noble ideas become lost in the assault of metallic car emblems in ribbon shapes.

Will anything matter once everything matters? That's the worry we should have should we continue in the direction we tread. When we attach importance to all things great and small, don't we risk minimizing the really critical issues? Short of that, at the very least we ought to agree that we can live without Smart Irrigation Month.

That's July, by the way, if we can trust Wikipedia's editors.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

My life has become more animated

I've spent the past three days at 7PM watching Cartoon Network. It seems that one of my favorite cartoons from when I was a kid, Scooby-Doo, has been rebooted. There's more emphasis on humor and the characters look somewhat different from their initial incarnations, and Scooby's English is much too clear. Still, it's been entertaining, and I look forward to more episodes.

The fact is that in recent years I've found myself drawn (rim-shot!) more towards new cartoons than most any other type of new entertainment. Family Guy and the like exempted, the new shows are on the whole quite a bit more clever than comedies such as found on major networks in prime time, and particularly more clever than whatever Seth McFarlane may conjure up. I think in part that's because they have no pretense about drama of any sort, an illness which seeps into almost all live action comedies. They're just trying to be funny. I like that. I like comedies to just be comedies.

I wonder too if it's that the recent cartoons aim higher than simple children's shows. Dan Povenmire and Swampy Marsh, creators of Phineas and Ferb (perhaps the greatest episodic cartoon ever) have said that they weren't drawing for children but simply didn't want to forget a segment of their audience. They had each before worked on The Simpsons and the aforementioned Family Guy and wanted to create something which entertained without being quite so raunchy as adult oriented animation had become. Let's face it: too many adult shows in general have become too reliant on easy, low brow humor rather than fully attempt genuine wit.

Jimmy Neutron and The Fairly Oddparents began my animation rebirth, although several years after each had debuted. Phineas and Ferb likely sealed it, so much so that I look for new cartoons far ahead of any other new show. Penn Zero, Wander Over Yonder, Gravity Falls (not a full on comedy but often funny, and smart without pretense) all are high on my list when I'm seeking new episodes as I channel surf during the evening. And of course the new Scooby-Doo. I still snicker at one particular joke from Monday's premier. When Fred was asked if he feared heights he answered, "No. I fear widths."

Too funny. I look forward to more.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

I feel jobbed by sports playoffs

The Major League Baseball Playoffs began yesterday, and I began to watch them but ended up tuning into NCIS instead, a few minutes ahead of the first pitch. Lest you think this is Marty backing away from his ardent support of America's Pastime, I will let you know that I haven't watched the last two Super Bowls (and little of the NFL Playoffs leading up to them) nor very much of the last three or four Stanley Cups. The older I get the more I can't help but feel that we, the fans, are getting jobbed by sports playoffs in all their forms.

With the exception of American Football, which is by its own tacit admission too brutal for such tests of endurance, we find long seasons which are supposed to be so important leading into a relative handful of games which actually determine champions. They're just something silly about that, if not downright ridiculous. Play all these games, and if you win a lot of them, well, you have to play just a few more to prove you're really that good. It's simply dumb, the more I think about it.

Make teams do it to show how they perform under pressure? All right, there's something to that. Maybe. But maybe also all it does is allow overall weaker teams to shorten their benches and appear stronger by what is little more than slight of hand. But that hardly strikes me as fair to the better overall teams. And if sports are supposed to be about the best man/woman/team winning, I think playoffs may in fact lead to situations less than ideal for such outcomes. Were the New York Giants really the better team than the New England Patriots the year the Pats went into the Super Bowl 17-0? Nope. Yet they were the NFL Champs.

I realize that without the allure of playoffs many teams and their fans might quit on the seasons without the promise of something more. And I get that, so far as it goes. But I also get that if you can't survive the trial you shouldn't earn a mulligan for it either. Further, a good team ought to be put on the field first if it wants support. It's really no different a concept than expecting a business to put out a good product or service before it merits patronage.

As we all know, it actually just comes down to the money. Extended playoffs mean more cash for the games and the industries which surround them. I'll admit up front that there's nothing wrong with that per se. But I also think that an honest assessment of the situation should conclude that it is less than ideal for the integrity of our sports and games as sports and games. It teaches whether it means to or not that excitement is more important than the best team winning. Excitement on its own isn't wrong either of course. Yet I just can't help but feel that excitement when it comes more naturally is deeper and more thrilling than when it is manufactured by groups and persons who don't care about my allegiance so much as they do my money. That more than anything else is when I feel jobbed. I think sports fans in general should feel the same way.

To be sure, I'll watch some of the upcoming baseball games as the next few weeks pass. I admit as well that I would watch more ardently if the Detroit Tigers were involved. But my attention will only be half present as I do. Sparky Anderson said it best: the best team in baseball in a given year is the team with the best regular season record, not the World Series winner. He's spot on with that assessment, and I wish more sports fans would think so too.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The truth is out there

And looking out on high I saw Aristotle, the Master of Those Who Know, ringed by the great souls of philosophy.
-Dante, The Inferno

The exact translation of the line I paraphrase above seems in some dispute; what Dante is saying precisely is beyond my poor academic powers to determine. But the gist is reasonably accurate: the poet was speaking of Aristotle, and Aristotle was being commended for seeking and holding and teaching real knowledge.

Not, of course, that Aristotle's knowledge was perfect; no one's is. The overriding point is that we can know; we can hold a real knowledge of and appreciation for persons, things, and events.

Many thinkers today do not accept this preposition. My professors of education (I will not call them teachers) were very open in that they did not believe that there were any things true for all time and all places. In that light, should we be surprised that so many schools do such a poor job of education?

Questions of religion are tossed off as little more than personally interpretive systems which, at best, only help individuals cope with the traumas of this world. Could this be a reason that reverence for anything beyond the person involved has paled lately?

In politics, issues are little more than vague platitudes which help people get elected. Perhaps that is why men and women of depth and understanding eschew elective offices, for they understand that real things are at stake and are too busy actually dealing with them in real time?

Moral virtue is now all too often seen as a myth; should we wonder why there is so little respect for people and institutions?

All of this and far greater errors are based on the idea that we cannot really know anything. The fact is, if that false axiom should prove right, if there is no universal knowledge which we can all, if we wish, understand, then there is no meaning in the world or to life.

Do not fear. That cannot be the case. Aristotle and all the dead white guys, and a great many others of varying races and creeds (for truth is eternal and thus widely recognized across cultures and peoples) have shown us that we can know. Forget the liberal academics who have no respect for that tenet; it shows only their ignorance. Ignore the science trumps religion tribes; they will not accept that knowledge has different tests in different areas. In science, the test of truth is empirical. In philosophy, the test is Reason. With Theology, the standard of evidence is Faith. In the end, all knowledge compliments itself across these three major branches of her, that goddess we call Wisdom.

We can know. Therefore we can act. We can act for the greater good of ourselves and our world. We can do what we must with the clarity that truth is with us, that it dwells among us and at all levels. In the end, that is why we will win and the secular elements across the spectrum will lose. We have something to stand on. They have a bedrock of air.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Mad Max style justice

"The empathy to understand what it's like to be poor, or African American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that's the criteria by which I'm going to be selecting my judges."

-President Barack Obama

There are times when I find myself actually warming up to our President. Then there are times, many, many more times, when I have to tell myself that it's not about his charisma, not about how likable he may be. It's about who he really is and what he'll really do.

The so-called Empathy Standard is an example of how he truly intends to govern. Let's set aside for the moment that Mr. Obama is being pretty openly hypocritical on the question of how judges should rule. He said in 2005 that: The test is whether he or she (a judge) can effectively subordinate their views in order to decide each case on the facts and the merits alone. That is what keeps our judiciary independent in America. That is what our Founders intended. That statement appears to be in keeping with the ideal of judicial restraint, although I would have to add that every case should be decided on facts and merit and law alone in order to be more fully and correctly understood. Once beyond that, I must say that any standard which encourages, as this one does, judges and justices to rule with their heart and not according to the law are, at the very least, nonjudicial. At the worst, they are a threat to future of our republic.

We cannot have judges ruling on empathy alone: it is a short step after that to a land where law becomes transient, a mere passing fancy. A quick and easy example of what this would be can found in, of all places, the film Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Aunty Entity's idea of justice makes it little more than a game: gladiatorial style combat in the Thunderdome itself, with the macabre chant of 'Two men enter, one man leaves' or Wheel of Fortune like: a wheel, segmented by various punishments and including, for fairness sake one might suppose, a thin sliver of an option for acquittal. We will have shallow law according to the rules and expectations of a game show.

Do we want justice to be a game? I should hope not. Yet when we say that judges should rule on how they feel rather than on what the law says, we will get exactly that. It will be on the quicksand of legal apathy that we shall choke.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Don't read the Label

I do not have what I consider unusual tastes in food. Yet that does not mean that there aren't odd foods which I like.

My wife returned from shopping today with a couple cans of potted meat. I should not like it: meat which spreads like butter doesn't sound appealing on that ground alone. Yet it's good: way too salty, perhaps, but I like salty things. There is one rule to follow, though, with stuff like potted meat. Do not, under any circumstances, read the ingredients. Just eat and enjoy. Nothing that tastes good could actually be bad for you, right?

Now you really, truly do not want to read the ingredients in liver mush. Yes, liver mush. It comes in little grayish one pound cakes and is available all over my other home state, North Carolina. I think it's called scrapple on the east coast. Either way, it's mondo good with onion and mayo on plain old white bread. You simply slice a bit of it off the cake and hey presto, instant culinary delight. Just always remember the rule.

Vienna Sausages are worthwhile too, though I suppose they aren't really all that odd. I think of them as baby food for grown ups, just like the Gerber custard pudding that rocks so well on the palate. But once more, don't read the label on the can. I am eternally curious about what exactly constitutes mechanically separated chicken though.

So anyway, at least every now and then take a chance, set aside health issues, and eat something that's probably not good for you. You'll thank for me it, and I promise to visit you in the ER if there's any unfortunate aftereffects.