Saturday, November 29, 2008

"Fortunately, I keep 'em numbered..."

"... for just such an emergency." Thus spoke the great Foghorn Leghorn in one of my very favorite cartoons. He was, of course, referring to his feathers, which had been blown off in yet another failed attempt to get than darned hound dog. Although I watched many cartoons as a kid, there's something about that loud-mouthed southern baritone that really appealed to me. And while the Foghorn vs. hound dog conflicts were certainly no less violent than Bugs vs. anyone, that southern accent somehow made them seem more 'civil.' And, of course, it's 'civility' that I like to talk about.

In all of the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons, the plot always involves the two adversaries devising and setting in motion various schemes based on their predictions of how the other would behave in a given set of circumstances. Invariably however, there were unaccounted for events that caused their schemes to blow up in their faces. And that, of course, is what makes them funny. We laugh because it reminds us of our own ill-fated attempts to overcome the unpredictability of life, in a way that's so much less distressing than the memories of our failures.

So, to the double-edged issue at hand: Is there something wrong with wanting to be able to predict the way people will react to things? And is there also something wrong with being predictable to other people? The first side is important to me because my inability to predict the reactions of others leads me to feel that either myself, or everyone else, is insane. The second side is important because I have too often been labeled as 'boring' because I'm so predictableThis last was brought to my attention when someone I cared for deeply revealed that I had been the butt of a secret running joke about it.

To me, a person who thinks and acts in a rational manner should
be predictable. After all, isn't predictability part of the definition of rational? But if I'm predictable because I'm rational, what does it mean when people whom I find to be unpredictable are able to predict my reactions so easily? Call me crazy, but I think that other people deliberately behave in a manner that makes them hard to predict and that I'm so predictable because I don't. Which brings us to the issue of spontaneity.

In today's society, predictability equates to a lack of spontaneity and, of course, a lack of spontaneity means that you're boring. And by the same logic, being unpredictable means that you're interesting and/or exciting. If you don't believe me, I invite you to take a look at the statistics on relationships. The fact is that the vast majority of relationships end in disaster precisely because people believe that they must behave in unpredictable ways to be attractive, and that those who behave in unpredictable ways are the ones they want.

Now I will admit that perhaps I'm a little obsessive in my desire to predict everything. But my 'lack of spontaneity' stems from a very rational fear of the unpredictable reactions of others.

Have a listen to Nothing Ever Goes As Planned by Styx for a musical metaphor for this post.

I want ice water.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tolerance... Not! Gays and Marriage

This, I think, is the easiest of these issues to deal with. Really folks, aren't 'gays' human too? Aren't they just as deserving of 'human rights' as anyone else? And none of that 'but it's not natural' crap. As any self-respecting scientist will tell you, 'unnatural acts' are impossible by definition. Now walking through the air from rooftop to rooftop would be an unnatural act! Are you, whom I assume want to be considered rational, really willing to admit that that you've gotten all bent out of shape over things that don't even exist? Perhaps you think that 'science is just another tool of Satan being used to trick us into doing evil.' Well something is doing the trick alright, but perhaps we should look a little closer to home in our search for the villain. The fact is that homosexuals, bisexuals, and gender bending have always existed, and not just amongst us humans. Get over it!

The big noise these days is over 'Gay Marriage.' Would someone please tell me why Gays should be protected from making the same stupid mistakes as the rest of us! Personally, I can't understand why anyone would want to be legally bound to another person anyway. That smacks of slavery to me, but humans do have a long history of choosing bondage over freedom - no pun intended. I'd rather know that the person I'm with is free to leave at any time - that he or she doesn't really need to be with me at all - because that's the only way I can really know that they're with me because they want to be. That's the kind of 'security' I want. The kind that truly frees me from those psychotic urges to control my mate's activities and associations.

Perhaps you're are now thinking: 'Now wait just a darn minute there. What about the kids?' Well, if you think that the true purpose of marriage to ensure that our kids are properly cared for, then I submit that what's commonly considered 'a proper marriage' has a miserable track record. Let's face it, unless you have the resources available to the rich and powerful, you don't have much hope of providing all that your children need, or of protecting them from the ravages of living in an irrational society. And as we all know, even the rich and powerful can't get it right if they don't know what they're doing. While I don't claim to have any perfect answers, I am sure that kids need be be raised in an environment that encourages free thought and provides examples of rational behavior.

At the risk of inspiring another of those 'pitchforks and torches' moments, may I offer the concept of the Group Family. No, I am not advocating the lifestyles of polygamous cults or kings with harems, although most would consider my thoughts just as radical. I'm referring to a voluntary adult enterprise, with each member investing his or her own set of resources, towards the goal of caring and working for each other and their children. Imagine that, a more highly evolved 'sacred institution' dedicated to the happiness and prosperity of it's members. It's like Freedom breeding freedom! What a concept!

I was first introduced to this idea through the works of author Robert A. Heinlein, and most particularly from his book Time Enough For Love. I urge anyone looking to expand their horizons a bit, or who just simply want a damn good reading experience, to give it a go.

I want ice water.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tolerance... Not!

With all the news about the massive problems we face, and of the massive attempts to fix them, I'm reminded of other big problems we've tackled and of just how well those efforts have fared. Some of these problems include Gays and Marriage, Racism, Religion, Prostitution, and Drug Abuse. Like the old saying that 'no man is an island,' none of these issues stand on their own. They are all interelated and filled with common threads. I will attempt to give my own 'fair and balanced' look at these issues in a series of upcoming articles.

An initial insight into what I think is reflected in the lyrics to Pink Floyd's Outside The Wall:

"All alone, or in two's,
The ones who really love you
Walk up and down outside the wall.
Some hand in hand
And some gathered together in bands.
The bleeding hearts and artists
Make their stand.

"And when they've given you their all
Some stagger and fall, after all it's not easy
Banging your heart against some mad bugger's wall."

And more in the lyrics to Pink Floyd's The Gunner's Dream:

"A place to stay. Enough to eat.
Somewhere old heroes shuffle safely down the street.
Where you can speak out loud about your doubts and fears.
And what's more, no one ever disappears.
You never hear their Standard Issue kicking in your door.

You can relax on both sides of the tracks. And maniacs
Don't blow holes in bandsmen by remote control.
And everyone has recourse to The Law.
And no one kills the children anymore.
No one kills the children anymore...

Take heed of the dream.
Take heed. "

No prose better could reflect how I feel about these issues, not to mention how important it is for me to get it right.

I want ice water.

Enviromental Impact

There was a movie on the other day called October Sky. It was about other 'space heads' with stars in their eyes. Oh, I'm sorry, did you think my old nickname was 'drug-related?' No, that was way before I began 'expanding my consciousness' in that manner. Anyway, the movie, a true story, was about this kid and his friends who were determined to build and launch rockets, despite the fact that nearly everyone around them thought they were crazy. They succeeded, with the help of a supportive teacher and the slowly evolving respect they earned when they didn't give up. The main character even went on to join NASA.

The point is that this story took place in West Virginia during the time that I lived there, when I dreamed of little else but to do precisely what they were doing, and to go on to join NASA myself. Of course, I knew nothing of them and would have preferred to become an actual astronaut, but our dreams and lives were so similar that I can't help but wonder at the differences in final outcome. While I have no desire to repeat what I've already said, I must expand upon my stated history a little for this inquiry to proceed.

I far as I can remember, no one I knew in that environment gave a crap about things like astronomy, science or mathematics. Hell, other than The Bible, I'm not sure I remember seeing anyone even read anything other than the occasional magazine - nothing too 'big headed' of course. I learned basic math skills, before I ever stepped into a school, only because my father used to dump all the change from the cash register at his pool hall on the bed at night and taught me how to add it all up. That was the most fun I ever had with the man, as 'business' was his only true passion. More about him in some later posting.

Around the time I started school, I developed a fascination for all those squiggles older people would scratch onto paper, so naturally that was my main interest in education at that time. My love for the educational experience was short lived however, as I detested school almost from the very first day. I endured though, at least until I developed skills enough to escape and educate myself. You know, public libraries are truly a marvel of human achievement, and back then no one questioned why a kid was in the library instead of school. But that was after the time I'm referring to.

My first exposure to the idea of rockets and space travel came, like most kids, from television and movies. I got money for movies from my father, because that was the only way he could get me to go to church, which, in turn, got my mother off his back. Before my mom had her own, I had to sneak-watch my father's television - the content of which he thought was garbage except for the news. As you can imagine, when the space program became news, I was right there beside him. I don't think that he thought very much for the space program, or for my fascination with it. I think he just thought that serious people paid attention to the news.

After that, the space program became what I think may have been my first true obsession. I read everything I could find, which wasn't much, as this was before I discovered the library. I even managed to get my father, that great detester of childish things, to buy me a couple of models to assemble with no help at all. But I was so determined, so blinded by my obsession to express this new passion that, with no guidance or assistance whatsoever, I actually set about building my own rocket.

As foolish as it seems now, I actually thought that I could assemble a rocket from pipes and other scraps, pack it full of powder I had stolen from shotgun shells (certain that I was giving them a 'higher purpose'), and then launch it, and myself, into history. So inattentive to, and uninterested in, my activities were those around me, that I avoided serious injury and possible death only because I figured out on my own just how dangerous and ineffective my design was. I finally just gave up on the idea.

And that's exactly the point of my ranting - I had all the desire, intelligence, and willingness to work, as those other West Virginia boys - yet I was completely without guidance and support at a time when I could have, as they say, 'gone on to greater things.'

That's not to say that I gave up on learning about these things. Hell, I even joined the Air force in the hopes that I could work my way through the system to become an astronaut. But the feeling that I was on my own, chasing something that everyone else thought was nuts, has never left me. I still love astronomy, science, and the thought of going into space, but these days such thoughts remind me more and more of the movie The Day The Earth Stood Still. Considering the impact we humans have had on our own environment, both psychological and physical, I fear the kind of damage we will do 'out there.'

I'm looking forward to the remake coming out next month. I hope I can force myself to go out and see it.

I want ice water.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Opening Rant

I have been diagnosed with Major Depression since 1995, although I now think that, without all the masks and self-medication I used to hide from the world, I might well have been diagnosed much earlier. Over time, the initial diagnosis has been expanded to include other 'issues' as well. This I know because of helpful 'peeks' into my files provided by friends who thought I should know. These modifications came about, I believe, because the doctors have been confused by both my sessions with them and by the results of all the testing I've submitted to.

One thing they all seem to agree on is that a person who breaks down in tears over what appears to be trivial events, and hides himself away from people to the point where he cannot be trusted to handle his own affairs, must be 'mentally ill.' Also, I'm sure it didn't help when I stated my belief that, rather than myself, it's those who are not depressed while living in the world we live in that are mentally ill. I still don't understand why, in spite of the epidemic-like use of anti-depressants, alcohol and other not-so-legal mood altering drugs, my statement was dismissed outright and regarded only as further proof of my 'illness.'

Okay, so just how did I get to this sad point? To begin with, I was born in Charleston, West Virginia in 1955. I'm of mixed racial heritage, with my mother being half Black, half American-Indian, and my father being half Black, half White. You do the math. Apparently, my appearance has lead most people to assume that I'm White. As you can probably imagine, looking the way I do while living and growing up in mostly Black communities through the 50's, 60's and 70's had a profound impact on my psychological development. Wanted or not, the perspective of 'outsider' was forced upon me.

Another profound impact on my development happened in elementary school, when I was first introduced to the honor rule. I can clearly remember the chill that went down my spine when my adolescent mind grasped the significance of being on my own and responsible for myself. It was both scary and exhilarating at once and, in my own childish way, I knew that this was one of the most important lessons I would ever learn. It meant that I had to think for myself and take responsibility for my own actions. I had to take charge of my own mind so that I could be sure to do the right thing.

These two experiences formed the core of a lifelong quest, out of fear and the need to develop the tools required to survive in a hostile environment. I became driven to question everything I was ever taught, and the motives of everyone I knew, including myself. But I knew enough to realize that such a mentality, if too obvious, would only bring further harm upon my self. So I took on the persona of 'the naive seeker of wisdom' in to appear harmless. I thought it would be easier to be perceived as just another 'space head' than as someone seeking to judge the people with whom I interacted. Oddly enough, 'spacehead' was exactly the nickname given to me by my 'friends' at one time.

Since then, my life has been an extreme roller-coaster ride through other experiences - other lessons, both good and bad. From West Virginia, to California, to Ohio, to marriage and the Air Force, to college and kids and work and debt. I went from wide-eyed optimism and a 'can do' attitude about my ability to handle any problem, to drug abuse, psychological breakdowns, hospitalizations, disability, divorce, and finally, isolation. I've learned a great many things - some of which I'm trying to unlearn. I've done some good, and many things I wish I could undo. Yet, as I don't grant anyone the credit for my successes, I blame only myself for my failures. You see, I knew better!

Today, from a philosophical standpoint, I'm what I think of as a 'backsliding' Objectivist. Objectivism is a philosophy developed by the late novelist Ayn Rand. She believed that, aware of it or not, each of us has a philosophy of life that is behind our every thought and action. This acts as the main survival tool for cognitive beings such as ourselves, who aren't equipped with the instinctual responses of animals and, therefore, should be chosen with deliberate care - because our very lives depend on it. Objectivism is her attempt to provide mankind with such a philosophy. Simply stated, and in the best language I can muster, Objectivism is the philosophy of absolute freedom and it's corollary, absolute responsibility.

When I first started college in 1976, I was accused of sounding just like Ayn Rand by a school library clerk with whom I had frequent friendly 'debates.' I had never heard of Ayn Rand before, so I asked her to show me an example of Rand's works. They didn't have much, so she handed me a copy of The Fountainhead. Whew! Let me tell you, reading that book was like seeing my very own soul, in clear and concise language I couldn't hope to equal, poured out on the pages before me. I was absolutely dumbfounded! Without going into unnecessary detail, it was the story of a man who stood against the merciless tide of collective humanity out to destroy him for his unwavering stance in favor of his individual right to live as a free man - by his own standards and at his own expense. It was after that that I knew!

I knew then that the thing that had been in my gut since elementary school was right. That all the altruistic bullshit I had condoned, both implicitly and explicitly, in order to 'help create a better world,' was just that - Bullshit. That all the talk about 'self-sacrifice' and 'service to man' was just the verbal manifestation of same kind of evil that has been the root cause of all the blood-letting and destruction perpetrated by man throughout the ages. Until then I could justify my poor reasoning as mere 'ignorance.' But after, I knew that this type of ignorance was not 'accidental,' but rather the act of deliberately substituting the beliefs of others in place of my own. I knew then that if I continued to support such beliefs, in any way, that I would be committing the worst kind of sin a man can commit - the sin of moral suicide!

So I threw my self into reading Ayn Rand's books, along with anything else I could find that rang true to me. To this day, with almost no one to hear it, I will preach it to anyone who'll listen. But now, rather than being considered merely 'eccentric,' I'm considered 'delusional' and other not-so-nice labels associated with my having been diagnosed 'mentally ill.' But it's not what I preach that's wrong, it's my compulsion to preach it to people with their fingers in their ears. You see, along with all this 'growth and enlightenment,' I also accumulated quite an attachment to the people in my life. In spite of how wrong I knew it to be, I just couldn't turn my back and walk away. It wasn't until after the bottom fell out that I learned the final lesson. There's a reason why flight attendants tell you, in case of emergency, to put on your own air mask before helping your loved ones with theirs: You can't help those you care about if you're incapacitated!

Okay, I hadn't intended to be so long-winded - but clarity is important to me. I'll now conclude this sad tale, and sum up what I think about myself and the rest of humanity. To my knowledge, and actual experience, we represent the pinnacle of life in what we know of the universe. I have yet to see proof that there are any limitations to what we are capable of, except for those limitations we place on ourselves. And yet, we squander and belittle this capacity in an insane effort to escape the responsibility it represents. I believe the unconscious knowledge of this abdication is the reason behind the one consistent theme in all of the theories of life and morality I have come across: the notion that you get what you deserve. Now tell me, where do you think beings such as us are headed? What final judgement would YOU pass on mankind?

Now I don't personally believe in God or anything else 'supernatural,' but as the evidence for the existence of superior intellect and technology can be seen all around us, I have no problem with the idea that there may be beings 'more evolved' than we are. But such debates serve only, and perhaps deliberately, to distract us from the fact that there does exist a final, and absolute, supreme arbiter - Reality! To paraphrase the cliches thrown around in the rehabilitation community: "Nothing changes if nothing changes" and "Making the same choices while expecting different results is the definition of insanity". Sooner or later reality catches up to you, and if you're caught with your pants down you're going to be, as they say, Ass Out! Please pardon my slang.

I am paying a very high price for my sins and, just in case you're delusional enough to think you won't have to pay for yours, may I point out the state of the world around you. In Ayn Rand's greatest work, Atlas Shrugged, John Galt vowed to 'stop the motor of the world' to punish mankind for the sins I've outlined. Well, what we are now experiencing is justice being delivered by the real John Galt - Reality! And as another character in that book answered when asked what he thought was going to happen to the world, "Exactly what it deserves."

Now, for those of you about to sharpen your pitchforks and fire up the torches, you might begin the assault by crying 'who the hell are you to pass judgment on all of us?' In answer to that question, I resort to another Rand quote: "words do have exact meanings." While assuming that you're even capable of rational thought amidst the fog of rage, I ask this of you: Please examine your question carefully. I am just one individual human exercising his right, as an individual, to express his opinion. For you to have asked such a question, in such a tone, means that you are not thinking as an individual, but acting instead as part of a mindless herd hell-bent on stampeding over the cliff into oblivion. Rather than looking into yourself to find the actual cause of your frustration - and the means to deal with it - you would rather lash out and destroy anyone and anything that reminds you of the truth you seek to deny. But you cannot destroy reality. You can only destroy yourself.

I apologize and wish all the best to those to whom the previous paragraph does not apply. For those to whom it does however, I quote from Pink Floyd's The Wall:

"Sitting in a bunker, here behind my wall. Waiting for the worms to come."

You see, I already know that I've been guilty all this time. And for those who wonder why I obviously still haven't just 'turned and walked away' - why I would even bother to write this? The simple and easy answer is that I'm 'mentally ill' - what else could you expect? For those seeking evidence of 'evil intent,' the answer might be that I'm some mad 'arch-villain' seeking proof that those who read this will act in the manner my 'theory' predicts. The truth is that I just needed to speak my mind, and being able to take the time to get it right before it's heard is simply too cool to pass up.

I want ice water.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

If You Really Must Know

My friends call me Mak. I’m a disabled Electronics Engineering Technician, Technical Writer, and Air Force veteran. In case my photo doesn’t make it clear, I come from a mixed heritage that includes Black, White and Native American. And trust me, my heritage – not to mention my appearance, has most definitely had an impact on my life.

I absolutely DO NOT claim to be an expert at or on anything. While I have spent my entire life watching, listening and reading in an effort to understand myself, other people, and the world we live in, I hope I’ll never be warped enough to claim that I have all the answers. And I have faith that no one else will make such a mistake either. It’s like that old joke about the ex-spurt: “Sonny, back when I was just a spurt like you…” I pray that I never come across as such an old fool.

I’ve always loved to write about my thoughts. Although my military training was as a Weather Observer Technician – which appealed to my love of science, and my education was for Electronics Engineering – which appealed to my love of technology, my primary loves have always been philosophy and writing. I didn’t choose them as a career because I had a family and didn’t think that they could produce the kind of immediate income a growing family requires. This Weblog allows me to pursue both while working through some personal issues in a kind of self-therapy journal.

My favorite music includes Pink Floyd, Rush, Yes, U2, The Eagles, The Moody Blues, The Alan Parsons Project, The Allman Brothers, Styx, Genesis, Vangelis, Queen, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Steely Dan, The Guess Who, Billy Joel, Elton John, Three Dog Knight, Grand Funk Railroad, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Sly & The Family Stone, and of course The Temptations.

My favorite authors include Ayn Rand, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Stephen King, Stephen R. Donaldson, Orson Scott Card, Michael Crichton, Carl Sagan, Douglas Adams, and the teams of Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle, and Warren Murphy & Richard Sapir.

My favorite movies include Harvey, The Day The Earth Stood Still, The Fountainhead, High Noon, The Sound Of Music, Victor/Victoria, The Andromeda Strain, The Abyss, 2010, Firestarter, The Shining, The Unforgiven, The Mask, Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty, Contact, along with the Alien, Lord Of The Rings, Predator, Spider Man, Star Trek, The Matrix, and X-Men films, and all of the great comedies about ecentric inventors as well as every movie starring Jerry Lewis. I know I’m asking for disappointment, but will some great visionary please bring Atlas Shrugged to the screen?

My favorites from television include 24, Battlestar Galactica, Boston Legal, Burn Notice, Charley Rose, Criminal Minds, Damages, Eli Stone, Eleventh Hour, Eureka, Flash Point, Fringe, Frontline, House, Heroes, Joan of Arcadia, Knight Rider, Life, Mind of Mencia, Monk, NCIS, Nova, Numbers, Psyche, Saving Grace, Smallville, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Cronicles, The Daily Show, The Mentalist, The News Hour, The Unit, Two And A Half Men, and all of the CSIs, Law & Orders, Stargates, and Star Treks. Not listed are the inumerable shows with fantastic potential that somehow failed to get the support they deserved. Of these, my all time favorite was The Greatest American Hero.

Please note that none of the above lists are exhaustive, the authors and movies in particular. In all honesty, if a person or a group, through whatever media they choose, causes me to think – especially when good humor is used to do so, chances are I would include it on my list of favorite things. And at the top of that list would be everybody who has ever dared to use great comedy to pry open the eyes of the intentionally blind.

I don’t get out much. In fact I’m very uncomfortable around other people. I’m even uncomfortable with questions about my discomfort at being around other people. And for those who might wonder why such questions would cause me discomfort, it’s because questions like that evoke the image of people gleefully rubbing their hands together at the prospect of having a ‘weirdo’ they can torture to help alleviate their own anxiety caused by the secret belief that they are weird themselves. Would you feel comfortable saying that to someone?

I want ice water.