squirrel drinks beer


I am migrating to WordPress.  I’ve tried other forms, such as Blogpot, and I’ve been at LiveJournal for a very long time now and have grown to love some wonderful people on here from Vancouver B.C., Chicago, Portland, and other points here and there.  The guilty know who they are.


I am migrating everything to WordPress.  It is at http://eddiesblack.wordpress.com


Thank you all.  Much love to everyone.

squirrel drinks beer

Peace- Prevail- Pregnancy

I was walking down a street that cuts through Portland State University and I came upon three poles sticking in the ground.  They looked old but yet were novel to me.  I’ve been down this block many times and I’ve never seen them.  The plaque showed it was a few years old.  Hmmm… I missed a detail all this time… amazing.

On the poles is a phrase that reads “may peace prevail over the Earth” in a variety of languages (including sign language).  However, as I walked away toward another destination, my mind ‘misremembered’ (a Bushism) with the word ‘reign’ instead of ‘prevail’.  As I walked I wondered if Peace could reign.  Not in the sense if whether or not ‘peace’ could truly take place upon this Earth, but if it could actually ‘reign’.  I am speaking here of the nature of the term ‘reign’. 

Main Entry: 1reign

Pronunciation: \ˈrān\

Function: noun

Etymology: Middle English regne, from Anglo-French, from Latin regnum, from reg-, rex king — more at royal

Date: 13th century

1 a : royal authority : sovereignty <under the reign of the Stuart kings> b : the dominion, sway, or influence of one resembling a monarch <the reign of the Puritan ministers>
2 : the time during which one (as a sovereign) reigns

There is, at least to my understanding, a martial element to this term.  And I wondered about whether ‘peace’, generally understood to be with absence of martial energy, could reign when the actions of such had a martial flavor to it. 

However I might also note that I do not define Peace as being without war.  It will no doubt infuriate some to read this, much less to truly and fairly consider, but I find that while it is possible to have an unjust war and a just war, it is also possible to have an unjust ‘peace’.  Yet in these instances we might do away with the terms ‘war’ and ‘peace’ to use instead other terms that might better suit the circumstance, such as attacks, killings, mass murders, defense, crusades, causes, bondage, liberations, revolutions, and so forth. 

I came to the conclusion, then, that Peace does not, nor cannot, Reign.  But then I wondered what is it that Peace does?  I threw around a few terms in my mind, simple little phrases, and I checked these against my understanding of peace by which I also hold Dr Martin Luther King’s to be a short and succinct definition.

True Peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice. 

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

When I came back by the poles and re-read them I saw that I it was ‘prevail’ and not ‘reign’.


Main Entry: pre·vail

Pronunciation: \pri-ˈvāl\

Function: intransitive verb

Etymology: Middle English, from Latin praevalēre, from prae- pre- + valēre to be strong — more at wield

Date: 15th century

1 : to gain ascendancy through strength or superiority : triumph
2 : to be or become effective or effectual
3 : to use persuasion successfully <prevailed on him to sing>
4 : to be frequent : predominate <the west winds that prevail in the mountains>
5 : to be or continue in use or fashion : persist <a custom that still prevails>

Again there is this martial element to it, though not as strongly as with the word ‘reign’.  Yet here I have a problem.  Within this definition is the notion that peace is superior to not-peace (let us assume it was peace activists who were against the war going on in this time), in other words, peace is superior to war.  Superior how?  One might (and some do) argue that peace is superior morally to war.  On this point I disagree for we can have an unjust peace, to speak in plain language (often conflicted in preciseness).  While there are those who will not grant me an atom’s consideration that a war might be justified, I ask them if they can conceive of a peace that is unjust.  If they claim not to then I ask them to kindly turn in their progressive cards and stay home.  Its a dangerous world out there and they might get hurt (and to stay away from boiling pans of water and electrical outlets). 

As I walked in the late afternoon I threw some words out into the winter wind to see if they matched what peace was/is.  None fit.  All seemed to ‘do’ something.  Does peace do anything?

This was not the only thing on my thoughts, however.  I’ve met the most intriguing person and have had a couple of marathon coffee sessions.  I’ve been completely bowled over by not only her form, her shape, her eyes, her smile, and her loud raucous laugh, her physical presence disrupts me like any magnetic field on an electrical device, and her mind is one that compliments my own with breadth, variety, depth, insight, and acuity, and her heart is one of purpose and meaning and compassion, and her openness and views and… I could go on forever it seems.  What I have a growing felt sense of is that I can unleash myself… that is… to un-tame my self, my thoughts, my feelings.  For while there is much softness there within such is a stone column, a pillar of strength.  I sense a bending ability that is also very strong.  Not unlike a tree.  And while it may take time to reach such a level of trust and intimacy, considering my past, there is hope that this blend of the soft and the strong will allow me to exert myself upon her without breaking her nor in breaking me.  And in doing so, with this trust, I might also find my own ability to bend and stand resolute, not having to be one or the other depending upon the person I happen to be with at the moment.

And in this thought I smile as I walk down the street.  I throw out smiles into the wind, hoping that one finds its way to her wherever she may be, and a thought comes to my mind.  Pregnant.

Not pregnant as in with child.  Pregnant as in with possibility.

Main Entry: preg·nant

Pronunciation: \ˈpreg-nənt\

Function: adjective

Etymology: Middle English, from Latin praegnant-, praegnans carrying a fetus, alteration of praegnas, from prae- pre- + -gnas (akin to gignere to give birth to) — more at kin

Date: 14th century

1 archaic : cogent
2 : abounding in fancy, wit, or resourcefulness : inventive <all this has been said…by great and pregnant artists — Times Literary Supplement>
3 : rich in significance or implication : meaningful, profound <the pregnant phrases of the Bible — Edmund Wilson> <a pregnant pause>
4 : containing a developing embryo, fetus, or unborn offspring within the body : gravid
5 : having possibilities of development or consequence : involving important issues : momentous <draw inspiration from the heroic achievements of that pregnant age — Kemp Malone>
6 obsolete : inclined, disposed <your own most pregnant and vouchsafed ear — Shakespeare>
7 : full, teeming

preg·nant·ly adverb

Yes… that is it.  My meeting her, my feelings about this exciting phase of novelty, of discovery, of possibility, of curiosity, of what dreams might be/come-to-be/become (as well as the old fears of what was and what may be again), of that odd tightrope the heart, covered with scars and bleeding with hope, walks with one side a pit of vipers and thorns from hurts of the past, and the other side a soft bed of velvet and cushions, there is in all of this a sense of the definition of the present backed by a glow of the future and shadowed by a history of the past.  This time, between us, is pregnant.  It is a pregnancy of the emotions, of the heart.

My thoughts went to another line concerning this word, imagining a hypothetical couple in a hospital, the mother is pregnant and giving birth, and I was feeling this sense of the word.  The child is not envisioned to ever become a meth addict, or a rapist, or maimed in an auto accident, or any number of other things that would be horrible to think of.  No, the child is envisioned to be a gifted one and no doubt the parents can imagine not only future dance recitals, piano lessons, football games, pony rides, halloween costumes, and so on as well as perhaps the immensity of the responsibility of their title as parents settling upon their shoulders, to keep at bay the darker thoughts of before from occurring.  There is the physical pregnancy as well as the deeply emotional one that the parents pass through.

This is not a passive state.  I may now write, interchangeably, of peace, pregnancy of child, or pregnancy in the heart.  It isn’t passive.  It is not a state that can merely be defined as opposed to the dynamic of war.  War is not to be defined as merely dynamic, therefore we ought not define peace as a-dynamic, that is, not-dynamic.  There is certainly nothing at all passive in my pregnant state of heart/mind today.  There is certainly nothing passive in a society that is just and not at war.  There is certainly nothing passive with parents as they share their hopes and dreams for a wonderful life with that child.

But it doesn’t just happen.  It does not prevail.  It does not reign.  Peace, or love, does not prevail.  It is a romantic notion to think so.  It is deeply imbedded in our scripts of ourselves, of our roles, of what is expected of each other.  Yet loving someone enough doesn’t change them from meth, doesn’t keep them safe while they are overseas in a war, doesn’t bridge gaps with someone trying to return home from combat in their own mind and heart.  For what is love?  To give of one’s self to another?  To give of one’s self to another above one’s concern for self?  What is it within this thing called ‘love’ that compels us to believe that if only we had enough of it residing within our breasts that mountains will move, that rivers will be crossed, that we shall overcome and triumph obstacles before us, that wrongs will be righted, that peace will reign? 

I can find nothing to support this notion.  Instead I find that love can make a person do the foolish/foolhardy/brave/inspiring.  Love can propel us out of our comfort zones, out of the well worn paths through the woods of our hearts and into the wild forests of pregnant potential… of possibility.  Yes, there are beasts out there, but oh what sights there are as well.  It isn’t love that pushes the step, but courage.  But it isn’t courage that guides… it is love.

Oh how I embrace this pregnancy, this potential, this powerful future now, this… peace. 

squirrel drinks beer

Thoughts on masculinity and love of violence

Rethinking Masculinity Rethinking Masculinity, 2nd Edition: Philosophical Explorations in Light of Feminism (New Feminist Perspectives Series)


I’ve read two essays from this book since I bought it yesterday. One essay, on war and aggression, was okay but patchy and with a rambling quality to it.  Believe me, I know rambling.  Yet another one on violence was a good read but I came away with the same thing that I do many times when exposed to notions of ‘consciousness raising’ in men, and that is exactly how to do it.  There are boatloads of writers, male and female, telling us that men need to have have some consciousness awareness, or probe their emotions, or share their feelings, or any number of other things.  They all are likely to say that it is hard to do, unlikely for many to try, and there is generally a pessimistic quality in their writing.  At least that is how I perceive it. 

It is late and I’ve had a long weekend after a long week with a long week stretching before me.  I am unlikely to uncover gold at this late hour.  Yet I wanted to get some thoughts out of my headspace and onto ‘paper’ before bed lest my thoughts keep me awake longer than I desire. 

One of the things that came up in the article was articulated in the section Anger, Fear and Violence.  This connection cannot be understated and is, I believe, a key component in understanding male violence.  In talking with and listening to many male military veterans from different areas I hear this phrase come up so often as to be something of a religious mantra.  I  was disrespected.  This reason/excuse to propagate violence is the trump card carried by these men.  When all other reasons are systematically shown to be of no importance, the male aggressor will pull out this trump card with all the satisfaction we might imagine a UFO believer on providing an actual UFO complete with living aliens inside it to a reporter.  When we try to tackle the validity of this disrespect as a legitimate reason for violence we often times might as well be talking to a wall.  The male offers such staunch resistance to ANY attempt of investigating the logic behind this statement as to render the conversation deeply frustrating.  Men, who are quick to logically point out emotional failures and beliefs in others (notably ‘non-men’, a category for women, gay men, and men who are not as tough as they ought to be) is ignored when this last defense of violence is questioned.

A paragraph in the essay (Masculinity and Violence, Victor Seidler) is telling:

Masculinity is never something you can feel at ease with.  It is always something that you have to be ready to defend and prove.  You have to prove that you are as much a man as everyone else.  Often this means putting others down, especially girls.  It is because feelings of softness, vulnerability and need are so peculiarly threatening to our very sense of ourselves as men, that we fight them off so strongly, but this can give us an ambiguous relation to our anger, especially if we do not feel the confidence of being able to defend ourselves physically.  I was scared of getting involved in physical fights.  This meant that I could not feel confident in my anger.

In the next section the author opens up with the sentence I did not really want to know that I was angry because this was threatening.  I learned to suppress my angry feelings, but I was constantly aware of the threat of physical violence. The last portion focuses the author’s experience of this on growing up as a ‘thin boy’ in a school where boys will hit each other.  But it says a lot about current male veterans dealing with aggression and anger.  At least it does for me. 

Many times I’ve been supremely annoyed at someone around me.  Whether a rude person at a bookstore, the loud talker/cell phone texter sitting behind me in a movie theater, or any number of inconsequential people that I meet day to day.  I’ve noticed that many people, while irritating the living hell out of me, were beyond my ability to be angry with.  I was angry ‘at’ them (and myself) but not ‘with’ them.  That is, I never confronted them.  In nearly all of the instances I was able to recognize that the incident was of small importance in the universe.  Because of this the nuclear bomb of destruction that I carried within me was not something I could bring out.  I was walking hellfire and fury, strife and death, and the options that I had before me were to seriously injure someone or to let it go.  I had no confidence in my anger.  I knew no other ground (a middle way) though it is true that I’ve been in various fights and easily enough choked out the other person and calmly dragged them out the door.  But this calmness is more alien now.  There was always as a kid the greater fear of being shamed in losing than the actual physical pain.  I think this holds for many men still.  However now many of us carry the shame of losing our control and going over the edge.  It is as though our fear of being shamed has an unholy alliance with our feelings of a love of violence.  I have noticed a quicker pathway to over the top aggression… a love for it that at times troubles me.  I told someone recently try to imagine doing something terrible to people, causing pain and hardship.  She understood and rationalized it but I shook my head, stopping her and telling her to ‘try to imagine doing this and loving doing it

If you are someone, male or female, and you cannot understand or feel how one could love hurting another person, you do not fully grasp the problem that lies in understanding masculinity and violence.  You will be selling snake oil and pipe dreams.  It is easy for someone to say ‘just give up the values of the male culture’ or ‘I’m a woman and I’m every bit as competitive and goal driven as men and I abhor war and violence’.  If you do (abhor war), you are not ‘every bit’ as competitive as those that don’t abhor war.

What grander scale of proof is there than war to weigh our masculinities against?  Yet this brings with it an odd paradox.  For while war is (perhaps) the greatest theater of the masculine tragedy of proving one’s manliness, it still exposes the man to the heartbreaks and pain that is found in war.  What experience, what imagery, what tortured landscape of the external war-torn land is mirrored in the landscapes of our hearts!  We, men, are still, after all, human.  And being stunted and confined in how to relate to our own selves, our own bodies, each other, in asking for consolance, for empathy, for understanding, for emotional connection, in being tender with others (all things that are not allowed in our training to be ‘masculine’ as boys and perpetuated later as men in society) we are unable to handle the pains of war.  The only ones who seem (to us masculine men at least) war are the greatest men, the men who have effectively rid themselves of emotion and have become embodied gods of direction, purpose, and action.  It is like learning that to be a better swimmer one could amputee various body parts that are non-essential to swimming.  Likewise, to be a ‘better man’ we amputee parts of our hearts and minds.  Or we try to.  Most of us end up repressing these aspects that then become our shadow.  Jung wrote much on the destructive nature of the shadow self on our lives.  The more we ignore it, the more it pervades everything around us to the point that it becomes, as Jung said, ‘Fate’. 

Earlier I noted that few people offer any real advice on how to get beyond this pessimistic detailing of the masculine ideal.  I am afraid that I am no different.  Save one.  If there is to be any change it must, or can only, come from men.  While courage is not a virtue to be found only in men, it is a virtue that no-one calling himself a man would do without.  It is one of the key identifiers for us in trying to live up to this image.  So in courage I see other men stand up and speak their histories and stories.  I see men come out and say ‘there is another way to voice disagreement over an issue than violence’.  I see men come out and proclaim a gay identity.  Talk about courage!  I see men come out and say, whether they are anti-war activists, or current soldiers ready to fight again, that their experiences were painful and heartbreaking.  What sacrifice, to admit to this pain and yet to selflessly shoulder it again.  Again… talk about courage! 

If courage is something that no ‘self respecting man’ can do without… then it is courage that I call men out on.  To show courage and to stand up and proclaim your frailties and weakness, your hopes and fears, and more.  Tell your friends, your wives, your fellow soldiers, of your weaknesses.  This is supremely hard to do and take a great amount of courage.  As I’ve said to my own therapist MANY times in the past… I would rather fight ten men by myself than address my insecurities with my partner

I hope that I can, someday, learn at the levels of the heart the things that I am learning at the levels of my mind.  They both learn and adapt at different speeds.

Spem semper habemus (we always have hope)

squirrel drinks beer

The reason for the season- (a rant on religion)

Sitting on my couch my dim perception of the world around me thought it noticed a single snowflake fall outside of my patio doors.  My experiences in Iraq have turned my mind into something similar to a raven’s.  That is it notices things things in the environment that are different.  It isn’t so much that an object is shiny that a raven will grab it, but that it is novel.  Fitting that ravens are associated with The Morrigan, Celtic goddess of war, to whom I gave homage to before many a patrol in Iraq.  As my attention focused on the outside world I chided myself that it was not a snowflake that I saw.  Outside the windows the view reaffirmed my position and I turned back toward the boob tube.  Thirty minutes later I looked up to see it begin to snow and in an almost childish exuberance I put on some clothing, grabbed some binos, and went outside to Fanno Creek Park.  I also stopped by a Starbucks and asked the barista to make me her favorite coffee drink, large, with an add-shot in it.  She started to warn me about sweetness and so forth and I assured her that I am open to any drink that they can make.  At times I desire my black coffee or a mocha.  However there are times when there is no need of caffeine, such as during finals week when I will order black coffee and add a packet of VIA to it for more kick.  At such times what I am looking for is variety, for experience, for being present with something.  It is, again, the mind of the raven seeking novelty.

Back in the park I walked around and took joy from the accumulation of snow.  In the hour that I was outside I could hear the rush hour traffic begin to bog down under the stressful conditions of ice and snow as the tell-tale sounds of emergency vehicle sirens would float over the wind from every direction.  Portland does not get enough snow for its citizens to be proficient snow-drivers upon first appearance of the fluffy stuff.  I watched someone playfully toss snowballs for her dog who was equally happy to chase after them and then become baffled as to where they disappeared to and hurry back to its owner.  Kids walked around with gleeful anticipation of snowmen and sledding and I noted a pair of sleds held by waiting youngsters.  I also noted a shift in the consistency of the snow to that of sleet.  Yet as I turned toward home and the sun turned toward the horizon’s edge the fluffy flakes reappeared and soon the land was blanketed in white.  Later, when all was dark outside, from within my apartment I could hear the sounds of children outside laughing in the snow. 

I could not help but think about something I read online during a play session of World of Warcraft about a holiday celebrated in this ‘virtual world’ called Winter Veil.  When I read it I said aloud to myself this is a very pagan thing to do.  It is not unlike some of our celebrations of the Winter Solstice, Saturnalia, Yule, or others.  It did my heart good to see a group of people at the restaurant I work at exchanging gifts and enjoying each other’s company in fellowship and mirth on the 21st as they celebrated the solstice. There has a been a lot of talk and anger from Christians about calling the usual decorated trees holiday trees instead of a Christmas tree.  I wonder where they think they got the tradition from in the first place?  Modern Christians, who are so vocal against non Christian religions, ought to take an honest assessment of their own heritage and see the enormous influence that paganism has had on the Christian religion.  Aside from some core ideas of transmutation of the soul, a hierarchy of beings and teleology, as well as the transcendent nature of the spiritual (pure) over the physical (impure) world – all pagan in origin – they should at least get rid of the celebrations of Halloween and Easter bunnies.  However such is not needed.  There is nothing wrong with a religion adopting practices of another religion.  The Catholics were not the first the use prayer beads, nor the only ones to use the rosary today.  And rebirth and renewal, as well as honoring one’s dead ancestors, are themes that many different religions can celebrate.  In this time of year we have varying themes of a slowing down of the world, of the coming hardships of winter, of hibernation, of a time when people stayed indoors and (in close proximity) became more social.  Summer was a time to prepare for the harvest.  Winter was a down-time.  Also, in varying mythologies there is born the child of light, or a child of promise, whether a religion speaks of a prophesized one or instead the themes or renewal and rebirth are symbolized by a child.  No serious Christian historian today asserts that Jesus was born in December (his birth was likely in the Spring).  However the already in place practices and meanings of the pagan country folk were as such that the church followed a well-worn practice of placing church customs atop already existent pagan customs.  Thus the Christ was officially fixed in December by Exiguus in 525 C.E. (I use ‘common era’ instead of A.D.)

Many modern Christians have completely broken away with Jesus the historical man and instead are followers of a symbolic one, one which has morphed into an altogether different meaning (it would seem) than what we are told to believe at first.  The bumper stickers and t-shirts do have a point, who would Jesus bombUnlike many of the pro-war right wingers that thank me for my service as a veteran, I have read Augustine’s wrestling with the pacifism of Christianity of his time with the need to support a strong Roman military.  Very simply it goes that Christians, long prosecuted for the rebel rousers they were by Romans (associated as they were with the Jewish revolutionaries and bickering amongst themselves over the ‘correct’ version of Christianity) found themselves the ‘official’ religion of the lumbering Roman Empire.  The status quo is a hard thing to give up and the only way to support an empire is to remain an empire – military force.  How does a pacifist justify violence?  Enter Augustine.  But this is not a post on Just War Theory.  Yet in the link posted before it is written by the commentator that “ALL” scripture is the inspired word of God, including the Old Testament.  The writer uses the Old Testament to support war.  One might also then use the Old Testament to support stoning of women, killing witches, selling people into slavery, and slaughtering women and children in a warring city.  And, believe it or not, I’ve gotten some Christians to admit that they would do these things as dictated in the Old Testament

It is those sort of Christians that would burn someone at the stake, would torture someone into converting to Christianity in order to save their immortal soul that are big motors in the hate and easily blend in with decent people at a church picnic. I met a couple in Arkansas who harassed me, and a few others, constantly to convert.  We never bothered anyone with our beliefs but this couple was not happy with that.  They said that God’s commandment was to convert sinners and that not doing everything they could to fulfill this would subject themselves to God’s judgment.  It is a very, very easy slope to follow for internment and torture should a few other things occur.  Christians in the U.S. have their own version of the Taliban to contend with and they ought to be as vocal and direct in combating hate in their own religion as they demand of Muslims.  Hard to do when so much of our culture is that of greed and selfishness and yet many of the people who are filled with greed and selfishness are also supposed practicing Christians who seemed to have forgotten Philippians 2:3, or the story of the Good Samaritan. It boggles my mind that a person can, in the same breath, condemn me for not being Christian, lament the loss of American morality because it is a holiday tree instead of a Christmas tree, vocalize for more troops to be sent to Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, and anyone else who wants a fight, and yet also foam at the mouth and pull their hair at the word universal healthcare as though it were a great evil, while at the same time driving to a court to get a divorce in their heterosexual marriage and vote NO against gay marriage because it would ruin the sanctity of marriage.  There is a term for this… schizophrenia.

But things ought not be so dire, so combative, so distressful.  What is something that we can all agree upon?  Do not say ‘agree to disagree’.  That is a big cop out.  But I believe we can start someplace… perhaps the Beatles.  Back to Yule, Christmas, Winter Veil, the Winter Solstice… celebrate it.  Common to all of our separate traditions are the things I listed above.  Imagine this time when most everyone in the country, of varying religions, find commonality in our shared traditions.  Is it really bad if a fire department in some small town has a Christmas tree?  If we have the holidays it would not be, but if we listen to that fanatical group of evangelicals who insist theirs is the only true religion, then yes it is.  There are nativity scenes in cities across the America, on municipal property.  Instead of taking them down, put up other holiday symbols as well such a pentagrams and such.  Yet in New York and Wisconsin and other places, such pagan and Wiccan displays are often vandalized.  Again, arrogance of a schizophrenic religious group that believe their way is the only way and are prone to violence against them.  Note, looking at the term violence as used in domestic violence counseling, violence has other aspects than purely physical. 

I understand the fears that some Christians have.  There is this place they believe in called Hell.  It used to scare the heck out me to think about it, until I managed to finally rid myself of the thoughts and beliefs with which I was raised (see ‘brainwashing’).  I do not label it brainwashing as an attack.  The belief in hell is tied with various things, among them a means to control the populace by the church over the centuries, to keep power in competition with the feudal lords at the time who had the swords, a need for a sense of justice in the world, a fantasy of early Christians of the Roman Empire crumbling, and so on.  On a side note, my personal thesis on PTSD has to do with heavy leanings toward a life’s purpose and a sense of justice (whether from a god or the universe or karma) and exposure to severe trauma that questions these assumptions. 

Yet with the fears of Christians to be judged for not saving souls, I would ask by what way would Jesus have you convert people?  To outlaw everything that could possibly lead to sin (and Christians are fond of their lists of sin, EVERYTHING is of the devil) and attack people out of hate (turn on right wing radio and send a dollar to my PayPal account every time the host yells at the mic.  I’ll have college paid off in no time flat).  What if, instead, while we pagans try to live our pagan values (and they are all quite varied by tradition), and other religions tried to live by their values, those real Christians out there showed their presence in their communities and lived their own religion as Jesus taught them.  Note also that it is easy for someone on late night t.v. to call us pagans the wolves in sheep clothing that is referred to in the sermon on the mount.  But the parable really speaks to the flock, of what appears as other sheep.  It didn’t say beware of the cows and horses and so on, but that which looks like sheep.  In other words, yourselves.  In other words, don’t follow the greedy, selfish, quick to war for oil and corporate interests, right wing peddlers of hate that have taken over the terms religion and Christianity and morality in our political debates (a laughable term, it is really political grandstanding).  Live the values that Christ taught, love your neighbor, show kindness, and so on. 

And together, this season, Christians, pagans, Wiccans, and many others can celebrate the reason for the season, that of renewed hope, of fellowship, of love.  And if there is a God (or a Goddess), isn’t this a good way of honoring Him and/or Her?

squirrel drinks beer

myth, depression - the minotaur

I was given a gift of a free Tapas Acupressure Therapy (TAT) session by someone who attended one of my PTSD lectures.  At the same time I have not been to my regular counseling session for several weeks.  My anger issues have gotten better with more attention being given to them.  I noted a strange disconnect between my bodily sensations and mental awareness the week after finals week.  Several times I would assess my current state, the strange symptoms I was in, and I would note with an odd sort of curiosity that I was in a state of depression.  Various things were attributed to it, from interpersonal relationships, nutrition and a body worn down from poor self care (that is, no sleep and tons of caffeine), and having put in a ton of effort into my school work and still falling short and the sense of self blame and shame that accompanies striking out when you want to hit a homerun.  Yet this lasted about five days or so and I found myself “normal” again and moving on.

Then my TAT session.  I needed to write a little bio in getting to this because perhaps it will aid in understanding the TAT session.  First off this is my first and only session.  My reading on TAT is all of one page from a PTSD sourcebook listing various therapies and I have no training in the matter.  So what I have to say ought to be taken with a grain of salt.  Yet after going through the session, which was a long one… over two hours… my initial reaction as a future psychologist and amateur theoretician is not that one is ‘tapping’ into any energy fields or the like, but that the novelty of the hand positions during the process puts the mind in a state of openness unique to novelty, not entirely dissimilar to the first religious ritual one experiences when the definitions of what is possible are as of yet unwritten and waiting for the pen to meet the paper.  The other aspect of TAT that worked well with this sense of openness was similar to what my own therapist says whenever a troublesome emotion comes to the surface of my awareness, and that is she will guide me to ‘stay with it’ and to just be aware of what is going on.  Generally emotions are, for me at least, highly mobile.  That is to say that they compel me to move my thoughts, body, etc… to get out of that time/place/situation/thought.  Depression, in the past, or rather melancholy, was addictive for me ten-fifteen years ago as it was ‘delicious to experience’ as it was during those darker times that life felt like it had meaning.  It was a private emotion for me as in the day I was the go-getting hard charger, exemplifying all the qualities of ‘man’ that I could (to be considered successful) while at night I returned to the dark and a never ending replay of Mozart’s ‘Ave Verum Corpus’.  I didn’t break out of this like a rocket from the Earth’s gravity (all at once) but more like walking through the mountains toward a distant peak.  Hiking in the mountains is filled with ups and downs and open areas and closed areas, but if you keep moving toward that peak you don’t realize that overall you are moving ever uphill.  Hard to see that when you just made an eight hundred foot decline into a valley, but the floor of the valley is five hundred feet higher than the elevation of your car at the trailhead.  Stronger than my attachment for the meaning in melancholy was my love of a more authentic being in the world and following that distant peak has kept me moving.  But as I get further along the path I see that it isn’t the distant peak that entices, it is the flora along the side of the path that truly rewards.  It is the journey, not the destination. 

While in the TAT session I was seeking to address my issues of intimacy with people, most notably romantic others.  Anyone who knows me knows this is a well worn record.  I have some great defense systems and could probably stand an assault from the armies of Mordor.  This is, after all, what I am secretly expecting.  At the slightest hint of problems I call out the defenses.  They are ever watchful for the slightest change in the wind.  The saying is cliché’ but it is true when I say ‘it isn’t you, it’s me’. 

I do not remember the statement I was keeping in my mind at that particular moment but images ensued.  Whenever I undergo therapy I will see pictures that are filled with associated meanings and such.  And while I was undergoing this particular question I could see in my mind that I was in an underground maze.  I recognized that it was the famed minotaur’s labyrinth.  Looking back on it now I realize that I did not associate with the hero.  I assumed I was the hero but I did not have thoughts of leaving a trail of string to find my way out or of killing the beast.  What I was aware of was to find the center, to find the beast itself. 

When I did find the center I found the beast.  But I could only see it from very close up, that is a foot away and only of its shoulder.  The course brown hair was visible and I ran my hand through the hair.  There was no animosity from the minotaur at all.  I was curious about seeing the minotaur as a whole, was it all man with a bull’s head?  Was it mostly bull?  But I couldn’t back away enough to see it.  Then it dawned on me… I was the minotaur.  I was looking at my own shoulder.  This came as a surprise.  Didn’t see this coming.

Another statement to sit with had me back in the maze.  I didn’t plan it but it happened.  I could see the hero walking through my labyrinth.  The image was at first of him laying a string behind him as he went, but my mind quickly changed the image (without my telling it to) of him laying bread crumbs.  When the hero went by my minotaur self moved the breadcrumbs to follow a different section of the maze.  And in the center of the maze I waited.  Eventually the hero got to the center, sword in hand, and looking at me.  What came next came naturally from within me but it wasn’t something that I was consciously writing like a script.  But the minotaur, me, told the hero that the path out had been changed.  “Fight me if you wish.  If I win then all will be as it was.  Another skeleton amidst many.  If you win then you will be lost within the maze yourself.  Or, if you wish to consider, I may show you the way to the door and afford you a chance to leave in peace.”  The hero took the minotaur’s offer and at the gate was bid to live a long life and to please tell the king not to send any other heroes or sacrifices into the labyrinth. 

This was very interesting to me.  When another statement came for me to be present with was given to me, I could see the labyrinth and the large open entrance that I had just led the hero to.  Now I was looking at it and being asked to come out.  I had such an opposition to moving outside that entrance.  Before the statement I was asked to forgive and that word alone brought up a lot of resistance from me.  The minotaur did leave the maze, saw a large world with lots of autonomous things beyond his control around him, but kept the maze nearby, ready to go back in if the wind changes. 

There was an image that came up later that was quite shocking and as up front as I am about internal processes in order to help ease the stigma for others, this image from early childhood is really too personal to list here and warrants a counseling session of its own. 

There is much more but I must leave now to go to work slinging beer. 



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Environmental Ethics

I took Environmental Ethics to better understand the reasons for man’s behavior in relation to the natural environment. Yet as Hill’s question of ‘what sort of person would destroy the natural environment?’  had been brought up in class, I had agreed with the question raised of whether this was indeed the fundamental question.  For to me it was not the fundamental question.  What is the fundamental question?  I am not entirely sure yet I’ve found that this fundamental question underlies my readings of Burke and Marx in politics, in reading research studies on schizotypal delusions in psychology, in the arguments by Hume and C.S. Lewis concerning the problem of evil in the world and as it relates to the arguments for and against the existence of God.  I’ve had this fundamental question lurking in the back of my mind when taking a class titled “Morality and War” and I remember it being with me as I personally rolled out on patrol in a combat zone.  Just what is this question?

When one comes to an environmental argument one must also realize that inherent in the argument are the many latent paradigms of the individual; paradigms that might sometimes be contradictory.  Philosophy, then, aids us in approaching the arguments itself and discerning what the strengths and weaknesses are.  Yet the very separateness of philosophers from ‘the real world’ that earns them the ridicule of the philistines is also their strength in assessing arguments. It is the inability of the philistines to separate themselves from their arguments that makes them slaves to passion, fashion, and majority mobs.  As the French poet and philosophy Paul Valery once said, “Conscience reigns but it does not govern.  At times I am inclined to agree with Socrates and do away with the mob… but not yet.

The last few articles that we’ve read have dealt with rights and the extension of those rights to animals, trees, and even ecosystems.  These are all very well and good, but I believe them to be flawed.  When Guha writes for the inclusion of so-called ‘Third-World’ perspectives and values in environmental problems, when Bookchin writes that Deep Ecology is over-generalized and disconnected, echoing Rolston’s fear of philosophers living in ivory towers cut-off from reality, and not looking at the very real needs in affecting change in the political-socio-economic conditions that are the engines of despair, I am sympathetic.  It is hard not to be.  Yet at the heart of it all is a paradigm, a worldview, which permeates any system of class or economy that may be superimposed over it. 

Often when discussing ancient religions it done with an air that it is primitive philosophy before the discovery of mathematics and logic.  It is seen over and over again that primitive religion was our infantile attempts to understand the world around us.  Primitive man was, if nothing else, incredibly naïve.  However, what if it is modern humans who are the epitome of naivety?  To argue this latter claim one must merely walk the streets of Hometown, USA, or turn on the television.  We are a people who do not know how to feed ourselves, how to gather the food we eat or where it comes from, or how to take care of ourselves without having to go to the mall to do so.  We have lost our sense of relationship with the environment around us.  I do not mean this in a romantic sense, but in the very real sense that an average person goes from home to car to office to car to shopping mall to home. We are completely ignorant of the processes that are involved in every facet of our daily lives and yet every person (at least in the USA) by virtue of being alive, feels he has the right to make decisions regarding far reaching and deep impacting issues regarding the environment, warfare, poverty, nuclear weapons, medical accessibility, to name just a few.  Many of us are governed by religions that are not only hostile to what we claim separates us from beasts and primitive man, namely conscious rational thought, but also are distrustful and condemning of other religions that have the same anxious and paranoid stances.  And we have the ability to go the museum, raise our fingers toward the primitive man, and say with an air of superiority, that he was naïve?

Lynn Whyte, Jr. in his monumental essay “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis” makes the claim that much of problems in or current relationship lies in the underlying notion of a telos in everything.  This notion of ‘progress’, he claims, is from the Judeo-Christian traditions and that this, coupled with the belief of man as separate from Nature, we are in for problems.  I agree with his assessments; however I am not inclined to blame it all on the Christians. I do not recall reading about Aristotle’s hierarchy of life, nor of Plato’s world of forms and the taint of the flesh, nor of the works of the Stoics.  While I am a neo-pagan, I am not quite so ready to say that paganism had it completely correct. Rousseau wrote “life in this state of nature is nasty, brutish, and short”, a sentiment another professor has dubbed ‘The Danny Devito Thesis’.  I am no scholar on Rousseau, but allow us to take what he says as a window to the truth. 

Something that is missing in many contemporary portrayals of primitive man’s spirituality is the notion of a life’s purpose.  It’s been argued by some that man separated himself from ‘animals’ when he pondered the notion of an afterlife.  As evidence there are ancient burials where possessions of the deceased are buried as well.  As I recall reading Plato’s ‘Apology’ I do not find a purpose in dying.  It was natural to die and the soul was immortal, Socrates said, yet it wasn’t the purpose of life to reach the afterlife.  Grounded in the very practical world of the here and now, for I cannot imagine the harsh living conditions of primitive man to allow anything but practical behavior, primitive man might have learned quite well the lesson that Nature offers no special leeway for man.  Through ages of evolution man developed a brain capable of higher thought.  Man was able to create and think outside of the confines of fight and flight, or conditioned response and learned behaviors, of trial and error. Man could create. This still does not impart upon the life of man a purpose, either individually or for the species, but it does give man a rather large advantage in dealing with other animals on the planet.

The question of what sort of person does harm to the natural world, taken in this context, has a different feel to it. A conscious acting animal, capable of rational thought, planning, and foresight, that negatively affects his environment is either an idiot, misinformed, or in the purely human realm… immoral. It isn’t the act of harming the environment that denotes which, but the effects of that harm in relation to the reasons of their employment. There is nothing that is alive does not change its environment in some manner.  It is only humans that ask whether it is moral or not. Morality and ethics are nothing if they are not the consideration of outside interests to one’s own.  I have asked the question before; can an individual alone on an asteroid with no contact with anything else be immoral?  I do not believe so.

Approaching any issue from the starting point that we are lucky benefactors of a long history of genetic survivors in a universe that is indifferent to our individual or species survival radically changes our tone and language.  This is, I believe, is more in line with the meanings of a biocentric viewpoint.  It isn’t that there is a teleological end for one form or life (or more than one if dogs go to Heaven), but as Pal Taylor says in ‘The Ethics of Respect for Nature’ that “each individual organism is conceived of as a teleological center of life, pursuing its own good in its own way.” It isn’t that we cannot value humans greatly, admire our many accomplishments, and even try for more.  It doesn’t mean, I believe, that we must become neo-luddites and move into technology free homes.  It means that the universe itself is indifferent.  Theists are greatly uncomfortable with this notion.  The moral argument for God says that God is the best answer for why we have a conscience.  Theists will ask what will prevent a person from doing evil if there is no God to punish evil-doers?  They do not like the question why does a good person do good without the potential for punishment, and does this truly constitute good?  I think not.  It is coercion, not saintliness.

This leads me to Sylvan’s ‘Last Man’ thought experiment.  I trust that in the experiment there are no seeds of any redwoods waiting for a forest fire to aid them in germinating, nor any ecological tendencies waiting to work for the growth of another redwood.  For the thought experiment to work, I believe, there must be only one redwood and no chance for any other redwood to grow after the cutting of the last one.  How would I answer this question given the positions of an indifferent universe above?  It would make no matter at all save in the heart and mind of the man who cuts the tree down as I’ve already written that I do not believe morality to exist save in the minds of man.  I do take this as different than my asteroid man question, for in this instance the man is acting in relation with another life form.  The act, I believe, could be good or bad depending on different situations of the man.  If he did so out of spite, then I would concur that the act be a morally bad one.  For what higher evolved being would rid the world of the last of a species for pure spite?  Cutting it down for shelter, or perhaps as a nurse-log for the growth of Hemlock trees in the future, could possibly be morally good.

Now, in thinking about all of this I am reminded again of criticisms by those such as Bookchin, of this egalitarian view of life that supposedly detracts Deep Ecologists from the real problems.  Is a dandelion equal to an oak?  If a biocentrist answers yes, I think that the answer is misunderstood by the listener who is caught up with notions of purpose and telos.  From the standpoint that each has a good in its own, each has a means of approaching that good, then yes, a dandelion is equal to an oak.  In terms of impact on the soil, water usage and storage, habitat for animals, competition for shade and this influence on other plants nearby, the advantage goes to the oak.  But while we say such, are we really pressured into ranking the oak as worth more?  No, however we can say that from an aesthetic viewpoint, or a utilitarian one, the oak is, for us, worth more.  Yet from an ecological perspective, the oak’s purpose is not to provide shade or to inhibit sunlight, or to provide shelter to animals, or to retain water. 

Robert Attfield argues in ‘The Good of Trees’ that not all lives are worth living, but that it is possible that “many or even most vegetable lives are worthwhile and of value in themselves.”  This is the difference between the ‘last man’ and my ‘man on an asteroid’ for it is clear that on my asteroid there is nothing there, save the man, that has a good of its own yet for the ‘last man’ there is the question of the good of the tree of its own.  If we take the position that the tree does not have a good of its own then each man in each scenario is equal in the amoral quality of their action.  The crutch of it all is the inherent good of the tree in and of itself. 

For me this is answered by two points, both of which I’ve addressed above.  The first is that every living organism affects change upon its environment. I am not merely speaking of chemical reactions of rocks releasing carbon atoms into the atmosphere, nor of other forms of non-organic chemical reactions.  These are just that, reactions.  I am speaking of active agents that do more than simply react, but are active in affecting their environment through primary and secondary (and sometimes even more) causalities.  The second point is that the universe has no favorites, neither man nor dandelion nor oak.  The second point is to realize that a biocentric viewpoint isn’t an ideal to hold only for high ethical reasons.  It is also a viewpoint that, as I’ve stated is my belief, one that more closely mirrors the true nature of reality. 

Given that each living organism has a good of its own because it is alive and affects change on the environment around it, and also given that we live in a world that is not human-centric in its mechanisms, acting in a manner where we approached things from a biocentric viewpoint would, it seem, be the most logical means of doing so.  Again, it isn’t saying that we shouldn’t eradicate disease in humans, nor that the interest of a spotted owl should come before a logger’s.  It is that we must take all of these interests into account in determining our actions as individuals and as a society.  What human life is a life well lived?  Thinking of human lives as we did with trees earlier, what is the flourishing of a human life?  And furthermore what relationship would this flourishing life have with its environment?  Looking at a human life in this viewpoint I am inclined to rethink what pop culture considers to be a good life.  I fail to see how we cannot exhibit those traits we are so fond of saying are what separates us from the animals, logic, in regard to our environment and the myriad of connections within it.  Primitive man, perhaps, did this much better than us and as a result was able to survive a harsher world than ours and to pass on his genetic code and he did this because he recognized the two points raised earlier.  Over time he became so successful in affecting his environment he began to think it his right to do so and to think that he was separate from this world.  I can think of no better example of hubris than this, and if convention holds, the gods will strike down proud man for such.





What disappears with a debasement of wild landscapes is more than genetic diversity, more than a homeland for Henry Beston’s “other nations,” more, to be perfectly selfish, than a source of future medical cures for human illness or a chance for personal revitalization on a wilderness trip.  We stand to lose the focus of our ideals.  We stand to lose our sense of dignity, of compassion, even our sense of what we call God.  The philosophy of nature we set aside eight thousand years ago in the Fertile Crescent we can, I think, locate again and greatly refine in North America.  The New World is a landscape still overwhelming in the vigor of its animals and plants, resonant with mystery.  It encourages, still, an enlightened response toward indigenous cultures that differ from our own, whether Aztecan, Lakotan, lupine, avian, or invertebrate.  By broadening our sense of the intrinsic worth of life and by cultivating respect for other ways of moving toward perfection, we may find a sense of resolution we have been looking for, I think, for centuries.

~ Barry Lopez

“The Passing Wisdom of Birds”

From Crossing Open Ground

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a very simple paper on Spinoza’s notion of mind and body as written for someone who doesn&rsqu

     The question is asked “does Spinoza successfully establish that the human mind is identical to the human body?”  The predominant view held by the person on the street is of a kind of dualism, of a spirit inhabiting the body, or embodied souls.  The problems of such a view, while not the topic of this paper, constitute the objections to the question put before us.  I will therefore attempt to illustrate how Spinoza does indeed establish that the mind and body are one and the same as though I were discussing it with a person not familiar with either Spinoza or any matters of philosophy using as ordinary language as I can.

     What is it that is you?  Of what do you assign your identity, who you are?  Some people have told me it is things like character traits, behavior patterns, likes and dislikes, interests and so forth.  Yet what of the person to whom some sort of defect has occurred within their brain that utterly changes their personality?  What of the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia disorders which rob the person of zer[1] memory?  Others will assert that our identity is these things plus our various goals and social bonds.   The answer to this question won’t be answered here, however I will take that all of these things help to make up one’s identity (and that one’s identity can and does change over time). 

     The question now is what is it that is essentially you?  In other words, when the individual aspects that make up your identity are stripped away, what is it that you are made of?  Of what are we humans all alike in?  It is here that a common answer given in return is that we are souls inhabiting bodies.  Whatever this soul stuff is, the immortality of such is readily believed by many people today.  Such souls are believed to be the true minds of what we are.  Yet when someone experiences a stroke robbing them of brain function and altering their behavior from kind and gentle to mean and malicious[2], it is believed by some that the soul is intact but that the body is damaged.  After all, they say, a good captain is still hard pressed to navigate a broken ship.  The specifics of how an immaterial soul might interact with a material body, though difficult to reconcile, are beyond the concerns of most.  Having an eternal soul is a comforting thought. 

     But let us look at the bare bones of what we can say about ourselves.  We take up space.  The fancy word for this is extension but think of it as matter, as something material, physical and it can be quite large (like an elephant or a planet) or something quite small (like an atom).  There is essentially something physical about you that you share with everything in the entire universe that is made of matter. Okay, so far so good.  However there is still this notion of our minds, of the thinking things, our thoughts and souls. 

     To answer the thinking side of what we are I will need to back up a bit.  Spinoza lays out a framework of how the universe and reality is.  While ze used the term ‘God’ but to better understand what ze meant we shall substitute All[3] and to avoid ascribing personality characteristics to Spinoza’s use of the word.  What is meant by All is literally everything.  The All is infinite and is comprised of all things, in all ways, at all times.  There can be absolutely nothing that is not a part of this All. If something was not a part of the All then the All would not be everything.  Not only is the All literally everything but it is also every possibility.  This also means that it is all the ways that things might be or not be.  Spinoza wrote of Nature Created and also of Nature Creating, the ways and whys behind the scenes forming the universe around us (of which we are a part).  A simple analogy is a billiard table with balls upon it.  Suppose the table and balls were the universe.  The manners in which the balls scatter and the whys of cause and effect when struck are also part of that universe. 

     Now let’s go back to the human body for a moment.  Has your body always been here?  Will it persist forever from now on?  Likely your answer is no, at least to the first question.  Your body hasn’t always been here.  From this we can see that, for your body, existence is not an essential part.  What I mean here is not that your body does not exist, for you are existing right now, but that when one puts existence on the table it doesn’t automatically and without question bring up your body.  If it did then there would not have been a time when your body was not.  However physical matter is something that is an essential part of existence.  How can there be existence and there not be anything at all?  The key here is that matter (extension) has always been and will always be.  This is one attribute of the All, of which your body is one finite part of the infinity of everything.

     Now we shall move to the mind.  When I say mind it is generally understood by people to mean our thoughts, conscious or otherwise.  There is more to the notion of the attribute of thought in Spinoza’s substance (another word for the All) but for this paper we’ll stick to this understanding of the term.  Now, recalling our earlier questions about identity, is the essence of thought a part of the essential characteristic of your being?  It’s hard not to see how it couldn’t be, for would there be a you without any thought whatsoever?  Yet have your thoughts always been in existence?  It could be that when we die our thoughts (our souls, as some say) continue on in afterlife.  Again, this is very comforting though it isn’t known exactly what happens after death.  But besides this, was there a time before your thoughts?  Before you were born?  While your individual thoughts, your identity, have arisen, come to be, been created in the universe at a definite point of time, the attribute of thought (the bare bones definition of such as a mental thing) has always been as an attribute of the All. 

     Now to tie the two together, every thought has a physical body.  That should have taken you aback.  I don’t really mean to say exactly what the statement literally means, that thoughts are physical things floating around in the universe.  This is not the case because the two attributes, thoughts and matter (thought and extension) seem separate from each other and it would make no sense for us to say one is the same as other.  It is this dualism of difference that many cannot get over to begin with.  Yet both are part of the All and while they appear quite distinct from each other there must be a connection somewhere for the two to join up.  Why?  Consider if they did not join up at some level, they would be completely separate from each other. 

With this in mind, bring back the earlier notion that the All is all things and all ways for infinity eternally.  Does it make sense to think of either matter or thought being separate from the entire infinite universe of reality of always and forever[4]?  Can you be two separate beings, one mental and one physical, at the same time?

     In a round-about way we’ve looked at a way that our minds and bodies are one and the same thing.  We are finite beings, of a physical and mental nature, that is part of everything at a definite point of time that is but one point in eternity.  Take the big picture of an eternal everything as the All, God, or Substance as suits you.  Yet Spinoza was, I believe, quite correct in that the best way to understand who and what we are, we must start with the foundations of reality. Starting with knowledge about our own selves and trying to work the other way around gives us the problem of duality, a problem to which I find it much more difficult to arrive at an answer to explain.  

[1] This Ze (nominative), Zer )possessive), and Mer (accusative) are gender neutral pronouns gaining increasing usage throughout various disciplines.

[2] The well-known case-study Phineas Gage, for example.

[3] Use of the word ‘God’ is preferable for me; however some people cannot get over the notion of a personable, human like deity.  Such a personable concept is shortcoming for such a form is not all things at all times.

[4] I know this is redundant in saying always and forever and so on.  Yet we are told to write this for a specific type of audience and in this I imagine writing it for someone who disdains all talk of philosophy as a waste of time.

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Abortion in the opinion section of the newspaper

I should not respond.  If you wrestle with a pig you both get dirty (as the saying goes).  There is a zero chance that any response of mine, however artfully crafted and free of terms to offend, would sway the mind of the commenter.  So I didn’t try too hard in being neutral.  I did chastise a bit, but not too much for it shouldn’t fail us to ever call a duck a duck if it is quacking and has feathers. 


At The Oregonian was this letter to the editor:

More to life than birth
It was interesting that in the Nov. 13 edition of The Oregonian, all the letters supporting the anti-abortion Stupak amendment to the health care bill were from men, while those who disagreed with that amendment were from women.

I have noticed that imbalance quite often over the decades -- men making decisions about women's private health care decisions.

No woman makes a casual decision to have an abortion. It would be wonderful if there was no need, if sex education and contraception were easily accessible and available. But they are not.

Abstinence does not work, because we all are, after all, sexual human beings.

A neighbor has a sign in her yard that reads, "Pray to End Abortion." I would like to add "Pray for money to pay for the welfare, health care, schools and, all too often, jails for those children."

There is a lot more to life than just being born.



Hats off to Shannon for writing this.  Well done.  Then I saw the following comment online.


Posted by sadoggie

November 20, 2009, 7:48AM

Shannon, I can only guess by your tirade against men making decisions concerning abortion that you need to go back to sex education so that you can be refreshed that without males the female can't get pregnant. I do appreciate your approach to each individual having the right to made descisions concerning your own body. I suggest that that your philosophy be carried out to the logical end. That would suggest prostitution, drug use (both illegal and prescription drugs) should be legalized due to each individual's right to make their own decisions as to what goes in (or comes out) of your body. Abortion is NOT health care. Abortion is a convenient way of poor decisions made by females that made the decisions as to what goes into their body. Plain and simple. Thanks for the support.


Now I don’t feel that I have to defend Shannon’s letter.  She can defend herself.  Nor am I a passionate soldier in the Pro Choice/Anti Abortion War.  But it is that the comment was so, how shall I say it… unforgivably bad that I had to respond.  I am offended that sadoggie would use the words ‘philosophy” and “logic” in her comment as though she has the slightest inkling what either meant. 


I responded.



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Posted by Eddie Black

November 21, 2009, 12:55AM

I can only guess by your own tirade that you've never taken a class in logic. You extrapolate so much nonsense from the letter and use it to firebomb someone whom you obviously disagree with that it does nothing for the debate.

The point that was made in Lien's letter has nothing to do with whatever it is that you are going on about. She made a couple of good points that should be attended to instead of the lesson in fallacies that your post give us. The points are themselves debatable and a rationale discussion on them ought to be welcomed. Yet the voices that scream the loudest are of the same odd meandering of rabble that we have just seen.

1. Abstinence education does not work. Sex education does.
2. Pregnancies, among other things (such as sex education) are affected by class and income factors.
3. What right does a male have in demanding that a women cannot have an abortion?

I suspect that, like many of the loudest voices, the common denominator against addressing all three, or a blissful ignoring of them, is that they contradict or challenge conservative religious beliefs. So to this I ask this:

4: What right, given freedom of religion, has a Christian fundamentalist have to tell a woman that she cannot have an abortion?

The answers to both 3 and 4 are both 'none'.


Courage- driving a humvee

This story came to my mind while I was listening to the audio book Deep Survival while going to drill weekend. There were some things in the book that struck home, some lessons that I need to ensure are learned by my infantry students. That is complacency and belief in one’s ability. We try very hard to instill a sense of a ‘can do’ attitude in our troopers. We push them to keep going, never give up, to ‘die trying’ if need be. How does one reconcile Aristotelian view of anger with its extremes of ‘irritable’ and ‘lacking spirit’ with the middle ground of ‘patient’ and fear with the extremes of ‘rash’ and ‘cowardly’ with ‘courageous’ with our ‘full throttle ahead’ teachings. We tie these two concepts together in our training so that the battlefield for the lower soldiers is one of the extreme of rashness and irritability. Hurry up and go kill it. Higher up one is to exercise judgment. We tend to gloss over the concepts of the speed of the battlefield in our training, in letting things develop.  Hard to let things develop while also trying to take the initiative and hold it while being shot at. 

A Company was sent south of Baghdad to do ops with the Marines for a month in the Yusifiya area. It is a sprawling area of canals and farms. It was also an area of high traffic of insurgents in moving weapons into Baghdad. Alongside the roads are large craters of past IED (improvised explosive device). We patrolled the area looking for people and things that were amiss. Of the three platoons in A Co, 1st and 2nd were hit by IEDs several times during that month as well as the occasional mortar volley. 3rd, mine, had yet to be hit by an IED during the month. It wasn’t for lack of trying. We drove our humvees down plenty of bottlenecks and canal roads that gave us no maneuver room and kept our speeds low. Easy targets with plenty of obstacles between us and a trigger man to afford his escape.

The military practices what is called ‘rollover drills’. There are even simulators for this on various bases. These are essentially humvees on a pole that turns it upside down. It is to train the soldiers in the humvee to communicate and how to get out of a 13,000 pound armored humvee while wearing 70 pounds of highly restrictive body armor and ammo pouches, lots of weapons and ammo cans banging around, and so forth. It is a chaotic environment. You cannot strap down your weapons and ammo. Anyone who believes that strapping down weapons and ammo and the mandatory of wearing seatbelts in humvees has never spent any significant time doing patrol ops. Is it worth putting lives in danger due to restrictive safety measures to save a lower number from another threat? There are far more things conspiring to kill us than auto accidents and rollovers.

We were out late one night, pitch black in the boonies, and were driving in ‘blackout’ that is, we had no lights on our rigs. We used the infra-red headlights of our vehicles that lit up the road in front of us if we were wearing our night vision devices. The night vision we used were like monocular, that is, it fits over one eye and is held there by a bracket or strap system that attaches to one’s helmet. There is the ‘brain buster’ that is a head wrap. But try wearing that for four hours. Plus if you have to get out and respond to a threat it is in the way. My helmet mounts were broken and I literally drove with one hand, holding the night vision to my eye with the other hand until that arm got tired and then I’d switch. Below is a view of the road from the vision device. Drive your car while looking through a tube from a roll of toilet paper while closing the other eye in the fog. That is what it’s like. Now do it at 60 miles per hour. What a rush!

One of the canals had a bridge of raised earth that we used to cross over. We crossed this ‘bridge’ often on our humvees during the day. What was significant about it was that you had to be perfect in your alignment and even then only three tires of your rig would be touching the ground at a time. A slip to the left or right would ‘not be your day’ and into the canal you’d go. As we turned a corner in the dark I knew where we were going. I was the driver of the rig and have many, many miles of driving a humvee. I am very comfortable getting a humvee where I want to get it to. I’ve taken it over two foot concrete barriers and through alleys that I wouldn’t attempt in my smaller Ford Ranger pickup truck. Yet I was driving at night and had little sleep, was on edge, and was using a single eye night vision device that affords me absolutely no peripheral vision or sense of depth. I told the TC (truck commander) to radio the PL (Platoon Leader) and tell him that I did not want to go over the bridge. I might make it, I might not. But I was feeling a deep uncertainty and I wasn’t as connected to my environment as I would have liked to be. I told him that it was too risky for me to try. I told the TC to tell the PL whatever he wanted to, that he didn’t trust in my ability or that I was crying like a baby or whatever. Didn’t care what he told him. The fact was that my gut told me that trying to make the attempt in the dark would not be a good on and that it would be foolish to try. I would have done it if told to, yet I was a Team Leader and expected to give my views to the Squad Leader. A smart PL will listen to the advice of his Squad Leaders, and one of them was saying that he had no confidence in his Team Leader to cross the bridge, just like I told him to say. The SL thought I could do it, but he wasn’t plugged into my emotional systems, wasn’t driving the rig, wasn’t the one that was attuned, or not, to the road under the rig.

Under much chastising and radio chatter making fun of me by the other troops we turned around and took the long way back to base. I was easily able to shrug it off. Nobody hated me and my courage was not under question. I had shown my willingness to go into a fight with this unit. My judgment was always one of accurate assessment in the past and not posturing. So while everyone gave me a good natured ribbing, there was no malice. Other drivers came up to me and said they had been nervous about the thought of driving over the bridge also. Perhaps we would have made it across the bridge easily enough. Or perhaps one of the rigs would have slipped over the edge and into the canal, upside down, in cold waters with steep muddy banks in the middle of February, with help a good thirty minutes away if they hauled ass, and an enemy who was very likely to be watching us and waiting for an opportunity to strike at us. It could have gotten really bad, really fast.


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squirrel drinks beer

A good quote

The past cultures I admire—Periclean Greece, the city-states of the Italian Renaissance, Elizabethan England, are examples—have mostly been produced by communities , and remarkably small ones at that.  Also remarkably heterogeneous ones, riven by factions, stormy with passionate antagonisms.  But…[a] mass society, like a crowd, is inchoate and uncreative.  Its atoms cohere not according to individual liking or traditions or even interests but in purely mechanical ways, as iron fillings of different shapes and sizes are pulled toward a magnet working on the one quality they have in common.  Its morality sinks to the level of the most primitive members—a crowd will commit atrocities that very few of its members would commit as individuals—and its taste to that of the least sensitive and the most ignorant.

~Dwight Macdonald

Whenever I find myself within the ranks of some group it is usually not too long that I must push the boundaries.  For, to my eternal dismay, groups far too often are more homogenous than not.  It plainly becomes the impetus of the organization to perpetuate its own beliefs and this might override rational thought, ability to communicate or collaborate with others, and even the ability to grow. When amongst a group of environmentalists they were unable to see outside of their environmentalist views and unable to step down from their environmentalists platitudes and moral high ground. Talking with workers in the timber industry it was impossible for them to open their minds to the possibility that their practices are indeed problematic for, not only the Earth in large (forests as carbon sinks, slash burning for agriculture also releasing huge amounts of CO2) but nobody wants to hear that they are acting like an ass (plainly put).  We all are defensive when it comes to this.  Tell me what I am doing wrong and I’ll explain why you are just a twit.  Such is the nature the fight between many environmentalists and timber workers.

The same is found among other polar groups as well.  Anti-war groups and pro-military personnel.  Patriotic Americans and those that see a global community.  I might quickly add there is not a singular definition of patriotic used in either political science, psychology, or the like.  There are various forms of patriotism.  In general it is a desire to support one’s own in-group and a feeling of affinity with said in-group.  The large differences are on what that means for other groups and your relationship with them.  Those groups that attack patriotic Americans as shortsighted, and indeed those Americans who can, without a investigation of any facts, casually say ‘America, right or wrong’, generally promote the attitude of the success of the in-group with the failure of another group.  Partnership or relationships are no inherently found within these viewpoints.  The criticism is a valid one.  However, not all who love their in-group are so closed to partnerships.  It is therefore a mistake to lump all ‘patriotic Americans’ as such for this is a gross misunderstanding of in-group membership and social dynamics.  It is, in reality, a thinly veiled attack.  For those who profess such attacks against all patriotic Americans will feel themselves affinity with some sense of a community.  It is likely that this community does not contain Somali warlords, Russian paratroopers, the wealthy leisurely class in Europe, a pocket of Nihilist writers in Norway, nor even University of Texas football fans.  Their grouping of a ‘world community’ of which they feel one ought to feel an affinity for, is much more likely to include groups such as women’s poverty and land activists in India, Doctors Without Borders, the organization OXFAM, and other groups with a humanists bent. 

When I find myself a part of a socialist organization I will usually end up arguing from a much different perspective.  The same is true when I am surrounded by American Neoconservatives (not to be confused with the conservativism of Burke, Goldwater, nor of Reagan.  Too bad more people who are ‘Conservative first and foremost’ and so ready to attack issues given a ‘liberal’ label by some pundit who gets paid by how much noise he can stir up on the radio waves, are not more familiar with the large distinctions) when I will usually argue the opposite.  It is not that I am attempting to be difficult (some disagree with me here, yet indeed when the person is being intellectually lazy I sometimes take joy in harassing their un-soundess of their logic) but that, if one is to take Aristotle correctly in that finding the way of Happiness as a golden mean, between the extremes, it doesn’t necessarily mean that take the values and split them in half.  It sometimes means a fiery dialogue between opposing viewpoints.  What is the lesson of Job if we lose either Jehovah or the Devil?  Nothing.

The above quote obviously says something about dynamics in community but it needs to be said that there is something that is important… that is that the communities, though riven by contentous debates, considered themselves a community more so than they did their particular faction within it.  The Conservative of Liberal in today’s political spectrum, whether in Congress or sitting on a barseat listening to some idiot on the t.v. stir up controversy where there is none, who cannot see past his own faction to his membership in the greater community, is useless.  For within him is no growth and nothing to hinge truth upon.  Likewise, I am reminded of a time I met with a Baptist preacher in a small Southern community.  I had set up a meeting with him to discuss how his (Christian) and mine (Pagan) communities might understand each other, respect each other, and even work together, such as in a soup kitchen or the like, he was only concerned with trying to prove his religion as the only one and mine as a delusion.  The smallness of his heart and mind baffles me and, unfortunately is not a rarity.  Talking with him is a waste of time. There can be no dialogue.  So it is with many political pundits on the t.v. who are incapable of acting out of concern for their greater community.  This is not to say that the ‘Devil’s Advocate” approach is not beneficial, I employ it a lot myself.  Yet when I do so it is generally understood by those I am with that I might not even agree with my own arguments but that I am employing a logical attack on their argument.  It is a simple test.  If you were to build a boat you would not simply trust it but hopefully you would test it by giving it tests that might sink it before you took it out in deeper water.  The point is to float. 

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