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Human Rights

Human Rights

by Marco M. Pardi

Human beings have a strong tendency towards rationality and decency. (If they had not, they would not desire to legitimize their prejudices and their passions.)

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963). The Olive Tree and Other Essays. 1936

All comments are encouraged and each will receive a response.

This is a tough one. I don’t remember a time in my adult life when I did not wonder at “Human rights”. According to whom? What are the criteria for a right?

This subject may be approached from several perspectives: philosophy; religion; jurisprudence; humanities, and etc. each having its own set of criteria yet unavoidably interfacing with all of the others. As with most if not all other things I choose to approach it first through Formal Logic. Thus, I reject propositions based on “you know” and “they say” as well as propositions based on presumptions that “everyone knows” and “it’s agreed”.

Granted in this case an attempt to fundamentally define terms, such as human, could quickly ensnare us in a morass with no other escape than acceptance of the unsavory “everyone knows” assertion. As far as I know there is no outside authority sitting on the sidelines telling us what we are. But examples pertinent to rights appear in unexpected but everyday settings. In the United States there are people who ascribe humanity to a zygote, certainly to a blastula. And, should the woman carrying this object engage in behavior which may harm it some States have laws, including feticide, intended to safeguard the rights of this object, now recognized as a person. Thus, does a positive pregnancy test this morning confer a right to this woman to commute to work in the carpool lane? After all, there supposedly are two people in the car.

Most of the fetus as a person with rights beliefs are based in religion. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not categorically against religion. I’m against what people do with religion. The Latin term itself is a portmanteau: re (to do again) ligare (to bind). We commonly see re-peat, re-member, etc., and we commonly use ligature, ligament, etc. The selection of the word religion is based on the idea that the developing infant is fully enveloped in the cosmos and, through maturing, gradually emerges as a separate, autonomous adult entity unbound and longing to be reunited with that early, innocent state. Religare (religion, re-binding) is proffered as an answer, or THE answer. Who can argue with wanting reunification with Allness? The problem arises when someone claims to know that innocent pre-autonomous state and to have the only way of getting there.

In more basic terms I recall a discussion in a graduate school class during which we reviewed various means of analyzing Primate behavior. During a discussion of Etic analysis, borrowed from linguistics, I reminded the group that humans are also Primates and questioned why we could not study humans in the same way as we study other primates.

Audible gasps. I pressed the point; what sets humans apart from other Primates when it comes to studying them? I was not advocating we apply some of the same biological testing, though I felt like it. Nor was I evening out the difficulties in cross species analysis. I was trying to elicit claims of inherent rights, and was ready to challenge proponents to defend those claims. What I got in response was seemingly based on common knowledge in the department that I had voluntarily served four years in a combat unit. One person cited the Geneva Conventions and the Rules of Engagement, as if there is anything gentile about trying to wound or kill each other (wound is better for several reasons). I was convicted of being jaded. I found this atmosphere quite distressing, not least because a strong current in Anthropology pushes us toward “objectivity” and cultural relativism.

Actually, my time in the military did shape my views in some ways. I formed a rather hazy cut-off point for personal culpability: a child soldier apparently below the age of 12 can perhaps be scared off instead of maimed or killed. I judge him/her as acting under the influence of older individuals. From 12 on up this person has made their own choices and will reap the consequences.

I apply this to other cultural practices. For example, most cultures that practice genital mutilation, either FGM (female genital mutilation) or circumcision, do so on children under 12. I consider those children to be victims. So I ask the question: What gives the mutilators the right to do what they are doing? Yet, many anthropologists would ask, What gives me the right to be critical? Personally, I would terminate someone, male or female, who imposed FGM on a little girl. But I’m that way about a lot of things. I suspect I would be told I don’t have the right.

The United States has enshrined a Bill of Rights. I think the listed rights are fine. But especially when discussions of “gun rights” arise I hear people talk about “God given rights”. Again, I’m not arguing with the focal point of the belief (whether there is or is not a God); I’m asking why I should accept as valid a human statement based upon an unproven act (the granting of the right to bear arms) by an unproven and indemonstrable entity (God) especially when that statement serves the purposes of the human speaker. I’m not saying the entity (God) does or does not exist; I’m questioning the acceptance of rules which are claimed to have emanated from this entity.

International relations are increasingly clouded with discussions and accusations about human rights and abuses. Having lived and/or traveled in many places, and having had intense conversations with many people it was not long before I came to feel that concepts of human rights (and therefore abuses of them) are often culture bound. Many people are appalled by the stereotypic American claim that bearing arms (firearms) is a God given right. And many are confused by the fierce claims of freedom coming from people who take pride in living in a “law and order” society which has one of the highest per capita rates of people under lock and key. The situation reminds me of the trite saying about the Golden Rule: He who has the gold makes the rule.

Formal Logic calls for precise identification of source, exact definition of terms, and calculation of the relative valence (power) of terms. It is more than three dimensional chess; it demands to know the authority by which each piece employed in the matrix is given its power. Again, since I cannot identify an authoritative outside source for the allocation of the relative (human) powers at play I must assume it is a human game constructed on a “you know” basis. It seems very close to the elementary violation we cite when we disqualify a word definition for using that same word in its own definition. We are, “Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps”. (I tried that for fun in the military. Didn’t work there, either.) So it seems to me that the fundamental premise is that a human right is a human right because powerful humans say it is. Am I wrong in feeling an atmosphere of Might Makes Right?

I do hope we get significant interaction on this. This site has many readers in many countries. Everyone is always welcome to freely comment. It is your Right.

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Meant To Be

Meant To Be

by Marco M. Pardi

The great appeal of fatalism….is as a refuge

from the terror of responsibility.”

Arthur M. Schlesinger. “The Decline of

Greatness”

Comments are strongly encouraged and will each receive a response.

I’ve always viewed that phrase, meant to be, as a slightly more eloquent way of saying I dunno. It comes easily to mind as it has perhaps the broadest of potential applications from the cosmic to the mundane. It reminds me of the insipid response clerics often give to questions of doctrine: “It will all be revealed after you die.” Great. Looking forward to it.

In recent years we’ve heard much about the “Goldilocks Zone”, the place of the Earth in the solar system, not too hot and not too cold which allows life as we know it to exist on this watery rock. Predictably, there are those who tout this as proof of design, as if it were meant to be. First year logic students understand this thinking as regressive; citing supposed effect as proof of a presumed cause. Anyone even vaguely familiar with horse dentition knows of the large gap between the incisors and the 1st molars. Should we then conclude the gap was “designed” to, thousands of years in the future of horse evolution, accept the bit?

As is common among the design crowd, claimed effects are pre-loaded with anthropocentric bias and even Earth centered bias. The universe contains billions of solar systems. The probability of widely spread and numerous “Goldilocks zones” approaches certainty. Especially as we come to understand the long discredited and now accepted concept of panspermia we come to accept the probability that life elsewhere includes the development of human like forms among many others. In fact, our concepts of “life” have changed dramatically as our improving technology enables us to find it.

Chemosynthetic bacteria and Archaea thrive in the superheated water and crushing pressure around Earth’s hydrothermic vents. Hydrothermic vents are thought to exist on Jupiter’s moon, Europa and Saturn’s moon, Enceladus. A virtual blanket of bacteria lives happily in Earth’s ionosphere, in the highest and coldest reaches of Earth’s atmosphere. Archaea is now recognized as a third form of life: Animal Kingdom; Plant Kingdom; and Archaea Domain. The most common forms of microbial Archaea live happily in mud, eating free electrons. That’s right. They eat electricity. So as we increasingly come to know certain things we increasingly come to understand that what we don’t know is probably expanding at an even greater rate. And this is not even mentioning the weird quantum world. In perfect vacuums particles appear, zip around, and annihilate each other on contact. Where from? Where to? Something out of nothing? Design, causality, and “meant to be” retreat further into the embarrassing background of “Well, that’s what people used to think.”

But wait, there’s more! Most people are aware of the conclusion that the dinosaurs were wiped out by the aftereffects of an asteroid strike. What some seem to be missing is that, Goldilocks Zone or not, we are really not much closer to preventing a recurrence of an asteroid strike than the dinosaurs initially were. We do track N.E.O.s, Near Earth Objects, but we are limited in our ability to detect objects below a certain size. And, we would have little time to muster even an experimental response should one clearly have Earth in its sights. Scary, but at least we would likely have time to say our good-byes. Also up for consideration is the probability of a Supernova sending a blast of Earth sterilizing radiation at us so quickly we would not have time to say, But this was not meant to be. Stargazing on a peaceful night makes it difficult for some to understand that the universe is a chaotic and violent place. Fair Play is a local concept.

Well, I’m still sitting here typing this. Whether you and I will still be here and there by the time I post this is another matter. So let’s put our blinkers on and think about ourselves. I’m betting that most, if not all of us, have had some question answered with, “It was meant to be.” One is expected to respond with a weighed and considered “Yup. I guess so.” Sometimes the issue in question deserves little more than that. At other times, it is ominous. We Gilmour boys were expected to establish relationships with the Beaumont girls. All chaperoned and supervised, of course. Enrollment in either prep school signaled one’s worthiness financially, socially, intellectually, and – presumably, religiously. No need for background checks. They are so crass, after all. One lovely young lady with whom I paired up on our contrived social occasions, this one being an afternoon dance in the gymnasium, assured me quietly we were “Meant to be”. My first thought was, I’m too young to die. But that was just emotional. Almost as quickly my intellect kicked in and I wondered, Meant by whom? Or what?

In any event, we never did “be”, whatever that meant. My family moved out of state, taking me with them. And she, presumably, went on to graduate and take the Grand Tour, becoming familiarized to all things European. Well, most things European. But 60 years later I remember her. Why?

Especially during or after unpleasant relationships I’ve heard people say, That person was put in your life for a reason. I suppose comments like that are presumed to be consoling. But the acceptance of such a statement seems to me the height of hubris; another fully valid, autonomous, and vibrant human being was “put in my life for a reason”? Just who am I that people should be made to appear and disappear to serve some purpose for me? How utterly narcissist!

Yet, I can readily recount episodes in which, had a particular person or persons not been “in my life” at the time I am certain I would not be sitting here typing this now. Those would have been bad episodes. Or, had I extended my last military/government tour as I very nearly did I would not have met the woman I did and subsequently had the amazing daughter and grandchildren I now have. Those are the best episodes. My daughter has said she would have “found” me even had I married someone else. Was she “meant to be” my daughter?

So, looking back at a long life – as us old folks tend to do, I see patterns which cannot be denied; things did not just fall into place. In one case a very serious problem which I had no way to foresee was averted by the entry, weeks before the problem arose, of a person into my life whom I would likely never have chosen to associate with but did, for reasons which were unclear to me at the time. And patterns like that have appeared frequently in my life.

Maybe that pin ball machine model I envisioned for so long is not really appropriate. Or maybe I should study more closely how the ball interacts with the elements on the board. Maybe I should have paid more attention to fluid dynamics, or Chaos Theory. Maybe I should have been a Buddhist monk after all.

There have been many people in my life. And, the more I look at patterns the less able I am to say this one was good or this one was bad. They were. That’s all. And, the more I look at patterns the more I discover and realize what meaning I may have had in the lives of others. Yes, over the years several people have told me of the beneficial effects my presence in their life brought them. I always get very, very uncomfortable with that. I like to know good things came of it but I do not want to hear that directly from the person. I really don’t.

On the other hand, it would be nice to be able to provide that same information to all the people who have had meaning in my life. Not likely possible. Many have died and many would probably not remember me anyway.

All this pattern stuff, even in the midst of cosmic chaos (or maybe I see chaos because I’m not seeing the patterns), has drawn me to the conclusion that the universe – Allness in its timeless and shapeless reality – is conscious. I’m aware that an increasing number of scientists are also concluding this, but I’m not trying to join anyone. Decades ago I was enthralled with the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, particularly his work The Hymn of the Universe. It spoke to me of pantheism, a divine oneness out of which the emergence of a singular god would be illogical. In fact, to me that concept of a singular god never made any sense and still doesn’t. My very early question in response to the glib statement, It was meant to be, was, by whom? But once free of the whom we are open to the what, as captured in the Sanskrit phrase Tat Tvam Asi – That Thou Art. The phrase is used to direct one’s attention to Allness, to awaken the mind to patterns of relationship, to expose our “if only-s” as wisps, to portray Meaning without the knee jerk search for a reason, an agenda behind the meaning. Meant to be implies temporality, a then and a now. Meaning simply is. A sand mandala. Which can be blown away in an instant.

The Back Side

The Back Side

by Marco M. Pardi

mpardi.com

The young have aspirations that never come to pass, the old have reminiscences of what never happened.” SAKI 1870-1916.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

I’ve had some experience with people who retired from careers. And, I’ve had experience with people whose financial circumstances provided a life in which they never had to work. I think there is an interesting difference between these two groups. For clarity, I’ve always viewed people who stay at home taking care of children and “keeping house” as career workers, in many ways working harder than those who can go to an office or other job site. And, although women have entered the workforce with as long or longer hours than men, they are often expected to continue performing most or all of the tasks assigned to women before work out of the home.

As early as the 1960’s figures began to appear indicating that, ultimately, retirement kills. A sudden feeling of being set adrift, or cast off and forgotten, a general decline in overall health, a loss of interest in things and activities of long standing, a loss of “purpose”, an increase in substance dependence, all pointed toward support for that conclusion. Until very recently women in Western societies had a lower life expectancy than men. And it wasn’t all attributable to statistical flattening due to death in childbirth. Women had to shift from caring for children to caring for adult men. And, someone still had to do the chores and the cooking and cleaning. Women may have changed the object of their efforts but their efforts remained essentially the same, albeit somewhat redirected.

And so I took an early interest, albeit academic, in the different post retirement lives of men and women, recognizing that women do not really retire. At first it seemed men died not long after retirement; figures published years ago gave male airline pilots about five years post retirement. The numbers in other professions did not vary that much. So it was easy to attribute the shortened life span to the nature of the work. Too easy. I met some airline pilots who outlived their life expectancy by several years and I began to wonder. Still, never having been in the life insurance business I did not have the data used by these companies to calculate policies and therefore could not look at a particular person and project a likely lifespan.

What I did begin to notice was a very distinct difference in social bonding between the two groups: Females tended toward a higher frequency of female group activity centered on shared interests; males had far fewer such bonding patterns and a higher probability of just staying at home and becoming sedentary. But before we rally to physical activity as a panacea, I would assert that a female bridge group is not particularly physically active – except perhaps for all the talking going on. The important variable here is not sore facial muscles but actively engaged personalities.

Of course, men also have card games. With a lifelong disdain for playing cards I can’t draw on personal experience with any groups. But my informants tell me male card games are quiet affairs, often lubricated by alcohol and, to a lesser extent, cigars. The game seems a venue for the extras, the booze and cigars, as much as an end in itself. So just how social the event really is becomes questionable.

Some readers will flash to the FOX-P5 gene, the gene which, in a complex context, enables vocalization. From mice to humans female mammals uniformly display a more active FOX-P5. This is not a criticism; it simply presents an apparently adaptive feature. One presumes then that the vocalization is a social event.

This raises a new angle on a question which has been with us for a while: Are social media replacing face to face contact? The answer is obviously Yes. But my interest pushes me to wonder if this is more pervasive and more in depth among males than among females. I suspect it is. Furthermore, I suspect this is a self validating activity which goes on to amplify itself; the more people (men, in this case) succeed in communicating electronically the more likely their next attempt at communication will be electronic.

I think the implications are serious. A group, retired males, which is already somewhat socially isolated as individuals is rewarded for hardening the isolation further. This must certainly affect even long term relationships with significant others such as children and spouses. And, in mirror fashion, it must affect one’s relationship with one’s self. Who am I but words on a screen? If those words can be deleted with a simple click, what does that say about me?

One writer, a woman I knew decades ago and with whom I have resumed communication in the past few years, writes an absolutely impeccable blog ( at:
foodfaerie | A topnotch WordPress.com site )

For a person like me, who appreciates the finest use of language, this blog is enveloping on many levels. Yet, it is not well known and there are few comments on each offering. She says she enjoys writing for its own sake even if no one reads her thoughts. But that’s a tough standard for me to meet.

I read an average of one science/technology book per week. With almost every page I hear my self thinking, Oh, this would be great to incorporate into a class discussion. But, I left college teaching four years ago. And still I’m constructing lectures and class discussions. My blog is not intended as a podium for me but as a forum for readers to interact. I suppose it is a grasp at some sort of social life in an otherwise very isolated existence. But the startling ratio of few respondents to many readers has me wondering if most readers are male. Is this retirement?

Some would say retirement erases a sense of purpose. As I’ve written earlier, the “purpose driven life” and the “find your purpose in life” swill drives me crackers. Ontology is not my field. But what am I doing here? And before I ask whether what I’m doing matters, perhaps I should ask where I got the notion anything I or anyone else does is supposed to matter. To whom, or what? Were my careers simply ways of distracting myself so I could get to this point, like reading a book on the subway? No, there’s no train going back where I came from. How and why did I get here? And where is everybody anyway?

Gun Control

Gun Control

by Marco M. Pardi

DISCLOSURE:

I have been a gun owner since age 15. As a highly trained professional I carried various firearms for years. I currently have, and regularly use a Concealed Carry license.

—————————————————————————————————————————————

Some people like to say gun control is using both hands. Cute. But on a serious note, I am a strong advocate of gun control, as I will spell out below. I am also serious about getting guns out of the wrong hands. When I read or see television coverage of, say, two drug dealers shooting each other to death in a deal gone bad my reaction is: Two down, more to go. When I read of an armed robber shot dead by an armed citizen in a convenience store, or a home invader shot dead by the home owner it’s, Hooray for our side. And when a trophy hunter gets stomped by an elephant or munched by a lion or bear, it’s three cheers for the home team. You get the idea.

But I am also appalled by the very obvious poor training “sworn professionals” receive. The media are filled with examples of police officers using their firearms inappropriately, usually with fatal consequences. Less obvious are the risks one runs in going to a neighborhood shooting range. I’ve seen too many examples of inadequate or absent firearms safety and oversight, including among police officers. One can only wonder at the general civilian population and their capacity to safely handle firearms.

Having said all that, the United States have a problem with firearms. One sector of the population holds up the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as if the hand of God wrote it. Never mind that the Republican owned Supreme Court chose to overlook the part about “a well regulated militia”. Another sector, quite likely the majority, wants much more control over guns.

But control over guns is not the only answer, or even the best answer. There are already literally millions of guns in private hands. Imposing controls on the further distribution of guns, especially certain types such as “military style assault weapons” is a visible and partially effective measure. The production and sale of “assault weapons” should be banned. These are fantasy weapons, for adult children who want to play soldier; none of them are approved for military issue and use and only an idiot would keep one for “home defense” or hunting. But, I have some additional suggestions:

  1. Just as we license drivers, we must license all gun owners. The purchase of any firearm, of any kind, would require a license. This would be dependent upon successful completion of a thorough background check and a firearms safety course, paid for by the prospective gun owner. This license must be renewed every five years, all costs borne by the owner.
  2. So how do we enforce this? Enact federal law that no ammunition, of any kind or caliber, can be sold without the licensed seller verifying that the purchaser has a valid and current license. A firearm without ammunition is just an expensive paper weight.
  3. Extend these laws to private sales. Gunshows are highly valued by people wanting to get around background checks. One can go into a gun show, approach a dealer or a private individual who has rented a booth, and “step outside the show” for an unregistered purchase of a gun seen inside the show. So, specify that violation of the federal law banning the sale of a firearm or ammunition to an unlicensed individual carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
      1. There is a significant home industry in re-loading

        ammunition. Subject the sale of equipment and supplies, such as bullets, primers, and propellants to the same licensing requirement spelled out above.

      2. There is a growing interest in and ability to fabricate firearms from synthetic materials by using 3-D printers. Declare the manufacture, possession, or sale of these firearms to be illegal under federal law and carrying a mandatory prison sentence.

Many readers will say these measures do not address the problem of so many guns and so much ammunition already out there. That is largely true. But it is completely true that going apartment to apartment and house to house to register or confiscate these materials is out of the question. Would you like to do it? I bet not. Instead, we are faced with the classic Pig in the Python, the pig being the ammunition and the python being the guns. As the existing ammunition is used the pig moves through the python coming out the other end as useless shell casings. When people use all their ammunition and find they cannot acquire more without a thorough background check and license the frequency of use will decline. Eventually, if the laws are enforced, the problem will solve itself. Some people may dislike that word “eventually”. Welcome to the real world.

For now, the “real” world of America is the unreal world generated by Hollywood and fiction books. It is the armed frontiersman, the itinerant armed cowboy on the ever present horse, the homesteaders who are crack shots. Of course, none of these ever seems to run out of ammunition. The 2nd Amendment was written during the times of flintlock muskets. It had a very specific political goal in mind, and it had specific conditions attached. Contrast that with National Rifle Association practices which enroll children as young as six and place little or no limits on the types of available firearms.

Some people will say my suggestions are Draconian and will hurt the responsible gun owners. Let me personally assure you of something: Getting shot hurts a lot worse.

I’ve kept this entry short because I do not want to turn away the reader with arcane discussions about weapons technology or Byzantine legal systems. I also hope that, since it is short but to the point, readers will take the initiative to respond.

No Refills

                                                  No Refills

                                         by Marco M. Pardi

There are no second chances” Anon.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

Some casual restaurants I’ve been in have menus specifying a no refill policy on drinks. A second drink must be ordered. While that may strike some as rude, I see it as an existential reminder. We can’t just go back and do it over again.

For perhaps the first half of my life the idea of going back and re-living some period was unimportant and not nearly as interesting as whatever would come next. On those occasions when I thought for a moment about possible past mistakes I stared ahead convinced my future actions would greatly eclipse any troubled past. Yet, it seems what is commonly said about aging – an increasing frequency of looking back and wondering what could have been done differently, is true. After all, we have far more behind us than ahead of us.

But every time I’m asked (and there are few of those since I rarely talk with anyone) what I would have done differently I remember when and why I lost confidence in the scientific method: A carefully repeated experiment should yield the same results every time. In fact, it does not; it yields only a macro approximation of the same results. It fails to account for quantum variations. In fact, the well known observer effect ensures no second iteration will truly replicate the original; the second, or third, or whatever experimenter already knows the results of the original experiment and, through a mechanism still not completely understood, skews the outcome of his experiment toward the expected result. The best that can be done is a thoroughly blinded experiment (the original results are hidden). But this, too, presumes the quantum state is “the same”.

When asked what they would have done differently in their lives many people preface their response with, “Knowing what I know now…”. Obviously, that in no way addresses the question of doing things over again. There is no “do-over” unless the entire cosmos does it with you. And then, how would you know? There are hypotheses in modern physics that we continuously repeat each instant, on an endless loop. If so, I sure as hell don’t want to know it.

How about experiencing a special moment again? For better or worse I have a very vivid memory of many, if not most events in my life. I clearly remember the night my daughter was born. Her mother had been in labor for close to 24 hours, I had unknowingly rubbed the small of her back raw. I repeatedly told the nurses the baby was likely a transverse arrest but they could not get the doctor to leave his dinner party and come to the hospital. The doctor finally showed up and I told him the same thing. He looked at me and said, “I have the degree, you don’t”. Moments later he yelled, “Transverse arrest” and rushed my wife into a gruesome surgery which damaged nerves throughout her right leg and caused my daughter to be born with eyes that looked like two deep red grapes. He lost his license soon thereafter.

But what might have been a traumatic event instantly became the transformative event in my life when I first set eyes on my daughter. I had “known” since age 12 I would have a daughter; I had not even considered a name for a male child. In the first instant I saw her the Past disappeared; only she was there. In that instant the Present disappeared; only she was there. And, though the future was more inviting than ever, only she was there. Never before or since have I felt so utterly filled with love.

Now, 47 years later, when I look at her I see the toddler scrambling about in Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, the little girl carrying an uncomplaining cat in a cringe worthy position, defiantly mastering a bike without training wheels, graduating with highest honors from one school after another, and walking down the aisle with me, beneath a white veil. I have to consciously remind myself she is an adult woman and not a montage of countless scenes throughout life. Rightly or wrongly I have always felt I could never recapture that in another child.

After losing physical custody in a hard fought battle I expressed my deep dismay to someone I thought close to me. The reply: “Make another.” I ended that relationship that day.

Another timeless event occurred while I had some spare moments in the Fourth Arrondissement and ducked into Notre Dame cathedral to escape the hot sun. I was aware of the architectural theory underlying Gothic churches: the layout should resemble the human female reproductive anatomy, from the peaked arches of the entrance (labia majora) to the inner doors (labia minora) to the central aisle flanked by pews or chairs (vagina) to the two small divergent aisles and chapels (fallopian tubes and ovaries) and finally to the restricted sanctum (uterus) behind the communion rail where the Mass, particularly the transubstantiation, the change from earthly to divine substance was performed.

Many people assume the floor plan of early and medieval churches is based on the Christian cross. Modern analysis clarifies this: Romans crucified on a T, not a cross; the Christian cross almost certainly derives from the Egyptian Ankh, itself a symbol of eternal life and rebirth as exemplified in the reproductive system of the human female which it models. Modern scholarship is increasingly uncovering the Egyptian roots of much of Christian symbolism and iconography. But we are unlikely to see a refill of that.

I’m not a believer in a god. Nor do I know how much time I passed in Notre Dame. I do know I sat transfixed by the immense North Rosette window. It was as if I had been carried back through life and all that was small and materially real was on this side of the window while all that was immensely and truly real was just beyond my reach outside this window. Shining. Inviting. Just like the perfectly stained and placed pieces of glass, everything in the universe, especially concepts of past, present and future, was in its place, with no need of my help but my presence was some mysterious part of it.

As is always the case, no amount of return trips ever refilled that awe. I could not “Make another.”

But what about those bad moments, those moments we feel doomed to live over and over again? Going through the coverage of the latest school mass shooting I have not seen any mention of this but, after decades of dealing with people and traumatic events I am sure there are still those who counsel “Forget it. Put it out of your mind. Find something else to do.”

That is exactly the wrong thing to say, and the wrong thing to do. Like it or not that glass is broken. It cannot be refilled with a past that was before the incident. Those survivors, young or old, must remember so as to understand the profound and dynamic element which has been irremediably implanted into their evolving personas. Without that clear memory, and without the continuous but carefully metered process of analyzing how that memory of a “past” event is a dynamic part of their “present” life they will not understand the sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle ways these memories drive their behaviors toward themselves and others. We’ve become too accustomed to softening reality with euphemisms. People no longer die, they pass away. Of course, the implication is they pass into some other form, retaining their persona all the while. Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. What we do know is they aren’t moving on their own, and we will either have to move them or move ourselves pretty soon.

We have become too accustomed to the extreme outcomes from PTSD, the suicides, the violence against others, the substance abuse and addiction. And so we miss the subtle influences and changes in a person’s make-up and behavior. I grew up with the influences of all out war shaping my family’s view of the world and how we should live. We lived through it in WWII Italy. Included in those influences was the overall view I held toward casualties, including children and those less able or unable to care for and protect themselves. I had a Yeah, that happens in war attitude toward those casualties. Years of exposure to television ads for relief of starving and sick children in various parts of the world only re-enforced my view that, Yeah, some people are lucky and some people aren’t.

What I did not realize, until the slaughter of first and second graders at Sandy Hook, was how deeply the birth of my daughter had affected me. To this day I cannot see the video of the children filing away from the school, hands on the shoulders of those in front of them, expressions of terror on their faces, without seeing my daughter at that age and wanting to rush in and wrap them in safety. The first time I saw the video and felt that all encompassing drive I came to realize I must be feeling empathy. That glass had never been sampled in this way, if at all. Now, I find myself hard pressed to hold my emotions as I watch coverage of people who have lost their children to one mishap, murder, or senseless carelessness after another. I see the children pulled bloodied from bombed and gassed buildings in the Middle East and want to stop the senseless violence. Yet, I’ve never had a thought for the terror expressed by my older brother as we listened for errant bombers over our supposedly “Open city” in Italy. Years after the war was officially over and we were in the U.S. he still hid himself when airplanes flew over our home to and from the airport.

I see children going hungry and wasting from nutrition related diseases while we as a nation throw out tons of food daily. I see children in desperate poverty largely brought on by religious intolerance of contraception. And, I dare not start on the abuses we heap on our non-human co-inhabitants of this demented world.

So, at times I worry I’ve become the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, with buckets of empathy spilling over and refilling themselves beyond my ability to control. I apparently have a deep reservoir of frustration. And each passing day I might for a moment feel it has emptied itself. But then, it refills when I allow my attention to focus on our reality.

Imaginary Friends

                                      Imaginary Friends

                                                       by Marco M. Pardi

A friend is a second self” Aristotle.

All comments are welcome, and will receive a response.

Everything I’ve read about early childhood development indicates having an imaginary friend, or friends, is normal. Normal? Although certainly a candidate for such a phenomenon, I never had an imaginary friend. Wow, talk about getting picked last for the team, or not at all. But, the whole Cosmos?

So, I learned about this later in life, like I learned that many people dream in black and white. Surely these must be people who didn’t have color tv?

I also learned some people talk in their sleep. Long ago and far away, on a bona fide Category 1 Alert, I had to temporarily bunk with two other guys. That made for really crowded quarters but, working solo and only at night I was on a different schedule. Quietly preparing to leave for duty late one night I noticed that one of the two sleeping guys was mumbling something. I was certain he was asleep but I engaged him with a question. As he answered, the other guy started talking, answering the comments the first guy made in response to my question. Curious, I coached a bit more and by the time I quietly left they were in conversation with each other. I was positive then, and now, they were asleep. The next day they each said they remembered nothing of it.

I think the term friend is applied too easily and has been for long before Facebook. How many times have you heard someone referring to a friend of theirs and, when you asked the name, they said, Uh, I can’t remember just now? What about this person qualified them for the category Friend? I think the term acquaintance is not only more appropriate, but more likely accurate. Yes, I realize that word is multi-syllabic and therefore too inconvenient for many. In a society fueled by grunts it is unlikely to gain currency.

Some years ago I worked with a man who told me he had a girlfriend for sex and a girlfriend for intelligent conversation. So I asked him, Where does your wife fit in all of this? His answer: Oh, you know. Family, kids and all that. Of course, it’s also too easy to presume that every relative is a friend. When facing pressure to attend a relative’s party or other function I have long been in the habit of asking myself, If this person were not a relative, would I have them as a friend? It’s interesting to see how the balance of answers plays out.

I was reminded of those two sleep talkers when I visited a cousin at his home in Newport, Rhode Island. This guy is a relative and a friend, though he and I both seem to understand we can take just so much of each other. Short visits are best.

Several of us gathered before dinner in his upstairs drawing room filled floor to ceiling with centuries of art and antiques mostly from Central and Eastern Europe. Watching everyone settle their modern physiques into ancient furniture, my gaze fell upon a “something in this picture doesn’t belong” object. It seemed to be a truncated plastic cone sitting on a table probably once owned by some moustachioed potentate. As I was about to ask the provenance of this exquisite object my cousin said, “Alexa….” and asked “her” to play Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto in B Flat Minor. A very lovely voice agreed to do this and in an instant we were transported. Thereafter I found it was possible to engage Alexa in basic conversations. You just have to know how to appropriately phrase questions and statements; a bit like conversing with a stranger.

Still warm inside from that marvelous voice, I found that Google had come out with a similar device. Of course, my first thought was to get them both in a room and try to get them talking to each other. Admittedly, my inspiration came not simply from the sleep talkers cited above, but largely from Alan Turing. The polymath who spear headed the cracking of the German Enigma code, Turing is also considered by many to be the father of the modern computer. Turing’s central dream, before he was driven to take his own life, was to develop a computer of such sophistication that a human, in a blinded test, would be unable to determine if he was communicating with another person or with a machine. Some readers will recognize this as a central theme in the recent television re-make of Westworld. Much attention in the series is placed on the cosmetics, the human appearance and movement of the cyborgs. More on that later, but my focus is on whether the software in the Amazon device and the Google device could be tweaked such that placing them in the same room we could present each of them with the Turing test; could we ask them to tell us if they are communicating with a human or with a computer. Could they become friends? Would they argue? (Of course, a chaperone would be present to prevent untoward outcomes like little plastic devices popping out all over the room.)

The possibility that one plus one might equal more than two got me scanning my bookcases for Ray Kurzweil’s book, The Singularity is Near. A dense but readable tome, Kurzweil outlines and explains how we, albeit unknowingly, have marched to the edge of a new domain in which the equation will be reversed: Machines which had hitherto accepted instructions from Man and existed only as products of Man begin issuing their own instructions, including to Man, and begin constructing their own machines with intelligence and capabilities beyond our ability to understand. I have long thought many of us are already there. An avid fan and owner of sports/racing cars since my teens, I continually marveled at acquaintances who had no idea what happens between the ignition key and the wheels. “Somebody does” seemed to be the dismissive answer.

But to be frank, I have little to no idea what happens between my keyboard and the monitor I’m watching. By the way, I never went to secretarial school so I’m a few finger typer and I have to look at the keys, pausing to see if what I think I’ve (written?) makes sense. With voice command software I wonder if I could get Alexa to write my blog for me, or would it be far too atmospheric for the meager 3 pound jelly bean in my skull. Would you be able to tell?

Getting back to the perfectly realistic androids of West World, Japan has made amazing advances in this area, even developing a sex android that enables the user to simulate rape. Should that be off the market, or should it be considered a deterrent, a kind of release valve for those who would rape humans in its absence?

I’m well beyond the age where a mere assemblage of parts inspires me to do the Hokey Pokey. But I never considered that a basis for friendship anyway. What Kurzweil predicts is an autonomous (mind?) of such capacity as to leave me standing with ignition key in hand asking, What do I do now? Now THAT is exciting. But of course, we all know of the advent of self-driving cars. My question is: What happens when my car gets mad at me, perhaps for leering at the Aston Martin in the next lane?

As for looks, we’ve all heard someone say, Looks don’t matter. I’m not pushing Beauty and the Beast but I am seriously doubtful that that statement has no limits. But the age old question applies: What do you see in that person? I’ve had some friends, and still do. They are a very tiny percentage of my acquaintances. But this tiny percentage spans a rather large spectrum of easily apparent traits. The common denominator among these friends is a profoundly intellectual mind, the secret in plain sight. Over the years I’ve not been at all surprised when some acquaintances and certain relatives dismissed my friends as strange or out for something. Physically attractive female friends were dismissed as passing sex interests. Obviously, it takes a mind to recognize a mind.

If completely autonomous and self-conscious androids with emotional ranges to match mine were developed would they be a good choice as a friend? Up into my late teens I was a “hide my light” kind of kid. But I slowly opened up and even college was mostly a sleeper. However, what would a friendship be like with “someone” who could learn, understand, and apply an idea in a minuscule fraction of the time it takes me, if I do it at all? Before her death a woman lived and traveled several years with me. We were seamlessly matched, often deeply engaged in cooperative conversations into dawn of the next day. Of course, those acquaintances and relatives cited earlier presumed it was mainly sexual. As the saying goes, When you know only a hammer everything’s a nail.

I suspect some people with android friends may have a problem reconciling the onset of aging in themselves while the android is, physically, just as originally assembled. And, as the human mental function declines we might see the android having to ascend to a caretaker role. After all, we see versions of this play out in human to human relationships; one partner’s performance declines while the other remains basically vigorous. Unless you have a Galapagos tortoise or certain species of parrot for pets you experience similar disparities with your pets.

I have to cut this short for today. The toaster has plans.

Destabilized

                                           Destabilized

                                      by Marco M. Pardi

Remember, behind every silver lining, there’s a dark cloud.” George Carlin.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

This piece arises from an exchange of comments on the previous piece, particularly those of Austin and Julie. Specifically, the comments suggested an ongoing evolution of technology leading to a significant break with forms of human communication employed to this point. This theme has been growing in strength for some time; we nod knowingly when someone tells us even young children are so absorbed in their devices – Iphones, Ipads, and other technology enabling social media communication that they have either forgotten or never gained actual social skills. And, a great deal of space has been given to discussions of what appears to be the growing incivility of these electronically based communications.

Let’s assume for the moment the exchanges, especially on social media, have become cruder and more virulent. (While I’m sure many readers would say, “But of course they have” we might consider those readers may not have known the kids I knew so long ago. The same vulgarity, indeed the same vocabulary has been around for a long time.) Some blame this purported increase in vulgarity directed personally on the anonymity offered by screen names, and some say it is a general change in the culture. In some ways this controversy raises the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: Different languages produce different ways of thinking. For Sapir-Whorf to be relevant we would need to stipulate that the language employed by people using electronic means is somehow a different language or, at least, a form which forces or facilitates a different way of thinking. As mentioned above, I see no measurable difference in thinking. If there is a difference to be found it is in the willingness to express one’s thoughts.

But this raises another parallel. We have elsewhere considered the ageless question, Did crazy Johnny go off to war, or did war make Johnny crazy? Has there been a large reservoir of nasty people just waiting for an anonymous medium through which they could express their nastiness? Or, did the appearance of such a medium make some people nasty?

Although born in the early 1940’s, my command of American English flowered in the 1950’s. I well remember the proscriptions, especially in mass media, against saying certain words: pregnant was “in a family way” or, racier, “expecting”; menstruation was “time of the month”; and, at least one newscaster pronounced helicopter as heelicopter. Apparently it was too close to a forbidden word. Even common words could be problematic. An example comes from the exquisite 1932 Packard Twelve automobile with driver adjustable suspension via a plunger in the dashboard. An engraved plaque above the plunger read: IN-HARD : OUT-SOFT. That plaque lasted only slightly longer than the act it suggested.

Times seemed to be changing, however, when I entered the Air Force in January of ’61. While marching my Flight (85 men) across the training base I heard my WAF (Women in the Air Force) counterparts loudly berating their marching Flights with, “There’s ten thousand swingin’ dicks on this base and you ain’t gonna’ get a one less’en you get in step!!” Or, “When those left feet hit the ground I wanna’ hear them pussies suck air!!” Do young women even know these words? Colorful. Intimidating. But for some reason I just couldn’t match those inspiring words. Nor could I work up the nerve to even say Hello to my female counterparts. Since we often halted our Flights right next to each other outside the mess hall I had the opportunity to speak to the WAF Flight Commanders. But, I felt I would probably need my teeth for the meal. Still, I never took their attitude personally. Probably a good thing since on one of my assignments I had a colleague/part-time girl friend who was a British WRAC (Women’s Royal Army Corps). Born and raised in London’s notorious East End, she was lovely in a lithe but deadly sort of way. And, when even slightly irked, she would emit an unbroken, non-repeating string of words that would dull a porcupine’s quills at 50 meters.

But really, with the general loosening up just starting with Hugh Hefner’s ongoing manifestos in Playboy magazine (begun in the ’50’s), Lenny Bruce (convicted in 1964 of obscenity in speech), George Carlin (Seven Dirty Words), and Richard Pryor media began reflecting what was daily speech for many. Not only is the term pregnant acceptable now, the afternoon soap operas will show you how to get there. So, are the media catching up with culture change, or are the media driving culture change?

I’m not convinced that merely knowing the words leads to using the words. My vocabulary is fairly extensive and I sometimes arrange terms in unusual ways. In the military I occasionally heard two airmen square off in a contest known as the “Dirty Dozens”. Essentially, one throws an insult at the other. The other responds with a deeper level of insult. As a crowd gathers, which it invariably did, the insults fly back and forth until one speaker could not match or exceed the last insult of the other speaker. The outdone speaker then yielded, although the reaction of the crowd ratified the winner. Even though the two participants were nearly nose to nose no fists got thrown, and generally the insults drew huge laughs, even from the participants. And that was basically the point. The participants were playing to the audience to see who could score the best laugh line at the expense of the other. There were no vicious attacks in those laugh lines. Situation defused.

One interesting feature of these contests was that unusually foul language and actual name calling rarely occurred. In fact, the person who was truly in the wrong may emerge as the winner simply by the finesse of language implying authority and correctness. But winner was a relative term as most observers knew who was at fault.

I try hard to avoid the flame thrower exchanges I see on social media sites. I feel I do not gain anything from spending my time with them; on the contrary, they demean me as an audience member. And I have zero tolerance for the Argumentum ad Hominem tactic so often used: even relatively poorly educated Dirty Dozens combatants rarely reduced themselves to that level.

Undeniably we are exposed to and therefore aware of changes in the communication patterns we see around us. But the willingness to use foul and aggressive language has long been there. Yes, finger flick media devices, especially when registered to absurd “screen names” enable the proliferation of foul, aggressive, and even a sort of primitive communication. But providing the means is different from providing the motivation.

On other sites I have encountered people who embody the worst of the hiding sniper. I once informed a site manager that a particular comment, being clearly libelous, could bring a law suit against a site even if the person who posted the comment could not be identified. The comment was quickly withdrawn. But again, I just do not find this new. More frequent, certainly, but not new.

Is our communication pattern changing toward a more abrupt, even primitive level? I can see it narrowing. I assigned written papers in my classes. Most were submitted from a word processing program. Few were handed in written. Not thinking much about it I wrote, in longhand, comments on the papers before handing them back. One student startled me by coming up and asking me to read my comments to him. He explained that he had not been taught how to read cursive. Do they not teach that in primary school anymore. Did he get through high school like this? Is a printed name a legal signature? Does anyone care?

Some have expressed concern that our electronic communications are narrowing our speech patterns, therefore possibly our thinking patterns. Many media limit characters; Twitter is a good example. I’m not much into electronic social media, despite this blog. I barely know how to use MyFace and Your Tube and will never use Twitter or Instagram. But writing is not language. Writing is the recording of language. And, this too is nothing new. In various intelligence operations one strictly observes the communications protocol, especially when transmitting over un-encrypted media: brief and precise. That’s been around since smoke signals. But that does not mean the intelligence operative conducts everyday conversations in such ways. Granted, I’ve known some ex-military who try to do this, but they just haven’t grown up.

In my schooling I was taught Latin was the most efficient Western language. It had the most stand-alone morphemes capable of conveying a complete idea. A modern language study was carried out by University of Lyon researchers François Pellegrino, Christophe Coupé, and Egidio Marsico using English, French, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Mandarin, and German. They listened to speakers reading aloud at their normal cadence and devised formulas for determining “information rate” per syllable. Surprisingly, English came out on top, with Japanese a distant last place.

Looking back at screen names reminds of the inside names given to Presidents. Most people are aware of Secret Service designations for each President. But within the “7th floor” crowd at the Central Intelligence Agency one hears far more amusing designations: John F. Kennedy was “Mattress Jack”. Guess who is “Tweety Bird”.