An Experiment In Scotch

I write to discover what I believe

Month: January 2012

Friday Night At The Experiment

Feeling melancholy with the north wind blowing…

Wagner

The Louvin Brothers

Etta

RIP, Etta. I wouldn’t have known you but for another and both are gone now.

Punishing the Many To Capture The Few

Imagine if you will a society where the following is possible. You take your hard earned dollars to a bank. You deposit your checks, write checks to your creditors, pay your electric bill, maybe even have a savings account or two. Hundreds of other people in your community do the same. The bank is profitable and popular. It serves the purpose of being a bank to many citizens. However, unbeknownst to you and the fine upstanding community members who use the bank, there are a few people who use the bank to launder money. They sell drugs or run prostitution rings or whatever, then deposit the money in the bank. They use the money to buy other non-illegal items like real estate or whatever the hot new item is that money launderers use this year for their dirty money.

The Feds get wind of this situation. They embark on a 2 year investigation into the money launderers, tracking their movements, their actions, their dirty money laundering. After 2 years, they have enough evidence to know who these people are and decide the time is right to take action. They swoop in but instead of arresting the people who are laundering money, they shut down the bank, confiscate all the accounts and money in the bank, arrest 8 of the executives and then flip the middle finger to everyone involved. The money launderers decide it’s high time to retire to Antigua for a few years and hop on the next plane out of town. Meanwhile, you can’t get any of your money. Your electric gets cut off, a big hairy dude with a Dirty Harry revolver comes and repos your car and the sheriff shows up to kick you out of your house because you haven’t paid your mortgage.

That doesn’t sound like a very sound way to go about chasing down money launderers does it? If we lived in a society like that, you’d think shit had really hit the fan and that maybe we were fundamentally broken in a way that worked hard to punish as many people as possible regardless of innocence or guilt, just to get at money launderers, who in the grand scheme of things, aren’t really that dangerous. Sure, they’re breaking the law and should be punished but it would take a real fascist to justify the collateral damage involved in shutting down a bank, just to get money launderers.

Sadly, that’s the society we live in now as it relates to online piracy of movies and music. Yesterday, the Feds shut down a site called MegaUpload which without a doubt contributed to online piracy in some way but which also served a much larger and more benign purpose: sharing files. Today, all the people who used MegaUpload as a file sharing format in good faith have exactly ZERO access to their files. We are living in an increasingly connected and centralized world where the powers of a fascist government can have far reaching effects on innocent victims all in the name of solving a problem not that many people are interested in solving. And in fact, the only reason we are trying to solve it is because the people who ARE interested in the problem are extremely powerful and rich, a dangerous combination in a political system run by the rich and powerful and power hungry.

The Feds didn’t need SOPA or PIPA or anything else to shut down MegaUpload. The Internet isn’t free today, regardless of the SOPA protest worldwide on Wednesday. Our government can, at will, freely inflict a great deal of pain on large populations of innocent people in the name of tracking down online pirates. The heavy handedness is astounding.

Justice is founded on many principles but one of its pillars is the idea that it is more important not to convict a single innocent person than it is to let all the guilty in the world go free. As rational, just, decent creatures, it should be far more pressing to ensure no innocents are ever convicted even if it means letting some guilty parties go free. No just system can be based on anything else. And yet, our government no longer seems to be a just system of governance. From the benefits and collusion of those on Wall Street with those at the highest levels of governance to this latest episode of shutting down a site that happens to facilitate online piracy occasionally, we are seeing that justice seems to be rarely served at all and when it is, it’s almost always off the mark.

I wrote an essay earlier today about trying to avoid the urge to blow things up and start over. I truly believe that’s the best way to solve things. But a government that ignores the need to be just will foment anger and hatred among the governed, anger and hatred that very well may boil over into the streets. It seems like hyperbole to think that the shutting down of MegaUpload will cause civil unrest but eventually, there will be a straw too heavy for the camel to continue. I hope we can come to some alternate conclusion before that happens.

Some People Are Just Baby Tossers

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand portrayed a society where the best and the brightest people essentially picked up their proverbial basketball and went home, leaving the rest of us struggling, mediocre morons to fend for ourselves as said society broke down (she also seemed to favor situations where women got raped, possibly a window into her extremism). It was an exceptionally popular book when it was written and to this day holds a certain appeal among young adolescent males (I know, I thought for sure I was an Objectivist for most of my 20s). It details an appealing view, a utopia where only the best and the brightest can live and survive, always making rational decisions that further the utopia in its quest for rational perfection. It’s attractive because who amongst us haven’t looked at some situation, whether it’s the political process, the financial industry or the screaming three year old who refuses to take a poop anywhere but in his pants and thought “Screw it, I’m throwing in the towel, consequences be damned, and starting over. It’s just not worth it to fix it.”

The desire to start over is strong. It’s the appeal of the blank slate, the chance to make all the right decisions this time, to explore new boundaries without the constraints of previous mistakes and silly ideas like the law. It’s the dirty little hope we have when we wish for people to get what they deserve because doing what’s required to fix the system is harder work than we’d like to bother with. It’s the preparation of the survivalists who assuming the shit ever hits the fan hard enough all think they are going to blend off into the woods, leaving the rest of us to suffer as civilization breaks down.

It’s nice to fantasize about people getting what they deserve for being bumbling, ill-advised inactive blobs of protoplasm and uselessness. However, here in the real world, not only is that not feasible, it is typically counter productive, more likely to lead to chaos than it is to improvement. When you hope SOPA passes “because that’s exactly what we need to wake up from this slumbering, do-nothing, “occupy everything,” stagnant, non-action slump we Americans are in”, you’re essentially saying “you people deserve to be punished because you can’t find the time to stand up and fix things, I hope you rot in hell” (you’re also saying you fundamentally misunderstand the Occupy movements but maybe we’ll discuss that at a later point).

Does the author really think SOPA passing is going to be the eye opener when the financial crisis of 2008 wasn’t? Does he think internet censorship will make things completely different when the President assassinating US citizens didn’t? Does he think utopia will be established after SOPA passes and we see the light when Fed expanding its balance sheet by trillions of dollars enabling banking executives to continue to reap lavish bonuses while the rest of us slogged along in 1% interest land didn’t?

It’s fun to get your panties in a wad about SOPA (if you don’t know what SOPA is, it’s Congress’ latest heavy handed tactic to fellate the movie and recording industry by trying to shut down piracy. Read more about it here) and go off on a tangent about the lazy, complacent Americans who can’t bother to stand up and change things. But the reality of the situation is that lots and lots of Americans have been standing up over the past several years and actually implementing change. And that change is happening, albeit at likely too slow a pace to please the folks like the author linked above who would prefer some sort of punctuated equilibrium to occur in the political process. The Tea Party rose out of the financial crisis and lots of those folks are working hard behind the scenes to get people elected in an attempt to change the politics of the nation. Occupy Wall Street rose out a desire in a large group of people to protest what they saw as an unfair playing field, one that enabled the cheaters and manipulators to succeed while normal people continued to suffer. The protests of SOPA actually convinced several Congresscritters to remove their support for the bill including one who actually co-sponsored it.

The complaint comes up that these things will happen again, that Congress will try to shill for the recording lobby again and that defeating SOPA is just treating the symptom instead of the cause of the disease.

My problem with this huge online protest against SOPA, and the reason I rarely take part in such protests, is because it doesn’t address any problems, only the symptom. The problem isn’t this shitty bill, it’s the people who sponsored it. So we protest this bill today, bang enough pots and pans to shame a few backers into not letting this bill pass, then what? Those same dipshits who wrote this legislation still have jobs. They’re going to try again, and again, and again until some mutation of this legislation passes. They’ll sneak it into an appropriation bill while nobody’s looking during recess, because there’s too much lobbyist money at stake for them not to. We defeat SOPA today, only to face it again tomorrow. It’s like trying to stop a cold by blowing your nose. It’s time we go after the virus.

The problem with that analogy is that once you have a virus, you’ve just got the virus. There’s no going after it, not in the sense he means. You can only do things to mitigate the effects of the virus. Of course, you can develop a vaccine for a virus that prevents people from getting it but let’s face it, the virus of politics probably doesn’t lend itself to vaccination. People don’t go into politics to fix the world, they go into politics because they are power hungry individuals who love to listen to themselves talk (except Ron Paul. Well, maybe even Ron Paul but the jury is still out). Instead, you treat a virus by always being vigilant and aware, watching for outbreaks and squashing them at the fastest rate you can.

That’s the better analogy for what’s going on in American politics today. We have become infected by a political virus that thrived for decades on ignorance, continued prosperity of the middle class and the growing complexity in regulation of the US Government. But over the past few years, the people of America (in admittedly slow and sometimes odd ways) have decided that enough is enough. We aren’t to a boiling point yet, where we have millions of people marching on Washington or civil unrest (none of which is out of the question or even that unlikely I’m afraid) but things ARE changing. The blowback on SOPA shows that.

Life will never be rational and clean like so many of the “blow it all up and start over” folks want it to be. Fixing the system from within is hard, long, tedious work, work that may not ever be finished. But throwing up our hands and saying “I hope SOPA passes because that’s what we deserve” is like saying telling a lung cancer patient “I hope the radiation and chemo fail because that’s what you deserve”. Regardless of how we got here, regardless of what ignorance we accepted and encouraged, regardless of the criticality of the disease (and trust me, I think this patient is insanely sick, possibly terminally), we have to treat the patient in the best way we know how until he’s better or dies. Throwing up our hands and declaring premature defeat is a sure way to a disastrous end that serves no one but the parasites best interests. The very fact that practically the entire internet rose up Wednesday and said “enough is enough” in response to SOPA should be not a cause for despair, but a slight ray of hope in a long, arduous treatment of chemotherapy that our political process must go through to make the patient whole again.

Meditations On Being A Bad Meditator

The line between being a meditator and a mediator is a fine one. I am not a mediator other than in disputes of which cat threw up on the couch and and internal discussions concerning my justifications for switching from coffee to tea. See, this is why I’m a bad meditator, already this post is off the rails when all I wanted to do was sit down and focus on a single thing. Which is never true.

I’ve taken up meditating again as a defense mechanism to the anxiety driven daymares I have upon waking up each morning, daymares in which I’m not particularly good at anything. So, what I choose to do is partake in an activity that I’m, and I’m being completely frank here, terrible at. I’m treating performance anxiety with an activity that increases performance anxiety. Perfect. And when I call myself a meditator, I mean that in the same sense that someone might call me a piano player or French speaker or litter box cleaner, i.e it’s not something I do on a regular basis, regular enough to even be competent at it.

Still, I have this odd conviction that if I could only focus on my breath for a ten count up and then back down, twenty in all, my concentration abilities would be through the roof and thus, I could stop concentrating on failure and concentrate instead on creating the next great American novel or even a clean litter box. For the past 10 mornings (including weekends, a sign of my temporary commitment), I’ve gotten up and meditated for twenty minutes in an attempt to calm the existential hum that has taken over the radio signals of my brain. Kurt Vonnegut coined the phrase “existential hum” as his description for the constant buzz that exists in our brains all the time, the demands and worries of our daily lives rattling the anxiety noisemakers at full blast. Or maybe it’s just Vonnegut and I that have that problem. Regardless, he said the only time he was able to actually extinguish the hum was when he was doing heroin. Not knowing any heroin dealers, I chose a slightly different path in trying to learn how to meditate the hum away.

Awareness meditation involves focusing on the breath for a period of time, in my case I chose twenty minutes, which is turning into a rather lofty goal The book I’m reading on meditation describes a process where you say in-1 on the in breath and out on the out-1 breath, repeating for all numbers up to ten and then counting back down again. This seems like a fairly simple proposition in its description but when each day increases the level of anxiety you’re dealing with (for reasons that may or may not become clear as this essay continues, it all depends on whether I can stay focused that long) and you gave up drinking for the first quarter of 2012, suddenly it’s extremely hard to ignore all that and just think “I’m going to count my breaths for twenty minutes.”

Let’s face it, in our daily world, the moments of quiet and concentration are almost non-existent which is one thing I’m enjoying about the Internet blackout today in protest of SOPA. I have decided I will just take the day off from Facebook and Twitter and possibly email if I can manage it though frankly, none of this will change my non-existent ability to meditate tomorrow morning for twenty minutes. During my times of sitting on the floor in the mornings, I have found that my mind can wander to the strangest of things as well as the most mundane, all apparently in a diabolical effort to keep me from my stated goal of focus and concentration. I think about the heater coming on or the aforementioned litter box that hasn’t been cleaned or the fact that the dog farted (a recurrent theme lately in my writing, not sure he’s getting anymore rawhide bones) to whatever else means I don’t have to sit there and think in-1, out-1, in-2, out-2.

Last Friday, I attended a staging of La Bête, a play inspired by the French playwright Molière. The central theme of La Bête pits two characters against one another. The first is Elomire, a man staked like a dog in the middle of the yard to a set of principles he holds dear. I like to think of this type of character as The Martyr. His principles are his raison d’être, fundamental not only to his vision of the world but to his interactions with his friends and patron. He is a man blind to consequences. The second is Valere. He is the prototypical stage Fool, an archetype of the theater and in the case of La Bête, the foil to Elomire’s idea of principles and The Right. Valere is interested in pleasing people and having a good time, ideas obviously anathema to the purity of Elomire.

The entire play is an examination of the conflict between these two archetypes, the Martyr and the Fool. This conflict is prominent through a great deal of the world’s literature. The stoic Martyr, ever attached to the Principle, marches on towards, alternatively, world peace, catharsis or doom. The Fool goes about his business entertaining people by appealing to their animal desires, ignoring his place in the great drama (even in a comedy!). It is the epitome of High Brow versus Low Brow and involves all the tsk-tsking and “frowning down the nose” of the elites and their Principles. Tellingly, the Martyr is never a happy, fulfilled character other than in his own tortured psyche. How could he be? He consistently and persistently sacrifices that which makes us human at the altar of his beliefs. The Martyr is invariably found unlikeable at the end of this particular play as he has spent the entire time going around saying “you SHOULD” and “you NEED” and “it’s the Principle of the matter”. In the play (and in my experience), people who plead their case by imploring others based on guilt end up taking the long walk upstage alone because, well, those people aren’t much fun to drink beer with (they probably think drinking beer is a waste of ones intellect).

The Fool has his problems too. The world would be a sad place if it was ruled by Fools (leaving aside the fact that Western Civilization IS apparently ruled by Fools at this juncture in history). It’s the Martyrs that drive change in their annoyingly insufferable ways. To live a Fool’s life is to live a life without much meaning. The Fool goes off on his merry way, totally unaware of his lack of depth, living a life completely unexamined. For many of us, we struggle between the two roles, on one hand hoping to truly change something in the world, on the other, just getting by because let’s face it, changing the world isn’t only hard, it’s largely thankless and God knows your son just wants you to come home and throw the football to him after work.

Of late, I have taken this dramatical conflict and applied it to my mental behavior where on one side (undoubtedly the left one), I feel the need for constant improvement and progress, to learn new things, to see new worlds, to be able to sit on the damn floor for 20 minutes and just focus on my breath. On the other side (or more likely, in the amygdala, that center for all things emotional and animal-like), I want to sit on the couch with a double rum and coke watching reruns of Two and A Half Men until I black out. So I’ve taken to meditating in an attempt to mediate the conflict between the two. It’s just not going so well.

If you’ve never tried to meditate (or pray for an extended period of time if you prefer things more religious in nature), it’s shockingly difficult. Not deadlift 300 pounds difficult but still, exceptionally hard. The mind, if left to its own devices, prefers to just flit along on the mental scenic byway stopping for a scenic overlook here or an interesting diner there, until it’s time to go to bed again and nothing has been accomplished. To focus on a single thing for even 5 minutes is excruciating. Or maybe that’s just my Twitter addiction talking. I’ll count up to about three and then discover that I’m thinking about an unfinished essay. Then I’ll vow mentally to redouble my efforts, start over and then only make it to two the next time. Clearly, things are not improving.

Without getting into the actual detail since there’s no sense in providing detail of an event that may or may not happen, the anxiety I’m attempting to deal with through meditation instead of alcohol regards my application to become part of something life changing in the same way the lottery might be life changing but in a much more intellectually fulfilling way. And with the same approximate odds of success. So logically, my left-side, Martyr character brain says that there is no point in obsessing about it, let’s try to improve things by becoming aware of the fact we’re breathing. Of course, the amygdala, ever present since there is no telling when you’ll need to fight or run like hell, keeps telling me to focus entirely on the event that may or may not happen and thus, degrades my ability to concentrate even more than the already pitiful level.

On the plus side, this morning during my not particularly successful breath awareness meditation session, I did manage to work out a thorny issue I was having with an entirely different 2000 word essay. Unfortunately, the solution involves deleting it completely and starting over. Still, minor plus sides that involve deleting 3 hours and 2500 words of work aside, thus far, the meditation treatment plan doesn’t seem to be particularly successful. Malcolm Gladwell thinks that it might take 10,000 hours to become truly proficient at something. If that’s true, I’ll be proficient somewhere around March 10th, 2094. No wonder people take Paxil.

Of course, long before I turn 121, this anxiety invoking event will be decided one way or the other and life can go on. Anxiety seems to be a function of indecision. When you come to a fork in the road, anxiety takes over until you make up your damn mind which direction you’re going to go. If you aren’t at all in charge of making the decision, the anxiety worsens. This is why Robert Frost was such a good poet, he just always took the road less traveled and didn’t worry much about it. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the position where the course of my life lies in someone else’s hands. Not since I applied to college have I felt completely powerless regarding my future and even then, I didn’t particularly care that much about what college I went to since all I really wanted to do was keep playing soccer.

In the end, I will probably continue to meditate for twenty minutes each morning until I don’t. They say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. If that’s the case, I’ll be a full fledged novice meditator on February 1st and can surely look forward to a breakthrough on that day when I manage to count to five breaths without thinking about my legs falling asleep.

Why I'm Not A Football Christian

Does God know particulars? Before you answer that, take a moment to consider the ramifications of the answer, both pro and con. Like answering the question “Did you ever get caught masturbating in the closet?”, any answer you come up with is a net loss if you’re a Believer (or a closet masturbator). If you answer yes, God does know particulars, the implications are staggering to the concept of individual freedom, choice and whether God is actually very nice at all. If you answer no, you’re implying that God isn’t omniscient, that some things unfold without His knowledge and suddenly you have to be OK with some significant changes to the general understanding of Him. What exactly is my point? I hope to convince you that while God may be intimately interested in Tim Tebow as a human being, his interest in the outcome of particular events that Tim Tebow is involved in, particularly football games, is non-existent if we are to believe God really is a loving God who wants us all to succeed and that if He is not, then we’ve got generally bigger problems to deal with from a religious standpoint. Specifically, any resulting numbers from any football games that loosely correspond to Tim Tebow’s favorite Bible verse are completely coincidental and our noticing them tells us more about our own personal biases than it does about God’s interest in football games.

This past Sunday, the Denver Broncos, led by their quarterback and exceptionally open Christian Tim Tebow, defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in a playoff game. The Broncos were large underdogs in the game meaning no one, not even the very smart people in Las Vegas, gave them much chance to win the game at all. (As an aside, that part about the smart people in Vegas thinking anything about who was going to win or not isn’t technically true but for the matter at hand, we can let it pass.) All week leading up to the game, the focus was on how bad Tim Tebow, and by extension the Broncos, had played in the previous game. He had gone 6 for 22 and 60 yards with zero touchdowns and one interception. In a game that values completions and yards and touchdowns scored, this was not good. All the talking heads assumed that the vaunted Steelers defense would dominate the game even though Ryan Clark, an integral part of that defense, was not playing due to a life threatening blood disease that had forced the removal of his gall bladder and spleen after playing in Denver in 2007. The talking heads also assumed that even though the Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a bad ankle injury and their starting running back was done for the season with an ACL tear from the previous week’s game and their staring center was not playing due to an ankle injury, the Steelers offense would produce enough points to beat the anemic Denver Broncos, maybe 13-3 or something.

Of course, this is not what happened, otherwise I’d have no real impetus for writing this essay. The Broncos scored 29 points including 6 in the overtime courtesy of an 80 yard touchdown to win the game outright and the mighty Steelers were sent packing while the lowly Broncos, led by Tim Tebow, the evangelical Christian, moved on to the divisional round of the playoffs. In the game, Tebow threw for 316 yards. He averaged 31.6 yards per pass completion. And finally, the game’s TV ratings was 31.6 Because we as humans tend to find patterns in everything, it was immediately noted that these were the numbers for John 3:16, one of the most quoted and influential passages in Christianity.

This caused “tebow 316” to blow up on Google and for a lot of what I’m assuming are normally very intelligent people to go slightly, or completely, crazy. People started saying things like “I still think it’s ironic that he threw for 316 yards” on Facebook, displaying for all the world that people still think Alanis Morissette was a poetic genius given the fundamental misunderstanding of irony. Pastors on the web said things like “I don’t know if it is necessarily an act of God, but I don’t think anything happens by accident either”, fundamentally misunderstanding the idea of causation. Things that aren’t accidents imply intention and with intention comes reason. If it wasn’t an accident, Someone came up with a very elaborate mathematical plan. Lots and lots of normal people hungry to find any concrete example that God loves us grasped at the fact that numbers 3, 1, and 6 showed up 3 times in various forms during the game.

Now, before we dive into an examination of whether God really does love Tim Tebow enough (and by extensions hates the Pittsburgh Steelers) to influence the outcome of a human football game, let’s look back at the original question, does God know particulars? This is a thorny question integral to discussions in religion and philosophy for hundreds of years, not only in Christianity but also in the Arabic and Judaic worlds as well. At a high level, the issue is that if God is omniscient and thus, knows particular details of the world, say that someone is going to be raped and killed at some point in the future, how can we reconcile that with our idea of God as a loving and forgiving God? On the other hand, if God does not know particulars and thus is not implicitly implicated in the evil in the world, how can we reconcile that with the idea that God is omniscient? Logicians and scholars infinitely smarter than I am have discussed this idea for generations. Some scholars do some fancy hand-waving and imply that God’s knowledge is fundamentally different from human knowledge and that because of this, it is essentially not ours to reason why, etc., etc., etc. This is good for the internal consistency of said scholars belief framework but not helpful for those of us writing two thousand word essay at 4 in the morning.

When I look at the question and try to answer it (without any real review of the history or scholarly works pertaining, I’m not writing this essay for publication), here’s what I come up with. God has knowledge of particulars in a probabilistic way, Einstein’s belief that God doesn’t throw dice notwithstanding. I think that God has a framework for how things might turn out but that there are hundreds of thousands of events every day that God isn’t that interested in from a global standpoint and that however those things work out are largely left to chance, human interaction and possibly some influence of chaos theory. If we are to believe the text of the Bible, God already gave us the way to get into heaven in the very quote now being used to convince us He exists through the actions of a 22 year old NFL quarterback. I find it exceptionally hard to believe that God feels the need to influence an NFL game just to give those of us with a blog and too much time on our hands a new sign that He does in fact exist. If God truly does know exact particulars of every single human action in some divine knowledge, the implications for His goodness are staggering, at least to my limited human mind. You can hand wave and say He has a reason for everything but that reason in many cases seems to then be at the very least tinged with malice if you consider events that are bad for the humans involved. It’s nice to be able to say “God has a reason for everything” and go on about your daily business but that’s intellectually lazy as far as I can tell. Maybe it’s not our position to know the workings of God’s mind but if He laid out all details long ago for all people, I find it impossible to ever see Him as anything more than a merry prankster at best and possibly actively malevolent at worst.

Instead, I think God has a general framework for how things are going to work out and beyond that, He doesn’t much care or know of any particulars in advance. He may intervene on the part of truly good or truly evil people (see Brett Favre’s fall from grace in particular) but as a general rule, I think He lets us go about our daily business using our best judgment as to the actions we should take and their outcomes. He may have a general plan for our lives but I’m not even convinced that He knows exactly how they’ll play out, because again, the idea that He kicks things off knowing particular people will be tortured and murdered is directly in opposition to any idea that He gives one damn about what happens to us. Thinking God doesn’t know everything is slightly (slightly? Deeply is more like it) heretical but far better to think maybe God isn’t omniscient than that He’s actively evil.

All this brings us back to our little football game (I know you were wondering if it would. Or maybe you’re asleep by now anyway, like I should be at 5 AM). The people like the aforementioned pastor who believes everything happens for a reason also has to believe the following things:

  1. God gave Ryan Clark a devastating blood disease AT BIRTH that caused him to lose his spleen and gall bladder after a 2007 game in Denver JUST so he would be prevented from playing in this game in 2012 negatively affecting the defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers and allowing Denver to win. Almost no one with any football knowledge would assume that the outcome would be exactly the same if Pittsburgh had been able to play their starting free safety.
  2. God intentionally hurt Brett Keisel, the Steelers’ starting right defensive tackle, during the game to affect the outcome. Keisel went out in the first half with an injury that undoubtedly affected the game plan and effectiveness of the Steelers defense.
  3. God intentionally hurt Maurkice Pouncey months ago, preventing him from playing in this game. Pouncey was the starting center for the Steelers and without him, Doug Legursky filled in. He had several terrible snaps including one before half that moved Pittsburgh out of field goal range.
  4. God intentionally hurt Ben Roethlisberger who was extremely hobbled with an ankle injury, drastically limiting the Steelers game plan. This one might actually be true since Roethlisberger might have some atoning yet to do for his violent incidents with women not so long ago. If you said God knew the particulars of this one, I might agree with you.

In all, the number of things that had to align perfectly for the various 316s to happen and have significance are astounding. Now, you might say that Tebow is some sort of super Christian or a prophet for the times and thus has been picked out in advance to further the message of God. Or you might say that God can do anything and thus He had Tebow throw for 316 yards including one 80 yard play at the beginning of overtime that mathematically manipulated Tebow’s average such that it too was 31.6 (realize that if the Broncos had won with an 80 run, Tebow’s passing average would not have been 31.6. Of course, I don’t think this would have affected the crazies that much) AND had exactly the right number of people tune in to guarantee a TV rating of 31.6. If you argued these things, I’m not going to argue with you because those are not particularly arguable points. However, I would assume that you attribute almost everything to God and thus, we’re not going to have a lot in common to talk about anyway, in the grand scheme of things.

Suffice it to say, I find Tebow slightly hypocritical (sometimes the author’s bias comes out in the beginning, some times at the end) in that he openly prays for his own success on the football field which necessarily implies the failure of others at his expense which seems to me a not particularly Christian thing to do. Let’s be honest, Tebow plays a particularly vicious and violent game, one that often entails gruesome injuries and long term bodily effects on the combatants and to assume that God has a rooting interest in your team because you pray harder is a level of tribalism that exceeds all possible generous explanations for your faith. Of course, I have no idea what Tebow is praying for on the sidelines but since he is often seen kneeling before coming into play, I can only assume he’s asking for protection from people like Brett Keisel who actively want to hit him as hard as they possibly can, this after voluntarily choosing to play a game where people on the other side of the ball want to hit you as hard as they can. This is tantamount to the Crusades and we all know how that worked out for the heathens.

In the end, Tebow is a polarizing and engaging creature. It doesn’t seem likely to me that he’s a messenger from God, only that he’s a particularly open and flamboyant Christian who has engaged two fan bases, the Broncos and crazy people on the internet looking for signs that God really does exist. I don’t begrudge him either of those. I just don’t think God is going to be quite as interested in his success this weekend on the road against New England.

Girl On A Postcard

A girl, possibly 15 or 18 or 21, it is hard to tell because her face is covered in thick, dark greasepaint, stands in the right track of a two track dirt road that runs off into the distance. She wears olive green pants and a dark brown flannel shirt, untucked. Her hair is brown, pulled back in a tight ponytail. She has clear slate gray eyes that blink quickly and infrequently. The greasepaint fails to conceal her beauty. There is a look of defiance and grim concentration to the girl, a certain tightness in the muscles of the mouth and corners of the eyes as in one who is in the middle of an arduous task. She holds a small pistol with a long barrel in her right hand, held with a gentle familiarity of a butcher and his knife. In her left hand, a rabbit dangles by the hind legs, a small red hole behind one ear seeping crimson into the dirt of the road. The girl faces the far side of the road, watching intently a military convoy driving on the main highway in the medium distance. Hundreds of trucks and tanks lumber along the road as thousands of men in vivid red uniforms march alongside. The rumble of the trucks is muted and faint. The sun rises harshly above the horizon beyond her right shoulder, beginning to illuminate the bitter landscape, chasing the dawn away. A faint scent of acrid smoke tinged with cordite hangs in the air. Long grass lines the side of the road she stands in but there is a path immediately behind her into the undergrowth. Dew glistens on the grass. Far off in the distance from the direction the military trucks move, hardly intelligible, an eerie chant drifts, ephemeral and spectral, the sound of a thousand weary voices joined together in praise of an unseen god.

A single soldier peels off from the serpentine convoy, followed by another and another, moving quickly in the direction of the girl. The entire convoy grinds to a halt. Ten soldiers fan out, a vermillion pack of human wolfhounds running towards the girl. A tank turret turns and a puff of smoke appears from the barrel. Second later, the ground a hundred feet in front of her explodes sending thick chunks of dark clay silently screaming into the sky.

“They always underfire”, she says.

The soldiers are still a thousand meters away as she turns and disappears into the underbrush, the only sign that she was ever there a darkening of the dirt where the rabbit bled out.

Dreaming

Have you ever wondered what dogs dream about as they lay in their fluffy 40×50 beds bought at Tractor Supply on sale for $20? I’ve always assumed my dog is dreaming of chasing down some hapless little mammalian creature in the backyard. He probably envisions himself with teeth made of titanium and these Wolverine like claws that can be extended, probably from the Kevlar body armor he’s wearing. He lays in the aforementioned bed, peripatetically strolling a dream world full of tasty small mammals that easily separate into disparate parts that I later have to clean up with a HazMat suit though based on past experiences, I doubt the trouble cleaning up the kill site ever enters into his dreams. He woofs and twitches and occasionally gets so excited that he farts himself awake, often finding that I’ve long since left the room searching for a gas mask and the incense. His dreams seem to be enhancements of his day to day life, mental extensions of his actualized doggy self, owner of the domain of all his limited little doggy brain can comprehend.

I on the other hand have dreams about getting chased by nebulously evil amorphous grey creatures that very well might be the rabbits that my dog gleefully terrorizes, only in my dreams they are the ones with Kevlar body armor and oddly non-leporine characteristics like fangs and a penchant for carrying around .50 caliber machine guns on their heads. They haunt my dreams I presume to torture me for not protecting them in the back yard and having gone to Leporine Heaven, have armored up in a way only a defenseless rabbit might dream of, equipped with all manner of weapons and teeth God choose not to bestow on them originally.

I dream about the total failure of not being able to open a door because there is no knob. Or in the cases I’m lucky enough to find a knob on the door, someone has applied an industrial standard lubricant like Crisco to it, rendering me fit for frying as the fangy little gray things with the machetes and machine guns close in around me. I dream about roller coasters ascending to new, unheard-of heights with me as the only rider only to find out that the roller coaster architect seems to have a fascination with building monumental roller coasters absent descending tracks leaving me to contemplate the existential qualities of life as I plunge to the earth in the Judge Roy “You’re Damn Right You’re Going To” Scream “As You Die A Miserable Roller Coaster Related Death.” In short, I dream about my fears and failures while my dog dreams of success (at least I attribute his dreams as successes which is probably entirely related to how I view him more than any proof of the content of said dreams. For all I know, he’s dreaming about me chasing his little butt around the house with a vacuum mounted broom after I’ve discovered him face down in the litter box buffet again which he views as a kind of all you can eat smorgasbord as soon as I walk out the front door. This would explain the twitching, whining and involuntary farting.)

And of course, my experience with dreams is far from unique. Almost anyone I’ve ever talked to has dreams more closely aligned with their greatest fears than with anything resembling their successes. Is this an evolutionary benefit conferred by our ancestors after nights of dreaming about hideously large owls swooping through the night to feast on our oversized monkey brains? Or is this a societal imprint, foisted upon us by the imprimatur of a society that thrives on success and ridicules failure? What about our psyches causes dreams of shadowy rabbits with machine guns and fangs when the lights go out and the defenses go down (leaving aside the idea that maybe it’s just me)?

We talk about chasing our dreams but frankly, when the mind is left to wander unencumbered by the guard dog at the door of reality, we are the ones more often being chased in those dreams. Dreams have been prominently studied since at least 5000 BC. Freud was preoccupied and thought all dreams came from the penis. Of course, Freud thought his Cheerios came from his penis too. Johann Heinrich Fussli seems to have dropped a tab of acid and painted his dreams. The Greeks and Romans thought dreams were messages from the gods, a sure sign they’ve had the best mythology in the last thousand years or so as well as some seriously screwed up gods. Mopheus may have been the god of dreams in Greek mythology but in my extensive personal research, it seems like Loki is the one in charge of my subconscious most of the time. Hey, it’s no less feasible than God having a rooting interest in yesterday’s Broncos-Steelers game as a certain young Christian acolyte would have you to believe. As an aside, if God does have a rooting interest in the Broncos of late, my personal theory is that he’s betting the money line. He’s played it perfectly too. He gave the Broncos a little success in the middle of the season and then He caused them to run off 3 straight losses coming into the playoffs. That meant the bookies set the moneyline astronomically high, allowing God to making a killing yesterday. Don’t look for that to continue next weekend in New England since everyone knows even God doesn’t fuck with Bill Belicheck.

They say that deja vu is a memory phenomenon where one side of the brain is faster than the other in recording an event, the ultimate memory overwrite. The thought is that the mechanisms for storing long and short term memory get crossways with each other and that sense of deja vu is actually your short term memory trying to store an event that your long term memory already stuck in the buffer, causing the feeling that you’re experiencing the event for a second time. While this sounds fascinating and is certainly ripe with research opportunities, I will continue to believe I’m slightly psychic and if only I could harness that fleeting psychic power, I could use it for the ultimate good – winning lottery ticket numbers.

What is it about our fears that manifest themselves so deeply in our dreams? It has to be related to the fact that most of us actively repress our fears during the day (or attempt to kill them entirely with large doses of alcohol), delegating the unpleasant task of facing our fears to our unconscious. Our unconscious wakes up during REM and decides to deal with the fears in the only way it knows how, to magnify and amplify them into largely narrative tales involving wild leaps of plot and structure because, well, it’s a narrative and the unconscious can do what it damn well pleases when the conscious can no longer repress it.

I wonder what the dreams are like for inveterate fear facers, those random souls in civilization who look at what they fear and decide “I’ll be damned if I’m going to have another dream about going to school naked so I’ll just go to school naked and see what happens”. Do they dream of their own self-actualization over their fears or are we all repressed in some way such that no matter how much we face our fears, there are always new ones to take their place?

We watch scary movies and claim that they will haunt our dreams when in fact those things are only scary in a conscious world while the truly terrifying things are much more mundane ideas like rejection from our peers and not being able to make the house salad before Freddy Krueger’s entree arrives (that last one may be entirely personal in nature).

Those of us with plenty of fears to spare should have the most interesting dreams if for no other reason than the richness of source material. I have a fear of failure, a fear of not enough tomatoes in the salad, of roller coasters, of wolves, of being trapped and apparently of the Pope if past dreams are to be taken seriously. So you can imagine the dreams I might have riding on roller coasters with that creature from Van Helsing snarling at me that his house salad only had two tomatoes, the bars locked down while the Pope tells me I’m to be executed for not doing my homework. Truly interesting but typically they are more mundane and only involve the Pople and my inability to escape from the church because there is Crisco on the door knob.

As my dog lays in his bed chasing through the killing fields, I resolve to face a few more of my fears when I can muster the courage. In the meantime, I’ll probably have to just face the fact that Van Helsing is going to join me on a few more roller coaster rides. Good god, where is that incense?

2011 In Review

This is one of those fascinating posts (to me) where I navel gaze for approximately ninety minutes on what the past year has done to me or for me or what my actions in said year have resulted or not resulted in. In short, I’m about to ramble on in a semi-coherent manner about what I did last year. If you’re not intimately involved in all things “me” where that me doesn’t refer to “you” much at all, feel free to wait for my famous New Years Resolutions and Goals which is a post all about what I’m hoping to do and achieve next year to become the better person I never have been. Wait, maybe you better hold off on both those posts and hope I start writing about economics again soon.

We’ll hit the highlights first.

K and I split up Might as well start with the big stuff, right? No sense easing into things. She left in May, we’re still in the process of finalizing things which is just our style. It’s been as amicable as such things can be which is a blessing and a curse because it’s always easier mentally to divorce something you have a dire, hardcore hate for. Divorcing a friend is easier physically (and by easier I mean, “climbing Mt. Rainer instead of Mt. Everest” easier, it’s still a damn large mountain). Mentally though, it’s like wandering around the Sahara for a week or so without your trusty zinc oxide and then signing up for a chemical peel done by a pants on head retarded Taiwanese woman with a penchant for torturing small animals. Sorry for the understatement there but I can’t quite find the words to accurately describe it. Consider it a failing of my authorial talents. Needless to say (but I’m saying it anyway because this would be an awfully short post if I didn’t), divorcing someone you consider a good friend lies somewhere on the fun list between self circumcision and a Dick Cheney waterboarding event.

If you Google “divorce stress”, you get 62 million websites explaining a variety of ways in which divorce is stressful. Let me just say, from a personal stand point, most of them are right. When you’ve been with someone 8-10 years and suddenly they aren’t “there”, things change in an ominous way that makes Edgar Allen Poe the narrator of your life. Lots of ravens and Nevermores start popping up all the time and you find it hard to focus on anything but the constant tapping at the window which you’re sure is either Death or possibly your own impending madness. Couple that with a few of the other things down the list and you have the basis for a slightly worse than normal year in the grand scheme of things.

I quit my job Sometime before Mr. Poe had taken over the narrating duties for my life, K and I had decided that I should quit a job I hated and focus on other things, like my writing and learning Ruby and Rails. So on June 1st, I became voluntarily unemployed. I called it a sabbatical. My grandmother probably called it insane. On the list of stressful things, not having a job is probably high up there though typically that involves losing your job through no actions of your own. I had the luxury of having chosen this path but without sounding like I’m making excuses, it wasn’t all peaches and cream when you combined it with waking up each morning alone. The first two months were almost a complete waste as best as I can tell. I did learn a lot of Ruby during that time but my writing was mostly stagnant. I read a lot (see bullet points farther down the list) and started playing the piano again but over all, June and July weren’t as fantastic as I’d hoped.

August got a lot better. I produced a couple of web sites, started writing consistently on my sports website and generally felt semi-human. The original plan was to start job hunting in September but that bled into October and then I thought I’d write a novel in November which I half finished so as of today, January 3rd, I’m still unemployed but probably won’t be for long. My general gauge of taking six months off (if you do the math, that’s seven months but December was special or at least different) is an embarrassingly small list of creative things that came out of it. It’s hard for me to tease out the causes for this. My ego would like to think it’s largely caused because there are three really large stressful things that happened this year which directly and indirectly affected my ability to do things. On the other hand, my rational mind says I’m just not suited for the kind of self directed difficult work required to be either self-employed or an author. I try not to think about those six months because it’s acutely painful what came out of them, both from a productive physical view and a mental, emotional view. Yes, I produced more than what I would have otherwise but still, the romantic idea of throwing oneself into one’s work to avoid the mental stress of other aspects of life didn’t quite pan out. That makes me slightly mentally nauseous and since I can’t throw up in my head, I just try not to think about it. Perhaps a different coping mechanism is in order.

My grandfather died While it’s not fun to think about it, he’d really been dead for quite awhile and just finally physically gave up. He barely recognized me at the end and couldn’t talk much. He wasn’t “there” in the sense you wish your grandfather might be “there”. Still, not a particularly great moment in the year of 2011, a year I started mentally referring to as the “Year of a bunch of not great things.” The funeral was in August. I did get to see him two weeks before he passed and I’m glad for that. Combine his death with a major golf tournament as well as my twentieth high school reunion in that month and it’s rather surprising August was my most productive month. But then September brought things back down to the average.

Miracle, my 18 year old cat died in September Where by “died” I mean we (K and I, I’m eternally and impossibly grateful she went with me) took her to the vet and had them give her a sedative and then stick a needle full of sodium pentobarbital in her heart. Don’t get me wrong, it was probably overdue by a month or two but then when do you ever wake up and think “Yup, today’s the day I want to put my cat to sleep?” She had been sick and getting worse all summer which frankly was probably almost as stressful as the divorce in many ways. Then one day I woke up in September and didn’t have her or K and you can maybe start to see why September and October were pretty much completely worthless. I’m not going to go into it because it’s personal beyond words and also hard to type in this sudden dust storm that’s blown up in my study. Suffice it to say, September sucked and October was marginally better only in the sense nothing that was horrifyingly stressful happened.

I wrote half a novel in November And by half, I mean twenty five thousand or so words strung together in a highly narrative, non resolving string. For several years, I’ve toyed with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) where “toyed” means signed up and then never spent any time doing it. This year, with a ton of free time on my hands, I decided to dedicate myself to it. This worked really well for 15-20 days. Unfortunately, it’s not the National Novel Writing Fortnight. Eventually, I ran out of steam. One day I just stared at the manuscript and decided it was at a total dead end. This isn’t probably true but I convinced myself it was. However, 25,000 words is about 23,000 more than I’ve ever written on one thing. So while I’m disappointed in the result, I’m happy with the effort.

I went on a mega road trip in December Which is detailed in excruciating fashion on these pages in other locations. If you managed to miss those at the time of writing, feel free to peruse them now.

Random other things that happened not worth their own section I watched 5 movies (Up, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Ocean’s Eleven (the original), Only Angels Have Wings and Charlie Wilson’s War). 5 movies is probably about average for a year. I read 11 books (Wise Blood, Roads, When The Cheering Stopped, John Wesley Hardin, The Blind Side, The Great Cholesterol Con, 1984, The Broom of the System, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again and American Terroir). This is the most books I’ve read in a year since high school. I enjoyed that productivity immensely and am hoping to carry that forward. I wrote 33 articles on this blog. I wrote a bunch more on You Need More Sports. Overall, from a writing perspective, I was pretty productive this year and that’s something to carry forward as momentum. I have more friends and potential friends than I started 2011 with mostly thanks to Ruby and the local Ruby community. That’s a large positive in an otherwise mostly negative year.

I don’t have any huge insights from this year. It was a hugely stressful year personally but when I think about what other people deal with all the time, I have to be thankful for the opportunities and events in my life overall. I’m hoping that 2012 lands firmly on the more positive side than 2011 did. Even if the Mayans are right and the days run out next December.