A Longevity Poll

I know some people may have several conditions. You can assume it’s available to everyone who chooses to take it. “Comfortable” means it keeps you physically healthy and re-grows any lost limbs. That’s all ya get.

Comments welcome.

San Francisco Moment 3

On a Bart train, the seats facing the doors, black wool buttoned all the way up listening to Liquid State; doors open and small Vans™ with a tropical fish design attached to red cotton leggings step in. One foot stamps down on a discarded newspaper and then step swish step swish step swish over to me. The feet then turn the paper right side up and open the first page without picking the newspaper up off the floor. After two deft page turns by feet I gotta look up. She’s a short haired petite Chinese woman in a beanie and small coat and, yes, she does have arms and they are both supporting a tall (not the Starbucks drink size but the old fashioned adjective) paper tea cup with a green and red snowflake design. At the next stop the seats to the left of us open up and, step swish step swish step swish, occupies them. I guess she didn’t like me blogging about here in the future. She continues to read the paper on the floor hunched over the chair and she aint letting go of that tea cup for nothin’. My stop comes and as I’m walking out she gives a loud short “YIP!” for everyone to hear.

Best Dream EVER: The Pig-Eared Baby Alligator

(We were talking about dreams at a party and even though this one is close to 15 years old now, I still haven’t had one come close to this one in terms of content, strangeness and clarity.)

Scene 1

It started in a package sorting building where I worked for UPS at the Oakland Airport. Inside were three platforms with conveyer belts. Usually an assortment of delivery trucks or air cargo containers were parked next to the middle platform but today the building was empty of all vehicles. I saw my crew standing on the middle platform wearing rain gear so I stepped up to ask Mike N. what was going on.

“We’re waiting for the boat.”

“Boat?”

I looked around to find the building was filled with water that wasn’t there when I walked in. Mike N. pointed and a flat pale blue plastic boat with enough room for all five of us pulled up to the platform.

Scene 2
We were floating down Main Street in my home town of Benicia. Main Street had basically become a river with debris covered land on each side. On the east side I recognized Ann P. from High School whom I hadn’t seen for about 7 years. She was cheerfully distributing lunch boxes to victims of the flood. I waved and she stepped away from the group to come talk to me.

“Hey S., long time no see.”

“It’s good to see you. How’s your brother doing?”

“I’m sure he’s doing fine.”

“I guess we’re here to help, where do you need us?”

“Nothing much left to do today, just relax.” Ann walked back up to continue her work.

We docked the boat on an elevated grassy area and walked to the top. The other side of the hill descended into another flood-made river starting with a circular pool below us and extending south. A few tall dark buildings loomed in front of us on both sides of the river. The sun came out and we all threw off hooded raincoats and stretched with the satisfaction of hard work. From behind us a school of strange fist sized black fish hopped quite efficiently on their bellies and before getting a good look they hopped down this hill and dove into the river in front of us. The crew exchanged surprised looks of wonder. An unspoken agreement came over all our faces as if to say “let’s go for it!” Our aches of work left us as we all stripped down nude and jumped in to chase the fish.

The black fish jumped in and out of the water as they swam forward. The dark buildings on each side gave way to shorter light brown buildings. The fish increased their lead as they swam under low bridges. As we swam further, the buildings on each side grew into a single apartment complex structure with a series of bridges crossing the river to connect them. The structures were generally boxy and straight but were constructed from high quality stained wood in a variety of shades, darkest around the edges. Of the original crew, only Mike N. and I remained and I got the feeling that this was his home and it was a place he had told me about so I was curious to check it out.

Scene 3

I walked around the internal maze of the complex. It was much like a hospital but not as sterile; all the light was natural sunlight and everything was well crafted out of natural materials. We were in clean comfortable clothes now and Mike’s wife, a fit and curvy woman with long brown hair wearing a light purple sun dress, came to take him home. I explored further and found that at regular intervals the hallways opened up into research areas where people worked cheerfully. Most research tables had a single plant on them each with different qualities; one with green bulbs reaching up toward the sun roof, another a dark purple mass contained in a tall square aquarium. It became clear that everyone lived and worked here in cheerful wonder and I was treated as a welcome guest. The end of the next hallway opened into a hub of activity and one exhibit attracted the biggest crowd. I overheard someone say that everyone was here to see the “Pig-eared Baby Alligator.” I heard the name a few more times as the crowd parted for me to get a look.

Sitting at the side of a shiny wooden table, was not so much a baby alligator but more like a human baby with alligator qualities. He was about twice the size of a healthy three month old infant but with the same head to body ratio, maybe a bit bigger head. His skin was green and scaly and his ears were large but disappointingly just like human ears. Although he had the look and proportions of an infant, he had no trouble sitting up and looking around at the visitors. The Pig-eared Baby Alligator had large black shiny eyes with no whites at all and his mouth was like the ball shape of a chimpanzee’s but less flexible and with fangs on each side of the bottom lip. There was something terribly charismatic about this creature and everyone around seemed to be enamored with him and eager to hear what he had to say. He turned those black eyes toward me and in a deep male voice that reverberated in my head and chest said: “you were a seagull in your former life.” I chuckled nervously and spoke to him as if I was humoring a child. “Oh is that so? So what am I in this life?”

“You are nothing.”

His words were full of emphasis but it wasn’t a shout. It was loud and clear as if he was speaking from inside my head and as the dream vision went black, I felt myself dissolve and expand into dark oblivion. The next moment I was wide awake.

San Francisco Moment 2

This might be more of a 21st century moment in that it’s probably more ubiquitous in space but not so much in time. I was feeling icky on this day so I was going in late to work waiting at the bus stop at around 11:30 on a Friday. Groggy as I was, I forgot headphones so I had an ipod in the backpack but no way to connect it to my head. I’d grown so used to the constant chatter of podcasts’ news/education/infotainment and occasional music that I felt a bit off standing there with just the wind. I thought this might be a nice chance to listen to the sounds of the neighborhood, appreciate the bits of nature dispersed throughout the city and. . . nah, I really wanted my headphones the lack of other voices in my head was making me edgy. Then I heard and “excuse me!” the kind of excuse me that precedes “commin’ through.”

A six foot human male with brown hair wearing grey nylon jogging shorts, matching shirt and grey and black headphones attached to a content delivery mechanism that I couldn’t see (wait for the verb) was quickly jogging down the hill and pushing a three wheeled sports baby carriage. You know the kind of carriage; handle bars, inflatable tires, encased in flashy REI nylon (couldn’t tell if the kid had a blue ray display inside, wasn’t a lot of space so he probably just had on demand with a wireless connection). This may not have seemed all that unusual but I found it interesting because if you turn the clock back 30+ years, well to the time traveling 1950s native this would look all kinds of strange. First of all, it’s a man pushing a baby around by himself. Second, it’s a man who has the free time to push a baby around on a weekday so he either works from home or has vacation time and wouldn’t that be an odd way to spend vacation time? But the big thing I chose to notice was all the multi-tasking. He is not content sitting at home and listening to audio content. Neither is he content taking the baby for a stroll. And think of all the time he would be wasting if he just went for a jog; not our 21st century man. No, He’s jogging while receiving his content and taking the baby for a brisk stroll. I bet this slacker probably had a dog at home too that would have loved to have been going for a run and he had a hand free that could have been texting but he was in his 30s so three things was probably enough for him. So he jogged down to the flat part of the hill, turned the sports baby carriage to face him and held onto the sides for a lunge stretch while making faces at the baby. If you just stretch you’re missing a golden opportunity to play with your toddler while receiving content through your headphones. I wish I had the omnipresence to know what was in those headphones because it could have been stock reports or an audio book which would have added more layers of complexity but for all I know it was the best of Hootie and the Blowfish. Who has time for music anymore? Crap, what am I gonna do for a whole day without headphones.

Three Atheist Signs Part 2: DC Metro System

The Washington DC bus sign campagn

The next Atheist or perhaps I should say Humanist sign was part of an add campaign by the American Humanist Association and the venue was the sides and inside of busses in Washington D.C. This one was much simpler than the one outside the Olympia Legislative building, but there were many of them. Most of the signs were simple green and red lettering with some snowflakes falling with the slogan:

“Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.”

My Reaction to the sign

I must admit that if I saw this on the side of a bus I would smile and have warm feelings because I would feel represented and I would know I’m not alone in my views. Also it questions one of the fundamental problems many have with Christianity. It is this assumption that one must believe in a god in order to be a good person. Furthermore, I’ve heard Christians on several occasions say that even if you do charity and good deeds all your life, you’re still going to hell if you don’t believe in their god. That theme always leads me to ask: “is it better to do good because it’s the right thing to do or because you think that if you don’t you will burn for eternity?” In fact you can make the argument that allowing for forgiveness for the worst of human crimes grants enables sinners.

Is the Sign attacking God/Christmas?

Unlike the Olympia, Washington sign, instead of making one sided all or nothing statements, this one asks a question and makes a suggestion. The sign is much more encouraging contemplation and debate than attacking a cherished symbol. Also the images in the signs have no overt symbols. For some reason that I can’t discern, however, the version of the sign that goes inside the bus has a Jamaican looking guy in dreadlocks wearing a Santa suit and shrugging. Definitely a more innocuous sign but still I have to ask, why have a Christmas themed sign at all? For me the one reason might come with the understanding of a former Christian Atheist’s four stage understanding of Christmas.

Stage 1: As a child Christmas is about Santa and Presents.
Stage 2: As the child grows older he/she is taught that Christmas is really about the celebration of the Birth of Jesus.
Stage 3: As an adult Atheist the person no longer believes in the Christian mythology and may feel like a hypocrite for celebrating Christmas.
Stage 4: The person uncovers the many layers of history behind the Winter Solstice and Winter Seasonal celebrations that pre-date Christianity and understands that most of the traditions existed outside of Christianity. Therefore the Christians don’t own Christmas and all the trappings so one is free to celebrate all they want (Yuletide, Solstice etc). We can also enjoy the Christian mythology that is part of our personal history even if we no longer practice the religion it is based on.

This campaign is partly to reach out to our fellow atheist stuck in Stage three. The sign provides the website address http://www.whybelieveinagod.org/ that is full of information about the origins of the Christmas holiday. The website also provides a very concise definition of what a humanist is and what they are about.
Among the active people who found the sign offensive most chose to either complain or create a sign of their own. Many complained to the DC metro system who chose to take payment in return for displaying the signs. One of the response signs answer to the “why believe” question was “because he created you and he loves you.” Now it’s really hard for a non-believer to not add “and you will burn forever if you don’t” but I feel providing a counter sign is the most American way to respond. If someone is out in the world putting out a message you don’t like or believe is dangerous, you have the right to go out and counter that message. Clearly there is a lot more to cover about perceptions of atheists and free speech but I think I’ll try to tackle that in the last section of this series. The D.C. bus system is much more on the right track with its intended goals. It doesn’t spout absolutes but rather encourages discourse and thought. It’s not intended to take Christmas away from Christians but more to reach out to those who have left religion for good reasons and to educate and expand knowledge about the winter holidays. It lets the Atheists/Agnostics etc. know that they are not alone and it offers and alternative to the people on the fence who may feel isolated for even questioning long held beliefs. It may also be a way to gather the non-religious community so we can better exercise our power in politics on issues that are important to us and that has never been about taking away religion from people but protecting the rights of all Americans with regards to religion.

Satire Wire (fiction)

In reaction to the G. W. Bush shoe incident in Iraq, plans are underway to invade Italy, where the shoes were made. According to the Whitehouse: “we have good intel indicating that Italy has massive stockpiles of these weapons of mass humiliation and we need to make sure they stay out of the hands of journalists.” This was reminiscent of a similar incident when Bush was speaking at a press conference in Canada and one of the journalists attempted to, “crush the President’s head” by making a pinching gesture in front of his eye.

In the US reaction has been swift as several Americans suspected of wearing a size 10 shoe have been taken in for questioning.

In business news, Halburton is showing a spike in earnings from its new line of 9 ½ and 10 ½ dress shoes.

(I have since learned there is already a website called SatireWire. Just spontaneously typed out the title but I’ll have to think of something else if I ever come up with more fake news.)

San Francisco Moment 1

I slip into the busy bright BART train at the last second before the door closes.  No seats so I hold on and settle in for the ride when I am shocked into wakefulness but an unearthly amazing voice.  I know amazing can be taken lots of ways, so let me add that it was not a smooth and lyrical songbird or an exotic compelling foreign accent.  Think of the shock more like someone sneaking up behind you and splitting open the sidewalk with a jackhammer.  This guy’s voice made Louis Armstrong sound like Enya.  I look around wide eyed at the other passengers as if you say: “are you hearing this too?”   A few seats over, the source was a giant bald African American man.  A head that could have easily weighed 80 pounds swayed above a flaring parka that spanned two seats; think Michael Clarke Duncan but not as “dainty.”  There was an eager silence and he spoke again and I could swear that he was gargling rocks, not the tiny gravel of a fish tank but the small stones often used in a garden where a handful is no more than four. If only I had a recording device!  Then I remembered my blackberry; it would have to do.  I moved as close as I could and pretended to be really into reading something on my blackberry and hit the “send voice note” application.  Part of me wanted to have a microphone and just ask him: “What do you think about everything!” just to see how long I could withstand the assault on my ears that was both terrifying and sublime in its pure. . . I can’t even think of a word but the image of magma creatures howling deep in the belly of the earth comes to mind.  The recording doesn’t do him justice but he makes and appearance both in the middle and the end of the recording as he offers advice to a buddy who’s headed to the hospital. (see link below)

Gravel Man

Three Atheist Signs Part 1: Olympia Washington

            The first sign made a big splash in the news and I first heard about it on the CNN website.  The link to the article read: “Anti-God Sign Placed Across from Nativity Scene.”  The sign itself read:

 

At this season of THE WINTER SOLSTICE may reason prevail.  There are no gods, no devils, no angels no heaven or hell.  There is only our natural world.  Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

 

            Like me, most people reading just the headline and sign probably already have an opinion and most likely a strong one. This all went down in Olympia, Washington and rather than paraphrase the article I’ll first go into my reactions before even reading.

 

The Sign Itself

 

Even though I agreed for the most part with the content of the message, the tone and some of the wording of the sign came off as immature to me.  The statement, “there is only our natural world,” sounds terra-centric and unscientific.  Without going off on a long semantic discussion what the author meant by ‘our natural world’ I’ll just say that replacing the word world with universe would fix some of the problems but even then science can’t say for sure that ours is the only universe.  We could live in one of infinitive universes each with their own native physics.  “Religion is but myth and superstition,” I’m fine with that bit but the absolute statement “that hardens hearts and enslaves minds,” is unflatteringly absolutist and dismisses the positive contribution of religions and myth.  I used the word unflattering because it makes us atheist look just as closed minded and dogmatic as the religious fundamentalists we find ourselves at odds with.  I think it’s true that myth religion hardens hearts and enslaves minds but it also inspires beauty and opens hearts.  Through metaphor, mythology can teach us about ourselves and our history and help us work out problems and moral dilemmas.  Of course being in the Atheist camp, I’m a firm proponent for teaching folks to draw a line between fact and myth because I find the biggest danger is when folks take the myth as literal truth.  To quite Joseph Campbell there’s are the ones willing to “die for a metaphor,” and we’ve all scene where that leads.

 

The Tone of the Sign

 

            The next bit that rubs me the wrong way is the confrontational nature of the sign.  Now don’t get me wrong, I believe there are situations when the non-religious need to fight religion head on but I don’t think protesting a nativity scene is the best use of our time and resources.  I think the battles in public discourse really only need to happen when the religious get out of line.  The easiest example is the fundamentalist creationists’ attempt to redefine science and dilute scientific knowledge.  Now a case can be made that the nativity scene constitutes religion getting out of line which I’ll get to in a bit but even if you assume that the atheists are 100% right and the Christians are 100% wrong, is that the way you really would want to go about making your point?  For some the answer may be yes but not me.  When the author writes: At this season of THE WINTER SOLSTICE, I get the impression of someone trying to shout over the word Christmas.  Imagine a group of carolers singing “We wish you a Merry Christmas,” while some guy stands beside them singing “We wish you a Merry THE WINTER SOLSTICE,” at the top of his lungs.  I’m personally against the “under god” bit of the pledge of allegiance so I can choose to not say it or I can try and shout out all the others by saying “one nation, THERE IS NO GOD, indivisible.”  If I stay silent it only becomes an issue if someone notices me not saying it and tries to force me.  I tend to think dignity and clarity will have more sway than belligerence and if you have to shout chances are you’re yelling at someone who won’t hear you anyway.   So I wouldn’t have worded the sign with such absolute one sided language and I wouldn’t have taken a confrontation attitude against a display of one of Christianity’s more peaceful symbols.  In fact I probably wouldn’t have even raised an eyebrow except for one thing:

 

The Location of the Sign

 

            That’s right, I was ready to write off the whole stunt as a bad idea until I read the whole article and found the nativity scene was placed in front of a government legislative building.  It’s one of those all or nothing issues.  If you’re going to let someone put a religious message in front of a government building, then you have to allow for all other religions and points of view.  If it were my call to make I would err on the side of nothing; keep the building and decorations secular.  It would be more a pragmatic than an ideological decision.  If you allowed a decoration for every metaphysical point of view, nobody would be able to get into the building for work and you open the door for Scientologists, yikes!  Finally on the double if train, if I felt the need to offer a different pint of view and if I chose the Olympia legislative building to make my stand, my sign would read something like:

 

In this country, you are free to hold any religious belief.  But know also, that if you choose NOT to believe in any gods, if you choose reason over mythology, if you choose science over superstition; you are not evil and you are not alone this holiday season.

Pain, Pills, and Pupils

            She calls out to me, her eyes wide with pain and fear.  Before sleep she was in pain from the accident but something has changed since then.  I helplessly pepper her with suggestions: ice, heat, sleep sitting up?  She calls to her mother who passed in recent years.  She calls to any gods who have ears.  I may look still but so do sprinters on the starting blocks.  She gives the word and we’re off to the emergency room; the nice one that we took her boss’s wife to at a similarly late hour; it may be a bit farther a way but the time will be more than made up with a shorter wait.  It seems this ER is a well kept secret in a big city, or at least it is at 2am.  The transmission works twice as hard to move from stop sign to stop sign and makes a strange whistling sound.  The car wants to quit on us, that’s all I need.  Park-up the ramp-on the shiny dark wood floors to the lady.  Nice lady; good.  We don’t even sit down when baldish peach fuzz head in a Hawaiian shirt calls: “Tir. . . Thira. . .”  “That’s her,” comes out of my mouth in synch with her “That’s me.”  I’m at a point where I recognize the silence before someone tries to read her name.  He talks about her pretty name and is nice to her, good.  Then she’s gone and I’m in the land of podcasts and late night horror movies. 

 

Later Vincent price and a plain clothes cop are looking at a tiny fly with a human head calling ‘heeelp meeee’ from a spider web.  She comes out with papers and a new bracelet with her name on it and they have given her some pills.  She tells me she has whiplash.  Seems whiplash can show up well after the accident.  Nothing broken and we’re on our way back home.  She starts talking about liquid balance beams and the wonders of fish.  With and accompanying nod for each word she tells me: “People, eat, fish.” 

 

“Yes, people and bears and other fish.”

 

“Bears.” She giggles.

 

They gave her good pills.  Very good.  Help her out of the car and she’s awake again and on the bed within 12 minutes the fear and pain are back.  “It’s not working!”  I know she would be would be way too embarrassed to go back to the same emergency room but the pain doesn’t care about any of that.  Same trip, same struggling transmission, same nice lady but this time Hawaii Peach Fuzz is a bit cold.  You just jumped lists buddy.  This time I’m watching hulk get he with sonic cannons on my ipod when a nurse calls me in to see her.  She’s laying on a shiny bed under the bright lights in a wall to wall equipment and medical stuff room with an I.V.  in her arm.  She seems out cold but her eyes flicker to life when I get close and her fingers ask for me.  I hold her hand.  “Good stuff eh?”  “It’s odd, it’s a bit like. . . WHOOOOM (That’s the sound of something in the morphine family hitting her. It doesn’t actually make a sound but it’s just that clear that something is different now).  She went from sleepy eyes one instant, then blink, then pupils open so big that all the light that isn’t nailed down is falling in.  And I know she’s going to be ok for a while.  Bless all the gods who have ears for good drugs.