Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Jesus Saves More Than Your Soul

I got a spam today for the Christian Lending Network. Somewhere, God is spinning in his grave.
Conversation with Jesse as follows, for your amusement:

Me : dude, i just got the most awesome spam ever
Jesse : I doubt it.
Me : it's from the "Christian Lending Center" to get 4 mortgage rates for free
Jesse : I got something like that. then I quoted deuteronomy and shut them up
Me : MONEY LENDERS, BE GONE FROM THIS TEMPLE OF HOTMAIL!
Jesse : thou shalt not spam with christian lending ads.
Me : God will save you, but only if you sacrifice your first son, Abraham Lenders LLC.
Jesse : Cain and Able? "Cain't" you see it's the Lord that makes us "Able" to bring you these great deals?
Me : Our competitors don't "Eve"-n have a chance against us! "Adam" up and come to us for saving(s)!
Jesse : Noah kidding!

Update:
Check out JesseHicks.com for his take on it, from 5 days previous. Dammit, why am I always behind?

Epicurus and the Afterlife

This is something I posted on a yahoo groups forum a few minutes ago and thought might be of interest...


So, to the point. About your post about the afterlife, I think it's very helpful to read Lucretius/Epicurus. If you're not into Philosophy, Epicurus was a Greek philosopher, several hundred years before Aristotle, Plato, and the other "masters" of the field. Though no complete pieces of his work still exist, there are many fragments, and most importantly is Lucretius's work, "On The Nature of Things," an incredibly long poem explaining the ideas of Epicurus. I believe this is the origin of the phrase "epic poem," but I'm not completely certain on that. It's a very interesting read for any atheist, especially considering that up until the 1500s many atheists and skeptics were referred to as "Epicureans" -- you may have even heard this comment yourself, so that's where it comes from. If you want to read his work, check out http://classics.mit.edu/Carus/nature_things.html .

For those of you not wanting to read the 250 pages or so of poetry about Epicurus's view of the universe and life, the pertinent info regarding the "afterlife" concept boils down to a few simple concepts.

Imagine you are floating in a suspension tank, surrounded on all sides by water. You can't feel gravity acting upon you, you can't smell, and there's no light, so you can't see anything. There is no noise, so your ears perceive nothing. Imagine complete sensory deprivation. Like floating in outer space (minus the whole imploding thing) or in a suspension tank, this is similar to what happens when you die. Similar, but not the whole story. As Descartes said, "cogito ergo sum" -- I think therefore I am. In death, the "I am" part is gone, so you have to realize so is the "I think" part. The human brain processes over 4 billion bits of information per second. Even when you aren't thinking about thinking, you're still thinking. For me personally, the only time I've ever been able to clear my brain of a constant stream of thoughts has been through meditation, and even then, there's still some level of thinking going on. This is what religious folk refer to as "the soul" -- others call it "consciousness" -- it's the unending stream of thoughts that you identify are your "self" -- since every cell in the body dies and is replaced in the span of 7 years, this stream of thought is the only thing that identifies us as ourselves. I can't stress the importance of this stream of thought enough.

But now imagine that were to end as well. But consciousness is not like rational time -- If it ends, it's as if it never existed. So all the experiences you've had in your life, all your memories, all your thoughts you barely recognized in yourself but still impacted your personality and life -- all these things disappear, and it's as if you never existed. It is pure, complete, total nonexistence. The opposite of everything you know.

Consider this -- heaven and hell, the concepts we're taught by our Judeo-Christian society, are based on right and wrong. But right and wrong, as we know them, are more aptly called guilt and pride. Guilt results when you do something you believe to be contradictory to your beliefs. Something you believe to be immoral. Pride results with the alignment of your actions and your self-defined morality. Heaven and hell are thus eternal guilt or eternal pride, based upon self-reflection and determination of self-value. Many philosophers have said that hell is nothing more than looking back with regret upon your life, and repeating that thought forever, thus inflicting upon yourself the worst of pain imaginable -- the kind a pitchfork can't do, the kind that can only be done by our own feelings of failure and inadequacy.

But, if consciousness ceases to exist upon death, so do guilt and pride. Heaven and hell are negated by the disappearance of consciousness. One might call it freedom, but freedom implies existence to enjoy that freedom. In truth, it is nothing.

I've extrapolated quite a bit from the Epicurean point of view, but it's basically what he said with some modern science and consciousness updates.


...I'll probably add some more later on this subject, but this should placate you for now.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Breaking the Waves

So, it's been a while since my last post on here. Actually, it's been two weeks to the day since I posted anything here. That shouldn't be surprising, though, for anyone who knows what's been going on with my life lately. For anyone unfamiliar, the last two weeks have consisted of packing, planning, and moving to Austin. That's right; Austin, Texas. I'm here now, my third day here, and I must say it's been quite a trip. I'm enjoying myself here, looking for a job of course, but all in all things are looking well. But there's always the setbacks. Let's go through the chronicle of my cross-country journey, shall we?

First, we'll start back with the beginning. Why Austin? There's the question I've heard repeated by friends, family, etc., over the last few weeks, so I suppose that's as good a place as any to start. You all know that I wasn't happy living in the Northeast -- no sun, lots of snow, plenty of grey, and too much depression. Though I had my friends and family, who I care about immensely, I did not have the surroundings I felt were necessary for me to -- excuse the cliche -- blossom. And so I searched, looked, scoured through the options. Job markets, growth rate, culture, music, nightlife... climate. I considered these things, considered the options, and settled with Austin.

I have a friend in Richmond, a great woman who I recently came back into contact with, who opened up to me despite the years seperating our last contact, and for a while I thought of Richmond as an option. She offered cheap housing, comfort and friendship, and a relatively nice climate and atmosphere in which to live. All in all, it was a difficult offer to pass up. Perhaps I will regret it in the future. I wish her the best of luck; she's strong, I know she'll do well with life, I only hope that we keep in contact after having been seperated so long.

I thought of Florida; another friend is there, she loves it, and perhaps it would be amicable for me. Again, climate and atmosphere were suitable, things could have gone quite well. But again, something held me back. Something prevented me from venturing that direction.

I began to look further west; Phoenix, Austin, Sacramento, Denver. I considered the options. I researched the climate. I researched job markets. I did what I could to get to know places I have never been before and would likely never see until my eventual arrival at a pre-arranged apartment. I ended up choosing Austin. It seemed to be the best option, and so the decision was made.

Soon after, two friends of mine were signed on board to become part of the journey. One of them I knew from Pittsburgh, another from Athens. In less than a week, my solo trip had grown to encompass a small entourage. Things were looking up. But the friend from Pittsburgh was uncertain, so plans were made for two people instead. Were she to choose to join us, room would be made available. If not, we would not be stuck with an extra bedroom (and the corresponding extra rent) with no tenant to help. Plans continued.

My friend from Athens looked to purchase a vehicle before departure; this eventually fell through. I attempted to arrange the rental of a trailer from U-Haul, and was subsequently told that an SUV woth a convertible top, such as my Tracker, could not rent a trailer under U-Haul policy. This was the day before scheduled departure. I cut back on my packing, and made room for Stacey's things. Later that evening, she called to tell me that her mother would allow her to take her Taurus instead, so packing would be easier. Dinner with parents and grandmother followed, and upon arrival at home, a message from Stacey on the answering machine. Turns out her mother wouldn't let her leave with the Taurus for another two weeks. I packed the rest of my things, or what I could fit, into my car, and made ready for the long journey.

The next night was spent in Pittsburgh, visiting friends, or at least those I could find the time to see in the little space allotted. Things went well. I saw Will, whom I hadn't seen since the preceding Spring, and enjoyed conversation and dinner with him. I saw George, I saw Jasmine, I saw Rachel, I even saw Julian for a short period of time. Things were well. I was undaunted.

Waking early the next morning, after being unable to sleep the night before, I headed out on the road with three hours' sleep under my belt. The journey ahead was to take over five times that length. I was happy. I was undaunted. I was a god amongst men.

I drove. And drove. And drove. I stopped for gas, then got back in the car and drove more. I left Pittsburgh at 7:30am, and arrived in White Hall, Arkansas 16 hours later. It would've been fifteen, but I stopped once in Tennessee to attempt to coordinate things with Melissa, to get some food, and to let my car cool down. More the first than the latter two, but they provided reasons to extend my stay at the truck stop. Then I drove again, another 5 hours. Cake after the previous 10+ hours of nearly non-stop driving.

Thursday was a day of rest. Melissa and I hung out all day, and I was comfortable and happy. It had been a year and a half since last I'd seen her -- and that last visit had amounted to only 20-some hours after five years apart. It was good. I was happy. Then I left.

I drove, and drove, and drove. I left White Hall at about 7:15am Friday morning, and arrived here in Austin about 4:45pm. It should've taken at least two hours less, but construction in Dallas held me up for over an hour and a half, and traffic in Austin held me up another half. Traffic between the two was slowed as well, it seemed like rush hour traffic for the whole three hour drive; it was hard to get much over 75 on a 70mph road, and that was when I was lucky. for the most part, 70-72 was the norm, sometimes slower.

So I arrived here, moved into my new apartment... unpacking took less than one and one half hours, even with walking up three flights of stairs on each trip. It's amazing how much more quickly you unpack when you have so little stuff with you.

Now I'm settled in. My furniture consists of a shelving unit (thank you freecycle!), a matching coffee table and end table set (thank you35 bucks and craigslist!) and my computer chair. Oh, and two airbeds.

Stacey won't be coming down now. I won't say why, because it's intensely personal, so if you really want to know you'd be better off asking her. Suffice to say I hold no grudge against her; there's no way I could and still be a human being. These things happen. Life goes on. There's a girl coming tomorrow to look at the apartment, she's flying into Austin and has a hotel room for the first six days because she doesn't have an apartment setup. She seems nice, hopefully she'll want to move in. It'd be good to not have to pay all of this rent myself.

Apparently Representative Dukes, of the Texas State House, may have an opening soon in her office; this according to Dr. Stanley, her Legislative Director, who I've been in contact with. Could this mean a job for me? I sure hope so. That's part of why I came here, after all -- politics in Austin is like nowhere else outside D.C., so I'm told, and I can't quite give up my soul to the Beltway yet, so this seems like a reasonable starting point. Maybe I'll see Tom Delay around and can give him a kick in the junk for everyone. Let me know if you want to be put on the "kick Tom Delay in the junk" list.

Well, that's it for now. This is pretty long, and while I normally try to write more thoughtful things in here, that'll wait for the next update, to come soon.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Catharsis, earthbound.

So, the time draws near. Soon I will be leaving this town again, to return only fati knows when. I pack my belongings away, pack my clothes away, and stuff them in my car as best I can. How much of your life can you pack into 44.7 cubic feet?

It's interesting now, going through this process once again. Moving - reducing. Every time I move, I go through my stuff to see what I need, and prioritize. How much can I fit? What don't I need? The trash can gets bigger and bigger, the cargo room gets smaller and smaller. I find myself wondering, what will I do without this? Or this? But in the end, the answer is always the same: I'll survive. No worries.

There's a shirt that Funny Times sells, it has a domestic woman in a room surrounded by all sorts of domestic crap, and the caption is "I'd like more stuff, please!" The humor of capitalism. Accumulate, accumulate, buy, buy. You don't have enough stuff, so go spend some money. Make yourself more complete. Without a blender and a food processor, you aren't complete. If you don't have a lay-z-boy, you've got no self-respect.

And yet I revel in this. I enjoy searching through the detritus, discovering and prioritizing the value of the little trinkets I carry with me. What makes a home a home? I abandon the furniture, it serves only a function. I leave behind the clothes, I don't need that many. I throw out trinkets and knick-knacks and quaint gifts from relatives. What do I keep?

I hold on to certain things for function, of course. I need some dishes. Some pots and pans. some cds and dvds. Other things, I hold on to because they make it home. The photos, the keepsakes, the memories in physical form. When you have to choose what's worth keeping, it can be amazing how impractical it is to keep the "practical" things. So I sort. I choose, I decide, I ruminate. Then I burn, or throw away, or give away, or donate. I pack, I keep, I hold onto. Some would look at the things I keep -- photos, for one, and wonder why. Some would say that I should take the TV instead of the box of photos. Some would say I should take the microwave rather than the touristy vacation crap. But this is what makes us who we are. We are not defined by our electronics, we are defined by our memories. And those I cling to, more fervently than the food processor.

Oh, not all of them. Some I toss with the other accumulate garbage. Some I discard easily. And that's part of it. That's a facet of the catharsis. Perhaps the more important one. You have to prioritize your stuff, but you have to prioritize your memories, as well. Should I remember the sexual encounter freshman year, or should I hold onto the protest rally? Should I keep in mind the night at the club, or should I savor the night at home with a friend? What is more important, the date with the hot girl, or the date with the good friend? Which of these should I take along? Which of these should I leave behind with the clothes for Salvation Army?

That's why moving is fun. In life, in this country, we are supposed to accumulate things. We are supposed to pile them up around us, surround ourselves with our comforts, our familiar, the known. But instead, I choose to trim the fat. I choose to scrutinize, to examine, and to decide. I choose to leave behind so much, only so that I can experience so much more. I will not forget some things. I will not forget the joy of a simple conversation, the night of understated beauty, the long talks and the long walks. I will not forget these things. But I will forget others. I will forget much. I do this not out of callousness, not out of disdain for an individual. I do this because if our life is to be measured by the moments that make us happy, it is necessary to discard the ones that don't. I do this because when I look back, I want to do so fondly. Yes, ignorantly. Yes, without the troubled memories. But we only have so many memories. Only so much we can hold onto. Every thing remembered costs us one forgotten, after a time. And if I am to forget some things, I'd like to decide for myself which ones.

That's the catharsis. That's the release. That's the joy in impermanence.

Catharsis

The winds shift, fluttering and flapping through the barren trees, the one-time whistle deadened to an eerie moan. It bites and shoves, spins and turns; it leaves you lost, confused, misdirected. You look up then, searching for some assurance from the heavens. Some majestic form, descendent from Yahweh, wafting down from the Silver City to guide you from here. Instead you see stars. Millions, billions, stars so bright, so irrepressible, you wonder how it can be night at all. Their light gestures to you, it seems, beckons and begs, promising wonder and enlightenment. You simply stare.

The figure rises then, up through the treetops, up past the gentle blue curve of atmosphere, beyond the green and blue and white, even past the pockmarked grey. Moving incomprehensibly fast, it abandons the little orb for but one of an infinite number, a lonely little ball dancing around a sad little star. It moves far away, past the stars, to a vantage point not reachable by any other save itself. It turns then, looking back, looking down upon the Creation, upon the galaxies outstretched, the stars innumerable. A single star it plucks from the rest, a pin amongst a magnet hand, and it sees the breakdown in place. Molecules splitting, recombining, hydrogen and helium and trace gas, unnamed elements performing unnameable acts, trotting their lewd waltz ad infinitum.

The figure is not bound to the physical, not restrained by a mere body, so it watches this star, this Sun, this glowing pearl in a field of diamonds, and watches it move forward through time. It may be the figure's will, or merely the natural progression of things; the cause matters little. The stars glows brighter and spreads, now a white pearl, now red bloodstone, now blue lazuli, now black as onyx. The star shrinks, contracts, draws in upon itself, searching for more heat, more players for its dance, and eons wears masks and become seconds. Now the star detonates, a little hand-grenade amongst the jems, and hear time stops. The figure spins it playfully in his palm, examining it from one angle, then the next. It wonders at this suicide, this deadly output of atomic power, the ignoble sacrifice of a once proud ruler. The gases expand, slowly, deadly, and without remorse. It spreads out, a supernova, a nova, a detonation of the will. It expands, and for generations it is merely a cloud amongst the spectre, the once-proud star now reduced to mere trace.

The figure marvels, then, at this sacrifice, not for God nor country nor duty, but simply for the natural progression. A simple fate, majestic and true. The figure watches then, time again flowing like a raging whitewater, crashing past at speeds unnatural. Until it happens. The wonder returns to the figure, as the gas, spread apart by violent self-destruction, begins to coalesce. Smaller now, seperate now, but the same form in miniature, the one star becomes several, and they begin to shine anew. Pearls again amongst the diamonds.

The figure disappears, then, seeing what it sought.

You look down from the stars, and now your direction is clear. You walk from the forest, alone but not lonely, and your beginning has not ended.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

All things...

All things must come to an end, but for which shall we mourn more: those things which ended before they had an opportunity to begin, or those things which have simply ended? It is said that anticipation is a spice on the flavor of appreciation, but is anticipation without result a poison on the mind?

Leaving here, two weeks from today. Yesterday, now. Time is telescopical closing in, every day brings a greater percentage of change. This is the way of the world. To look back now upon these things; folly or fortune?

Friends past, family left, loves lost? These things, possessions of a mortal mind, mayhaps murky misapprehensions of marshy misgivings?

Bah, who is to know?

It is strange that things, once felt so dearly, known so clearly, expressed so lovingly, agreed so completely, might twist and turn and tie us down. Strange that those things known then lost may return again to our minds, only to be taken away once more. Strange the flood of feelings accompanying the re-acquisition of once lost longings. Stranger still the evaporation of once-forgotten desires bringing a pain again anew and fresh, more painful than the last abandonment.


The people of my generation... no, more precisely, the people of my graduating class. We were the class of 2001, for those who do not know. Yes, I am young. Sue my parents if you must complain.
The class of 2001. Graduating high school, the first class of the new millenium. A bridge had been constructed for us, across which we would now pass, the first generation of the new thousand. Years of prosperity, economically, diplomatically, socially... these booms had coddled us, held us close to their breasts, whispered lullabies in our ears of an unending wealth and undying dream, of the accomplishments of those passed, and the yet to be fulfilled promises of our own age. Those promises were our own, ours to make and keep, ours to fulfill and exceed, ours to breathe and live. We were handed the torch, the flame passed on, and we would carry it proudly, strongly into the next millenium of human accomplishment. Where once those had been the pillars of the "Greatest Generation," ours was to be the "Can't Even Touch This Generation." The hammer, the sickle, fallen behind, the arms race dead, the boom of post war happiness, the triumph over the vanquished foe. Lessons from the past were repeated: victor, but not punisher, scorn the war and love the enemy. They would be our allies, our companions, co-authors in this next chapter, this great new struggle, not against a single enemy, no world superpower grappling with our strength. Rather it would be the world's super power, grappling with the prophesies of our own creation. Prophesies of a better tomorrow and a day after yet unsurpassed. United, strong, and free. United with our one time enemies, strong in drive and desire, free to help the world instead of simply ourselves.

We saw, one day, the destruction of our dream.

Forget not that we saw, before even our steps in resplendent gowns, the betrayal of democracy for the first time in the history of our nation. Certainly she was not a virgin when we came to her; she was tricked and coerced and manipulated by many a sleaze suitor before us; with list tamperings and poll intimidation, with votes from the dead and none from the living, with a college of electors no more noble than a grade school of thieves, but on this scale, to this magnitude, never before had it been seen. Never before the waiting, the dreadful waiting in the face of already known manipulations, and never before the circumvention of the single thing, that one, lonely, solitary thing left to the masses. Never before had our only systemic voice been tracheotomized; and so callously the act was performed. Our love had not been merely tricked, not merely coerced, not merely flushed with wine and food and subtle pressures. Our mistress, our love, our betrothed, had been raped before our very eyes. The brutes had come from their fortresses upon the hill, come down in gallant steed and shining armor, only to reveal in the end the fiery flare of conquest in the steed's eye; only to reveal the blood splattered and burn blackened tarnished armor of mercenaries. No noble act was committed, and none nobler for the doing, she had been taken from our embrace, we ripped from her bosom as the pikemen kept us clear. The men, or less, had taken her down to the flush fields of Florida, trampling a path in the knee-high grass, and thrown her harshly upon the land through which our blood had been sewn. They beat her, hit her with stick and sword and shield, broke her will, and so they thought, ours in the process, and finally, in the cruelest act of all, cut our eyelids off and forced our gaze in the direction of the terrific act, pressuring our pupils to accept what our hearts could not. The rape, the brutal act of violation, the injustice only they could perpetrate, as she was held down and singly in turn they forced themselves upon her. They bore no cross, only the banner and shield of the elephant, and that they shown our faces in their arrogance.

Nine months later, the beasts of flight struck our towers. Six months more, and our sons and fathers, our brothers, our fellow peasants, were taken from their homes, suited in paltry armor and outfitted with tattered weapon, marched to certain death in lands far from our own, to fight and die and kill in futile battle with what men we might otherwise have called our own brethren.

We have been trampled. Our lover has been raped. Our friends killed.

We held promise once, promise of greatness, the promise to surpass that which came before us.

That promise, unbroken by us, instead destroyed by the actions of others. Of the tyrants. Of the profiteers.

What more have we, save our will? What more have we, save the interminable ferocity of the downtrodden, the always struck, the nameless masses? What more have we, save our new promise: the promise of vengeance.

One day, our children may fulfill that promise set for us. One day, our children may carry our banner into that field and remember the blood and brutality that, though meant to break us, instead secured strength for those who might follow us.