Check Your Premises, Not Your Privilege

I try to keep an open mind about different world views. That just seems reasonable to me. Like the five blind men and the elephant, we each see a different piece of the truth. It would be a bit silly for me to stand here, screaming “I have scientific proof that an elephant is just like a snake!” while I hold its trunk and you hold its ear, and neither of us sees the whole animal. It would be just awful if I then added that you are evil and a threat to our society because you were part of the “elephant-is-like-a-carpet” set, and thus a snake-denier.

Yet that’s just the kind of thing that’s happening right now in the United States, as a loudmouth, a gold digger and a senile idealist walk into a primary. (God, I wish that was the opening to a joke! If it is, the joke is on the American people.) People are just being nasty to each other.

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I F___ing HATE Political Memes!

I hate political memes. Hate them with a fiery passion. A person’s political philosophy is, or should be, too complex to fit into a few words crammed onto a photograph. If a person’s philosophy is not too complex to do so, then I would submit that they need to delay participating in civil society until they’ve learned a bit more about the world and how it works.

That said, I can think of two philosophies that fit in a meme that are valid: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and “And ye harm none, do as ye will.”

I don’t see either of those being posted on Facebook, though.

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Never Fear, Failure is HERE!

fearfailureLast week, while walking on the boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach, I saw a shirt that gave me pause. It said, “Fear Failure.”

Fear Failure? Yep. Apparently it’s an Adidas campaign. It puzzled me about as much as did the word “Adidas” when it started appearing on peoples’ shirts. I thought it meant something. (It’s just a portmanteau of the company founder’s name, Adolf Dassler.)

Sorry, Adidas, but… Fear Failure? I consider that an asinine — and particularly American — sentiment, ironic that the shirt is marketed by a German company. Doubly ironic, because the young gentleman wearing the shirt was clearly Asian, and was speaking a non-English language to his friend as they passed. The shirt was bright green and yellow, as I recall, and I assumed from the font and design that it was geared toward athletes of some stripe — possibly even surfers. Though why surfers should fear failure I’ll never know. Continue reading

The Communist Manifesto – A Completely Subjective Response

marx-bioIf I disagree with someone, I don’t like to do it out of hand. I like to hear their argument first. Sometimes I only need to hear a few words of it to decide that this person is too stupid to formulate an opinion, or has formed an opinion without adequate information, or is plainly and simply divorced from any concept of reality. There’s no arguing with such people, there’s only coping. It’s impossible to change their opinions. Opinions can only be altered if they’re based on reason and adequate information.

Most opinions are not based on reason and adequate information. In America, most opinions are based on what our parents taught us and on what we heard on television. Because God knows the guy who hosts the evening talk show is a much better public policy analysts than a philosopher, a political scientist or any of America’s Founding Fathers.

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I am so mad at Ayn Rand

judgmentdayI am so mad at Ayn Rand…


I mean, I never met the woman. She’s been dead for 31 years. And what I’m mad at her about, she did when I was four. And it had nothing to do with me. Still, I’ve just never been so angry and disappointed with one of my heroes before.

Okay, “I am so mad,” is an exaggeration. I experienced a moment of shock and anger is more appropriate. Let me back up a bit and tell you what prompted this. I was reading a book called Judgment Day: My Years with Ayn Rand. Since its original publication in the late 80s, it’s been renamed just My Years with Ayn Rand. Don’t know why. Was the original title too religious in its connotations for the atheist followers of Rand, or was it, perhaps, too subtle for the average reader to understand why what’s essentially a tell-all book (albeit a high-brow tell-all) would be named “Judgment Day.” Hint: It’s because Ayn Rand was noted for saying, “Judge and prepare to be judged” in answer to the Christian admonishment to “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” She didn’t think anyone should go without having to answer for their actions, so every day with her was Judgment Day. I guess it was kinda uncomfortable for a lot of people.

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Leadership Lessons in Ender’s Game

enders-game-posterI had a meltdown Friday night. Fairly small thing, but one damn thing on top of many other things had me spending about fifteen minutes screaming at the heavens, demanding to know why I keep getting, um… used for the universe’s gratification without benefit of lubricant… when, day in and day out, I feel like I do nothing but the right things.

Huge self-pity fest. You have those sometimes. Nothing to do but get over it. I consider it the equivalent of the pressure valve on the water-heater kicking off, venting off some steam, and preventing the whole system from exploding. If it happens once, you may not even notice, or you notice and just monitor. If it happens once too often, well, there’s an obvious need for intervention.

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Losing yourself… or finding myself?

A couple of weeks ago, before I went on vacation and avoided email and work like the plague for ten days, author and columnist Robert Bidinotto posted a column about the impact of heroic fiction on the development of the psyche. It’s a through-provoking an moving piece. It literally brought a tear to my eye, when, expounding the effects of his love of heroes, particularly Superman, he says:

I can’t tell you how important such experiences were to a lonely little kid with a big imagination, growing up in that four-room ranch house. Those heroes told me that life didn’t have to be a series of boring, empty routines. That there was more to the world than the claustrophobic rural township where I grew up. That the universe was a huge place filled with adventure and romance, open to infinite, exciting possibilities.

But, most importantly, that you always had to stand up for justice.

Like millions of other kids from that era, I took all this very seriously.

I still do.

This passage reminded me of the impact heroic fiction had had upon me as a child, and continues to have today. During the toughest times of my development (and I believe I’m still developing, lo these 47 years later), heroic fiction has assuaged my loneliness, inspired me to dream, and provided me with an escape from a world which has a habit of delighting in being ugly every now and then. Continue reading

Words Overheard in a Restaurant

The words came at me suddenly, from over my shoulder…

“I hate Muslims!”

“Well, of course. And they’re all going to hell, because their religion is satanic. They worship a false god.”

“What about the Jews? And let’s not forget Mormons…”

So I was at dinner with my family, an evening out that was to be followed by a movie, and I heard this conversation going on behind me. I’d known that this was a group of Christian gentlemen, because they’d begun their dinner with prayer. I hadn’t heard most of their conversation at that point, except for the word “libertarian,” which always jumps out at me. Most people don’t use it. Those that do usually have very strong opinions about libertarians, one way or the other. Of those who both use it and have strong opinions, only a fraction probably know what it means. Continue reading

Oh, Jesus, it’s Ayn Rand!

So, yeah, see, the trouble is that I’ve been too busy to do much reading lately. If I sit down and pick up a book, I just fall asleep! So here’s yet another non-review…

AynRandVersusJesusOkay, let’s by up-front and honest. I hate these things. Is there a term for them? These photos that get posted on Facebook, and presume to present the wisdom of the ages in sound bytes so simple that even a TV news anchor could repeat them and pretend to understand them. I’ve often been tempted to create one that says “if your political and/or life philosophy fits here, you shouldn’t be allowed to vote.” But I can’t decide what picture to put behind it.

Why do these things bother me so much? Because they are so simple and basic. They rely on unstated assumptions, and they carry with them the unspoken message “and if you don’t agree, then you not only can’t be my Facebook friend, you also can’t come into my bomb shelter, and you can’t breathe the same oxygen I do. Please die now.” Okay, that’s a little extreme, but they certainly don’t promote tolerance or the acceptance of any kind of middle ground. They’re all about polarization.

Case in point, the above photo of Ayn Rand side-by-side with an artist’s rendering of some Caucasian whom a lot of people will mistake for Jesus of Nazareth. Underneath each is a quote.  One is verifiably Rand’s: “I am against God. I don’t approve of religion. It is a sign of a psychological weakness … I regard it as evil.” The other is a translation of a translation of a second-hand account of something Jesus is alleged to have said, put to parchment nearly 40 years after Jesus’s death, possibly by a Syrian or Palestinian author: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (The Gospel of Mark 10:25. The same quote is attributed to Jesus in Matthew, as these two gospels are believed to pull a lot of material from the same sources. Indeed, as Mark is the oldest Canonical gospel, it may have been a source for Matthew.)

Beneath all this is the admonishment, “Dear Republican Party… Please choose one. Otherwise you’re doing it wrong.”

Okay, first question… What is “it?” This is another pet peeve of mine: using the word “it” in cases where the reader cannot determine from context what “it” is. It’s bad writing. It’s disorganized thinking. See? Both those “its” refer to the earlier, defined act of not giving a proper definition in context. But the viewer of this image is left to decide from his or her own knowledge and experience what the author means by “it.” In other words, he or she is left to try and read the author’s mind.

My telepathy tells me the author means “practicing political philosophy,” but my telepathy has been known to err.

Next question… What is the assumption? I said there’s an unstated assumption in all of these whatever-they-ares that litter social media. This one’s a little tricky. On the surface it’s that Jesus and Ayn Rand are of sufficiently equivalent stature that they should be compared at all.

Of course, from one perspective, they are.  If you look at the historical Jesus of Nazareth, son of a carpenter, and the historical Ayn Rand, daughter of a Russian pharmacist, you see a lot of similarities.

While only one of the people pictured is a Jew, both Ayn Rand and the historical Jesus were Jewish. Ms. Rand just hasn’t been divested of her Jewry through centuries of artistic interpretation, as has this sandy-haired gentleman above. Give it time, though. In a recent Marvel Comics publication, she was depicted assisting Nazis, so at least one modern socialist is unaware of her ethnic derivation. And many, many modern Christians have grown up believing that Jesus was a White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant.

Both were precocious – Rand taught herself to read at six, and Jesus debated the clergy at twelve. Both disapproved of the societies into which they were born. Both spoke to the masses about the correct way to live. Both had disciples. Both have their words published in many languages, and those words are still in print long after their deaths. Jesus has had a much longer run, of course, but then Rand got power of veto over the words attributed to her, and he didn’t.

They did, of course, espouse very different philosophies. Jesus was a First-Century Jewish Apocalyptic prophet who believed that all the evil in the world was about to bring about a cataclysmic change, and that the only hope for humanity was to profess faith in the God of Abraham. Rand believed that man’s purpose was to live for his own fulfillment and happiness, and that his intellectual achievements were all he had to protect him from evil. Jesus believed in helping anyone who needed help, in order to lead them to God. Rand believed that a lot of that “helping others” talk became just another excuse for the less weak to prey on the more weak, along the way stealing everything they could from those who were truly strong.

So here are two of the Chosen People who both wanted to make the world a better place, though they probably couldn’t have agreed on the color of the sky, much less on what the purpose of human existence is supposed to be.

Looked at that way, sure, you can place them side by side and say “Could two people be any more different? Their philosophies surely can’t be reconciled.”

But if you’re a traditional Christian (and by that I mean, not a fundamentalist or an evangelical, but any Christian who believes Jesus is a redeemer, a savior, a messiah. That he’s something more than a charismatic social activist.) then Jesus and Ayn Rand cannot be compared. One is divine, the other is mortal. Period. Which means that the image depends on the acceptance of a second assumption, and that is that Jesus is not, in fact, divine.

(I bet the creator of the image would argue that there’s another possibility – that people like Paul Ryan see Rand as a god just as much as they see Jesus as one. That possibility exists only in the universe engirdled by their sarcasm. It is not reality. I will pay a cash reward to the first person who produces one confirmed Christian, not suffering an illness cataloged in the DSM-IV, who just as devoutly professes that Ayn Rand is of divine origin.)

“Please choose one, otherwise you’re doing it wrong?” Whoever wrote that probably also says that if you don’t vote either Democrat or Republican, then you haven’t actually voted.

But I get it, I do get it. The point the artist is making is that Republicans like Paul Ryan have let another idol (Rand) displace God and Jesus in their eyes. They’re putting their devotion to Christian ideals aside to hold up a belief that’s anti-welfare, anti-universal health care, anti-centrally planned economies. Jesus, after all, would support government welfare…

Wouldn’t he?

Well, he’s not here to answer. But when those on the Left start using Jesus as an excuse for the welfare state, I start to ask what ever happened to separation of Church and state? I agree with those who don’t want to hear America called “A Christian Nation,” who don’t want prayer in school, and who think atheists and Pagans should be allowed to be Boy Scouts. America is not supposed to have a state religion. Why then, is it okay to suggest that the American system of government should be built on the un-verified philosophy of a man (because, if you don’t have a state religion, you can only recognize him as a man for purposes of public policy) who wasn’t even a U.S. citizen, simply because some of the population assign supernatural significance to him?

Jesus is also known for saying that citizens of Rome were to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,” by which he meant that government was for the world of human making, not the world of God’s making. In spiritual matters, he advised his followers to deal only with God. Charity, to Jesus, seems to me to have been a spiritual matter. I don’t think he necessarily would have agreed that the best way to aid the poor was to have an a-religious bureaucracy collect money and redistribute it. That takes away the whole reason behind Jesus’s belief in charity – that it’s how you bring lost sheep back to the fold of the Lord.

My friend (and he is truly a good friend) who posted this on Facebook explained to me that, to him, it meant that you can’t be a follower of both Rand and Jesus. And maybe that’s my essential problem. I have heroes. I am happy to say that Rand and Jesus are two of them. But I don’t do following. I prefer to develop my own personal philosophy and make my own decisions. And I can tolerate neither the suggestion that I should do otherwise, nor the implication that Paul Ryan or anyone else is too dull-witted to do anything but follow a master. That’s my religious faith: that all humans have a spark of divine fire and the capability to think for themselves. If they use it.

Finally, the quotes that were picked concern me. They’re accurate, but they don’t either one really touch the core of their authors’ belief systems. Well, maybe the Rand one does. She did consider any sort of groupthink to be evil, and, as Marx noted, religion is often nothing but dogma and groupthink.

As to the camel and the eye of the needle… sigh… Redistributors of wealth love this quote… It appears to say that wealthy people are all evil. That’s not, I believe, what it was meant to say. It was meant to say that those who are very attached to the worldly things (as a rich person is prone to be) have a very hard time connecting to the spiritual. I don’t think Jesus meant that Heaven had a maximum income law and you’d be booted out if you showed up in a Lexus (though you might be if I was in charge of the gate!) I think he just meant that a person who’s so focused on worldly success as to become rich would probably not even try to accomplish the spiritual connection that he believed was necessary to come into contact with God, and thus dwell in Heaven.

Who is spiritually connected, after all? Ghandi? The Dalai Llama? Mother Theresa? Not a Lexus-driver in the lot. Who composed spirituals? Not the people who donated the stained glass windows to the churches, I can tell you that. No, spirituals, which ultimately gave us the heavenly sounds of jazz, were sung by slaves and destitute ex-slaves, whose only hope for a decent, humane existence was the promise of the Kingdom of Heaven as described by Jesus.  People in desperate circumstances, are, of necessity, more spiritually oriented. Or, as I’ve frequently said to my friend Lance Woods, if we’d both been born penniless, he’d be Alfred Hitchcock now and I’d be Frank Capra. But we were born middle class, and so we never had full contact with our creative centers.

The Camel quote makes a valid point, but it’s so misquoted and misused that, well, it’s become meaningless.

And how about giving their most important quotes, instead of a couple selected by a cynic who hates Rand and distrusts Jesus, specifically to make them sound as diametrically opposed as possible. (Was that unfair? That may have been unfair. I don’t know the person who created this image. I assign to him/her the characteristics of the most malanthropic of the liberal atheists I have encountered. For all I know, the person is a liberal Christian who loves Jesus, or a conservative atheist Randite. But I doubt it.)

Ayn Rand said “Don’t work for my happiness, my brothers — show me yours — show me your achievement — and the knowledge will give me courage for mine.”

Jesus said, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Those two quotes, I think, much better serve to show what these exceptional people believed. I think it’s perfectly possible to recognize the greatness in both, without signing on to follow either.

My question is, would Ayn Rand or Jesus lend their moral support to any of the political candidates we’re currently being offered?

Live365 and the DMCA

Well, gang, it looks like Prometheus Radio Theatre will be dumping — more correctly be dumped BY — Live365. I’ve just received a threatening e-mail from their legal department, warning me to make our station “compliant” ASAP or have our broadcasting account suspended. What crime have I committed? Gasp! I’ve broadcast 16 tracks in a row by the same artist! This is a violation of the DMCA, and the RIAA has apparently lodged a complaint against us with Live365.

I’ve explained to them that we are an artist-owned station, which is supposed to make us immune to that bit of the DMCA. Perhaps they’ll see it that way, but I’ve been through enough BS with Live365 this year that I’m not willing to talk to them much more, particularly when they invoke the name of the infernal RIAA. Frankly, I’d like nothing better than to sue them for violating my First Amendment rights, but I’m sure some clever government-lover will explain to me that I have no rights in this case. (So why should this case be any different?)

And, because this has put me in a bad mood, I’ll snipe out the fact that the DMCA was signed into law by one of the sacred Democratic Party who’s supposed to swoop in and save us from fascism in 2008. This is just one of the many reasons that I don’t see any reason to prefer one party of special interest toadies over another.

I did take SOME small satisfaction in pointing out to the legal eagle who contacted me that he’s using AVG Free Edition to screen his e-mails against virus (it says so at the bottom) and AVG Free is not for use on corporate-owned PCs being used in a business environment. Throw the RIAA at me will you? I’ll see your music Nazis and raise you one visit from the BSA!