Thursday, September 29, 2005

Twin Towers Disaster

(I wrote this the night that the attacks on the Twin Towers happened. My wife went to work that night and I was alone after my son went to bed. I sat down at the kitchen table in our little condo and as the television continued to play the ongoing events I wrote this. It may be a little unpolished but it was written all at once so it captures a lot of the emotion I felt at that moment.)

A woman comes to the bus stop and calmly reports that a plane crashed into the Twin Towers. She must be mistaken, I think. She probably means one of those small prop jobs. I imagine the buildings, standing resolutely, the shining legs of a metal god, shrugging off the accident like a mosquito bite. It was annoying but not too tragic. Didn’t a plane crash into the Empire State Building in the forties? I ignore the report and mention my little fact to the mothers surrounding me. My bit of trivia fails to move them.

Inside my house, TV graphics blaze with the words AMERICA UNDER ATTACK or ATTACK ON AMERICA. My wife and I wonder what the hell is going on. A second plane, just moments before we flipped on the TV, crashed into the other tower.
Then, a third crash. A plane slams into the Pentagon. My body shook. I want to puke. I don't know what to do with myself. I flip through the channels, absorbing as much of the information as possible. A fourth plane chrahes into a field in Pennsylvania!

America really was under attack! It was real! Planes are dropping from the sky. What else is out there?

We were feeling what other countries had felt throughout modern history. Images of Beruit, with its bombed out buildings and war torn streets, came to mind. I’m afraid of the skies over my own country. I compare the feeling to that of Britain when Germany pounded her with bombs. I feel the same shock that the people of Japan must have felt when they learned of the bombing of Hiroshima.

On thousands and thousands of postcards, magnets, ashtrays and chochkas in homes around the country--around the world--the Twin Towers boldly reach above every other building in New York. The towers were pillars of the financial world, not to mention the pride of our city. Now, somehow, someone has taken them away from us. Everyone housed inside and the emergency personal who risked their lives for others went down with them.

America has some scars. Pearl Harbor, Oklahoma City and the Kennedy assassination crease our nation’s soul with sadness. This tragedy burns the heart of America. How can we heal from this wound? Will we heal? Those questions we cannot answer except by waiting out the days.

My son comes home from school at 3:30. I am numb to the events. I saw the crash from every angle. I heard all the commentary. I passed through all the classic phases one deals with during tragedies such as this. He announces that he knew all about it already. We explain the seriousness of the situation but I fear that he may be too young to understand.

We watch the news for him while he plays with his friends, exchanging playground rumors. Hours later, after my wife, a nurse, goes to work her midnight shift, I sit in my kitchen wondering what to do next.

I worry most about bedtime. Not mine, but my son’s. How do I put my child to bed tonight and pretend that he’s safe? I feel vulnerable, more than ever before in my life. What do I tell my son about this great American tragedy?

I look at the skyline of Manhattan on my television now darkened by night. A red cloud billows from the space between buildings where the World Trade Center should be. A pit has opened and swallowed the Twin Towers. I imagine the great groan of some demon as the building plunges further down into the maw. With the help of the media we are all huddled around that pit looking down, consoling each other, getting angry, crying over the loss, warming ourselves by the fire of this tragedy.

I tuck in my son to a clear, starry night. I don’t want to let go of him. I don’t want to walk out of his room and pretend that this is not a big deal. I pray as I finally leave him to sleep that he never knows the fear of the world that I do right now.


Monday, September 19, 2005

Intelligence on Earth and Beyond (Updated!)

I was listening to a podcast from the SETI institute where Seth Shostack was discussing intelligence and personalities of animals with various scientists. There was a scientist on the show who studied bird behavior. To me it sounded like an activity that a senior citizen involves himself in when there's nothing else to do with his days but it’s true, the guy has an important job. He found out that certain birds learn to use technology to get at food. Chickadees learned to gain acess to a cafeteria by flying in front of the electric eye that opens the automatic doors. Now that’s pretty smart. He called that a learned behavior, one that the bird did not learn from its parents or was hard wired into its brain. Here’s a cool one: Vultures in some country wait on the barbed wire fences that surround mine fields waiting for antelopes to trot by and blow themselves up so they can scavenge the pieces. Unfortunately not all birds are this intelligent. Chickens and Turkeys are pretty stupid. They tend not to learn from their mistakes. Judging by how many end up on my dinner plate I will agree that fowl aren’t the brightest of birds.

Speaking of my dinner plate, the behavior learned by these birds turns up a pattern. For the most part, the level of intelligence of a species seems to depend entirely on the type of food it eats. Pecking corn out of dirt doesn’t require innovative thinking or the need to learn new behavior but seeking out another animal as a food source or eating many different types of food requires a higher-level brain. An example the scientist used was a cow that stands around eating grass all day. A cow needs little in the way of brainpower but a large stomach to extract nutrients out of this low energy meal. On the other hand if you hunt other animals rich in protein you need a bigger brain and capacity to learn new behavior because the little buggers you eat just keep trying to avoid being eaten. Of course he never went into the opposite side of the story, intelligence related to trying not to die. I expect that the prey need to be just as intelligent trying to survive not becoming a meal as they do to seek out food. Both ways they try to survive as long as possible, or at least long enough to reproduce.

It seems like it’s simply Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. Those better suited to their environment live longest and reproduce more, spreading those characteristics to the next generation. So if you have a fur coat in winter then you will live to the next winter and spread your seed. The better the coat the more winters you’re libel to survive. Intelligence in food gathering and death avoidance seems to be on the same logical pathway. Even though Darwin knew nothing about genetics when he was working out his theory this theory neatly fits into genetics once discovered that we pass down our traits specifically through DNA.

So this gets a person to thinking. If intelligence is related to food gathering then why the hell do we spend so much time in our therapists’ office? I mean what are we doing there spending hundreds of dollars a week just to talk about our perceived problems when all we really care about is food gathering. That’s simply it. Our complex relationships between our family members, spouses, children and friends are nothing more than clan behavior related to food gathering, mapping and retention.

I mentioned before that some people think that consciousness is nothing more than the fast duplicity of our neurons processing. We only think that we think that we know that we exist but we don’t. We only think we do. Get it? We’re all just a complicated structure of star matter recycled so many times that carbon molecules combine to form amino acids, proteins, DNA, cells, us!

What is consciousness for anyway? What evolutionary advantage does being self-aware give us? When the scientists who study animal behavior find self-awareness, it’s usually in social animals. That makes sense. I mean grumpy, isolated creatures rarely need self-awareness. In actuality, self-awareness is a crutch to those who spend time alone. The less you thing about your self and your place in the world the better when your all by yourself. Self-awareness seems to be a trait in certain animals like dolphins, higher primates or us. (I always like to mention monkeys with humans.) I don’t mention dolphins with us because they are clearly much more intelligent than us and much cuter. If you’ve ever read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy you’d know just how much more intelligent they are. All I have to say is “You’re Welcome!”

For most of the time that humans have been self-aware we have wondered if intelligence is common in the universe. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence or SETI as most people know is an organization, once funded by NASA, whose mission statement says that it “is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe.” They do this by monitoring the skies for radio and light signals. A little hello in the form of a signal pattern. They use sophisticated programs to decipher the information they receive to see if it is a communication from intelligent beings. It’s a noble search. If someone told the early explorers before they left Europe that instead of reaching the Orient, they’d reach a land rich in resources and foreign people that no one ever knew was there they’d say you were crazy too. Until it happens, most ideas seem too far-fetched to be true. Like when Ellie Arroway in the movie version of the book “Contact” says that airplanes and men on the moon sounded like science fiction until we actually accomplished those goals. Now they seem old hat.

There is an equation called the Drake Equation that calculates the probability of other life in the universe. Dr. Frank Drake came up with this equation: N = R* • fp • ne • fl • fi • fc • L Using this equation Frank Drake estimates that there are 10,000 civilizations in the galaxy that can communicate with us. That’s not really a lot considering how many stars there are in our galaxy or how large this galaxy is. It takes light going 186,000 miles per second 80,000 years to travel from one end to the other. Thus if we are receiving signals from the center of the galaxy it would take that signal 30,000 years to reach us. By that time there’d be no use in answering but at least we’d know that we are not alone.

Back on our world we have to wonder why we are the only species to develop this level of intelligence to produce the spectrum of traits in intelligence including self-awareness. It all seems so complicated, including the concepts we live with everyday in our collective societies: Emotion and Personality. Personality seems to be a trait we also share with social creatures along with self-awareness. Dogs don’t seem to know that you are not another dog. To them you’re just the alpha dog and your dog depends on you to live. He is not aware that there are others unlike him or that he has a place in the scheme of things. He doesn’t wonder what life is about. He dreams but only about chasing balls and getting treats. But, he does have a personality.

Personality is like beauty or love. You know it when you see it. It’s the IT that people talk about when they talk about movie stars. Some people have great personalities that make other happy and some people have dour personalities that seem to reject everyone else. Other people have some combination of both, along with a purposefulness that just knows that their cranky personality is something other people find amusing. We generally describe people’s personality with one word adjectives: Happy, Funny, Melancholy, Grumpy, etc… For the most part people aren’t that one-dimensional except on Television shows. (You know the nosy neighbor that always gossips or the cranky old character that hates everyone or the funny guy.) You may recognize pieces of these character traits in real people but they are more complex than that. Usually a combination of many different traits in varying degrees, which is why it takes so long to get to know someone and you can offend anyone easily without knowing it. Everyone knows someone who can read others like a book. They have that special skill that lets them instantly know the nuances of someone they just met. Generally these people make friends easily.

Your genes are suggested to control just about every system in your body. Why parts of your body are certain colors or thickness is a result of your genetic make-up. Short, Tall, Dark, Light. It is all ultimately related to Natural Selection, according to evolution. So why not Personality? Your mental make-up should be a reflection of the best adaptive ability of that trait. Meaning that you can reproduce longer and better if you have a type of personality that in the environment that the trait thrived it was beneficial to your reproduction. Aggression can be attributed to sexual rivalry. Alpha males tend to rise above the crowd because they tend to mate more often. The alpha male strides around the nightclub stealing women from nerds and copulating with them to the chagrin of said nerds. This may be unfair but it’s the way the world works.

Of course that’s not really how it works. Attraction, if evolution theory is correct, should only be based on certain things. For a woman it would be the ability of a mate to provide adequately for her and her children since she can reproduce only in limited quantities and for a limited amount of time. Men on the other hand, seek a strategy of reproducing as widely and as often as possible. I tend to agree with this theory on a purely scientific level. Of course in my real world it doesn’t work that way and not only because I’m no alpha male. It’s because humans have devised a whole list of distractions from the base, primitive instincts of our close primate relatives. Some of us like white wine and art while other like beer and rock and roll. We seek people who fill all kinds of psychological needs. Very little of them have to do with our base instincts although some people beg to differ. Yes, people generally look for others to fill those needs (like you want to marry a someone with a good job) but ultimately we go for the intellectual match over the biological one. Is this a good thing? Who knows but I guess it’s better than arranged marriages.

With our telescopes pointed out into the sky every night at SETI we look for others in this large universe who may or may not match our intellect. There may be a very grumpy species out there just waiting for some other planet to destroy or conquer. There also may be a planet of peaceniks just looking for someone to share the beauty of the universe with. That would seem a little too much like a T.V. sitcom character. All the Vulcans are going to be logical and scientific. All the Klingons are aggressive. I think that the lesson of earth is that if there is life out there and SETI somehow makes contact then they will be just like us. A little of everything!


Friday, September 16, 2005

Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing.

The FEMA director Brown resigned. Another scapegoat for the Bush administration. Don’t worry about him he’ll get another job somewhere making a ton of money. Just like with Colon Powell’s son. Here’s the thing I don’t understand about Bush. Wasn’t he supposed to be the uniter not the divider? Wasn’t that his platform against Kerry in the election campaign in 2004? Since 9/11 as Bill Mar pointed out so well on his last HBO show, we’ve lost the Twin Towers, the good will of all the important nations in the world and now New Orleans! What’s next? If by uniter he means “my way or the highway,” then he’s right on track to destroying this country. His fundamentalist moral agenda is dangerously close to the way the fundamentalist Muslims have highjacked their religion. They have the right road to G-d and anyone who disagrees is a heathen. Bush has Co-opted religion for his own means. He parades around like moral statue but he’s really this insidious liar with no regard for the people. He high jacked religion to blindside the poor and middle of the road religious right and then went ahead and got caught with his pants down in Iraq, the economy, and now this FEMA thing. There are no WMDs, the economy is not getting better since oil prices are through the roof, the stock market is flat and the only thing surviving is the housing market which good old is trying to destroy or temper. Then there’s this practice of putting into power anyone Bush or his family drank or played pool with over the years. Highly incompetent people like Brown and Rice. Otherwise he’s got these patsies out front like Colon Powell towing the line because of all the good the first Iraq War did for him and oh by the way we gave your son a job in the FCC another incompetent. Is there no end to this? Is America asleep at the wheel? Are we going to continue to let this president use the White House like an old boy's club? Where are the editorials railing against this abuse of power and incompetence? Are we so full of pride that some of us, and you know who you are, can’t fess up that your golden boy president is an incompetent fool who can’t string two words together without ending up looking like an uneducated lout? I mean how does his press corps let him go out and say the things he does on TV? Like after Hurricane Katrina when he kept the old party talk he’s been spouting from the days after 9/11 to Iraq to now: “These people will rebuild!” What’s the matter with this administration? Tell that to the guy who needs food and water. Tell that to the women and children holed up in a half destroyed dome. Tell that to the old man sitting on his roof, floodwaters surrounding him, waiting to be rescued. New Orleans residents and the surrounding area affected by this storm need actual help. They needed action, control and a guy who can react quickly to disaster. What the heck was Bush doing when the Hurricane hit? Reading books to schoolchildren, contemplating the dumb luck he has to be the moral compass for a nation that doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about half the time? When disaster strikes you can keep you soft words and your Yale smile to yourself and let the real men take over controlling this country. I think we’ve had enough of this man-boy already. Let a guy who’s worked his whole life and actually accomplished a thing or two do some real work instead of this cardboard cut out of his father.


Friday, September 09, 2005

Why the changes?

I realized that I have been neglecting my college education. You see, the State Universities of New York at Farmingdale and Buffalo trained me in the techniques of Graphic Design. I'd be doing a disservice to those public institutions if I did not recall at least a part of the knowledge that I received. It'd also be like saying to my parents that they wasted their money sending me to school 'cause I didn't lern nutin'? That being said, I learned that it is much harder to read text when it is printed in reverse print. That means that the type is lighter than the background that it is printed on. In traditional printing this was a huge technical nightmare because unless you were using an expensive press (or even if you were) you'd have to fight "bleed" or "spread." Bleeding or spreading is when the ink you use doesn't stay where it's told. The sharp edges tend to spread into the white areas a little causing fuzziness. When dealing with reverse type, especially on cheap paper, that spread causes some of the text to fill in and become illegible. Sometimes it even becomes illiterate or inedible but that's a different story. When it's reversed the eye also tends to close the space between a thin white opening between dark shaped. Serif type looses its serifs making it look "yucky." yucky for all those not trained in Graphic Design means "Icky" or "Bleh." Generally that's a negative reaction. Also, a person's eyes get tired of reading faster when reading reverse type. So if you've been falling asleep while reading my blog, blame reverse type not the content. When I chose the Blue background with reverse type I was thinking aesthetically not legibly. I want my words to sing on the web page. And they can't sing when cut out of a heavy blue background.

I've been doing some research on the issue of Intelligent Design or ID, as it is known. There's been such a big backlash in the scientific community against the teaching of ID in school and rightfully so for reasons that I have touched on. Additionally ID doesn't stand a chance when up against the scientific method. There's just a lot of fluff there. When President Bush responded "Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought . . .. You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes."


Do I have to spell it out for you people? What the heck does that mean? I have to give Bush a little credit here. After 5 years in the White House, Bush was finally able to dodge a question with the flair of a pro B.S. Artist. What a trick. I bet he learned that from Karl Rove. He may have borrowed a page from Bill Clinton. (See I can attack Democrats too when they're wrong. When they are right, I can't help but point that out as well. Here's a statement by Congressman Rush Holt:

When the tenets of critical thinking and scientific investigation are weakened in our classrooms, we are weakening our nation. That is why I think the President's off-hand comment about intelligent design as the other side of the debate over evolution is such a great disservice to Americans. He said a lot of other good stuff in the article. You should check it out. It was from TPM Cafe.

I have to thank a blog that I found that has some great ideas and links to other evolution proponents: evolutionblog This blog is located on the same hosting site as mine!

I agree that it is a great disservice to allow this dissolution of critical thought in our classrooms. Without critical thought we will be left behind as a nation. We become weak and backward. Who wants to go back to the Middle Ages? Not me. One of the greatest aspects of our national heritage is our great faith. Not only in G-d in whatever form we wish to worship him but in the critical thought that formed our country, our constitution and our independence. In the formation of our country the founding fathers wrote a document that prohibited the mixing of Church and State and for good reason. Not to undermine either but to sanctify both.


Thursday, September 08, 2005

A Change Of Pace Or Selfless Promotion Of My Writing, Which Come To Think Of It Is Exactly What This Blog Is All About Anyway... Nevermind.

The white concrete glistens; the air is cool and crisp. A slight scent of asphalt and exhaust laced in between the aroma of a compost dump nearby drifts through the air. The sounds are of the familiar click-clank of trains pulling up to the station and a warning bell signals the immanent closing of train doors.

It’s another day in the life of a Long Island Rail Road commuter. I anticipate the routine. I rely on it. The coffee guy has to be in the same spot and miraculously has my order ready by the time I reach his cart. He remembers every order of every one of his regular customers, but I can’t remember if the coffee costs ninety or ninety-five cents. I give him a buck, pocket the change — dime or nickel — and turn my attention to the trek up the stairs and over to the platform.

It is at times rigorous and at others dreadful. I consider the sturdy cement steps. If I’m feeling vibrant and have caught up on some sleep, I might consider them two at a time. I wait on the platform and watch the complimentary TV permanently tuned to channel 12 or talk to my train buddies while waiting for the silver express to rumble into the station. I feel like I’ve stepped into the virile world of an Art Deco painting. I see the broad shoulders of a businessman as he walks across the platform; his heavy briefcases in one hand, the other cocked at the elbow, his hand clutched into a square fist. Chevrons angle away from the train as its shimmering streamlined body speeds past the blue suited man. We are all part of some artist's argument for the industrial aesthetic. The station, the trains and the travelers are a part of the drama. A documentary of the mind to the working stiff of America. Somewhere in that white stone landmark of a station is the reflection of the soul of every man and woman forced to travel incessantly back and forth to the venerable Art Deco city: New York.

I think of the station as a notable relic in waiting. In a thousand years when the antiquated railway systems are replaced by some high velocity electromagnetic thrust speeders the station will stand the test of time. Like the Coliseum and the Great Wall of China, the high rise foundation of the Train Station is the epitome of utilitarian design.

The white cement and steel of the overpass is Long Island's very own monument to the modern commuter. The poor slob. The average Joe. The everyday Gal. The suburban hero who braves snow, overcrowded parking lots and temporarily suspended service so his kids can have the same life he or she had. That this may not be a good thing will be reserved for later but for now, the working men and women of Long Island can rest assured that they have their own memorial. Just as Washington has his monument, Tut has his tomb and Mumtaz has her Taj Mahal, we Long Island commuters have our Train Station. A shining white symbol of the modern age.

But ours is better. We got a coffee guy out front.

Drivers think they have it better than the train riders. So what if they have an HOV lane. BIG FAT DEAL! On the train it's all HOV. Plus, you don't have to actually operate the vehicle which leaves time for socializing or sleep. Try that in the HOV lane!

Also there’s the mystery language that we get to listen to everyday!

Channel Four. The mystery channel. Likened to the bat signal and the White House red phone. When it's called, it can't be good. Every seasoned commuter worth his salt knows that the infamous phrase “Go to channel four!” is a beacon of doom. It means that there’s trouble on this railroad and we ain’t about to tell hundreds of frustrated sweaty passengers what it is until all the conductors are safely sealed away in their little compartment boxes. Much of the lingo has invaded my vocabulary since commuting the Long Island Rail Road.

My eight year old son had been badgering me for a new bike he spied in the toy store circular. He already has a bike but that one wasn't good enough because according to him it would just break if he tried to do any 'tricks' on it. In one of those dinner table moments I jokingly told my wife that we had to go to 'channel four' to discuss it. She looked at me with that sideways sneer that always makes me rethink the last few minutes of my life.

It was then that I realized that the LIRR has its own jargon. A slang or technobable that no one else understands unless they too are a fellow rider. It’s the sort of pop-culture, esoteric, hip, terminology privy to only a few thousand wayfarers. I liken it to the phenomenon following the release of Pulp Fiction and everyone who saw the movie went around ordering a "Royale with cheese." I was sucked in by the vernacular of the MTA. When I opened my mouth people could tell that I took the train all because I thought it was hip to say, "Go to channel 4!"

That’s the same geek-speaking insider-joke stuff that gets those IT people in trouble all the time. Who really knows what they’re saying when they laugh at their computer jokes? Although it seems fun to exclude the layman, we see it as another intramural club we never wanted to join anyway. Same as this commuter clique I belong to. There are the commuters and the non-commuters and never the twain shall meet.

I’ve got a joke: Three guys are driving down a deserted road in the middle of summer when their car stops working. The first guy, who happens to be a plumber by trade, says to the others, "I bet it’s a busted hose. We should patch it up and we’ll be on our way." The second guy, an electrician, says, "No I disagree. I think its a spark plug and we should change it and then we’ll be on our way." The third guy, a LIRR train conductor, is silent for a little while then bursts out, "I got an idea!" He beams. "We sit here sweating for an hour. I’ll hop a cab and then you have to find your own way home."

Sound familiar? Oh yeah, we know.


Phone rings. JEWISH MOTHER picks up the phone and answers)

Jewish Mother

Hi Mom. Can I leave the kids with you tonight?

Jewish Mother
You're going out?


Jewish Mother
With whom?

With a friend.

Jewish Mother
I don't know why you left your husband. He is such a good man.

I didn't leave him. He left me!

Jewish Mother
You let him leave you, and now you go out with anybodies and nobodies.

I do not go out with anybody. Can I bring over the kids?

Jewish Mother
I never left you to go out with anybody except your father.

There are lots of things that you did and I don't.

Jewish Mother
What are you hinting at?

Nothing. I just want to know if I can bring the kids over tonight.

Jewish Mother
You're going to stay the night with him? What will your husband say if he finds out?

My EX husband. I don't think he would be bothered. From the day he left me, he probably never slept alone!

Jewish Mother
So you're going to sleep over at this loser's place?

He's not a loser.

Jewish Mother
A man who goes out with a divorced woman with children is a loser and a parasite.

I don't want to argue. Should I bring over the kids or not?

Jewish Mother
Poor children with such a mother.

Such a what?

Jewish Mother
With no stability. No wonder your husband left you.


Jewish Mother
Don't scream at me. You probably scream at this loser too!

Now you're worried about the loser?

Jewish Mother
Ah, so you see he's a loser. I spotted him immediately.

Goodbye, mother.

Jewish Mother
Wait! Don't hang up! When are you bringing them over?

I'm not bringing them over! I'm not going out!

Jewish Mother
If you never go out, how do you expect to meet anyone?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

It’s my blog and I’ll whine if I want to.

Have you ever seen those little yellow ribbons on the back of cars? Some of them are yellow like in the Tony Orlando song and some are red, white and blue. Mostly they say “Support Our Troops” or something like that. But now you can find them for almost everything. I’ve seen them for P.O.W.s and M.I.A.s. I’m all right with that. Then there are the ones for diseases like little pink ones for breast cancer and puzzle pieces for Autism. Have you seen those? They’re the same magnetic ribbons with different color puzzle pieces but there one piece missing. Pretty appropriate, I guess. I don’t know how the autistics feel about them. I guess I’ll have to ask someone. All I know about Autism is what I’ve seen on Rain Man. Actually that’s not true. I know an Autistic child. He’s a special kid. He likes Sesame Street videos. Mostly when I see him he’s watching the credits over and over again. He’ll repeat them as he hears certain things like, “Created by Jim Henson” and things like that. It’s funny and also a little amazing the things he’s attaches onto and repeats to himself. He loves his Grandfather and when Grandpa comes over he really seems to respond. He’s also and artist of sorts and his father has his entire garage lined with his son’s pictures. I didn’t really intend to talk about Autism but it sorta just came up. Besides I like that movie, Rain Man. I don’t know if it’s accurate but I’d never heard of Autism before that movie. Or met anyone with Autism until I met this little boy. He’s not a code for my own child or brother or something. He’s a boy I know. A nephew of my sister-in-law. Her brother’s son. If you know me you already know who it is so it’s no secret. Names have been withheld for no reason in particular. Anyway, back to those little signs. So you know them, right. Everybody does. (I wish I invented them among a million other things like Snowman Kits.) One thing that does makes me scratch my head is dandruff. Another thing is when I see these yellow magnetic ribbons on the back of a Hummer. A Hummer! It just seems so ironic somehow. You can draw your own conclusions. Big car, guzzles gas, war and terrorism in the Middle East, Americans Dying. ‘Nuff said.
We already know that Oil and Water don’t mix. But what about Oil and Ego? Those two go together like Peanut Butter and Jelly, Ernie and Bert, R2D2 and C3PO, They just seem to always find each other. I mean look at the oil barons. Look at the dictatorships of the Middle East. They just go together. Now I don’t know too much about the oil industry except that I need it desperately yet I wish I didn’t. I wish I had one of those cars from Back To The Future that had a Mr. Fusion attached to it. (Or was it Mr. Fission? Either way we get huge energy because E equals M times C squared, if you know what I mean.) I was watching some interesting PBS special last night (Tuesday, 9/6/05, Channel 13, PBS) called Road to 9/11 that I have to comment on.
After WWI, the British and French (remember that fact) stayed around the Middle East because they had defeated the Ottomans and thought it was a really neat place that needed meddling with, tinkering, you know, a fixer upper. So they took out the maps and divided up the area according to their own designs with no real attention to what the Arabs thought. Without going too much into detail, the Arabs didn’t like it and fought back. Initially they embraced the Nazis who tried to move in because the of the old adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” So far the United States has very little to do with this. Got it. British and French Colonialism. O.K.? Then the Nazis set up a base in Lebanon. The Baathists, the governing party of Sadam Hussein, is based on the Nazi Party. Great role model. Ataturk comes in and modernizes and secularizes the Ottoman Empire and renames it Turkey. This doesn’t bode well with the rest of the Middle East. A rebellious faction of Muslims rises in Colonial Egypt. The “Muslim Brothers” is the group most identified with the modern “Al Qaeda.” After WWII, the Jews settle Israel and then the shit hits the fan. These Arabs do not want the Jews there and the Palestinians, displaced kinda just sit around getting angry. Let me add that Saudi Arabia has enough resources to settle these guys but they don’t. Lebanon has laws limiting Palestinians from settling there. Yep, no one else wants them. Not because they don’t like them. Nope it’s because if the Palestinians are happy then the populace has nothing to bitch about and may turn against the rich ruling families who don’t share the oil wealth. Remember the fact that Ego and Oil don’t mix. When Egypt’s leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser, got into bed with the Soviets because he didn't like the Westerners, the United States decided that to fight Communism everywhere in the world they needed to back Israel. Now is that the only reason, probably not. Did the United States have good intentions for Israel? Maybe a little. Did the United States base most of its foreign policy decisions at the time and for the next fifty years purely on fighting the Soviet Union’s influence and expansion? Yep. Did this policy get us in a lot of trouble and into conflicts that we probably shouldn’t have been involved in (See Vietnam War? Hell yeah! Did it sometimes advance science at a breakneck pace (See Space Race)? Oh Baby! So fighting Communism or the stagnant form of Karl Marx’s philosophy that the Soviet Union professed to follow was a big motivator in the U.S. foreign policy in the fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties. Enter the U.S. into the Middle East picture. Oil in the Middle East was the icing on the cake. A big conclusion of this PBS Special is that oil funded the stagnation of the Economic and Political growth in the Middle East because the wealth of oil sales allowed oppressive governments to finance everything they needed without taxation. Taxation without Representation? How about no taxation hence no representation, no voice to be heard in the government and no reason to listen. (Stay! Heel! Play Dead!) There was no impudence for the government to help or even pay attention to the masses and since they spent a lot of money on their armies they could quell any uprising.
Osama Bin Laden comes in and because of the Waahaabi form of Islam that he learned as a youth which interprets the Koran in a not so nice way, he tries to fight his government but that’s a little hard because they’d kill you as soon as look at you. So he goes to Afghanistan and fights the Russians. He does a pretty good job and we pat him on the head here. We also pat little sadistic Saddam on the head for fighting against the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. There was that whole hostage business there that we didn’t go in for. So these two guys are sitting there and doing nothing. Saddam decides to invade Kuwait and Osama offers to pitch in and help resist the Infidels but “no thanks, we can handle this one.” That’s about it. No secret pact. No training camps for Al Qaeda. Nothing. Saddam has his own death squads, thank you very much but we’ll drop a line if we want some advice, Osama. While we fight in Iraq, Osama fumes and blames the Americans. He probably blames the British too. May be has a thing for the French, I don’t know but he targets us. Or U.S. What’s up with that? The French are so full of themselves over there saying, (French accent) “Well we did not start this fight with Osama Bin Laden. You Americans started it and we will not get involved, no, no. We do not support you. We fart in your general direction.”
Can someone remind them that it was they and the British who started this whole thing? Huh? Typical French. Now I don’t think we should be in Iraq. I think Bush lied to us about the reasons we went to war including WMDs. But I hate arrogance in this administration and the French. I mean, we gave ‘em Jerry Lewis comedies. What else do they want? Don’t they get it?
Meanwhile, Osama Bin Laden is still out there. He’s in the mountains somewhere hiding in some cave or holed up in some sympathetic house. I hope they have T.V. where he is. Osama should learn his history. He’s a very bad man. He’s a fanatic. He’s an archenemy of the United States. He should have watched that PBS special.

I hate that guy.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005


When we uncover our DNA, our genes, the predispositions and inherent mistakes in our genetic code are we uncovering all that we really are? Are we just deterministic beings controlled by genetics and/or environment? Are we smart machines of nature? Some say that we are. They saw we are just blood and bones and cells and electrical pulses so complex that it only seems that we are conscious of the world. If that is true then the universe is a dark place where life is the animation of chemicals. The stars, the engines and factories of this place, make the complex stuff of life (like carbon) and things we hold so precious (like gold) out of simple hydrogen and helium folded upon itself a thousand times over. Then what of free will? Is there such a thing or does determinism take the fun out of life. If it is right, then determinism means that without free will and randomness, if you were able to stand outside the universe and know every position of every atom and every minute part of the atom then you can predict exactly what will happen in the future. Like a pool table with billiard balls are bouncing around each other, if you know what force began that motion and then know all the forces acting on that system of balls like friction, gravity, air, etc. then you can calculate exactly where every ball will go. But you have to know it all, from the minute discrepancies on the pool table surface to the heat generated by the rolling balls to the mass of the balls and the list goes on. I am sure that we can do this with a very minor margin for error with current science because the system of that pool table is so small compared to the rest of the universe. If we are as inert as the billiard balls on earth, bouncing off each other since the beginning of our time here then we can definitely determine the future. The future can be predicted unquestionable. Imagine that the human brain is just a sequence of movements based on atomics. Everything depends on the actions of everything else but as such a high speed that we are fooled into thinking that we exist outside of the universe we inhabit with a distinct personality that survives us after we die and the constituent parts of our bodies break down. If only that were true then we could all be happy little billiard balls. I want to be the green-striped 14 ball. I call it! We can end our conversation there if it weren’t for that annoying little thing called quantum physics. In quantum physics we have a tiny realm where probability rules supreme. As a matter of fact, quantum physics relies on the fact that people pretty much take a leap of faith and believe in it because the experiments work and they show that all kinds of crazy things can happen. It’s been said that if you understand quantum physics then you really don’t get it. Richard P. Feynman said that "I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics." Kind of like my wife. Quantum chance says among other things that the definite position of an electron and its speed can never both be experimentally determined. Yep. That’s right an electron can be measured for where it’s at or how fast it’s going but never both at the same time with accuracy. This means that if you know how fast an electron is going, its position is a blurry wave of probability but if you know where an electron is at then how fast it’s going is a set of probabilities. It can be one of many places (The galaxy of Andromeda) or going as fast as the speed of light (but never more). Ahh, to be an electron zipping around the highways of American with impunity because even if a cop caught my speed on radar he’d never find me. (I could be here. Or over here. Or both!) Even if he did see me then he’d never know how fast I was going. (I could be going backward!) If I take that theory out past the size of the electron then I can even realistically make myself a quantum wave. Yes. Even my body if a probability wave. I exist in many places at once going at many speeds. But since I am so large, the probability is so low that it makes very little sense. Almost none. (If only I could tap into this power, I’d be Quantum Man!) Of course there are skeptics who say that all the experiments that prove quantum physics like the double-slit experiment are the result of information that we cannot know. That there is a deterministic nature even on the quantum level. (Those skeptics really can ruin a good thing for Quantum Man.)
O.K. so say we have someone who can know everything. Someone like say my Mother or G-d. In Jewish scripture, G-d knows all. (Like a Jewish Mother!) He knows everything we do or will accomplish. There is nothing that a man will, can or does do that G-d does not know, see or can figure out from the evidence. He is the one outside the system that has the deterministic quality. He has all the info on everything. And he started it all. (Think Jewish Mother!) If that’s the case then in genetics he has encoded this knowing so that he too can figure out what we will do, each of us, individually and as a species.
But what about randomness and quantum physics? What is that emergent element that makes us “feel alive,” conscious, the self or soul, if you will. Did G-d place our spirits in these genetically deterministic organisms so he can know all that we will do is only he can read our genetic structure?
Can we alter our reality? Or is that our purpose? If we were somehow designed through influence and evolution, natural selection and well-timed mutation to become these imperfect, obviously readable creatures, are we to always strive as individuals and a society to become better than our programming? When we map our DNA will we find G-d embarrassed? He coded our genes and we found out his secret. Or will he say that we have found what it is that he hid from us on purpose. We resist our coding, our primal urges. That is what separates me from my neighbor’s dog. If we couldn’t resist those urges and place civility above instinct then we’d be going around greeting each other with more than a handshake.
In Genesis, Adam bit the apple and doomed us all. The apple is self-consciousness that enables us to make our own decisions. Before, we were no better than animals. Though we ate from the vine and slept in nature, we knew no better. Our aspirations were few and simplistic. If this is what we were, then it was a time before humans. Our ancestral link in evolution. When we were just smart monkeys. That is until G-d bestowed on us the apple. The knowledge that allowed us to make decisions based not on instinct but on reason. We tend to think of this time in the story of genesis as a fall from grace yet overlook all that it has delivered. Were there no apple there’d be no Moses, no great leaders, no philosophers, no Plato or Socrates or Pythagoras, no Newton, no Einstein, no Heisenberg or Hawkings. There’d be no need for the great fearless pioneers. No John Glenn or Magellan. No Patton or Mother Theresa. You see how such a small choice that seemed so wrong at the time can affect a race or people. How a small mutation that allowed us to stand upright or use tools effectively or speak and make clothes made us human in all the senses of the word. More than biology but our souls too.
Look we had no choice. Who can resist a shiny, delicious, red apple? G-d made the apple tempting. We had no choice to resist. There was no modern soul to speak of. We were predetermined to choose that apple. It’s in our genes.
When we succumbed, we changed. The mutation occurs in nature all the time but the extent of it, the significance is encapsulated in that one fable.
Like Uncle Ben said in Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” But there’s also suffering. (Thanks Uncle Ben, why couldn’t you be more like Yoda. At least he lays it on the line.) Within our genes are the codes to determinism. It’s what makes us like G-d and also like the creatures of the earth.
So why resist? Why outlaw genetic testing as long as it’s done responsibly. We can make great changes in the world. How we live and the quality of our lives. There will always be than quantum flux, the probability wave that makes life interesting. So to think that we are “playing G-d” with genetics is laughable. Can we make a particle that appears in two places at once? Can we make a universe from tiny vibrations that look like chance? Like music? Let me think about it…Not! Now, that would be playing G-d.


Monday, September 05, 2005

Oil Prices, PDBs, WMDs, and the W’s Q&A Bible.

I see that oil closed at about $66 per barrel as of Friday, September 2nd. The oil disruptions from Hurricane Katrina must have really kicked us in the butt because I thought that not only were we going to find WMDs in Iraq pointed directly at the United States but we were going to use the oil produced in the country to pay for its reconstruction. Besides that, I believe that we could redirect some of those resources to the U.S. for reserves. Well, now is the time. The other shoe has dropped. It’s the perfect storm of oil crisis! So where is all this extra oil? I’ve heard other people say that the administration stole oil from Iraq after the invasion and as much as I’d like to believe it, I generally don’t. My conspiracy theories don’t go that deep. I have been proven wrong though so I am open to anything. Like when I told everyone on the LIRR commuting to NYC that I thought the impeachment of Bill Clinton was smoke and mirrors and that I thought that the Republican bull dog, Ken Starr, was distracting the country from more important matters. Most people sneered at me and said I didn’t “get it.” I guess I didn’t, because while we mused, Rome burned. Osama Bin Laden was planning to take down the towers by more determined means using airplanes. I never thought of that! So I guess that I didn’t "get it." I was referring to the poor and the destitute in the United States. I was referring to the health care crisis. I was referring to the economy about to burst. The disparity between rich and poor. Suburban sprawl. Teenagers taking guns to school and shooting their classmates. Things like that. Not September 11th. Sorry, my fault. I was wrong. The Starr Report was right. In hindsight which was more important? The attention on the Starr Report or the PDB (President's Daily Briefing) titled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.?" (The Smoking Gun or PDF of PDB) The reports on the Report say that no new information was presented and that it only reported historical findings. This report was prepared in response to President’s Bush request after he heard something in a debriefing he wanted elaborated. See: See White House Site Two things I find wrong with that statement: 1. Bush paid attention to something and 2. He requested something to read. He claims to have read the bible but I bet he only listened to it read to him in church. I read the bible and believe it or not to anyone who hasn’t read it, it’s a woozy of a book. It’s complicated, has lots of drama, relationships (some shocking) and G-d is put in a pretty harsh Point Of View. I mean he’s nice to the Jews most of the time but he’s got a short temper in my version of the Five Books of Moses. The only one who can reason with him is Moses himself who begs for forgiveness on the part of the Jews when they screw up and go astray which is often. But if you happen to be one of those tribes that get in the way of the Chosen People. Watch out because your gonna get your butt smote and I mean for good. It’s actually a good read if you can get through all the technical stuff of the generations who begat everyone else and the instructions on how to build a temple and which sacrifices to make for which sins and which offerings to make for which holidays. One thing that I couldn’t understand when reading it was the elaborate instructions on how to make the temple, the ark for the scrolls, the coverings and the priestly robes. I was baffled. But then I thought about it from a historical angle and it made sense. G-d was instructing the Jews in how to organize their religion. He was telling them this is the proper way to build a temple and how to clothe my teachings. All the gold and silver bangles showed to the populace how important it was to follow these laws. To have laws and keep them. The laws were important. Without organized religion we may have never become civilized in the sense that Western Culture has been civilized. Some may argue for the opposite side but since it’s all we got then we have to live with the way it began. For some reason I don’t think Bush got all that from his readings. I guess he didn’t get that far back.
I find it hard to talk about George W. Bush without thinking of religion. He’s prides himself on his morality and his religion. He consults the Bible before making decisions. I wonder where I get that Bible? I need it. How should I deal with this irritated customer? Look it up in the handy dandy Q&A Bible. My son just came home late past his curfew? Look it up. It tells you right there. I want to attack a really annoying dictator in a country that is a moderate threat to the United States when there are probably better ways to deploy our forces to combat terrorism? Right here in the Bible it says use moderately reliable CIA intelligence to fake a hoard of WMDs in country. What do I do with my patsies? Smote them! See it’s all there in the Bible. You just have to know where to look for it.
Here’s what I don’t understand, if the Jews are the chosen ones why didn’t we get all the oil? Must be an oversight. We got Israel but there’s no oil on it! Some things I don’t understand. Just a thought.