Coping with life as best I can – it’s not going well on this front

Note: having typed all this out, it’s pretty rambling and goes off in tangents at random times. Some people copy by drinking or smoking or going to a trained medical professional. I cope by writing, so there it is. 

There was a time, years and years ago, when I actually believed in the inherent good of people, the state, and God; the idea that what came before, and what had been built on the dreams and blood of my forebears was good and right. I once had a dream, and now that dream has gone from me. 

When I was a child, I attended both a public elementary school and the Hebrew school at my local Chabad synagogue. There were a few common threads between the two: both reinforced an Ameri-centric worldview, the idea that their ideals are, by nature, better than those of anyone else, and a belief in higher powers. 

At both schools, this view tended to be reinforced in song. Whether the song was about the supremacy of America or in the desire of the coming of the Messiah, both sought to weedle true belief out of melody and repetition. And I’ll admit I can even vaguely remember those tunes even twenty years later. The technique and message aren’t lost on me, nor are the more… sinister aspects of that kind of education. 

As you may be able to guess if you’ve kept with me so far, it didn’t stick.

So why am I talking about believing things as a child? I’m not suddenly having a crisis of faith; no, that was broken years ago when I actually thought for the first time. Just that: my brain started turning the ideas over and over, and I found them wanting. But 2020 has driven me into a slump and I wanted to get something down on paper (or screen) about it. Even if it amounts to nothing, I wanted to say something. Some of us need other ways to cope besides therapists or pills or smoking to make our problems go away. Nothing will make this year go away unless you can somehow cure systemic racism, economic inequality, white nationalism, and the idea of hatred itself. But we cope as best we can in a world where mental health is constantly slipping into the red. 

When I was a kid, I believed in God because my parents (mom, mostly) did, and they reinforced that as a positive thing. I also believed, as a given, that the President and the police were forces of good in a world I only had just begun to grasp in some small part. Let’s break those down. 

The burden of proof is, as always, on the party making a claim. The claim “God is real,” is question begging at best. In the theology I was taught as a child, this JuedoChristian God, as opposed to the precursors who were as petulant as unruly children and as empowered as legends, was all-seeing, all-powerful, and kind on a scale humans can’t understand. But, the young rationalist in me asked, then how do you reconcile stories like the genocide at Cannan or the deaths of children by easily eradicated sickness even into the modern day with that kind of being? If the main claims about this God are true, it’s kindness, power, and sight would require it to act in such a way that those horrors cease to be. But as those things happened, and continue to happen now, this being can’t be real. 

Now, that’s just the kind of being that is all-powerful, all-seeing, and all-kind. If you want to prove or disprove another very specific example of creature, go for it; but I’m through on that tangent. 

The President is an elected figure that is meant to represent the collective interests of all Americans. That’s the line they give you in school as a kid to make the concept easy to understand. In reality, American Presidents are often elected by very thin majorities, the votes of small towns’ worth of people determining who wins that year. They are, often, career politicians, or lawyers, and as such, spent their whole adult lives stepping on opponents and trying to be right at every opportunity through either oratory or underhanded tactics seen best in crime dramas or student government elections with very little oversight. In some cases, the President is a popular entertainment star; this generally doesn’t go well, as seen with Presidents Reagan and Trump; they were untrained for higher office, spent their time blaming others for their problems, and left office after doing damage that will follow us through the decades. Wait. I might be projecting a probable future on one of them. 

And after that photo op at the church across Lafayette Square in DC… I can’t even fathom the kind of foolhardy mental space someone has to be in to give a speech about taking military action against civilians that sounds like the Kremlin wrote it, then to sic the military, not the DC police, on those civilians peacefully protesting, for the purpose of walking a block to a church and taking a photo frighteningly reminiscent of an actual photograph of Hitler. 

What country am I living in? Stalin’s Russia? Hitler’s Germany? Because it doesn’t feel like America anymore. I felt safe in this country when President Obama was running things. Hell, I even felt pretty safe under GWB’s ham-fisted statecraft. But Trump? No. I no longer feel safe. I feel like owning a gun is not only reasonable, but required in Trump’s America, if only to reinforce the actual meaning and intent of the second amendment, and defend the state from outside threats that the state is incapable of defending itself from. I don’t want to live in that world. A world of fear and distrust and violence. A world where the American president talks about sexual assault like it’s his favored pastime, and where he actually courts enemies as friends while shooting our allies in the back. It was funny when “President Trump” was a joke real adults told each other while trying to decide if Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton were going to win the election. Now, it’s a nightmare of bad statecraft, intimidation, midnight envelopes, and secret meetings with dictators.

I don’t believe in God, and I don’t believe in the office of the President. And I’m right not to, as both are failures in their most basic duties. The idea of god was meant to help people sleep at night when humans didn’t understand why thunder was loud, and the idea of a president as a world leader began after World War Two and died when a television star with a string of hateful, damaging diatribes against anyone not white had Christian was elected. We can’t trust those who have chosen to “protect and serve” for fear of being killed without warning, everyone on the street is a potential informant who will call “the authorities” if they see something that mildly annoys them, and the American president said injecting bleach is a great way to get rid of a pandemic. You first, 45. 

The supreme irony, and the last remaining thread of connection between the two (those two things I was walking about like an hour ago) is that both being American and being Jewish lend themselves to being argumentative. If you’re male, that is, but that’s a whole different point to make. Right of free speech, assuming it hasn’t been revoked before I published this, says that I have the given right to say anything I want, barring personal threats to the person of another. Like, I could say “You’re wrong, and also an asshole, and please fuck right off you sack of spineless elected leadership,” but not “I’m going to fucking kill you and your entire illegitiamte cabinet of cronies,” under such constitutional law. As far as ancient Jewish writing goes, my research into such has led me to the idea that if you study theology, specifically Jewish holy texts, but the idea probably applied across all such texts, you’re meant to study and come up with your own arguments, not just believe what you heard. It is of note that both sides of that comparison, through the groups I’ve known, have tried their best to push down free thought. Well played. Well played. Here’s your tool kit, use it only as I’ve said you can. 

I’ve found you wanting, both America and Judaism. That’s not to say those are the only two groups that need to be workshopped before bringing them back next week for review, but I digress. That said, society seems to consider me locked in by accident of birth. You get born to a given land-mass and they snip a little off the top when you’re a newborn and suddenly you have a whole identity 20 years before you’re even close to qualified to say what your identity is. 

Sometimes I find myself pleased that I’m not John, being forced to embrace the Brave New World that, itself, embraced security and a rigid caste system for safety. Pleased that I’m not Winston, having to hide my very thoughts from police that will haul you off at just a hint of disaffection. Pleased that I’m not Montag, coming to terms with a new thirst for learning and information that my society shuns as not only unacceptable, but immoral. 

But at the same time, I’m all those things. A disaffected overthinker in a world that is rapidly deciding that my way of seeing what’s around me is not only wrong, but should be destroyed. And it frightens me. 

This is not the world I thought I’d have, but it’s the one I got. Maybe it’s time to sit back and watch it burn in its own poisons for a while. or should I?

Covid, Quarantine, and Mister Smith

So I haven’t posted in a while. Now that I think about it, I wonder if I started my last few posts with that phrase… probably, but I’m not stopping to check.

As I’m sure everyone knows, the self quarantine goes on despite Florida partially reopening things against the advice of actual medical professionals. But you know… politicians. So yeah, apparently people’s lives are worth less than the cost of financial assistance and the economy as a whole. So that’ll be nice to remember next time Uncle Sam needs my help.

Honestly, I’m one of the least affected, so I don’t really have a leg to stand on. I’m actually working more than usual because other people were out and someone needed to pick up the slack. I’m in a warehouse, several meters away from other people and I wear a mask, so I think I’m pretty good so far.

As for my job, it’s probably one of the best I’ve ever had. At least, the highest paying and the only one I don’t go to sleep dreading. Hell, I actually look forward to it.

That said, I had intended for my set schedule to leave me more time to write… and it kind of has…

I’m currently in the process of cobbling together a website for my next project. It’s a museum designed to glorify human achievements… set in the far future and founded by an immortal (fictional or not, you decide) who lived through many of the events shown on display in his museum.

I’m probably less than a week or two from just launching the thing. I’m actually pretty excited to just put it out there and see what happens.

But yeah… that’s about it. It’s not an exciting life, but it’s mine.

Until next time.

Balthasar has died. Long live Balthasar.

A hard drive lives and dies by its manufacture and it’s use. I have three storage drives in my most recent computer, Hamburg. Caspar, which houses my music and some documents. Melchior, which houses documents, my video archive, and games. Balthasar, which houses backups of these others and all else.

You might notice a pattern. I’m burning through references pretty quickly. Two computers ago was Tokyo III, last computer was Matsushiro. My current computer is Hamburg and has three additional storage drives named for the three supercomputers in Neon Genesis Evangelion; which were in turn named for the three kings (wise men?) in the Jesus birth myth.

What I’m getting at is that a new hard drive is hard to work with. Not in task, but in time. Moving 4 terabytes of information, years of footage, photos, documents… the bytes stack up fast.

Oh well, at least I got a decent price on it. And it probably wasn’t a used drive either. So far as my tests can show.

I have an idea for another book

You know that thing where you never really finish one project before you’re on to the next? I have an idea for another book.

So I’m more than a little fascinated with the history and historicity of religious movements. Not the religions themselves, but the context of the faiths through their history.

Like this: the creation myth in the Abrahamic religions shouldn’t be taken literally. But rather, the original version codified in the Tanakh is an obvious allegory for a people who had (probably at the time of writing it down) recently lost a major center of faith and society (the first or second temple, I can’t quite recall at this moment). It’s a story about how to deal with being forced out of your home. No fantastical elements required. It’s very human: grief and dealing with it.

That’s what I want to write. I want to take all the Torah stories, and the Bible and Quran too, and pick them apart for what they actually mean in a the context of when they were written. I mean, if Genesis is basically an allegory for losing a home, then what was the story in Esther supposed to mean (given that it’s not historically accurate at all)? Or that one depressing Bible book (started with an E…)? And I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about Islam, but I bet it follows the same pattern of codifying myths with the intent of helping people.

Now, you might be wondering what my reasoning is. “Michael, you’re just a curmudgeon and an atheist, what could you possibly get from studying the bible?” The Abrahamic religions were and are the most prolific faiths in human history, two offshoots of the first boasting about two billion (BILLION~!) followers each (and that’s not getting into other world religions) Why wouldn’t I be interested in the reason why?

This is why I prefer to get in bed exhausted…

Do you know what’s worse than the existential dread of having to get up in the morning and go to work? Knowing that you don’t really have anything to complain about in the grand scheme of the pageant of humanity.

I have a job I actually like and that I’m actually pretty good at performing. I have a good balance between that and a range of friends that I actually get to see or interact with fairly often. I’m enjoying the endless rewrites of my book. I might be in my dad’s living room, but money is almost right to change that.

Life is fair. Not always evenhanded, but fair. And I’m sitting around doggy paddling in an ocean of dread and thoughts ranging from being sour about the fall of Constantinople to wondering who I’m going to room with so I can trust my shit won’t vanish in the middle of the night.

Ever have those nights, where everything is pretty much OK but where you think the world is on fire?

1 February 2001, 0836

In the early days of the twenty-first century, a self-proclaimed time traveler from the year 2036 arrived online. As the title of this essay suggests, what I’ve chosen to discuss today pertains to John Titor’s post for 1 February 2001, 0836 in the morning.

On responding to earlier posts by other people, Titor says that his casual reference to the year 2008 “was a general date by which time everyone will realize the world they thought they were living in was over.”

He goes on to describe events as he learned or experienced them on his worldline (his term for the timeline he experienced as the natural timeline).

“The civil war in the United States will start in 2004. I would describe it as having a Waco type event every month that steadily gets worse. The conflict will consume everyone in the US by 2012 and end in 2015 with a very short WWIII.”

As should be clear to anyone who experienced this worldline, there was no civil war in America in 2004, and no global conflict that resulted in a short-lived world war.

However, one could argue that America has been experiencing “Waco type event[s]” with frighteningly increasing frequency over the past decade or so.

For the sake of argument, I’ll point out events in broad categories. America has faced domestic terrorist acts such as bombings like that carried out in Boston in 2013 and an unforgiving and brutal wave of school shootings over the past several years; acts of slaughter such as those in Aurora, Colorado and Orlando, Florida taken against innocent people, a systemic institutional racism shown in the police-related shooting deaths of numerous young black people in this country, and a decline in wealth equality resulting in mounting discontent by many in the population complete with another push for polarization of political philosophy.

I need to take a breath after that. We’ve had a busy couple of decades since the century turned over.

This series of events could be the “Waco type” events Titor described, but that have not yet resulted in a formal civil war. Perhaps we’re already seeing some of what such a war would be in this nation. Some parts are fought by protestors in the streets; some by young people looking for work in Washington; some by desk mice at their keyboards. But I do hope that the time traveler’s future never comes to pass.

The last thing we need is to give the current administration a real reason to suppress people further.


Musings on the 21st Century

“Basic message repeats: V.G. Smith reports. Currently stranded in 21st century. Taking long way around. If possible, establish currency drawing accounts at pre-established banking institutions for living purposes; otherwise, return is set for 6 July 2129. Have Gardiston and crew ready at that date. Best wishes, James.”

Musings on the early 21st century:

Having been born into a particular era, I know a fair bit about the people and society therein. That’s not to say I’m an expert in psychology or sociology or anything; but I know people. Well, at least my own era’s people. People aren’t hard to follow. OK, think of it this way: what separates a man born in 2000 from a man born in 2100?

The man born in 2000 is mired in the muck that is economics and religion; he is trapped in a society that has its morals and priorities all mixed up. How, in all the world, did the human race not realize that you can’t practice religions with rules like, “Love thy neighbor,” while living in an economic system where one has to work for a third or more of a life just to survive?

The man born in 2100 has similar problems, but economics isn’t one of them. People are still, in a general sort of way, fools, ignorant and downright stupid. But at least the majority of them are decently educated, fed and are accepting of decent customs like privacy and an actual application of the Golden Rule.

Having to live through the 21st century for a second time has taught me something interesting about the time that whelped me: people believe only what they want to. Case in point, a man I work with (I picked up a part-time job to observe these people a little.) thinks research into Dark Matter and Kerr black holes will revolutionize science and energy production. Likewise, another man I work with thinks the election of a wealthy fascist into political office will revitalize the waning economy. Is either right? Not at all. But it’s OK to dream of a better tomorrow even if a dream is only a dream if it never comes to fruition.

Just the other day, I had stimulated a conversation with one of the scientists from the labrotory on the other end of town about the future of human exploration. I wanted to see where my coworkers would take the subject she and I spoke so heatedly about, so I kept prodding and playing advocate to the Devil in every point. It amused me, if only because I carry such foreknowledge to this century, that they couldn’t see past the accomplishments of the automobile and the mobile music player. These people seem to worship such small things.

Offhandedly, I gave an exact year to the first Solarian interstellar flight as being 61 years from the present date. Nothing but blank stares and a questioning throat sound; so I explained, “The first time we saw Alpha Centauri up close was in 2077, right at the end of the year. Nothing there, obviously, but the stars were neat to watch circle one another from only a few AU away. Been there myself, once, when I was a kid. It’s a tourist trap now. Come see the Earth-men dance around in zero-gravity. Marstarians and Ellegrans come and fuel the Solarian tourist market by taking in shows and enjoying delicacies of Earth and Mars. Ellegrans especially have a taste for North American grass served with a light soy sauce drizzle or a vinaigrette. Oddly, they don’t like lettuce or other human veggies served the same way. To each their own, I guess.”

More blank stares. To each their own, indeed.

The people of this time period are odd in other ways. They care about skin color and place of birth. If I told someone I have an Britannian/European best friend and his wife is French/Welsh nobility, they’d probably laugh at me. (On which part, I wonder: Britannia or foreign nobility?) If I expanded and made even the slight mention that the Martian Augustian Marquis or the Margrave la Albion had skin darker than a boring, sunless pink, they might even take violent offence. I don’t understand these people that were once my colleagues and peers. But at least I’ve grown away from that way of thinking, though I admit to once being such a close minded fool as well.

It should only be another few years before I can set up delay mail to myself – can’t set up too quickly, should Past Me take notice and start asking questions. 2037 should give me a nice margin for error and it’ll get me free of fallout from the last major war this century. Worst case: the letters don’t make it due to human error or data failure. Doesn’t matter really – I’m taking the long way home regardless of the assistance I get from the Method.

Kara Thrace and Her Special Destiny (Battlestar Spoilers)

Sounds like a bad cover band, right? Well they exist apparently. But that’s not the point of my post. 

You know what bothered me about BSG? For all the talk Leoban (Leobin?) did about Kara and her destiny, he sure did run away fast when it turned out she actually died in that viper crash before they found the original Earth. 

Why did he do that? He just vanished from the show at that point. No closure or further exploration into Kara or the Cylon God; just gone. 

At least investigate; rather than letting your apparent life’s work die with Kara. 

Fracking Toasters, not finishing their business. 

Rant over. 

The Real Meaning of Noblesse Oblige

There is a certain amount of truth here in these words.

Mary Achor's Weblog

My favorite English teacher, a tough, old-fashioned broad named Miss Edna Stewart, spent an entire high school class period discussing the meaning and obligation of noblesse oblige. It was the motto of the National Honor Society, so she was trying to get the ethics of it through our thick skulls. It is the class period I have never forgotten.

Noblesse oblige literally translates to “nobility obligates.” It implies that with wealth, power and prestige come social responsibilities; it is a moral obligation to act with honor, kindliness and generosity.

The term is often used sarcastically, implying that one is a hypocrite by doing a service because one has to, or by being condescending while doing it. My mother used to refer to that kind of attitude as being a “Lady Bountiful,” doing good deeds because you’re special, to make yourself feel better and make others feel bad at…

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