Right now my son is really into the Octonauts. If you don’t have children you might not be familiar with the show, but I’m comfortable in saying it might be one of the best cartoons ever made for kids. In the episode a team of animals in their underwater vessel help various sea creatures in the ocean and tell you interest facts about the featured creature for each episode.
I’ve always been fond of documentaries on ocean especially the deep sea ones with bio-luminescence. But it struck me as I watching an episode with my son last night that the ocean really is like an alien world. It’s not that we don’t have an impact on it, but for the most part other than the occasional visit, it’s simply a world in which we can’t exist in. It is a world that has those at the top of the food chain, and those at the bottom. It has death, pain, peace, flourishing, competition, love, etc. It is extremely diverse, and there is much intelligence to be found. It is every bit as vivacious as surface based life. As I watch and think about that world, I couldn’t help but think how there is nothing to judge. It is, and while things live and die, there is no question about about morality, deities, or oppression. It just is, and it’s beautiful. While I do not believe any single creature intends to live sustainably, the world in the oceans is as sustainable as it can be. Something we’ve yet to figure out. We as a species have flourished perhaps more than any other species, but at what cost?
When I think about how our actions have impacted this other world, how we’ve carelessly thrown trash into it and how climate change is influencing it, it seems more egregious than many of our other environmental crimes. In fact it seems that because we thought it was this other world with a massive amount of water we have reasoned that we could do anything we wanted to it, thinking that our activities could never have a great impact on anything so vast. This has of course turned out to be untrue. It is not our confession booth, a place to take all our sins away and absolve of us our hurt on the environment, but we have treated as such.
I’d like to believe the maker of the Octonauts just has such a passion for the ocean and just wanted to spread that appreciation to others. I think it does a great job of that. I get why people dedicate their lives to the study and preservation of these amazing ecosystems. We may never get off this planet and meet alien civilizations. The Ocean might be the best “alien” world we can visit. I hope we can keep it that way. It was here before us, and I hope that it will also be here long after us.
So why have we invested so much time and money into this movie series over the years? We can understand why kids love it and our nostalgia for it when we’re older. But let’s get down to the bare bones of it. There are really only three reasons why we watch these movies.
The first reason is light sabers. Light sabers are the coolest things ever. The light saber toys they have now are so far superior to what they used to be that it’s hard to not be a little jealous, but even those toys aren’t where I’d like them to be. Look, I don’t know how light which radiates away from a source forever and ever could be contained like that to only extend several feet, but this technology has to be figured out. I also don’t think it’s slicing through things that people like about light sabers. It is the humming sound they make whether in motion or not. The way they sound when they clash together. The fight choreography also improved vastly in the later movies. I am not certain if doing a big spin move is what you should be doing when someone else has a weapon aimed at you, but it all looked pretty awesome. I could watch light saber fights all day. I mean I think most people agree that Rogue One is the best Star Wars movie of the franchise. I think it was. But I haven’t watched it again. Why? Not enough light sabers.
This brings us to our next reason which is chase scenes. Lots of chase scenes in these movies. Whether by ship, by pods, by speeder, or by foot there a lot of chase scenes often at speeds that defy human reflexes but are a lot of fun. We all like chase scenes.
The main reason why Star Wars appeals to people, I believe, is because it is full of underdog situations. Almost every scene that isn’t a light saber battle is full of scenes in which the enemy vastly outnumbers the good guys. There is no scrape they are trying to get out in which the odds aren’t against them by and often by fairly substantial margins. Humans love to see good guys beating the odds. Hell, that’s even one of the more famous Han Solo lines when C3P0 is telling Han the odds and he says “Never tell me the odds!” This is sound advice throughout the 9 movies, where the odds would end up depressing people fairly substantially. Whether it’s 1000s of droids, legions of star destroyers, inexhaustible armies of storm troopers, or apparently untold amounts of Sith disciples spending a lot of time in the dark on Exegon, the odds are never in the favor of the good guys. But time and time again, the “let’s not hurt people” crowd comes out on top. Almost to the point of being kind of unrealistic. Nevertheless we love these situations.
But there are reasons that we should appreciate Star Wars even more for. While I liked that they brought in more human races into the last movies, I’m not sure it was entirely necessary. They had aliens and droids aplenty in the movies on both the good guys and bad guys side and race or language didn’t seem to play any sort of role. Whether a band in a bar, as co-pilot, as admiral (we love you Akbar and I can’t believe they killed you so unceremoniously!!), a helpful group of muppets, or an annoying sidekick, the fact that people look differently seems to be of no matter. All that matters is if they are good or bad. And I think that was pretty awesome.
The most important reason why we should love the movies is for what I think is some pretty positive feminism. First you got Queen Amidala. She’s smart, strong, and has genuine compassion and care for her people. Though she lived a short life, her last task was to make sure that her children were hidden and protected from their father. There are many strong women in the franchise, Jyn Erso, Rose Tico, Vice Admiral Hodo, and even Anakin’s mother seems like a very strong woman. And we can’t forget Rey, who I really enjoyed taking the lead in final 3 movies. What’s great is that they aren’t just there for love interests for male characters. They just kick ass.
But there is one woman, who I’ve saved until last. She deserves her own paragraph. As great as Amidala was, she is nothing compared to her daughter. Princess ”fucking” Leia. This woman is out there leading the rebels while in her early 20s while Obi Wan and Yoda are still in hiding. She is already infamous enough at that point to have got the Empire’s attention…and they have a whole galaxy to pay attention to. She gets captured by Vader herself and put in jail. She doesn’t take any shit from womanizer Han Solo, and basically forces him to become a better man if he wants any piece of her. She’s good with a blaster and becomes even stronger in the force than Luke. Now one could argue that compared to Luke she grew up with much more privilege and education. That may be a factor, but they take that away pretty quickly by blowing up the entire fucking planet she grew up on, included her parents. She just shakes it off and keeps fighting. And where is she at the beginning of Return of the Jedi? She’s a sex slave mole in the service of Jabba the Hut. Getting out of her conservative attire to suddenly wear a bikini and have a chain around her neck. She suffers grave humiliation for the cause. At this point you might be thinking, “oh this is just another movie degrading women”, but she ain’t no floosy. A whole bunch of fans might have found it sexy as hell, but she didn’t do it for cat calls, she did it to save someone she cares about and someone who is a leader to the rebel cause. It doesn’t take long before she’s got that chain around Jabba’s neck and is choking the life out of that fat, disgusting, keeping women in chains motherfucker. This is no delicate flower. She’s a leader, a fighter, a mother, and an inspiration to the entire rebel movement. Carrie Fisher really is the marvel of the Star Wars franchise in my opinion, and arguably the star of it over Mark Hamill.
If you can’t find any good reasons from all this to watch the movies, but want to feel knowledgeable about the movies, I’ll give you a quick rundown so you can still be part of Star Wars conversations:
Episode I: The Phantom Menace – Two overconfident Jedi pick up an annoying CGI physical comedy expert and then get stranded on Tatooine where they believe too strongly in destiny and end up bringing back a child who will eventually cause great death and destruction to many by insisting he be trained to use his off the charts skills. Dance party and award ceremony complete the movie.
Episode II: Attack of the Clones – Here we see why Yoda is a Jedi Master and get an explanation for why there is an endless supply of Storm Troopers. (Hint: unethical cloning). Amidala starts falling for Anakin now that his voice has deepened. Dialogue and acting are extra terrible in this movie.
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – We are never told what the revenge is for here. To my knowledge the Jedi never tried to hunt down every last Sith and kill children in Sith kindergartens. Anyway Amidala misses her period and Anakin falls to the dark side. Gets his ass kicked by Obi Wan, but is saved by the Emperor sans arms and legs, and is made it to a mechanical juggernaut and transforming his voice into James Earl Jones.
Episode IV: A New Hope – The new hope is a whiny brat who complains about never having anything to do, and ends up going on a space adventure. In the end he rejects the technology that got him there to use the force to blow up a rather poorly designed planet destroying station. Award ceremony at the end.
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – Definitely the best of the 9 movies. The rebels are forced to abandon Antarctica. The first black guy is introduced to the films. Luke experiences the tutelage of a grammar impaired Jedi master on a swamp planet. At the end of the movie he gets a robot hand and develops daddy issues.
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi – It should be noted that Jedi is very singular here, despite the fact that Jedi can also mean multiple Jedi. It should have been called Return of A Jedi. Despite all the Imperial technology, they still get outwitted by a band of fuzzy muppets with rocks and sticks, and the better designed death star is still compromised by ineptitude. Luke believes in the good of his father and as he’s writing in electric shock therapy, dad throws the emperor down a long long way which leads to his demise. Dance party and celebratory ceremonies ensue.
Episode VII: The Force Awakens – Mysterious girl is mysteriously connected to brooding son of Han and Leia. Some Sith dude called Snokes comes from nowhere. Rebels are still in the same position they were at the end of Return of the Jedi. Everything from Episode IV pretty much happens again. Kylo Ren kills his dad just for believing in him and wanting him to be a better person. Award ceremony of course.
Episode VIII: The Last Jedi – Kylo Ren defeats Snokes to become the new head bad guy. Connection between Kylo and Rey grows. The out of nowhere Jedi power of astral projection saves the Rebels from being completely destroyed as there numbers unnecessarily dwindle from 200 to about 50.
Episode IX: Rise of Skywalker – Skywalker doesn’t really rise up here. Perhaps spiritually since they all die. We all had every reason to believe the Emperor was dead, but apparently they couldn’t think of a real new bad guy and the Emperor is still alive and has to be defeated once and for all. This also makes the celebrations in Return of the Jedi less meaningful. 😦 He has become even more decrepit and evil. Of course his penchant for trying to corrupt Skywalkers ends up being his downfall. The movie does have a dance party, but award ceremonies were not included in this one. I imagine they would have been impressive.
Look, these aren’t great movies. But they have their moments and there are very real reasons to get attached to them. You can still have fondness and feel a nostalgia for it while watching and enjoy them even while knowing they also kind of suck. May the midichlorians be with you!
Well the 9 part franchise has finally come to an end. There is probably no franchise so beloved that is actually fairly bad (on any criteria that defines a movie), with perhaps the exception of Arby’s. That’s right, I’m saying it. Star Wars are B movies. Now I’m not saying I don’t feel a certain degree of joy watching it, and there is nothing wrong with watching B movies, but from a storytelling and movie making perspective, it’s got a lot of problems.
Star Wars is the classic good vs. evil tale, but there is no complexity to it at all. Either you like freedom or you don’t. Either you want to hurt people and are evil, or you don’t want to hurt people and you’re good. If a planet isn’t a criminal run planet in chaos, your only other choice seems to be monarchical rule. A system of governance that opens itself up to despots and authoritarianism and thus we shouldn’t be surprised that good can turn to evil. Or you have totalitarian, theocratic, dictatorship. We are first led to believe that there is a senate that is representative of different worlds. This governing body seems to be totally without any governing powers. Nobody seems to have any political position. There is an argument over a trade blockade. Allowing commerce to proceed is fine, but it’s hardly a political ideology. I mean even as one planet we have far more competing ideologies than this entire galaxy seems to have. Once Palpatine takes over, he has no real manifesto. He’s just a bad dude who wants to hurt people. He wants to make people live in fear of the might and power he controls. This is cartoonish villainy which is why these movies are largely for children from about 8-14. The mildly comical antics definitely solidify the movies into that age range as well.
And what are the good guys really about? What do they really believe in? In their off time, most of the good guys seem to enjoy either informal dance parties, or award ceremonies. I would agree that societies should be free to have such things, but it’s hardly a meaningful ideological position. I imagine if the Empire wanted to have dance parties and award ceremonies that could do so as well, just about different things. What are they doing to ensure any kind of lasting peace? If there is one thing we’ve learned is that the dark side of the force is easier to fall into that a blindfolded man at the edge of the Grand Canyon.
One of biggest problems with the movies is how easily Anakin Skywalker falls to the dark side. Let’s review. We have this little kid, who initially Yoda doesn’t want to train. Why? Because he misses his mother. I mean he loves his mom and was taken away from her forever by these adults who can appear to do magic but still need to rely on this mechanical genius kid who helps them from being stranded on one of the myriad of desert planets that people for some reason live on. It seems pretty standard for a child to miss his mother. So Yoda’s powers of deduction here is hardly impressive. Then Yoda says he’s too old, we can’t indoctrinate him properly. Eventually he reluctantly agrees, the boy gets trained. Next we meet him as a 16 year old who is impatient and headstrong. Just like every other fucking teenager. Maybe it’s because we know what’s going to happen to Anakin that we feel dread, but he’s really just an obnoxious teenager played by a terrible actor. You almost can’t wait for the mask and James Earl Jones’ voice so you can be rid of Hayden Christiansen. But you get through episode II, still hoping that an epic struggle to remain good and loyal to the Jedi Order will happen.
But in Revenge of the Sith what happens? Despite the fact that he understands the Jedi governance structure from almost his entire young life he gets all upset that he isn’t asked to be on the Council. Even though the council head is fucking 700+ years old, somehow Anakin, in his early twenties gets a branch up his butt about not being voted in on the council. Meanwhile he’s making out with his former babysitter and Queen and has amazing powers to be a force of good. But it’s not enough. So what is the start of his descent into liking the feeling of his power? Well he goes to Tatooine to find his mother. He naturally is upset at her death, and when a powerful person gets upset, people die. But who dies? A bunch of slavers. This is the beginning of evil? I mean look, I think violence is a last resort, but how is killing a bunch of slavers really the lure of the dark side. And then who does he kill next? Count fucking Saruman. One of the evilest dudes in two movie franchises, but apparently that wasn’t good for his psyche. Even though Yoda or Obiwan would have done the same thing in combat.
Now he’s apparently evil, turns on the Jedi after this, and what’s his first target? A whole bunch of fucking kindergartners at the Jedi Academy. The poor kids don’t expect a thing. And why should they? He became evil faster than a bored worker at The Gap outlet store asking if you need help. All because in this universe despite the fact that they got lasers, can travel faster than light speed, sophisticated AI and massive language translation programs, but apparently forgot to research medicine to help pregnant women (fucking patriarchy!) and needs Palpatine’s tutelage to learn how to heal. Who knows why the good Jedi Order isn’t trying to learn this healing technique? I mean it seems like a pretty basic good guy Jedi power to have. And despite seemingly knowing nothing about obstetrics (did I say ‘fucking patriarchy!’ yet) they do have cloning technology. What Anakin, a cloned version of Queen Amydala isn’t good enough for you? You just had to kill a bunch of kids, because you thought this good person (who’s pro not hurting people) would be glad you killed a bunch of kids so you could learn the power to save her life. That’s a serious misunderstanding of what appears to be a fairly simple concept of goodness. So when Darth Vader chooses to turn on the emperor and save his son he remembers back to the good man he once was, he’s apparently about 7 years old. Because after that he’s pretty much a whiny dick.
But what I realized when watching Return of the Jedi recently that as flimsy as Anakin’s fall to the dark side is, the reasons for the main characters being good are equally flimsy. Luke gets the hots for the hologram of his sister and decides to find old Ben Kenobe. Han has the hots for Leia and decides to help the rebels and give up the rogue life. All the Jedi simply rely on religious dogma to carry them through to the next day as good guys. Obi Wan is just waiting for 20 or so years to turn into Alec Guiness before doing anything good at all. And Yoda spent the last two decades in a swamp licking his wounds. The fact that Luke is this rare 1 out of several billion people in the galaxy who thinks it would be a good idea to fight a fascist, authoritarian regime is astounding. Because let’s face it, the rebel alliance, despite having the whole galaxy to choose from can never seem to muster more than a couple hundred people to attack the empire. And that’s when they aren’t just letting a chunk of themselves get blown up so that Laura Dern can come out of nowhere and have some stoic music play before she rams her ship into the star destroyer. I mean here on Earth I could easily get a couple hundred people through Facebook to take up arms against some of the most ridiculous causes. But government tyranny? There are millions of gun owners in the U.S. itching for an excuse to fight against a tyrannical government. This whole galaxy far, far away seems to be completely hopeless unless about 200 people are in the middle of a fight first and then go “Hey look they’re doing it so I guess I’ll get off my ass an help.” So how those rebels have any hope at all is beyond me if they can only find a couple hundred people to join the cause.
And what about all the ghost Jedi sitting on their asses? Luke Skywalker can apparently raise an X-Wing out of the ocean as a ghost. Why wasn’t he just over on Exegon flinging heavy objects at the Sith instead of getting the people who could actually die do all the work? Obi Wan claimed he would become more powerful when he’s struck down. But apparently more powerful just means “voice in Luke’s head” and reminding Luke to “use the force” at the right time, and “Go to Dagobah”. Pretty sure you could have done that while alive Obi Wan. I have no idea why Darth Vader says in “Obi Wan” has taught you well. Obi Wan hasn’t done shit. As far as I can tell, other than a few words of advice as far as he got in the Jedi training with Obi Wan is to deflect a few lasers from a floating ball while blindfolded. That doesn’t make you ready to face Vader.
Finally, why is it that despite having droid technology the Empire has all the droids that would actually be useful against a military force, and the rebels seem to only have droids that access computer systems and can speak a lot of languages while moving very slowly from place to place. Literally there were so many jams that they could have gotten out of way faster had they had droids who weren’t slowly ambling over to them. Meanwhile when it comes to fighting droids the empire has legions of them. Does the state control the means of production? Are we talking about some Soviet Union-like Empire? Perhaps so. My point is some angry fighting droids could have been a real help for a cause that can only scrounge up a couple hundred people from an entire galaxy.
There are many common complaints I haven’t dealt with here. For instance many people say the writing is terrible in later movies. This is wrong. It’s all pretty bad. If you don’t think the writing in the original movies was bad it’s because you’re looking through it with a nostalgic lens. This isn’t rich writing with complex characters with a complex history, or complex relationships with each other.
Now if you’re a big Star Wars fan you are probably full of counterarguments, and I’m here to tell you they are all wrong, and if you want to tell me that if I really want to appreciate it all, I need to read some nerdy set of books, that is also wrong. Star Wars is a movie experience. Also you should really just read my next part about why Star Wars is good.
One thing that is fairly obvious among humans is that we don’t like uncertainty. To say that we don’t know something is to highlight ignorance. It’s the highest level of uncertainty we can reveal. Even us ego driven academics are often chided for weighing in on every issue, and it’s a stereotype that is not unfounded. But as every good teacher will tell you there is a lot of value of telling your students that you don’t know. Now maybe some students idolize your intellect and saying you don’t know might shatter the pedestal they put you on, but if they truly care about the pursuit of knowledge they should be lauding you for having the humility and honesty for saying “I don’t know”. No one can know everything, even in their own field. And it’s a moment to teach your students about how one goes about finding the answer to a particular question, and that you never really stop learning or being a student.
But how is it that we know things? We can know things through experience and through investigation. Some claim instinct or intuition is also a type of knowing. But is it, or just a reaction to a particular situation? Instincts can be certainly be wrong even if they are embedded into who we are as humans. But instinct or intuition can also be honed through experience. For instance, a doctor might have a hunch or intuition about what might be wrong with a patient. This isn’t some inborn knowledge. The doctor, as a 16-year-old, certainly wouldn’t be able to make the same guess than they might have after years of experience. Most things that we chalk up to instinct or intuition are based on experiences we have had, or perhaps read about. If, as a woman, you have intuition about a guy that he’s creepy or dangerous, it could be that you’re spot on. Given the litany of examples of violence and abuse of men towards women this wouldn’t be a surprising thing to fear. But whatever that feeling is, does it represent true facts about the universe? Not necessarily, because you could be wrong, but it’s part of our survival to play it safe, instead of taking chances, going against our intuition can be costly. Regardless of what you believe about instinct or intuition all ways of knowing are subject to our cognitive biases and thus investigative methods that attempt to remove biases have a higher probability of being right.
The one thing that I think religion and science have in common is that they are both representative of our desire to know things and our uncomfortability with uncertainty. There are always things we don’t know. Sometimes big things like why is there a universe at all? Or, how did life begin? Many of the questions we’ve had over the years have been explained by the supernatural, only to have that debunked through scientific investigation. Refusing to leave things unexplained we have, in human history, always had those who claimed magic is real and that supernatural forces act with intent. But can we call supernatural explanations an explanations? It answers what, and sometimes who and when, but rarely how and why. It also seems to me that such explanations never really factor into things we are closer to understanding. For instance, we still have questions about lightning, but this is something that we also understand a lot about. We don’t say, “Alright we don’t know exactly how charge separation happens in a cloud, so therefore God.” We have enough of a physical understanding of the situation to know there are some details we haven’t worked out, but that it’s an explainable, natural phenomena. In ancient China, well before we understood anything about lightning, people believed that lightning was caused by supernatural forces and it would strike down people who were disrespectful to their parents. It’s as good an “explanation” as anything when you know nothing perhaps, but that’s a big problem. Such explanations are a dime a dozen, you could say “No! Lightning strikes people who are dishonest with their spouses”, “It’s pixies in the clouds, angry at humans for taking their home to make their village”, “It’s punishment for an entire civilization for their sinful nature”, “It’s an electric elk called Simon”. Things that promote magic as real render the investigation of scientific laws and principles useless. What value would understanding these things if such rules are ignored by the supernatural and the whim of a believer? People often want answers so badly they don’t care about the process.
This is where science differs from religion. Science seeks to explain and is much more about the process of investigation than the answer. Obviously that is the endpoint of a particular question, but how you arrive at that destination is at least as important, if not more important than the destination itself. Science seeks to explain through premises that are verifiable and analyzing available data before arriving at a conclusion. This conclusion then must be reliable as a starting point for new questions to be answered successfully, and this conclusion must be reachable by others independently. And because we don’t always have or know what relevant data is to answer a particular question, we can’t guarantee that any conclusion is 100% right. We can only determine the most correct answer given a certain set of information.
People say that history is also a way to know what’s true, but such people who say that don’t truly understand what good historical scholarship involves, or the reliability of such conclusions. Historians know that any one source of historical knowledge can be biased, so the more data (sources) about a historical event the more sure the conclusion. But even then there still may be cultural bias, or differences in the way historical events were recorded at different times in our history. The lexicon of a particular language was less complex than now and thus we can sometimes only guess at the true meaning of a particular text. We can also support historical claims with archaeological evidence. Apologists that I’ve debated with love to cite the truth of a historical event in the Bible, but saying a historical event happened doesn’t mean the rest of a particular text is reliable. We can’t say that because City A existed as described in the Bible, thus the resurrection happened. This would be like saying well Mel Gibson’s movie Apocalypto must be all factual history because there was a tribe called the Incas. The Bible is a mixture of ordinary and extraordinary claims, and given that it was written by people who were aware of history and the norms of their time it would foolish to expect all of it to be fiction. Unless we have some unaltered video footage we still can’t know anything for sure. Video footage of Kennedy’s assassination tells us that he was assassinated and where the assassination took place. It doesn’t tell us who did it, or why? That had to be investigated and evidence collected. And despite the many conspiracy theories out there, the one thing that nobody says is that God sent down a bullet to kill Kennedy. The laws of physics were obeyed. Somebody fired a gun and that bullet traveled as it should towards its target.
The most important value perhaps of admitting “I don’t know” is that this means that it elicits curiosity and investigation. Having an answer, even if it cannot be tested, can often close off an avenue of investigation that might have otherwise been taken. If you ask me a question about the atmosphere and I give you an answer, you may simply believe me, based on my authority as an atmospheric science professor. If I’m right the fact that you don’t investigate for yourself costs you nothing. Yet if I think I know, or am afraid to look dumb and pretend to know my answer can prevent you from finding the actual answer, and now you may act on false information in the future. The reality is that there is too little time in our lives to investigate everything. Some things we do have to just believe. Having an answer is comforting. Believing in the supernatural can be comforting. That which is comforting doesn’t necessarily equate to truth, it is aesthetics. Aesthetics are important, but we shouldn’t expect everyone to share our aesthetic preferences.
Finally it is often the case that apologists will also use uncertainty as a means of positing that all answers are thus equally valid in the absence of evidence. Sometimes this is true, but certainly there are some explanations that have a higher probability of being true than others. If a tornado doesn’t hit your house one answer to why, could be that God spared your house. But this is highly improbable given how much the dynamics and the thermodynamics of the atmosphere influence storm motion. Provided we could get sufficient measurements of the atmosphere, we would have a better explanation as to why the storm took one path and not the other.
In cases where all answers might be equally valid, for which we have no evidence to support a particular assertion, there is an extremely large number of possibilities. For those who purports the logically flawed prime mover argument, even if it was a sound argument it says nothing about what might be the prime mover. Is it:
More than one
Computer programmer of a simulation
Flying Spaghetti Monster
God who is just really smart, but not omniscient
God who is powerful but not all powerful
God who is not timeless. Created the universe but then expired about 2 billion years ago.
A group of people from a parallel or previous universe who could do magic by writing things down. The act of writing on a page made it come true.
This list is possibly endless as we try to prescribe a nature to the supernatural. In fact the less evidence there is for an assertion the more possible answers we can provide. Not surprisingly we’ve had over 10,000 Gods in human history. My believing in one of these answers and writing it down in a book does not make an answer more true. Yet we are asked to simply accept specific extraordinary claims and reject others regularly by theist apologists.
The better, and more honest answer is, “I don’t know.” The more comfortable we can become with uncertainty, both individually and as a people, the more likely we are to grow. Not only is humility a virtue, but a methodological assessment of that which we have evidence for and what we don’t, can help us search for possible explanations that we might not have searched for because we believed we knew the answer.
How long since the pattern broke?
Long enough to create new patterns?
I barely know what day it is
Time stretches out before me
But a week has passed without me realizing
Is there a specific reason to go to bed early?
We wake when we wake
Scheduling things feels like living
We should be saddened by this
I went outside because it was sunny
I came in when I was hungry
In isolation we have no need to coordinate
To sync up
Small distances make for easy meeting
Provided there are people in your house
Otherwise you are left to distantly socializing
Provided you can find the time
Seriously where is the clock?
I just want to sneak a glance
Days used to be numbers,
Now they are sunrises and sunsets
There is time for walking,
And noticing the thing two blocks from your house
That you passed everyday but didn’t appreciate
Because you were always driving off in your car
On your way to somewhere else
The place you had to be
Right on the hour
The changes that life brings when you have a second child are subtle. The main difference is you get a lot busier and time seems to fly. It’s hard to believe that you are 2 already. The baby in you is a shadow, and you are well on your way to a little boy.
For whatever reason, I think I believe that in many ways you’d be a lot like your brother, because nurture would be more powerful than nature, despite other parents telling me what surprises await. They were not wrong. Although you share your brother’s happy disposition, you are so very different. While your personality is still emerging from you at this age, I can feel myself falling love with a boy who has so many special and unique qualities. The first thing I love about you is how much you already love me! I’m not going to pretend you don’t love mommy more but compared to Dhyan who pretty much went into hysterics if mommy wasn’t near by the fact that you run up to me yelling “Daddy!” and give me hugs is amazing. The fact that you let me put you to bed is amazing. You are just so happy when both of us around. Sometimes you run back and forth between he both of us going “Daddy!”, “Mama!”, “Daddy!”, “Mama!” You are a sweet and loving child.
You’ve spent a lot of time on my lap this past year. I know it’s not the most productive thing, but at the end of day at work, you would sit on my lap and watch music videos or nursery rhyme song cartoons. It started off with music videos this kept you entertained for about 9 months, but suddenly you transitioned to more animated stuff. In the last month or month and half I noticed that you started to become scared of some of the cartoons where someone is falling or perhaps in danger of falling. There is a Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme video that sends you into hysterics whenever it comes on. You cry, “Bam! Bam!” which is your word for falling down and start crying and I have to fast forward over it. You are none too fond of monkeys jumping and falling off the bed either and cover your eyes with your hands.
You have two very funny things that you do that just warms my heart. Even though you’ve gone long past the object permanence stage, you seem to think that you disappear when you cover your eyes. Frequently you will play a sort of peekaboo with us. We could be chasing you and then you’ll cover your eyes as if it somehow makes you disappear. It’s so funny. We then proceed to pretend we can see you and then suddenly you’ll remove your hands and laugh delightedly. The other bit of silliness is how you’ll pretend everything is a hat. From fruit, to books, to balloons. Your word for hate is wowwy. I have no idea where you got the idea that this was the word for hat, but that’s what you’ve been calling it for months now!
In general, your language skills are a bit bizarre. While you speak several recognizable words in English and Polish, and started speaking well before Dhyan, many of your words, while consistently used, do not resemble the actual word in Polish or English. You also seem to have entire conversations at times in gibberish and we can’t tell what you’re saying at all. All I can say is that I’m sorry and that I’m sure it was all very interesting and important. The sounds of your voice, whether I understand you or not is like music to my ears.
You are also much more of a naughty boy than your brother was. You have the best of mischievous grins. One that I secretly appreciate, even though I must outwardly scold. Speaking of which I’ve never seen a human more unphased by a scolding. There are times when I’ve yelled and given you the scariest of faces that would have sent fear into the little eyes of your brother and made him stop whatever he was doing. Your reaction is to look at us deadpan at best, amused at worst until we are finished and then wait until we look away to continue what it is that you were doing! Honestly I was a bit worried for a moment? Is this the reaction of one with a criminal mind? Someone who is remorseless of their wrong doing? Alas you are far to sweet to be such a person. You give hugs when someone is crying, and you give love to us and the kitties. You get worried about Humpty Dumpty falling. You’re just a little anti-authoritarian, I can’t really be upset about that. And I also think your reaction goes along with the fact that you are just a more laid back kind of personality. While happy like your brother, you have a laugh that is much more about just having fun and have no need to control the situation. You are content to just watch things happen and keep on laughing. In this way you are very much like me.
There is a quiet intelligence about you that I love to see. You figure things out quickly, and you love looking up at the sky just like I do. In this way I also feel close to you. Though it may to early to really gauge what passions will drive you, your mother is a geologist and looks down like your brother, you and I, I think we’ll be looking at the sky together. I guess we’ll see, but I can’t wait to see more of fills you with wonder.
As always, these letters are not only meant to be about my views of you are me as a parent, but also to let you know how I am at this stage of my life. Personal reflections are difficult right now, because this letter comes are a time where we are experiencing a unique moment in human history. Right now a virus called COVID-19 or the Corona virus is moving throughout the world population. It is a new virus and humans do not have an immunity to it. The country of your birth is being hit rather hard right now and the leader of this country could not be worse for this moment in time, although it is easily arguable that we should never have such a leader at any moment in time. Beyond that, on average the world is not prepared. These things are part of nature, but modern medicine has kept up with such viruses until now. We are practicing something called social distancing, quarantining ourselves, and many businesses are close to limit how close we come in contact with other people. This is causing a lot of economic hardship for many as well. There will be a great deal of death, especially to those who are old, and it will take time to recover as the global economy has slowed down significantly. We do this so that hospitals will not be overwhelmed with patients and we can save more people. We do this because we value human life above all other things. Still there is a great deal of fear, anxiety and men who crave power, and so there is discord in the better angels of our nature. I hope the discord is not so great that we can come out of this better than we might and that we learn the right lessons. Your 82 year old grandfather is with us right now and cannot go back to Poland as many countries have closed their borders to slow the spread of the virus and thus are not allowing many flights in and out. I believe he is safe with us, but if something were to happen, I want you to know that he came to help us take care of you while we were working and that he takes great care of you and loves you very much. I hope you will see him next year.
But for a 2 year old boy all you see is mommy and daddy get to be home with you more often and there is a great deal of joy. While at times you might sense our anxiety, this is a happy time for you and we are glad also to have more moments with you and watch you grow. Before I go, a couple of things. First, your brother really wants to love you and you very often push him away out of jealousy. This is normal, but I just wanted to know that he loves you so much and desperately wants to be close to you. Second, I want to ask one small favor of you. Could you please sleep through the night? That would be wonderful.
Each year I think the thoughts will flow easier, but I find myself this year less able to encapsulate what this year has been like. You seem to have changed immensely and yet it was hardly surprising I suppose in retrospect. You started pre-school at the beginning of the year, did that for 3 months, then went to Poland with your grandfather, and was there 3 weeks with just your grandparents, before your mom and Allie joined you for another 3 weeks. You a blissful summer under the sun, and then began school and I’ve never seen you shine so brightly. I know being able to be around and play with other kids more consistently has been enjoyable for you. I am sure there are going to be hiccups navigating the social waters, but I have no doubt you’ll find your way so long as you remain kind.
It’s been a very big year for you. It’s weird to think how you can be afraid to go by yourself upstairs to your room, but you have no problem going across a big ocean far away from your parents. The latter taking far more bravery than the former. It’s interesting the things we are frightened of. Most of it largely unreasonable. I missed you terribly being without you for 6 weeks, but I also couldn’t be more proud. I am glad you got to really experience your mom’s home country and got to speak the language in a place where everybody speaks it. You made friends with Polish children, you ordered things in Polish. It’s wonderful!
And now, in just one semester of kindergarten you’re reading and writing skills have improved dramatically. I am greatly enjoying watching the world open up to you. What used to be some random assort of symbols, you recognize now as letters and words, and it’s wonderful to see those eyes widen with recognition and excitement that you are reading. We had our first parent/teacher interview and your teacher had nothing but wonderful things to say about you. She did mention that you do get a little bit silly, especially when there is someone to goof around with. I was just happy that you’re the same kid at school that we see at home.
What was also nice this year is that I did get to spend much more time with you. While you still prefer your mommy, I can tell that you look forward to our time together and I enjoy your company so much. I love the questions you ask, and the way you look at the world. You are such a kind and fair boy. It is the one greatest wish for my children, and it feels like you are already there. Now I just have to figure out how to keep you on that path.
Now here is my one problem with you. Why can’t you just sit down and eat a meal? I don’t understand why you are out of your seat more than in it while we’re eating. I don’t know why you always have to go to the bathroom during meal. I don’t understand how it can take an hour to eat. Everything else Is easy with you until the parents vs. Dhyan meal times. I sense this is distressing to both us. Perhaps that’s why battles wear on because we don’t know how to communicate with each other properly. That being said, you will find a whole exciting world awaits you after meal time when you don’t use all your free time eating.
But if that’s the worst of it, I think it would be manageable. With all the growth you’ve had over the past year, I start to see you more clearly in your future and I worry about what security I can provide you in your life. My job has become less stable, this country grows ever more divided and corrupt, that the world seems more inclined to lean towards authoritarians and xenophobes, and the harm we are causing our planet continues as too much political capital in the countries that could do the most, pretends that it’s not even happening. I feel like I should be preparing you for a harsh reality, but those joyful moment with you give me strength each day. And in the end maybe that is what’s most important. Without enough joyful moments, maybe it’s not possible to know what is worth fighting for. In any world where people are needed to make things better, they are going to be bright, creative, kind, and vigilant. We need good people to look up to. I hope I can raise you to be someone who has qualities that makes people feel better when they are around you.
The quality that continues to emerge most strongly in you, is your creative ability. Especially in terms of design. Your mother has this quality in her abundance, but it was never my forte. It makes me feel sometimes I don’t know how to guide you. It makes me worry that there is some greatness I you that I don’t know how to make sure rises to the surface. But I guess that’s why there are two of us raising you, and maybe what’s really the most important is just making sure you feel completely loved. I hope that a large part of you becoming who you are meant to be is about giving you that loving environment that makes you feel free to be that person. That being said, I love that you love math and that is one area that I am enjoying exploring with you, because I share the same love of numbers and patterns. And I love watching Brain Games with you. Understanding the brain is such a big part of understanding ourselves. I hope you continue to have this interest, because learning about the brain has had a profound impact on my life.
I love you more each day Dhyan. It’s hard to believe this is possible sometimes, but as your complexity grows so does my love for you. And so, as in the past, the fear of losing you grows too. I guess I’m glad these things happen gradually, because it means I only have to get a little bit stronger every day. This fear is something I can only look at from a distance. It is too big to engage in it for any serious length of time. It is so large that it actually becomes a helpful reminder that losing yourself in what might be ruins any chance you have of enjoying and making a difference in what is. That’s one of the few truths I know that I want to make sure you understand as well. A realization that has come far later in life than I wish it had.
Happy birthday my sweet young man. I look forward to watching you grow another year, and I just want you to know that you teach me things too, and I also grow. I also want you to know that every time you love someone you change too. It doesn’t matter whether they are a child or an adult. I am so excited to be on this journey of life with you.
I listened to a podcast a couple weeks ago where Sam Harris was interviewing Yasmine Mohammed. It was a wonderful interview and even emotional. For those of you who don’t know Yasmine she is an ex-Muslim who immigrated to Canada as a child, and ended up being raised by a very strict Islamist (who incidentally had multiple wives) and was forced to marry a guy who turned out to be a Muslim extremist. She experienced a lot of abuse from her biological father, adoptive father, and her husband. Her husband was actually part of ISIS and now supposedly resides in a prison in Egypt although she has been unable to confirm it. The long and the short of it is, that she has had the full experience of what many women go through in Islamic society as second class citizens. I would argue that citizens are humans and I am not sure that many women qualify even as human in traditional Islamic communities. What they go through is absolutely dehumanizing.
But I am not here to talk about the problems with Islam. What I found really interesting about the interview was the discussion about how in the west, the left rarely criticizes Islam for how it treats women. We can criticize Christianity’s patriarchal values, have TV shows like Handmaid’s Tale which show just how oppressive Christianity can be, but the rules are different for Islam and how they treat women. Yasmine finds it despicable that they even try to use the hijab as some sort of symbol of female empowerment in Islam, when that is really not what it is at all. She says that Muslim women are “othered” in western society, like they are not equally human as white women, that they don’t want the same freedoms that white women have. And I have to say, that I agree. I think any practices, whether they be in the context of a religion, culture, or society at large that demean and/or oppress women should be open to criticism. And women in the west, who enjoy a great deal more freedom than many Muslim women, should be joining Yasmine’s fight again a very patriarchal religion.
So I wanted to support Yasmine and followed her on Twitter where she is fairly active. In many ways it doesn’t make a lot of sense why feminism in the west would be on opposite sides of this battle. And if I consider myself a feminist, then Yasmine is absolutely correct, she’s just human and humanist values should apply to her. I see feminism as fitting into the larger umbrella of humanism. But when I started making comments in support and in defense of her points I noticed something quite interesting. When I would look at the profiles of many of the people who liked my comments, I was surprised to find that many of them were Trump supporters, conservative white males who consider themselves libertarians, and a lot of people who I would consider to be politically alt-right. It made me feel uncomfortable. It made me wonder, what type of person am I supporting here if all these people who I would disagree with on almost about everything else are seeming to be on the same side as me? So while it doesn’t change my stance that we should be just as critical of patriarchal ideas embedded in any religion, I started to see what the left might be rejecting here. If supporting an ex-Muslim fighting religious patriarchal values is putting you on the same side as conservative, alt-right racist types, what is the answer to effectively supporting people like Yasmine?
So then the question for me became, okay so what is going on?
Is it simply that these people aren’t as racist as they are Christian xenophobes who fear other religions, races, and cultures invading their space? Is it basically just the enemy of the enemy is our friend?
Did, as Sam Harris has argued, that the space the left has vacated has simply allowed the right to elevate people like Yasmin in status and use her to spread their more hateful message? We see this phenomena not only in the case of religion here. But we see women who support men’s issues get support from misogynist members of MRA or incels. Even Sam Harris, who I would argue is at heart liberal, often gets his words used by alt-right people when they want to reinforce Muslim stereotypes.
Many white liberal women are of the liberal Christian kind. They want religious Muslim women to be seen as strong as empowered because they then don’t have to acknowledge the oppressive practices in their own faith? Would this mean that it’s Yasmine’s atheism that many liberal women are reacting to?
Do we have more in common with people who are alt-right than we think?
I don’t really think the last one is true, but I think it’s important to consider the question. Where do we go from here? Now I’m not sure whether Yasmine is politically conservative or not. Certainly I think it’s possible to want equality for women while still supporting fiscally conservative issues, but I would say certainly Yasmine is socially liberal based on what she has said. Perhaps if more people on the left spoke up in support of Yasmine, all those alt-right followers would flee from her side, not wanting to be allied with us because they would have the same uncomfortable feeling I had!
While I sympathize deeply with what Yasmine Mohammed went through, I do think it’s also a reality in the west that minority races and religion can experience a lot of prejudice and racism, and so in some ways I understand perhaps not wanting to critique a religion that is largely followed by darker skinned people so as to not feed stereotypes that can be used by people that would oppress them. I also think that if we are concerned with things like freedom of speech, gender equality, LGBQT rights, we have to be constantly fighting against bad ideas, and Islam, just like Christianity has a bunch of bad ones. Islam is a huge religion and I can only imagine that the amount of women and girls is in the 100s of millions who need liberal voices fighting for their rights in the same way we fight against Christian patriarchal values. I believe it is possible to fight against both prejudice against Muslims, and also still criticize the oppressive practices that Islam advocates and are practiced daily around the world.
Every once in awhile the best of us has to admit that we didn’t research something as well as we could. Although at the time, I don’t know I could have figured all this out. I recently wrote a blog post about the incident surrounding Carson King and the exposure by a reporter of racist tweets in his past, and I commented how this type of thing is far too common in journalism today where someone’s past is brought up, despite the fact that they are clearly not that person anymore.
While I don’t think my overall conclusion is wrong, the inspiration for me writing that post was a story more complex than I initially thought. This link is an article written by the journalist who was apparently fired in response to the public outcry at making meat out of Carson King’s past tweets. After reading it, I think he sounds like a decent person who had no ill intent. According to the editor of the Des Moines daily register the background profile that reporter Aaron Calvin is standard practice. As I read, what seems to be the original article here, it is a very positive article and the tweets are mentioned at the very end with commentary by the journalist about how much Carson had changed.
We can argue about whether bringing up at all has any value, but we could also argue that knowing how ridiculous Twitter could be, that he was genuinely worried about the wrong person finding it out and spinning it without King’s input. So maybe it was better getting ahead of it. According to Calvin’s write up about the whole incident, Carson King himself had the same thought and did the press conference giving people the idea that Calvin was trying to sink him, himself. King seemed to have no ill feelings towards the Des Moines Register or Calvin, and I think Calvin makes some salient points in his sum up of the incident. Perhaps in the end, this incident ended up being chaotic and disastrous because of the worry, or perception of cancel culture.