Monday, November 30, 2009

Speaking of Socrates

Here is the respected Karen Armstrong, speaking about Socrates and his methods for revealing truth and wisdom. The entire talk can be seen on

Nearly Midnight Ramblings

It was Socrates that said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." I would find it hard to believe that there is a human being that hasn’t, at some period in their life, paused to reflect on the meaning of it all, and their place in it. Usually at some point, many times during adolescence, people will wonder about the big questions. Will I exist in some form after the death of my body? Is there really free will, or is everything predetermined by genetics, and the turnings of the universe? Where does one’s sense of right and wrong come from? I have to stifle laughter whenever someone takes the position that without religion, and specifically the ten commandments, humans would run rampant, stealing and killing. Wouldn’t not killing people at will just make sense anyway, whether someone thought to inscribe on a stone table a few millennia ago? For a civil society it only makes sense to adhere to a few certain basic rules. Thou Shalt Not Kill is certainly a good one. When I was growing up I always had questions about that commandment though. I thought it was pretty direct in it’s statement, but when the state kills someone using the death penalty, how is that squared with the basic tenet against murdering another human? Then you can always depend on some “Christian” pulling out the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” quote. That may be the only quote they know from the ancient texts, but they wield it like the weapon they imagine it permits them to use.

But I digress…slightly. My initial intention was to imagine that everyone at some point in their life, pauses to think about certain metaphysical questions. I personally think that pondering the big questions can be a life’s pursuit. It can also cause one to weep and worry. There have been times in my life when I just wanted to be a beer-drinking NASCAR fan, working for the weekend. Maybe a high school janitor that enjoys watching professional wrestling on his 42” plasma flat-screen TV, and drinking cold bottles of MGD. (That’s Miller Genuine Draft for those of you not in the know.)

I always found the term “Joe Six-Pack” to be very insulting. Exactly who falls into the category of Mr. Six-Pack? Alcoholics? Guys who would rather be known as Joe (as in Joe the Plumber,) or Mack, or Buddy. But it was the party run by the Harvard and Yale brats named George Herbert Walker Bush, and Neil Prescott Bush, and the actor known as Ronald Reagan, that tried their best to appeal to the so-called “Joe Six-Packs” of America. They insult the beer drinking slobs right to their face, promising them more change in their pocket (literally: nickels, dimes, a few pennies), so that they can continue to buy their watered down horse-piss they call beer.

More digressions and I’ve yet to get to a point. A point of reference to yet another rambling blog post. The point was that it can get depressing thinking about the big questions. Questions that do not seem to have any answers that could be comprehended by our puny human intellect. Reality TV seems to be about veneer and vacuity. I’m not a big watcher of television, but I haven’t heard of any hit programs that tackle the mind-body problem, or death, or whether we actually have free will. Instead people seem to be breaking laws to enable some sort of fame in their lives. There was the “balloon boy hoax” and now there’s some wacky couple from Virginia that crashed a White House party in order to drum up some publicity for a possible reality show. Serial Killer of the Week is not far off. They are already priming the pump with the very graphic forensic shows that inhabit the airwaves. All this viscera interrupted by commercials for Viagra, MacDonalds, and various brain-dead celebrities pawning crappy cars, and retirement plans.

Don’t get me started. I could be here all night. Tomorrow I will be arising with both the sun and the son. In fact, my son will probably get me up before the sun ever shows its face. We have a big day planned of going to the post office, and eating at some restaurant, any restaurant, besides Red Robin, or Jalisco’s.

As the Week Begins...

This week I shall start to receive my new computer in the mail piecemeal. That means that my printer, printer cable, and wireless keyboard and mouse will all arrive sometime this week. The actual computer is still being assembled by bow-legged elves somewhere at the Dell facility in Texas.

Back up here in the Pacific Northwest there is still the clouds of winter gumming up the skies and preventing any significant sunlight from reaching the citizens down here on the ground. We're being forced to turn our car headlights on while driving, and turning on every light in our domiciles, so that we don't start feeling the effects of cabin fever until at least after the first of the year.

Meanwhile, I'm still reading Descartes' Error and finding out that our brains are very complex. Who'd have thunk it?! I'm also reading a book of short stories with the great title of There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby by the Russian writer Ludmilla Petrushevskaya.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mahna Mahna

My son has been enjoying this song lately, but he's been enjoying the cover version by the band Cake. I'm not sure if he's even familiar with this classic by the Muppets from way back in 1969. (I was only eight!)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday is Dead and Gone

It's all over folks. I haven't bothered to glance at any headlines proclaiming the holiday buying season a success or failure based on today's receipts. We had a good day at the bookstore. Nobody was waiting outside at 4am, which is good...because we don't open until eight. To me the whole idea of a season for shopping (I think it's called "gift giving" in the vernacular.) is abhorrent. I'm sure you've seen footage from past Black Friday sales, which people being injured as they were trampled upon by other anxious consumers. Seeing people in their pajamas in a Best Buy, dragging a plasma TV to the front counter makes me want to distance myself from the human race. Maybe I could just be a happy bovine for a while. I wouldn't have to worry about sales, and keeping up with the Guernseys. I would just dully chew my cud, and look up when cars go by. "Red one!"

But I enjoy selling books. Books are one of man's greatest inventions. The ability to transfer ideas to the minds of total strangers through the medium of the written word. I'm assuming that my son will be a book lover, because he'll be surrounded by a culture of books growing up. He already enjoys books, and is on the lookout for certain ones in the bookstore. His recent favorite is "Arthur's First Sleepover." Justin is at a stage where he enjoys the idea of being scared. He frequently likes to take his flashlight to bed with him. I don't think he is truly frightened, but he likes exploring the concept.

One fun aspect to selling books is the exchange of ideas with the customer. As fellow readers, we are always trading title suggestions with our co-workers, and our customers. I urge certain titles on the public through our clever use of "Staff Picks." We write up little blurb on Staff Pick cards, and display them with the book in the store. We take personal pride when our pick manages to sell some copies of a favorite book of ours.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Eve

Today is Wednesday, and the bookstore will be open until 10pm as usual. The only thing out of the ordinary tonight will be the addition of some musicians from a local high school playing chamber music. Tomorrow I will be picking Justin up at about 11am, and having him over to my place for lunch and a movie. I think the film choices will be "Mary Poppins," or "Bedknobs and Broomsticks." After bringing him back to the house I may just require an afternoon nap, before arising to enjoy some reading time. It also crossed my mind to clean the bathroom tomorrow, since I will have a free evening. It seems a suitable activity for an evening at home on a national holiday.

My only trepidation about tomorrow is actually having to shop for a few groceries tonight. I'm hoping that by the time I get off work at 10pm most folks will have already made their last minute trip for cranberry sauce and walnuts, and the aisles will be free for me to peruse the selections.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Happy Hump Day

Yes, it's Wednesday. Sometimes Monday-thru-Friday workers like to label this day "hump day," as in "getting over the hump." Of course, there is some sexual innuendo at play here. Isn't there always though? One hump I leaped over this morning was balancing my checkbook. I've been spending money without an eye on my balance, and today I finally remedied that situation. As far as the sexual innuendo goes: Shouldn't every day be "hump day?" I mean, breaking up the middle of the week with a some intimate interaction is a fine idea, but let's not forget Mondays, or Thursdays (also known as pre-Friday.) Every day deserves it's place among the possible opportunities for lovemaking. Not just "hump day."

And on that note, it's time to get to work. There has been an author event for the past two nights, and tonight is the monthly book group meeting. I'm also sad to report that yesterday we sold two copies of Going Rogue by that crazy Alaskan quitter. One was sold to a reporter, who woefully reported that he had to buy it for work. Another was sold to a woman, who didn't bother to explain her purchase. My boss told me that he held out until the last possible minute to order the books, but after all the publicity over the weekend, he realized that he had to have a few copies on hand. Oh well. True book lovers will not be clamoring for the spite-filled memoir of the ex-governor. Instead, they will continue to buy Olive Kitteridge, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday is Made for...

The beginning of another work week. This is the season for many new titles at the bookstore, but one I don't think we'll be unpacking this week is the new hate fest by Sarah Palin. Her, and her Gestapo clad buddy Herr Glenn Beck, can go sell their wares at Wal*Mart for super low prices to the unwashed and uneducated. I will stand on the sidelines and watch her crash and burn. The book is not even out until tomorrow, but already the lies are starting to seep into the headlines.

I'm still trying to figure out my own mind, before my demise. This weekend at Powell's I bought such books as Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction by Susan Blackmore; Mindsight: Image, Dream, Meaning by Colin McGinn; The Rediscovery of the Mind by John R. Searle; and Mindfucking by Colin McGinn. These are all titles that I've been desiring for a few years. Most of them are short discounts, or university press titles, or both. That translates to mean that even if I had ordered them through Ravenna Third Place I probably wouldn't have gotten my traditional 40% discount. Besides, I couldn't resist buying the books once I set my eyes upon them on the shelf. My goal this week is to resist buying any books. I should be able to restrain myself for at least one week. At least until I get the overflow in my apartment safely stored in one of my closets.

Winds of Change

Outside the "first serious windstorm of the season" is beginning. I feel safely ensconced in my concrete bunker with the Pergo flooring. I'm back home after an overnight trip to Portland. Besides eating, sleeping, and telling "Once Upon a Time" stories to my son, we made the mandatory visit to Powell's Bookstore, which was only two blocks from our hotel. We couldn't have been that close and not go in, and still call ourselves book lovers. There were three of us visiting the Rose City, and we each came home with probably five books each. Well, one of us, who shall not be named, left the majority of their books on the train. Thinking optimistically of most people, I believe that they will be in the lost and found box at the King Street station in the morning. My public demeanor is usually a disdain for fellow humans, but down deep I believe everyone has good qualities and ethics to draw from. The whole idea of "original sin" is an insult to our intelligence, and an immediate devaluing of children. We are born into this world as perfect little beings, but even perfection is not without its flaws.

It's much too late to ramble on about what books I bought at Powell's today, or what DVDs arrived in mail in the past week. That's all just trivialities that fade away with time anyway. Now, to be truly in love is to feel truly alive. Everything else can fall by the wayside. Yes, including books. (I can't believe I just wrote that!)

Friday, November 13, 2009

I'm in a Dancing Mood

It's Friday, and that has a lot of significance for me this week. Yes, it's the last day of my work week, but I also get to come home to my son, and my best friend. (Two different people, FYI.) My friend is going to cook Justin dinner (unless he persuades her that Red Robin is the better option,) and get him ready for bed. If all works according to plan he should be sound asleep when I get home at approximately 10:30 pm. Tomorrow the real fun begins when we escort el Justino to Portland for a night of non-Seattle type fun.

To better express my mood, here is Jools Holland singing "I'm in a Dancing Mood."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Repeated Tasks

I'm packing books again. This time I'm boxing up some of the stacks of books currently on the floor of my living room. These are my purchases from recent months, and select titles that I brought over from the house. I'm putting books to-be-read-later in the living room closet. Books to be read in the more immediate future will be on my shelves. Also on my shelves will be books that I just like to look at, like my collection of New York Review of Books classics. I'm a bookaholic. I admit that freely. There is no cure. Downsizing one's living space can put a damper on the rate of collecting. It doesn't seem to have stopped me though. There's something about a 40% discount on used books that's just irresistible...literally.

My son will be spending three nights of every week at my place now, so I've got to try and give him some space. I think that he'll be getting the bed with the heated mattress pad and heated blanket, and I'll get the futon couch, sleeping at an angle, and feeling like I'm perpetually falling of a cliff.

This weekend we'll be arising early on Saturday to take the train from Seattle south to Portland, Oregon. It will be just a one night jaunt to the city proper, with a return trip just after lunch the following day.

The Ohio Players' "Love Rollercoaster" is playing. That must mean that it's time to get back to cleaning the apartment. I need to set a good example for my son.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Time for a Few Laughs

One of my favorite stand-up comedians, Brian Regan. I can always depend on him for a few laughs.

Sigh of Relief

I'm back home at my apartment, after spending three consecutive nights at my ex-wife's house. Yes, I can emotionally and legally now call it her house. It's also where Justin spends most of his days. I would love to have him over at my apartment more, but at the house he has the benefit of a big backyard, and his own spacious bedroom. As it stands now, he'll be spending every Monday, Friday and Saturday night at my place. That officially starts this Friday, and we celebrate by taking the train to Portland on Saturday morning. Justin will love the train ride, and then once down there we'll play it by ear. I've heard that the aquarium is worth checking out, and then there's always Powell's...

The 40% off sale at the bookstore over the weekend was a big success. It was 40% off all used books. We have this sale concurrently with the Lake Forest Park store twice a year, Spring and Fall. It gives us a chance to clean out our stock a little, which is good, because we buy used books from customers every day, 10 to 6. I'm a Monday through Friday employee, so I didn't get to enjoy the book buying excitement. I was having fun all weekend though, spending Saturday at the FFRF convention, and Sunday in the company of my best friend, which is how I intend spending all my Sundays.

The clothes dryer is tumbling away in the background. I'm sitting here eating pretzel nuggets (or should I say "sourdough nibblers"), and drinking an iced tea. It's been a tiring past few days: working, caring for Justin, and putting the last of my items from the house in storage. I could probably collapse into a dreamless sleep instantly, but I think I'll stay up for a bit, and enjoy being back in my own personal space.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Heretic's Holiday

Winding down from another heretic's holiday. I skipped the non-prayer breakfast in exchange for an extra hour of sleep. The convention started with a rundown of all the states that were represented (I believe it was 37, plus Canada.) There was just over 600 participants this year, and a good majority of those were from right here in the Godless Pacific Northwest. We’re second only to Oregon as the most Godless state in the union. By Godless, I mean the lowest church attendance. There was a short presentation from a local woman, who had produced the book Frommer’s Seattle Day by Day, and she gave a little welcoming speech and a rundown of tourist traps, er…I mean tourist spots for the out-of-towners.

The first topical speaker was Barry Kosmin, who spoke on "The Rising Tide of Secularity in the U.S." He was a principal researcher of the American Religious Identification Survey, which showed that the nonreligious had grown to 15% of the adult U.S. population by 2008. I picked up on a new term this year that I hadn’t heard before: the “Nones.” These are the people who said "None" when asked their religious identity on the survey. They’re not necessarily militant atheists. They just don’t care. Mr. Kosmin gave an academic speech with lots of statistics and a little humor. I had to struggle to stay awake at times.

The next speaker was Daniel Everett, author of Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle. He started off his life as a missionary to South America, and along the way morphed into an atheist, who is now chair of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at Illinois State University. His book details his time spent with the Pirahas tribe in the Amazon. This tribe is significant for several reasons, including the fact that they have no creation myth. They also don’t have numbers, or words for colors. They tend to live in the present moment, and someone like Jesus, who may have lived over two-thousand years ago doesn’t mean anything to them. The talk was very interesting, and unfortunately Everett’s time was limited, because he had to catch a flight to London.

After lunch, we had about a half hour to get back to the convention. The wait for the elevators alone was twenty minutes. The two speakers in the afternoon were quite good: Jennifer Michael Hecht, who authored a history of doubt a few years ago, was honored with the Freethought Heroine Award. She was obviously brilliant and could have easily filled a couple of hours with an interesting talk. Ursula K. Le Guin came on next, and she's a living legend in my book. She's in her 80s and still writing fiction, poetry and essays. She had a very poignant speech, re-interpreting the Emperor Has No Clothes fairy tale. This is connected to the fact that she was receiving the "Emperor Has No Clothes" award for speaking out truthfully, and without fear. I had Ms. Le Guin sign my hardcover copy of her translation of the Tao te Ching,and yes...I will treasure it always.

There was one speaker after the banquet this evening. But before the speaker was the annual ticket drawing for pre-“In God We Trust” money. For the last two years the people I have sat with have won a prize. This year was no exception, making it three years straight that someone at my table has won a Godless piece of money. This year it was my ex-wife of almost two weeks, who won one of the cherished bills. She will be in the group photo that adorns the appropriate issue of Freethought Today.

After the giveaway another Emperor Has No Clothes Award was given to former L.A. Times religion reporter William Lobdell. He wrote an excellent book entitled Losing My Religion about his years on the beat as the weekly religion columnist. During his tenure he covered the Catholic sex abuse trials, and that along with his coverage of such charlatans as Benny Hinn, led him to reject the notion of God. Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that, and his tale is a very personal journey. Many aspects will ring true to anyone, who has ever questioned their faith, whether they’ve crossed over to full-blown atheism, or not.

Now it’s time to relax, but one beer doesn’t stand clear, and if it did it certainly wouldn’t be that Miller piss water. No, it’s time to relax by shutting off the computer and choosing some mindless movie from my collection to watch. I’m thankful that I don’t have cable, otherwise I’d be tempted to channel surf. Nasty habit, that channel surfing. Maybe it’s time to re-watch Superbad once again. It’s never too soon.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thunder and Lightning

Thunder and lightning in the skies of Seattle. I grew up in New England, the land of the nor’easter. Hurricanes would wind their way up the coast in the late summer. The rainy season in the Pacific Northwest is so sedate in comparison., except for the occasional earthquake, or volcanic eruption. But late last night, and at times today, there was rolling thunder and lightning in the skies of Seattle. Maybe God was showing his anger over the fact that the Freedom From Religion Foundation was holding their 32nd annual convention downtown at the Red Lion Inn. Or maybe their was also an event at the Discovery Institute that raised His ire, and prompted the thunderous outburst in the sky. Then again, maybe it’s just the weather.

Speaking of FFRF: tonight I attended the opening evening of the aforementioned convention. Tonight’s speakers were Phil Zuckerman, an associate professor of sociology at Pitzer college, and author of Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us about Contentment. He was and informative and entertaining speaker, and, yes, inspiring. His book details his sociological study, comparing the least religious nations against the most religious, and he even breaks that down into states. Some of his results are not surprising, because it has a lot of correlatives with conservative versus liberal areas. The more religious states have the higher rates of divorce, and violent crime. There is more teen pregnancy and STDs amongst the faithful’s children, because they tend not to use protection. There was a lot of spontaneous applause during his talk, but, for the most part, that was the audience congratulating themselves for being on the positive side of these studies. Hooray! We’re more tolerant! Yippee! We have more oral sex! You read that correctly. Secularists have more oral sex. To be even more specific: non-believing women are more likely to receive oral sex. “Oral sex” being the buzz words for the evening.

Ron Reagan was the closing speaker. He had received the Emperor Has No Clothes Award in 2004, after publicly criticizing politicians at his father’s funeral for wearing their religion on their sleeve. He has never shied away from proclaiming himself an “unabashed atheist.” This year he brought his award with him, and gave the acceptance speech he wasn’t able to give back then. Being a talk show host on a politically liberal radio station (Air America), his speech was naturally peppered with references to politics, and his father’s time as president. He was most passionate when speaking about stem cell research and the attempt by the right to moralize the issue. He was humorous, and congenial, but his speech seemed a little offhanded. The speakers were through at 9 pm, and then it was time for cake. I find that cake at these types of events is always too sweet. Good, but so rich you can actually see your waistline expanding with each bite.

Tomorrow the convention is an all-day affair, although there will be a two-hour break for lunch to tour the city. There is even a woman from Frommer’s speaking in the morning…I’m assuming to sell her chintzy tour book to gullible easterners. I doubt if I’ll do any touring downtown, but I may end up in a corner of the hotel lobby, reading about Phineas Gage and his incident with the crowbar.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sick Day

Today I took a sick day from work. I went in with good intentions, but after my long day yesterday of caring for Justin, and working my evening shift I felt worse today. I was feverish and fuzzy headed. I came home and slept until about 9:30 tonight, and then felt well enough to tackle my checkbook and awaiting bills. While I dealt with that mundane task, I watched the movie "Singles" out of my peripheral vision. I hadn't watched it in a few years, but there was a time when I watched it quite often. To me, it's not only a love story between the couples in the film, but it's also a love story about a city - Seattle. When I lived on the east coast, before my imminent return to Seattle, I would watch this movie and reminisce about living in Seattle during the budding days of Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains.

Now I need to get some more rest, so that I can be full of heretical vigor this weekend at the annual FFRF conference. Friday's speaker is Ron Reagan, who also happens to live in the Seattle area, and does his radio show from here. On Saturday there will be the presentation of awards, and speeches by such luminaries as Ursula Le Guin, Bob Lobdell, and Jennifer Michael Hecht. This will be the third consecutive year that I will attend the conference by the Madison based group. I hope to continue this annual ritual that stimulates my intellect, and gives me a sense of belonging. Some people have Burning Man, while others have weekends in Vegas. I like to travel to cities to hang out with a group of friendly people working to keep the separation of church and state; giving a voice to a minority that is all too often ignored by society at large.

"Singles" (1992) - Written and directed by Cameron Crowe. It's worth a rental.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Daylight Savings What?

There is only one benefit to Daylight Savings Time, and that's in the fall, when we get to set the clock back one hour and get the psychological benefit of sleeping an extra hour on Sunday morning. The shame is that a three-year-old doesn't really understand that benefit. I had forgotten about the whole setting-the-clocks-back thing this morning, and immediately thought, "Oh, seven-thirty...that's not too bad." It wasn't until I turned on my computer to see that I was up earlier than desired. Justin has been enjoying some Pee Wee's Playhouse, while I've gotten him breakfast and showered.

It looks like we might be blessed with a little sunshine this morning, so that it might be possible to take Justin to the playground for a bit, before returning him to his homestead. Needless to say, I'm quite looking forward to be relieved of parenting duties today. I have a feeling that there may be an afternoon nap scheduled for my future today. Justin may have outgrown his need for naps, but my need only grows stronger as I lurch toward the golden years.