Saturday, January 13, 2018

Evolution of Ideas in Mythology

I know a woman who is mildly obsessed with the concept of "angels". She believes that such actually exist. To her, angels are sweet, mild, good creatures. Some of them are beautiful women. Some are beautiful men. Some are beautiful children. They wear robes, and dresses, and they have wings, and they have wonderful smiling, Aryan features and are Nordic in appearance. God sends them to help people, apparently.

Recently I had to tell someone how to pronounce "cherub", which is a word they had never encountered. Then I had to explain what a cherub was, including both its modern definition and its older, Biblical and mythological definition, which are far removed from one another. (I long ago learned that my tendency to expound on such subjects often makes me a target, but I have a short temper and the added tendency to kick ass which protects me from the worst effects, so I continue to do it.)

And as I explained this definition it occurred to me how such a change could take place over the course of human civilization to become something completely different from its origin. How are concepts altered in this weird type of evolution?

For instance, here is one actual quote from a version of the Old Testament describing the appearance of the cherubim:

"...and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, "HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME."

This is nothing like the tiny, pudgy, harmless, childlike winged beings that the modern word 'cherub' brings to mind. When you compare the images from original to modern you have a genuine WTF? moment. How could it evolve from something terrible and awe-inspiring into something comical and benign?

Then there's the original term I mentioned: angel. Technically speaking, cherubim are consdidered angels, but are monstrous and fearsome. But the other angels are called seraphim and there are, according to Biblical scripture, at least one million of them. They are, in fact, God's soldiers. Yes, sometimes they are described as protecting people, but the implication is that they are doing so in an almost military way. Apparently, they are not described as necessarily having wings, or as being sweet, benefactors whose jobs it is to watch over every person on Earth. But that's the way they are perceived today. Angels are referred to as God's supernatural soldiers and obeying his commands as such. If they watch over any mortal, it was because of an order to do so and not from a sense of independent good will. Mainly, they are sent to give warnings and hand out punishment.

"He unleashed against them his hot anger, his wrath, indignation and hostility— a band of destroying angels."

People are strange. They choose to ignore or alter things as they see fit. Whatever sells is the constant.

From this:

To this.

And from this armored destroyer...

To this saccharine guardian.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

One of My Favorites

My family and I took two vacations that stand out above all of the others. The best we ever had was our two-week trip to Yellowstone National Park. But our second favorite was a long excursion in our travel trailer down the length of Florida for about an eight-day exploration of the Florida Keys.

And the most fun of any single day was our trip out to the Dry Tortugas National Park many miles off the coast of Key West. The Dry Tortugas NP is one of the least visited of our National Parks. It consists mainly of water and reefs with only a few islands where you can walk around. But the main reason it is so lightly visited is that you can only get there via boat or floatplane. Being working class folk, we chose the less expensive method of getting there by taking a fast catamaran from Key West to Fort Jefferson on the main island.

I didn't really tell Carole and Andy what to expect, only that they would love the trip and that they would see something they'd enjoy immensely. So I stopped at the office and bought three tickets for the catamaran trip out to the Tortugas. As I recall, they ran $70 each, but this included a very nice lunch that was served on the big catamaran.

Carole and Andy thought that they were in for a boring day out to see yet another fort out in the middle of nowhere. Neither of them was very happy as we waited on the waterfront in Key West very early in the morning to board the ship.

But once we got there they were amazed. As with most people, they did not realize that you needn't leave the States to see thriving coral reefs. The main island where one disembarks is surrounded by one of the finest living reef environments in the USA. The ocean is crystal clear and thriving with life. We spent most of the day swimming, snorkeling, and walking around the island (the pre-Civil War fort occupies almost all of the dry land), and bird-watching. When it was time to go they were sad to leave.

Following here are a number of photos I took, most of which I think I have never posted online. This was back in the days before underwater digital cameras. So what I did was stop at a shop where I bought an disposable underwater film camera. Surprisingly, it took fairly good images. Not the best quality, but better than I had expected before I snorkeled out into the ocean, eventually swimming out about 1/3 of a mile before turning back.

I swam through a number of schools of these small fry. It was fun.

This was a section of brick wall that had tumbled off of the fort no telling how long ago. Long since coated in coral accretions.

Another curious fish. Note the coral-covered bricks behind him.

This is the critter that made me turn around and swim back to the island. It's a Nurse shark. I knew at the time it was a Nurse shark and that it was basically harmless, but just the idea of being in the water with fish that big scared me. So I chickened out and went back to Fort Jefferson. This fish was six-feet long, but he was actually afraid of me. I got the impression it was trying to bury its head in that outcropping of coral in an attempt to hide from me.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Robbed of Our Dreams.

When I was a kid I was fascinated by our space missions. I have to admit up front that I didn't start following our various space missions earnestly until the Gemini program. I was just a tad too young when the Mercury Project was going on. Or perhaps I was more interested in dinosaurs than in rockets. But when I was eight years old everything changed. The Gemini Project fascinated me and of course I had to get up to speed on the Mercury Program. My closest friends and I all knew the "Original Seven" astronauts. They--and the astronauts who followed them--were heroes to us.

Today I was sad to learn of the death of one of those astronauts who followed the original seven. John Young left us at the age of 87. He was obviously one hell of a good pilot because he was the only astronaut to command Gemini, an Apollo Command Module, a Lunar Excursion Module, and (our awful and excessively flawed and dangerous) Space Shuttle. That alone is an almost unbelievable achievement.

From my days in the third grade all the way through the various Moon missions and the followup Skylab missions I had no doubt at all that someday soon my country would have outposts on the Moon, vast wagon-wheel space stations in orbit around Earth and the Moon, and manned missions to Mars. The dresser in my room was awash in models of all kinds of rockets. My walls had posters of the lunar surface and of our spacecraft, and my bookshelves were full of biographies of our astronauts, simply physics books on rocketry, and pamphlets of various NASA missions.

I had no doubt whatsoever that someday I'd be able to take a vacation into space. Maybe not to the Moon, but at least to a space station in orbit. And if you'd asked me in those days, I'd have repeated the NASA propaganda that we would surely be sending a manned mission to land on Mars some time in the 1970s. Wernher von Braun had said so (even if he was a reformed Nazi, he was the leader of the US space program).

By the time the Skylab mission was winding down around 1974 I was in my teens and I realized that space was not for us. I knew that something had happened at the all of the stories of what we were going to accomplish in space was--if not hot air--then at least the destruction of our possible future as a space-faring nation. After that, if someone mentioned space exploration I would ignore them.

I've heard all of the many reasons why the USA largely abandoned the exploration of space and the colonization of gravitational Lagrangian points or the manned villages on the lunar surface. And, of course, we were not going to Mars. Not then. Not now. Not ever. When this nation gave up those dreams it gave up the ghost, I like to think. The bottom line is that you can't have corporations and the ultra-rich not paying taxes and things like manned space exploration, too. You can have one, or the other. And the US chose to eliminate taxes for those most able to pay them and to abandon our vigorous manned exploration of space and the planets.

But none of that detracts from the amazing accomplishments of John Young, perhaps the finest astronaut the space program of the USA ever had, or ever saw. So, here's to Capt. John Watts Young, USN. He was among the best the nation had.

John Watts Young. The only man to command a Gemini capsule, an Apollo Command capsule, a Lunar Excursion Module, and a Space Shuttle. I mean...damn.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

All Day.

Carole and I spent all day at the hospital. She had out-patient surgery to have her gall bladder removed. That was the source of the problem in November that was causing her to be unable to eat or to hold down any food.

Once again I was reminded that my wife and I are lucky to have insurance. When I try to explain the situation in the US concerning our medical care to my European or Australian or New Zealand friends they are horrified. They cannot imagine a situation in which your life can be at the mercy of a death panel run by a private insurance company. Or that you can lose your home because--even with insurance--physicians and hospitals can attach your property to pay debts owed on health care even if you have insurance. The very idea that access to health care is doled out by one's ability to find and afford private insurance disgusts them. Or that you can find yourself homeless if you cannot pay the balance of your bill after insurance pays out.

It disgusts me, too. But there you are.

But our hospital waiting rooms shore are purty.

Monday, January 01, 2018

The Internet is Strange

Today I was looking at homes for sale in Montana. Why? From time to time I'll try to talk my wife into moving there someday. So far, she is adamantly against such a move. But I don't stop mentioning it now and again.

So...I'm looking at a house there. And going through the photos of the various rooms featured in the ad. I come to a picture of the laundry room with a big sink in it. Above the sink is an amateur painting of a man who looks vaguely familiar. I had to look closer. The painting is of Michael Richards who played Cosmo Kramer on the SEINFELD television show.

Why is it there? Who painted it? All of these years later he still has a fan who planted his portrait in the laundry room?

The world is a very strange place.

The laundry room.

Michael Richards, big as life.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Extirpation and Extinction.

I used to know a lot of people who hunted. When I was a kid I would go small game hunting from time to time with my dad. Rabbits, quail, that type of thing. I stopped when I was 13 years old, no longer able to kill birds and mammals. My choice, no wish here to dictate that to others.

Up until a few years ago I would still hang out and talk to hunters sometimes. Some people hunt for what they call sport. Others hunt because they enjoy eating wild game and consuming what they kill. Truth to tell, one of my favorite things to eat is venison. So I am making no judgment call here. I have friends who hunt deer and other game to put protein in their freezers which helps them to cut down on the expense of feeding themselves and their families; it also stops them from consuming meat produced on factory farms. This is a good thing.

However, in my conversations with my friends who are hunters, and with strangers I meet who hunt, the talk almost always ends up with a mention of predators. Hunters hate predators. They hate any animal that also eats the deer, elk, moose, grouse, quail, etc. that people like to hunt and kill. At first I just assumed that this rabid hatred of predators was due to a sense of competition that they felt. But I never heard any of these hunters verbally savage or complain about other human hunters. Their rage and hatred was only for Grizzly bears, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, lynxes, and other such animals.

But they reserved a very special species of hatred for one particular animal: the Timber wolf.

If the conversation ever turned to wolves, I would watch my hunter friends start to slobber at the mouth like rabid dogs. Their eyes would go crazy. They would begin to rant and rave, talking about how the entire species should be exterminated and how any liberal college-educated moron who advocates for the defense of wolves should be jailed or killed. And, no, I am not exaggerating. I have seen otherwise calm, normal men start yelling for the extinction of an entire species and the deaths of educated biologists over this topic. They almost always referred to those with college educations as scum of the Earth.

I mainly would just squint at these people and wonder what the fuck was wrong with them and look at them as if they were a kind of specimen wriggling on a microscope slide or some cocktail of infection culturing in a petri dish.

Later, I would sit and try to figure it out, putting together what I knew about the activity of hunting and the people I knew who engaged in it.

Almost every hunter I knew (or know) is a white adult male. Nearly all of them are not just avid gun owners, but also are right wing types who--in addition to hating wolves--also don't care for people of other cultures, nor for people who have different skin pigmentation. Most of them are members of the National Rifle Association. Most of them are registered Republicans. Most of them hate the environmental movement.

Also, most of the hunters I have known subscribe to one or more sportsman's magazines. I am quite familiar with these publications because when I was a kid and thirsting for information about wildlife I was drawn to them since they had garish covers with photos and paintings of wild animals on them. And I had an endless supply of back issues of such magazines because my parents owned used bookstores and had stacks and stacks of them in the shops. I was allowed to take home as many as I wanted to read.

One thing that I learned very early on from reading these magazines is that there was an editorial thirst to promote the hatred of all predatory mammals that are not humans. It doesn't matter what kind of carnivorous animal they chose to target, these creatures were presented in a light that was as negative as could possibly be conveyed in words and pictures. Grizzly bears were monsters that should be avoided at all cost except to shoot or poison. Mountain lions were killers of deer and elk that should all be tracked down with dogs and shot on sight. Coyotes and bobcats are worthless vermin that need to be completely obliterated for reducing the rabbit population.

But paramount in their hatred and propaganda was, and is, the Timber wolf. When you read these magazine articles there is nothing whatsoever good about wolves. They are a toxin on the forest landscape that must be expunged. No mercy for any wolf. No quarter to be given. Just kill them all down to the smallest pup.

As I grew older I also noticed that most of these magazines look toward the environmental movement in a similarly negative light. They didn't call for the murder of activists who are out to create wilderness and National Parks, but they did blanket them with disdain and advocate for legislation against them, and to fight any rule such people support or pass.

And there it was. These magazines are distributed to people who, ironically, depend on open, relatively wild spaces where they can engage in their pastime of hunting. But these articles attack mainly two bits of legislation--the Endangered Species Act, and the Wilderness Act. To this end these magazines lobby endlessly, rabidly, and ceaselessly to overturn these protections for wild places and the animals who inhabit them. Who would profit from this? Hunters? Not really. But the folk who do profit from the reversal of these laws need hunters to act as triggers to remove these Acts. Therefore, have those hunters advocate obliquely for the call to remove such protections.

The folk who would ultimately have the most to gain from destroying the laws that preserve the last bits of wild spaces that we have are mining outfits, timber companies, energy corporations, and real estate concerns. If only there were no wilderness protections they could lay waste to the forests and gouge out the minerals. If only there was no Endangered Species Act they could wade into our National Parks to do as they please.

And there I realized that all of these hideous little magazines were nothing but propaganda material for the worst of what my country has created: fossil fuel companies, timber barons, real estate moguls. These are the scumbags directing their poison through hunters, targeting our wild forests to scour out the things that keep those greedy bastards from taking possession of what little wilderness that remains.

I don't read those magazines anymore. I used to pick one up now and again in shops or libraries just to see if things had changed. They have not. The scumbags who write for them still sell their souls for a few dollars to malign wolves and mountain lions. My hope is that these pernicious bastards who work for the worst of the worst will all die choking on their own guts.

To look for evil, follow the trail of profit.

The eastern Timber wolf.
What hunting magazines tell you Grizzly bears do.

What grizzly bears really do 99.999999999% of the time.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Humans are Retarded.

All of my life I have thought critically. I can't actually recall a moment when I didn't question authority in some way--be it the words of my parents, or the lessons taught in schools, or the propaganda fed to me through various news services. However, I rarely met (or meet) anyone at all who is skeptical of the society in which we live and in the things society tells them to believe. I think this has always been the most frustrating thing for me when it comes to trying to communicate with other people. They seem incapable of free thought and any attempt made to get them to question official dogma is met by a kind of panic, or fear, or outright hatred.

When I was younger this frustrated me tremendously. To see people accept things as they were fed to them seemed absolutely insane to me. They were all locked into a kind of patriarchal method of acceptance that is a specific type of indoctrination that seems lockproof. Whatever they are told by those they trust (for no really good reason) they accept as unimpeachable truth.

Conversely, today I meet young people who believe in all sorts of insane things, fed to them via the Internet. Some of these people began to mistrust the things society and parents were forcing into them and so they turned to electronic commerce to find new answers. There, they have found all sorts of quasi-religious, unscientific, and extremist dogma that they have taken to heart and from which they cannot be freed. Chemtrails. Wild conspiracy theories. A mistrust of, and complete ignorance of, science and scientific principle. Adherence to new and wacky religions and nascent political dogma that lead nowhere. In some ways, this is equally as frustrating as the original closed minds I encountered earlier in life.

These days I witness western society in the grip of obscene nationalism, racism, and xenophobia directed at enemies who don't exist, or which the status quo wishes us to recreate as enemies. Frankly, I'm sick of it all. Some people continue on with the frustration and the hand-wringing, the Old Testament equivalent of the gnashing of teeth, rending of garments, and tearing of hair. But, like the all-seeing, all-powerful deity of old, the new power of the 1% capitalists who sit in their palaces don't care about anyone's frustration, and they are immune to your protestations. All complaints fall on deaf (or nonexistent) ears.

I suppose it's time to just accept the inevitable and push on. There are trails to hike, mountains to climb, waterfalls to see, wild animals to watch. Well...for now. Maybe there will still be some of that by the time I shake off this mortal coil. Or maybe by then all of the forests will have been felled and all of the animals killed off.

Or maybe I'll just watch some loutish Norm MacDonald standup. Yeah. That's what I'll do.

"You know what country scares me? Germany."