Death Playing Chess by Albertus Pictor (1440-1507). Täby Kyrka, Diocese of Stockholm. Photo August 2003 by Håkan Svensson (Xauxa).I am not “pro-life”, because if I were I would have to revere life wherever I found it, and I can’t do that. I see life where it doesn’t belong, in the hands of people who would use the gift to cause tremendous misery. We have no choice, in any of ten thousand situations, but to keep the confiscation of life on the table as an option to prevent suffering and misery.

Every action we take as a nation promotes life and causes deaths, shifting the balance points around, increasing and decreasing the odds of continued survival for various individuals en masse. The nation-state murders dangerous felons and occasionally innocent people we thought were felons. Wars murder people — enemy soldiers, any civilians who were too close to targets or who were mistaken for enemy soldiers, and occasionally our own soldiers and allies by mistake. Soldiers who can’t handle the conflict, or who can’t handle the life that they return to after they return from conflict, take their own lives, and we are responsible.

Embargoes starve the poor in nations with which we refuse commerce and humanitarian aid. Reduction of aid to our own citizens who have nowhere else to turn causes starvation and sufficient misery to provoke murder over what resources there, suicide in those who can’t handle the pain, and the death of sacrifice in those who simply wish to leave more to go around for their families.

Failure to clean up chemical spills and radiation and pollution kills by degrees upping the rates of sickness and cancer in those who can’t afford to leave the land we’ve fouled. We even wreck the weather. The misery from poverty and loss and lack of hope causes increases in addiction and violent crime and suicide and increases in any of a number of risky behaviors that people seek out to escape the pain.

With nearly every decision we make, we opt to kill people all the time, sometimes in ignorance, sometimes in hubris, and sometimes in deliberate acts — and most of the time people consider those deaths acceptable consequences. It’s stupid even to pretend we think life is sacred.

And I, consciously, do not so pretend. I think hugest portion of the killing we do is ignorant and pointless and wasteful and beyond reprehensible, but, and this is extremely rarely, sometimes I think it’s justified, and, I am forced to admit, sometimes I think death doesn’t happen to some of the people who most need killing. I do not hypocritically pretend that life, as a phenomenon, like fire perhaps, is sacred and must be preserved wherever we find it. Life isn’t sacred. Life, like fire, or anything else, is sanctified — or desecrated — by what you do with it. Life, like fire, requires resources, and sometimes those resources are in short supply. Also, sometimes death is welcomed as a mercy, as an end to suffering and misery, when all hope of other options has failed.

Every mother that is of a species that has to care for the children she gives birth to faces the same choices. After the travails of birth, she does a headcount. Every mouthful she feeds to a new child is a mouthful that she cannot feed to her other children and that she herself cannot eat — and her first duty is to stay alive and healthy well enough to care for her helpless charges. Thus, the headcount. Thus, the decision of who lives and who dies. The eldest and the strongest get preference, because they’re closest to being able to help out. Those she cannot afford to feed are destroyed or left to starve.

Humans are not absolved from this choice.

Humans are not absolved from this choice, and anyone who thinks we are, that we could be, that we ought to be, is so far removed from the realities of life and death that I’d have to say they’ve never even met reality. Humans are not, can not, will not be absolved from this choice until money rains from the heavens like manna — and pregnant women and mothers are allowed to keep the lion’s share. How likely is that?

And even then there would still be a choice, because a woman can only do so much, and she is the only one qualified to know how much that is.

Yes, there is charity. But face it — charity comes from poor people who can see one another’s pain. A slower trickle comes from those who can finally make ends meet, because they remember what it was like. And the people who could afford to feed whole villages, towns, even cities of hungry children toss off the odd thousand dollars here or there and use the rest to buy yachts. The churches could empty their coffers every week, staffed only by volunteers instead of employees, and we would need ten times that amount of money, even for a country as well-off and church-ridden as ours.

And abortion is a mercy, to both the potential mother and the unaffordable-on-so-many-different-scales children, because it is so much more merciful than a pillow held over a newborn infant’s face — the only safe-to-the-mother solution where abortion is not available. And that, of course, is hands-down better than leaving a newborn to the wolves and trying to forget the crying as you walk away.

It’s cheaper, too, and way less risky to the health of a woman who has other critical responsibilities.

So-called leaders who cannot understand this fundamental choice that must be made by women now and then have no business making any other life-or-death decision anywhere else, because their judgment is clearly flawed. Pie-in-the-sky idealistic. Ignorantly hopeful. Divorced from reality.

God is in charge of life and death, they say. Only God should decide who lives and who dies. Well God doesn’t start wars or declare embargoes or dump filth into the drinking water and poison the fish and livestock. All of those distant people are murdered without a second thought — except the murderers know enough of guilt to hide like cockroaches when the lights come on when someone demands an accounting.

God is in charge of life and death? Really? Then sometimes God is a woman, bawling with tears over the agony of the choice, motivated by the goal of the survival and comfort of the survivors. That other God must be away on business then, steering hurricanes after homos and wrecking entire impoverished nations with earthquakes.

Life and death is in our hands, not just might-be mothers, every day, shifted from one place to another with the shovel of every decision we make. This is why each of us has a conscience. This is why I will never understand yachts. This is why I know that people who don’t understand the choice a woman sometimes has to make kill the people they kill with blindfolds on and their favorite music cranked at maximum volume on their iPods to drown out the screams of the dying. Because God will save the ones he likes and kill the ones he doesn’t and that’s why it’s A-OK to force His hand and fire bullets into the sky, not caring where they come down.

Those people are the biggest single source of misery on earth, and some of us nearly worship them. To say I don’t get it is a massive, massive understatement.

If you want to go save the life of a child that would otherwise not get born, by all means, go save one. Find one of the thousands of women every year who desperately wants a baby, for whom the only reason they must choose abortion is not enough money to quit her job (even temporarily) and then be able to feed and house and clothe herself and the child, and dedicate the next couple of decades of your life to help support her and the baby, free of any obligation to yourself. You will never see the kind of joy that you would see then.

Go on. Do it.

Go to the overflowing orphanages and foster homes and adopt a couple of the kids you know you could support to make room in the system, so that mothers who are willing to give birth if only someone would take the child in would know that there is room in the system for their baby to get the care he or she will need.

Go on. Do it.

Go round up a couple of the violent bastards — fathers, husbands, boyfriends, whatever — who stand ready to beat or kill their daughters or wives or girlfriends if they ever find out she got pregnant. Get them out of the way however it needs to be done. Put them in jail. Consult any of a number of easily obtainable references on how to cleanly dispose of bodies. Whatever. Remove these diseased threats to the life of the woman and the child she would love to have.

Go on. Do it.

And then there’s prevention. Talk to your daughters and sons about birth control and get them whatever they need. Grab a bat and work over that old college buddy who you know has a serious habit of getting women drunk and taking advantage of them while their defenses are down. Lurk in the favorite dark alley of your choice and remove any rapists you find from the gene pool. Put coasters in bars with built-in test strips so women can tell that their drinks are free from GHB and rohypnol and ketamine and benzos and Ambien. Lobby your lawmakers to make getting caught with such substances in a bar or concert or other public gathering the crime that it is, with attendant horrific punishment.

Go on. Do it.

And unless you’re trying to have a baby with someone who is willing and ready to have a baby, make sure a damn condom is in the way. Use a couple of different methods, just in case, because sometimes any method can fail. Make birth control part of foreplay.

You’ve heard of foreplay, right?

Or, you know, just fire your bullets into the air, for both yourself and the horny teenagers under your roof, and pray for God to sort it out. But you know how well that works.

Women have been playing the “How many can I fit in the lifeboat?” game since the beginning of time, aided by mothers and grandmothers and aunts and sisters and midwives and daughters and cousins and nieces, and you’re a chump and a fool if you think outlawing abortion is going to put an end to that. It will just up the stakes of the misery your daughters go through — infection, a womb too scarred to bear children later, gangrene, bleeding out, disgrace, disownment, jail time, maybe even execution if some have their way. Because sometimes even that risk is preferable to being beaten more often, or watching all of your children sit around and get skinny, or being thrown out of the only home you know.

So what’s your call? Order everyone into the lifeboats even though you know it will swamp a few and send all of their human contents to the bottom — or let the people who are stronger than you quietly make the soul-breaking decisions that will save as many as possible?

Either way, you never have to know anything about it. No one is taking away your precious blindfold or iPod.

 

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August 29, 2012 · Posted in Everything Else  
    

petroglyph logoWell, I’d promised not to cross-post everything I put up at the Journal of American Hoodoo, but my latest article, One of Many Problems with Religion, is an excellent follow-up to my previous post, The Trouble with Science.

Here’s a sample, with the main thesis:

Octopus uses empty shells to hide-Wikimedia Commons-Nick Hobgood

…this is the problem concept: that humans are special, are blessed, are chosen to be God’s favored children, are somehow above the animals and plants and everything else that lives, and have a God-given right of power over life and death with respect to them.

I’m not sure how all of that made it into the dominant narratives, because much of the scripture it’s based on stops well short of the worst of that in wording. But religions are made out of a huge body of traditions that, in those that do have scriptures, have very little support in those scriptures.

One of those traditions is a magic invisible body that inhabits the physical body and is the seat of awareness — a soul, the presence of which is a distinction between legitimate humans and animal kind. For instance, Judaic stories that pre-date the days of the Babylonian exile make no mention of this concept, and all the terminology bears strictly upon the ability to see and hear and breathe and react, a property shared with all of the animals and, as we dig deeper scientifically, present analogously in all living forms.

The concept of an immortal soul and possible attendant resurrection — either spiritual or physical — was obtained abroad, most likely in Egypt and surroundings, and brought back to be incorporated piecemeal into canon in the words of the more wild-eyed of the post-Mosaic prophets. [….]

[…] The soul is the biggest poorly-founded artificial division between Us and Them that many take as divine license to disregard Their merit, as it were. Because the dominant narrative says we can bedevil and torture and kill the soulless without consequence. We have a nasty tendency to claim the absence of a soul in anyone we don’t like, calling them monsters and animals and things instead of people, making them the embodiment of Other, and then the only consequences we have to deal with involve cleaning up the mess — and occasionally fending off the people who take issue with our declaration of the absence of a soul in our victims.

Prior to the assumption of the presence or absence of a soul in ourselves and various creatures, we managed to empathize enough with our livestock and prey and sacrificial victims to make it a matter of policy to kill them quickly and painlessly and with mercy. It seems quite plausible that it’s the assumption of the presence of a soul in Us and an absence in Them that turns US into monsters.

If you want to read more, go check it out.

 

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August 27, 2012 · Posted in Everything Else  
    

I must be old, because I can remember a time when people had more value than any stack of money. When capitalism was merely a system of economics wherein people could own land and personal property and not an ideal and a religion, complete with living saints and prophets. When people were respected for their role in their communities and not considered leeches merely because they had the misfortune of losing their jobs or falling ill or getting too old or weak to work. When the value of life was in how time was spent, not in how much money changes hands in whichever direction. When charity and philanthropy were more important than profits. When how you treated the people in your care was more important than the bottom line. When, if you had more than enough, it was your duty to find people who needed your extra and hand it over, regardless of how you came by your surplus. When Ayn Rand’s Objectivism was an ideal of Anton LaVey’s Satanic Church rather than any Christian one.

The Cult of Mammon is not a new thing, and its ascendancy is not a new problem. But it has turned into the national religion.

Maybe if you’re younger than my 45 years, you won’t remember that foreclosing on a schoolhouse or a widow’s home used to be the epitome of evil — something a writer would make the villain in a book or movie do so everyone in the audience knew it would be okay for the hero to shoot him dead, or at least deliberately not rescue him from the cattle stampede. Now the motto of the state religion is, and I won’t ask you to pardon my language because I would love for you to know the depth of my feeling, “Fuck the Poor People”, or “Pedicabo Pauperibus” if you’d prefer it in Latin. “Irrumabo Pauperibus” if you’re a fan of Catullus. I’m surprised we don’t see it printed on our money.

Maybe next year. Maybe the year after.

We create value in people by investing time and resources in them — by, in the words of a lately unpopular radical of an early communist movement, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, inviting in strangers, giving clothes to the poor and naked, and visiting the sick and those in prison. This isn’t something that just Christians are supposed to do. This is the goal of any enlightened culture. But if you are a Christian, then this is one of the commandments from the mouth of Jesus Himself. You’d think that would count for something.

Anyone who thinks there’s any way to integrate Rand’s philosophy and the commands of Christ is so wrong as to be clearly deranged. They are diametrically opposed. All you have to do to know that for certain would be to actually read something from both sources.

If you see someone arguing to cut back on support for the poor — food and shelter and healthcare and the basic education it takes to get along in the modern world — then it’s obvious who they serve. And this is their prayer:

Our dollar, which art invested, hoarding be thy game. Thy greenbacks call my wallet home, on Earth as it is on Wall Street. Give us our daily dividends, and forgive us our debts as we put the screws to our debtors. Lead us not into inflation but deliver us from red ink. For mine is the cash flow and the credit and the moolah for lining my pockets. Amen.

Spread the word.

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August 22, 2012 · Posted in Everything Else  
    

ComiXology is a free e-reader application designed for reading comic books and graphic novels. This is what the ComiXology app looks like on my phone:

ComiXology screenshot -- Amelia Cole

I have it open to the issues currently available for Amelia Cole and the Unknown World. It’s by these people, and published by groundbreaking Monkeybrain Comics.

The version of ComiXology on the website works pretty well too. Go see. Sign up for an account. Try out some of the free books and sample issues so you can see that it’s not crap at all. The way ComiXology makes money is that they also run a store and will sell you, for money, books to download and read. That’s not so bad.

The above Amelia Cole and the Unknown World issues are for sale there. You can get both of the ones above for the price of a latte. Together. Twenty-four pages apiece. And that’s not an introductory price. It’s not a sample to get you hooked. It’s a legitimate and full-fledged story, at less than two bucks per issue.

And here’s the important bit. The story.

It’s a story of magic and mayhem with a young female protagonist out to do the right thing, no matter what the cost, making it up as she goes along. She’s smart. She pulls her own weight. She doesn’t take guff. She isn’t a size zero, doesn’t wear Spandex, and doesn’t sport DD-cups. She’s not boy-crazy. Feminine wiles are not a weapon of attack or manipulation to get her way. She doesn’t have it all figured out, but she doesn’t stand in anyone’s shadow, much less cower there.

You could happily give this to your daughter to read. And she, also, would be happy. Your son would enjoy it too. In fact, I’m pretty sure you would like it, and any kids you have can flippin’ wait to read it until you’re done with it.

Go see.

The story is intriguing. The art is intricately beautiful and is employed in top-notch sequential storytelling. The work is important, naturally free of the toxins kids get soaked in from Kindergarten on that prep them for a lifetime of beer ads and glossy grocery checkout lane magazines.

Go see.

 

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August 14, 2012 · Posted in Everything Else  
    

petroglyph logoI promise not to cross-post everything I put up at the Journal of American Hoodoo, but my latest article, The Trouble with Science, might appeal to some of my old readers here, or back at Tales from the Third Lobe, or Letters from Heck.

Here’s a teaser excerpt:

R136 stellar nursery, Hubble Space Telescope, 2009We look up in the sky and see ten thousand points of light (give or take a few orders of magnitude depending on location and light pollution) and then, because knowing where the stars are in the sky helps us pinpoint where we are in the seasons despite the vagaries of the weather, we draw lines around them and connecting them and give the drawings names. And we make up stories about the drawings so that we can remember them, and remember that the positions of the stars are important, and, if we’re clever enough with the stories, why.

That’s “why the positions of the stars are important to us”, not any bigger sort of why, like “why are stars the things that are important”. Certainly not a “what”, like “what are stars”. Nor a “how”, as in “how do the positions of the stars drive the planting and harvest cycles”.

Well, that’s not true. The stories can actually address such things. It’s just that when they do, the risk of bullshit is dangerously high.

If that strikes your fancy, go check it out.

 

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PS:

Also it uses the phrase “nice singularities don’t explode”.

 

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August 13, 2012 · Posted in Everything Else  
    

Don’t think I don’t know chapter and verse on this.

Here. Here is the Biblical source all the gay-hatin’ folks are quoting:

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood [shall] be upon them.

— Leviticus 20:13, King James Bible, Cambridge edition

And here are about a zillion other translations and paraphrases, with some commentary and cross references as well.

I know the Bible. Additionally, I know history and context as well.

The first five books of the Christian old testament is a fourth- or fifth-generation translation of the old Hebrew Torah, which contains — and some famous and learned rabbis will back me up here — some 613 commandments. These were the rules you had to live by to be a Hebrew in the days of the Temple, constructed c. 950 BCE, destroyed by the Bablyonians in 586 BCE, rebuilt over a 23-year period from 538 BCE to 515 BCE, desecrated and reconsecrated a couple of times over a four or five hundred year period, then destroyed again in 70 AD. This destruction rendered huge chunks of these commandments a bit moot, because quite a number had to do with how to perform sacrifices at the Temple, and what you had to do to be able to actually be allowed in to worship and make your sacrifices, and a huge chunk of those only applied to the priests anyway.

Go look. Seriously. It is, indeed, an education.

But get this. This is the United States of America. Most of us aren’t Jews, and none of us are Jews 2000 to 3000 years ago in Judah. We don’t kill guys we catch having gay sex. We don’t. There are seven billion people on Earth now. We don’t have to keep up the numbers in our populations to make sure we can compete with the neighbors for drinking water and grazing land. All the borders are drawn and most of them are pretty firm. Also, we don’t buy slaves from Canada and Mexico. We don’t sell our daughters. “Traditional” marriage is no longer a guy, as many wives as he can afford to buy from the daughters of his fellow tribesmen, a couple of concubines, and whatever housemaids can’t run fast enough. We don’t make our rapists marry their victims. We have refrigerators now. Because we understand the intricacies of trichinosis and salmonella and botulism, we can eat all the bacon and shellfish we want. Because we don’t need to make a symbol of our purity as God’s Chosen People, we don’t have to eat kosher and can wear cotton/wool blends. With the blessings of indoor plumbing, we don’t all have to discreetly wander thirty paces outside our roving encampments with a shovel to bury the morning bowel movement.

I wonder, quite frequently, how pissed off Jewish people get at the ignorant Christians who pick and choose among their holy ancient 613 mitzvot to try to pretend piety in whatever ways further their own interpretations of what’s icky no matter how much it disrespects Jewish culture. Seriously, if you want to try to keep whichever of those 613 commandments are still relevant in the absence of a Temple in Jerusalem, in an age where we don’t keep slaves or invade our neighbors and kill every last woman and child and all the pets and livestock and take their land, where the use of the death penalty — especially at the hands of a crowd armed with rocks — is severely frowned upon by the local constabulary, where you only get to have one legal spouse, and where you can’t kill or sell off any family members you’re not fond of, then by all means go talk to a rabbi about becoming a Jew.

They’ll look at you like you’re crazy — and do interviews and run a background check to make sure you aren’t — but they’ll be happy to talk to you about it.

For everybody else, please understand where you live and what year it is.

Understand that, in a nation of modern Gentiles, the 613 mitzvot do not apply to us in any way. We have our own laws that, for the most part, work out fairly well for us. These laws allow us all a metric crap-ton of freedom to decide what’s a sin and what isn’t, and when you try to make the laws enforce your moral whatsits, you can be assured someone else will get the law to enforce theirs at the expense of your freedom, and it will all go downhill pretty rapidly from there.

And Christians — Gentile Christians — let me remind you that the entire purpose of the New Testament was to give you a break on that huge list of commandments. You were given two. TWO, and that’s all. Here they are:

But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

— Matthew 22:34-40, King James Bible

If you have the same edition I had growing up, those last four sentences would have been in red, for having come out of the mouth of Jesus Himself.

If you don’t think your neighbor includes anyone and everyone you can bump into at work, on the sidewalk, at the store, at the cinema, in a restaurant, or online — wherever — and that includes the one in every ten people on Earth that were born with a predisposition to be attracted to their own gender, then you don’t understand the word neighbor. And if you don’t want all of your neighbors to have every right that you have and every joy that you’ve ever experienced and every opportunity for advancement and happiness that you’ve ever had or could ever have, then you don’t understand the word love, and certainly not in the context of as thyself.  I would also go so far as to say that if you think your God endorses bigotry against any portion of His own handiwork, then you don’t understand the word God either.

But by all means, declare your opinion that gay sex is icky and that guys marrying guys or women marrying women squicks you out, and go out of your way to declare a special holiday to go eat a chicken sandwich at your gay neighbor. Because you’re doing that out of love, right?

Right. Just count your blessings that this isn’t the era of fire and brimstone. Because I wouldn’t want to be standing anywhere near you.

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August 3, 2012 · Posted in Everything Else