Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dawkins Is No Descartes

This seems a troll. It isn't. I'm a believer. 

I am also interested in how people rationalize their belief in God, or in fact, their absence of belief. I know the subject is controversial. (The article I reference below has about 6,000 comments.) I know also I lack the capacity to change anyone's mind.

I've read Hitchens. And Dawkins. And even everyone's super-crip, Mr. Stephen Hawking, who is either an agnostic or an atheist.

I'm still a believer, having modified that position through reading science to comprehend an omnipotent creator would certainly be able to construct, as an example, something so mind-boggling as a multi-verse.

That's why I found this piece, "Know Nothing," in Slate so interesting, particularly these words, which speak to the foundation of my own belief in God:
Quantum fluctuations, the uncertainty principle, the laws of quantum physics themselves—these are something. Nothing is not quantum anything. It is nothing. Nonbeing. This, not empty space, is what “nothing” signifies for Plato and Aquinas and Heidegger, no matter what Krauss believes. No particles, no fluctuation, no laws, no principles, no potentialities, no states, no space, no time. No thing at all.
The article is actually a book review that moves into literary criticism, while also addressing the issue of belief in the divine as a foundation of morals.

If you are interested in these existential questions and have slightly more than a few minutes, Robbins' piece -- referencing everyone from Dawkins to Nietzsche, Augustine to Spinoza -- is worth the time devoted.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"Bred to Look Pretty"

The kid who lives here said Pinky the Poodle looked sad, and so we took her to get her trimmed. I personally like her hair longer, but it is summer, and so I didn't gripe too much.

My wife insists on leaving what might be called "boots" around the Pinkster's lower legs. I said, "You're just making it easier to track in mud and water." She replied, "It's cute. And that's why we have wood and tile floors." I suppose she's forgotten about my power wheelchair rolling up carpet like a cigar. 

The Pinkster attempts to crawl into the bathtub when ever the kid who lives here is taking a bath. I thought then the traditional summer cooler-offer -- the sprinkler -- would be just the ticket. It turns out Pinky is afraid of the sprinkler. The boxer, however, loves it. 

My wife said to the groomer, "We;re surprised she doesn't like the sprinkler since she loves the bath tub." Poodles, after all, at the water retrievers of France. Supposedly even some of the hair cuts on poodles are meant to keep joints and head warmer as they work. Imagine my wife's surprise when the groomer replied, "Oh, these dogs are bred to look pretty. They wouldn't like a sprinkler."

Pinky is 2-inches taller and 20-pounds heavier than the boxer, but the boxer is top dog, often disciplining Pinky with a bite. Conversely, the late, much-lamented Boston terrier disciplined the boxer. Maybe it has to do with seniority. There's this too: Pinky doesn't like to be disciplined by a loud voice. I can have something to eat and tell her softly, "No, leave it alone," and she may sit, even drool, but she won't touch it. However, when my wife yells at her, Pinky still considers anything edible in that environment fair game. 
I've been around cattle dogs, Great Danes, Dalmatians, and a whole group of assorted terriers, and each of them have a breed-distinct personality, even when they are not so-called "pure bred." I was neutral when we found her. I would have preferred another Boston, but Pinky is convincing me that standard poodles are good companions. She loves everyone. She's intelligent. She adapts easily into any routine, as when she is given a bone to take outside when the housekeeper arrives. She seems to gravitate toward my wife as Alpha Dog (perhaps because of the quick movement, the taller presence, the louder voice, and the fact that my wife has never run over her foot in a power wheelchair), but she insists on sleeping parallel to my leg each night. And now that she's losing some of the puppy-ness, she's learning the things that'll make her a great dog.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Stupid Is, Stupid Does

One thing I've noticed about those of us wheelchair users who are less than totally smart is that we are inordinately brave in confrontational situations. 

Long story, short: I once found myself in a serious altercation with a man who later attacked his landlady with a brick.

From Daily Mail Online

Why? Supposedly the dude in the wheelchair ran over the police lieutenant's foot.

The police had been called because someone had reported the man in the wheelchair had a gun, and he was rolling along near a school. Given our social climate, that seems a good reason for several police to respond.

But the guy didn't have a gun.

He apparently had a "mouth" on him, though. 

Whether he actually ran over the police lieutenant's foot I don't know, but I do know it is unlikely that the police lieutenant would have pushed him out of his wheelchair unless the guy mouthed off to the officer.

Given my history of mouthing off in inappropriate situations, I have sympathy for both the guy who was shoved out of his wheelchair, and the officer who did the pushing. The guy was arrested. The police officer was reduced in rank from lieutenant to patrolman and was suspended for 30 days.

Any bets on who is going to come out of this better? I wouldn't doubt if the wheelchair rider has talked to more lawyers in the last few days than I have in my lifetime.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Exoskeleton and me

Wikipedia image
I like my skeleton. I've only broken it three or four times. And the article about the "it may cost $70,000" experimental exoskelton in Slate today doesn't really describe my sort of thing—I probably couldn't use it—but at least it's another step toward accommodation rather than the cure philosophy.

Choosing the crip lifestyle is expensive. My first power wheelchair, paid out of pocket since I was employed, was about $1500. That was sometime in the 1970s. My current one -- thanks to Medicare and private insurance -- was $26,000, delivered a few months ago. I don't know how much I'll share in that yet. I wouldn't be surprised if the amount exceeded what I paid for that first wheelchair.

Wheelchair accessible van? You can find junkers reasonably enough, sure, but if you want a new van, you're moving into Lexus and Cadillac territory: $50,000+. 

The last two houses -- $10,000 mods on one; $20,000 mods on the other. (Universal design would help with that. It'd be nice to be able to think about visiting someone without worrying about an accessible dwelling entrance.) 

Few crips have the kind of wallet that would allow the purchase of Exo-man if it came on the market, no doubt the exception being those injured by someone with lawsuit-deep pockets. Me? I was paralyzed in 1959. I don't remember anyone even thinking about or suggesting what happened to me was lawsuit-worthy. 

 The key things to remember, really, are about 50% of crips aren't employed, and only a few are employed at jobs that pay the big bucks. The second thing is a logical assumption based on that first fact: crips need mainstream education and those good jobs. 

Then maybe a $26k wheelchair or a $50k van or a $70k exo-skeleton suit might be something other than a fantasy.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Don't Tread on My Thirteen Stars

Wikipedia image
Homeowner's associations don't have the best reputation for logic or adhering to democratic principles. Of course, every person knows that some zoning and other regulations are necessary. Most of us have our greatest capital investment in our homes. We want it protected, even if its through the agency of a homeowner's association.

As an example of the depths of stupidity a homeowner's association can reach, we can point to a fellow in Colorado who ran afoul of his location home owner's association by flying the USA's original flag, the 13-stars-in-a-circle emblem. Silly business, every bit of it.

I have a 13-star flag, and I flew it every day after the 9/11 terror attack. Why? I don't know. There was something about the revolutionary spirit, something about that gathering of reasoned defiance that appealed to me. I special-ordered it. And began to fly it. I vowed I''d keep it up until Osama bin Laden was brought to justice.

And then Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld invaded Iraq, and I took it down. 

I still have it, and we use it when we fly the national emblem. My admiration for the 13-star flag aside, I really hate to see the misuse of the "Don't Tread on Me" flag by the Tea Party, that loose group of Republicans, libertarians, and looneys. That flag has its place in American history -- as does the Confederate Stars-and-Bars -- but I'm not sure those who use it now operate in the spirit of those who carried it in the 1770s.

Were I a member of a homeowner's association, I might vote for a ban on flying the Stars-and-Bars. Given the current divide-and-hate political climate, I can see myself voting for a ban on the "Don't Tread on Me" flag. But the 13-star flag? No.

Yes, I know any ban is generally a restriction of free speech, but since the point of a homeowner's association is to preserve property values, I think the 13-star flag would be far, far less apt than the other two to have an adverse influence.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Doing Good for the Printed Word


One of the venues for whom I review will be offering a major prize for authors. Here is the announcement.
The Kirkus Prize is one of the richest literary awards in the world, with a prize of $50,000 bestowed annually to authors of fiction, nonfiction and young readers’ literature. It was created to celebrate the 81 years of discerning, thoughtful criticism Kirkus Reviews has contributed to both the publishing industry and readers at large. Books that earned the Kirkus Star with publication dates between October 1, 2013, and September 30, 2014, are automatically nominated for the 2014 Kirkus Prize, and the winners will be selected on October 23, 2014, by an esteemed panel composed of nationally respected writers and highly regarded booksellers, librarians and Kirkus critics.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Walk Quietly Among the Dead

Step from the land of the living into the refuge of the dead, and you notice first the graceful symmetry of gravestones marching toward the horizon. You see the perfect harmony of the stones, and, as you imagine the rough farm boys and raw young fellows who followed Sterling Price and Ben McCullough north, you are struck by a feeling of whimsical melancholy.  You know they did not order their ranks with similar military precision on their way to their rendezvous with Nathaniel Lyon's Union forces at Wilson's Creek.

As you walk quietly, searching out names, you see stone after stone bears only the forlorn inscription, "Unknown."  The word echoes in your mind, a drumbeat marking the cadence of your footsteps.

Listen closely … the regiment of the dead will speak to you.

Perhaps they will talk proudly of their mothers and sisters who gathered in sewing clubs and knitting societies and stitched together their uniforms. Perhaps they will tell you of the crowds waving gaily as they set off on their march to glory.  Perhaps instead there will be whispers of the terrible day they learned war wasn't always to be celebrated with parades and marching bands.

A Civil War soldier's life was a hard one, plagued by foul water, poor shelter, blisters, and bad food.  Living off hard crackers, fat meat, parched corn, a Texan said, "our poor buck and grindstone bread would kill the devil." 

The devil stalked their battlefield, certainly.  New weapons, outmoded tactics, and unseasoned leadership combined to crack open the floodgates of Hell and soak the ground with blood. 

Historian Shelby Foote writes of Wilson's Creek, "A regiment would walk up to the firing line, deliver a volley, then reload and deliver another, continuing this until it dissolved and was replaced by another regiment, which repeated the process, melting away in the heat of that furnace, and in turn being replaced.  No fighting anywhere ever required greater courage ... The men went about their deadly business of firing and reloading and melting away in a grim silence broken only by the rattling crash of musketry and the deeper roar of guns, with the screams of the injured sometimes piercing the din.  Far from resembling panolpied war, it was more like reciprocal murder."

It is Memorial Day.  You remember the dead, but you see life reaffirmed in the lush green grass underfoot and the arc of maples and oaks reaching Heavenward.  As you walk among the graves, your eyes are drawn to the small flags that decorate each stone.  You are surprised.  The ground where the nameless Johnny Rebs rest so far from home and family no longer is marked by the traditional "Stars and Bars," the Confederate battle flag.  

The legendary banner, hoisted high with a rebel yell and carried forward into the face of cannon and minie ball, has been surrendered to modern sensibilities.  The graves now bear a small replica of the Confederate national flag, a sterile symbol free of controversy and recognizable by few.  

The once proud battle flag today can be perceived as a symbol of rebellion and repudiation, and we are a nation striving for harmony.  In fact, the Confederate dead rest behind a stone wall that once separated the Union and Confederate killed at Wilson's Creek.  Today the National Cemetery in Springfield, like our nation, is indivisible. 

We know those who rest forever nameless care little about the flag that waves over their lonely vigil. Such petty conflicts matter not to the dead.  

It is the living who mark the graves.  

It is the living who gather among the dead on a weekend late in May, seeking that which the dead might offer, wandering quietly among the stones, remembering ties to family, pondering the shadows of mortality.  

It is the living who stand amidst the flags, safe in the shelter of the sacrifice they symbolize.

I wrote this piece several years ago for a history magazine that's no longer publishing. We have a National Cemetery in Springfield, Missouri, begun long ago when the dead from the Battle of Wilson's Creek were carried a few miles from the battlefield. Wilson's Creek, August 1861, was the bloodiest battle west of the Mississippi during the Civil War

My memory tells me that long ago the Daughters of the Confederacy decorated the graves of Confederate soldiers with the Confederate flag. That organization dwindled away to the point that it sold or gave the portion of the cemetery restricted to Confederate dead to the United States. The rock wall that divides the two remains, but gradually, dead from the various United States armed services have intruded on the old Confederate ground. My parents share a grave on the south side of that wall.