Archive for June, 2010

As the seemingly interminable Afghanistan imbroglio breaks all records as the longest war in our nation’s great history, America’s military policy is looking more and more like the behavior of a three-year-old boy who refuses to be potty trained. (With my apologies to anyone with a three-year-old in potty training.)

Like a toddler who refuses to admit to the stink of his own poop, commanding officers  watch the situation (already well into its ninth year) deteriorate deeper and deeper into this cesspool of indignity, while trillions of dollars go down the toilet. When critics draw attention to this stream of reckless spending and accuse the military of running our country into bankruptcy, the warmongers simply point out  social programs and extended unemployment benefits in an era of unprecedented financial incontinence and holler, “I know you are but what am I?!”

Confusing down-home patriotism with a willingness to send an unending lineup of able-bodied young men and women into openly hostile and unintelligible territory, the top brass resemble the out-of-control infant who mistakes the adult’s shock and awe over the sight of a premature blowout accompanied by extensive collateral damage for parental pride over the spectacular achievement of precocious youth.

Standing over a steaming heap of shit with loose chunks still clinging to the backs of your legs and proclaiming the turning point of victory is hardly an indication of healthy progress in either developmental psychology or international diplomacy. Neither is there good cause for anyone in his right mind to commit another $33 billion in funding to a war that skeptics foresaw as an unwinnable quagmire and hawkish proponents admitted early on would “not be easy;” and as the downward spiral accelerates, those same bloodthirsty hawks hold out their hands demanding more and squawking, “I told you so, I told you so!”


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Solstice Salute

Recently declassified intelligence reports suggest that trillions of dollars of vital resources and precious elements remain hidden just below the surface of the sun. The first several attempts to establish a foothold on this forbidding landscape have ended in failure, but additional missions are under way and military experts insist that our efforts at peaceful occupation grow increasingly probable with every successive deployment of troops.

“Every moment that we delay, tons upon tons of hydrogen are lost forever,” said the Commanding General of the United Armed Forces. “It is in the greatest interests of the American people that we move in and establish bases from which our brave and highly trained soldiers can begin to pacify the resistance.”

Some 1500 troops have already been engulfed in flames as a result of fierce hostilities on the ground. “We are dealing with an elusive and immoral enemy who has demonstrated nothing but disregard for human life. Until these forces are extinguished once and for all, no American will be safe,” the President stated.

These precious stores of hydrogen may hold the answer to all of our planet’s energy needs, experts say. Yet every second 3.7 × 10 38 particles of hydrogen are converted into useless helium. That’s probably enough hydrogen to cleanly power an average American household for several weeks.

While promising a bumper crop of new jobs, and hinting to their stockholders at the obscene potential for astronomical new profits, Exxon Mobile has already begun construction on its 93 million mile hydrogen pipeline. “There is no question that this will bring the clean, safe energy solution that we’ve all been waiting for,” says Exxon Mobile CEO. “Nobody’s saying this will be easy, but whatever risk is involved in securing a small piece of real estate on the sun’s surface will surely be negligible in the long run.”

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Flanked by legions of summer blockbusters, the long awaited biopic based on my own unpublished memoirs is due to hit the theaters next month. Produced and directed by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the feature film, titled “Sarcazmo,” promises to be nothing less than a vapid, gratuitous waste of diaphanous celluloid.

When the only qualified actor in show business turned down the picture’s leading role, Samuel L. Jackson left the on-screen story of my life without a cinematic leg to stand on. Instead the audience will clamor for a cinematic pillow to sleep on, or a theatrical hole in the ground to crawl into and die.

If it’s summertime entertainment you seek, you should have no difficulty thinking up a hundred better ways to kill time. You might consider driving around downtown for an hour and a half with the AC on full blast looking for an unmetered parking place.  Or take the kids down to the beach and try impersonating shellfish together.

The film’s conspicuous lack of convincing performances is matched only by its numbing absence of sympathetic characters. Order now and you’ll also witness an interminable diegesis punctuated by writing that limps along on one leg and dialog that falls flat, riddled with abstruse allusions to central european demographic trends of late antiquity and arcane references to the zen-based quest for and commitment to nothingness.

But even if these aesthetic abominations and affronts against all manner of creativity that calls itself art are not enough to hold your curiosity at bay, let me simply tell you that the story line of this unlikely production is a dry, barren place from which your curiosity will be unable to draw so much as a single drop of hope. Unless it’s a vicious cycle of ambition without reason and virtue without ambition that you thirst for, I’m afraid you’ll find this narrative most disappointing indeed.

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Primary election day is here, and I just voted. It was pretty silly. I walked up to the counter and the sign said “please state your name and address.”

So I said to the lady “Jeff, Hornaday” and spelled it. She flipped through her long list and said, “aha, Hornaday.”

So I said, “Yeah, uh, Fourteenth Street.” And she answered, “Oh, nothing is ‘unfortunate’.”

Then she turned to the people on the other table and said “Green.” They said “Green?” She replied, looking down at her list, “GRN means green.”

So now they all know what party I’m registered for. They gave me a green ballot and I walked over to the booth to fill it out. Then I saw that it said “Libertarian” so I walked back over and said they gave me the wrong one, “I need the one with the word green, not the color green.” I saw the stack on their table so I took the liberty of grabbing the correct ballot.

All this they found very disturbing. “But she said green, this one is red.” They kept discussing it while I voted and even after I was finished. As I left I suggested that someone come up with a better color coding system. They just shook their heads in dismay. They’re pretty sure I stole a green Libertarian ballot and walked out with it or else voted twice.

Anyway, don’t forget to vote. It could be more fun than you think. There’s some important initiatives on the ballot, and PG&E and Mercury Insurance are both counting on a low voter turnout in this primary election.

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Somewhere in London the Royal Society keeps a small piece of that famous tree under which Isaac Newton in 1665 reportedly watched the fall of an apple, the apple that inspired his revolutionary and irrefutable laws of gravity. It turns out that the apple tree – as described in Newton’s biography some 60 years after his death – is still alive and well, somewhere near Lincolnshire, England. And what’s more, the Royal Society’s well-guarded chip from that tree went briefly into Earth’s orbit last month along with Space Shuttle Atlantis.

What does the treatment of this legendary splinter of apple tree say about the relationship between religion and science in the 21st century? Can we really say that modern science has supplanted religious superstition when we see this sanctified symbol of the Age of Reason propelled to the status of holy relic? The layers of irony are as thick as the sediment around a dinosaur fossil, or the honey around a lion’s old jaw bone.

On the one hand you can read this as the scientists’ tenacious attachment to matter. Along with those laws that regulate the clockwork of the universe, they grasp a piece of that monumental tree. You might even say, “Let go of that false idol! The truth of Newton is not in the rites and relics, but in the writings of La Prinicpia. Beware of distractions and temptations, and stick to the facts!” But no, you probably wouldn’t say that, would you?

The beauty of the Royal Society’s reverence for this bit of treasured timber lies in its ability to embrace the folklore, the relic worship, the scientific theory and the actual state of orbit all at once. In an age when religion and science, theory and practice, appear increasingly irreconcilable, the Society has found the middle way, the path of equanimity. Rather than see competing paradigms and mutually exclusive terms, they recognize complimentary quadrants and unified understanding.

We laugh when we hear about this trivial piece of wood being exalted by a cult of Newtonian physicists, but everyday we are surrounded by debate among those who are resigned to their differences and refuse to see the opposite-shaped puzzle pieces come together. You can follow the dialogue in this petty war of ideas on the backs of car bumpers as well as anywhere else.

The conversation begins with some greek letters and two convex lines making the shape of a fish. Almost looks something like a calculus equation. Then we see the same fish shape, with newly grown legs for walking on land, inscribed with the name Darwin. Touché! But wait, now we see a great big fish, mouth open wide behind the little Darwin, and bearing the word Truth. And around in a circle they go, screaming “My way or the highway!”

“O foolish and heartless people, who have eyes and see not.” (Jeremiah 5:21) The battle of the backseat Ichthys says it all. It’s like defacing a portrait of Beethoven to look more like Dostoyevsky, whose illustrations of human nature were ever so much more penetrating. Or Fahrenheit followers plotting terrorist attacks against rogue practitioners of the Celsius. There’s Art and there’s science. There’s Science and there’s art.

Letting go of your matter, your laws, your dharma or your dogma doesn’t leave you lost and stranded, it only frees your hand to fondle more samples from that colorful cornucopia of Truths, truths, questions and consequences.

Watch the pendulum swing between opposite extremes, follow it from end to end, but know that there is only one center. Even as the pendulum rotates, the center remains. Like the satellites in orbit, they’re always falling toward the center, but never do they arrive.

And I leave you with this, from William Wordsworth (1770-1850):

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

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