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Showing posts from March, 2015

What can we do with awareness of the world's unfairness?

Some say the universe is balanced and has some justice or fairness woven into it, a righting of wrongs in the end. This idea has obvious appeal to those who are suffering. But what can it mean to those who experience joy? Does it mean that their joy will eventually be taken away? Kathleen Dean Moore:I’m one of the votes for caution, because I go through life slightly unnerved by Ralph Waldo Emerson. I half believe him when he says that Every sweet has its sour; every evil its good. For everything you gain, you lose something. Nature hates a monopoly. This makes sense to me. I think it’s at least plausible that everyone’s life finds its own equilibrium, a natural balance of joy and pain. But if happiness has to come out even with sorrow in the end, then I am in big trouble. I try to take my joy in tiny sips, hoping my sorrow will be equally shallow. But usually I end up swallowing happiness in gluttonous gulps, believing all the while in justice, and so rejoicing at little setbacks and…

The planets and stars beyond us, the germs within us

A "macro view" from Edwin Tenney Brewster:As we comprehend no man's religion until we know his world-view, so we understand no man's world-view till we discover his astronomy. The earth itself is for each of us the stage on which he sets his opinions. The sun and the planets and the stars are the background against which his drama of history is played.A "micro view" from Margulis and Sagan:The environment is so interwoven with bacteria, and their influence is so pervasive, that there is no really convincing way to point your finger and say this is where life ends and this is where the inorganic realm of nonlife begins.Edward Abbey on seeing the synergy and inventing God from it:Fred explained his theory of irrational numbers, binary electives and organic equations. Would lead, he argued, when he found the key connection, to a kind of cybernetic thinking machine that could digest numerical data in such quantity and at such velocity that science itself would …

Getting to pacifism

War turns life into death. Immanuel Kant wrote 220 years ago:It follows that a war of extermination, in which the destruction of both parties and of all justice can result, would permit perpetual peace only in the vast burial ground of the human race.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said that violence moves us backward from our intended direction:The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.War is wasteful and makes less sense every day in our hyperconnected society. Umberto Eco, writing 24 years ago of "instant information":There is a more radical way of thinking about war: in merely formal terms, in terms of internal consistency, by reflecting on its conditions of possibility – the conclusion being that you cannot make war because of the existence of a society based on instant information, rapid transport, and continuous intercontinental migration, allied to the natu…

Americans' dysfunctional relationship with shopping malls

Shopping for its own sake, not to buy anything necessary, is a kind of wealth destruction. Sam McKeen wrote:...most Americans would consider potlatch feasts, in which Northwest Indian tribes systematically destroy their wealth, to be irrational and mythic but would consider the habit of browsing malls and buying expensive things we do not need (conspicuous consumption) to be a perfectly reasonable way to spend a Saturday afternoon.There is an economic contradiction embedded in it. The economy needs people to spend. Yet, when consumers overspend, they burden themselves with debt and can spend no more, and the economic system falls to threads. In this way, shopping may destroy not only the individual's own wealth, but the entire nation's. David Segal wrote:Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the crux of the problem: We are reliably informed that whatever part of the economic crisis can’t be pinned on Wall Street – or on mortgage-related financial insanity – can be pinned on consumers…

Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act will sunset June 1, 2015

On Jan. 4, 2006, then-Vice President Dick Cheney said: Another vital step the President took in the days following 9/11 was to authorize the National Security Agency to intercept a certain category of terrorist-linked international communications...If we’d been able to do this before 9/11, we might have been able to pick up on two of the hijackers who flew a jet into the Pentagon. They were in the United States, communicating with al-Qaeda associates overseas. But we didn’t know they were here plotting until it was too late.Tim Grieve countered that "the Bush administration was indeed 'able to do this before 9/11.' If the administration wanted to listen in on the phone conversations of suspected al-Qaida members lurking in the United States before 9/11, all it had to do was ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a warrant to do so. It didn't even need to ask first: The law allowed the administration to start listening first and seek a warrant after t…

What kind of information do we most need, 'spiritually'?

A common complaint about the increasing availability of information and the speed at which it travels is that our minds cannot hold it all. Three decades ago, Jeremy Rifkin wrote:Strangely enough, it seems that the more information that is made available to us, the less well informed we become. Decisions become harder to make, and our world appears more confusing than ever. Psychologists refer to this sate of affairs as "information overload," a neat clinical phrase behind which sits the Entropy Law. As more and more information is beamed at us, less and less of it can be absorbed, retained, and exploited. The rest accumulates as dissipated energy or waste. The buildup of this dissipated energy is really just social pollution, and it takes its toll in the increase in mental disorders of all kinds, just as physical waste eats away at our physical well-being.


The sharp rise in mental illness in this country has paralleled the information revolution. That's not to suggest…

Getting the real work done: Guilt, not shame

The neurologist Robert A. Burton wrote: "Psychologists commonly divide certain feeling states into primary emotions, such as happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust, and secondary or social emotions, such as embarrassment, jealousy, guilt and pride.Guilt is a kind of self-disapproval. Perhaps inevitably, it is empathy with someone else's assessment of you, since, if you discredit yourself, you cannot evaluate yourself. "In guilt," Merold Westphal wrote, "I approve the other’s disapproval of me."Ralph Minogue quipped that "no form of human punishment seems enough to halt mistakes, so man designed guilt." I do not take this too literally, as humans do not exactly design guilt, and it often arrives unbidden — but we do cultivate it and craft our own flavor blends.In her New York Times bestseller, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown explains that our feeling of guilt for our shortcomings can motivate us to improve our behavior, but …

The pathological characters in 'The Last Castrato' novels by Hill and Sanchez (with spoilers)

John Spencer Hill, in 1995, wrote a novel The Last Castrato with a pathological eunuch character. Eleven years later, J. Wolf Sanchez published a novel by the same title with an identical premise. In this article, I compare the two novels: first Hill's, then Sanchez's.Here there be spoilers.John Spencer Hill's novelIn the novel The Last Castrato by John Spencer Hill, a crazed eunuch is on the loose in twentieth-century Florence. The stage was set three decades earlier when five self-appointed "Camerati dell’arte" tried to bring back Renaissance music per the original Camerata:They found a boy, Francesco Pistocchi, about ten years old who "sang like an angel," and they paid his parents "a few hundred lire" to allow them to take the boy to Florence. "They were simple folk and I suppose they thought Marchesi was a singing coach or something of the sort," one of the perpetrators recalled. They performed the castration at midnight in the …

The character of Vasilios Eleni in 'Like Fire Through Bone'

The 2013 novel Like Fire Through Bone by E. E. Ottoman is told from the perspective of Vasilios Eleni, a eunuch who serves Panagiotis Xarchakos in a household that includes Panagiotis' wife Eudoxia and her own eunuch servants. The setting seems to be Byzantine, but the level of historical accuracy is unclear. It may be considered a fantasy world.Vasilios' historyWhen Vasilios was 14 years old, he was conscripted into an army along with his father and brother on their tiny island home where they fought with swords against the Empire. However, at age 15, he was captured and castrated, was no longer "considered a man," swore he'd rather die, and refused food, "determined to die with honor or whatever his fifteen-year-old self had thought that was, thin and almost skeletal in shackles, still healing from where he'd been made a eunuch." But when Panagiotis bought him for ten solidus and gave him the choice – work to death in the iron mines, or learn to r…

The Unsullied in 'Game of Thrones'

The Unsullied are an army of eunuchs commanded by Daenerys Targaryen, a woman who seeks to claim the Iron Throne.Each season of "Game of Thrones" has ten episodes, one hour each. The Unsullied do not appear until Season Three. This post covers their activity through the end of Season Four.Before you read!I'm thrilled that this post has received thousands of views, and I wanted to let you all know that in October 2018 I've released a book on fictional eunuch villains.Painting Dragons: What Storytellers Need to Know About Writing Eunuch Villains is available as a Kindle eBook and in paperback.Season Three, Episode One: "Valar Dohaeris"Daenerys Targaryen, who commands three dragons, is in search of an army so that she can attempt to conquer the Iron Throne. In Astapor, she meets Master Kraznys who is selling 8,000 slave soldiers he calls “the Unsullied”. Speaking through a translator, Kraznys explains to her that only one in four boys survives the required weap…