Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Did I Write What I Meant to Say?

Posted: March 25, 2013 in Philosophy

Last night I printed the 22 blogs I wrote under the title of Beyond Atheism. 50 pages, 24,278 words, written in twenty daily writing sessions. Obviously, I have something to say about the topic. Now it is time for editing.

I started editing this morning. I did not make it past the very first paragraph before I started writing margin notes: “rewrite”, “delete”, “move this”, “need source here”, “need background here.” I am a cruel editor.

The information is all there. It is just in the wrong places. There is a wealth of information that does not need to be there at all. Delete that. Easy. The rest is going to be more difficult. As I reviewed the material, I asked what so many other writers ask: “Who is my audience?”

Many years ago, I was seated next to an elderly lady on a business flight. She worked through her fear of flying by talking to me about Jesus. I was patient and kind. After a while though, I thought her persistence was presumptuous. I turned to her and asked, “Have you ever been to an attorney’s office?”

She replied that she had.

“They have so many books to read, don’t they?” I smiled.

Again, she agreed.

“If you walked into a lawyer’s office and she only had one book on the bookcase behind her, you would probably think she wasn’t a very good lawyer,” I continued.

She nodded.

“Then why would you believe a preacher who only reads one book?”

She remained silent for the rest of the flight.

She is not in my audience. When you write a book about atheism, you have to realize that your audience reads a LOT of books. The second thing you should consider is that atheists are not the kind of people who like to be told that they are wrong.  They are similar to Christians in that regard.  The title “Beyond Atheism” implies that the atheist is wrong; that there is something yet to come that they have not yet discovered. Tough audience.

What about theologians? Oddly enough, theologians and ministers of every stripe are a big part of my target audience. The problem here is that they are all learned men and women. They are most often story tellers, but their stories are based on philosophical truths that make for pretty interesting sermons. Philosophy is a little dry. Okay, it is VERY dry. Stories are more fun to tell, and more people tend to come back to hear another story if they hear a good one. I admit, philosophy symposiums do not draw a big crowd. Did you ever hear of a philosopher being “held over for two more days” because of a sell-out crowd?

Me neither. “Back by popular demand,” isn’t going to be on the announcement too often.

You have to respect your audience. For an audience of theologians, that means I must do as much work as they have done in order to acquire the knowledge they possess. If there is something “Beyond Atheism,” they probably already know it, so what I have to say better say it in a different way, or bring new information to the table for discussion. Another tough crowd.

Old information can be reordered into something that inspires in a new way. (Let me just make a note of that.)

There are several smaller audiences that I need to consider, but none of them will be more demanding than the two I have mentioned.

This translates into a need for much editing and a complete rewrite. I need to make sure that what I wrote is what I intended to say.

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People want to read something real. I sense this from the responses I get to this blog. I should write about pianos of course, but after writing a hundred blogs on that subject (and listing the index to each on my website), I feel at ease to write about what I really want to write about.

Something real.

As a people, we are the benefactors of much consideration. When the media reports the daily events, the editors first consider how readers are likely to respond. The news is tempered. Crowd control editing, I call it. The masses cannot be trusted.  Government leaders speak in generalities because specific details invite specific disagreement.  I’ll sleep eight, work eight, eat two, and waste six.  If I’m lucky, I get an hour of real.

April of this year will mark thirty years since I met my wife. That is real. We remain inseparable.  In May, my daughter will graduate from college, probably summa cum laude.  That’s real. I’m going to rip the action out of my grand piano and find out why the touch is not exactly the way I want it.

grandactioj

Every photo of piano maintenance should be labeled with a warning: “Do not try this at home.” This is hands on. This is hours and hours of hands on. Yes, this is real. If you want to see more torture, visit the link on that photo.  Lots of “real” going on in that shop.

I bought a book on philosophy at the used book store. When I got home and thumbed the pages, a student’s notes fell out. I have no idea where the book is. The notes were real. I still have them.  The notes have more import to me than anything written in the book. The words on the note pages were written by a real person, someone who was engaged in learning what was written in the book. Sure, the book was written by a person too, but the notes seemed more intimate. I bought the book. The notes were a gift.

Real is intimate. Real is getting your hands on the work. Real is putting your hand into your wife’s hand. Real is giving your daughter a helping hand, or a round of applause. Real is reading what another hand has written.

There is a lot of real out there. Go get you some.

 

 

What if All Conflict Ceased to Exist?

Posted: February 15, 2013 in Philosophy

Yesterday all the problems of the world, of the human condition, were resolved. There are no wars. Crime no longer exists. Republicans and Democrats agree on all matters. Life is just the way we want it to be.

Where does that leave us?

I assume that you, like all people, are trying to resolve a few problems in your personal life, business or relationships with others. That seems to be the norm. But let us assume that all of those troubles are now resolved.  You now possess an understanding that permits you to be at peace with conflicts you could not resolve, and those conflicts in your life that once were such a bother, have now been resolved to your satisfaction.

Where does that leave you?

What would a life absence of conflict be like? I need not list examples of conflicts. A single lifetime seems to be a continuous stream of conflicts and resolutions.  Now that the problems are all solved, what do you imagine that life would be like?

If we are trying to solve problems so we are problem free, what kind of life are we really trying to create for ourselves, others and the world?

It is hard to imagine becoming a victim of a crime. Can you imagine a life without crime? It is hard to imagine what it is like to go without food. Can you imagine a life where everyone has access to basic necessities?

These are not easy questions.  We remain engaged in trying to eliminate personal and social problems, for a reason – but why? If we are not willing to think about what our life might be like in the absence of these things, why do we work so hard to try to eliminate them? Are we working to create a life we are unwilling to imagine?

Life is a Stream

The philosopher Schopenhauer likened life to a stream. When the stream proceeds unimpeded, the water is calm, the speed is swift, the air is quiet, and time passes without notice. However, when a tree limb falls into the water, when the elevation changes and creates a waterfall, when any force interferes with the peaceful flow of the stream, time becomes significant. The very definition and character of a stream is measured by the things which tend to impede it.

A life without challenges would be peaceful. It would also be very boring. Maybe that is why we do not care to imagine what a trouble-free life would be like.

Managing the Conflict

If it is necessary that life will always consist of episodes of conflicts and resolutions. We have the option of managing those conflicts in a way that does not detract our level of satisfaction with our life. Some think of work as a drudgery.  Others whistle while they do similar work. The difference is attitude.

In an objective sense, conflict is necessary and good. We define its quality subjectively however. We measure conflict in terms of how it opposes our will, and opposition to our will is valued as a bad quality which detracts from our desire to be conflict free.

Finding the Right Perspective

We tell ourselves to “Keep a perspective”, or to “Deal with it,” or “Live and let live,” and other truisms which give us a hint that conflict can be managed without becoming a victim of the conflict. It suggests that we can be in a conflict without being affected by the conflict. When the tree limb impedes our progress, redirects our desires, delays our satisfactions, we have the capacity to remain in control of how we regard those uninvited conflicts. If an occasional waterfall is a necessary event, one that guarantees that our life will gain meaning, then we can adopt our skills to account for that inevitability.

We are not resolving conflict in order to eliminate its presence.  Instead, we resolve conflict because conflict is necessary. What is not necessary is to become adversely affected by conflict. Instead of imagining a life without conflict, imagine a life where we are each better able to live peacefully in a world of conflict.

We need not wait for the future for that to occur. We can enjoy that life right now.  We understand that conflicts will happen to us. How the force of conflict affects us is one thing. How we allow ourselves to be affected remains within our control. The peaceful stream is within each of us. There are limits to what we can do, especially when conflict is severe, but it is my guess that it might be beneficial to focus on learning new coping strategies instead of wishing that conflicts would simply go away.

Mark Twain

Cover of Mark Twain

This morning’s article on Huffington Post entitled Atheism to Defeat Religion By 2038  requires consideration and a response.

The article presumes to assert that the majority of our population will turn away from a belief in a supreme being (God) by the year 2038. “The view that religious belief will give way to atheism is known as the secularization thesis.  The most obvious approach to estimating when the world will switch over to being majority atheist is based on economic growth [sic]. This is logical because economic development is the key factor responsible for secularization.”

The article is as short in length as it is in reasonableness.  The author relies on a “mountain of evidence”, but he only cites three affirming references.  He writes, “If fewer than 50 percent of the population agreed that religion was important to them, then the country has effectively crossed over to a secular majority.”

There are many ways to argue the hypothetical.  A good start would be to define our terms. Atheism is a denial of the existence of a supreme and supernatural being. Theism is an assertion of the opposite case. Both assertions are based in belief.  There is no evidence that a supreme being does not exist, nor is there evidence to the contrary. Seen in this light, atheism (based in belief) will not “defeat” religion (also based in belief.)

Religion  is an organizational unit which permits members to socialize and provide the necessary administrative functions to preserve the organization.   As the linked definition indicates, religion is social whereas personal belief is the product of a single individual. So we might agree that defeating religion does not necessarily mean defeating personal beliefs.  We might also agree that a simple majority vote might only indicate a population’s preference for one belief or the other. It seems better to say that one general social disposition might replace, or “out-pace” the other. But defeat? Let’s examine that.

Atheism lacks an organizational structure. It is an individual belief. The questionnaire recommended by the article’s author relies on opinions from individuals. He writes, “One way of assessing the depth of religious commitment is to ask survey participants whether they think that religion is important in their daily lives as the Gallup Organization has done in worldwide nationally representative surveys.”

Wait! We have a problem now. Religion is a social organization. Atheism makes no direct assertion about religion.  It is the antithesis of theism, not religion.  A person could certainly indicate a lack of preference or reliance for socialization with other adherents, but that would not mean that the person’s own personal beliefs had changed.  Embracing a belief and being committed to it also offers a variable in the assessment.

Religion relies on socialization. Will atheism “defeat” socialization? That seems unlikely. Religion relies on other factors too. A belief in theism, or in atheism for that matter, has at its foundation a level of ignorance of something. Ignorance is a naturally occurring human condition. So is superstition, story-telling, faith, hope, and the entire expression of being human. Religion serves the interests of those who seek to express themselves as humans. Will atheism defeat this organizational effort? Will it alter the persistent nature of humankind?

No, and it is easy to see the error of the author when we view atheism as just another expression of theism.  Atheism and theism are merely human dispositions; mirror images perhaps, but fundamentally they are equal since they make assertions about unknown qualities. If I require an answer for a question I have not yet revealed, you could make a guess and believe whether or not it was true. All answers would be equally wrong until the question was revealed. It is the unknown questions of the universe and our existence which gives rise to answers put forth by both theists and atheists. The answers are different, but they are equally incorrect.

While the article’s author seeks to be prophetic about a change in the answers provided by a majority of humans, he ignores that nothing about the answers does anything to change the nature of humankind.  Here is another prophetic statement – “space, time and thought are not separate things.” [Season 1: Episode 5 Star Trek: The Next Generation] The theological implications of that statement are too difficult to grasp, but it is at least thought-provoking.  It is a possible answer to many questions. Unfortunately, we have not yet framed the correct questions that would lead us to embrace that answer. (So often we judge our brilliance based on our answers. I find that true brilliance is found in asking the right questions.)

Atheism is largely misunderstood. It is simply the negation of an answer.  It makes no assertion of belief (and in most cases, adherents deny that they are relying on faith to form their assertion.) The hypothetical could then be written as “Belief will defeat belief”. That is nonsensical.

Atheism is a transitional belief that seeks to deny mainstream cultural values. Atheism leads to something else – a new expression of being human. It is the act of erasing the chalk from the board. Once the mainstream answers are erased, the board is ready to receive a new answer. Atheists have not come up with that answer yet. They are in transition. Seen in this light, atheism is the vanguard of a new form of religious expression. Religion therefore will not be defeated, although it may undergo a major transformation. We will just have to wait and see what atheists decide to believe in after they succeed in denouncing mainstream religious expressions as primitive relics of our aging and (economically) maturing cultures.

Transition is an element of human maturity. If the world’s population is tending to abandon mainstream answers, the nature of being human will not change. Religion – our preference for socialization based on common beliefs, ideas and attitudes will survive and rally around new understandings. A similar transition occurred when we abandoned polytheism and replaced it with monotheism. The next generation of answers won’t be much better than the ones we use now, but that is the nature of belief and faith. We can define truth anyway we want until we gain an accurate understanding of the questions that elude us.

“Thought is the basis for all understanding.”  Star Trek is far more interesting than discussions about religion’s decline, and just as likely to be a closer approximation of universal truth.  Religion can find sanctuary in the words of Mark Twain, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

If atheism becomes the mainstream thought, atheists won’t believe in it. I will leave them to figure out that riddle.

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cowboyI have been using the internet for a long time. I cannot remember the year I started, but I do remember looking forward to buying a 56K modem. In fact, I still have several modems in a box in the garage, along with my Mac512K and Mac30.

I paid $5.00 a year for internet access back then. Graphics were optional but I opted for a text-only feed. At that time the attraction of the internet was based on accessing written material. Graphics slowed the connection to a crawl, with little benefit. Internet users wanted information, usually the kind that was found in libraries and academic studies. The internet was not a source for news or entertainment.  It was like a big library. The only interactions you had with others was through static bulletin boards.

Over time the internet suffered the intrusion of the interests of business. A trade-off occurred. We surrendered our privacy in exchange for content that is most often innane. The internet is the perfection of the “boob tube” – a mindless source of intellectual stimulation. What is most telling, is how our culture – cultures throughout the world – have been changed by the emergence of all of the technologies related to the expansion of the internet.

The world was not prepared for that change. It is the Copernican Syndrome. In 1990, the world was flat. Since then, worldviews have been shattered and replaced with new versions of the truth.

There will come a day when no living person has first-hand knowledge of what life was like without the internet. Among those people will be those who attempt to write a historical account of what occurred during the infancy of the internet. You and I know about that. They won’t.

We might agree that the most significant post-internet social change was our inability to manage the avalanche of information that was made available to us. New information that requires change is upsetting to people. The generation that grew up in the internet age isn’t affected by the rapid-fire exposure to new information the same way. For them, this is the only reality they know. For pre-internet people, everything that has changed is being compared to a reality that is becoming more and more obselete.

I am not suggesting that we go back to a flat-world reality. We can’t go back anyway; there is no reason to entertain the notion. I am suggesting that the chaos in the world will settle down after the flow of information on the internet is better managed, and as people learn how to process that information. That will happen. It is happening now. The patterns of the internet’s development, and our responses, are a matter of public record. The patterns resemble the path from anarchy to civilization. In the beginning, the internet  was largely impersonal – a lonely field of information. There were no social rules, you just searched for information that was held by large institutions. When the internet became social – crossroads were created. That is also what happened in civilzation’s early development. Tribes formed and then established trade routes.

When trade routes crossed, people of different tribes adapted to a more diverse social setting. Conflicts arose, but the business interests of the traders prevailed and social institutions emerged which promoted and protected the interests of the people and their businesses. The crossroads of trading became a town that was distinctly different than any of the tribes which supplied the goods to be traded.

Today we are in the phase of development where civility is struggling for dominance. As technology has evolved, so have the rules of good conduct. When our reality is altered, and chaos prevails, our desire for a managed and civil existence tries to bring order to all of the competing interests. Business has the means to enact and enforce those changes, but individuals also create change through creative input, new business ventures, and social protests. Nothing has changed. The internet mirrors life. It is just another crossroads of merging trade routes: a new city where the diversity promises opportunity, but also creates challenges to social order.

The day will come when the chaos is managed. A new era of innocence will emerge. Just as America was once an unexplored expanse of land, the internet is an undeveloped territory. Yesterday’s pioneers are completely unknown to us, outside the myths that tell of their lives. Such will be our fate too. We have a generation of young adults who have never lived without the internet. In 100 years, only a few people will know of people who knew people who lived without the internet. Once they pass, no one will know anyone who ever knew anyone who lived without the internet. When that happens; when no one knows anyone who ever knew us, we will be regarded as the pioneers of the internet.

No one will know the struggles we endured, the cause for our protests, the reasons for our rules, or the suffering that occurred as we tamed a wild frontier. Facebook will become as obscure as the invention of the cotton mill. It will be regarded as something that was needed, but it was too primitive to survive. Something similar to Twitter will survive, but no one will regard it as similar because they won’t remember that Twitter ever existed. Facebook and Twitter will seem ancient, archaic. People will have a hard time understanding why they were ever popular, just as we wonder why people would be happy to use a horse and buggy to ride to church on Sunday.

It’s an exciting time to be alive, but the age we live in is tomorrow’s age of antiquity. We are as obsolete now as we will be then. The differences between now and then rely entirely on our own perceptions of the emerging reality.  The internet comes with a switch. You can turn it off. You can turn off your lights too – refuse to use electricity – stop drinking public water, hunt for your food, grow your own vegetables. In the future, even today,  opting out of an internet existence will not be an option. Such a move would be akin to choosing a miser’s life in a secluded ravine in the mountains. The internet is new now, but it will not remain so. It will become hardwired into ever aspect of our existence. We are the pioneers. Enjoy what frontier remains while it is here.

How I Write: I Think

Posted: February 1, 2013 in Instruction, Philosophy

It is said that in order to become a great jazz artist, one must first study the works of the artists who defined the genre.  Each artist introduced something new, as an addition to what was currently being played.  You would not want to study Bill Evans before you were introduced to Fats Waller or Red Garland because Mr. Evans incorporated the styles of Waller and Garland into his own style.

You must learn the fundamentals of an art. As it applies to writing, the first fundamental is thinking. You can’t write well unless you know how to think well. Learning how to think well is one of the benefits derived from philosophy.  Notice that I did not write “the study of philosophy”.  If you study what others thought, that does not teach you to think, or how to think – it only teaches what others have thought. Like jazz, I can listen to the music of Jelly Roll Morton, but I am not doing Mr. Morton until I actually play music in that style. The study of philosophy is important too, but it is the practice of philosophy that helps you learn how to do it.  So the fundamental of writing is thinking, and the way you learn how to think is to practice thinking.

What shall we think about? Some thinking isn’t going to help us improve. Let me demonstrate with a few examples.

1. What will I wear tomorrow?

2. What will you wear tomorrow?

3. What was the first outfit ever worn?

The first question is pretty easy. It would be difficult to get that one wrong. Now think about the question itself. Why is it easy to answer? If you can discover why this question is easy to answer, then it might follow that other similar questions would also be easy to answer, for similar reasons.  When you discover those similarities, you are creating a set of rules that can be applied to similar questions.  The more difficult questions offer the greatest opportunity for learning, but the easy questions must be mastered before you attempt the more difficult ones.

Question #1 requires a person (you) to make a determination.  The correctness of the answer is also determined by you. The answer relies only on you to make it, and you to judge if it is the right answer. You are the subject and there is nothing about the answer which requires any other actor’s knowledge, or a standard of right and wrong to be imposed by another actor.

Question #2 introduces the idea of objectivity. A person seeks to determine the action/decision of something/someone other them himself/herself. You noticed all the slashes in the sentence. As you expand your thinking from the subjective case to the objective case, you encounter options. The alternative meanings and answers increase. The question is more difficult to answer.  The practice of thinking (i.e. philosophy) would encourage discovering every possible meaning in a question. That is the only way you can discover every possible answer. If you can think deeper about a subject, you can learn to write with greater depth.

Question #3 asks you to determine an answer that cannot be known with certainty. There are some obvious difficulties. You have no idea who the first person was. You have no idea where the first person was, when he existed, if he was a he or a she or an it, and so forth.

You could spend a lot of time thinking about these three questions. After a day or two, you might see that these questions are similar to many other questions. You might find something so unique during your contemplations that you become amazed that you never before considered the possibility. Most people do not like to think about things like this because it exhausts them. However, most everyone will think a long time about things that have a direct effect on them, and quite often derive a poor answer because they were unwilling to learn how to think about the things they didn’t want to think about.

If you are going to write about things people have not thought about, then you better think about those things. Your writing will reveal how much thought you invested in the subject.

Organizing Your Thoughts

The points I made so far are not exhaustive: there is more to think about. But let me move on now to the topic of organizing your thoughts. As a writer you must have empathy. You must be able to convey ideas in a way that the reader is able to understand those ideas. Good writing is just a recipe.  The topic may be difficult to write about, but the organization of the ideas is the same for every topic. A simple recipe for organizing your ideas goes like this: 1.) Tell them what you want to tell them, 2.) Tell them why you told them, 3.) Tell them again.

In the last paragraph, I included a heading. You really do not need to read that paragraph in order to understand that I (the author) place an emphasis on the importance of organizing your thoughts. A lot of people read quickly; they skim. As an empathetic writer, you know this and account for it in your writing style. You separate your paragraphs with headers when there is a shift in the topic.

Putting It All Together

You already know what this paragraph is about because you read the header. Let me return to the first part of this essay and insert headers to show you how their use increases readability.

Learn in the Correct Order

It is said that in order to become a great jazz artist, one must first study the works of the artists who defined the genre.  Each artist introduced something new, as an addition to what was currently being played.  You would not want to study Bill Evans before you were introduced to Fats Waller or Red Garland because Mr. Evans incorporated the styles of Waller and Garland into his own style.

First Learn the Fundamentals

You must learn the fundamentals of an art. As it applies to writing, the first fundamental is thinking. You can’t write well unless you know how to think well. Learning how to think well is one of the benefits derived from philosophy.  Notice that I did not write “the study of philosophy”.  If you study what others thought, that does not teach you how to think – it only teaches what others have thought. Like jazz, I can listen to the music of Jelly Roll Morton, but I am not doing Mr. Morton until I actually play music in that style. The study of philosophy is important too, but it is the practice of philosophy that helps you learn how to do it.  So the fundamental of writing is thinking, and the way you to think is to practice thinking.

An Example

What shall we think about? Some thinking isn’t going to help us improve. Let me demonstrate with a few examples.

1. What will I wear tomorrow?

2. What will you wear tomorrow?

3. What was the first outfit ever worn?

The first question is pretty easy. It would be difficult to get that one wrong. Now think about the question itself. Why is it easy to answer? If you can discover why this question is easy to answer, then it might follow that other similar questions would also be easy to answer, for similar reasons.  When you discover those similarities, you are creating a set of rules that can be applied to similar questions.

A Closer Look at the Possible Answers

Question #1 requires a person (you) to make a determination.  The correctness of the answer is also determined by you. The answer relies only on you to make it, and you to judge if it is the right answer. You are the subject and there are nothing about the answer which requires any other actor’s knowledge, or a standard of right and wrong to be imposed by another actor.

Question #2 introduces the idea of objectivity. A person seeks to determine the action/decision of something/someone other them himself/herself. You noticed all the slashes in the sentence. As you expand your thinking from the subjective case to the objective case, you encounter options. The alternative meanings and answers increase. The question is more difficult to answer.  The practice of thinking (i.e. philosophy) would encourage discovering every possible meaning in a question. That is the only way you can discover every possible answer. If you can think deeper about a subject, you can learn to write with greater depth.

Question #3 asks you to determine an answer that cannot be known with certainty. There are some obvious difficulties. You have no idea who the first person was. You have no idea where the first was, when he existed, if he was a he or a she or an it, and so forth.

Invest Time Improving Your Thinking

You could spend a lot of time thinking about these three questions. After a day or two, you might see that these questions are similar to many other questions. You might find something so unique during your contemplations that you become amazed that you never before considered the possibility. Most people do not like to think about things like this because it exhausts them. However, most everyone will think a long time about things that have a direct effect on them, and quite often derive a poor answer because they were unwilling to learn how to think about the things they didn’t want to think about.

If you are going to write about things people have not thought about, then you better think about those things. Your writing will reveal how much thought you invested in the subject.

Conclusions

A writer is a thinker. A great writer has practiced the components of writing for a long time. Those components, as I discussed in this writing, are thinking, organizing, and empathizing. There are many additional features that great writing includes. I believe the three I covered in this writing are fundamentally significant, and might help other writers consider what import they place on thinking, practicing, organizing and being considerate of their readers.

If you agree, then you will stop reading about what I think, and you will spend some time thinking about what you think.  And if I keep writing, I will be keeping you from thinking about what you want to think about. So I will stop now.

This is Swampyank's copy of "The Jury&quo...

This is Swampyank’s copy of “The Jury” by John Morgan, painted in 1861, and now in the Bucks County Museum in England. More information about the painting can be found here: [http://www.buckscc.gov.uk/bcc/museum/ea_The_Jury.page|inline= (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine not being able to work for the next three weeks. Imagine putting everything in your life on hold: appointments, vacation, kids; and if you are self-employed, like me, imagine three weeks without an income.

On Monday I was a member of a group of eighty citizens selected to form a jury pool for a trial scheduled to last three weeks. For two days we sat on hard benches in the hallway waiting in turn to be called into the court room, one by one, for interviews by the attorneys and judge. The larger group was divided into three smaller groups, and scheduled arrival times were delayed on the second day which eased the situation a little bit. Still, there was the drive downtown through traffic, the parking, the walk, the security checkpoint, the elevators, and the crowds.

As we waited in the hallway, we got to know each other. We weren’t permitted to talk about the case or the questions put to us in the interviews, so the conversations centered on casual topics. One theme common to all conversations was how a three week trial would interrupt our personal lives. Imagine!

“If I am selected, then I won’t be able to …” was on everyone’s mind. And everyone had an excuse – a reason¬ why serving on the jury would impose a hardship. Those who knew they would get paid while they were on jury duty looked forward to having a break from work. But most people worked for employers that would not pay them for the time they were away from work.

One man was a high school coach. There are five games left in the season: he would miss the next three. A young lady had to borrow money from a friend to afford the train fare to the courthouse. Another woman had to ask a friend to watch her children after school. Very few people waited comfortably, without concern. Most wore expressions of worry, regret, and concern. Three weeks! It’s hard to imagine.

Twelve jurors and two alternates were selected yesterday at 5:00. The rest of us were sent home. The judge thanked us for our public service. In fact, he thanked us several times during the process. But as I reviewed the definitions of the words he used: duty, obligation, service, I had to reconcile his use of the word “service” with my own understanding. I had not volunteered to serve. I was summoned to a courthouse against my will. This was not service: it was servitude.

Jury duty sucks. The clear and obvious reason that we are summoned to the court is because people would not volunteer to serve on a jury otherwise. In addition to being inconvenient, jury duty thrusts each juror into either a criminal or civil argument between two or more parties. That can be very stressful and emotionally exhausting, especially when the trial is held over for days, even weeks. Who among us desires to listen to the retelling of someone else’s misery?

The jury was drawn from a pool of citizens living in the county. The demographics of the county are very diverse. While most of us choose to live in communities or towns that tend to isolate us from the diversity evident in a county-wide area, jury service places you in the same room as people you would probably never want to meet. It is a small crowd of strangers.

Usually jury service lasts only one day. You are selected in the morning and the court case is held in the afternoon. On this occasion, I sat with others for two days. You can get to know people in two days. Some people are more open about their personal lives, but in two days, even the most private people will reveal things they would not tell a stranger.

For some reason, people like to tell me the most intimate details of their lives. Within a half-hour of listening, I might learn of a person’s complete background, family history, names and ages of children, number of times divorced, and every detail of their immediate activities, schedules and responsibilities to others. People are friendly and open.

Moments before the sheriff would read off the names of the fourteen who were chosen to serve, we were drenched in dread as we sat quietly in the hallway. Within moments we would learn our fate. Our lives would be returned to us, or we would be selected to remain – for three weeks. I felt like I was waiting for the results of a medical examination that might reveal if I had a contagious disease. The heavy sigh of relief which visits those who escape a vile consequence does not belie the mountain of tension which builds up inside. Knuckles turn white, stomachs are lashed into knots, and muscles ache.

The door opens. The names are read. It is the lottery. Who will the next victim be? As each name is read, someone’s shoulders slump in submission as a breath of disbelief and regret – even disdain – slips over dry lips. Feet trudge forward carrying a heavy burden and an unwilling mind. The person slips into the courtroom and another name is read and acknowledged again. “Mary Williams…Todd Jenkins….Naomi Clark….”, one by one they emerge from the semi-circle of bodies huddled submissively around the sheriff outside the courtroom. And then we hear, “That is all. The rest of you come back into the courtroom so the judge can dismiss you.” It was surreal.

This morning as I type, I am mindful of those who are sitting in a courtroom listening to pre-trial directions, opening statements and the words of the first called witness. It truly is a service they are performing – a tremendous sacrifice necessary to ensure one of our greatest rights: the right to a trial witnessed and decided by our peers.

One crime committed is like a rock tossed into the quiet water of a lake. The concentric ripples reach out and touch everyone in our society – some more than others. Jurors are drawn from the distance edges of the lake, where the ripples are faint and unnoticeable – drawn closer to the center near the source of the disruption. If not for the single action of the crime committed, no peace officer would be put at risk, no lawyer would be called, no fee paid, no research would be done, no administrator would be needed, no form would be filed, no court date would be scheduled, and no heart would ache. No mother would cry.

On Monday I was drawn to the center. I was afraid. I have lived for too long away from the diversity. I have lived in peace, far from the chaotic noise of the city, or its traffic, or its crimes, or its garbage. I was afraid that I would not be able to perform the task if called upon. The attorneys and judge were wise. They sent me home. Those who remained – you could tell by looking upon them, they were more capable.

But now I am in reflection. I am humbled by what I experienced. I thought I knew so much, and yet, in the isolation of my chosen, distant corner of the lake, I have denied myself access to the knowledge and experiences that define and guide the lives of so many others. What I enjoy as a free citizen bears an obligation of service. Freedom has a cost, and although we are most often located far from the perils of our society, the cost must be paid. I only hope that had I been chosen to serve, I would have reconciled my feelings and accepted the task put to me. As I now think about those who were selected, I am certain they have reconciled their feelings and have accepted their responsibilities and the charge put to them.

I visited with many of them during the past two days. They are good people. Justice will be done.

(Edit: The trial was decided February 19, 2013. Read the story here.)

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After President Obama revealed his proposals for gun control last week, GOP leaders in Texas ran press releases stating that nothing in the proposals would have stopped the Newtown shooting. That reaction had to be orchestrated by national GOP leaders. There is no way that so many GOP Congressmen would have answered so quickly with the same argument against the proposals.

Such an answer however cannot be taken at face value. It was a strategic statement.  It was not a good answer, but if you understand the strategy, then you might agree that the GOP was clever.

The strategy would be to completely disarm the Democrats. The thinking goes like this, “We are discussing gun control because of the Newtown shooting. If the proposals would not have prevented the Newtown shooting, there is no reason to talk about gun control.”

Focus on the GOP constituency. They are motivated to embrace any argument against gun control. GOP leaders merely offered an argument for their consumption. It wasn’t a good argument, but that doesn’t matter. The GOP constituency isn’t going to listen to anyone other than GOP leaders. If you argue with GOP leaders, you still aren’t convincing their constituents.

If we can reduce the adverse consequences inherent in our reserved right to bear arms, then it is my view that we bear a moral obligation to submit to a reasonable review.

Democratic leaders have now created their own strategic answer to the GOP rebuttal. We aren’t talking about “gun control”.  The proposals address “crime control”.  The thinking here is, “A crime was committed in Newtown. Proposals to reduce crime may decrease crime committed with guns.  There are many good reasons to talk about crime control, as it might pertain to the need to control gun ownership and use.”

Of course, that thinking isn’t going to reach the GOP constituency easily.  So when I wrote a blog about what my representative (Congressman Kenny Marchant) published in his press release, you can see that he isn’t really sharing his unique opinion. He is not conveying the opinions of his constituents. He is simply repeating what GOP leaders recommended. That begs the question: “Does Kenny Marchant represent his constituents, or is he just a minion of the GOP?

We are not too far into the debate on gun control that we can see how a wide division in national opinion is created. Let me review how this is done. It involves the manipulation of language.

Democrat: “The tragedy at Newtown necessitates a review of gun laws. Proposals are needed.”

Republican: “No proposal would prevent an incident like Newtown from occurring again. There is no reason to talk about gun control.

Democrat: “We are focused on reducing crimes with guns in general, not only the Newtown tragedy. We are talking about crime control.

The Elephant in the Room

Politics frustrates a good many people. Part of the problem is the public language of politics: it is often strategic, not literal. Seldom is it cooperative.  The cooperative side of politics is not done in the open. Compromises and deals are done in private. A private conversation permits leaders the opportunity to restrict access to the unpleasant facts that guide decision making.

The Unpleasant Fact

The unpleasant fact about the Second Amendment (the Elephant in the room), is that we, as a nation, have already accepted the consequences of gun ownership. That debate took place a long time ago.  Step into my time machine so you can eavesdrop on that discussion.

Whirrrrrrrrrrrrrr. (Sound of time machine).

Leader: “So what you are saying is, you want to reserve the right to bear arms?”

Citizen: “Yes.  We want to reserve the right to protect our property and life as might be required by those who would certainly not be inclined to abide by rules prohibiting gun ownership for citizens.”

Leader: “Okay, let me just jot that down here…. Now then, you do realize that some citizens will misuse their firearms. People will shoot each other. There will be accidental shootings, violent crime, and in some cases, many people could be killed by a single actor.”

Citizen: “Yes, I believe we are aware of that.”

Leader: “And you consider that probable outcome to be acceptable?”

Citizen: “No, it is not acceptable when it is considered by itself.  If you compare that outcome with the alternative, then it becomes the better choice.”

Leader: “To what alternative do you refer?”

Citizen: “If people were not permitted to bear arms, we would be completely defenseless against armed criminals. In addition, and as it might one day be relevant, our very government might bear arms against the citizenry if we should protest too fervently against policies the people deemed to be tyrannical…”

Leader: … “Let me interrupt please: It isn’t likely that the government would bear arms against its citizenry.”

Citizen: “It has happened before, and it has happened in other parts of the world by other governments.”

Leader: “I see your point. But you do realize that an armed citizenry is no match for a fully-armed government.” [Laughs]

Citizen: “Again, that isn’t the point. When the people reserve a right to bear arms as a deterrent to the possibility of tyranny, it is not a guarantee that the citizenry would prevail against a tyrannous government.”

Leader: “Oh?”

Citizen: “It only means that we reserve the right to try to defend ourselves.  An unarmed citizenry has no chance at all. No matter that we would have little chance if we were armed. It is our choice, and we do earnestly seek to reserve our right to bear arms.”

Leader:” And you are willing to accept the adverse consequences as previously noted?”

Citizen: “Yes. Realizing that far more people would suffer if we did not reserve this right, we must accept that an armed society will not always be a peaceful one. We acknowledge that some people will misuse their right and cause harm to others. We further acknowledge that on occasion, some abuses will be miserably hideous.”

Leader: “But the consequences of not being able to bear arms would be far worse?”

Citizen: “That is our view. Yes.”

Whrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr (Sound of time machine).

So you see, the Elephant in the room is that we have already accepted that a tragedy like Newtown was going to occur, and will likely occur again. The alternative however is far worse. If the citizenry was not armed, it was foretold that the consequences would be far worse. Without an armed citizenry, there would be more tragedies than there are now.

No politician is going to raise this point, as it applies to Newtown, publicly.  It would be insensitive, impersonal and callous to make such a statement in public. Parents of the Newtown victims would not be able to accept that their tragedy was an acceptable outcome, by virtue of being the lesser of two consequences.  The points I have raised here will instead be discussed privately by our leaders as they debate the merits of the president’s proposals.

The language of gun control (or crime control) is strategic. It is intended to contain the public debate in order to secure the support of a constituency.  The real decisions will be made in private. The public is not so inclined to delve into a philosophical inquiry about the deeper meaning inherent in the Second Amendment. On most matters, a common understanding is all that is required. That is part of the beauty and genius of the American Constitution: it bears up under academic critical review, but remains clearly understood by the common citizenry.

Can We Improve the Consequences?

This is all the president is really saying. “We must try.” There is no harm done in having a public debate about gun/crime control. If we can implement solutions that will reduce the adverse consequences inherent in the Second Amendment, we are morally obligated to try – not because it might reduce the likelihood of the re-occurrence of the tragedy of Newtown; rather, out of respect for the victims of Newtown.

What is important to note here is that a people who reserves the right to bear arms also takes on the moral obligation to submit to a timely and periodic peer review of the consequences that right creates for others.  President Obama has publicly suggested that “we must try”. My representative, Congressman Kenny Marchant, did not join the president in this reasonable appeal. The GOP did not join the president.

If we can reduce the adverse consequences inherent in our reserved right to bear arms, then it is my view that we bear a moral obligation to submit to a reasonable review. Congressman Kenny Marchant does not yet adequately represent my view in this matter. I so enjoin him to do so.

Whrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Leader: “Earlier you said that “we reserve the right to try to defend ourselves,” against a tyrannous government, even if the chances of prevailing were slim.

Citizen: “Yes. It is better to try and lose than not to try at all.”

Leader: “So it would seem. I take it then that it would be better to try to improve the ill consequences inherent in gun ownership, even if the chances of doing so were slim?”

Citizen: “I cannot disagree.”

Leader: “And when might be the best time to conduct such a review?”

Citizen: “When the abuses of the accepted consequence are too difficult to bear.”

Leader: “So it would seem. By your word then, “It is better to try, than not try at all.” Let us hope that future generations see the wisdom in your reasonable concession.”

1963 – 2013

I was in fifth grade when President John Kennedy was assassinated.  The year was 1963; the 23rd day of November.  I remember no moment which preceded the sound of the public address speaker interrupting the quiet of the classroom. “President Kennedy has been shot…”

It took a few seconds to understand what was occurring. It was at first unusual that an announcement would be made during the class period. It was highly unusual that the voice on the box would be any other than our principal’s. In this case, it was a male voice – unknown to my ear – and the voice came with no introduction. In the next seconds, I recognized the voice as that of a radio personality, a news reporter.  Our teacher started to cry. The girls in the class soon followed. The boys did not cry, except for one on the front row. The significance of the event was wasted on me, a young boy that had just turned ten years of age.  The window of my memory ends there.

“The star that guides us…” On this day, as I write, President Obama is giving his inaugural speech.  The year is 2013; the 21st day of January.  He is our captain. Our progressive voices lead the nation and the world.  As Beyoncé now sings our National Anthem at the close of the Inauguration, I feel fortunate to have lived in the most wonderful of times.  Hopefully we all have miles to go before we sleep.

Today I will write of the 1960s for members of a younger generation who might have an interest in the lifestyles of that decade. I did not protest in the 60s. I did not do drugs; write editorials or pen letters to my elected officials. I was but a child. At 12 I learned to roller skate backwards in the basement of my parent’s small suburban home. A 45 rpm record, set upon the spindle of a small suitcase of a record player, played “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” by the Beatles. It was the age of my innocence.

I was fifteen when Robert Kennedy was assassinated.  The year was 1968; the 6th day of June.  I had no understanding of the events which preceded his death. The killing of leaders was all too commonplace in my youth.  My reactions were never as emotional as the reactions of adults. Martin Luther King Jr. fell to an assassin’s bullet months earlier; the 4th day of the 4th month. Prior to his death, I had never heard his name. There were warnings from my suburban neighbors which cautioned us to prepare for attacks from rioting Blacks in the inner-city far away. I remember thinking, “Why would they attack us?”

The music of the age carried the messages that silently shaped my cultural understanding. By 1969, during my high school years, I became aware of the hypocrisies of the age. The concert was given, but I granted no significance to the words that were being sung.  The reports and photos of the Woodstock concert revealed to me a very strange population of people, a few years older than me, who were said to be the cause of the entire calamity in politics. The year was 1969; the 15th day of August. Four months and two weeks later, the 60s ended. The influences of the sixties lived on, and for many, continue to impact our lives this day as we witnessed the inauguration of Barack Obama.  In my memory I once saw black Americans with picket signs outside a restaurant where admittance was only granted to white people. I saw water fountains and bathrooms labeled as “White and Negro”.  I saw hundreds of episodes of racial bigotry and white supremacy. In the 70s, I started the process of reconciling what I had experienced as a child. I embraced many of the new values created in the sixties, and have endeavored to retain them and build upon them all these long years hence.

The attitudes of the sixties are best described as liberating. There was a shared desire to be free from the shackles of intellectual slavery.  During the 60s we, the younger brothers and sisters, were influenced by the ideals of the age, without having to suffer the perils that preceded their emergence. By this account, we entered the 70s without the pain and cynicism that bruised the souls of so many activists. Instead, we were inspired by the victories and permissions that were gained. I was among that generation that followed; the second rank that stepped up to replace those who had fallen. In 1972 I enlisted into the Air Force. For the next four years, until I was honorably discharged, I reconciled the innocence of my youth while serving within the ranks of an institution that was reconciling the lunacy of the Vietnam War. It was during this time that I shaped and refined my values; values that would guide me for the rest of my life.

Capturing the attitude of the sixties seems to me to be no great difficulty. Some of the actions might be difficult to embrace – many were unreasonable. Experimenting with drugs is certainly not recommended or required to gain enlightenment. Burning the flag is now illegal: you do not need to break the law to rekindle the attitudes of the sixties.  There is little need to burn a bra or a military draft card. Many gestures were only symbolic. The clothes, hairstyles, language, and icons were only outward signs of internalized beliefs, hopes and frustrations.

If you align with any of today’s moderate and radical members of the Republican Party, I would think it would be most difficult to understand the 60s. Conservatives want to be acknowledged for the goodness of their ideology (and I do acknowledge the good parts of it), but like members of any group, they are quick to defend ideas that are no longer tolerable to those who are affected by them.

It was the unacceptable ideas inherent in the conservatism of the 60s that was the cause for the protests and reforms. While the lessons of the sixties have endured, the resistance to the ideology persists among today’s conservatives, although I must add that many of today’s conservatives are more liberal than those who lived in the 50s and 60s.  However, racism, sexism, and bigotry are just as prevalent today as they were in the 60s. These are more often driven from public view, but the forces of limited understanding remain an influence in every age.

I cannot do the decade justice in a blog. I think it might be best to isolate several themes that were driving the thinking of the 60s. Let me just list a few ideas that were dominant.

Love and Understanding – With oppression comes denial. People all share a desire to be loved and understood.  The themes of the 60s often called for more love and understanding since certain people were denied respect and dignity.

Religion – In general, there was a call for the many churches to become more open to new ideas and religious expressions. Religious organizations were typically viewed as being too dogmatic. Reforms included the rise of evangelical denominations and a notable change in the kind of music that was played in church. For instance, in the 60s, the use of a guitar to play pop music during a service was usually forbidden. There was a chapel on the Lackland Air Force Base. I was told that I was the first person ever to play a guitar during the service.

Freedom – Intellectual oppression – the suppression of ideas, limits opportunities in business. The conservatism of the 50s was so oppressive; and so few career opportunities existed for the college graduates of the early 60s, that the spirit of complete defeat gave rise to the directive to “Drop out and turn on.”  I understand that to mean, “If society doesn’t want me, then I won’t try, and I will just have as much fun as I can.” Society (aka “The Establishment”, “The Man”) held a narrow definition of what was considered proper and right.

Information – It may seem hard to understand, but there was a great effort to suppress information in colleges across the nation. Reading lists omitted Black authors, female authors, emerging writers, and literature of the day. College students marked this limitation as indoctrination, and protested accordingly.

Sexual Revolution – Every significant Cultural Revolution includes a sexual revolution.  In general, the rules which governed sexual activity were contested and revised.  Concerned women led this protest. Women sought to be liberated from the tired and oppressive definitions which limited their activities. Women wanted equal treatment and pay in the workplace. Divorce laws favored the interests of men.  Sexism was rampant in the workplace.

World Peace – Although it sounds trivial to mention, the ideals that drive moral liberalism are based in a desire to further goodwill for all men and women.  It is inescapable that peace is achievable and sustainable. It is not often apparent how to accomplish that goal. For all its difficulties, it remains as true today as it did in the 60s that we need only “Give Peace a Chance.”

The Return of Conservatism

Roads must be built, nations must defend their people and interests, the wildness of youth must defer to practical limitations that adulthood requires. In time, the liberals of the 60s started to build on their new foundations.  Today, many of those wild 60s liberals are the moderate conservatives and independents of today. There have been liberals and conservatives in every age, so I do not want to insist that one ideology is better than the other. It seems that – as the saying goes – for everything, there is a season. The pendulum swings both ways: the momentum seeks to attend to the forces apparent.  Left on its own, a pendulum would eventually submit to gravity and remain at rest, so I like to think of a pendulum as having a spring attached, one which ensures perpetual motion which keeps that pendulum swinging forward (liberalism) and back again (conservatism) as society pushes forward as needed, and relaxes, reconciles and recuperates as other forces require.

That is enough about pendulums and bad analogies.  The political unrest of the 60s occurred because an aging post-WWII generation was unwilling to pass the baton to a new generation without constraint.

How to Adopt the Attitudes of the 60s– You do not need to use time travel to enjoy the 60s. You can adopt certain attitudes that will provide similar experiences. Each person can create and experience his or her own revolution.  (It’s more fun with others, but that is for each person to decide.)

Review and question your own beliefs, attitudes and ideas. Do you feel oppressed? Are there influences that are keeping you from expressing yourself, or becoming who you really want to be? Sometimes a revolution can occur simply by getting out of town for a weekend, or breaking an old habit.  If you want to add some zest to your life, listen to that other voice in your head – the one that tells you that your dreams are possible.

That is probably what was unique about the 60s. A new generation had dreams, and they wanted to see if they could be fulfilled. Others tried to stop them. Young people were willing to do whatever was necessary to see those dreams come true. That is all you have to do: make your dreams come true. Abandon the security of your lifestyle if it is oppressive. Abandon those who are not supportive of what you want in life. Listen to your own idealism and build a foundation for your life on your own terms. If you can realize your dreams in a peaceful way, then it is all the better. If not, clench your fist and raise it high into the air and say, “I will not be denied.”

If you want to experience the 60s, start a revolution in yourself. It is your life. Live it the way you want it to be lived.

(Try not to get arrested, and call if you are going to be late for dinner.)

Guaranteed to interest very few, a blog on philosophy reminds people of their worst headache.

Why didn’t Lance Armstrong think.

Oh sure, easy to condemn a man who told a few lies. Let’s condemn him instead because he didn’t think.

It takes time to think. Philosophy is thinking. Philosophy is slow. That isn’t why it gives people a headache. Thinking is difficult! It requires practice.

People who like to think; (people who like philosophy), practice a lot. Philosophy isn’t slow then; it is a way of life.

If stupidity is the barometer for normalcy, then being normal isn’t a desired state of mind.

Think about this: for all the claptrap, mainstream, media news you were exposed to last week, what good did it do you? Did you learn something — anything — that made your head hurt? Were you challenged to review a basic belief, or did you screen out the information that took too long to understand?

What exactly is the meaning of life?

If the Republicans are wrong, and the liberals are wrong, is there a version of truth out there that is eluding everyone who thinks they know?

Q: Why do people who like philosophy study questions that do not have answers?

A: Because you develop thinking skills that make it easier to learn the answers that can be known.

What is the purpose of life? vs. Should I use enhancement drugs to improve my performance? The second question seems easier to answer. Not so much for Lance though, was it?

The purpose of life. Let’s give this question a whirl. Let’s separate what we know for certain, and what we think we know.

Good thinking takes time. Pace yourself.

 

We exist. (I do at least; not so sure about you.) Okay, I exist. There, that is philosophy. I just exposed a flaw in my thinking, and I corrected it. I know I exist because I think. I cannot know that you exist using the same evidence. In fact, I have no evidence at all that you exist. I assume you exist. I believe you exist. But I do not need to rely on assumptions or belief to know that I exist. Apples and oranges.

If you are normal, you will think this is stupid. What is stupidity? Better check that. It might not be stupid at all.  Stupidity is maladaptive learning. We alter new information to conform to a preexisting belief. That is what Lance Armstrong did. New Information: “We think you used drugs.” Lance believed no one would find out. Now this new information comes along and he has to  account for it. Options: 1. Confess, 2. Alter the information to conform to a preexisting belief. The preexisting belief was “I won’t get caught.”

Lance didn’t think. He didn’t tell the truth. He was stupid. He made assumptions and acted on a set of beliefs. Rather than adjust his thinking based on the falsity of his notions, he altered the truth of the matter and persisted in a false reality.

Armstrong fooled himself. But we first thought the statement “we exist” is true, so we both need to be careful. Best to think things through. If stupidity is the barometer for normalcy, then being normal isn’t a desired state of mind. We can do better.

We might both exist. From my perspective, it is only highly probable that you exist.  I know I exist because I am experiencing my existence. I am not experiencing your existence, so I must rely on some other criteria to make my determination. The probability that you exist is high, but I cannot know for sure.  High probability still accounts for the possibility that you might not exist. From your perspective, you cannot say with certainty that I exist. This blog entry may have been generated by a computer program, or another author.

And so it goes. Philosophy is as slow as Lance Armstrong is stupid.

If you find yourself in a difficulty – if you need to think through some things that are tough, know that it takes time to find the right answer. Work on your philosophy every day, a little at a time. Don’t rush your thinking. Good thinking takes time. Pace yourself. The answers that come quickly often aren’t the right ones.

Most often we find the wrong answer because we asked the wrong question. Ask the question a different way.

Why is there war in the world? That is a tough one. No good answer to that. Ask instead, “Am I safe?”

I hope you are. I hope that Lance Armstrong’s story is nothing more than entertainment for you. I hope there is no war where you are. I hope the trivial nonsense that passes for “news” today is not keeping you from enjoying this life.

I believe you exist, but if information to the contrary emerges, I am reserving the option of changing my mind. I would be stupid not to.