Category Archives: Background Perspective

Jail Break

“You going to get used to wearing them chains after a while. Don’t you ever stop listening to them clinking.” From “Cool Hand Luke”

Norfolk Prison“Holy Mother of God!” cried my great aunt Isabel Manley (Aunt ‘Tot’). She stood at the sink looking out the kitchen window into the woods and the railroad tracks behind their house. Her brother Charlie had escaped from the Norfolk Medium Security Prison in the adjoining town about five miles away. He emerged from the trees behind the house and Aunt Tot spotted him. Charlie was the baby of the family. He worked for the town as a laborer, which may indicate limited ability, but from a family with some connections in the town.

Two plain clothes detectives were waiting for him. My mother, when she was about twelve, and my grandmother, Molly Manley Laracy, had gone to the West Street house to await developments after the news circulated in Walpole about Charlie’s breakout. The cops waited patiently while my great grandmother, Margaret McHugh Manley, served Charlie what turned out to be (I believe) his last home cooked meal. He was twenty nine. What happened after that remains fuzzy.

“You know, that’s the first thing that got me about this place, that there wasn’t anybody laughing. I haven’t heard a real laugh since I came through that door, do you know that? Man, when you lose your laugh, you lose your footing.” Ken Kesey, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

 In the depths of the Depression, Charlie Manley robbed a gas station with a toy gun. His motive is unknown.  Piecing together the story from my ninety four year old mother and my one hundred and three year old Aunt Mary left some gaps. Other than the prison break story that my mother related to me recently, neither has any strong recollection of Charlie: he was kind to them as young girls, quiet, and a little shy, worked hard.

His older sister, Julia, married Timothy Cullinane, who rose through the ranks to become the respected and more than a little feared big Irish chief of police in Walpole. Timmy was jovial to his grand nephews and nieces, red faced, well over six feet with broad shoulders and a barrel chest. Their home was the family Christmas afternoon gathering place for a buffet feast, storytelling and laughter while we cousins were growing up. I learned as I got older that Uncle Timmy was not to be trifled with as a cop, however, and more than a few skulls suffered some dents from his night stick as a patrolman, then sergeant. His only child, Marie, taught at Boston College for many years.

No Irish Need ApplyCharlie’s father, Dan Manley, worked for the railroad as many Irish did, as a switch operator, steadier employment than many immigrants enjoyed. Aunt Tot stayed in the West Street house and took care of her parents, the proverbial Irish spinster working as a carder, combing cotton at Kendall Mills, Walpole’s largest employer. She and her brother, my Uncle John, lived in the house all of their lives, drifting into a mostly uneventful retirement. John had one healthy lung left after injuries sustained in a German mustard gas attack in the trenches of 1918 France. What I remember most about John was wry kidding of his grand nephew, his smoky laugh and his yellow, nicotine stained fingers. What I remember most about Aunt Tot was her cackling laugh that terrified me as a young boy. The smell of the old house lingers, cigarette smoke, a faint scent of aging and fading decrepitude – flower patterned, rough textured, lumpy living room furniture and a wall of full bookshelves, not show books, but gently worn. John’s pile of books rested on a side table by his lounger near the back window. Tot and John died within months of each other in 1966. Kid brother Charlie died in 1959 at the age of fifty six in the Bridgewater State Prison Hospital for the Criminally Insane, having never climbed out of “the system.”

“I listened to them fade away till all I could hear was my memory of the sound.” Ken Kesey, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

How Charlie made his way from Norfolk Medium Security Prison work parties in the local fields to deep incarceration in Bridgewater and why he fell from view from the family and everyone else is a mystery I hope to understand some day. Research on a forgotten prisoner who died over fifty years ago is a slog. No one at Norfolk Prison or Bridgewater State Hospital is amenable to giving out information over the phone. Perhaps someday I’ll find time to drive there and ask for the records. Whether they are forthcoming is a tale for another day. I hope it is not a “Cuckoo’s Nest” dreadful story of the incorrigible escapee the system cannot slot or handle, who succumbs to a thirties era enforced lobotomy and early death. The Irish family closed ranks tightly, and my mother and aunt have no idea what became of him.

A Hassidic rabbi once wrote this prayer: Let me not die while I am still alive. Did Charlie spend his years yearning to go back to what he had? When did he realize it wouldn’t be there anymore? He made mistakes beyond mending and became a ghost. There was no happy ending for Charlie.

“If he breaks a thing down, there is no rebuilding; if he imprisons a man, there is no release.” Job 12:14

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Resurrection

Finally crocus blooms“Lo, the winter is past, the rain is ended and gone away; flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds has come.” Song of Solomon, King James Version

I saw my father this week; it’s been a while. He died in 1982 on his sixty sixth birthday, so his appearances are infrequent and remembered only when I awaken shortly after them. He looked fit, dressed in his typical Saturday casual, not jeans: faded slightly rumpled khakis and a well-worn plaid shirt. No gunmetal sky pallor like the last time I spoke with him in the hospital; his color was healthy, more like he was quarterbacking the street tag football team: tanned, a little ruddy and flushed. We had a short, but satisfying visit. I explained to him how to use a leg press machine at the gym safely, so he would not injure himself. My Dad smiled kindly in a reticent Irish way and whispered that he already knew how.

 “Take care of all your memories, said Mick

For you cannot relive them

And remember when you’re out there tryin’ to heal the sick

That you must always first forgive them.” From “Open the Door, Homer” Bob Dylan

Holy Week.  Easter Sunday. I write of my faith infrequently. Politics and religion at a restaurant – almost never welcome and uncomfortable for those at the next table. Intensely personal, as all faith is, it informs, though, how I see the world, how I think. As it must, or I would be a great fool to hold it dear.

Sitting on a limestone ledge near the edge of the Grand Canyon last month, I was thinking about time and vastness in two contexts from my eclectic recent reading of Aquinas and early twentieth century physics. In Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas tells us that time for God is closer to Einsteinian relativity than to Newtonian absolute time: time is a product of our measuring it. [i]  For St. Thomas, the past is no longer actual nor the future yet actual. “Eternity only touches time in the present.” Regrets and guilt are not productive. Anxiety about what may never come is not useful. We have only today; we have only now.

Gianna Barek thinking big thoughts“God is very big, Papa. Bigger than you. Bigger than the whole world and the stars.” Gianna Barek

In Blaise Pascal’s notable gamble, God either is or He isn’t. No absolute proof for or against is possible. “Why not believe?” asks Pascal, because the consequences of betting wrong are eternal loneliness and alienation.  The consequence of being right on atheism is mere extinction, and one’s choices have no effect in this regard. Although Monsieur Pascal was much brighter than I, I believe him to be wrong with his minimalist bet on two counts: his gamble promises too little for and asks too little of the believer.

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

The question is this: If the blind cannot see it, does the sun cease to warm us? If blindness is a deliberately chosen mind and spirit closed to faith, does that have any bearing on the reality of the existence of God, of redemption in the cross and resurrection? If we choose not to be open to the possibility, does the truth, if it is so, cease to be true?

“The life of contemplation in action and purity of heart is a life of great simplicity and inner liberty. One is not seeking anything special or demanding any particular satisfaction. One is content with what is. One does what is to be done, and the more concrete it is, the better. One is not worried about the results of what is done. One is content to have good motives and not too anxious about making mistakes. In this way one can swim with the living stream of life and remain at every moment in contact with God, in the hiddenness and ordinariness of the present moment with its obvious task.” Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience

[i] Of course, St. Thomas preceded Newton and Einstein by centuries. His purpose was theological. See Peter Kreeft’s excellent notes in his “Summa of the Summa.”

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Spring Snow

“April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Winter kept us warm, covering

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

A little life with dried tubers.”  ‘The Waste Land’, T.S. Eliot

The apple tree in our backyard remains dormant, and no buds swell. Grass, appearing and starting to green this week after months of winter covering, has resettled under new fallen snow this first morning of spring. A gentle snow fell with a higher sun backlighting a gray sky different from a winter sky, not the windblown dark storms of January. A pair of small woodpeckers came back to our suet log in the Rose of Sharon north of the kitchen sink window. We put out seed again for the chickadees, two mourning doves, red winged blackbirds and other over wintering birds that frequent the cedars and sugar maple. The swings out in back, re-hung on a warm day last week, are white coated and still. Spring snow portends of our mortality.

“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”  John 12:24

While running Saturday errands, at one of our stops, a thirty something woman approached us with two children, one in a front baby carrier and an obviously blind nine year old girl, Adrianne. Her Mom was petitioning with a colorful paper decorated can to help defray expenses while the family recovered from the loss of her husband’s employment. They had moved from Vermont for cancer treatment for Adrianne last summer. The radiation for her brain tumor arrested the growth of the tumor, but damaged Adrianne’s optic nerve. The father had taken the other four children to the nearby Dunkin Donuts to warm up.  The family was surviving with the support of the local St.  Lucy’s Parish pastor, Father John O’Brien, and the generosity of a local motel, which was putting them up with a deep discount during the winter off season.  They are on a list and hope to have a local rental apartment soon.

Rita spoke to her, helped a little, and we drove to the next stop on the Saturday list. First feeling overwhelmed with this family’s loss, we discussed it in the car and went back. I spoke to her some more; she was remarkably cheerful and friendly given her plight. Her husband had given up a good job with housing in Vermont as a caretaker, so they could tend to Adrianne. As yet he has been unable to find employment, although he is not without skills with experience in carpentry and masonry. They had run off together when she was sixteen, the same age her oldest son is now. Her home life as a child had been difficult, her parents divorced, estranged and unable to help. She told me how blessed she and her husband were to remain in love, together with their beautiful kids. Intelligent and with a lively face, she relayed this remarkable journey in five minutes in front of BJ’s Wholesale Market to total strangers. I sensed no self-pity, no resignation, and no resentment, only hope with immense love for her family and for her faith.

We helped a little more, and I gave her my business card to give to her husband. I hope he calls.  I hope I will be able to help to find a job for him.

What folly and unhappiness in our petty complaints, grudges and in our lack of gratitude for the everyday blessings of our lives. What joy and peace in perseverance, patience, forgiveness and a thankful heart.

“My life is but an instant, an hour which passes by. My life is a moment which I have no power to stay.  You know, oh my God, that to love you here on earth – I have only today.” St. Therese of Lisieux

 

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November 22, 1963

”It may be he shall take my hand And lead me into his dark land And close my eyes and quench my breath-“ “I Have a Rendezvous with Death” one of JFK’s favorite poems – Alan Seeger

John-John under his father's deskAs it was for 9/11/01, all of us beyond early childhood in 1963 remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot dead in Dallas. For those in and around Boston, Massachusetts, the tragic announcement hit home hard and fast. Irish Catholics in neighborhoods like Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury kept Kennedy shrines with pictures and candles. I was a seventeen year old freshman eating lunch and playing Hearts with some new friends in the cafeteria on campus at Boston College, when a Jesuit dean came into the room and made the shocked announcement. Kennedy was not yet officially declared dead but was gravely wounded in Parkland Memorial Hospital. We bowed our heads while he prayed. Small groups with all the professor – student boundaries broken down gathered around radios and those few televisions that could be found.

Cardinal Cushing, a close friend of the Kennedy family, closed all the Catholic schools and universities in his diocese within the hour. We drove aimlessly listening to the car radio; the city was unearthly quiet, no one worked; mixed clusters of Bostonians crowded around appliance stores with TVs, in bars, and bunched near parked cars with windows down and radios on. Throughout the weekend our family retreated to home and sat stunned in front of the television watching hours of news about the murder of Dallas police officer, J.D. Tippit, the manhunt for Lee Harvey Oswald, his capture in the movie theater, the diorama of Jackie in her bloody dress standing next to Vice President Lyndon Johnson being sworn in as President on Air Force One with her husband’s coffin back in what had been their bedroom that morning.

We watched numbly as the line passed President Kennedy lying in state at the Capital through the night, the horse without a rider and the boots turned backwards, the many foreign rulers and dignitaries at the funeral, a grim President Johnson, the grief stricken, stoic Kennedy icons Bobby, Teddy, Jackie and the kids Caroline and John-John. John-John saluting his father’s flag draped casket. Old pictures repeated many times over the weekend of John-John peeking out from under his father’s desk in the Oval Office while his dad did the work of the most powerful man in the world. Pictures of Caroline riding her pony, Macaroni; Jackie and Jack happy, tanned in sunglasses and casual clothes on the back of a sailboat. Playing tag football with his brothers on the lawn in Hyannis. Camelot bled. My mother wept.

john-john saluting his father's flag draped casketWe lived for days with an exhausted and bereaved Walter Cronkite on CBS News in black and white. When we thought we could absorb no more, we were rendered gap-jawed yet again. As we strained for a look at the assassin being moved at the jail, we saw him gut shot by Jack Ruby on live television, the twenty four year old Oswald’s face distorted in shock and pain. We heard the beginnings of a cornucopia of conspiracy theories, no one wanting to believe that such a man could be taken down by a random act of seemingly deranged violence. Yet the lone wolf assassin with a mail order Italian rifle, shooting from the Texas School Book Depository narrative stuck – with the Warren Commission signing off.

No grassy knoll, no coconspirators, no Mafia, no Cubans, no Russians, no CIA or plotting LBJ, no John Birch Society, no Oliver Stone, no Jim Garrison. The horrific Zapruder home movie with the first shot through his throat and into Texas Governor John Connally, the seconds that seem like hours between shots when we still want to yell hopelessly, “Get down!” The second shot – blood, brains, final. Jackie in shock crawling in her pink dress and pillbox hat over the trunk of the fast moving limo trying to recover part of her husband’s skull blown away as the car accelerated to a way too late escape. That’s what we were left with.

With records sealed seemingly forever, it seemed my questions would not be answered in this lifetime, until on our trip last month to visit Bob and Cathy Cormack, Bob showed me a book I have not been able to put down. How I missed it seven years ago can only be ascribed to preoccupation.

“As I will demonstrate, everything suggests the Soviet Union recruitment of Oswald when he was assigned as a young Marine in Japan. In the available documents I also uncovered clear evidence that his mission upon his return to the United States was to assassinate President Kennedy, who had forced Khrushchev to erect the Berlin Wall in 1961 and hastily withdraw his nuclear missiles from Cuba in 1962. Never before had a Soviet leader been so egregiously humiliated.” From the preface of ”Programmed to Kill, Lee Harvey Oswald, the Soviet KGB, and the Kennedy Assassination – The Training of a Dedicated Agent,” Ion Mihai Pacepa, 2007

Ion Pacepa defected in 1978 from Romanian intelligence, a subsidiary of Soviet intelligence. He was the national security advisor to Romania’s president and acting chief of his foreign intelligence service; he supervised the Romanian equivalent of the American National Security Agency (NSA). Pacepa is the highest ranking Soviet bloc intelligence officer ever to defect to the U.S. In well annotated detail, he describes Lee Harvey Oswald as fitting perfectly the pattern of Soviet recruitment of disaffected American military personnel during the long, Cold War. Oswald’s arranged marriage to Marina, his reinsertion into the U.S., his relationships with known Soviet covert and overt agents all fit the mold of a ”serzhant,” as these agents were called.

Oswald first came to the attention of the PGU (Pervoye Glavnoye Upravleniye), the Soviet espionage service and First Chief Directorate of the KGB, when he was a radar operator in a clandestine base in Japan. When he defected to the USSR, he was treated as royalty, especially after data he supplied on the altitude patterns of the top secret American U2 spy plane led to the downing of one in May of 1960 and the capture of its pilot, Gary Powers. In 1961, he was persuaded by the PGU to train as a clandestine sleeper agent with his mission to assassinate the “Pig” and “son of the millionaire” as Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev often referred to the young president who had bested him.

“Programmed to Kill” is an well written study that reads like a spy novel about the inner workings of the KGB and the Soviet Union at its zenith. Khrushchev rescinded the assassination order after his brutality in previous assassinations and attempted assassinations was revealed. Murder was one of his main tools of state, but with the publicity, the Politburo was losing faith in him. The assassination of an American President at his hand could bring Khrushchev himself to a bullet into the back of his head in the basement of the Lubyanka. The PGU lost control of Oswald and feared in an effort to return to Russia a bigger hero, he would complete his original mission in Dallas on his own. All the related Soviet bloc intelligence services began immediately a massive, well run disinformation campaign to deflect attention away from the USSR, casting blame on the CIA, President Johnson and right wing Texas political elements. Dallas nightclub owner and police “hanger on” Jack Ruby, an illegal agent of Cuban intelligence services, was convinced to shoot Oswald to silence him. Ruby was in turn murdered using a well-developed KGB radioactive poison technique inducing a virulent, fast killing cancer.

Credible and chilling, the story holds together, and the book is well worth your time if you have interest in the Kennedys, the assassination, KGB spy craft and the history of a pivotal event in our history. The death of President Kennedy, and the subsequent murders of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, helped to precipitate the cynicism leading to the tsunami of cultural transformation in my generation that resonates to this day.

“The Kennedy assassination was one of the extremely rare cold war episodes in which both sides were vitally interested in hiding the truth.” ”Programmed to Kill, Lee Harvey Oswald, the Soviet KGB, and the Kennedy Assassination – The Training of a Dedicated Agent,” Ion Mihai Pacepa, 2007

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Abert Squirrels, Ponderosa Pine and the Mysteries of the Planet

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” “Essays on Conservation from Round River” Aldo Leopold.

IMG_0333During our recent stay in Flagstaff, Arizona, we were entertained through the window at breakfast by Abert squirrels feeding on the cones of the Ponderosa pines scattered throughout the grounds of the hotel.  Curious creatures, they are quite different from our New England gray squirrel and are primarily found on the Colorado Plateau in the Southwest with tasseled ears and eating pine cones like corn on the cob to get to the seeds. Their obvious attraction for the pines (I’m used to squirrels and oaks, not pine trees) prompted a little research, first to identify them, then to learn a bit about them. From spring to fall, Aberts feed on the tender phloem (inner bark) of the pine twigs; they chew around the bark, exposing the treat.  When they are finished, the twigs fall to the ground, providing fodder for mule deer, normally too high for deer to reach without a squirrel assist.  In the winter, Ponderosa cones are the main source of Abert food, since they don’t store acorns or hibernate, eat they must.

A single squirrel tends to return to one tree year after year and can cause defoliation. Abert squirrels eat almost exclusively Ponderosa pine shoots and cones, but they provide a great benefit to them through a cooperating third party, ectomycorrhizal (EM) fungi.  EM fungi strands act as extensions of Ponderosa pine roots; they are a vital component of those forests, helping trees draw water, nitrogen, phosphorous and other nutrients into the roots.  In turn the fungus obtains needed carbohydrates from the tree.  A secondary source of food for Abert squirrels is the fruiting body of EM fungi. Passing through the squirrel, the spores survive, spreading the fungi crucial to other Ponderosa’s existence. So the next time someone tells you that someone else is as useless as squirrel poop, you now have a rebuttal. This three way symbiosis is another of nature’s wonders.  Many examples of inextricably entwined animal to plant or plant to plant cooperatives are indispensable to the varied ecosystems that make up our planet’s living things. Abert squirrels aren’t just cute; they are metaphors for the complexity and dynamic interdependence so essential to the survival of all life here.

“No matter how intently one studies the hundred little dramas of the woods and meadows, one can never learn all the salient facts about any one of them.” “Essays on Conservation from Round River” Aldo Leopold.

Beside our main objective, the Grand Canyon, we took some side trips from Flagstaff. One was to Walnut Creek Canyon with its pueblos occupied, then abandoned a thousand years ago by the Sinagua, a pre-Columbian people who flourished from approximately 700 AD to 1500 AD. A Western branch of the Anasazi people, they contributed to the genetic and cultural make up of modern day Hopi.  Their name for themselves is still lost, but anthropologists named them “Sinagua,” Spanish for “without water.”

IMG_0260Walnut Creek Canyon is a National Monument located less than fifteen minutes from downtown Flagstaff.  Approximately 600’ deep, its rim is at around 6,700’ elevation. Ponderosa pines along with our Abert squirrels are abundant along the rim.  A Douglas fir ecosystem is on the northern shaded slopes of the canyon; directly opposite on the sunny southern slopes is a completely different ecosystem typical of the high desert with prickly pear cactus, other cacti and yucca plants.  In its shady depths, near the creek are Arizona black walnut trees, for which the canyon is named.  Over twenty species of edible plants are there besides the yucca, walnut and prickly pear cactus, including wild grape and elderberry. The contrast of the shady and sunny sides of the canyon is startling.

Up on the rim, the Sinagua hunted deer, big horn sheep and smaller animals.  They learned to construct dry farming flood pits in which they grew maize corn, beans and squash, the three sisters of Native American agriculture. The biodiversity of the canyon provided them food, medicine and abundant building materials, with our old friend Ponderosa pine supplying perfect ladder and beam stock.  The Sinagua got by on about a gallon of water per person per day. We modern day Americans use about 150 gallons a day for all our purposes.

We have become remote from our planet, its complexity, its beauty, its wonder, its remarkable life, and with that remoteness given away something precious to our understanding of who we are.  Aldo Leopold wrote, “Civilization has so cluttered this elemental man-earth relationship with gadgets and middlemen that awareness of it is growing dim.”

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty.  It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.”  “Essays on Conservation from Round River” Aldo Leopold.

My friend Matthew gave me a transcription of Pope Francis’ general audience on World Environment Day in June, 2013. (Link to whole document)”Cultivating and caring for creation is an instruction of God which He gave not only at the beginning of history, but has also given to each one of us.”  He said that “cultivating and caring” for the earth entailed not only the relationship between man and creation, but to human relations as well – a human ecology.  Francis warns that the environment and other persons suffer when we heedlessly acquire in a “culture of waste,” sacrificed to the idols of consumption. His advice is concrete, achievable by all of us at an intimate level.  What do we eat?  What do we consume?  What do we waste?  What are our idols?

Pope Francis advises us to affect what we can in our daily lives and decisions.  Not a counsel of pompous self righteousness which can infect the “environmental” community; not a proud self aggrandizement, counting ourselves as enlightened and condemning others: businesses, governments, the rich, but possessing a calm confidence in doing the right thing each day:  achievable beginning immediately, human and personal. This does not mean we don’t strive to understand, to address and to improve local and even global issues, but that we start with today, with ourselves and with our families.

I’m not suggesting we revert to subsistence hunter gatherers, only that each of us more frequently simply goes for walks, if not in wild places, at least in the forest, along streams and the ocean, grows some things in our gardens so that we don’t come to believe that the only source of our food is at Whole Foods, and in those quiet pursuits, think about our origins, our journey and our purpose.           

“The wilderness will lead you to the place where I will speak.” Hosea (Come Back to Me), Gregory Norbet

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Climate Change

IMG_0212“What you do not know is the only thing you know.”  T.S. Eliot

           No apt words from this inadequate chronicler can define the Grand Canyon experience, and even photographers (like Rita) with a good eye are able only to approximate its dignity and intimation of eternity. Ten miles wide and a mile deep, coming to a human perspective is nigh on impossible, most certainly for a modest blogger.

The canyon as currently viewable was created by four distinct and necessary geological phases unequally spanning about one and one half billion years. The oldest layers are the deepest and the most recently exposed.  “Recent” is a relative term for us mortals as geological time is similarly difficult to grasp.

The Grand Canyon’s one mile depth is ever changing and growing deeper at the geological fast track rate of about the thickness of a sheet of paper every year. The basement stone is one and one half miles deep, and a fraction is exposed.  This schist or bedrock level sits above the earth’s mantle and was the first stage of the deposition phase of the canyon’s formation, which commenced 1.6 billion years ago or approximately half our weary old planet’s age.  During this period, the land mass was covered by ocean with multiple volcanoes providing the entertainment.  The slow aggregation of the one and a half mile depth of super-heated volcanic activity and magma spanned millennia.

Next up the canyon wall is shale that built up at the bottom of massive swamps after the ocean drained owing to cyclical temperature changes – shale that is clearly delineated greenish gray and relatively soft. Above this is four hundred feet of red tinted limestone that accrued over many thousands of years of calcium buildup from countless generations of bountiful bone and shell decaying after new temperature change brought back the ocean. Red is not limestone’s natural color, but it has been tinted from the iron rich runoff of the few hundred feet of Cocohino sandstone above it. Sandstone clearly shows the ripples of its wind driven drifting during the centuries of desert that formed when the oceans again left the area during yet another naturally occurring era when giant sand dunes were the landscape about 265 million years ago.

Above this is the cap layer of gray white limestone when once again climate altered and back flowed the ocean for millions of years.  Another mile of various layers accumulated during the long deposition phase and various climate changes.  These layers have over millions of years eroded or been scraped away by thousands of feet of glacial ice to expose the current rim of the canyon that lies about 6,900 feet above sea level.

Three more phases, all exactly necessary, followed, or there would be no canyon. The massive Pacific tectonic plate collided with the Continental plate, which possessed the hard and immovable bottom schist layer.  The Pacific plate, unable to crush its way across the Continental dove under it, compelling it up thousands of feet.  What had been at sea level, now rose several miles.  The third phase saw more changes of climate, including Ice Ages. These new mountains spawned the Colorado River, flowing ever downward seeking the sea.  Finally, wind and water erosion from the many tributaries, over eons, widened  the river basin in the soft rock from the hundred feet or so of the river five miles out on each side. Fifteen hundred million years of widely diverse, cyclical climate change carved out a miracle.

“The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.  Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Farewell Address 1961 (same address that cautioned the nation about the military/industrial complex).  (Link to full address)

No rational person can be a climate change denier any more than a rational person could deny a heliocentric planetary system of which we are the third planet out.  But let us consider that most people and many scientists  believe ourselves to be living in the age of ultimate enlightenment, and that current theory is the final one. Archimedes, Newton, Galileo, Boyle and Einstein believed they had nailed down an understanding of nature, structures and how things worked, and all had made some asymptotic progress.  But none of them had the final answer on Jeopardy.

The issues at hand: what is the current trend of inevitable climate change, what portion of that change is man caused, and what can or should we do to prepare for or mitigate it?  A secondary question, and a critical one for those trying to formulate policy regarding climate change, is what bias exists among those ‘ologists’ studying the phenomena?  When scientists tell us that the science is settled, they have ceased to be scientists and have become advocates.  Their efforts are then spent proving what they have established to be true. Peer review becomes verification, dogma and evangelism.

Have they first defined, and then conformed to an ideological and political narrative? Have the data and statistics been bundled, and do their interpretation and resulting policy recommendations form a consistent drum beat?  Unfortunately, there are dual beats, which are unalterably opposed and express a clear schism along political lines.  Not a good setting to try and do the right thing or the effective thing, if indeed, there is such a policy to be found.

To oversimplify, the right tends to deny there is global warming, and if there is,  it is within the limits of normal climate cycles. Even if it isn’t, what can we do about it, since the worst perpetrators of the CO2 and particulate emission are rapidly growing formerly third world economies that deeply resent former massive despoilers of the environment, who are now preaching with the fervor of recent converts.  “We’ll inhibit our growth by layering on the costs of responsible energy policy when we’ve caught up to you who operated under the old rules while you grew your economy and lifestyle.” Or something like that.

For the left, which includes almost all of academia, current government policy makers and major media, global warming is established science, a panicked crisis, and the only solution is to lower carbon based energy source use precipitously through whatever draconian enforcement and rule making necessary. Economic consequences be damned.  The data that is not reformulated to fit a model curve show that in the last decade the warming has leveled off, which conflicts with the models created by the very scientists who bang the drum.  These models have failed utterly in predictive capability when put to the test.  To jigger the measurements to conform to the models is a continuing, largely unreported scandal and justified by the perpetrators in tweaking the data to conform because, after all, the model must be right, and is for the greater good anyway.

Can we listen to Ike on this?  Has money fatally infected science with an unholy predisposition?  To wit: government bureaucracy, especially left leaning bureaucracy, has as its most sacred postulate a necessity to regulate and to metastasize.  This amorphous, consuming blob through confiscatory tax policy takes our money and among many other self-serving profligacies dispenses grants to scientists.  Scientists have devolved from truth seekers into grant seekers and peer recognition junkies.  Grant seekers get money by conforming to the narrative beloved by the regulators and funders.  Peer reviewed scientific papers bear fruit when their conclusions conform to the same narrative, a narrative perpetuated by other grant seekers and the grant dispensers.  Can this self-perpetuating conformity be healthy for truly unbiased truth seeking?  Of course it can’t.

“Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Ranier Maria Rilke

Interesting counterpoint.  See Youtube video with an award winning meteorologist, John Coleman, “How the Global Warming Scare Began“:   Link here.

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Shibboleths

Vulnerability and persistence

Vulnerability and persistence

The origin of the word “”shibboleth” is from the Hebrew meaning the part of the plant containing grain, like the ear of corn.  In a Bible story the Gileadites used the word to identify the Ephraimites, who couldn’t manage the “sh” sound.  Midwesterners today detect us New Englanders by our inability to get our “r”s in the right place, sometimes substituting “h”s, making it difficult to discuss parking the car or wearing shorts without inviting ridicule.  Or upon hearing “irregardless”, we identify those who paid insufficient attention to Miss Flynn in eighth grade grammar classes.

We tag whole groups of people (and situate ourselves in fixed categories) by our choices of words. If a new acquaintance frequents the phrases “global warming” and “we need carbon credit swaps,” we intuit a quick picture and change the subject.  No rational discussion about the record setting ice depth in Antarctica will follow. A polar divide separates us.  If one person in temporary grouping at a party starts in on “gun control” and “banning automatic weapons,” while another stakes out “Second Amendment rights,” it may be time to refresh our glass at the bar. When a condescending scientism true believer comes down on some dinner companions as blind Creationist fools if they question in any way unfettered Darwinism or simply ask ‘how did all this come about ex nihilo with no First Cause?,’ the conversation is not going to get enlightening or productive anytime soon.

“Science must not impose any philosophy, any more than the telephone must tell us what to say.”  G.K. Chesterton

Nowhere is the conservative/progressive divide less amenable to be bridged than between the semantics of “reproductive rights” or “death with dignity” and “the right to life of human persons from conception to natural death.”  Last week four old friends gathered for lunch; we had worked together for over twenty years in what for me was now five companies ago.  If the volatile housing market and the credit crisis of the early nineties had not intervened, I would be more than content to be working side by side with all of them still.  Two are running companies in my industry, and the third (and proximate cause of the gathering) is retired and recently recovered from a serious illness.  While enjoying a post lunch coffee, the conversation turned (as it occasionally had in the past) to this unbridgeable pro-abortion rights – prolife gap.  Yet with intelligent companions of good will, a civil, yet spirited conversation ensued among men who really like and respect each other.

Since this is my blog (let them make their own), please bear with the debate from my side of the chasm.  I espoused only secular and scientific argument.  If sacred scripture was allowed in and accepted at face value, there is no debate; those documents are clear and consistent in this regard.  Rather than get sidetracked into Christian apologetics, although ultimately they are more ultimate, we stuck to common, mostly agreed upon ground.

We agreed that at conception this new entity contained within herself all the genetic information necessary to distinguish her from all other human beings, a unique creature, human in nature, who was differentiated from all others and needed only time, nutrition and oxygen to mature.  This is merely science, and no biologist, geneticist or embryologist could disagree.

Then we diverged.

Is one reasonable measuring rod of the humaneness and moral character of a culture its ability to protect the vulnerable, the innocent who cannot protect themselves?  And if so, how are we doing, when we kill over a million of them a year just in our country?  Is that a metric that speaks well of us?  Can we do any better than that?

What about the humanity and rights of the woman, and her ability to choose whether she will bear a child?  I respond that I resent the pro-choice label bestowed only to those who favor abortion.  I am very pro-choice myself, however our choices are narrowed once an innocent and helpless third party is subject to those choices, and the tiny one has no choice.  I think the choice for the mother comes much earlier.  Leaving rape aside as a miniscule percentage of causes of abortion, even the case for saving the lives of women from back alley, illicit abortions pre Roe v. Wade, is weak.  Due to their much higher frequency more women die each year from legal abortion complications than ever died of illegal ones.

Well of course it’s killing, says my most honest friend, but they are not citizens, and therefore not entitled to the protections of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The woman is a citizen and therefore has more rights. Then why have attorneys been appointed by the court to protect the inheritance rights of fetuses, if they are not to enjoy at least some of the rights of other citizens?

“The baby, assailed by eyes, ears, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming, buzzing confusion..”  “The Principles of Psychology,” William James, 1890

Clearly the only pertinent and insistent question is this: is the pre born child (or fetus, so we don’t write the conclusion into the premise), a human being? What is the unborn? The answer to this leads inexorably to the immorality or morality of killing it.  What then are those distinguishing characteristics which differentiate the fetus from the citizen, the fully functioning human person with the attendant dignity and worth of a human person, which must be protected by a moral society?  Can we agree on four?[i]

  1. Size. Does Vince Wilfort or Lebron James have more rights and deserve more protection than an adolescent or a 4’11” woman? Or an adolescent more consideration for their lives than an infant?
  2. Level of Development. Does an educated professional have more rights and deserve more protection than an elementary school student or a potty training toddler? Would the torture and murder of a two year old be tolerated by a humane society? If not, why is a less developed pre born fair game?
  3. Environment. (in the womb or out of it). Is the astronaut or submariner, who requires for their every moment the constant protection of a temporarily borrowed and necessary environment outside of themselves, a lower form of human, subject to the choice of her superior whether she lives or dies?
  4. Dependency. Is the person who requires weekly dialysis or the person who requires a respirator or the person under anesthesia and on a heart lung machine during surgery less human than the doctors and nurses providing the care?

The answers to these questions establish the nature and humanity of the unborn.  And the one question that transcends all others in this discussion remains:  What is the unborn?  How we answer that defines our humanity and the humanity of our culture.

The fourth friend, an educated, thoughtful man I have known for over forty years finally joined the conversation.  I was not sure of his position during the debate, but at the end, he answered all the questions, it seems to me.  “I can’t say with certainty when human life begins.  Given the stakes, doesn’t that make it all the more urgent, that we err on the side of caution?”   Just so, my friend, just so.

 “I will give thanks to You for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.. You formed my inward parts. You wove me in my mother’s womb” Psalm 139”

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.  Before you were born, I set you apart.”  Jeremiah 1:5

 

[i] Thanks to Scott Klusendorf and his excellent pamphlet on this topic, which I whole heartedly recommend,  “Pro-Life 101” Stand to Reason Press, 2002

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A Wilderness of Error

Jonathan Gruber explains what's best for us

“The right thing can seem so wrong and the wrong thing seem so right that we easily become lost, to use Poe’s exquisite phrase, in a wilderness of error.” A Dancer in the Dust, Thomas H. Cook

Unless you have been visiting abroad, say in the Galapagos, you read about or watched Jonathan Gruber, an author of Obamacare. If you have been in the Galapagos, here is a two minute synopsis: Grubergate in Two Minutes from “American Commitment.” Former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, crowed once that the bill would have to be passed before we knew what was in it. This was not due solely to the closed door machinations and deals, cobbling together a bill meant to be ironed out in joint committee, but frozen, partially done, by the election of Scott Brown. Nor was it due entirely to being over 2,500 pages long and spawning tens of thousands of pages of regulations. The great majority of Americans and American legislators didn’t know what was in it because a.) Obamacare ACA was calculated to obfuscate, and b.) We were “too stupid” to understand it anyway, which was, after all, just as well. As Dr. Gruber clarified to his elite colleagues in academia, “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.”

“Speak boastfully no longer, nor let arrogance issue from your mouths.” 1 Samuel 2:3

Obamacare with all its errors in design, the subterfuge in its passage into law and its flawed implementation is a model of progressive mischief, but the ACA is also a metaphor for far more dangerous myopia. Lest we be mistaken, the hubris of the progressive “expert” knows few boundaries. The progressive is willing and able to take us where we ought to go, whether, or perhaps especially, when we do not know enough to want to go there. From their perspective, a stupid and ignorant electorate is best able to be led by those fully prepared to lead them. “Progressive” has become a self-contained oxymoron.

“The trouble is that we always define ‘forward’ as moving in our direction…but not everyone can, and not everyone should.” A Dancer in the Dust, Thomas H. Cook

Norman Angell wrote “The Great Illusion” in 1909 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in 1933. His premise was that large scale war in modern times was futile because of the complex economic interdependence of all the major nations; the cost even for the winners would be too great. His work particularly influenced English leadership, convincing them that even the “Hun” would not be so foolish. They remained in hope almost to the day German troops invaded Belgium and headed towards Paris. Treaty bound to Belgium, the United Kingdom watched as they were inexorably drawn into the beginning of World War I, the bloodiest war in human history until that time. The infirmity of purpose that encouraged the Kaiser was repeated with Neville Chamberlain’s vacillations twenty five years later prior to World War II. Adolph Hitler read the signs of his enemy’s hopeful delusion and warmed up with Austria and Poland before striding down the ChampsÉlysées. The butchery exceeded its predecessor. And so it goes.

For leaders to misunderstand their enemies by trusting optimistic and irresolute illusion kills faith in that leadership as well as the best of the youth under its stewardship.

“In the month of August 1914, there was something looming, inescapable, universal that involved us all. Something in that awful gulf between perfect plans and fallible men that makes one tremble.” Barbara Tuchman, “The Guns of August”

This week we were entertained with the administration’s attempt to placate the offended leaders of almost all major nations. The president once again led from behind by failing to send an appropriate level of representation to the solidarity march of those leaders in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo radical Jihadist attack. To make up for the gaffe, Secretary of State John Kerry gave a stiff hug to Francoise Hollande, the French Premier, and Kerry doubled down by bringing along a grinning James Taylor to sing his sappy “You’ve Got a Friend”. Bad sixties coffee shop folk singing to sooth all insults. If we hadn’t been inured to such awkwardness with six years of this tomfoolery, it would be embarrassing. Now it seems like just another day at the White House. One wag suggested in lieu of Taylor, it should have been Judy Collins with “Send in The Clowns.”

The relevance is not only the tone deafness, but the worldview, the progressive desire to see things as they would hope them to be, irrespective of how they are. Whether Hillary is entreating us to empathize with the Jihadists, Howard Dean denying that the Paris murders were carried out by Muslims or Barack Obama persisting in calling the Fort Hood killings “workplace violence” and Jihadist butchery as “radical extremism” not necessarily unlike  Timothy McVeigh or the demented Jim Jones.

Jihadist violence is inherent, and if we refuse to acknowledge that there is a war, we are probably losing. Releasing Gitmo Islamists who immediately resume killing us or negotiating with Iran over their nuclear ambitions are all of a piece. To the committed Jihadist, there is one dichotomy: dar al-Islam (The House of Islam) and dar al-harb (The House of War), the realm of peace and Islam, and the realm of war: that is everybody else. Leaving the rest of us alone, peaceful coexistence and religious tolerance is as impossible and foreign to them as government by, of and for the people, as constitutional law is to sharia, as democracy is to the Caliphate. Conversion or the sword are the options.

 “And fight with them until there is no more fitna (disorder, unbelief) and religion should be only for Allah!”  Quran (8:39)

“And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah [disbelief] is worse than killing…  Quran (2:191-193)

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Beyond Singularity

“Jake Spoon is a mighty leaky vessel to put all your hopes in.” – Gus McCrae, “Lonesome Dove”, Larry McMurtry

In the most recent quovadisblog.net post, we explored however briefly the future according to futurist Ray Kurzweil: the era when man and machine will be inextricably fused into one creature, eternal, omniscient and beyond time and space. A blog post can cover barely a brush by analysis of the roots of this prophesy of the goal of human existence. “Singularity,” a beatific vision of the faith of scientism, is a mighty leaky vessel to put all your hopes in.

How we got here is complicated, but some understanding of the journey which discarded nearly two millennia of human wisdom is worth a word or two.

“This (the abandonment of much of Socratic/Aristotelian thought), though silent and almost unnoticed, was the greatest revolution in human history, far outweighing in importance any of the political revolutions whose thunder has reverberated through the world.” W.T. Stace “Man against Darkness,” The Atlantic (Sept, 1948) as quoted in Leo Sweeney, S.J., “Authentic Metaphysics in an Age of Unreality,” as quoted in “The Last Superstition, A Refutation of the New Atheism,” Edward Feser, 2008

AristotleFor roughly eighteen centuries, the lodestone of Western thought was Aristotle. Before Christianity, before Mohammed, before the Roman Empire, Greek philosophy was true north for all else that was to follow. Until the “Enlightenment,” which wasn’t all light, metaphysics and the search for human wisdom and truth in Western culture relied on principles of natural law and some would say common sense well thought out. What we now deem “science,” and for many the only valid arbiter of truth, was an important, but contracted, aspect of man’s search for truth. All science is based on metaphysical assumptions and precepts. The metaphysical enclosed the hard sciences as a portion, but not the whole.

Aristotle posited that all things have four causes. The first is its material cause: the stuff out of which anything is made (be it wood, iron, chlorophyll, cells, etc.). The formal cause adds the form, structure or pattern which the material assumes and is of a kind that distinguishes it from other things made of the same stuff – be they humans and poodles or countertops and the Pieta. The formal cause exists outside of the thing, separate from it and is congruent with the same form that exists in our minds so that we recognize it. The third attribute is the efficient cause or that which brings a thing into being from exploding stars creating elements to a whittler’s knife carving images – it is what causes a thing to move from potentiality to actuality. Things must have the innate potential to become; and something must act upon them to realize that potential. Finally there is the final cause – that for which something exists, its purpose, its why.

Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas. “Lucky is he who has been able to understand the causes of things,” Virgil, Georgics, Book 2

For Thomas Aquinas, the human person’s formal cause is the soul, which exists beyond space and time; for Aristotle, mankind’s final cause as a “rational animal” is to know the truth, a truth both objective and within our mortal limits, attainable. Beginning slowly with Hume, Locke, Hobbes and the like, modern philosophy disavowed both formal and final causes. We find ourselves on the other side of Neitzsche, Sartre, and now Dawkins and Hitchens and are entangled in webs of relativism, skepticism and purposelessness. [i] Scientism offers us a “leaky vessel” way out, a “hope” rooted in hubris. A mutually exclusive dichotomy now assumed between science and religion was not always so, is erroneous and is not necessary.

Just as the eye was made to see colors, and the ear to hear sounds, so the human mind was made to understand. From “Astronomi Opera Omnia” Johannes Kepler

Science is not scientism; science is an objective search for a limited truth attainable by experimentation and careful observation. Science is agnostic to ultimate purpose or final causes. There is no inherent conflict with faith, but science cannot sound the depths of before time and space. First, science and modern philosophy do not recognize the existence of final causes; secondly they do not possess the means to evaluate them. It is not “faith or reason” that brings us to the fullness of understanding, but “faith and reason” – Fides et Ratio. Scientism is not science; scientism is a faith – a faith not in God, but in “not God.” As in all faiths, there are underlying tenets of that faith that can neither be proven absolutely or refuted absolutely. One can only judge the fruits of it.

Yet the positive results achieved (from pure reason and its handmaid, science) must not obscure the fact that reason, in its one-sided concern to investigate human subjectivity, seems to have forgotten that men and women are always called to direct their steps towards a truth which transcends them. Sundered from that truth, individuals are at the mercy of caprice, and their state as person ends up being judged by pragmatic criteria based essentially upon experimental data, in the mistaken belief that technology must dominate all. It has happened therefore that reason, rather than voicing the human orientation towards truth, has wilted under the weight of so much knowledge and little by little has lost the capacity to lift its gaze to the heights, not daring to rise to the truth of being. Abandoning the investigation of being, modern philosophical research has concentrated instead upon human knowing. Rather than make use of the human capacity to know the truth, modern philosophy has preferred to accentuate the ways in which this capacity is limited and conditioned. Fides et Ratio, 1998 encyclical, Saint John Paul.

Here is an example that may help clarify how it works. Many years ago the Jesuits at Boston College tried to teach me logic, epistemology and other arcane subjects that at the time seemed completely irrelevant to the real world. Pearls cast to swine (or sophomores), I suppose. Of course what they were trying to do was teach me to think; they tried with limited success to inculcate into me a disciplined mind. Perhaps these many decades later to their credit, a few lessons stuck. Among the many examples of logical fallacy we learned was circular reasoning, wherein the preordained conclusion of an argument is baked into the premises to deliver stillborn real debate and analysis.

One such banal argument from the atheist goes like this: Since you benighted theists insist that your God is all good and all powerful and all loving, why is there still evil in the world? Hah! Take that! There is no God! Christian theology replies with an eternal Love, a Person, whose “ways are not our ways”, and of the free will inherent to the human person, free even to choose evil, but free will necessary to the nature of the dignity and worth of a free person. It also teaches of the mystery of suffering and redemptive suffering revealed by God as also necessary to the human person in some way not fully fathomable within our mortal coil, but exemplified and made of inestimable value by Jesus. These and other aspects of this most difficult subject require not only a lifetime of study and understanding, but more importantly prayer, reflection and relationship with God through Jesus. [ii]

But if the discussion is shut down with a trite aphorism with the unstated premise that there is not really any God that can shed light on darkness, but if there was, He could not be all powerful and all good and all knowing and permit evil, therefore He doesn’t exist, the argument reveals itself to be, “there is no God, therefore, there is no God.”

When the true believers of scientism draw their conclusions, they mask as scientific, rational and objective that which was preordained in its premises.

Perhaps there is no God; perhaps God is a Divine Watchmaker who set in motion the laws of the universe and left the premises; perhaps the “Irreducible complexity” debate of the Intelligent Design advocates is really another “god of the gaps” syllogism in a new guise. But perhaps, just perhaps, that as the Jesuits taught me our souls are eternal, as is God, and that we exist on this beleaguered planet, which rides within our solar system, our galaxy and our universe with all of them constantly and intimately enfolded within the Mind of God, utterly dependent for each moment on that Loving Mind.

“I assure you, my brothers, that even to this day it is clear to some that the words which Jesus speaks are spirit and life, and for this reason they follow Him. To others these words seem hard, and so they look elsewhere for some pathetic consolation.” St. Bernard, abbot

[i] For a good analysis of the etiology of the current brand of popular atheism and its convoluted path from the Enlightenment to modernity, try “The Last Superstition, A Refutation of the New Atheism,” Edward Feser, 2008 St. Augustine’s Press.

[ii] See C.S. Lewis “The Problem of Pain”

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Singularity

“Ray Kurzweil is the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence. His intriguing new book envisions a future in which information technologies have advanced so far and fast that they enable humanity to transcend its biological limitations – transforming our lives in ways we can’t imagine yet.” Bill Gates

Every week it seems business and culture news emerges about the “internet of things.” Our daily lives produce data, and these metadata are tracked, compiled and used to predict, make more comfortable, market to us and filter what we see, hear and experience on the web. Not just tailoring our internet searches to what the search engine “thinks” we want to know, but analyzing key words in our emails and where we linger on the web to “ascertain” through artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms what interests us. Then putting us in touch with our patterns, selling us stuff and fashioning the right box into which we fit – a Procrustean bed. Software is being generated to enhance the sluggish “key words” analysis and advance to concepts and thoughts, something in which computers have not yet surpassed us in ability. They have long since passed us in sheer computing power, speed and memory. Next generation AI software brings intuition and those types of “thinking without thinking” formerly uniquely human judgments written about in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink.” Computers are learning to learn and replicate on their own. We are evermore typecast and channeled, aided and abetted into what is profitable financially or politically for someone.

Our smart phones, tablets, computers are joined by our medical records, cars, alarm systems, baby monitors, refrigerators, dish washers, furniture and soon our carpets, toothbrushes, and for all we know toilet seats will feed the maw of data about us. The cloud will know all.

Our rugs will inform us (and the cloud) how often we walk across them, whether we have fallen down and can’t get up, if an unknown walker treads softly upon them or perhaps if we get romantic in front of our fireplace and how long we persist at it. We will go from our smart home to our driverless car, and it will take us door to door.

If we thought the NSA was intrusive, we are desperately naïve. And this is just getting started.

“I would say humans are not purely biological. We’ve already expanded humanity with our technology, and the technology is part of humanity; we are the technology.” Ray Kurzweil

Dr. Kurzweil reflects the hopes of many of those whose belief system is exclusively “scientism,” which holds that science, the scientific method and mathematical reasoning is the only true arbiter of truth and in which we will find humankind’s salvation. The irony of this worldview is while such true scientism believers deride metaphysics, the concepts upon which all of science rests are metaphysical in nature. [i] Scientism is an alternate religion.

He envisions nanobots in our brain, hooked up directly into the cloud. No more fingers on keyboards and mouse to search the internet for knowledge. Our thoughts and memories will access the cloud immediately; we will be one with the cloud, and the cloud will be one with us. He coined the term “Singularity” for this, and his eponymous book ten years ago predicted this state of oneness with computers is not three, two or even one hundred years ahead in science fiction. 2045 is his date for “achieving” singularity. [ii]

Our children and grandchildren will see this, according to the futurist, perhaps even ourselves if we stay healthy and achieve the second aspect of his prediction. All human body parts will be repairable or replaceable with genetic manipulation and perfectly cloned parts from our own DNA, so our brains will become part of the cloud, and our bodies will take on immortality. Millions of car recalls, the roll out of the Affordable Care Act, just my recent experience in figuring out how our new dishwasher worked come to mind. Singularity? What could go wrong?

“And what would they be scared of? There’s nothing to fear in a perfect world, is there?” Catherine Fisher (Welsh author and poet)

Much dystopian science fiction has described computers and robots gradually assuming more and more of our daily lives, then assuming everything. From 2001’s nemesis computer HAL killing the astronauts to Isaac Asimov’s super central computer controlling all in “I Robot” it gets worse. The three rules proscribing that a robot may not harm and must protect any human being broke down. In the Terminator movies, Skybot makes the decision that human kind is a virus on the planet and unleashes genocidal warfare upon us.

I have no mouth and I must screamPerhaps the most awful end for us “hairless apes” is found in Harlan Ellison’s short story from the sixties, “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.” The world’s computers hook up into one all encompassing web, wipe out all humans, but keep four around to torture. “AM” reads their thoughts and intention, controls not only their environment, but their biology – AM can keep them alive for its amusement with freshly minted organs virtually forever. After the protagonist, Ted, carefully avoids actively thinking of his “solution,” in a lightning strike frees his companions by killing them. AM transforms him into a limbless blob with no mouth and no ability for even suicide. The final line of the story is its title.

“Why do you ask how you were created and do not seek to know why you were made?” St. Peter Chrysologus

The modest objective of the self congratulatory and elated “Singularity” variety of science and technology is to supplant completely what was formerly reserved to religion and understood through the study of metaphysics. The technocrats will define and implement our happiness, immortality, omnipotence and fulfillment through becoming one with our machines.

How we got here is a topic which will require more than a few blog posts to begin to explore, and perhaps we shall root around a bit. The history extends back not just into the technology of the late nineteenth century through today, but to late medieval philosophers like William of Ockham, then on through Descartes, Hobbes, Locke and all the rest. To understand even peripherally what ideas have these consequences is not a trivial pursuit.

John Hammond, “All major theme parks have delays. When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked.”

Ian Malcolm, Yeah, but, John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.”  Jurrasic Park

[i] The concepts undergirding science are the stuff of philosophy.  A physical world exists outside our mind; that there are patterns which can be recognized by our senses reliably as sources of information; that we can form concepts and reason from premises to conclusion.  That causation and result are valid methods of understanding.  All of these and more are metaphysical concepts and provable through metaphysics and logic, not the scientific method.

[ii] Curiously, “singularity” is the scientific term for a single point in space-time of no dimensions, but infinite mass, which current hypothesis holds was blown up by a “quantum fluctuation” to trigger the Big Bang resulting in a inflating universe bubble in an infinite cosmos of other universe bubbles that has no beginning and no end.

 

 

 

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