…that I have another blog in which I try not to sound like a condescending asshole? If you know who I am, then you know how to find it.
My grandpa died last Friday morning and I attended his funeral today. Religious funerals are, not surprisingly, unsatisfying to me now. In fact, I found them insulting. Think about it: we assemble everyone that knew the deceased well, and listen to a speech by someone who barely knew him at all talk about someone none of us knew. I’ll put aside the numerous other offenses for this post. What I want to do here is record for myself some close approximation of what I would have said.
People like to mention that every World War 2 veteran that dies was a World War 2 veteran, and this will be no exception. He didn’t like to talk much about it. Once my brother and I asked him if he saw anyone die. He just nodded his head and said “yep”. That ended that conversation. As time went on, he got a little more vocal about it. I tried to get something in writing from him about it a few years ago by writing a letter to him, but he responded by calling me on the phone. I don’t remember much of the conversation, but I did note that he said he participated in a bombardment of Lae in New Guinea, remarking that the artillery fire was both incessant and deafening. In his later years he complained of hearing loss, which on at least one occasion he told me he thought could be at least partially a casualty of the war.
My grandpa was a man’s man. He rarely let his emotions show. As a child I made the mistake of assuming this meant he was hard and inapproachable. As an adult I learned that it was a facade constructed to hide weakness and I respected him for it. He also knew the value of a good drink. From a young age I remember that when we would visit he would have a drink before or with dinner. It was always something tasteful. And I never once saw it affect him. I thought then, as I still do, that he and my grandma had both depth and good taste. Often I catch myself doing things or behaving in ways that I think he would find very familiar. Just as I share some of his physical traits because of genetics, I share some of his personality, the result of my own cultivation of seeds he planted many years ago in those visits.
He did not achieve all in life that he wanted. Few people do. Looking back now it seems he made the best of it, though. He did what he had to do to provide for those that depended on him and he sacrificed for people he loved. Sometimes they were big sacrifices, like when he sold the house he built and moved to Arizona because his wife, whose health was failing, wanted to. Sometimes they were just little things, like doing a job he hated because his kids needed him to. But he still knew what made him happy and he found a way to do it. I think his hobbies kept him sane and gave him a reason to live. He only gave them up when he could no longer do them for health reasons, and then he found new ones.
I did not spend as much time with him as I perhaps should have as an adult, nor he with me as a child. When I was a boy I think he thought I was boring. He didn’t want to play the games little boys play, and now I don’t blame him. For people separated by two generations, finding common ground is difficult. I know now this was not because he didn’t love me. I hope he knew I loved and respected him despite my long periods of absence these last few years.
Too many people that live that far into old age waste their last years away. All too often, when they die it seems clear they are impatient at having to have waited so long. My grandpa loved life right up until it slipped out of his grasp last Friday. If I am lucky enough to live as long as he did I will never forget the last day of his life. I haven’t been able to shake the image of this once proud and stoic man lying helpless, fighting for every breath. And still, I can’t help but think that as bad as that was, he spent almost 93 years living, and only one day dying. And that’s not bad.
I remember when his parents, my great-grandparents, died. I wasn’t much more than ten years old. I remember shortly after that, going to the cemetery where they are buried, with him, my grandma, and my parents. We stood over his parents’ headstones looking at them and talking for some time. It was grandpa that finally broke it up by saying “well…. I guess there’s no point in standing around here any more.” And we left and went on with our lives. And that’s what I’m doing now.
- All the kids are doing list posts now. I’m young and hip. I can do that too. I’m supposed to be writing a section of a textbook right now, but instead I’m drinking and staring at a monster of a Latex file that just wont come together. I’ll vomit thoughts onto this canvas as they come to me.
- Seems like most Republicans are backpedaling now. I remember clearly that it was just a few decades ago they said homosexuality is an abomination. Now they’re falling all over themselves saying they aren’t against being gay. They still don’t want them getting married, but it’s okay to be gay. You aren’t fooling anyone, guys.
- Rush Limbaugh keeps citing the dictionary definition of marriage. I appreciate the irony of the nation’s most vocal non-college-educated, three-time-divorcee expending so much energy to defend the dictionary definition of marriage.
- When did atheism become the battleground for women’s rights? I like both ideas but prefer to keep them separate. In particular I find atheism, particularly Christian skepticism, interesting. Meanwhile I find women’s rights boring. Don’t get me wrong. I think water sanitation is boring too. Just because I think it’s boring doesn’t mean I’m agin’ it.
- When I see someone praying before they eat at a restaurant I want to ask them why they don’t just go thank the chef directly.
- Why does the word “fuck” make religious people unhappy? I don’t get offended when someone says “transubstantiation”. It’s particularly frustrating when the offender has demonstrably (by their progeny) done a lot of the former yet none of the latter.
- My daughter is often made fun of by other children, at a public school, for her lack of belief in gods. She’s come home crying on several occasions because of it. All you Christians that feel persecuted or that public schools are atheist indoctrination centers can go transubstantiate yourselves.
- I have my daughter for Easter this year because apparently someone considered that a real thing when we drafted our parenting plan. All she knows is that it’s a day to find hidden colored eggs. We’ll be doing that. Maybe I’ll give her a science book too. Take that, establishment!
- This transubstationing book isn’t writing itself. Back to work.
You may think that your family and friends will understand. They’re not like the crazy religious types. They’re not the Westboro Baptist Church. If that’s what you think, make damn sure you’re right. Because in the very likely event that they aren’t, telling them that you don’t believe in their god or gods will end your old relationship with them. Be prepared for uncivil, emotional, irrational arguments that go nowhere and last for years. Be prepared to be disowned in all but a legal way. And be prepared for the barrage of bitterness to be punctuated by their own cries for being persecuted.
Those atheists that disguise themselves live the happiest, I think. Be careful before making the irreversible decision to expose yourself.
Nothing really matters
Anyone can see
Nothing really matters
Nothing really matters to me
Anyway the wind blows…
In case you’re not aware, Rush Limbaugh dropped out of college because he was too smart for the egghead professors there. If you ever doubted the wisdom of this you won’t after you read this on-air exchange between Rush and one of his brighter listeners.
CALLER: You’re talking about fossil fuel, and I was reading about our discoveries of methane on Titan, the moon of Saturn, and it causes me to think that perhaps fossil fuel is something that pulled the wool over our eyes. Hydrocarbons is probably what we should be saying. Oil and natural gas and coal. The earth is just made out of it, and the notion of fossil fuel is the idea that it comes from plants and animals somehow and we’re gonna run out of it, and that’s a notion that we were taught as kids.
Got that? Titan has methane on it, therefore the Earth must be made of oil. If the caller’s credentials as someone who reads about stuff doesn’t convince you then you’re just being obtuse. Rush sees the obvious wisdom in this:
RUSH: (…) he’s counting methane as a fossil fuel. Okay. Okay. All right. Okay. Okay. Okay. Well, and he may have a point.
Of course he does. He read something about Titan. This is a noted expert and, I might add, a faithful Republican voter.
RUSH: Here’s the thing. He was pointing out here that on one of the moons of… Was it Saturn? Saturn? On Titan, they have found lakes of methane. And what Richard’s basically asking is, “Well, where the hell were the dinosaurs there?”
Rush and the caller are right! Methane has to come from dinosaurs. So where are the dinosaurs on… what is it? Titan? Yeah, Mr. brainiac scientist, where are the dinosaurs on Titan?
RUSH: “Oil is only there because it’s what the dinosaurs used to be.” You were taught that. Yeah, and plants. But mainly I was taught dinosaurs. The dinosaurs fossilized and compressed, and years and years of mystical scientific forces turned fossilized dinosaurs into oil. Now, I’m gonna tell you: When I first heard that, my mind could not get its arms around how many damn dinosaurs that would take.
Rush, untainted by any college-level science brainwashing, is not buying the absurd notion that organic matter becomes oil through years and years of mystical scientific forces. Note the skill and speed with which he computes the number of dinosaurs that ever lived and compares it to the number needed to produce the amount of oil in the earth.
RUSH: And I was skeptical of that from the first time I heard it. And then I said, “You mean to tell me that most of the world’s dinosaurs were in freaking Saudi Arabia in a desert? And in the equatorial areas and all of the hot, humid tropical places where you figure the dinosaurs were, there isn’t any oil? So there’s no oil where the dinosaurs were, but there’s plenty of oil where they weren’t?” That was my reaction, in addition to: “How many of the damn things would there have to be to produce this much oil?” Well, I bought it, but I had doubts at the same time.
Stoopid scientists. Next thing you know they’ll be telling us that Saudi Arabia wasn’t always a desert or wasn’t even in the same place on the globe as it is now when dinosaurs were alive. As if climate could change or land could move.
RUSH: The last caller’s point was: Okay, you have methane up there, lakes of methane on the moon Titan of Saturn. Is that from dinosaurs? Plants? Where the hell did the methane come from? Cows farting? Where are they? I mean, that’s the primary source of methane that most people know about. “Cows are creating global warming with greenhouse gases so we have to stop eating McDonald’s!” Yeah, well, where are the cows on that moon? So his point was all this stuff is just there anyway.
Every idiot knows methane only comes from cows farting. There are no cows on Titan, therefore the earth is made of oil and we can eat McDonald’s.
Go read the full transcript for yourself. Don’t blame me if it’s too technical for you, though.
PZ Myers published what may be his best blog ever today. He addresses the common Christian canard that atheists lack an objective morality and as such have no reason not to commit horrendous acts. (He uses the example of torturing babies.) This is bunk, of course. Our morality is in fact a survivability trait. It can be explained quite elegantly using game theory, a fact I was first introduced to when reading Dawkins’ “The Selfish Gene”. The short story is that a species prone to what we would consider immoral behavior (e.g. torturing babies) is less survivable than one that is not.
What Myers has done, though, is to state guidelines for moral behavior. Others have done the same thing, but Myers’ strikes me as particularly simple and straightforward, and yet surprisingly complete. You should read the article in it’s entirety to fully appreciate it, but I will summarize here. He uses the example of torturing babies, and of bestiality. I will use the example of committing genocide against a group of people… let’s say astronauts. The guidelines are:
- I must be interested in committing the act. I honestly have never wanted to exterminate the astronauts. On that basis alone it would be senseless for me to expend resources to do it. But maybe somewhere someone does have the urge to kill all astronauts. This person must consider that…
- The act requires the consent of all those involved. In this case, the astronauts must agree to be exterminated. Most probably would not, but perhaps some would. (Many of them are, after all, fighter pilots and thus not too bright.) However….
- The act should cause no harm. Clearly killing astronauts harms them, even if they want to be killed. Finally one must consider…
- The social stigma associated with the act. By killing all the astronauts one risks becoming a social pariah and not being invited to as many parties.
I will provisionally adopt this as my moral guidelines. Actually, I’ve already done that, and you probably have too. It is nice to have them laid out so succinctly though.