Remembering 9/11: A Cold Case File

I had utterly different thoughts in mind when I sat down to begin this ramble.  The combined effects of retirement and living atop a remote, forested hill do not leave one keenly clued in to the calendar’s vagaries.  But as soon as I realized that 9/11 had rolled around again, I couldn’t suppress a stream of memories.

I watched the first World Trade Tower smoke on the TV of a print-shop operator who was working up one of the first issues of Praesidium for me.  (We still published printed editions in those days, whose contents I myself would laboriously bind by hand.)  My son had been safely deposited in his first-grade class, it was a beautiful Tuesday morning (I believe) in East Texas, and my own professional status was so very part-time that Tuesdays and Thursdays were entirely free for tinkering with my ambitious Center for Literate Values.  The smoking tower on the screen across the counter was certainly out of harmony with the day’s prevailing mood.  My knee-jerk reflection was likely on the order of, “Too many planes, too many skyscrapers… too much progress.”

I think I may have returned home and powered on my own TV by the time the second tower was struck.  I won’t pretend that the events are indelibly etched in my memory; but I do recall two things clearly.  One is that I knew instantly upon the second impact that we were not watching a series of accidents play out, and that something much more consequential than another passenger jet downed by wind sheer—with hundreds of fatalities—was occurring.

The other recollection is of Peter Jennings’ pitifully inept commentary as Tower I came sliding down like an accordion.  “And… what’s happening there?” he mused into his mic.  “There’s a lot of dust…”.  “The tower’s falling, idiot!” I grumbled uncharitably to myself.  For some reason, I was annoyed that his sense of possibility was impeding him from seeing the event’s obvious, atrocious progress right before our millions of eyes.

That resistance to the obvious, as we know now, would paralyze the tongues of a lot more professional commentators than the late Mr. Jennings.  The attitude of working (or semi-employed) stiffs like me, in contrast, could probably be well encapsulated in thoughts such as mine: “What do you need—a neon sign?  It’s Islam in action—and, yes, they hate us.  They hate each other, and they hate us, too.”

Of course, it was President Bush, the Thundering Avenger (or the son of Thundering Avenger), who would incongruously urge us in his mush-mouthed drawl (please believe that all Texans don’t talk that way) to recognize in Islam a religion of peace.  We were to remember always that we were going in pursuit only of “turrurrrrishts”.  Yeah, whatever.  And the government bureaucracy which had done such a crackerjack job of screening suicide-killers from the passenger list would be entrusted with exacting our surgical revenge.  Already in the early going, I was beginning to register a certain moody dissatisfaction with the smell around all that televised dust.

But, like everyone else, I was confused, most of all.  I would need years to begin asking myself questions which remain unanswered for me today.

Now that I’m retired, I assure you that thoroughly reading the Popular Mechanics piece about how the three towers collapsed is working its way up my “to do” list.  I should have done this years ago.  The picture nags me and nags me.  A missile enters a tall, slender structure about three-quarters of the way up its height, creating a gaping hole on one side but scarcely penetrating the far surface.  It dumps a terrific amount of super-heated fuel into the chasm—but unevenly, of course, since the point of entry cuts in much lower and draws the flaming liquid down to its side.  Yet metal fatigue occurs concurrently throughout a perfectly horizontal cross-section of the building, which soon proceeds to collapse floor by floor: boom, boom, boom.

Then precisely the same physical impossibility happens in the companion tower.  Hours later, for good measure (why go light on impossibility?), the far more squat WTT 7 does the same accordion-collapse several blocks away and without even any super-heated fuel to cause instant conflagration.  An ember is supposed to have ignited some furniture… cushions made of coagulated nitro-glycerin, I suppose.  Boom, boom, boom.

If I have been retrograde in running to consult the PM article, which is said to be the last word on the subject, then it’s because I know that I won’t really find any closure there.  No, I’m not an engineer, let alone a physicist—but every human being who has manipulated heavy objects in work or tossed about projectiles in play acquires a sense of how things move.  If I push in one of your knees from behind, you don’t come down evenly on both knees.  A house of cards from which one is quickly drawn doesn’t fold into a neat deck on the table.  If a select body of engineers tells me otherwise and smirks at me for scratching my head… then I conclude that the select body of engineers is trying to feed me garbage and bully me into swallowing because… because they’re a select body of engineers.  We all hate to put our ignorance on public display.  What I hate more, however, is to be finessed into an ignorant position by someone who exploits my fear of seeming ignorant.

“But what are you saying?  Are you saying that Dick Cheney deliberately slaughtered 3,000 innocent Americans to elevate Haliburton’s market value?”  I hate that, too: being at once crowbarred into an unsavory or insane conclusion because I have questioned a shaky premise.  I’m not a fan of Stalin, or even of socialism, just because I think that capitalism tends to erode taste and self-control in certain ways.  Yet to the Thundering Avenger’s hordes of fire-breathing volunteers (virtually all of whom breathed their fire into microphones and never touched a trigger), writing what I have just written of how compromised structures collapse is tantamount to treason.  “Oh, so you’re one of those… a truther!”

(Sidebar: nobody who cares about the truth would ever assist in circulating an analysis-shutdown word like “truther”.  Another pejorative moniker in the Yahoo’s bag of sling-ready excrement: “conspiracy theorist”.)

I don’t suspect Dick Cheney of being a mass-murderer… but I do not for an instant believe that the whole truth about 9/11 has been divulged.  And I would like to know why.  I have no motive for the crime, and I’m not going to project one from my fancy upon the all-too-inadequate evidence.  That’s exactly what Bush’s inveterate political enemies—his take-no-prisoner opponents in the culture wars—did on reflex; and, yes, it made them look like wackos and discredited their whole case.  But establishing the fact of their wackiness does not clear up the dense film of incoherence still drifting about the evidence, seventeen years later.

This is a cold case now, and I don’t see it getting any warmer in an era when “investigative reporters” have given themselves over wholly to proselytizing and propagandizing.  For me personally, though, 9/11 must remain a major reason for my inability ever again to trust “my government” (meaning any government) implicitly.  I did some unpleasant but necessary growing up after those three towers came down.


The Twitter Pope Asail Upon the Garbagy Sea

Pope Francis appears to have grown deeply concerned about the volume of plastic trash floating in our seas.  Interestingly, his inner garbage-lookout has begun crying, “Trash ho!” at just the moment when credible rumors have surfaced that a homosexual clique within the Vatican has been secretly saluting the pedophile Jolly Roger  Seems like a very convenient time to be looking starboard instead of larboard—and the mainstream news media are, of course, sailors first-class at changing screens.  Ever eager to see Francis carry on carrying on about manmade climate change and the diabolical evil of privately owning a means of self-defense, talking heads everywhere have buried Archbishop Vigano’s charges of child-molesting complicity in empty liter-bottles of Coke and shredded Little Debbie packaging.  Utopia’s pope preaches their gospel almost as if they were sharing teleprompters. “Who am I to judge?” opines the Chief Pontiff on the lump-of-flesh removal question… but his view of Parkland High School’s atrocity leaves the holster as quick as a sixgun in a spaghetti western.

And so it goes on, even in the practice of faith: the endless tennis match between the World Propaganda Machine and unsavory fact.

I for one am willing to take my eye off the ball completely this morning.  Let us accept that trash on the tides is a more urgent problem than homosexual seduction (a.k.a. statutory rape) of minors in the sanctuary.  After all, the Green Party has already gained the ascendancy over public school curricula in Germany and is busily teaching little girls and boys whose voices are years from lowering how to conduct sexual experiments.  Maybe Francis’s priests were just helping a few adolescents with their homework.

So back to the trash issue (I mean, plastic trash): may we ponder this one for a moment?  What’s the suggested solution?  Massive plastic roundups conducted by a kind of Green Coast Guard synchronized with a war on plastic products such as Governor Jerry Brown’s criminalization of straws?  And what, may I ask, is to be done with all the rounded-up plastic?  Do we burn it, thus infusing a major new catalyst into the engine driving Global Warming (according to His Eminence et al.)?  Or do we bury it—and there’s a lot of it, remember—thus further destabilizing the Earth’s crust and exacerbating the global epidemic of sinkholes?  (Would you believe, by the way, that southeastern New Mexico, perhaps the nation’s most favored site for dumping nuclear waste, also ranks near the top of the list for sinkhole activity?  Still think your government is good at planning these things out?)

I’ve been wondering for several months now (when I wasn’t wrestling with how to extract gender allusion from pronouns or how to eliminate “race whistles” from animal names)… why should we do anything more with the ocean’s drifting islands of plastic than encourage their formation and “sculpt” them?  Islands are useful.  Among other things, an island would be invincible as land-bound coastal cities succumb to Al Gore Armageddon.  It could also evade hurricanes like Katrina, if it is mobile: this is a point made in earnest by engineers who have had island-communities on the drawing board for years.  The basis of those designs, to be sure, was not old bottles of Jiff and forlorn ring-nets once holding six-packs of Coors together… but who’s going to notice that Plastopolis is floating on garbage bags rather than sleek pontoons?  And the pontoons might always rupture—but garbage bags, we have good assurance, are forever.

Or if the feeling is that encouraging wayfarer island-towns would only disseminate civilization’s toxicity more thoroughly around the globe… then why not populate the islands with verdant forests? If one component of Climate Change is the depletion of the rainforest, then why not multiply these artificial islands so as to restore the planet’s green cloak in some measure?

We’re stuck in and with a high-tech world.  I don’t like it, personally, and I’ve done more to resist capture than most people I know… but the reality of pollution will not be dispelled with the wave of a magic wand (or by papal edict, or even by a Jerry Brown initiative).  Indeed, those who would most aggressively repress the commercial and industrial activity responsible for forming our postmodern cesspool are situated (as I notice again and again) at points well beyond the real stench and fully insulated against the lean times sure to follow repression.  Francis and Governor Brown will have a running shower with plenty of hot water, though the rest of the world be sponging off from muddy goat tracks.

We will not solve any environmental problem by banning entire industries and cultural habits.  As I wrote a while back of my own struggles on a would-be farm, you can’t defeat water by bullying it into reversing its course: you can only channel it into less destructive directions.  The trash in our oceans is a problem… so let us imagine ways to transform trash into life-nourishing productivity.  We who created it surely have the ingenuity to steer its life cycle’s last stages down a more benign path.

In contrast, this crusading (or, if you prefer, jihadist) zeal to annihilate the enemy—to leave his foundations smoking (in stratosphere-friendly gasses) and his chattel eviscerated—is an insane pantomime intended to convince us, and everyone within earshot, of our own high virtue.  The cost of such virtue is usually the magnification of the original problem to catastrophic proportions; and, of course, it isn’t really virtue at all, but the mortal sin of vain pride.  We kill our souls as we kill our planet.

One would think that the Catholic pope, even an example of as dubious a pedigree as Francis, would recognize this.  But he is the world’s first Twitter Pope.  Grit doesn’t find its way into his shoes because they never touch real earth.  His visions, and ours, float and drift like the leavings of a child’s Christmas presents… or like Swift’s floating island of air-headed speculators, the Laputans.  With guiding ideas like this, who needs a Styrofoam garbage invasion?

Posing With Mother Nature in Selfies Doesn’t Help Her

October 1 will be an important day for me.  That’s when the summer burn ban for Floyd County terminates.  I would guess on the fly that at least fifty trees, mostly pines of under twenty feet in height, were shouldered to the lot’s edge by heavy equipment when my house was built.  The process is known as “clearing”, apparently.  “Clearing” doesn’t include cleaning up the mess you left along the periphery of the work zone—which, yes, also contains plenty of crumpled Shasta cans, shredded Nabisco wrappers, and rounded tins of Skoal.

These latter I cannot completely burn into oblivion; but I’m much more concerned, frankly, about the biodegradable debris, both because it’s infinitely more abundant in volume and because it creates hazards well beyond unsightliness.  A good little footsoldier of the Green Movement would exhort me to pick up the wrappers and cans while keeping my fingers away from matches: just let Mother Nature go her natural way!  But, you see, it’s not nearly so simple as that.

In the first place, the production of vast debris piles around the felled trunks—and I mean natural debris, such as dead leaves and dense briars—would become a major fire hazard if next summer proves more to resemble a dry 2017 than a wet 2018.  Not just my own house, but the entire North Georgia countryside, would stand at risk should tinder of this kind be allowed to collect.  How is Mother Nature helped when we pack her skirts with deadwood and then hold our collective breath in hopes that one cigarette or one lightning strike doesn’t incinerate several counties?  The practice of burning the fuel beforehand may seem counterintuitive to the ingénue, but those are the real-world options: a controlled burn or a conflagration of the “not if, but when” category.

California’s rash of devastating wildfires, by the way, owes much of its genesis (pace Jerry Brown, Blessed Be His Name) to idiotic “conservation” practices that forbid the culling of dry, dead underbrush.  Add to that environment populations of tent-city itinerants living on Mulligan stew… and you have proof positive of ruinous Climate Change, so it is said.

Then there’s the wildlife so precious to our acolytes of Diana.  Understand this.  Any disruption whatever of the environment, be it fully natural are wholly manmade, sends ripples of impact (if not tsunamis) among the routines of flora and fauna.  Granted, the thick growth of weeds and briars on and around stacks of deadwood is a natural phenomenon… but the specific pattern is also quite unnatural.  A forest left alone would not permit jungle-like underbrush to take over; and once given the run of the devastated scene, the low underbrush chokes out opportunities for other vegetation.

This, in turn, changes patterns of animal behavior.  I’ve noticed that bird activity has grown much more lively where I’ve cleared the underbrush (or at least moved it free of the forest to await disposal).  Deer are also much more likely to move through my cleared patches.  I would speculate that the thorny litter must obviously have impeded low-flying songbirds and animals that trust in speed to survive; it also probably became an artificial incubator for snakes, which are never a bird’s best friend.  I like snakes in their proper place: they eat mice and rats.  But I see no need to erect Super 8 Motels for them all around my property.

My property… what a smug, bourgeois phrase (sneers the green saint from his lofty perch).  The land would never have been cleared, in the first place, if I had just stayed away!  Why didn’t I keep out of the forest?

It wouldn’t have interested this Jeremiah, I’m sure, that the property was already being “seeded” by deer hunters to gun down Bambi mom and gnawed away by developers who would have turned every last acre into a playground for lawnmowers.  In other words, my intrusion would never be viewed as itself an act of conservation by the Green Crusade: no, that would deprive Righteous Eco-Warrior of a chance to claim moral superiority over yet another human being.

So allow me merely to repeat this observation.  Everything we do has an ecological impact.  The addicts and drifters who are living out of San Francisco’s dumpsters and defecating on her sidewalks may have a minuscule carbon footprint—but they aren’t simply throwing themselves into the bay to feed the fish.  Their maintenance requires tax dollars that are raised, at least in some measure, through industrial activity.  Sanitizing the environment they pollute also consumes resources; and those among them who stoke campfires on the edge of town to blunt the evening’s chill are not a negligible factor (I must also repeat) in California’s horrendous wildfire problem.  No human has no environmental effect.  Some end up having major destructive effects precisely through their ill-calculated efforts to “live as one” with the growing grass.

I conclude, then, with yet further insistence on a theme that my harp has strummed all week long.  We need to engage the world around us in detail: we need to learn its intricacies rather than roping in select parts of it as background for a selfie.  Too many of us too uncritically embrace childishly facile notions of “nature” and “green consciousness” only because we want to feel good about ourselves.  The focus of our noisy advocacy is ourselves—our egotistical quest for moral superiority—and not the benefit of the cause for which we clamor.  If you are among these boisterous “sensitive” youths, please stop sucking in all the air around you.  Depart from your “avatar” long enough to make a tour of reality.  Know something about your holy mission.  Stop marveling over what it does for your image in the mirror, and start thinking about what you might do, sensibly and maturely, on its behalf.

And for the record… I have used as much deadwood as I can physically manipulate to build up terraces for my fruit trees, which will need well-draining ground.  But I’m not Gilgamesh: I can’t take on the entire remains of Humbaba’s cedar forest.  The burnt ash will fertilize the soil—that’s the best I can do for you.

If you’re so very worried about the Greenhouse Effect, how about turning your attention to studying the reduction of catastrophic pressures in volcanoes—a fearful phenomenon that happens to be an immensely more credible path to multi-species extinction?  (Google “Yellowstone super-volcano”.) A young, environmentally conscious biology major once responded to that question, “Well… but there’s something we could do about the climate, and there’s nothing we can do about volcanoes.”  Try parsing that one, without my help, for arrogance and a paradoxical defeatism!

Meanwhile… go cuddle a snake, and see how much joy it really brings you.

“It’s My Body!”… Then Why Can’t You Control It?

What’s that whining Fifties jukebox favorite that goes, “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to”?  That one invariably springs to mind when I hear the tired refrain, “It’s my body, and I’ll do with it what I want to.”  Many mutations of this peevish, childish taunt were run up the masthead during Ireland’s repeal of her Eighth Amendment last month—a plebiscite which effectively legalized abortion under most conditions.  Yet how true is that claim about one’s body, and in what sense might it ever be true?

You cannot legally amputate a limb just because you take a disliking to it in most civilized nations.  This dark urge is rightly considered to characterize a mental disorder, and those who suffer from it are viewed as incompetent to make such decisions.  So… no, in that case you cannot do whatever you wish with your body.

The counter-argument might be made that the fetus is an invading, parasitic life form, so that the “amputation” analogy is inaccurate.  The modicum of truth in this protest, however, seems to me to undermine the broader claim irreparably.  Because the fetus is indeed another life and not just one of your appendages, you no longer have any right whatsoever to terminate its existence.

But (says the whining party-girl) you ignored the “invading” part, the “parasite” part!  I don’t want this parasite growing in me!  This is an entirely different line of argument that has completely abandoned the “it’s my body” umbrella.  Assessing its validity would require a close review of just what’s meant by invasion and parasitism.  A three-year-old child might well be deemed a parasite: we would certainly be contemplating a life form that cannot survive on its own.  Would the parent, then, be morally justified in murdering the child on the ground that the toddler had become an insufferable parasite?

But to return to the “it’s my body” contention… how does the “yourness” of this body reconcile with its having been successfully invaded by a parasite against your will?  You submitted your body to a course of behavior which rendered the parasite’s implantation highly probable.  Unless you are an utter idiot incapable of guiding her own Sharpie along her own demo-placard, you must know that pregnancy is a possible-to-likely consequence of sexual activity.  You made the choice to engage in that activity through your body.  If you own a car and you race it along a muddy, stony course for thrills, then your insurance provider is not responsible for returning the vehicle to its previous condition.  You chose to employ it in a risky, irresponsible activity: the consequences of that choice must be addressed with your own resources.  Why does society have an obligation to patch up the “damage” when your body was the vehicle of your joy ride? Because, you know, you’re demanding that society’s resources remedy your inconvenient predicament. Most abortions are not self-administered, just as most people can’t repair their own car.

Two further points arise here.  One is that you don’t really have a right to treat any item of personal property however you damn well like.  You can’t set fire to your car or your house because you enjoy the sight of smoke and flames.  The flames may spread to other people’s possessions; and, in any case, wantonness is considered morally reprehensible even in situations where it is legally permitted.  You could pay ten thousand bucks for an oil painting and then shred it without fear of facing charges… but your community would regard you with horror and disgust, as it should.  Even inanimate objects should not be destroyed for idle amusement.

Secondly, the public actually does have a stake in whether or not you give birth to the children you have conceived.  Societies that do not produce another generation do not survive: Western Europe is slowly (too slowly) awakening to this grim fact as I write, and even China will soon run into it around a surprising near-future turn of events after having promoted abortion for two generations.  Those who extol the demographically salutary effects of abortion in an overpopulated world, such as certain eugenicist members of my own family, may be right at some level; but notice that, once again, their position doesn’t support the “it’s my body” premise.  On the contrary, they maintain that society has an exigent interest in keeping your progeny off the face of the earth.  (I might add that their attitude often infects its elitist proponents more quickly than the seething masses: childlessness has all but exterminated my side of the family tree.)

Finally, I’d venture to point out that anyone who lives for more than half a century must begin to question just what kind of possession he or she enjoys over the body.  As you age, your body becomes a traitor.  If it were truly yours, it would behave better… but it doesn’t sleep as it should, it rebels against certain foods, it must relieve itself with irritating frequency, it torments you with mysterious pains never before known—it’s increasingly a ramshackle house that you are forced to rent.  You begin to understand that it doesn’t really belong to you and never really belonged to you: that it was always a rental property, and that the terms of the lease require you to endure a degree of inconvenience.  You’d rather have been a little taller; that won’t happen.  You’d like to have blond hair.  Well, that can be arranged temporarily… but probably at the cost of long-term damage to your mop.  You’re too fat.  That’s a condition similar to being pregnant, in that it follows upon certain choices you have made in pursuit of pleasure.  If you want to be thinner, eat less and eat better.  If you want to be un-pregnant, abstain from sex, or at least circle three days in the middle of your month to be reserved for fasting and meditation.

If you can’t read a calendar or count to thirty, find a friend who can.  Why is it that the most educated people appear to advocate most vocally for these positions that should never have relevance to the conduct of any but the very dullest?

But I forget: the most educated are busily changing the biological sex of their bodies even at this instant.  It seems that their body really wasn’t theirs, after all, having been switched at birth with someone else’s.  Is that perhaps what abortion ultimately represents in their minds—is it a kind of transferred suicide, a revenge directed at life for ever having interrupted their peaceful oblivion?

Denver, Part Two: Tilting at Unenergetic Windmills

Don Quixote concluded that the giant who had cleverly morphed into a windmill in order to unhorse him was the work of an evil sorcerer.  I wonder if the grotesque titanic claws defacing our Southwestern horizons are not similarly the product of some squalid hocus-pocus magically worked between policy-makers and private-sector sleazes as an idiot public gapes and applauds… or am I as insane as the Knight of La Mancha for asking so many questions?

Properly speaking, this bit of musing has little to do with Denver; but when you drive across West Texas and through Oklahoma or New Mexico into southeast Colorado, you see thousands of wind turbines (not hundreds—thousands).  Therefore, turning (or not turning) blades have come to be associated in my mind with bronco country.

Besides that, the progressive lunacy justifying our plague of wind turbines has something distinctly Denveresque about it.  So… here goes:

Why are wind turbines spread so far apart?  Yesteryear’s clipper ship was able not only to pack sails one beside another on her masts, but also to create productive drafts from the proximity that channeled greater thrust into sheets farther forward.  I would estimate that no turbine is within ten blades’ length of its neighbor.  Why is this so—why do these monstrosities have to take up so much real estate?  Is it a safety precaution?  If the blades are likely to fly off and helicopter over that kind of space… aren’t they a menace to every nearby farmhouse?

Can blades be turned to draw most effectively on the day’s prevailing winds?  If the wind backs from north to southwest (as it frequently does in these states at certain times of year), can the rig be rotated to tap the shift?  I think the answer has to be “no ‘; for why, otherwise do so many blades stand utterly motionless on a given day?  If turbines cannot be thus rotated to a new quadrant, then doesn’t that introduce immense inefficiency into the system?  But if they can indeed be shifted (a confirmation which all of the gung-ho wind energy websites I viewed suspiciously evaded), then how much energy is consumed in the shift, and what proportion of the turbines’ daily yield does this gnaw away?

Why are some blades, once again, oriented differently from others in a large group if all turbines are not fixed inflexibly?  If the issue of adjustment were ever to be addressed, I suppose the operation would have to be centralized; you couldn’t very well send out a crew to dither with each one in a forest of hundreds.  I catch the malodorous scent of hidden cost once more. Either a centralized or a unit-by-unit adjustment would introduce astronomical expense.
And in the matter of centralization… if wind energy is such a great idea, then why cannot individual residences be equipped with half a dozen windmills on their roofs?  We seem to be saturated with images of futuristic domiciles sporting solar panels… so why not spinning blades?  Why is there no private enterprise addressing this market as there is for solar power?  Why must the harvesting of wind be centralized?  Such complications as wind variation could certainly be addressed much more promptly and thriftily on the micro- than the macro-level, at least when the individual consumer is putting money in his own pocket by being attentive.

And on the subject of blades… why blades?  Why not sails, and why not a horizontal rather than a vertical mount?  That is, what about a kind of double bicycle wheel with sails between its spokes and perched parallel to the ground on a great axle?  Several wheels could actually be mounted up and down a single axle.  This rig would turn whether the breeze was blowing north, south, east, or west.  It would also be far less likely to interfere with avian traffic.  Passing birds might be grabbed up in the revolving door and slightly accelerated in their flight plan, but they wouldn’t be guillotined by a mighty arm descending invisibly from nowhere.  Who decided upon the present design?

Was it a band of engineers working for oil companies?  Because our wind turbines, you know, are primarily constructed of petroleum products like epoxy.  The popular assumption that their gargantuan fingers are clean of any association with black gold is the kind of canard which industry insiders and their bought-and-paid-for political shills find so easy to sell to the iPhone generation.

When we discover within the next ten years—as we surely shall—dramatically cheaper and more efficient ways to produce energy, what we will do with all of these tens of thousands of insolent middle fingers across our landscape?  I suppose they’ll stand there giving the bird to our lichen-brained “green” voters for the next five or six centuries.  Removing them will be unconscionably, prohibitively expensive.  We’ll just have to let them sit and scoff at Don Quixote’s crumpled body.  Even an EMP won’t make them budge.

All of us do stupid things every day.  What so irritates me about wind turbines is their “emperor’s new clothes” quality (and, no, the iPhone generation will not recognize the folkloric reference).  All of our progressive, morally superior, intellectually scintillant young people (picture David Hogg in a biking helmet and riding a skateboard) are “down” for turbines as soon as the words “wind” and “energy” are juxtaposed.  I realize that many of my questions reflect a basic ignorance of the process: that’s why I’m asking them.  I lack information.  Maybe the emperor is wearing some kind of diaphanous space suit.  I’m just remarking that, to me, he looks naked.  At least I’m observing and asking—but our “savior generation” acquires less information on a subject that you could squeeze into a Tweet, then calls everyone who fails to march lockstep with them a Nazi or a mass-murderer.

Well… guess what, young Einsteins?  You will have to live with the consequences of these choices a lot longer than I will—always barring an EMP.  Google that.

Misplacing Bigfoot: Turning a Great Quest into a Brainless Shouting Match

Todd Standing recently released a documentary on Netflix titled—informatively if not creatively—Bigfoot.  Taking these ninety minutes in conjunction with yet another season of Finding Bigfoot leads me irresistibly into a few reflections.

Standing is the real deal.  On his own weekly serial called Survivorman, Canadian naturalist and hiker-extraordinaire Les Stroud tramped through British Columbia with Standing for a couple of episodes two or three years back and was probably more than half persuaded by his host of the gigantic crypto-hominid’s existence.  Standing spends days and weeks at a time quietly fusing with some of the wildest terrain in the Northern Hemisphere.  He is the source of what must surely be the best close-up photos ever taken of a Sasquatch (on the assumption, of course, that the photos are genuine).  Yet he is no black belt when it comes to producing entertainment for the broadcast media.  Stroud, having logged years of experience filming his own series, integrated Standing into two riveting episodes.  Their well-edited pace preserved a flow sadly lacking in Todd’s just-released documentary.

Nevertheless, both Bigfoot and Survivorman share a potentially lethal liability, from the mainstream marketer’s perspective: they have no bells and whistles, no fireworks and hoopla.  Investigators of this caliber (and there aren’t many) examine unnaturally bent or snapped trees in highly artificial formations, they scrutinize indentations in the moss that might be enormous footprints, and they assess the tidy disappearance of apples and other goodies placed high on spindly branches that wouldn’t support a squirrel and would require a mangling assault from a bird.  All very CSI, very professional… just not likely to induce the consumer of reality shows to dribble potato chips and pizza from his dropped jaw.

Now, the FB Four Stooges, as I’ve grown fond of calling them, have their shtick down pat.  Entry scene in van cruising along an interstate, initial night exploration with hoots and hollers, “townhall” meeting, interviews of individual witnesses as one of the party camps out in a “likely spot”, then reunion for the final night’s grand finale of more hoots and hollers… which of course turn up nothing—“but we’ll be coming back here.”  No kidding.  As long as the cow gives milk, keep pulling on her udders.

I’m afraid I’ve taken a positive dislike to the Stooges.  They’ve milked their cash cow for too long.  Unless they are themselves representative of some less evolved primate species, they’re bound to realize that the routine isn’t going to produce close contact after… what is it?  Six or seven years?  A Sasquatch just might respond from a very great distance—if the moon is blue—to one of their yodels with a howl that no audio equipment can capture.  As soon as they repeat the cry in the wrong pitch or cadence, however, or fail to repeat it after the proper interval, the critter and his whole clan know for the remnant of this infrared media blitz to stay under cover.  Bigfoot doesn’t want to be seen, idiots—and you don’t know his language!

A good case could be made, I know, that we’re the idiots for watching.  I, for one, am watching no more—or perhaps fast-forwarding to the eye-witness accounts, which are much the most relevant information gathered by the series.  On the other hand, I think the hubris of this lot is very genuine.  The presumption that Bigfoot is a lumbering mega-gorilla without enough sense to invent clothes or leave trash in the open infuses the entire hour, year after year.  The high-handed digital imposition of a young King Kong in the bushes to animate every witness’s testimony is especially annoying.  These mock-ups look nothing like Standing’s photographs.  Have you noticed that the witnesses themselves are never invited to comment upon the accuracy of the cartoonish reconstructions?

The Stooges are now in full celebrity mode, trotting out family members, devoting episodes to their favorite reminiscences, traveling the country to do live gigs on campuses… laughing all the way to the bank, and posing all the way to Hollywood-class stardom.  Meanwhile, poor grunts like Todd Standing try to keep pace by piping in Heavy Metal from some old Rambo flick to cover transitions from one scene to another as an ATV crashes through the underbrush.  Todd, please take a tip from Les Stroud.  Just stay simple.  People who are receptive to this possibility are few and thoughtful, if popularly represented as weirdo wackos.  The multitude who mock and rail are tuning into Animal Planet because the prospect of several adults screaming wildly into the night turns them on.  Let the wheat and the chaff separate.

Christmas: Merry If Possible—Better Yet, Meaningful

One more try at free speech.  Is this the lump of coal in your stocking? I hope not! Perhaps that depends on who’s pulling off the wrapper.

Have I said that I consider the honoring of free speech to be a holy obligation, not a mere civil right?  Let me say so now, and attempt a better, fuller explanation.

I wrote earlier that we shouldn’t view keeping open the channels of communication as an extended opportunity to convince the misguided. Are all of us “free speech” advocates, then, taking for granted that we’re right, and that the freedom we seek is the chance to make the whole world admit it? That attitude reeks of the obnoxious conceit inherent in progressive and reactionary ideologues alike—the ones whose clenching argument that you have the wrong opinion is a firing squad or a burning stake.  If re-education camp or a public recanting before the Inquisition doesn’t work, a bullet in the head always gets those jumbled ideas sorted out… and what better way to “open” a new channel?

I also wrote that free exchange forces one to think through one’s own position more meticulously, even if nobody else is persuaded by it.  But the wording there bothers me inasmuch as it implies that we might absolutely nail the truth if we just keep refining our conceptions.  It sounds rather like scientific method, which isn’t what I’m after. Approximating the truth is a worthy goal, to be sure… but also a notion fraught with such potential danger that my intended meaning, ultimately, lies in the opposite direction.

How perverse! In what way would I wish to veer down the path opposite to drawing near the truth? Wouldn’t that require me to draw away from the truth? Obviously, I do not wish to celebrate error. What I mean to say is on the order of this, if I may be allowed to stumble through a mathematical analogy. The arc of a parabola always approaches an axis—but to suppose that it intersects the axis at any eventual point is false.

Or let me return to my earlier terms. I wrote of the “mystery of presence”: there I should have lingered.  Usually when one shuts down exchanges with others, one does so because a “reachable” answer has, in fact, been reached, whether those other parties acknowledge it or not.  Sometimes, too, we turn and walk away because the others “have the answer” (they claim) and aren’t listening to us.  Further exchange is useless.  If the truth is in our court, we arrive at a point where we have no more patience with folly… and we go on about our business.

This is a good thing, and even a necessary thing, in “business” of a practical turn.  A straight line cuts an axis at a given point—and life does indeed have many straight lines. You can’t confer infinitely with others about whether your car needs an oil change or your store needs to move to a less heavily taxed venue.  Even though there may be irreducible vagueness in some such material matters, we must eventually go with the best evidence. We cannot operate two stores at once to find out which does the better business.

The spiritual danger of cutting short our discussions appears when controversy leaves the realm of nuts and bolts and enters that of value judgments.  Once again, I will instantly and vigorously deflect the charge of being a relativist. I am no such thing. I am certain that human sacrifice is wrong; I am so precisely because the practice removes a being like myself permanently from earthly exchanges—from participation in negotiating our shared uncertainty.  I am certain that child abuse is wrong; I am so precisely because traumatizing a being like myself at a stage when he or she may never be able to reason freely, as a result, is an assault on our common humanity.

The certainty I mean—the certainty that dangerously shuts down the exchange—treats issues of value as though they were mechanical questions or budgetary decisions: as though they could be arbitrated by scientific method.  What is good for a human being?  Easy, says the politician: a full belly, full pockets, free trips to the doctor, a thousand stations on the TV’s menu.  But all of these “blessings” can rot the soul if they completely remove anguish, striving, and learning from the human condition.  Their one great asset is their “thingness”—their quiddity.  They allow discussions to end on the same note as our determination about an oil change.  We may not agree with the collective verdict, but time will surely tell if it was correct.  The number of starved bodies lying dead in the streets can be counted.  Cases of influenza can be logged and graphed.  The availability of ESPN2 is a fairly objective determinant for frivolous amusement’s “abundance” threshold.

Is the discussion now truly finished about liberated sexual practices, for instance, just because sex feels good and modern medicine can make its unwanted consequences disappear?  Was it all always just a question of moving merchandise from A to B? I will never endorse gay marriage or homosexuality, because I believe that such practices subordinate higher objectives to lower objectives.  As in hedonistic heterosexual practices, the pattern here drives child-bearing and rearing from center-stage to leave sexual satisfaction the star of the show. Sensual gratification then becomes a dominant element in defining our personhood—a mere appetite, something that defies the rule of reason, wanes with the coming of old age, and can leave us completely with sickness or accident.  Yet I would not have the other side commanded to be silent, under threat of being stoned to death: I merely protest against treating the issue as an algebra problem where X has been definitively found.

For the link between body and spirit must always remain a mystery to me (and, I think, to you): I don’t see how any specific value for X can solve it. I do not and will never fully understand the connection between the spirit’s self-surpassing genius and our egocentric, carnal drives for sex, food, sleep, and the rest.  If the spirit is real, why was it encumbered in this manner? How is one side intended to be integrated with the other—what formula could make so irresistibly volatile an integration seem successful?

Such “discomfort” reminds me that my mind, as it is on this earth, cannot possibly occupy every room of God’s house.

They say that Artificial Intelligence will soon be able to pass for the human variety (the goal of the so-called Turing Test).  This will clearly be so if we continue to define our spiritual side downward, such that every moral quandary has a specific solution.  I am already risking my career to write what few words I have offered here against gay marriage; and were I to detail my views about extramarital adventures, I would face not so much instant expulsion as enduring derision.  We all know how our robot-compatriots will be programmed in those matters.  What coding, I wonder, will they receive with regard to a sunset or a misty valley?  “Good/pleasant”?  Why so?  Because the majority view would have it so?  What’s our theory on why we enjoy such scenes?  Probably something about our simian ancestors knowing that they’re safely on a tree limb or in a cave by day’s end… for the only reason you enjoy something is because you “get” something out of it. Right?

I love singer Giorgia Fumanti’s rendition of Espiritu.  Why?  Why do we love any work of art?  Because it relaxes us—we “get” relaxation out of it? So the right pill, then, would have the same effect?  Is Xanax the “art” drug? Do younger people actually love anything artistic any more?  Where do you see such open-ended discussions taking place?  Certainly not in college English departments, where works of literature are “great” because of the genitals or the pigmentation of their authors.  The same departments are rich in professors who want “offensive” speech banned from campus.

Am I coming any closer to expressing the holy obligation of free speech—to expressing why the end of free speech is asymptotic?  I doubt it; I have failed yet again!  In my mind, I keep orbiting that single word “mystery”.  We must speak to each other so that we may constantly fail to say quite what we mean to say.  We must be forever reminded that the inexpressible is a reality.  A robot doesn’t know that—cannot know that.  We seem to know it less and less ourselves as we concurrently shut down expression and reduce it to transmissible clichés.  And as free speech goes, so goes the fate of our souls.

A meaningful Christmas to you—the birthday of Him we crucify!