Archive for December, 2008

More News You Missed

December 29, 2008


Ashland, Oregon is a fine town and home to The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, one of the finest regional theater companies in the nation.  It is a place where you can walk into a restaurant and overhear high school students discussing Shakespeare.  It is also home to Lithia Park, a large city park designed by John McClaren who designed the Golden Gate Park in San Fransisco.  Like the Golden Gate Park, Lithia Park is full of trees, ponds and wildlife.

Here is some news from Lithia Park and Ashland that you missed. We quote directly from the local paper:

Dog Attack – Lower Duck Pond, Lithia Park, Ashland Oregon.  Police responded to a report of two dogs running loose and attacking ducks about 11:20 AM Sunday.

The officer cited a resident for the loose dogs.  The duck refused medical treatment and left the area.


December 24, 1968

December 24, 2008

Forty years ago this day astronaut Bill Anders took this photo from Apollo 8 and moved poet Archibald MacLeish to write,”To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold — brothers who know now they are truly brothers.”


Happy Solstice

December 21, 2008

From the website Astronomy Picture of the Day comes this fine photo of the apparent path of the sun through a year.  The image of the sun at the lowest left was taken on the winter solstice.



The photograph was taken by the patient photographer, Anthony Ayiomamitis and is copyrighted by him.  He is a fine photographer as you can discover for yourself at his website.

Agnostics Petition to Get into Heaven

December 16, 2008

Proceedings were held in the really Supreme Court this day.  The barrister for the agnostics petitioning to get into Heaven, notwithstanding their mistaken belief while alive on earth, that personal immortality was a myth, rose and addressed the judge, Jesus:
Thank you m’Lord.  Or should I say “my Lord?”  May it please the court.

Let me begin by saying thank you for allowing me to address you in my native language, English.  Should you grant the petition to be admitted to Heaven, I and my clients will set about learning Aramaic as fast as we can.

My clients are happy to be here — and no one, besides the atheists — are more surprised to discover there is a here here.  My clients were reasonably certain that death meant “lights out.”  And, speaking personally, I am delighted to discover that Heaven does not consist of a bunch of angels sitting around on cumulus clouds playing harps.  I hate harp music.

St. Thomas as painted by Caravaggio

St. Thomas as painted by Caravaggio

My clients freely confess to being wrong about heaven.  But I think you should cut them some slack.  They remained open to this possibility, no matter how improbable it seemed then and seems now.  The atheists took it as a matter of faith heaven did not exist.  My clients had a partially open mind to the remote possibility of personal immortality and knew that one could never be absolutely certain, given the limited number of senses we were provided with. So my clients doubted.

In men and women who lack imagination, the seeds of wisdom are sown in fields of doubt.

Which is why we called, as our only witness, St. Thomas.

Our opposition in this case, St. Peter, called many witnesses, most of whom were evangelicals in life on earth and, if I may say so, have remained as arrogant and obnoxious up here as they were down there.  It is a wonder you put up with them.  I would be less than candid were I not to admit that my clients and I find it galling that they got in automatically yet we’re having to petition for admission.  But we take you at your word that your Father’s House has many mansions and we hope our paths and theirs never cross.

And shouldn’t you have said, “In my Father’s mansion are many rooms?”  Perhaps if you had spoken more clearly — or hired better translators — petitioners would not have doubted you.

Actually, when you think about it, you and your Father — I mean “our Father” — bear some responsibility for the error of the ways of the agnostics.  He gave humans brains with which to think and then dumped us off in a world that sure looks like a world that is only “material”.

Adam and Eve as painted by Rubens

Adam and Eve as painted by Rubens

I want to take a moment to discuss the argument that St. Peter will no doubt make in his closing argument trying to keep us out of Heaven.  He will try to blame it all on Eve. Well, m’Lord, that is just nonsense.  If it was so important for us not to have wisdom, God could have made us without curiosity or, at the very least, could have hurled a thunderbolt sizzling Eve before she ate of the apple from the Tree of Wisdom or gave it to Adam.  That would have taught Adam a lesson he would never have forgotten.

I don’t blame St. Peter for trying so hard to keep us out.  He does so out of an undying — strange word that, whoever would have thought? — loyalty to you.  He is to be commended for that loyalty even if it sometimes leads him into error, as it has here.
But back to my point about it being a “material” earth.  If we were supposed to see that as a charade, why then did God create a world the existence of which could be entirely explained without reference to the supernatural? That was what the smartest people among us, the scientists, ascertained. Were we supposed to ignore them?

No.  It’s not fair.  When you judge our petition, you should do so with mercy and compassion.  We didn’t make the world and we didn’t delight in playing mind-games with Creation. Somebody up here did that.
I remind you, with all due respect, of the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew 18:12–14:

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”

Which shows that God is not into capitalism.  A capitalist would have written off that one sheep as a loss.  What kind of sense is it to go wandering off looking for a tiny part of your investment while leaving 99% of it unprotected?

But it is not for us to question you. My clients sheeplessly wandered off but they hope you are as happy to see them as they are to see you.

I know that you are not willing for them to be lost just because of a misunderstanding about the afterlife.  They all tried to live good lives; they followed the 10 Commandments — mostly — and thought your Beatitudes constituted a good moral compass for even a finite human life.

Besides, all you’ll need to keep them in the flock this time is a couple of Border Collies.  You do have dogs here, don’t you?

I leave you, my Lord, asking that my clients be admitted.  I remind you of your own words, “”If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. . . .the Kingdom of God is inside of you, and it is outside of you. . . .Whoever drinks from my mouth will become as I am; I myself shall become that person.”


December 12, 2008

With everyone giving all their attention to the breathtaking transcripts of the telephone conversations of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich attempting to line his own pockets with graft and corruption, this seems like a good time to air some of my dirty linen since nobody is paying any attention.  (As for Blagojevich, he is about to suffer the humiliating end of his political career as a Footnote in American History.)

Psychologists always want us to sit down and make a list of all the things we’ve ever done wrong; all our regrets and humiliations in life. Apparently President-elect Obama believes in it.

Th shrinks have the idea that such an exercise will bury those old demons and then we can get on with our lives.

They’re wrong.  It’s a stupid idea.

It accomplishes nothing but driving down your own self-esteem.  It is so depressing that, by the time you’re finished, you’ve drained yourself of all your energy and you never get around to the uplifting exercises which lie beyond the brick wall you just built by making the list.  It is hardly ever a good idea to build a brick wall for the express purpose of banging your head into it.

In fact, the only people who might benefit from this exercise are people with too much self-esteem.  Narcissists for instance.  Most politicians.  Rod Blagojevich definitely. In other words, the only people who need to do this exercise are those who never will.

Besides, it keeps you stuck in your past which is the last place you need to be.

But, if you insist on ignoring my sage advice, you should definitely do the exercise in the same writing style used by the FBI in its Blagojevich affidavit.  Here is an example, lifted verbatim out of the affidavit:

BLAGOJEVICH instructed Fundraiser A to call Lobbyist 1 the following day and ask Lobbyist 1 what to do about the fact that Hospital Executive 1 is not calling Fundraiser A back and inquire whether it was possible that Individual A had instructed Hospital Executive 1 not to call back.

So, while nobody is paying any attention, I’ll give it a try.

Once I took an after-dinner mint from Restaurant 1 without paying for it.

After Woman F did not return 2 calls, I am afraid I left her hanging.  (Not literally!)

I inhaled once.  Smoker 2 shared with me.  No money changed hands.  It was legal anyway.  I think.  It was in Country 4.  (I know that Cuban cigar was legal; it was in Country 3.)

I ate a doughnut during Opera 14 the first time I saw it.  In fact, it was my first Opera.

I failed to return the phone calls of Callers 2 through infinity.  Likewise, I procrastinated doing all their paperwork.

Fundraisers 1 and 2 never called me.  As far as I am aware neither myself nor anyone on my staff, except Staff Member C, ever offered anything of value in exchange for a seat in the United States Senate.  Staff Member C became Felon 2 as a result.  I am still not a U.S. Senator but I met one once.  (Senator 13)

I borrowed a book from Friend 2 and can’t remember for sure if I returned it.  All I know is that it was Book 43 and I can’t find it anywhere so maybe I did.

There.  I’ve done it. Now I am completely enervated and depressed.  In fact, the only thing I’ve got sufficient energy for is a nap.  If I wake up as depressed as I am right now, maybe I’ll have enough energy to commit suicide.

Boston Legal

December 8, 2008

Tonight is the end of Boston Legal.  That is like really sad.  It was about the only television program which had like old people in it.  William Shatner —  does anybody out there remember Star Trek? — plays a 75 year-old lawyer in the early stages of Alzheimers, Candice Bergen plays a woman lawyer in her sixties, Henry Gibson is “Preposterous!” and as old as a real judge.  “Outrageous!” Even James Spader who plays one of the leads, might — gasp — be in his fifties.

The Judge

The Judge

In last week’s episode another of the old lawyers on the program fights an age discrimination case against network television because no program except Boston Legal has oldsters as lead characters.  (In fact, Boston Legal was cancelled by ABC because in its 4.5 year run it lost half of its viewers under 50.)  But let him speak for himself,

“The baby boomers, now all over 50, earn $42 trillion in annual income. That’s trillion!”

Arguing the case with the lawyer representing the broadcast networks, Carl Sack tells the judge that people over 50 account for half of all discretionary spending in the United States. 

“Choose your statistic,” he says, “Go ahead. I’ve got you. We’ve got more money. We spend more money. We watch more television, go to more movies, we buy more CDs than young people do and yet we’re the focus of less than 10 percent of the advertising. All the networks want to do is skew younger. Kids shows for kids. You know, the only show unafraid to have its stars over 50 is ‘Bos — ‘ gee, I can’t say it. It would, um, break the wall.”

He ends with a line that ABC attempted to censor — I wonder why —  “The airwaves, judge, are a public trust, at least as far as the broadcast networks are concerned — that’s why they’re regulated.”

The Lawyers

The Lawyers

Not that I care about people over 50.  Those people are like well, you know, old.

They care about slippages in modern culture such as Daniel Craig going through an entire Bond, James Bond movie without once saying, “My name is Bond, James Bond.”  And without having sex with the main female character.  What is the world coming to?  Sean Connery would never have let that happen.  People who remember the real Walt Disney, Elvis Presley, the Vietnam War, the Apollo program and — oh, what was that music group? — um, wait, it’s coming to me . . . .I’ve got it!  The Beedles!  People like that care about the old verities.  Like complete sentences. And, who knows, some of them may yet do some noble work not unbecoming men who strove with gods.

That was it for ABC in this household.  The TV will not be tuned to ABC again and no advertiser will reach this household by buying advertising on that network.  Probably Walt Disney, which owns ABC, won’t either.  Disney used to be a pretty good company which produced pretty good entertainment but those days appear to be gone.

To the characters of Boston Legal, on their way to join Paladin, Hawkeye Pierce, Mary and Mr. Grant, George Smiley and all the rest in the pantheon of great broadcast characters, we say Godspeed, and to the actors who played them, we say thanks.

The Balcony

The Balcony

Footnotes in American History

December 3, 2008


We know that certain conceits are involved in our “Footnotes in American History” project here at the Golden State.   First, scientists tell us that we are in the sixth great extinction epidemic of earth’s history and there is no biological or geological evidence to suggest that our species, unlike the 99% of all species which have lived and gone extinct here, is extinction-exempt or even special.  The odds are as much against us as they were against the Dodo.

The second conceit is that anyone will be reading about the United States in 500 or 1,000 years.  It’s possible, of course, but certainly not guaranteed.  As the historical evidence is against the survival of the species, so too is it against the long-term survival of the United States.  Empires come and go with astounding regularity.

Those two facts actually fold into one: Just as we discovered that our planet does not occupy any special place in the universe; likewise, it is unlikely that we do.



Which is the point of the “Footnotes” series.  We are sentient beings which can conceive of a “future” and can even imagine and plan for it. By imagining a long view — and we’ll probably turn out to be wrong almost as often as there are things to be wrong about — we hope to make a tiny contribution to a shift toward a healthy human humility and an American one.  That is our only hope to avoid the fate that awaited most of life on this planet.

The Dodo

The Dodo

And with that long wind-up, here is today’s footnote:

32– In early America a game called “feetball” was popular.  Millions of people attended to the games and some even entered the popular mythology of the time. Entire books were written about individual games.  One college game, between Harvard and Yale, is still remembered today.  (Harvard won, 29-29.)

The athletes who played were lionized and wealthy members of society.  However wealthy and admired they may have been, however, some weren’t smart.  For instance, we have a criminal record of one such athlete who went to a bar with a loaded hand-gun in the waist band of his sweat pants.  The weapon slid out of the waist band and the athlete made a grab for it and shot himself in the leg.

His case reached the United States Supreme Court in the year 2011.  Because the state (An old political subdivision still extant in those days) of New York had a law against carrying concealed weapons in public the athlete was sentenced to a mandatory jail sentence of 3 years.  Because he was a big star and wealthy he claimed that the New York law violated his 2nd Amendment right to “bear arms.”  In Burress v. New York, the Supreme Court agreed and held that Americans had the constitutional right to carry concealed guns wherever they wanted.

That remained the law for only a few years.  In 2015 Justice Scalia, by then an old, cranky man, asked a lawyer appearing before the Court a sarcastic question.  The lawyer took offense, reached in his suit coat, pulled out a pistol and shot the Justice dead.

Soon after, the Supreme Court discovered that the 2nd Amendment only protected Americans’ right to bear arms when they were on militia duty.