Anxiety In Hindsight

There’s a tenseness in your stomach
And a flutter in your heart
You may find it hard to focus
Any noise can make you start
Since it came upon you slowly
Or your thoughts were turned aside
You believed it would be something
You could easily abide
Hell, you might not even notice
As you go about your day…
But I guarantee, you’ll feel it
When the feeling goes away!

So today, when I got the news that Cuttlespouse’s father’s surgery went well, it was (understandably) a relief. I knew (and expected, or hoped) that it would be. I had forgotten, though, just what a palpable, physical feeling that relief is.

I suffer from anxiety on occasion. I’m getting much better at recognizing it and taking steps to avoid it, or when it is unavoidable, to take steps to handle it (up to and including anti-anxiety meds). It is rare that I notice the beginning signs, though, until they are jumping around in front of me chanting “neener neener boo boo” and distracting me to the point of insomnia and digestive problems. And the biggest bouts I have ever experienced, I did not notice at all until something happened to impose understanding on me from without.

So I guess what I’m saying it, it’s real, it’s palpable, but it can be helped. And if you feel like a fool not realizing that you are suffering, you’re not alone there either. There are perfectly good reasons to get all stressed out about something (that’s life for you), but that feeling of relief is nature’s way of saying “y’know, it might be nice to try something different right about now.”

Everything Old Is New Again (Or, Sex With Robots)

As predictable as clockwork,
Or some finely crafted gears—
We forget about the last one
So the latest one appears

It’s designed to gather eyeballs
Both to titillate and vex—
It’s an article (with pictures)
Probing human-robot sex

Yup… this time, it’s the BBC with “Will we ever want to have sex with robots?“. In 2007, the now-defunct Cognitive Daily asked “Will humans marry robots in 50 years”, which prompted this bit of musing from me. In 2009, the big news was HRP-4C (also mentioned in the Beeb’s current piece), which also got its (her?) own verse here. I may have missed the 2011 version, or perhaps I just reposted the old verses… but now enough time has passed that we are once again being asked if or when people will be having sex with robots.

But something is different this time. In 2007… well, here, something from today’s piece:

In 2007, the British chess player and artificial intelligence (AI) expert David Levy said in his book, Love and Sex with Robots, we would be having sex with robots in five years – and be capable of falling in love with them within 40 years.

His argument is based on improvements in robotic engineering and computer programming – and extrapolating from the income generated by the porn industry each year.

Such robots would be a “terrific service” for mankind, he argued.

Well… a terrific service, in that it finally rids us of the need to treat our sexual partners as human beings. Because that is a huge, pressing problem, and the way to address it is not to teach us how to treat one another properly (really, honestly, is it too much to expect people to find enthusiastic consent sexy?) but to invest in machines that allow us to have absolute control instead.

But… for once, the old faithful story addresses this, just a bit:

“It is time to reconsider the premise that a robot is better than nothing,” says Sherry Turkle, psychologist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Because, if you are trying to solve the problem of care and companionship with a robot, you are not trying to solve it with the people you need to solve it with – friends, family, community.”

There’s a bit more there, but they did the job of writing it, so you can give them the traffic.

Unintended Consequences; or, Get Off Of My Lawn!

My parents worked through poverty,
Through hardship and through strife,
In part so we, their children, had
A better chance at life

And we, their sons and daughters,
With our parents’ words well heeded
Have worked so that our children, too
Have better lives than we did.

To make the world a better place
Each generation’s toiled…
And when it worked, our folks complained
That kids these days are spoiled.

So I’ve been helping, these past few days, my niece move into her new apartment, preparing for grad school. My parents were also visiting at the time, and helping as well.

And so it is that we know how much bigger this apartment is than the one they started out in, and how they got by with just two cooking pans, cracked plates, mismatched cutlery, and let’s not even get started on things like a TV. “The one thing we couldn’t give you is the one thing that did the most for us, and that’s poverty.”

I’m calling bullshit. This is the same romanticizing of the past that leads people to vaccine denialism–people were stronger back when they had to struggle with measles, polio, and whooping cough. Kids these days have it too easy, with their vaccines, their child labor laws, their health care, and an infrastructure that puts the accumulated knowledge of the world at their fingertips. We didn’t have computers back then, and we are better for it.

Back when my parents actually were poor (and even then, I suspect their own parents had a different view of it–my dad’s father built their house by hand, even digging the basement himself, so quit your complaining about a small apartment someone had already built)… where was I? Oh, yeah, back when my parents actually were poor, poverty was not a character builder, it was something to be escaped, or better yet, avoided. Any decent human being would work so that their children would not have to experience the poverty they did.

And it worked. Well, it worked for some, my privileged self included. My parents gave me a start that their parents could not give them. I tried, and mostly succeeded, to do the same thing for my children. As did my siblings. As did countless other parents, generations of people doing their best to change the world for the better. Our power grid is better (well, at present it is aging); our water and waste systems are better; our telecommunication structure, our food distribution, our information superstructure, all better (again, for the privileged, including my parents and my family).

It worked. Now, my kids and nieces and nephews, and their generation, can answer questions in seconds, that we had to find a library and look for appropriate sources and hope they were available and yadda yadda yadda… and which my parents’ generation might not have even attempted to answer, or asked in the first place. The world is different; it always is. It was not better to have to work for those particular answers, it was just more difficult. Now that the answers can be found easily, the newer generation can spend that effort pushing the envelope. Look at the astounding progress of science in recent decades; in part, that is possible because technology has made the difficult tasks easier, so that the hard work can be devoted to the hard tasks.

We should not romanticize poverty. If we do, it is too tempting to choose not to fight it. And just as childhood illnesses could have long-reaching consequences that last decades, poverty has long-reaching consequences, that can span decades and cultures. Vaccines can spare us much of the cost of these diseases. Education and health care are a good start at sparing us the costs of poverty.

And when it works, we should appreciate that success, not belittle it. It makes no sense at all to promote doing easy things the hard way, when we have enough hard problems to go around.

So, yes, my niece has a nice apartment. Congratulations, Grandma and Grandpa–you have succeeded in making the world a better place for your kids and theirs. Thank you, sincerely and from the bottom of my hearts. We couldn’t have done it without you. And think–if she were starting out as you started out, all your hard work would have been for nothing.

So hush now, and be proud–of her, and of yourselves. And watch, cos it’s her turn now to work on the hard problems. And because we have some real hard problems, aren’t you glad you gave her a running start?

Point B

Congratulations! I’m glad to see
You’ve struggled your way from point A to point B
(If you happened to get there via X, Q, or G,
And stumbled, or fell, or perhaps skinned your knee,
The point is, you made it, I hope you agree.)

You’ll have your detractors. Don’t listen to those
Who would tell you, you should have been pointing your toes
Or you should have just stayed and tried holding your nose.
Or maybe you should have worn different clothes—
There is no way to win, in some eyes, I suppose

But you did! You emerged at point B from point A,
Past the pitfalls and traps that might lead you astray
(And of course, there are some who are still on their way)
The persnickety people who judge you today
Though they talk quite a lot, they have nothing to say

So whether it’s fortitude, whether it’s luck
You are out of the quicksand, the mud, and the muck
You are now at point B, where at A you were stuck.
Those awful detractors, who sit there and cluck?
If you like, you can tell them you don’t give a fuck.

Alas, now I need a Dr. Seuss. I can even picture the illustration…

This verse started out with a title–a title I didn’t end up using, because the verse went a different way. They do that, sometimes. The title was “point B is the new point A”–the idea is, you make a plan to get from where you are (point A) to a particular goal (I think you can guess). The trick is, life sometimes gets in the way, and you find yourself at point C, or F, or Zed. At which point, it is easy to panic. Do you make your way back to A? Do you give up?

What I find helpful, is to re-define A. Where you are, is A. Where you are now is always where you will be coming from. If life knocks you off your path and you find yourself at point F, F is the new A. Plan a course from there. Yes, it may be easiest to go back to A–but not always. You may have learned something in getting to F, and you can use that.

And when you do get to point B (congratulations!), you will find that B is the new A. It’s (with any luck) a nicer point A than the last one, with a better view and more options. But whether it’s a stopping place, or a springboard, is up to you.

Inspired by quite a lot of things, over quite a lot of time, but particularly by Dana’s excellent post today.

Those Poor, Needy Christian Millennials!

Rachel Held Evans has another opinion piece up–why millennials need the church– at CNN, and it’s worse than the last one. Apparently, there are at least seven things millennials (at one point she does limit it to what “Christian millennials” need, but not consistently) need: Baptism, Confession, Healing, Leadership, Communion, Confirmation, and Union with Christ.

On Baptism…

In a culture that stresses individualism, the church satisfies the human need for community, for shared history and experiences.

And in a world where technology enables millennials to connect only with those who are like-minded, baptism drags us – sometimes kicking and screaming as infants – into the large, dysfunctional and beautiful family of the church.

So we need a community to share, but since technology lets us hang out with those who are like-minded, we need to join a church to be exposed to people who don’t think like we do.

Wait, what?

Schools expose us to people who don’t think like us (well, sometimes–and some churches don’t much like the idea. See the current Texas board of education for a relevant example; schools should be teaching us the things we already believe); churches, in theory, are deliberately organized around a common creed (otherwise, why would any town need more than one church?). Move to a new community, and it’s time for church-shopping, to see which one you fit in with.

And don’t get me started on the “sometimes kicking and screaming as infants”.

I am a part of many different communities–some online and some off. I have close friends, both online and off. I can see where the church could provide community, but if I want that sort of tribalism, I’ll go cheer against the Steelers for the Browns.

On Confession…

“Sin” is not a popular word these days, perhaps because it is so often invoked in the context of judgment and condemnation.

But like all people, millennials need reminding now and then that the hate and violence we observe in the world is also present within ourselves.

While she speaks of the value of accountability, of how the church’s community helps us with our concerns over “materialism, greed, gossip, anger, consumerism and pride”, there’s not a word about, say, the guilt and shame some millennials feel because of the judgment and condemnation of the church, just for who they happen to love. The hate and violence we observe in the world is more abundant because the church is so successful at creating, and then blaming, sinners.

On Healing…

At their best, local churches provide basements where AA groups can meet, living rooms where tough conversations about racial reconciliation occur, casseroles for the sick and shelter for the homeless.

At their worst, they block access to life-saving procedures, even for those who do not follow their tenets.

On Leadership…

Like a lot of millennials, I am deeply skeptical of authority – probably to a fault.

But when I interact with people from my church who have a few years and a lot of maturity on me, I am reminded of how cool it is to have a free, built-in mentoring and accountability program just down the street.

Me, I have to cross the street and talk to my neighbor. Or speak with a colleague down the hall. Or get online and find someone who has worked extensively on the issue and has genuine expertise. I mean, yeah, it’s easier to find answers when I have fewer people to ask, and they are all leaning toward the same view in the first place, and when I don’t have to worry about their qualifications, but still…

On Communion…

Churches may disagree on exactly how Christ is present in these sacred meals, but we agree that Christ is present. And millennials, too, long for that presence.

There are some days when the promise of Communion is the only thing that rouses me from bed on Sunday morning. I want a taste of that mystery.

Ok, frankly, that last bit is kinda creepy. Her craving for communion is frankly alien to me–I really don’t get it. I guess the closest thing I can see to it is (and I have done this) having a drink in remembrance of a lost friend. But of course, I can do that, and need no priest to act as a go-between.
(and see what I meant about “millennials” instead of “Christian millennials”?)

On Confirmation…

“What you promise when you are confirmed is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that that is the story you will wrestle with forever.”

The church, at its best, provides a safe place in which to wrestle with this story we call the Gospel.

There’s a better place. The library. Or even the internet. When you buy a car, would you rely solely on the word of the salesweasel? Certainly, it is in the best interest of the church for you to hear all the reasons you should stay. But is it in your best interest?

On Union with Christ…

Those who follow Jesus long for the day when their communion with him becomes complete, and Jesus promises this will happen through the church.

Mind you, he promised that this would happen within the lifetime of some of his disciples, so…

No matter what the latest stats or studies say, Christians believe the future of the church is secure and not even “the gates of hell” will prevail against it.

Ah, here’s the rub. “Why millennials need the church” is based on an assumption that flies in the face of the “latest stats or studies”. The truth is, millennials are realizing in greater and greater numbers that they do not need the church.

For me, and for my millennial kids, there is no “need” for the church. Sure, it may provide community. “The church, at its best”, as the author is always careful to say, is most assuredly appreciated by a great many people.

Problem is, the church isn’t always at its best.

It’s true that the atheist birds of a feather
Don’t gather in churches–the more is their loss;
The warmth of community, gathered together
For singing, and praying, and burning a cross.
(oops. wrong example.)

The monks in their abbeys, preserving the writing
Of ancients, when everyone’s future was black;
They strove for salvation, while kindly inviting
The godless among them to stretch on the rack.
(dang. wrong example again.)

The New World and Africa, ignorant, dismal,
Called for new Missions, converting each brother;
Heathens were called–they could choose their baptismal–
Christ’s blood or their own; it’s one or the other.
(crap. I suck at this.)

When people are gathered, they still remain people,
They’re good and they’re bad, both alone and in unity
You can meet in a bar, just as under a steeple
Good and bad don’t depend on religious community.

Oh, Nothing, Really….

When philosophers talk about “nothing”
Why, their nothing has nothing at all
No time, and no space, and no matter,
Not even the quantumly small

When philosophers talk about “nothing”
It’s a special and magical word
But it isn’t the “nothing” that physicists see,
Cos the thing is, it must be inferred

Now, this doesn’t much bother philosophers
As a rule, they are rarely unnerved
But you see, this philosopher’s nothing?
It has never—not once—been observed

When philosophers argue religion
And their “nothing” implies a first cause…
If you get to assume your conclusions,
You’re not looking for natural laws

If the universe started from nothing
Which it can’t, the philosophers say
Either “nothing”, or “nothing”, is faulty
So… why swing the philosophers’ way?

There are two different versions of “nothing”
Which the sides have us choosing between
One version says God isn’t needed…
And the other has never been seen

So it’s “nothing” to fret about, really
(and “nothing” seems overly broad)
And there’s nothing that needs a creator…
But it works… if you presuppose God.

Y’know, I would swear I’ve already responded to this… but my aggregator says no. Lemme show you a video by Peter Kreeft, explaining that belief in god is more rational than atheism…

Yes, Kreeft starts with Aquinas, because the 1200’s are so modern.

Ok… I was going to go through the whole video, but I think maybe I’ll save that for later. I want to mention one other thing first.

Now… what was that?

Oh, yeah… nothing. Nothing at all.

Now, Krauss has a book out about nothing. And he’s pretty damned good at talking about it, I hear. But there are those who say he’s talking about an entirely different nothing than the philosophers are.

Which is the point of my little verse. See… Krauss’s “nothing” has the decided disadvantage of being observable. Philosophers need not restrict their nothings with such trivial matters. There is “nothing”, and then, there is “nothing”. One is easy to understand… but has never been observed. The other does not match our expectations, but does match the evidence.

There’s nothing, and then there is nothing. The philosophers’ “nothing” is an assumption, not an observation.

Really…. It’s nothing.

Too Good To Be True

This is Bob, from Widget Industries—I work in personnel—
I’m just checking up on references for one Ignatius Shell,
Who assures us, as his manager, you really knew him well
So I’m hoping you can help us out a bit.
Yes, I’m looking at his resume, and he looks like quite a catch
Since it seems he built your company, and pretty much from scratch
You’d have bit the dust without him, so we’re hoping he’s a match
His experience implies he’ll really fit.

Now, there’s something I remember… just a minute… here we are:
How he saved the boss’s son, who’d been run over by a car,
When he lifted up the vehicle, then gave him CPR,
And a method he’d developed by himself!
When the papers heard the story, how he lifted up that Ford
And they offered him a medal, a parade, and a reward,
He refused it—every penny—‘cept a photo he adored
Of the rescued kid—he keeps it on his shelf

Did he really lead the office in their summer softball games?
Cos it isn’t in his letter (he would never make such claims)
But his fellow workers wrote it (though they would not give their names)
And it seems like such an “Iggy” thing to do.
This is mostly a formality—there isn’t any doubt
Shell’s the sort of dream employee that you only read about
So we’re hoping you’ll confirm that he’s too good to do without
Cos he really seems too perfect to be true

Via CNN, a story that sounds too good to be true–a company that, for a fee, will lie about your past.

“We can replace a supervisor with a fictitious one, alter your work history, provide you with a positive employment reputation, and give you the glowing reference that you need,” Paladin’s website states.

Mind you, there is some question as to whether the story itself (let alone the enthusiastic recommendations) is true:

The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota said it had never heard of Paladin Deception Services and will be “keeping an eye on them going forward.” The company isn’t registered in the state of Minnesota. Green claims it is registered in China instead and he declined to share any tax forms to prove the company’s legitimacy. Meanwhile, Facebook pulled Paladin’s ads from its site in May because it deemed the company inappropriate and misleading.

I am reminded that a post-rapture pet-sitting service that seemed too good to be true… was in fact, too good to be true. So this service may or may not turn out to be real.

Meanwhile, it could be fun, coming up with bogus items for a resume. I know I get called only very rarely to check up on recommendations I write. Maybe I should start claiming that my students are even more remarkable than they are…

The Wedding Of John And Jim

This is the story of John and Jim;
Jim loves John, and John loves him;
Twenty years, six months, and eleven days
Already married in many ways,
They finally got to say their vows
With every right the law allows

Just watch the story—don’t ask why…
And I fucking dare you not to cry.

I don’t always cry at weddings. The last wedding I went to, my nephew’s, I bawled like a baby–but that’s because this was my nephew, and every detail was perfect, and I just love him to death.

I don’t know Jim or John. Never heard of them before about an hour ago. But thanks to the internets, I cried at their wedding, too. It was another perfect day:

John Arthur’s been a patient of Crossroads since March, but it wasn’t until June 26 that he settled on his notion of a perfect day. That morning the U.S. Supreme Court struck down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. As he watched the announcement from a medical bed in his Over-the-Rhine condo, Arthur and his partner of 20 years, Jim Obergefell, decided that they wanted to marry.

A wedding for the couple would not be easy. Because same-sex marriage is illegal in Ohio, and because the Supreme Court ruling left marriage bans at the state level intact, Arthur and Obergefell couldn’t marry here. The prospect of travel was difficult because Arthur is bedridden with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a progressive neurological disease that robs patients of their ability to walk, talk and eventually breathe. Within minutes of the Supreme Court decision, the couple started working the phones, email and social media to figure out how they might legally wed.

The full story is well worth reading, and it is a tear-jerker. I was going to write and tell you about it even before I saw the video.

But, oh. Watch the video (I’ll embed it just below, and if that isn’t working, it can be viewed at the link). It takes a while, but it’s just so beautiful. Yes, I cried. You will, too. I can only hope (vainly, I suspect) that Ohio will soon (sadly, they don’t have much time) allow them to renew their vows in the state they fell in love in, and did not want to leave.

(ok, it’s embedded below the fold–the video is on autoplay, and I don’t know how to fix that, so be aware before you click through. It’s still very much worth your time, though Ok, I’ve deleted the video until such time as I am able to embed it without autoplay. Again, here’s the link to the video, and you do want to watch the video!.)

Anyway… Here’s to John and Jim, or Jim and John, husband and husband. Congratulations!

Replacing Prayer

What should I do, when I used to be praying,
When now I no longer believe?
No longer a god who can hear what I’m saying,
No heaven that I can perceive.

There’s really no need; there’s no formal injunction,
You simply don’t pray any more
But should you desire, just examine the function
Of just what your praying was for:

Some prayers are a message directly to god
Singing praise, or a note of thanksgiving
Such notes may, of course, though at first it feels odd,
Be directed at those who are living—

The doctors, the farmers, the builders, the teachers
Society’s helpers, too many to name;
Your coach and your teammates; your mom in the bleachers
Who, much more than god, helped you out in the game

Some prayers are intended to say you’re repenting,
And humbly requesting forgiveness for sin
If you’ve done someone wrong, perhaps prayer is preventing
Your focus from where the real damage has been—

If you’ve done someone wrong, and need some forgiving,
Not god, but that person, is whom you should ask
It’s harder to ask of a person who’s living
But you’re in the wrong, and so that is your task

Some prayers are petitions, for health or protection,
For knowledge, or favor, or rain, or success
To make the world good (since we can’t have perfection)
Without too much work, or a whole lot of stress

There are things you can do to prepare and be ready
To limit your loss when the world goes berserk
When disaster might hit, you can keep your hand steady,
Then you—and not god—can just get down to work.

So, yeah… one of the search terms that led someone to my blog today was “what to replace prayer with now that i’m an atheist”. And I have to admit, my first thought was “what? why? I just found out I’ve been doing something useless–what should I replace it with?” And of course, there is no need to do any particular thing instead of praying; anything at all, from walking the dog to writing poetry to trimming your toenails, will be at least as useful as prayer.

But of course, that’s a pretty shallow analysis–my faithful friends all tell me that prayer is very meaningful to them. That is, it has a purpose, or rather, it may have several purposes. And so, the real answer is to analyze the function of prayer, and to see if you can accomplish the same function (or even more) in an alternative fashion.

It is not difficult to find multiple different functions of prayer, given the number of faith communities on the internet. I looked at a few functions; the same analysis can be done for any more.

Two separate but related functions are praise and giving thanks–respectively, “attaboy, god!” and “thanks!”, both offered as a response to something about the real world (yes, you could offer these in response to the promise of heaven, but my assumption is that the new atheist won’t be missing this particular function). “All glory to god”, says the winning athlete, or the tornado survivor, or the rescued miner, or the hungry person looking at a bountiful table. What to do instead? Thank the actual people who have helped! Thank your teammates, coach, trainers… the parents who brought you to practices for years, and the organization (school or club) that made facilities available. Those people are actually there, and actually did something, and deserve every bit of the praise and thanks that you are giving to some invisible proxy figure.

You may pray for forgiveness. I’m told this is difficult. Frankly, what’s difficult is finding the actual person you have wronged, and asking that person’s forgiveness. They may not give it. You may have to earn it. You may have to undo the damage you have done. Asking forgiveness of an invisible proxy might make you feel better, but if that is what you miss and want to replace, honestly, you were doing prayer wrong.

Prayers of petition (intercessory prayers) plead with god for rain, or recovery from injury or illness, or guidance, or (frankly) money. I am told that these prayers are never (ha!) taking the place of actual action; to the extent that they are not said while actively working, they at least compete for valuable time. But rather than pray for rain, work for water conservation. Rather than pray for recovery, work for better 911 coverage, better training for trauma teams, regulations curbing ineffective quackery and promoting evidence-based treatment. Rather than praying for the hurricane not to hit, get your disaster kit ready. Rather than pray for good grades… study. Rather than… you get the idea.

So… what to do instead of praying? If there are real world things you were praying for, these are things you can work for. If you were praying just to keep from actually having to work for them… I dunno–try masturbation?

By Human Intelligence I Mean…

I haven’t yet written a symphony
And my poetry? Crude, simple verse.
My theorems, my physical theories
And technologies, frankly, are worse

I question the meaning(s) of living,
And I question the Meaning Of Life…
Do my shortcomings say I’m not human?
That’s the viewpoint of some (take my wife*).


(**I can quote Henny Youngman, though.)

So, yeah, this is a followup to yesterday’s. In the comments over at NPR, Gleiser is challenged by his colleague Barbara King for his claim that dinosaurs were “stupid”. He clarifies that he means human intelligence, rather than animal intelligence:

By human intelligence I mean the ability to create symphonies, poetry, theorems, physical theories, technologies, to be able to question the meaning of existence and the meaning of intelligence.

Of course, I am reminded of the scene from “I, Robot”: Detective Del Spooner asks (mostly rhetorically) “Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot take a blank canvas and turn it into a masterpiece?” Sonny replies, simply, “Can you?”