Aether Song

Our time is not in the grey falling rain nor in the boundless blue-green sea. Our time is in the river that lies between them, flowing smooth and quiet over the sand or angry and roiling over the unyielding stones. Joining and dividing. Choosing our own way for good or ill.

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Location: United States

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Catastrophic Success

That's what a member of the Bush administration would have called it. Naturally anyone else would call it failure. On Monday night I hiked into the Pemigewasset Wilderness to set up camp with the intention the next day of hiking what I call the 'Great Ring' a horseshoe of mountain peaks some 25 miles in length. When I got to Lincoln NH I realized that I had neglected to bring my filter bottle (which filters spring and stream water so you don't get Giardia or one of the other malicious microbes which can hang out there). Unfortunately the outfitter in Lincoln did not have a filter bottle so I settled instead for buying some iodine tablets (which I had also left at home). I figured I'd just carry some extra Gatorade for the journey and everything would be okay. On the way out to the campsite I realized that I had forgotten another vital substance: deodorant. So I dropped my pack, jogged back to my car and snagged that. I can lay partial blame for my haste on the swarm of biting flies in the parking lot which hurried me along. I reached my usual camping site beside the stream, the one I stayed at in the previous year when I tried this same stunt (emphasis on 'try' there). I used the last of the remaining sunlight to pack my day pack for the next day. Food: bag o' gorp and two Clif bars. Drink: Four bottles of Gatorade. Clothes: A lot in case it suddenly became winter at the high elevations (which is possible). Then I tried to sleep (emphasis again on 'try'). I don't know exactly how many hours of sleep I managed to get, but it wasn't a lot and my dreams were of things like coyotes and bears. The owls serenading me didn't help. Except for bears nothing in the forest presented an overt danger to me, but that didn't keep me from noticing every little sound. In the pre-dawn darkness of 4:30 in the morning I gave up and started breaking camp. I had some gorp and a few combos and the remains of a diet coke (talk about the breakfast of champions). As I was packing up my tent the flashlight died and I cursed it with great cursings. It didn't actually 'die' per se. It decided that what it would do was work for about four seconds at a time and then fade out until I shut it off for a minute. Rinse and repeat. With that handicap I packed everything up and stowed my big pack in the bushes across the stream. By this time there was the dimmest hint of dawn which allowed me to see the path as a dark ribbon through the bushes. So off I went into the lightening grey. The beginning was not auspicious considering that even on the first of many mountains I had to pause and catch my breath. This was not a particularly difficult mountain either. It was a bad sign of things to come, and come they did. So up I went over Mt. Flume and then on to Mt. Liberty. After Liberty was Haystack where I began to seriously, as the phrase goes, 'drag ass' but up I went. Over Lincoln and Over Lafayette. I had drunk two of my Gatorades early on, but then I had pretty much stopped drinking. I rested longer than is typical for me on Mt. Lafayette in the hopes that my digestive system would take the opportunity to catch up and re-stock the precious bodily fluids. It didn't so on I went. After an interminable period of ups and downs (which I had barely remembered from the last time) I reached Mt. Garfield and there, after DEETing my clothing heavily (there were bugs) I laid down on the rock and after shivvering for a time I did something unusual for me. I fell asleep. Rocks as most everyone can attest are not the most comfortable of places so this was a bit surprising. By the time I reached the peak of Garfield I had lost all of my 'oomph' for ups. I could do level or down, but any up was a struggle and if I continued on with my plan there would have been a huge up in my future. By this time it was 3:00, and since I had left the useless flashlight behind there was no possibility of going on in the dark even had I the strength (which I didn't). So as I had done last time I took the 'turn of shame' which is a cut off you can do at about the halfway point of the 'horseshoe'. Down I went. I am not exactly sure when I stopped sweating, but I did. I have had heat exhaution before and am all too familiar with the symptoms which is why I either dunked or poured water over my head at each stream to cool me off. After seven long miles I came to one of the large bridges and paused for a moment. I was queasy, but I still had one full gatorade in my pack and I didn't want to keep carrying it. So I thought to myself: 'I can handle just a swallow or two.' I was wrong and I knew it almost immediately. I leaned over the bridge trying to settle the stomach, but to no avail which is why I was on my knees dry heaving into the grass only moments later (I had eaten nothing since breakfast about 12 hours previous so there was nothing to bring up). I felt a little better after that and after some more long miles I gathered my big pack from where I had left it and made it back to my car (which I was happy to see). I drove down to the Lincoln McDonalds and decided to test my stomach on some diet coke (I don't know why but fountain soft drinks seem to be the best thing when the stomach is upset). My stomach passed that test and when I got to the Town Near The Mountains I got two of those little meat roll thingies that you see at the Quik-e-Mart because for some reason I was really craving meat. I had food with me (uneaten from my journey) but I wanted meat dammit! They went down and did not, thankfully, make a return journey. When I got back to City By The Sea I had even more meat and it was good. So was the shower and the brushing of the teeth. Yeah, I had forgotten the toothbrush too.
Guess I'll have to be better prepared next year. Third time's a charm right? As for the 'success' part I didn't die on the slippery rocks and I burned a goodly number of calories. Yeah me.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Sign Sign Everywhere a Sign

Tomorrow will be a first for me. I am going to attend a protest of 'The Decider' who is here to pay homage to George the Greater and his mate Echidna. The infosite said to make a sign and 'be creative' so I gave it my best effort (despite running out of room sooner than I anticipated). One side of the sign says " SLITHER BACK TO THE CESSPOOL YOU CRAWLED FROM MONSTER" and the other side says "STOP POLLUTING OUR STATE WITH YOUR TOXIC PRESENCE! GO HOME!" So what do you think? Too subtle?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Mother's Choice Part II

According to some estimates there are tens of trillions of cells in the adult human body (of which I happen to be a possessor). In most (but not all) of these is a nucleus and in that nucleus is DNA. My blueprints. That double helix has determined a lot of things in my life and will continue to determine a goodly number of things right up to my death (which barring accident or environmental influence it will also determine, the seeds of creation and destruction both). Until the 1950's when Watson and Crick puzzled it out the shape of it was the subject of speculation. The secret code was locked away in an ivory tower, inaccessible. After that human beings began working on picking the lock to that tower.
I had meant the first thread to be a discussion of cloning rather than designer genes (which I think deserves it's own thread). So here we go.
If my own mother had had the choice I hope that she would have made them. If she could have chosen for me to have good, straight, cavity resistant teeth I hope that she would have made that choice. If she could have chosen for me to have good knees rather than ones that pop out in a rather agonizing fashion if I bend them the wrong way I hope that she would have made that choice. If she could have chosen for me to be able to see perfectly well without glasses I hope she would have made that choice. If she could have chosen for me to have a full head of hair for the entirety of my life I really really hope that she would have made that choice and lastly if she could have chosen to remove from my genes the predilection for the early onset of circulatory and heart disease which has marked me and the taint of which is there in the nuclei of those tens of trillions of cells I hope that she would have made that choice as well and left me with a better legacy than the one that I now bear.
I will state unabashedly that I am for unravelling The Code and for re-writing it better. What do I mean by better? Better as in eliminating all of the inheritable diseases. Better as in increasing our resistance to viruses. Better as in increasing our resistance to bacteria and parasites. Better as in increasing our resistance to toxins and radiation. If we could do that why would we not? If we could free every baby born on earth from these burdens why would we not? Imagine a world where no one needed braces or glasses. Imagine a world almost no one got sick. But that isn't the controversial part of course. After all who would stand up and fight for our right for cancer susceptibility? These things are in the Code of some people already. We just need to make sure that everyone gets them.
The Code dictates other things as well - my gender; my shape; the color of my hair, skin and eyes. So where is 'better' there? The answer of course is in the choices of the parents. I don't know what choices they would make, but I think they should have the ability to make them. And if you disagree (as I know some of you do) the question comes again: If it is not harming you then why would you deny those choices to others who would make them? If everyone wants tall, blue-eyed, white-skinned boy children then so be it. I personally suspect that they wouldn't. Isn't part of the fun of having children that they look like you (at least to some extent)?
Evolution tells us one thing very clearly: Change is inevitable. Until now evolution has determined those changes, but soon we will be able to give eyes to blind chance and be made better thereby.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Mother’s Choice, Part I

On the two hour ride from the airport to home after our across-the-pond vacation we had a long and heated discussion on, of all things, cloning and genetic engineering (due no doubt to the fact that we are poor sports fans and I can’t discuss music in any depth since the musicians in the family have failed repeatedly to successfully explain the concept of a musical key to me).

For the last two million years or so the pressures of survival and evolution have been dictating the genetic make-up of our species. Those best adapted to pass on their genes did so and those least adapted did much less so. That was then, and this is now. Those primitive people’s had no idea why they looked the way that they did. Likely they thought it was just the way things were, but now we know. I am not saying that we now know all there is to know about the subject, but we do know enough to be dangerous and we become more dangerous by the day in this regard. Now we know about, DNA, about genes, about testing for genetic abnormalities, diseases and gender. Very soon I think we will know about human cloning and perhaps a little while after that about genetic engineering, not of crops and domestic animals mind you, but genetically engineering of people.

The first question off the block is what is wrong with human cloning and what uses might it be put to and are these bad? I have always thought that the major attraction of cloning would be the ability to have exactly what you wanted in a child. You see someone you like or go to the handy neighborhood Genebank and look through the catalog and pick out the set of features that you are looking for, get the DNA and presto (well nine months later presto), but there are other possibilities as well. Possibilities like banking the DNA of your children ‘just in case’. If there is an accident then you get a ‘do-over’. This becomes more problematic as the children age obviously. There are also those people who are egotistical enough to clone themselves and raise themselves as children (alternatively they could have others raise them as children). I came down on the side of choice personally. Although I am not a parent I find the idea of getting pretty much the child you want and eliminating chance appealing. The problem though is that unless you are cloning yourself you are not passing on your genes so it works poorly as a genetic survival scheme.

Songbird was against human cloning (with one unusual exception), the Princess was aghast at the thought of having herself as a child because it was so ‘unnatural’. Snowman kept bringing up cloning our dogs (very poor cloning candidates) and I am not sure where he stood on the whole human cloning question. I am pretty sure he wasn’t enthused by getting one of himself. So how about you?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Noble Horse

This is my best effort at songwriting. Be very, very grateful that I am not there to sing it to you (although an audio of that is available). Without further ado -

When I was just a young lad, barely six years old
I climbed upon me father’s knee and this to me he told
You’ll have many friends me boy, this cannot be denied
But the greatest friend you’ll know, is the one you ride

The horse will bring you home
The horse will bring you home
Your other good friends will come to bad ends
The horse will bring you home

I went to see me mother to ask if this were true
She pulled me close and whispered low, I’ll say this to you
You’ll meet many fillies, in this you cannot not fail
But place your trust in only those with four hooves and a tail

The horse will bring you home
The horse will bring you home
These girls you will meet will leave you in the street
The horse will bring you home

I went out a’riding and chanced upon a lass
Many happy hours we spent, a-holding down the grass
How was I supposed to know that I was doin’ wrong?
Till she let out an awful shriek when her husband came along

The horse he brought me home
The horse he brought me home
Not one for a fight I took me to flight
The horse he brought me home

I went to the tavern, to slake me mighty thirst
The drink it got the best of me, and the floor it got the worst
The innkeep such an evil man, he threw me in the street
I struggled to my knees at last and there I chanced to meet…

The horse he brought me home
The horse he brought me home
T’was quite a battle to get in the saddle
But the horse he brought me home

I happened on a lady who simply had no shame
After several hours of bliss I asked her for her name
What she told me sweetly, had me a-runnin from her bed
She whispered there on those silk sheets that to the mayor she’d wed

The horse he brought me home,
The horse he brought me home
The watch they give chase, but we won that race,
The horse he brought me home

The king he sent me off to war and I did what I could
But when it came to fighting lor I wasn’t very good
So when that arrow found its mark I thought that that was it
But it turned out all that it did was make it hard to sit…

The horse he brought me home
The horse he brought me home
It wasn’t too grand in the stirrups to stand
But the horse he brought me home

And when at last the time it came that he could bear no more
I cried myself a river and I swam myself to shore
I could not bear to part from him, though na man would say he’s small
I had him stuffed and mounted and put him in my hall

The horse I brought him home
The horse I brought him home
He’s not quite as spry, but neither am I,
The horse I brought him...


Sunday, August 06, 2006

A jewel of hours

The Emerald King
Silent and stone-faced
Stood high and proud in azure
His lofty head unbowed
Crowned in white fire
Of chill cirrus plumes

If I could hold a day to remember, to savor and salt away against darker times I would hold this day. The air was clear and cool, an invitation to deep breathing. The wind was a chill and welcome caress on sweat-slick skin. The water, serene and deep, the perfect ending.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

A muse's gift

Occasionally my whimsical muse will drop things off (sort of like UPS but without the brown shorts). One such package follows -


Where shall we look for this soul that you seek?
In the flesh that I wear or the words that I speak?
In the songs that I sing? In the dances I know?
In the tone and the timbre of my first ‘hello?
Just where do you find a soul in a man?
In his head? In his heart? In his feet? In his hands?
Does it lie in his kidneys or deep in his chest?
Does it shine when he’s conscious or come out during rest?
Will it spring from his eyes as he looks at the stars?
Or can you trace out its path along the lengths of his scars?
Can it be held up and displayed like an ethereal sheet?
Or will you perceive it in my face when we meet?

Friday, August 04, 2006

This I believe

The other day some earnest young Mormon ‘elders’ came to our door all neatly dressed and proper hoping, no doubt, to make a good impression. There followed a short conversation ending in an accusation that I was ‘angry’ at which point they hastily departed for greener pastures. One of the questions they asked, but which I did not have time to explain fully was: “What do you believe in?” I can no longer answer them due to lack of proximity, but I can put my answer up here for the curious.

· I believe that everything in our universe is governed by the laws of physics (both those we know and those we don’t) and the four primary forces (Gravity, Strong Nuclear, Weak Nuclear, and Electromagnetic).

· I believe that the universe came into existence 13.7 billion years ago (give or take a few million years). I do not know how it happened, and even the best scientists can’t say for sure how, but that figure is pretty well agreed on.

· I believe that some unknown time after that the first stars formed. Inside one (or more) of those stars the elements heavier than hydrogen were fused. I believe that shortly (on astronomical time scales) after that that star exploded scattering those elements into space (and believe me if there were air in space it would have made a hellacious BOOM). This could have happened more than once for all I know, we may well have had more than one stellar parent.

· I believe that around 5 billion years ago the sun and the planets of the solar system (including the one we inhabit) formed from this stellar detritus.

· I believe that after the earth formed and cooled, around 3.85 billion years ago or so, life began. I don’t know how that happened and neither does the scientific community unless I missed the announcement somewhere. Naturally there is no shortage of theories, but I have no reason to believe that there was anything supernatural involved.

· I believe that life evolved from single celled creatures into multi-celled creatures, from multi-celled creatures into fish, from fish into amphibians, from amphibians into reptiles, from reptiles into mammals, from early mammals into primates and finally from early primates into homo sapiens. You. Me. Us, and also for better or worse, Mormons.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Who Am I?

It would be a wonderful thing (at least to some) if when we are born we were given a golden plaque upon which was inscribed our destiny and our place in existence. Then we would know who and what and where we were supposed to be. Whether you view this as fortunate or not, it does not happen. Instead we must feel our way blindly forward and make decisions based on partial and sometimes incorrect information.

What we are, where we are and where we came from all have clear straightforward answers but who we are is a different question entirely. Who is a question of identity and identity is to some extent a matter of choice and decision.
Some things you do not choose. You do not choose where you are born, nor who your biological parents or other relatives are. Most do not choose who raises them, nor which language they first speak. Most keep the names they were born with although this may be changed in later years.
When asked the question ‘Who are you?’ The answer received will likely either be an inherent personal characteristic or it will be in relation to something else.

The first instinct we have is to give our family names. What do these amount to? A collection of syllables and a few symbols, no more or less. They are a label, giving scant clue as to content, particularly for the non-famous. If, for instance, your first name is James or John, Mary or Patricia then millions of other people will share it and that name will essentially be meaningless as far as being a descriptor of you.
Your last name is only a minor improvement. It will reveal what family you belong to and this may be slightly more meaningful if you do choose to define yourself in relation to them.
You may also choose to define yourself in relation to particular relatives, such as parents “I am the daughter of Jane Edmonds.” Or children: “I am the mother of Ralph Edmonds”, “I am Ralph Edmonds’ Father.” Beyond unchosen family there lies the vast minefield of choice starting with chosen family i.e. marriage.: “I am the husband of Mary Edmonds.” “I am the wife of John Edmonds.”
Some people define themselves by Occupation/Societal Role: “I am a Lawyer.”, “I am an environmental activist.”
Some people define themselves by country/culture/political division of Origin or residence: “I am an American Citizen.”, “I am an Tarheel.”
Some people define themselves by their interests or hobbies: “I am a soccer fan/player.”
Some people unfortunately define themselves by their failings or flaws: “I am a sinner.” “I am an alcoholic.” “I am fat man.” “I am an ugly woman.”, “I am a thief.”
Some people (more than a few I would presume) define themselves by religion or worldview: “I am a Christian.”, “I am a Muslim.” , “I am a Jew.”

These are of course not mutually exclusive. I would imagine that circumstance dictates which of these we use at any particular time or in any particular situation, but I think each of us orders our particular choices in rank of importance.
The problem as I see it is that many of these chosen self-definitions draw lines. They say clearly that this is ‘US’, this is ‘THEM’ and ‘THEY’ are most certainly not part of ‘US’. And since ‘THEY’ are not part of ‘US’ we do not need to treat ‘THEM’ the same way because ‘THEY’ are either flawed in some way, or ‘THEY’ are somehow less than fully human and thus not deserving of the same treatment that we might accord those who do meet that requirement. So, what to do. Well for myself I thought I’d redefine who and what I am in a non-exclusive way. This definition to follow:

I am a Child of Mystery, for it was from mystery and into mystery that our universe was born.
I am a Child of Fire, for much of my substance was forged deep in the inconceivable heat at the core of an unnamed star whose light my eyes shall never know.
I am a Child of Darkness for it was into the black, frigid depths of the Void that my substance was cast when my stellar mother perished in an explosion of unimaginable violence.
I am a Child of Light for without the warming light of the Sun no life would have stirred upon the face of the Earth.
I am a Child of Earth for I partake of her substance and the essence of her stones lies within me. When I hunger it it the fruits of the earth which nourish me.
I am a Child of Water, for the line of my ancestors begins there, and I carry its legacy within me, in tears and sweat, in blood and bile, I am a vessel for them. I thirst and the waters quench me. Bereft of them I am little more than a handful of dust.
I am a Child of the Air for breath and life are one.
I am a Child of mothers beyond counting stretching back in an unbroken chain to the first fragile cell.
I am a voyager in time. I have journeyed through the eons in the heart of suns, in the spaces between stars and lastly through the tunnel of wombs to stand for a vanishing moment in the light, to stand and look back, to stand and look forward, to stand and to wonder. This is how I have come, but whither now shall I go?

Good and Evil

A quick glance at the news will soon reveal that there is no shortage of moral absolutist language in today’s political discourse. The problem is that the politicos and the theological moralists use these words without ever providing a definition for them. I thought I’d take a stab at correcting that. The logical place to begin is at the beginning: What is Good? What is Evil? Since I am an atheist I am not going to begin with the beliefs of any particular ethos or orthodoxy, sacred book or scripture. I think the proper place to begin would be to examine the common elements of human life itself something we all share.

At the very beginning we are conceived. For approximately nine months we gestate inside our mothers and then we are born. We live out the span of our lives until they come to an end by accident, intent, disease or age, then we die. So the question: Is there Good in there somewhere? Is there Evil? Well nothing obvious stands out from this far vantage unless you wish to define life itself as Good, in which case there is Good in each human life, monsters, saints and everypersons. If you prefer to think that human life is morally neutral then we will need to move the camera in a bit and take a closer look to find The Good, or the Evil. Let’s look at each part of life in turn.

Is there Good or Evil in conception? Here a sperm joins and fertilizes an egg. It’s an automatic biological process. I don’t think there is Good or Evil in it so let’s move on to Birth. Is there Good or Evil in simply being born? That would depend on how much weight you give to biological determinism. The baby thus born may have inherent violent tendencies with a high potential for bringing harm to others. It might be argued that that would be accounted as a potential Evil if not an actual Evil. Conversely the child may have strong altruistic tendencies which might be accounted as a potential Good. Since a baby is incapable of acting on these inherent impulses and environmental conditions may enhance or preclude their exercise the jury would have to be out.

Once it leaves the womb but before it begins to move freely or speak a baby will have certain requirements to grow and to maintain life. These requirements will persist throughout life so we might as well cover them here. The baby will require food, water, air, and sleep. Is there an inherent Good or Evil in breathing, eating, drinking, sleeping, defecating, urinating or dreaming? Again these are things required by biology. No Good or Evil to see here. The baby grows into a child. The child is taught what is acceptible and what is not acceptible both by its caretakers and by the society in which it grows up. Most importantly of all at some time during this period of growth the child begins to think for itself. It is there, there in those thoughts that the seeds of Evil and Good are sewn. Thoughts lead to decisions. Decisions lead to actions. Actions lead to consequences. Those consequence may be good, Evil Neutral or a combination of these.

Let’s take three examples of behavior generally accounted to be Evil.

Murder: If someone is murdered all of their various metabolic processes stop. So where is the evil? Is cooling something from body temperature to room temperature Evil? No. Is ceasing production of carbon-dioxide, urine and feces Evil? No. So what else is lost? Thoughts and memories? But what good are either of those if they are uncommunicated? Words and sounds? What value are those if they remain unheard? No, the Evil lies in the destruction of the relationships that person had.

[An aside about relationships here. Each of us has three kinds. Our relationship with ourselves (self-self), our relationship with our environment (self-other), and our environment’s relationship with us (other-self), and here I am referring to environmental factors, including the actions of others, which are beyond our control.]

The murder victim has all their relationships truncated at a stroke. Those who remember them will of course maintain their relationship with them through their memories of the deceased, but nothing new will ever be added to them. The relationship will neither grow nor change with time save only that the memories will gradually fade.

Assault: If someone is assaulted the forms of damage may differ. If there is physical damage then their ability to relate to their environment may very well be impaired. Having broken limbs for instance limits the interactions you may have with the environment. There may also be psychological damage making you mistrustful or angry at your fellow human beings imparing your ability to have a relationship with them.

Rape: Aside from the physical damage as outlined in assault, this act also carries a definite probability of psychological damage.

This leaves us with a working definition of Evil.

Evil is -

Any thought which conceives of impairing or destroying the body or psyche of another human being without their consent.

Any decision on a course of action arrived at by those thoughts that would result in the impairment or destruction of the body or psyche of another without their consent.

Any consequence resulting from that conscious decision that would result in the impairment or destruction of the body or psyche of another without their consent.

These things are Evil because they would either destroy the health of an existant relationship or damage the ability of the affected person to have relationships.

Using this definition we can divide evil into four grades from least to greatest.

Grade 1: Evil without decision or intent.

Grade 2: Evil as a result of decisions made from ignorance of the consequences, but without evil intent.

Grade 3: Evil as a result of decisions made from apathy of the consequences, but without evil intent.

Grade 4: Evil as a result of decisions made with full knowledge of the consequences and with evil intent.

Conversely Good would be -

Any thought which conceives of enhancing the body or psyche of another human being.

Any decision on a course of action arrived at by those thoughts that would result in the enhancement of the body or psyche of another.

Any consequence resulting from that conscious decision that would result in the enhancement of the body or psyche of another.

These things are Good because they would enhance the health of an existant relationship or improve the ability of the affected person to have relationships. This is not to imply that all relationships are inherently Good, because it is perfectly plausible that one relationship can be unhealthy and impair one’s ability to have others.

Under this definition technology which enhances or enables relationships impossible without it would also qualify as Good. Cell phones and the Internet are the most recent examples.

Using these definitions human life is inherently valuable only insofar as each human has at the very least a relationship with themselves and with the Earth. The more numerous and stronger your relationships are the more value your life has.