In Memoriam: George Carlin – by Writer@Large

George Denis Patrick Carlin (May 12, 1937 – June 22, 2008), comedian, author, actor, and atheist.

We’re losing a great and important generation.  Call them the 20th Century Atheists—people like Isaac Asimov (1992), Carl Sagan (1997), Douglas Adams (2001) and Stephen Jay Gould (2002).  They’re a modern generation, born and raised in the 20th century, who were vocal and proud of their rejection of religious superstition before the Internet gave the rest of us some spine.  They have served as role models for us, the next generation, we with our weblogs, message boards, and e-zines that allow us to say things much more easily and to a much more open audience.

And now George Carlin, another of these proud atheists, has passed away at the age of 71.

Carlin’s religious views were a fairly regular part of his comedic material, yet were not so widely recognized.  He was not a face of nontheist activism, nor a promoter of skepticism, nor a champion of evolutionary science.  Because his atheist views were part of his act, it was easy to overlook them as “shock” material, something said for laughs, but not really believed offstage.  The first round of mainstream news obituaries reflected this, being mixed in their recognition of Carlin’s religious views. Most of them focused, rightly so, on his comedy routines.  They all mention the Hippy Dippy Weather Man (“Tonight’s forecast: dark!”), and of course his Seven Dirty Words (shit, piss, fuck, cunt, tits, cocksucker, and motherfucker, in case you forgot).  These obits were far less likely to mention his atheism.

The widely circulated Associated Press report , for example, did not mention Carlin’s religious views at all.  It noted only that Carlin’s humor “could still be in your face as he ridiculed God, joked about televising suicides and did things like simply ending a routine with a recitation of every synonym for penis.”  It reads, in context, as though he just made God jokes to rile the audience. Many American and foreign papers drew material from the AP report, and followed the AP’s lead in avoiding mention of Carlin’s religious views.

A few reports actually went in a different, and bizarre, direction.  United Press International served up a quote where Carlin described what he wanted heaven to be like.  It was a sarcastic comment, in context, where he said that what would be heaven to him would be “to watch it [the Earth] spin itself into oblivion … Tune in and watch the human adventure … That’s what I want heaven to be.” No context for the quote was provided, and a casual reader might be left with the sense that, behind it all, Carlin was musing about an actual heavenThe Los Angeles Times said nothing about Carlin’s opinions on religion in their obit, but chose to run a publicity photo of him wearing a t-shirt with Jesus on it—an inappropriate choice, considering Carlin’s views.

USA Today, on the other hand, was one of the most explicit about Carlin’s irreligion.  In its Carlin obituary , it noted, “The blue-collar Irish Catholic evolved into an atheist whose religion was the power of speech.” In addition, one of the paper’s entertainment writers, Susan Wloszczyna, wrote a separate editorial which opens:

Let’s be upfront about this. George Carlin might have been a comedy god to his disciples and fans. But for nearly 50 years, he practically made a career out of not believing in God.

So don’t go all sappy and commit the sin of saying that one of the most influential and controversial American humorists of our time, who died from heart failure at 71 on Sunday, now has joined some celestial Friar’s Club in the sky, laughing at our foibles from on high with the brilliant likes of Richard Pryor and Henny Youngman.

As the notorious curmudgeon would so bluntly put it, “Bull (bleep)!”

Reuters , to its credit, also made explicit mention of Carlin’s views.  They cited a 2001 interview where Carlin bluntly noted that “I don’t have any beliefs or allegiances. I don’t believe in this country, I don’t believe in religion, or a god, and I don’t believe in all these man-made institutional ideas.” But accounts like those from USA Today and Reuters were exceptions, rather than the rule.

Was the mainstream media obligated to mention Carlin’s atheism?  Certainly not.  As he himself noted in a 1991 interview, his comedy tended to revolve around, firstly, “English language and wordplay; secondly, mundane, everyday observational comedy — dogs, cats and all that stuff; and thirdly, sociopolitical attitude comedy.” Religion would fall into that third category, but only as one of uncountable subjects he joked about over the years.  The media was mourning the loss of an entertainer, not an atheist.

Still, for the nontheist community voices like Carlin’s are important, so it is also important that we recognize the loss.  His material on Frisbeetarianism or praying to Joe Pesci were little seeds in the ear of the American consciousness.  People who would never pick up a copy of The God Delusion would laugh as Carlin labeled clergymen members of the “bullshit department” or flatly asserted that “There is no Humpty Dumpty, and there is no God .”  Some people use logic and reason to argue against faith, while others attack it from moral and ethical grounds; Carlin skewered faith through mockery and sarcasm and, like all the best comedy, though blunt truth stated in uncomfortable (but funny) ways.

Carlin was so much more than merely an atheist to his fans.  But for myself, as for many who counted him as a member of our community, his atheism was important and his words were welcome.  Like Sagan, Adams, and all rest of the 20th Century Atheists, Carlin said aloud what many of us were thinking privately but that, until the Internet brought us together, we couldn’t talk about with those around us.  His voice will be missed.

[As a final note: the famously insane Christians of the Westboro Baptist Church announced plans to picket Carlin’s funeral (I can’t find a news report that says they did).  I think Carlin, were he alive, would get a kick out of that.  I also think that he would have a few choice words for them.  Seven, in fact.]

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Book Review: Salman Rushdie’s “Grimus” – by Octavia

grimus

Rushdie, Salman. Grimus. London: Vintage, 1996.



First published in 1975, Salman Rushdie’s first novel was written specifically for the Victor Gollancz Prize for Science Fiction, but the publishers later stepped back from marketing it for that genre, apparently considering it a mistake. Grimus tells the story of Flapping Eagle, a Native American outcast who becomes immortal after drinking some magical liquor. An inability to ‘fit in’ with a mortal world leads Flapping Eagle to attempt suicide, after which he falls through the Mediterranean Sea into another world. This world is inhabited by other potion-drinking immortals, and is presided over by the strange and powerful Grimus – a doppelganger of Flapping Eagle. The book draws heavily on mythological and religious sources, especially Sufi mysticism and mythology, but it is essentially a SF story of other selves in other dimensions, albeit a more literary story than that genre tends to go for.

Much of the critical failure of Grimus was blamed on Rushdie’s perceived inability to make a cohesive whole out of a mixture of genre and style (which might explain his publisher’s reticence about Grimus’ place within the SF genre). The fractured narrative, which moves between first and third person at lightning speed, is complex, and while fascinating does not have quite the same sure touch as Rushdie’s later works. The tone of Grimus can be uneven, and appears to suffer a little from a lack of authorial direction. For a first novel, however, Grimus is still a major accomplishment, and remains one of my favourite of Rushdie’s books (more so than the to-my-mind over-rated Satanic Verses but nowhere near the genius of Midnight’s Children) although Rushdie himself has no high opinion of it.

As with other genre types, trends in SF come and go but the underlying themes remain the same. Possibly the strongest theme in SF literature and film is conformity – specifically, the need to escape a society where conformity is a measure of acceptance and even utopia. From the celled, monastic individuals of E. M. Forster’s The Machine Stops to the rigidly enforced positronic brain patterns of Asimov’s robots to the Storm-troopers of Star Wars and the Borg of Star Trek, the need to escape the confines of conformity is ubiquitous. So when Flapping Eagle shows no such inclination to escape conformity (he is much more inclined to embrace it where-ever he can find it) the ground beneath the reader begins to shake. Consciously or not, we understand what it is we’re supposed to see in SF novels, and it isn’t the protagonist desperate to fit in to a rigidly ordered group.

It is arguably this underlying instability that has resulted in calls of genre confusion within Grimus. Support for this confusion can be seen in the secondary theme of the book: migration. While this is a typical theme in SF literature (humanity travelling to distant suns, and making their home on other planets), it is also a major theme in Salman Rushdie literature. Much of the criticism available on Grimus looks at migration as an extension of Rushdie’s personality: the East Meets West collision of religious, social, and political beliefs and the alienation of the immigrant within the new cultural landscape. But I’m not sure that comparing Rushdie and Flapping Eagle in this way is accurate or helpful. Rushdie’s interviews appear to indicate an individual with a very different outlook on life to Flapping Eagle, despite superficial similarities. Rushdie has a strong predilection for non-conformity: the intellectual responsibility of individuals to move beyond the myths of their culture, to decisively not know their place and to rely on their own understanding over the myths of the past. Passivity to received dogma is not seen as a desirable or responsible intellectual characteristic.

So the fact that Rushdie could be writing an autobiography in metaphor is no indication that he actually did. However, the theme of migration between Islam and the East to the politically and religiously open West is so strong in the rest of his works that it is tempting – and even reasonable – to apply that intention in retrospect when reading Grimus. The problem here is that while Grimus may share theme with the rest of Rushdie’s work, it does not necessarily imply that all the works share genre – and different genres interpret themes differently.

An example of this is Flapping Eagle’s continuing social isolation. This alienation is itself a symptom of Flapping Eagle’s conformity to Grimus’ plans for him – Grimus has engineered much of Flapping Eagle’s life in order to control his destiny:

Do you deny that by selecting you as a Recipient I shaped your life thenceforth? Do you deny that by taking your sister from the Axona I forced your expulsion? Do you deny that by expelling Nicholas Deggle into your continuum I guided you towards Calf Island? Do you deny that allowing you to wander the world for centuries instead of bringing you here I made you the man that you are, chameleon, adaptable, confused? Do you deny that by choosing a man similar in appearance to myself I estimated exactly the effect of such a man on Virgil and on the town K? Do you deny that I lured you here with the Spectre of Bird-Dog? Do you deny that I have steered a course between the infinite potential presents and futures in order to make this meeting possible? (And then, dropping his voice: ) Which of your Lord’s blessings would you deny?” (223)

Thus, Flapping Eagle’s conformity is hidden under a surface of non-conformity as he travels the course that Grimus has set for him, the course of a continually alienated outsider who is always trying to fit in to whatever society he happens to be in at the time. This is a major inversion of the usual SF treatment of this theme – a twist that might not be so unsettling in a non-SF genre.

It seems to me to be plausible that Rushdie, the non-conformist, has unsuccessfully tried to produce his own antithesis in Flapping Eagle, and fails for want of empathy. Flapping Eagle, it must be admitted, is a curiously flat character dumped into a community of the fascinatingly warped and grotesque. The fat, pedantic, and stubbornly reclusive Virgil is an infinitely more attractive and seductive character. That the guide so outshines the guided is an odd narrative choice, but is it deliberate? Or did Rushdie’s sympathy for Virgil, the active individualist, drag the author off the genre track? Is this why Grimus seems so muddled at times?

It’s certainly understandable that Rushdie’s sympathy for the more interesting, and more non-conformist – character led him to make the hero’s SF journey from conformity to non-conformity so unbalanced.

It is inescapably true that Flapping Eagle is mostly led around by the nose, and it’s hard to have much liking for him. Left to shift for himself, he tends to wallow and drift and take the path of least resistance until forced to do otherwise. In conformity-themed SF, this is where the protagonist normally starts his journey before he or she learns how to escape the stifling nature of their community-based conformity. In essence, this type of SF novel shows the journey of a person learning the value of non-conformity. But Flapping Eagle never achieves the growth suggested by his quest or its underlying theme. Towards the end of Grimus, when he confronts his doppelganger at Grimushome, he appears to show a smidgeon of initiative. Success! But it turns out, however, that his entire journey has been orchestrated by Grimus – Flapping Eagle has had no choices in the matter, and even his victory over Grimus is at the latter’s behest. When, only one page from the end of the novel, Flapping Eagle finally does something Grimus does not want, it is almost too unexpected to the reader as well. It is unexpected because the change is too sudden for the character. There has been little gradual awakening to his own deliberate intellectual and moral non-conformity; it simply comes regardless. The one individual in the novel who has the intellectual and moral understanding of his own relationship with conformity and lack thereof is Virgil – but Grimus merely tells the end of Virgil’s story, not the whole of it.

I’d rather have read a history of Virgil, with Flapping Eagle on the periphery – perhaps coming in at the end, where Virgil could help him perform his function of getting rid of the Stone Rose. It is Virgil who should have been the centre of a SF novel, not Flapping Eagle. It is Virgil who would have had the more convincing hero’s journey. It is Virgil who engages Rushdie’s sympathies so much that the author, probably unconsciously, pushes to one side the thematic development of Flapping Eagle in favour of the character who most suits the SF genre.

Flapping Eagle spends most of his time wishing unashamedly for conformity, and I end up wanting him to go away as much as any of the communities that exclude him. As a protagonist in a novel themed around a more realistic experience of social migration and integration, as many of Rushdie’s protagonists are, he would likely be a more successful character. However, as a SF lead his level of conformity, and his too-quick solution of it, makes him a failure – and the success of Grimus hangs on the journey of Flapping Eagle. That journey has all the hallmarks and obstacles of the SF journey towards non-conformity. Yet in its solution to the problem of conformity, and in its protagonist, Grimus does not conform to the expectations of readers well-versed in SF perceptions. That is what makes the novel so muddled within genre, and is arguably the root cause of its critical failure. Even those who are not dedicated SF readers cannot help but come to the conclusion that there is something “off” about its treatment of conformity.

There’s some irony in that.

Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Suck – by Dlx2

indiana-jones-kingdom-crystal-skull

Spoilers ahead. Read on at your own peril.

So, I went last night to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Suck. I wasn’t expecting much; Shia LeBouf tends to make movies terrible just by virtue of appearing in them, and let’s face it, George Lucas hasn’t had a good track record as far as movies go lately. Neither has Stephen Spielberg. So, I was sort of expecting a action-filled but absolutely charmless movie filled with cheap CGI and Jar Jar Binks. And holy crap, Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Suck failed even there.

The movie starts with a bunch of Soviets ransacking that warehouse we see the US Government wheel the Ark into in Raiders. Now, this warehouse is full of things. The Soviets don’t want the Ark. They want a coffin with weird “magnetic” properties. Magnetic properties that include attracting gunpowder, lead, and god knows what else, but only when convenient for plot. They’ve captured Indiana Jones and they’re holding him at gunpoint with another dude. Indiana tries to escape, but the other guy turns out to be a commie spy and Indiana gets fucked. Turns out the coffin contains the alien from Roswell.

Here’s a cool fact, though. The army base scene was not filmed at an army base. It was filmed at Ghost Ranch, a major fossil bonebed.

lol

So, Indy gets out and finds himself in the middle of a nuclear test site, scrambles inside a refrigerator, and the whole place is nuked. Indy survives because the refrigerator is lead-lined.

lol

So, now the CIA is after Indy because the KGB kidnapped him, and he loses his job at his university (tenure apparently means nothing) and we see some forlorn looks at photos of Brody and Sean Connery. Sean Connery is apparently dead. Indy then leaves and runs into Shia LeBouf, who is a malt-shop gang member right out of West Side Story and wants him to translate something because his mom and a family friend got kidnapped. Something to do with crystal skulls. KGB are following, and then there’s a motorcycle chase through the school grounds. So, they get back to Jones’ study, and they translate the letter from some ancient tongue which probably doesn’t exist, and figure out that they have to go to the Nazca lines in Peru. So, they charter a plane and off to Peru. They find out that the friend (The Ox, a stoner of unparalleled magnitude) was in an insane asylum, and there are some crazy pictures scrawled on the walls: an alien-looking skull and the words “return” in a bunch of languages. Okay, the skull has to be returned. Apparently it was stolen from El Dorado by the conquistadors and it has to be brought back. So, they go out to some ruins, fight a bunch of natives who have nothing better to do that sit around in an abandoned city, and they get the crystal skull. Oh, and Shia LeBouf is terrified of scorpions. Hey guys, if you can’t tell that he’s Indy’s lovechild yet, raise your hands. But hey, the KGB is there staking them out, and Indy and Shia LeBouf get captured, and taken to the KGB camp.

Now, we learn that they have The Ox, who is ponchoed up and stoned out of his gourd. They also haave Shia LeBouf’s mommy, who turns out to be….shocking….Marion from Raiders of the Lost Ark. The KGB is led by Cate Blanchett, who has a really distracting inability to pick whether her accent is vaguely Eastern European or British. She wants the crystal skull because it is an artifact with psychic power. She makes Indy use it on himself to learn about something or another; apparently this is what permastoned the Ox. She basically wants to use it to turn all Americans into communists. Apparently this is payback for McDonalds. From the effects on Anyways, they figure out where El Dorado is, and then Shia LeBouf stages an escape and they end up in quicksand. Stoner and Shia LeBouf run off to find help, and Indy and Marion have a shouting match and we find out that Shia LeBouf is Indy’s son.

lol

So Shia LeBouf comes back with a rope….no wait, it’s a giant snake. According to the movie, it’s a rat snake, but actually, it’s a python (Liasis olivaceous). Now, there are neither rat snakes nor Liasis in South America, but hey, this is just biologist nitpicking.

But we get the “omg Indy hates snakes” gag out of the way. And it really is a pretty snake.

And then they get captured, and then there’s an extended chase scene and some Russians get carried off and eaten by army ants. Shia LeBouf gets helped by some monkeys (WTF?) and then the whole Jones crew goes over a few waterfalls and finds the entrance to El Dorado.

So, they enter El Dorado and it turns out that the crystal skull is not a carving of a god; it is a god, one of a bunch of little green men who came and taught people about civilization. And then it turns out that there are a bunch of natives who have nothing better to do than sit walled into the frescoes, who then break out and chase the Jones crew. They are, literally, called the Ooga-Booga Tribe or something equally racist. Go George Lucas!

I’m still trying to figure out how these people survive being walled up in these pillars. I’m assuming the rest of the tribe occasionally comes by and knocks on the walls:

“Hey Jim, you okay in there? Need some primitive native gruel? Jim? You in there?”

“Hey guys, I think Jim might be dead. Okay, pull down the fresco. Joey, you’re on pillar duty from now on. We’ll have your wife bring you gruel and pour it through the eyeholes occasionally. Remember, we have a sacred duty to protect the temple in case of the off chance that some dashing archaeologist and his merry men come by to return the bones of our gods, and in such an event, we will run around screaming “ooga-booga” and summarily all get shot by commies.”

This is in fact what subsequently happens. Then, the Jones crew makes it into the central temple by destroying some artifacts, and then they find all sorts of art from various ancient civilizations. Apparently the aliens have no taste in art, either. Also, apparently, we’re sticking to the whole “Aliens built the pyramids lolwhut” thing. Who the hell knows.

So then, they make it to the alien control room, and there are seven alien skeletons, one of which is missing its skull. The Soviets are there, and Cate Blanchett talks more about her plan to control the world, and then they put the skull back, and the aliens all come to life, and meld into a single alien. Ox the Stoner is now suddenly sober, and he’s not hungover (WTF) and that they’re interdimensional travelers and they’re opening up a portal to another dimension. Jones et al run away as fast as they can, and Cate Blanchett gets the face-melt treatment before the entire complex is destroyed and a huge flying saucer erupts from the ground and then disappears. Then, everyone lives happily ever after; Indy gets a job as the assistant dean back at the university, and then Indy and Marion get hitched, and Shia LeBouf suggests that he’s gonna be the next Indiana Jones, because he was named Henry Jones III, and then credits rolled almost as much as my eyes did.

So, my thoughts:

1. The movie tries far too hard to tell you that you are in fact watching Indiana Jones. There’s a little bit with the Ark of the Covenant, there’s the classic lines (“I have a bad feeling about this…”), and there’s constant verbal reminders that we’re watching an Indiana Jones movie. Cool, I get it. This is Indiana Jones. Problem is, they seem to have forgotten that when writing the script.

2. Too many George Lucasisms. Cute prairie dogs in the Southwest scene, the monkeys (WTF).

3. Too many “hey guys, we’re resurrecting the franchise hints.” I don’t want to see 20 years of Shia LeBouf stepping in where Harrison Ford left off.

4. Shia LeBouf ruins movies just by seeing them, let alone starring in them.

5. Too much runaround. Not enough awesome puzzles. The awesome puzzles were what made Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade as awesome as they were.

6. They should have had Sean Connery in the movie. Sean Connery makes everything better. Really.

7. The chase scenes went on and on and on. No fun.

8. Did I mention Shia LeBouf?

9. Aliens. No. Seriously. WTF.

Poetry – by thirteen

thirteen has agreed to share with us some of her poetry – in two languages, no less! Originally written in Spanish, they’ve been translated for your reading pleasure (although both versions have been provided for the Spanish speakers out there). Thanks, thirteen!

“My Life”/”Mi Vida”

“My Life”

Life… oh, life! This life of mine…
I’m a tongue twister, few recite me
I’m a jigzaw puzzle, few put me together
I’m a crossword puzzle, few complete me
I feel like a hard drive in need of defragmentation.

Snow woman; white and cold…
Cold and indifferent.

I’m like a frozen sea that cannot be crossed.
Soulless woman…
Soul that maybe congealed…
Or froze; with such cold sentiment.

Why, I ask myself, do I feel so empty?
What am I missing, tell me, to satisfy me?
I don’t like to feel this way…
Or not feel at all.

I’m like ash whose heat is so well hidden
that no hurricane would stir…
In case there’s heat left of that fire
that once -if ever- existed.

Oh, life!
This life of mine
so cold, icy, empty and indifferent…

Why?

“Mi Vida”

Vida… !Ay, la vida! La vida mía…
Soy un trabalenguas; pocos me descifran.
Soy un rompecabezas; pocos me arman.
Soy un crucigrama; pocos me llenan.
Me siento cual disco duro que necesita desfragmentación.
Mujer de nieve; blanca y fría…
Fría e indiferente.

Soy cual mar de hielo que no logran cruzar.
Mujer sin alma…
Alma que quizás se congeló…
O frizó; con tanto frío sentimiento.

¿Por qué, me pregunto, me siento tan vacía?
¿Qué me falta, díganme, para satisfacerme?
No me gusta sentirme así…
O no sentir en absoluto.

Soy como ceniza cuya llama está tan oculta
que no hay huracán que encuentre…
En caso de quedar llamas de aquel fuego
que alguna vez -si acaso- existió.

¡Ay, la vida!
Esta vida mía tan
fría, helada, vacía e indiferente…

¿Por qué?

“Emptiness”/”Vacuidad”

“Emptiness”

Empty, as always,
that’s how I feel;
even though some happiness brightens
my emptiness a bit.
I look at myself and I see
ungratefulness.
What right do you have
to complain about life?
What right?
You live surrounded by beings that
love you and are loyal to you.
How dare you
complain?
Dishonorable feelings of yours!
False! Traitor!
What do you need?
Damned! Obscene!
Keep wandering in your emptiness,
and looking for that perfectionism
that you’re not to find…
While those who love you
ignore how false you are.

“Vacuidad”

Vacía, como siempre,
así me siento;
aunque cierta alegría ilumina
un poco la vacuidad.
Me miro y veo
malagradecimiento.
¿Con qué derecho
te quejas de la vida?
¿Con cuál?
Vives rodeada de seres que
te aman y te son fieles.
¿Cómo entonces te
atreves a quejarte?
¡Ignominios sentimientos tuyos!
¡Falsa! ¡Traidora!
¿Qué necesitas?
¡Maldita! ¡Obscena!
Sigue vagando en tu vacuidad,
y buscando ese perfeccionismo
que no has de hallar…
Mientras los que te aman
ignoran cuan falsa eres.

“Forgive Me”/”Perdón”

“Forgive me”

To you that have given me everything,
I ask for forgiveness.
You woke me up, you liberated me,
you gave me everything…
and I don’t deserve it.

Forgive me because you think I do
deserve it,
but only I know that I don’t.
I’m a hypocrite, and I will continue
to be one.

I ask for forgiveness, but you’ll never know.
It calms my conscience to ask the emptiness.
I have everyone fooled,
and I don’t regret it.

I’m sorry, to those of you that have given me everything,
and that I have hypocritically fooled.
I’m sorry, because I ask for forgiveness and I don’t mean it…
that’s why I say I’m sorry.

“Perdón”

A tí que todo me has dado, te pido perdón.
Me despertaste, me liberaste, me lo diste todo..
y yo no lo merezco.

Perdóname porque crees que sí lo merezco,
pero sólo yo sé que no.
Soy una hipócrita, y lo voy a seguir siendo.

Te pido perdón, pero no lo habrás de saber.
Calma mi conciencia el pedírselo al vacío.
Tengo a todos engañados,
y no me arrepiento.

Perdón, a ustedes que todo me han dado,
y que yo hipócritamente he engañado.
Perdón, porque les pido perdón sin sentirlo..
por eso es que les pido perdón.

The Auto-Pygmalion – by Eva Jones

The Auto-Pygmalion and the New Trinity

There are times when life just isn’t fair, where something like the death of a child unbalances all our expectations, and makes us wonder about the justice of a world where such could happen without pity or reason. Sometimes the blindness of justice speaks not to the fairness of a particular outcome, but to the fact that there is no outcome at all. Guilt is not determined in cases where guilt clearly exists, and victims are left without answers or closure.

justice

This is one of the reasons why faith exists. That there is a more just outcome, even in another world, speaks to the need for a reason imposed on suffering, justice that we consider to be part of a trinity of emotion circling around a disembodied Father of righteousness. With the coming of the New Testament, that expectation of justice was weakened with the embodied expression of love, where believing in that embodiment could bypass justice, where sins could be forgiven even at the last by a love so indiscriminate that it might as well be blind also. Justice and love: the rocks on which the church was built, and all that was needed to access these two foundations was faith. The Holy Ghost, then, was in us, and the only body that we could see, or need to see, was ours. Faith was to be absorbed into the body, carved into the marrow, a bone-deep realisation that would transcend both flesh and reason and reconcile the Trinity to itself as the basis of the ethical world.

cupid

But what happens when faith is no longer possible? How can the trinity survive if one of the foundations is gone, and the embodiment of the principles underlying a theist universe no longer exists? For the father cannot be touched, and even if the son existed his body is lost to us, and faith cannot transubstantiate it into bread or bone to be a touchstone for those to whom faith is lost.

We need the experience of the body, for the body we inhabit has limits that cannot be transcended by our understanding of mortality. For the faithless, the question of love and justice cannot be connected with our own bodies within the understanding of the old trinity. When reason tells us that survival of faith after bodily dissolution does not exist, then the question of justice becomes one of disembodiment, where outcomes are neither certain nor fair, and the disconnection between the individual body and the untouchable body of justice is complete.

Can reason breach this gap; provide a bridge over the broken foundations of the old understanding? What does it mean for our understanding of the underpinnings of the universe if it cannot? Must we live in a world where our knowledge of love and justice is believed illusion, a cultural construct where the quiet voice within us that perceives injustice is a ghost of a past culture, given embodiment in us? If so, what happens in the days to come when that ghost is silenced?

If the choice is between an old trinity that cannot be believed in, and the wreckage of that trinity held together by a changing ghost, can we not form a new trinity? A new trinity for the faithless, where love and justice have their places, but are bolstered rather than underpinned by a third pillar, one which stands as our minds and our bones amidst both culture and reason.

For we live in the Body of rather than the Age of Reason, we who live in an age where both love and justice are blind. One cannot be just without compassion, and love is facile where there is no knowledge. To stake a claim to one or the other, to carve it into our flesh and bones as the rock we would have others stand upon when that flesh is gone is to become blind ourselves, to set up false idols in the place of Enlightenment.

reason

If there is a trinity, it encompasses more than love and justice. Perhaps the true Holy Ghost is mortality, the knowledge that blindness is imperfection – and that imperfection fails.

If love is for the young, the open-eyed wonder of their rightful place in a welcoming world, then justice is for the middle-aged, the scale fallen from their eyes and into their hands. The old are meant for mortality, in whose darkness the true blindness of the remaining trinity is illuminated – before reason itself dies bodily, and the Age is over.

But when the order is reversed, and mortality stands over the young, for a moment it stands for and before us all – and the knowledge that there is no perfect love, no perfect justice, gives the clarity of perfect vision for one perfect moment. It tells us that this life is all that we have; and what our reason makes it, what rock our blindness chooses to stand upon, is the meaning we choose to carve into our bones for when our flesh is gone.

See more posts by Eva at her blog.

So you want to be a Scientist? – by Octavia

And you’re so interested in climate change, you read all the (very long) arguments about it in your nearest freethinking science forum, but the thought of trying to break into doing that sort of science yourself gives you the cold shivers?

(The graphs do look pretty complicated sometimes.)

Well, today’s your lucky day, because Nexus is about to tell you how you can take part in modelling climate stuff, and we’re going to do it without PowerPoint (sorry, Mr. Gore). Our budget doesn’t run to forklifts, you see. All you need is an internet connection, and a link to…

ClimatePrediction.net

ClimatePrediction is the largest weather forecasting experiment around at the moment. It uses your computer to help run climate models – complicated representations of the Earth’s climate system. ClimatePrediction uses GCM models (otherwise known as General Circulation or Global Climate models) – in effect, they’re trying to represent every single factor involved in the general climate system. Naturally, the more factors you try to include in your climate model, the more complicated it gets. GCMs try to simulate as many things as they can, including radiation, air movement, and changes in vegetation cover and ice sheet size. Because GCMs take into account so many factors, they can often give better representations than the simpler models. A good overall introduction to climate modelling can be seen at ClimatePrediction’s site, here.

However, this all takes a lot of computing power.  Because there are so many contributing factors, and because the range within each factor is so large, ClimatePrediction is running hundreds of thousands of slightly different models in order to represent the entire possible range of results. Because the amount of computing power needed to do this is so huge – beyond the available resources of supercomputers, according to ClimatePrediction – it’s more efficient to get distributed computing systems involved.

And that’s where you come in.

To get involved, you need to download BOINC. You can trundle along on your own, or join or start a team to inject some competition into your forecasting. The work units you get are a bit bigger than similar projects like SETI@home, but you get credit as you go along. They’re big because each model spans anywhere from between 45-200 model years, depending on the simulation you get. The model will run in the background any time your computer is on, and you can see the weather patterns change as it works.

ClimatePrediction works with schools and runs a course with the UK’s Open University, as well as fulfilling its primary aim of modelling complex long-term simulations, as the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change suggested as a priority work in their 2001 report. If previous “So You Want To Be A Scientist?” suggestions haven’t done it for you, consider giving this one a go.

Al Gore will thank you for it.

Photos from the Ganges – by Vagus

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