I Can’t Even…

As I was cruising the interwebs this evening, I came across a YouTube clip in which a couple of creationist crazies discussed how dinosaurs fit into the ‘literal word of god’ that is the bible. I won’t even dignify it with a link. I’m sure you can find it, if you are so inclined.

It struck a chord- as such practiced and willful idiocy often does- even more so since our ‘mayor’ is back from rehab and, while denying certain members of the press access to his ‘glorious return’ is back on the campaign trail and still convinced that he might be re-elected. And the news shows at 6pm were talking to people who actually agree with him.

Over the weekend I happened upon a movie called ‘Idiocracy’. Hadn’t really heard of it before- it has something of a cult following, but it was hardly a blockbuster. Like my post a couple of weeks ago, in which I attempted to revivify Dr. Sagan’s concerns about the dumbing down of society, the movie warns of a dystopian future in which stupid is the norm.

Last week I had a chat with a friend who is reading Reza Aslan’s book and it called this post back to mind. So…. a little more reiteration of my point so I can get if off my chest, clear my head and move onto to some celebrating of our Nation’s birthday.

… And… release.

colemining

Generally, I try to refrain from too much name-calling.  I don’t think it accomplishes anything productive and it can disrupt attempts at meaningful dialogue and debate.

But HOLY HELL.

I mean, c’mon.  Just. COME. ON.

I don’t know whether to laugh hysterically or to dissolve into inconsolable sobbing.

At least six people have sent me links to a particular Fox News interview (this link also mentions Doctor Aslan’s later conversation with Piers Morgan and his embarrassment at having to repeatedly trot out his academic credentials).  In The Washington Post, Erik Wemple has kindly provided us with a transcript of the Fox debacle- in case you’d rather read than watch the cringe-worthy attempt at an interview- and the opinion that the idiots at Fox owe the Professor an apology.

I can’t even.

Jebus.

I briefly discussed the whole Jesus-as-Zealot issue a while back, and although I still lean to the side of history and scholarship that rejects the…

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Proud- Part 2

Part 2- as the festivities ramp up even more, some further reflection on the irrationality of basing institutionalized prejudice and violation of human rights and equality in Bronze Age ideologies.

colemining

Continuing where we left off yesterday…

In case you missed it, or don’t want to read the whole of Part 1 (although I’d love it if you did), let me explain.  No, there is too much.  Let me sum up: (to steal a line from Inigo Montoya).

This week SCOTUS made landmark rulings, overturning Prop. 8 (which banned same-sex marriage in California) as unconstitutional and invalidated the provision of DOMA that prevented same-sex couples from accessing the same benefits available to heterosexual couples.

This is a GOOD thing.

As usual, and as noted by George Takei, the bible thumpers are out in force screaming about the whole thing- regardless of the fact that it affects the lives of heterosexuals in NO way, shape or form.

We talked briefly about the mythologies of Mesopotamia and Greece- two of the major cultures that influenced the development of biblical mythology- and found that…

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Proud- Part 1

I might have missed the first weekend of festivities- sitting on the dock of the bay, and all- but we returned to find the City lit up in all the colours of the rainbow for World Pride, 2014.

So many things to see and do- it’s going to be a great week as we welcome the world. I wrote this two-part post last year ’round this time. The underlying reasons why such celebrations of diversity and acceptance shouldn’t be forgotten- even if, hereabouts, we sometimes tend to forget that not all people in the world have the same freedoms that generations of people have worked hard to achieve in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Naysayers be damned. Happy Pride, T.O. Love you.

colemining

I have mentioned before that I have a tendency to be more-than-a-little complacent in my Canadian-ness.  I love this country (most of the time, anyway).  We have it great here- certainly in comparison with other places in this wide world- but that reality can, and does, lead to apathy.  It’s not apathy with any sort of animosity, but it is still apathy.

Watching various news feeds and tweets from the Twitterverse over the past couple of days, I admit to some bemusement, stemming from a latent, well-meaning, sense of moral superiority.  Same-sex marriage has been legal here for 10 years- a happy milestone we celebrated recently.  Toronto is basking in the afterglow of association since the wonderful, brave, incomparable Ms. Edie and her life partner were married here, as it was not permitted in their home state at the time.  Can’t blame us- it is nice to be associated- however remotely- with something positive for a change.

It is easy…

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Required Reading

Every once in awhile I find myself missing university teaching.  I miss the students- wide-eyed and eager to learn, and the colleagues with whom I shared common interests and background.  I miss the discussions we had, and the ideas that they would bring to the table that would enhance and develop my own perceptions of our world.

But one of the things I miss most is the opportunity I had- every four months or so- to create a syllabus outlining the assignments and readings for the course.  In doing so, I got to share some of my favourite stories and concepts with my audience- and they actually HAD to read them (at least if they hoped to pass the course, they did).

I miss it partly because I genuinely LOVE sharing the wonderful contributions that have been made in understanding our humanity with my fellow humans, but also because sometimes I reallyreally wish that I could MAKE some people do things I want them to do.  For their own good, of course.  For their good and for the good of us all.

There are some vital things out there to which we all NEED to be exposed.

I’ve spoken before about how much I love the reboot of Cosmos.  Dr. Tyson has done an incredible job of revivifying the message that Dr. Sagan left with us when he passed away almost 20 years ago.  Inspired by the show (there IS good stuff on t.v, now and again), I decided that it was past time for me to revisit Dr. Sagan a little more fully.

With a cottage weekend on the horizon (T-minus 2 days!), I picked up some books to accompany me as I sit on the dock, cocktail in hand, and fully and formally welcome back our Canadian cottage season.

And, because sometimes I’m not-so-good with the waiting, I have to admit that I cracked the books a little prematurely.

One of them is The Demon-Haunted World- Science as a Candle in the Dark, Dr. Sagan’s penultimate work of wonder and genius.  His next-to-last published offering to the world of his eloquent view of the Cosmos and our humanity- and a warning that we haven’t managed to heed.

I read the book for the first time as a student, many years ago, but not as part of my course-dictated required readings.  As a student of the Scientific Study of Religion, I was interested in the interplay between what we have learned, through generations of scientific observation and experimentation in the natural world (both the provable and theoretical outcomes), and the stories of the supernatural that we have created and to which we continue to cling, in spite of lack of evidence and with an extremity of the beggaring of common sense.

The disconnect disturbed me then, as it does now (to an ever-growing degree).  I can no more understand today, even after more than a decade of researching how and why we construct religious beliefs and the institutions that support and further those beliefs, why people choose to remain willfully ignorant and in the thrall of superstition and fairy tales.

I understand that there is collected wisdom to be found in the stories- wisdom that stands the test of time, since it is human in origin.

Re-reading the book, I was struck- seemingly on each and every page- by how prescient Dr. Sagan truly was.  And not in any pseudo-scientific ‘psychic’ way.

On pages 25-26 he wrote (in 1995):

“The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations of pseudo-science and superstition, but especially a celebration of a kind of ignorance… The plain lesson is that study- not just of science, but of anything- are avoidable, even desirable.”

Jebus.

That particular quote- and the one that accompanies his picture up there ^^^^- are shaking me to my very core.

The guy, through his observation of the world that he loved, knew.  He knew, back then, that we are on a slippery slope to our own destruction- one that is being expedited by our stubborn unwillingness to think for ourselves and set aside the beliefs and willful ignorance that keep us yoked to the agendas of those in power- whether the powers are religious or secular.

We believe the fairy tales because doing so is easier than thinking for ourselves.  We have an entire world of wisdom and knowledge and evidential experience to tap into- with new discoveries being made daily- and yet we persist in holding onto Bronze-Age ideas regarding the structure of the world/universe in which we live.

Re-reading his words left me intellectually and emotionally exhausted with the inspiration they still provide.  But it also left me mad as Hell (there’s that word again).

As his synopsis of his life-long love affair with science and the natural world unfolds, he speaks about the need to continually educate ourselves and question and test our conclusions- the way scientists do as they seek to explain and understand our universe.  The continuous testing of hypotheses to shape an approach to the truth is required methodology in the sciences.

In religion?  Not so much (pages 34-35).

“Which leaders of the major faiths acknowledge that their beliefs might be incomplete or erroneous and establish institutes to uncover possible doctrinal deficiencies?  Beyond the test of everyday living, who is systematically testing the circumstances in which traditional religious teachings may not longer apply?  (It is certainly conceivable that doctrines and ethics that might have worked fairly well in patriarchal or patristic or medieval times might be thoroughly invalid in the very different world we inhabit today)… Scripture is said to be divinely inspired- a phrase with many meanings.  But what is it’s simply made up by fallible humans?  Miracles are attested, but what they’re instead some mix of charlantanry, unfamiliar states of consciousness, misapprehensions of natural phenomena, and mental illness?  No contemporary religion and no New Age belief seem to me to take sufficient account of the grandeur, magnificence, subtlety and intricacy of the Universe revealed by science.  The fact that so little of the findings of modern science is prefigured in Scripture to my mind casts further doubt on its divine inspiration.

But of course I might be wrong.”

That last line is so Sagan.  Always the scientist.  Always the awareness that his hypothesis might not prove accurate and therefore have to be consigned to the dust-heap of failed attempts at understanding.

The last chapter of the book resonates these days in ways that would be spooky- if he wasn’t who he was, and if I was inclined to believe in things that are ‘spooky’.  In ‘Real Patriots Ask Questions’ he outlines why it is our responsibility, as participants in democracy, to keep ourselves informed about the world in general and the actions of our elected leaders in particular.

Since our federal government, just today, made public their intention to proceed with a staggeringly ill-conceived decision that flies in the face of majority (and scientific) opinion and is demonstrative of their typical arrogance and self-preserving agenda, that chapter hit home pretty freakin hard.

Again with the wisdom (page 434):

“If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power.  But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us.  In every country we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights.  With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit.  In the demon-haunted world we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.”

I powered through the book.  The impact of his observations and the articulation of our current issues in a work written almost 20 years ago left me feeling like I needed to finish it quickly.  Impending danger and dark foreboding, folks.  He started warning us about it decades ago.  And not only did we not listen, we are rushing headlong- willingly blind- into the idiocy that will bring about our destruction.

This weekend, on the dock, I will savour it again- more slowly this time- to appreciate the fullness of his thoughts and the beauty and power of his words.  It will be my required (re-)reading- in amongst the literary creativity of a couple of my favourite authors of fiction.

The finale of Cosmos, a couple of weeks ago, started with Dr. Tyson ‘in’ the Library of Alexandria.  My dream palace.  Seriously.  Of all the great human constructs that have been needlessly destroyed, THAT one hurts me most of all.

It was, as Neil noted, the storehouse of the wisdom of the Classical period.  The math, the science, the philosophy, the theology.  Our stories and our discoveries about the world we live in and the universe around us.

At that time such wisdom was available only to the elite, and so, when the mob came to destroy the Library and its wonders, there weren’t many to stand against the hoard.

Intelligence and critical thinking and rationality and engagement with the realities of our world are characteristics and attributes that are actively being discouraged in our popular media and by our leaders- those in the business world, in the arena of religious belief, and those we elect to political power.  We celebrate the pedestrian, the ‘common’, the ‘creators’ of amusing 140-character soundbites.  Credulity is not only acceptable, it’s laudable.

In 1996, Carl Sagan offered another example of his great and awesome voice crying out against the wilderness of ignorance and complete lack of healthy and needful skepticism.  He shouted, but not enough of us seemed to hear.

If we don’t start hitting the books and completing our assigned readings, we students of the world are going to fail this class.  Bigtime.  And that failure will lead us, inexorably, “back into superstition and darkness.”

And when that happens, who among us will stand against the mob?

And if the dam breaks open many years too soon, and if there is no room upon the hill

And if your head explodes with dark forebodings, too, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.

Brain damage, indeed.

PS- For a few days, come Friday morning, I will be shutting down the connectivity to all things technological in favour of my lakeside dock and the company of good friends.  Have a fantastic weekend, WPPeeps.  And if you’re looking for something to read… Just a suggestion.  A strong and pleading suggestion, but just a suggestion nonetheless. 

(Anti)disestablishmentarianism

Way back in the day, when things were simpler and people were actually expected to know how to do things like spell and construct sentences correctly, my grade 7 homeroom teacher always supplemented our weekly prescribed, curriculum-based, spelling test with an extra-special challenge.

As a result, I learned the spelling- and the meanings- of a lot of very interesting words.

Tintinnabulation was one.  How wonderful is it that there is a single word to describe the ringing of (church) bells through the countryside?  It always reminds me of Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, by William Wordsworth- partly because my first exposure to the poem came around the same time I learned the new word and partly because the bucolic setting of the poem lends itself to hearing bells in the distance, but mainly because of the similar sound of tintinnabulation and Tintern.

I love language(s).  I love words.  I love playing with them and respectfully befriending them as befits their vast importance in our human interaction.  Words facilitate communication.  While there are, certainly, other methods of communication, the effective use of language is undeniably one of the forces with which we need reckon as we attempt to make sense of this human existence and try to get along.

As has been the case for most of my adult life, part of my current role involves working with other people and helping to hone their written communication skills.  Being talented, driven professionals, none of my colleagues are completely hopeless with when it comes to the clear and effective use of language, but the reality is that we are surrounded by opportunities to misuse our well-learned writing skills once we move outside of the halls of academia.

It’s partly peer pressure.  I see sooooo many typos/inconsistencies/grammatical errors in allegedly edited publications/news groups these days.  Status updates and tweets and PMs are rarely given the once-over, let alone the twice/thrice-over that I tend to use when putting things out into the ether.  The people that we see on tv speak in colloquialisms that seem barely recognizable as mother-tongue English.

It’s also laziness.  We know better, most of the time.  I’m positive that people really know the difference between to/too and there/they’re/their- but (maddeningly) don’t get the importance of actually writing the correct word.

I realize that, here in my WPWorld with my WPPeeps, I frequently devolve and use extremely vernacular or truncated language, while employing my own little stylistic idiosyncrasies that very much reflect my voice (at least the one in my head that shouts the loudest…).

I’m allowed.  colemining is a blog.  Its purpose isn’t about business or professional concerns.  I’m chatting with my friends- putting some of my ideas out there and responding to the ideas of others that strike me as profound, interesting or entertaining.

I’m also of the mind that once you reallyreally know the fundamentals of a language you then, and only then, get to play around with them.  And I’m pretty confident in my grasp of the fundamentals of language (more than one, truth be told).  So I’m okay with writing choppy, seemingly-incomplete sentences, hereabouts.  Or beginning sentences with ‘so’.  Or ‘or’.

That’s the language in which Cole chooses to write.  If it isn’t everyone’s cup o’ java, it’s all good.

Word-crafting is an art– and when it’s employed by those with a real talent for turns of phrase and clever construction it is truly beautiful.  We find such wordsmiths in many realms- of music, literature, poetry, philosophy… even (dare I say it?) in the political world.  Expressive, connotative language describes and illustrates our humanity.  Regardless of the specific medium- or subject matter- it connects us by helping us to communicate our stories- individual and shared.

Before I accepted my current role, I languished a little bit in the wasteland between the world of academic writing and that of business correspondence.  ‘Writing’ ‘form letters’ (a primary responsibility of my previous job), offered few opportunities for either creative flare or nuanced construction.   By their very definition they were formulaic.

That temporary residence in said void led to a whole lot of playing with words and encouraging their music in my spare time- something that has been wonderful for my creative output (work on the novel(s) and such), but it also made me a little lazy, to be honest.

As I get back into the scheme of things, I’m finding that editing the words of others is a little less instinctive than it once was.  It’s taking me longer to restructure and rearrange than was the case, once upon a time.

Some things are straightforward- eradicating ‘as per’ from all writing that crosses my desk requires no effort at all (I realize that the construction is used widely, but it is both jargonistic and freakin’ redundant – the English/Latin hybrid makes me cray-cray.  It is pretentious and generally lacks clarity- even assuming it is used correctly.  My SO suggests that I am tilting at (yet another) windmill with this one, but I am determined that nothing that comes through my hands will contain that vitiated vernacularity.  We hates it, my precious.), and ‘utilize’ becomes ‘use’ with barely a second thought.

Switching passive voices to active ones?  That involves a little more time and thought and trial and error.  But, as I attempt to emphasize the effectiveness of using the best possible words to convey meaning, I’m discovering discussions about language use everywhere.

That synchronicity thing again.

There was a news story on the CBC this morning, as I got ready to leave the house, which discussed findings that suggest that ‘expert’ texters are better spellers than those who are less dexterous with the one-handed typing.  It makes sense, linguistically, in a way.  Breaking down words into shorter forms helps with the understanding of the constituent parts of the whole.

While searching for reading selections for my first cottage weekend of the summer (T-minus 5 days, and counting!), I kept running into discussions about the perceived literary ‘value’ of certain bestsellers.  Not being much of a proponent of literary criticism- and frequently not a fan of those books that make the critics roll over and purr- I haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to the foofaraw.

I like what I like- and if a novel doesn’t hit on all the aspects required to grant it legitimacy as part of the Western Canon?  Oh well.  If an author engages my imagination and creates characters that resonate and stay with me, then I’m happy to have spent the money to support their efforts.

Writing is hard.  Doing it well is underrated.  Effective communication always requires clarity and the ability to know and accurately read an audience.  Sometimes that involves using colloquial or informal language.   In other circumstances messages need demonstrate a requisite level of professionalism and polish that is often lacking.

IMHO that whole clarity-thing requires the correct use of grammar.  Am I a Grammar Nazi?  Perhaps.  But it is a skill that we seem to be losing- much to my distress.  We would need to spend a whole lot less time looking for meaning in the words of others if their messages were well-constructed and to the point- without layers of extraneous rhetoric and misused language.

When we were told to learn the word antidisestablishmentarianism for one of our weekly tests, our teacher offered a brief definition and the explanation that it is one of the longest words in the English language.  I thought it was pretty cool.  It was long and lyrical and rolled off the tongue not unlike that most wonderful literary creation supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. 

The meaning of the word didn’t register much, at the time.  It wasn’t really a concept that hit all that high on my 13-year old list of things I should be thinking about retaining.  But I did.  And it is a word that has surfaced more than a few times over the course of the studies that have been the focus of most of my adult life.

As a movement, antidisestablishmentarianism opposed proposals that sought to remove the Church of England from its status as the state church of England, Ireland and Wales.  It was tied into the role of the monarchy as head of the Church and concepts of the absolute separation of Church and State.  It’s still a concept that comes up- in the British context- now and again.

Who knew- back in the dark ages when I learned the word- that I would grow up to be a card-carrying disestablishmentarian?

Knowledge isn’t something to be squandered- and those things we learned in our schooldays (halcyon or otherwise) aren’t transitory.  Despite suggestions to the contrary, the need to learn the fundamentals of correct spelling, grammar and vocabulary is not something that has gone the way of the dinosaurs in a world of spelling/grammar check and lowest common denominator vernacular.

Even when we take the time to listen to one another (not something that happens nearly as much as it should) it can be extremely frustrating trying to separate the wheat from the chaff in the convoluted/misused language that has become the norm.

Ladies and Gentlemen, my beloved Monkees.  Wailing their way through Boyce and Hart’s Words:

‘Now, I’m standing here.
Strange, strange voices in my ears, I feel the tears
But all I can hear are those

Words that never were true.
Spoken to help nobody but you.
Words with lies inside,
But small enough to hide
‘Til your playin’ was through.’

Clarity.  Using our words with integrity without sacrificing accuracy, style and beauty.  It can be done.  It SHOULD be done.

Just a few thoughts for our newly elected majority government here in Ontario.  And all the rest of us.

‘Poets, priests and politicians’

It’s actually the latter of the three that’s on my mind (and on my television) right now.

Debate time.  We’re a little over a week away from a provincial election here in Ontario.

Sigh.

I’ve spoken a few times before about how veryvery much I prefer dialectic to debate.  It’s sort of the basis of my approach to the world.  That there is a leader’s debate happening right now is symptomatic of what has gone so veryvery wrong in our political system.

Winning and losing.  Diametrical opposition.  Extremes of belief with no attempt made to find common ground.

And then there’s the mudslinging.  And speaking over one another.  The pomposity.  The posturing.

The same old song and dance.

Speaking of song and dance…

Way back in 1980, that Sting Dude wrote one of my favourite tunes while he was still in one of my favourite bands.

(Hope you enjoyed that video, BTW.  Watching it made me feel both nostalgic as Hell- I still have instant, visual recall of the boys being silly in their matching ski outfits- and as old as the hill on which they were skiing.  Jebus.  That was a looooong time ago.  Sigh.  I think I’m a little (more) depressed, now).

The song, which has been running through my head since listening to a wonderful live performance CD over the weekend, was a response to the attraction to the simple– how inane lyrics attract all kinds of attention and get our toes tapping, and how the most popular of songs are really all about their catchy hooks, while they say nothing of real consequence.

In his typically Sting-ish fashion (To be Sting-ish: 1. Involving cleverness and intelligence of insight with just the slightest soupcon of pretension and self-satisfaction.  2. Songs that contribute to the Logos of my life.  3. Brilliant, if occasionally pedantic.), Mr. Sumner (to use his once-upon-a-teacher name) was trying to highlight the power to be found in the straightforward, by interspersing his important ideas- about leaders and their attempts to drive their listeners into submission with their words- with the mainly nonsensical but oh-so-very-catchy chorus.

He contrasted the words of the poets, priests and politicians:

‘Words that scream for your submission
And no one’s jamming their transmission
‘Cos when their eloquence escapes you
Their logic ties you up and rapes you’

With:

‘De do do do, de da da da
Is all I want to say to you
De do do do, de da da da
Their innocence will pull me through
De do do do, de da da da
Is all I want to say to you
De do do do, de da da da
They’re meaningless and all that’s true’

Lots and lots and lots of words.  Without clarity, rationale or substance.

Politicians (like priests, and yes, poets- like Mr. Sting) do have words to thank for their positions.  They use those words to persuade- and when they can’t persuade they start yelling and screaming and hammering home their ‘message’.  Sticking to sticking points regardless of logic or basis in honest examination of the issues (despite the overuse of the word ‘truth’ tonight).

Straying from the questions asked- by those they seek to govern- to iterate (and then reiterate) those choice selections that are playing best in the polls.  Resorting to personal anecdotes to strum at our collective heartstrings.  Throwing personal insults about- disguised as back-handed compliments.

None of my questions were answered, either.  I learned nothing in the past hour and a bit that I didn’t know going in.  Certainly nothing that will change my mind, or my vote.

Debate rather than dialectic?  Waste of time.  Without actual information- rather than sloganeering and politics-as-usual- voters’ discontent will increase.  Having to sift through the bullshit trying to find a core of substance that might move us forward requires more effort than many are willing to expend.

That’d be why so many people buy the catchy, simple nonsense of the chorus (nonamesmentionedcoughFordNation).  Or let their apathy overwhelm and can’t even ‘be bothered’ to vote.

Interesting that, like the debate raging in the background here in my living room, there were three of them-there-Police-guys- and they couldn’t manage to get along either.  Their artistic differences (okay, and egos) resulted in a break-up that broke my heart (until the brief reunion tour a few years ago- Jebus, am I glad I lived to see that!) and left us, instead, with a whole bunch of mandolin-heavy music that we could have done without.

The vast differences in the wordy rhetoric being spewed by the three putative leaders on the t. and v. tonight, based in partisan ideologies that have more to do with power (okay, and egos) than with purposeful change in the province?

Those are words that can lead to the breaking of more than a heart.  Regardless of what the paid political pundits, journos and analysts will have to say in its aftermath, NO ONE ‘won’ tonight.

This is our future, peeps of Ontario.  Cut through the artful eloquence and see if you can figure out who might just best represent the innocence that might pull us all through.

Please.

It’s vital that we take the time to do so.  Sad that it’s required, but essential nonetheless.

Word.