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Racial and ethnic slurs may be “just Alaska” and, clearly, they are common, everyday chatter for Palin. Besides insulting Obama with a Step-N’-Fetch-It, “darkie musical” swipe, people who know her say she refers regularly to Alaska’s Aboriginal people as “Arctic Arabs” – how efficient, lumping two apparently undesirable groups into one ugly description – as well as the more colourful “mukluks” along with the totally unimaginative “fucking Eskimos,” according to a number of Alaskans and Wasillians interviewed for this article.

But being openly racist is only the tip of the Palin iceberg. According to Alaskans interviewed for this article, she is also vindictive and mean. We’re talking Rove mean and Nixon vindictive…

clipped from evilgrins.livejournal.com
This, according to an eyewitness, is how Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin described Barack Obama’s win over Hillary Clinton to political colleagues in a restaurant a few days after Obama locked up the Democratic Party presidential nomination.
Lucille, a waitress serving her table at the time (and who asked that her last name not be used) said that Palin was eating lunch with five or six people when the subject of the Democrat’s primary battle came up. The governor, seemingly not caring that people at nearby tables would likely hear her, uttered the slur and then laughed loudly as her meal mates joined in appreciatively.
“It was kind of disgusting,” Lucille, who is part Aboriginal, said in a phone interview after admitting that she is frightened of being discovered telling folks in the “lower 48” about life near the North Pole.
Then, almost with a sigh, she added, “But that’s just Alaska.”
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A few days ago, I shared a few folders on my computer, so that my stepdaughter could listen and view my music and videos. However, in the process, my XBOX360 could no longer connect to my computer. I tried fixing it last night. But, instead, I screwed up even more stuff. I not only cannot connect to my XBOX, but I cannot access the internet either.

However, it was kind of nice. I just sat on my couch and watched some TV. I knew surfing my RSS reader, digg, and FriendFeed was possible. So, I didn’t feel compelled to do so, as I usually do.

I probably could fix everything with a reinstall of XP. But, I’ve been toying with the idea of staying off the net at home. At least on my laptop. And at least for a certain period of time. I can still surf at both my work places, and use my phone to post to Twitter, scan FriendFeed, check my mail, and catch up on my feeds.

If I stay off the net, I may be able to catch up on my writing. And it will force me to turn to other pursuits such as videogames, reading, TV, or something outside.

I picked up Issue 10 of Alphabet City Magazine. It’s small and hard bound. This issue is titled “Suspect” and is described as “Essays, photography, fiction, film, and graphic novels examine the figure of the suspect and the politics of suspicion in a post-9/11 world.” The cover image is one of an eyes. And the first handful of pages are other grahic representations of an eye, including the triangularly-framed eye in the Great Seal and Hal’s red videocamera lens from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Usually, when I read a magazine, I scan through it first, and stop to read the stuff that interests me first. And naturally, I look at the pictures first. But, if I do that, much of the content will probably never get read.

Then, I thought, if I actually read this from beginning to end, and not skip ahead, very new thing will be more of a surprise. It will be like watching a movie that I know nothing about. And since this magazine has a theme, the editor may have actually had a reason behind the order of the content.

Anyway, I’ll see if I am successful in this.

This morning, I caught one of those HP laptop commercial where someone of some import waves their hands around and images appear. Most of the images I saw seemed to follow some kind of fantasy theme. And at the end, they showed the personality’s name and a kind of title: Paul Coelho, Alchemist of Words. It all intrigued me and I looked him up on the internet.

In a short time, I got a sense of his works. Much mysticism and fable. So I downloaded samples of some of his novels to my phone. And, since the book “The Alchemist” seemed to be one of his more notable ones, I bought the whole version.

Some of what I read contained encouragement to follow one’s dreams. It also acknowledged a spiritual realm and an ultimate purpose to one’s life.

Since I have pretty much been a materialist the past few years, these characteristics usually throw up a red flag for me. But, I gave his work a benefit of a doubt. Maybe his stuff could be read completely metaphorically. Or maybe I’ll just enjoy them on an entertaining level.

It was also interesting that he pirates his books. Like Cory Doctorow, the desire to share his works is stronger than his desire to make money on them. That got me thinking that I feel the same way. And, in my head, I started to make a list of what I most wish to accomplish with my stories, in order of priority. And here’s what I came up with:

  1. Write one story, and some people read it an enjoy it.
  2. Write one story, and have a lot of people read it and enjoy it.
  3. Write one story, and make some money with it.
  4. Write one story, and make a lot of money with it.
  5. Write lots of stories that a lot of people read and enjoy.
  6. Write lots of stories and make some money with them.
  7. Write lots of stories and make a living writing.
  8. Write one story that people remember forever.

And just as I’m compiling this list in my head, my wife brings an envelope in from the mail. It’s an essay that my father has written. Briefly skimming it, it seems to be his trying to come to terms with time, change, mortality, and the afterlife. The same stuff I think about all the time. And there’s a note on the essay saying that he’s trying to get it published.

Then, I get to work and watch a couple movies. The first is of a schizophrenic and reclusive writer and artist called “In The Realms of the Unreal.” And I decide to continue the troubled genius theme with “My Architect,” about the architect Louis Kahn.

What do I make of all of this? Obviously, an impetus to take my writing more seriously, both in my stories and this blog. But it also has made me think about how I can reconcile the belief that there is nothing beyond what we can sense with our physical senses with the desire to discover something beyond our senses. I am both a rationalist and a romantic that loves stories about swords and sorcery. I’m an agnostic who still feels drawn to the esoteric worlds of Hinduism and Catholicism. I believe that our consciousness ceases to be when enough of our brain cells expire, but I want so much to continue on thinking and experiencing forever.

Can I channel any of this into my stories. Some aspects I already have in some of my stories. I deal with fate in “An Appointment With Destiny.” I deal with the all-too-rapid passage of time in “The Mower.” And maybe I will find the way to finish them. but I also hope I can find a way to express this central existential dilemma.

James Maxey wrote a book called Bitterwood, which I I saw advertised in the Solaris Fantasy Anthology. Here’s his blog.

And I found about Lisa Shearin’s blog through James’, and she also had some great advice.

And, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the blog Writer Unboxed, which contains posts by and about many authors or genre fiction.

And here’s a handy RSS-feed of such articles, that will be updated as I find more.

Been stressing this weekend about my stories. Was focusing on my myth/fantasy. But it’s too big. Switching back to my time travel story. However, yesterday I did try the schedule-a-time-and-length-for-writing thing. Worked pretty good.

The trouble is I’ve been trying this for many years now. It does seem like I’ll never write anything, or at least never get it published. And I’m okay with just dropping it and just enjoying life. But even when I’ve tried doing that for a little while, either the new story ideas or ways to make existing ones just start popping into my head. Maybe it’s just going to be something I’ll always have. The desire and impetus to write, but will never finish. Like a monkey on my back, huh?

Is it a matter of scale? Since I have such a short attention span, should I focus on short stories, or even shorter? Should I just write treatments to get the stories out of my head? Or just write a blog of some sort, maybe snippets of stuff?

Anyway, going to work on the time travel one a bit. And stress about how busy this day (and week) is going to be.

There are two religions in my past in which ritual plays a major part: Roman Catholocism and Judaism. In each of them, I spent a certain amount of time a day devoted to rituals, that in hindsight, had no practical value other than bringing me joy and peace. Some of these rituals took place at a certain time, such as daily mass or the liturgy of the hours in Catholocism, or the waking blessing and washing of hands in Judaism. There were also rituals that happened throughout the day, usually in conjunction with other actions. When Catholic, I used to say the rosary to and from classes at college, or while falling asleep. When Jewish, I would offer blessings before certain actions throughout the day. There was also a time when I had no official relgion, but was very attracted to hinduism, that I repeated a mantra on prayer beads everywhere I went. And if I wasn’t engaged in a structured ritual, I was still always mindful of God as much as I could.

All these rituals did make me feel better in many ways. Repitition helped quiet and order my mind. And it was comforting to feel a part of a greater tradition and community of believers. And, I also believed the rituals actually benefitted or transformed me spiritually. And maybe even improved the world in some miraculous way.

Presently, I am an atheist. And since atheism is not a religion, I no longer have any ritualism in my life. Or so I thought.

A current pursuit of mine is that of trying to live frugally, efficiently, practically, and with as little negative impact on the environment. And in trying to do so, I realized, that I am most successful when I am engaged in what may be considered rituals. Or, at least, intentional mindfulness.

I am, by nature, have a very active and disorganized brain. (Just ask my wife) And to compensate, I have had a lifelong pursuit of trying to get more and more organized. And, in turn, and on good days, I can be very organized. So much that my boss recognized my abilities and made me a project manager at our firm. Kind of like James Earl Jones, who had (or has) a speech impediment, and worked so hard to overcome it that he eventually gained one of the most classic and impressive voices in entertainment.

One of the strongest methods for helping me stay organized is doing things slow and thinking about them. I used to dash in and out of my car, and quickly retrieved or returned certain things to and from my backpack. Or I would do things while walking, thinking multitasking is going to save me some time. And often, something would get forgotten. Now, when I get to the T-Station parking lot, I take my time, put my keys away in my backpack, retrieving my mp3 player, and put in the earplugs. Or, when I get to the store on the way home from work, I park and call my wife at home, then write down what I need to get while sitting in the car. I know this sounds minor, but it’s this taking things slowly and being mindful that has helped me a heck of a whole lot.

Mindfulness also helps in sustainability and nutrition as well. When I’m doing something, especially while in the kitchen or doing a chore, I’m always thinking, is there a way here that I can save resources or money? Can I re-use this boiling water or empty container? Is this really the healthiest way to prepare this food?

My former Rabbi taught me that when one prays, they should do so with kavanah, or, proper concentration. And mindfulness is also a big part of many of the eastern religions. So recently, I realized I was still striving for kavanah. But instead of focusing on and being mindful of a supreme deity, I was being mindful of my body, my community, the environment, and the earth. And like a religious ritual, it did bring me peace and joy. But it also actually accomplished something positive in the practical, material world.

So, can ritualism be a part of an atheist’s life. There is no question. And in my case, it does bring me peace. But more importantly, I know it’s making the world a better place.

Blogged with Flock

I’ve dug up the following posts from a blog I had a few years ago. I think it’s interesting to note the earliest emergence of an atheist.

——-

Post 1

I’ve been studying my thought patterns lately. Especially comparing them to my thought patterns of the past. And I realized I have been less in a certain religious state of mind that I grew up in.

I think that a common feature of most religious mindsets is one of supplication. One is either actively praying for, or is trying to live, in order to convince the divine being to either do something good, or not do something bad.

We want our lives to go smoother. We want peace of mind. We want to be fed, healthy, and fit. We want that perfect lover or spouse. We want to advance higher in our religion’s heiarchy. We want to have more money, or at least to lead a comfortable life. We want the doubts and questions in our heads answered. We want to be able to sleep without tossing and turning, thinking about regrets and missed opportunities. We want our enemies struck down, or at least humbled and made to follow us. We want to lay up treasures and go to heaven. We want to bask in the blissful presence of our beloved divine being. We want to be happy. We want power, strenth, and glory. We want to live like gods.

Or we live in constant fear. We don’t want the divine being let bad things happen to us. Or make bad things happen to us. We want to stay on their good side. We treat he or she like a boss that is constantly watching us. We don’t want to be punished or tortured by he or she. We don’t want to go to hell.

Even when we offer thanks and praise, it’s so we’ll get something good.

And we accomplish this many ways. We go to church and sing in tongues. We pray. We read the scriptures. We buy religious books and tapes. We attend seminars, take notes, underline passages, and buy more books. We socialize with like-minded co-religionists and reinforce each others beliefs. We put down those not as religious as us. We try not to sin. And we feel guilt and ask for forgiveness after we do. We vote how our religion’s leader tells us how to vote. We protest outside clinics. We put down the non-religious on talk shows. We go to war.

All to better our standing in the divine being’s eyes.

It’s a consistent, exhausting, belittling life. It makes us feal weak. It’s like being a cow-towing courtier or step-and-fetchit slave. We never truly get what we want, so we either blame ourselves for not being good enough, or we blame the divine being for being unfair.

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Post 2

My spiritual background has, for a long time, been quite anthropomorphic. And because of that, much of my existential funks were centered either around being upset at the divine being for not makings things good for me, or being upset at myself for not being good enough to convince the divine being to make things good for me. It had always been a very subservient and penitent relationship. And all that I did focused around making the divine being happy with me by convincing him I was good, serious, determined, and loving. I felt small, worthless, unworthy, and weak. Or, at least I felt like life was a crap shoot, slave to his mysterious whims.

But, what if what we should do, and what happened to us, was based not on the will and decisions made by a divine consciousness, and more on a universal law or environment? What if it was more like a science, like if you put your hand on a hot stove, you’ll burn yourself. In that case, you would have no one to appease. You wouldn’t feel small or shamed. At the worst, you’d just feel stupid. You’d be no more mad at that being, or yourself, than if you stubbed your toe. And if you did stub your toe, you merely have to be more careful next time, or wear more protective shoes, rather than pleading to that divine being to stop stubbing your toe.

What if there was not a magic talisman or elixir? What if there was not one true religion or scripture? What if there was nothing extroridinary you could find that would turn your life around, save you from hell, and make you happy this day, and every day, until you ceased to be? What if all wisdom was more or less equal. Or at least some wisdom only somewhat more effective than other wisdom?

Just think, no longer looking under every rock, or reading every tea leaf, or searching for some clue in every scripture that is finally going to explain everything to you and finally make everything in your life go perfectly? That that key someone told you is in that room somewhere doesn’t really exist? And you either can open the door without the key, or that there’s nothing outside that door. What if that secret to that clock is actually the simple, rational, scientific workings of the unseen movements, and not “magic” or some little fairy?

What if the purpose of life was not the search for the purpose of life? What if the secret to happiness was not discovering and bending to God’s true will? What if you no longer felt obliged, when at your lowest, to lean back and just say, “okay, I submit to your will”? What if it took no more appeasement than when you no longer want to be burned by the hot water you put your hand in, you simply take your hand out? And if you neglect to pull it out, at the worst you consider yourself stupid–but not “bad”.

What if your existential peace was just as easy to attain as your physical peace? Just think what your mind and consciousness could focus on. Sure, you still might want to explore the meanings and twistings of life, the universe, and everything. But you’d be able to explore it like a scientist, not like a wounded animal that’s bleeding to death. Geologists don’t study rocks because they think they’ll find this one rock that will make all their problems go away. They study rocks because they think they’re cool.

——-

Post 3

I find that any relgion is being misused when it is held on and latched onto as a crutch. As a soothing balm. As a flag one waves. Something to hide beneath, afraid to face the world, naked. It happens in every relgion. Even in the most religion-free religions. And for non-religious identities as well. The world is full of people afraid to be thereselves, afraid to face the world. They don’t like what they saw when they left their mother’s shadow, when they left their parents house. We create our own stories and worlds in which we feel comfortable. We join the kingdoms where we figure higher in the heiarchy.

Should religions/philosophies challenge us? Should they splash water in our faces and say deal with it? This is a social world. Unless it teaches us how to live with each other, it is doing a disservice to us. Though, it would be a shame if that’s the best relgion can do for us. Keep us from killing each other. Does it have to be religion?

What about the common concern and decency that many smaller, more primitive, and often poorer groups seem to share? Yes, they could be starving. But they don’t take it out on each other? However, in a way, they sometimes will exhibit animosity against neighboring tribes. For the sake of land, food, grudge, or just because “they’re not us.”

But still, I see little being afraid of the world. They have too much real things to be afraid of, like starving. They knew the world was rough the second they joined their parents in the field or on the hunt. Also, it seems like they are held together naturally, rather than with a seige mentality, working just as hard to hold on to their identity and keep the faith, as they fight against the other. They don’t turn off the rational side of their mind and keep telling themselves who they are.

So, are there alternatives to teaching people to be kind to each other? To try and exhibit, society-wide, the care that is usually found in smaller groups. Is the fear of punishment enought? Is it a dearth of social programs? Is there a criculumm or philosophy that can be taught to the masses?

It seems unlikely, becasue to some religions, any instruction that isn’t infused with their religion, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s taking the issue out of the polarized atmosphere they created, and need, to hold onto their identity and their followers.

——-

And what do I think now?

When I read these older posts, I noticed something. I really used to think a lot about life. More precisely, I was both trying to figure it out, as well as reconcile suffering with either a divine plan, or simply a purpose to life. But presently, I really do less of this. Or at least in this fashion.

That is because – presently – I do not believe in any meaning, purpose, will, or secret to life that is outside my own body and mind. And my daily kvetching of “why am I here” and “why is this happening to me” has been replaced by “how can I get my book done?” “how can I make sure my family is financially secure?” and “how can we stop the idiots from destroying the world?”

Yes, I had been guilty of years of navel-gazing. And, for a short time, it had benefited me. But I realize that my first stage of navel-gazing had been entered into to solve what had been at that time, my foremost personal crisis: “Why don’t I fit in?” I spent some time analyzing myself, those I associated with (or tried to), and society in general. And it truly helped.

Whereas this first stage was social, my next one was more spiritual. Or maybe religious, since I still believed in a benevolent, divine being. This journey was accomplished not only by the same thinking, reading, and writing as the previous stage, but participation, of some kind or another, in different religions. And while I was taken by that religion, I was happy. But it never lasted. And after a lot more soul-searching (and serendipitous discovery of videos by Richard Dawkins and Jonathan Harris), I discovered that I no longer believed in a divine being.

This recognition comes with it’s own dilemma. And I consider this stage more existential. I no longer worried “Why is God doing this to me?” Instead, I was very unhappy that there was no afterlife. And that eventually, it will be as if I never existed.

Have I come to terms with this now? A little. But some of that has to do with my focus on the more practical and physical sides of life. I’ve learned to accept that life, by definition, is a struggle. It is a constant search for resources and a safe and comfortable environment. Rocks do not need resources, so they don’t struggle. But they do not live or think either. Life and struggle is inseparable. Not because it’s a curse. But because life=struggle. Sure, we can feel pleasure and contentment. But sometimes we may not. Such pleasures should be treated as luxuries, not a standard we think we should constantly strive to attain.

Scene from “Hiding and Seeking”There are a number of movies that I have seen that either as a whole, or in part, exemplify incredible love. And I plan to post many of them in this blog. And each of these movies highlight one or many of love’s manifestations, whether it be simple affection and regard by one individual for another, or courageous love in action, sometimes at the risk of losing one’s own life.

The documentary, Hiding and Seeking, showcases the latter.

In short, a father takes his sons to Poland, with the hope of finding the rescuers that hid the sons’ grandfather (the father’s father-in-law) during the Holocaust.

SPOILER ALERT:

Well, they do. The husband and wife that hid them are dead, but their daughter and son-in-law were still alive. And the daughter (now quite old, but sharp as a tack) turned out to be the one who brought the grandfather (and his brothers) his meals.

One of the highlights of the film is when she is asked why she and her family did this. She answers, simply, “Out of pity.” The other is the powerful and sincere speech given by Israel’s ambassador to Poland when the Polish family was officially declared as “Righteous Amongst the Nations.”

END OF SPOILER

To see humanity at its finest, amidst humanity at its worst, I recommend checking this out.

(These teachings are taken from a page within a site dedicated to the Hindu saint, Sri Ramakrishna. And, I will soon follow with secular admonitions as well.)

Sri Ramakrishna — I have now come to a stage of realization in which I see that God is walking in every human form and manifesting Himself alike through the sage and the sinner, the virtuous and the vicious. Therefore when I meet different people I say to myself, “God in the form of the saint, God in the form of the sinner, God in the form of the righteous, God in the form of the unrighteous.”

Holy Mother [Sri Ramakrishna’s spouse] — If you want peace of mind, do not find fault with others. Rather see your own faults. Learn to make the whole world your own. No one is a stranger, my child; the whole world is your own.

Swami Vivekananda [Sri Ramakrishna’s chief disciple] — This is the gist of all worship — to be pure and to do good to others. He who sees Siva in the poor, in the weak, and in the diseased, really worships Siva, and if he sees Siva only in the image, his worship is but preliminary. He who has served and helped one poor man seeing Siva in him, without thinking of his cast, creed, or race, or anything, with him Siva is more pleased than with the man who sees Him only in temples.

Buddha — Goodwill toward all beings is the true religion; cherish in your hearts boundless goodwill to all that lives.

Guru Nanak — God is one, but He has innumerable forms. He is the Creator of all and He Himself takes the human form.

Jesus Christ — But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. That you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Judaism — You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason with your neighbor, lest you bear in sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Krishna — He who sees the Supreme Lord abiding alike in all beings, and not perishing when they perish – verily, he alone sees.

Mohammed — All God’s creatures are His family; and he is the most beloved of God who tries to do most good to God’s creatures.

Native American — Every dawn as it comes is a holy event, and every day is holy, for the light comes from your Father, Wakan-Tanka; and also always remember that the two-leggeds and all other peoples who stand upon this earth are sacred and should be treated as such.

Rama — It is the shadow of the Paramatman that you see reflected in all the living beings as the Jivatman. Don’t you see the great sky reflected in each and every lake or river?

Sankara — Vishnu alone it is who dwells in you, in me, in everything; Empty of meaning is your wrath, and the impatience you reveal. Seeing yourself in everyone, have done with all diversity.

Vedas — The wise man beholds all beings in the Self, and the Self in all beings; for that reason he does not hate anyone.

Zoroaster — Forget self and identify Ahura Mazda in every being and in everything.

Who I am

I live in Whitehall, PA (outside of Pittsburgh), with my wife Monique, stepdaughter Manon, our Sheltie puppy “The Dude,” and four cats: Piggy, White Devil, Bee Bee, and Tigger.