Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Last Gasp of God

One book that I frequently recommend is “The Merchants of Doubt” (see here). It was even made into a documentary film. The authors document the decades-long campaign of misinformation orchestrated largely by a small group of “reputable” scientists with the goal of discrediting any legitimate arguments against DDT and other hazardous pollutants, ozone-destroying CFC propellants and refrigerants, acid rain caused by coal burning, tobacco and its links to lung cancer, and most recently man-made climate change.

These scientists employed well-refined tactics to delay any meaningful reform in these areas. Essentially, their strategy was to create doubt about these dangers. As long as they could manufacture even the thinnest illusion of doubt, they could delay any efforts to restrict those industries. They succeeded for a long time – and still succeed with climate change – but only with the complicity of mainstream media organizations that publish their made-up arguments over and over again because they create bankable controversy and bolster the impression that their media coverage is fair-mined and impartial.

The New York Times has consistently been, unwittingly or not, one of the most influential misinformation machines for these merchants of doubt. And they are still helping them out. The other day they published an opinion called “God Is a Question, Not an Answer” (see here). In it, author William Irwin, a Professor of Philosophy at King’s College, puts forth ridiculous arguments in an attempt to discredit atheism. Or, more specifically, to create doubts about the fundamental intellectual validity of atheism.

Irwin claims that any reasonable, intellectually honest atheist must admit some possibility that god might actually exist. This is the exact same manipulation that pro-tobacco advocates put forth for years – surely any scientist with integrity must admit that he has some doubt that tobacco causes lung cancer. Similarly, Irwin attempts to shame us at least into a position of agnosticism that legitimizes religious belief. He says:

“Any honest atheist must admit that he has his doubts, that occasionally he thinks he might be wrong, that there could be a God after all …”

“People who claim certainty about God worry me, both those who believe and those who don’t believe. They do not really listen to the other side of conversations, and they are too ready to impose their views on others. It is impossible to be certain about God.”

These are false and totally ridiculous assertions. The only people that actually worry me are those that express any doubt whatsoever. As to the first claim, it is simply as silly as if one said:

“Any honest atheist must admit that he has his doubts, that occasionally he thinks he might be wrong, that there could be an Easter Bunny after all …”

This is a totally fair substitution since God has not one iota more factual credibility than the Easter Bunny. And again – just as with DDT, and tobacco, and CFC’s – the New York Times is complicit in helping to propagate and maintain this illusion of legitimate doubt by publishing this article.

I don’t condemn the New York Times for printing a viewpoint that doesn’t agree with me; I don’t condemn them for publishing a wide range of ideas; and it isn’t my goal to muzzle free-speech; but it is fair to criticize the New York Times for publishing harmful factual nonsense – just as they did in all those other areas so well documented in the Merchants of Doubt. And facts aside, this particular article is not even theoretically sound as an intellectual debate or legitimately valid discussion.

Make no mistake, belief in god is harmful factual nonsense. And this campaign to create intellectual doubt has been working. Even the vast majority of my atheist friends have been at least partially influenced by this argument and shamed by articles like this one, published by respected organizations like the New York Times, into a false position of agnostic intellectual “honesty.” But in my opinion, the only intellectually honest and courageous position is that there simply can be, is no god.

I would have come away dispirited and disappointed by this article, but happily the New York Times readers are far more intelligent and less gullible than New York Times contributors and reviewers. When I scanned the more than 750 comments, I found that essentially all of them see right through this nonsense for exactly what it is. The vast majority were clear-eyed and astute in calling bullshit on this transparent manipulation.

DyingCandleThat makes me VERY encouraged. When merchants of doubt like William Irwin have to resort to manufacturing doubt, it is an admission that they know they cannot win on the merits of their position. It is their last gasp to cling to religion and delay the widespread outright rejection of god. That the dying candle of religion should finally burn out is inevitable because facts inevitably win in the end. Tobacco does cause cancer whether you admit it or not. Man-made climate change threatens our planet whether you choose to believe it or not. And there is no god to come and save us no matter how much you would like there to be. It’s all up to us and only us.

The public is obviously figuring that out. Too bad it is taking so long for the New York Times, once again, to stand for facts rather than propagating manufactured illusions of doubt on factual matters. I thank all the New York Times readers who posted their comments to this article and thereby reminding me that just because some professor of philosophy publishes some nonsense, even if it is published in the New York Times, many, many of us are simply not buying the doubt they’re selling any longer.

Let’s hope that desperate articles like this one are nothing more than the last gasps of a dying god.


Alexa, Like This Article

Back in 1966 we watched Captain Kirk chat with Mr. Spock through his Starfleet issue flip phone communicator. Such technology was so fantastic back then that that most people assumed we’d have to wait until 2265 for personal wireless communications. Little did we know that in 1996, just a mere 30 years later, Motorola would release the StarTAC flip-phone (StarTAC, StarTrek, hmm). Although it had buttons instead of a tuning dial, it was essentially the same design and functionality as those Starfleet Communicators.

Despite the futuristic awesomeness of the flip-phone, most people back in 1996 didn’t see much value in wireless phones. Why do we need them? Our trusty old Ma Bell phone works just fine! People could not imagine that soon they’d spend a huge part of their day with their head bent over their cell phones.  And so it is with most every new innovation. At first no one can imagine why they’d want that new gadget – even if only a few years it would be the one thing they’d take along if stranded on a desert island.

AmazonEchoAnd here we are again. Now we have the Echo from Amazon. It is our new StarTAC flip-phone. Remember how the Enterprise computer spoke with Kirk wherever he happened to be? Echo is our own personal Enterprise computer. It is Tony Stark’s Jarvis – before getting incarnated as Vision. It is Gideon, the AI of the Waverider from Legends of Tomorrow. Well the start of Jarvis and Gideon at least. Most people don’t see it as anything more than a novelty. But today it’s already immensely useful. Tomorrow it’ll be as indispensable to our households as electricity.

The Echo is a simple device, elegantly simple. It is a small cylinder you place centrally in your house, plug it in, let it connect to your WIFI, and start talking to it. The Echo is mostly speaker, and a pretty good one. I have always been a hardcore audiophile and I’m happy enough with the quality. The rest of it is just a WIFI device that communicates with a very pleasant and smart woman named Alexa whom I assume works 24/7 at Amazon just to talk to me. Just ask Alexa something, anything, and she’ll respond in her reassuringly competent voice with helpful information. Alexa isn’t quite “Her” but she’s pretty insightful.

Alexa, what time is it?
Alexa, spell consensus.
Alexa, what is the population of Uruguay?
Alexa, what’s in the news today?
Alexa, play Enchanted by Taylor Swift.
Alexa, read about Deadpool on Wikipedia.
Alexa, wake me at 8 A.M.
Alexa, set a timer for 15 minutes.
Alexa, put peanut butter cookies on my shopping list.
Alexa, what’s another word for amazing?
Alexa, why is the sky blue?
Alexa, when was Kennedy president?
Alexa, who is the Speaker of the House?
Alexa, play Ratatat Radio on Pandora.
Alexa, what is 34 + 75 + 26?
Alexa, what’s on my calendar tomorrow?
Alexa, what was Mark Twain’s real name?
Alexa, continue reading Night Without End by Alistair MacLean.

I know, I know, big deal. I tried Siri. She lost her attraction pretty quickly. Don’t talk to her much anymore. Have flirted with Cortana too I guess. Don’t talk to her that at all. I could look up any of those questions just as quickly on my phone. I’m pretty good with my thumbs. Voice is just a novelty gimmick with little real value.

How wrong you are. The big deal here is not what it does but how it does it. Sure, you could stop what you’re doing, get your phone, find an app, select some options, type in some stuff, and read an answer. Or, you could just conversationally mumble “Alexa, how many tablespoons in an ounce” from the kitchen while you continue to stir your batter. While you’re tying your shoes in the morning you can just ask “Alexa, will it rain today?” You don’t need to make a mental note to listen to “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” after you finish your soak in the tub. Just ask Alexa to play it for you.

Even in its current young form, Alexa is incredibly empowering. I find myself asking tons of questions and making many more casual requests than I would have if I had to go to my computer or my phone. It deeply enriches my life with a world of information not at my fingertips, but simply “in the air” of my house.

Alexa is has access to the Internet but it is also essentially a platform for third party applications. Other third parties can write Alexa “skills” to do pretty much anything. Right now, most skills are pretty silly. Why people write take the time to write skills to tell jokes or play random dog barks is beyond me. But the potential for far more serious stuff is there and they will come in the near future. Alexa and successors like it will continue to get more and more powerful. Soon you will be able to ask them questions like “what percentage of males under 35 voted for Donald Trump in North Carolina as compared to females in the same age group?” Through 3rd party skills you’ll be able to give directions like “let my uncle Joe into the house when he arrives today.” The possibilities extend far beyond my imagination.

But you don’t need to wait for another 20 years or even another 10 years. Alexa can enrich your life in subtle but dramatic ways right now. You can already free yourself from your “mobile” device in liberating ways with an even more intimate connection to the world. Do I have an ulterior motive in trying to get you to buy an Echo? Damn right I do. Every Echo that you purchase pulls those amazing new killer skills out of the distant future and into my immediate future.

Alexa, where is the nearest coconut on this desert island?

Maximum Voting Age

Lots of young folk under the age of 18 are perfectly capable of registering sound, informed votes in elections. But notwithstanding our many child geniuses, we still acknowledge that on average enough young folk are not yet capable of voting intelligently. This justifies our imposition of a minimum voting age.

SeniorVoteBy the same logic we ought to have a maximum voting age. Of course many old folk (like you and I obviously) are perfectly competent to vote intelligently right into our 100’s. But on average, age makes us old farts increasingly likely to make really, really stupid voting decisions. And when it comes to elections, even slight statistical tendencies are all that matters, not the presence of exceptions.

Look, we old folk can’t run a 4 minute mile like we used to. And although it is politically incorrect to point this out, our brains are just physical organs as well. They wear out too and while some age more badly than others, our mental faculties invariably degrade with advancing age.

This is evidenced in innumerable ways that tangibly impact elections. We don’t necessarily get wiser, but we do get slower-witted. We definitely get more gullible, increasingly more likely to fall for transparent scams by Nigerian Princes or Donald Trumps. We get more jaded and senile and closed-minded and angry and embittered and are more likely to respond to similar Tea-Party appeals. We are more likely to vote out of fear and to be swayed by the angry voices of Fox News or Rush Limbaugh. We are more likely to cling to old racist and bigoted and homophobic attitudes. We are less likely to understand the nuances of the modern world and imagine that a loaf of bread is still 25 cents and that the Internet is “a series of tubes.”

And moreover, we old folks are the very idiots that voted-in morons like George Bush who lied us into war (at least 33 well-documented lies) and also voted-in a whole insane asylum full of climate change deniers to Congress. So what specifically is there about our track record of wise decisions that suggests that we same old folks will make better voting decisions in the future?

Besides, we old folks had our chance and it’s time to let the younger generations have more say in their future and stop dominating elections already. If advancing age made us generally more likely to vote for a stable future planet for our descendants, that would be different, but age seems to only make us even more likely to vote according to our VERY near term self-interest.

So my very politically incorrect recommendation is to establish a maximum voting age of say 65. Once we retire from working life we should retire from voting as well. I acknowledge that this has no chance of becoming law, but we could still think about voluntarily stepping back from deciding the future of others. At the very least, we should strongly consider deferring to younger voters and supporting their candidates like Bernie Sanders whom they can see quite clearly is a better choice to serve their longer-term interests and those of the planet.

Fellow old folks, you’ve had your chance to screw up the country and have nothing more to prove in that regard. Step out of the way now and let the younger generations have their chance!


Our MacLean Revival

MacLean“A small dusty man in a small dusty room. That’s how I’d always remember him, just a small dusty man in a small dusty room.”

Grabs your interest doesn’t it? That was the opening line of The Dark Crusader by Alistair MacLean. I first devoured this and other adventure novels by MacLean while in High School back in the 70’s. Recently, my wife and I have taken to reading his books out loud to each other and – even in this high-tech era of blockbuster 3D adventure movies – MacLean’s novels continue to be singularly engaging adventures. We can’t wait to take up where we left off reading and we spend much of our time between sessions discussing the implications of whatever bits and pieces MacLean has revealed thus far.

Beyond the marvelous storytelling, MacLean was technically and aesthetically the most gifted author I have ever read. One part of what he achieved with seemingly effortless nonchalance was to deliver the catchiest openings ever. From them his stories flowed, briskly gushing and careening, like rivers of words through the coldly entrancing arctic landscape that was his favored setting. So daunting are his prose, that just taking on the challenge of reading them out-loud has made us both infinitely more fluid and polished readers.

His writing characteristically flows on in methodical rambling, like a symphony put to words, each sentence sometimes strung together over the course of a page or more, leaving the reader as breathless and exhilarated as after a hard swim, only to snatch a quick breath before diving into the next incoming wave.

“My red rose has turned to white.”

His plot lines are so tight, so carefully constructed with milimetric attention to detail, that when his protagonist laments in the prologue of Fear is the Key that his red rose has turned to white, you presage that MacLean will inevitably return to that same powerful imagery in his epilogue.

While his general storytelling elements recur in every book, MacLean’s writing does not feel overly formulaic. Within his general adventure fiction structure, MacLean paints distinctive characters and settings for each book. Unlike other authors, he doesn’t have one main character, no James Bond or Jason Bourne, but he does invariably feature smart but fallible male protagonists who face opponents who are far smarter and much less fallible in their utter ruthlessness.

MacLean also knew how to create a strong supporting cast with whom you engage every bit as much as his protagonist. In fact, I think that one of the reasons I went into chemistry was the inspiring moment in Night Without End when that frail little chemist Theodore Mahler used his knowledge to save the desperate survivors of the plane crash from the grasp of icy death in the deadly and merciless arctic. In that same book, the climax was not when the main hero saved the day, but when boxer Johnny Zagaro, hands rendered useless by crippling frostbite, finally had his inevitable bloody, brutal battle on the ice with the cold-blooded Nick Corazzini.

In MacLean’s novels, nature is invariably the most implacable enemy of all – whether it be the frigid clutch of the arctic, the unforgiving cliffs of Navarone, or torrential storms of the Adriatic. His books are typically light on romance, and in fact MacLean isn’t averse to nipping a budding romance with tragedy. Another distinctive quirk of MacLean is that he does tend to use certain words over and over again. My wife and I play a game to see who will be the first to encounter “milimetric” or “threnody” or “St. Vitus’s Dance” when we take turns reading a book. And be assured that in most every book, teeth will be lost, frostbite will claim fingers, and cigarettes will be burned in liberal quantities.

I find MacLean’s writing particularly noteworthy in how unlike conventional writing it is. He routinely devotes little more than a few short sentences to masterfully describe people and settings, for he needs no more than that, so powerfully potent are his descriptions. But then he is just as likely to go on in excruciating detail about how to wire the detonator for an explosive bobby trap. You have the feeling that he really did have the whole thing wired up and even tested in his office next to his typewriter. In fact all of his writing conveys a particularly strong sense that the author has actually been there and done that. MacLean’s actual background as a seaman and torpedo operator in the Royal Navy is keenly evident in all his writing.

Beyond his astounding gift for writing, I also admire the tone, the characteristic humanity of his works. Throughout his yarns, he weaves in his passion for humanity, for peace amidst cold-war intrigue and violence. Indeed, it was his clearly heretical defense of people, particularly Communists, and his cosmopolitan skepticism toward politics and religion, that caused such negative backlash to his book “The Last Frontier.” It was bold and provocative writing back in 1959, too much for the times he lived in.

“Jansci spoke of himself not at all, and of his organization and its methods of operation only where necessary … He talked instead of people … of their hopes and fears and terrors of this world. He talked of peace, of his hope for the world, of his conviction that that peace would ultimately come for the world if only one good man in a thousand worked for it … He spoke of Communists and non-Communists, and of the distinctions between them that existed only in the tiny minds of men, of the intolerance and the infinite littleness of minds that knew beyond question that all men were inescapably different by virtue of their births and beliefs, their creeds and religions, and that the God that said that every man was the brother of the next man was really a poor judge of these things. He spoke of the tragedies of the creed that knew beyond doubt that theirs was the only way that was the right way, of the religious sects that usurped the gates of heaven against all comers … for there were no gates anyway.”

Though now somewhat anachronistic and dated by patronizing 50’s attitudes toward women (even though his women definitely show great strength) MacLean’s work is still nevertheless as fresh and timelessly potent as the day it was written. My wife and I rather dread the day that we finish up our Alistair MacLean revival. There is very little in the marketplace of literary ideas that match up for us. As just one example, we tried reading Jack Reacher and having been so spoiled by the mastery of MacLean we find the writing and the characters as flat and empty and devoid of life as a cardboard cutout. Are there other authors as gifted as MacLean? Certainly, but it is a very short list indeed.

“A small dusty man in a small dusty room. That’s how I’d always remember him, just a small dusty man in a small dusty room.”


Creative Dreaming

I came up with this blog topic in the shower this morning. That’s where I come up with the vast majority of my blog topics. Why is that do you suppose?

PsychicReaderI occasionally have psychic readings for fun. Purely for fun as I have absolutely zero belief that psychics are really psychic. There simply is no such thing. But I am extremely impressed and fascinated by the rare and marvelous talent of these people to make others believe that they actually have real psychic powers. I see them as a type of stage magician.

As in the art of horoscope writing, the biggest trick in being a convincing psychic is coming up with observations that are universally true but little appreciated, and seemingly specific yet actually very vague and generic. Then you make a lot of them and the mark will selectively remember those that ring true.

Decades ago, one particular psychic gazed deeply into my eyes and revealed to me “You have many of your best ideas in the shower, don’t you?”

YES! That’s amazing! How could you possibly know this quirky and intimate detail about me? The only possible explanation is that you must be truly psychic! What else can you tell me? Oh, you need more money to unveil even more startling revelations about where I’m destined to meet my true love? Do you take MasterCard?

But in reality  this is just a great example of a using a near-universal truth that we falsely imagine is something unique about us that no one could possibly know unless they have psychic powers.

Why is it that so many of us relate to this particular “psychic” insight? My theory of shower-thoughts begins involves dreams.

I suspect that dreams have a very important and largely unrecognized evolutionary benefit. I think that dreams are an essential part of our creative thinking process. In his 1993 book The Metaphoric Mind (see here) author Bob Samples summarized current thought about the creative process. He said that creative thinking requires that we alternate between “play” mode and “logic” mode in order to arrive at creative solutions. We must follow a line of reasoning logically until we reach a dead-end, then enter play mode and make wild leaps of free-association to find a new starting point from which to reenter a new logical train of thought. Techniques like brainstorming are methods for formalizing this process.

I speculate that dreams are a way that evolution has already hard-wired the creative process. Dreams give us a method for entering this “play mode” in which we rearrange the niggling facts of the previous day (selectively those that are unresolved threads of dead-end logic) and make wild leaps unconstrained by logic, by assumptions, or even by the physical reality of our real-world desk and pen and gravity. In the morning, our minds freshly brimming with “play” thoughts, the shower gives us the undistracted time we need to logically process them, to connect and rationalize them into something sensible, and to follow new trains of logical inquiry to unexpectedly new creative conclusions.

Shower-thinking isn’t very novel insight anymore. It’s now pretty well-known (see here), but I am not sure that the role of dreaming in this process is sufficiently appreciated. Nevertheless, this is exactly the kind of detail that a good psychic latches on to in order to establish credibility with an otherwise skeptical client.

The job of a psychic must be getting harder however. Even 20 years ago a psychic could make this kind of “reading” and it would be fairly difficult and unlikely that their client could learn that this amazing insight isn’t actually that amazing at all. If I went to a psychic today and they told me that I have all my best ideas in the shower, a quick Internet search would show me that this is actually pretty universal and quite well-known and documented. It would be clearly obvious that one did not need psychic powers to divine this.

But here is the important lesson. Even 25 years ago when that particular psychic told me this about myself, even though I could not easily fact check this particular phenomenon at that time, my conclusion was not “this person must be a real psychic.” It was “this phenomenon must be more common than I realized.” Keep that in mind when some psychic makes a seemingly correct observation about you, even if their “psychic impression” isn’t quite common knowledge on the Internet yet. Even if you can’t imagine what it might be, there is necessarily some mundane trick to their apparent psychic powers.

Lack of information and openness to magical thinking are the essential conditions for mysticism and fakery to thrive. Religion makes us more susceptible to other kinds of magical thinking. And some of what we are lead to believe through mysticism and fakery is not so harmless and benign as the entertaining insights of a $20 psychic.

So use your dreams creatively. Evolution almost certainly produced them to give you an advantage over your non-dreaming cousins. But don’t imagine there is anything mystical or magical about them.


Novel Romances

RomanceNovelDo you read romance novels? If you said no, are you lying? If you said no again, are you lying about lying? Chances are pretty good that you are.

According to Nielsen statistics reported by the Romance Writers of America (see here), 13% of all adult fiction consumed are romance novels. That’s a lot of romance totaling up to over $1 billion in sales in 2013. A whopping 84% of this market are females, mostly between 34 and 55 years of age.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that men’s notions about romance are pretty juvenile. But men don’t need to snuggle under a quilt and sip wine over a romance novel to experience their romantic fantasies. Men can pretty much just go see any mainstream movie for some vicarious romantic fiction.

Male romantic fantasies are pretty simple. Whether the hero of the movie is James Bond, or a flawed hero like Wade Wilson in Deadpool, or just an extraordinarily ordinary guy like Robbie Hart in The Wedding Singer, the man is lucky enough to meet an extraordinary woman who “gets” him. She accepts his profession, she finds his jokes funny, she cares about what he cares about, she accepts him exactly as he is, flaws and all, and she adores him just like he is. Oh yea, and of course she’s incredibly sexy.

While quite similar, female fantasies differ in some essential respects. If you read any number of romance novels, you find that almost all follow the exact same formula. The woman portrayed in the story is utterly amazing but no one appreciates just how amazing she is – until that one guy comes along. He recognizes that she is one in a billion and immediately becomes so smitten that he will do anything to have her.

This guy is never just any ordinary guy. He is invariably a bad boy, a super alpha male who can have any woman on the planet he wants, who has unlimited resources and power, who is so incredibly alluring that every woman wants him, and so bad ass that every man fears him. But despite all that he only desires the heroine and is helplessly devoted to her.

She however, invariably plays hard to get – very hard to get. Whether the guy is a secret agent, a Pirate Captain, a Persian King, or an ethically compromised billionaire, the hero must overthrow civilizations, vanquish armies, forsake his fortune, suffer torture and agonies that would kill most men, even cheat death itself, before she will finally give herself to him. And most importantly, since he is a bad boy, one essential way he must prove himself to her is by giving up his bad-boy ways for her.

As one example, I recently read the Hidden Fire series by Elizabeth Hunter (see here). I was looking for a good vampire novel and didn’t realize that this was as much romance novel as gothic adventure. The central figure Beatrice was working as a bookish librarian when a dark and mysterious stranger named Giovanni enters her life. He of course turns out to be a powerful ancient vampire who immediately recognizes that Beatrice is the one woman who he must have. He then sets about battling against every incredibly hopeless adversity in order to claim her and convince her of his undying loyalty and devotion. Honesty is almost always a key obstacle in these plot lines. In this story, Gio almost loses Beatrice when he lies to her to save her life.

Don’t get me wrong, the Hidden Fire books are  well-written and I enjoyed them, but they follow the same tried and true recipe for appealing to female readers. As a guy I found myself groaning with every other paragraph reading corny lines like “Gio couldn’t keep his eyes from straying toward her ample breasts” or “the ancient vampire trembled with desire as her hair brushed past his cheek.” It all seemed just as ridiculous as gorgeous women jumping into bed with James Bond (especially since they are usually just trying to kill him anyway).

But beyond the differences in style, the key difference between guys romantic fantasies and those of women seems to be that men dream that some alluring woman will love them immediately and unconditionally or at least want them sexually. Women want the powerful bad boy to find them, to be obsessed with her, to feel that they are the most amazing woman on the planet (or the galaxy and/or of all time), to overcome insurmountable adversities to win her, to prove his honesty, and to forsake all his bad-boy ways to eventually win her over.

What these romance novels seem to echo is the reality that while both men and women desire an attractive and capable romance partner, men want a woman who will accept them as they are while women want a guy who not only accepts her as she is but is willing to fundamentally change for her. The old adage that “men want the woman they love to never change and women want to change their man into the guy they love” seems to be a universal truth in romance fiction at least.

In the final analysis, there is one element of truth from romantic fantasy that transcends gender boundaries. Men and women alike both dream of being found by someone who will love them exactly as they are. Both James Bond and Beatrice agree on this. But Beatrice would expect James to prove his love by giving up exactly the behaviors that attracted her to him.

Love has no obligation to make sense, especially in romantic fiction.


Addendum: I received this comment via email. It’s so good I had to add it.

Women have been changing themselves to be attractive to men for centuries.  They starve themselves, squeeze their bodies into all kinds of unnatural shapes, suppress their ambition to become equal members of society…  Maybe the reason that men don’t want their women to change is that they don’t need to – the women have already done the changing.  Maybe the men in these romance novels are attracted to those women who have already become what the men want.  And maybe the men should consider the fact that in any relationship, both parties have to make accommodations, including them.


Dear Future Time-Traveler

If you are reading this it is probably the year 2416, give or take, you are undoubtedly one of the few technologists remaining alive in the last enclave of a largely uninhabitable future Earth decimated by the ravages of corporate planetary exploitation resulting in resource wars fueled by religious extremism. Your search algorithm undoubtedly pulled this ancient blog article off of molecular storage because you have just completed a prototype time-travel machine, you have only enough energy left on the planet to send one person back one time, and you are researching what a single lone agent could do to avert your catastrophic timeline.

ReaganHere is what you must do. It is your best chance for survival. You have to stop Ronald Reagan.

I know that time travel theory requires that you make only the most subtle possible alteration at a key intersection in the timelines, so just killing Reagan is ill-advised. Besides being ethically unacceptable, even to save the planet and billions of future lives, his death could result in wildly unpredictable repercussions. Therefore, you must send your agent back to April 22nd, 1980 just two days before the fateful Operation Eagle Claw failed famously to rescue American hostages held in Iran. Your agent must gain access to Col. Charles A. Beckwith and convince him to inspect the helicopter rotors and hydraulics and avoid flying though regions with sandy particulates.

If your agent can assure that these minor problems are avoided, he or she can thwart Reagan’s alleged conspiracy with Iran to hold the hostages until after the election in order to discredit Jimmy Carter. In any event, this will likely prevent Reagan from gaining the White House, which will keep the solar panels on the roof and ensure that the nascent enculturation of Carter’s responsible, science-based energy and social policies are not aborted by Reagan.

By thwarting the Reagan Presidency, we avoid the critically pivotal fork when we chose self-interest over social good; unrestrained consumerism over sustainability; religious extremism over humanist ethics; voodoo trickle-down economics over sound economic policies; superstition over science; beliefs over facts; hatred for the government over pride in government; rabid partisanism over political cooperation; and unrestrained militarism over a thriving peace-time economy.

If Carter had retained the Presidency, there would have been a chance at least that science and fact-based thinking would have prevailed; that the religious community would have followed his humble example of restraint and separation from government affairs; that rampant consumerism and self-interest would not have completely corrupted corporate leaders into elevating next-quarter’s profits and personal bonuses above all social considerations; that subsequent generations of government leaders would not be hell-bent to destroy government and the people that support them would not be convinced that government is their enemy. In the alternate timeline, John McCain would never have considered nominating Sarah Palin and Donald Trump would never have become the orange-haired Frankenstein’s Monster of our own creation that he is. The existential threat of Global Climate Change and all of its resultant horrors would have been managed responsibly with a long-term and forward-looking sense of responsibility for the planet and for future generations.

So, future time-traveler, this is your only hope, our final hope. You must ensure that Operation Eagle Claw does not fail. If you succeed in that mission, this whole tragically cascading timeline will never have occurred. Hopefully moments after I click Publish on this blog article, my timeline will shift because you will have read it in the future and sent your agent back in time and he or she has succeeded in averting the failure of Operation Eagle Claw which has prevented the Reagan Presidency and the ascendency of the crazy religious anti-government Right. Your future world and mine will transform into a sane, rational, humane planet, unpolluted and unthreatened by climate change, with an America that is truly the light of the world rather than the single greatest threat to its survival.

If we fail to rise to our challenge of building a sane and sustainable planet, you future time-traveler are our last hope!