Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Problem of Atheism

I am an atheist because I don't know what else to believe. When I was a Christian, a wavering of my faith anguished me. Now that the waver has long since phased into collapse, the old anguish is born again in new form. Instead of thinking "what if there is no God?," I think, "what can I believe in?" God is the answer for questions that defy answer. The question why eventually must end with the answer, because God. Without God as the answer to the unanswerable why, the question lingers. That there is no truly satisfactory answer despite millennia of inquiry suggests that perhaps the question becomes meaningless when applied to the fundamentals of existence.

When God is the answer, you can organize your life around basic principles like "Be nice to others (because God sez so)." Without the answer, you have an intuitive sense that good is good, reinforced/denounced by societies. And assuming the question is without meaning, what question should I be asking?

This metaproblem leads to more localized problems. I have especially been troubled by aspects of my godlessness in art and vocation. My next posts will explore these areas.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I Don't Even Know How to Begin to Understand

what it's like to wake up and think "I wonder if this is the day I die".

I sometimes forget the magnitude of the Iraq war. At least 100,000 civilian, over 4,000 US military, almost 10,000 US-aligned Iraq military deaths. That's around 50 violent deaths a day since 2003. And that doesn't take into account the war we're preparing to escalate in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Google Maps Found My Chinese Restaurant

Two points about Google Maps:

1. I used Google Maps to find a Chinese Restaurant the other day. This would not be a remarkable feat were it not for the fact that I used street view. Google searching wasn't working to find the place, which I knew was across the street from another business. So I found the address of that business, found it on Google Maps, and used street view. I swiveled the camera around and was able to see the restaurant's sign. I then Googled that and was able to view a menu and get the number from that search. The process I just described is the sort of mundane thing many people use the Internet for every day. Every once in a while, though, I am amazed at the power at my fingertips. I can type an address and look at a 360-degree picture of the street. Astonishing. Magical.

2. If you didn't notice the other day, stories abounded about how google is releasing a Google Maps navigation application for smart phones. It killed the Garmin and TomTom stock prices. Apparently, google is going to make money off this deal because it now owns all its own maps (I understand why this would save them money, but not how this app is supposed to make them money). By tracing nearly every street in the nation to produce street view, Google committed the brute force necessary to create their own maps. The closest analog I can think of in terms of coverage and manpower is the census. Is Google as powerful as the federal bureaucracy?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

from 2001

I was tired of the same old everyday, day to day, repeat junk. Tired of staring out and seeing what I saw all the time. Same black and glistening streets. Same Lexi and Volkswagens and Explorers intrepidly crowding me. I was tired of looking up, waiting for buildings to crash onto me, of drinking and drinking and being taken along, pretending not to be bothered. I was drinking the metally water from its protected source. Placid and cool, but not refreshing. I was smoking and each puff wore me down, made me think of more, of the next one to buy--of my struggle to consume and desire and need and need and not just let be and be. I had it all worked out of me. Whatever spark to fire the flame of fury or feeling or fortitude or risk. No dangling. Not vulnerable.

I used to skateboard. I was fearless, until I hurt myself. I used to snowboard. I was fearless, until I hurt myself. I used to believe.

My name is Random Spillwater. I'm a bastard of a bastard; the child of a motherless son. I'm a fatherless one. Mom was a telemarketer. She had a thing with her supervisor, Chuck. I don't like to think too much about Chuck and his white kingdom of cubicles, plastic and wires. Leering at the girls in headsets sitting in front of green-flickering computers. Leering at mom like a plague rat.

I spent my childhood playing video games, watching TV, and eating macaroni and cheese. No baseball, no soccer, no kites, no frisbee, no fishing. Children didn't talk to me and I didn't talk to them, but I had fantasies. Dervishes and diversions. I didn't hit the game-winning home run or kiss the girl (still waiting), but I talked to everyone. I said the right thing--to make people laugh, to raise the spirits of the sick, to excite the jealousy of those less well endowed. These were the dreams of Random the Orator. Hear him expostulate on subjects great and small. A meager grain of rice becomes a bumper crop of repartee.

The universe itself dissected, didacted, and resolved in the hollow of my mouth. I sing the stars to sleep and Oh, if someone had listened.

What a way to live. In silence always jabbering a commentary, every moment, every moment running on without break. Now the outside crushes in instead of the inside straining out. I had creases at 20, and my hair was shocked with white at 25. I lost the last believer yesterday. Everyone loses today.

Look at me, the small, angry man. I am everywhere; a cliche. Powerless of my own volition. Without belief in volition. Another whiner. Yet another dissatisfied, internally choked and knotted, socially backward log in the jam in the ol' river o life.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Love What You Do

Conventional wisdom holds that if you love what you do, work will never feel like work. I don't know about that: every job is bound to include responsibilities that feel monotonous or burdensome.

Nevertheless, so far so good with my new job. Often several hours pass without me checking the time. The work is challenging and worthwhile. While I've had acting jobs I loved, I've never had a job like this before: great work, great social benefit, great pay.

Friday, August 14, 2009

That Damned Caveman

Will those stupid GEICO commercials never end. They were lame before the ill-fated sitcom. At this point, they're endless repetitions of the same setup and payoff. Uptight caveman starts to relax, lets down his guard, and then sees the GEICO slogan, which crushes his spirit so that he has to stop doing whatever pleasant thing he was doing. So . . . GEICO ruins lives? Maybe the message is supposed to be that only overly sensitive buzz-kill types dislike GEICO.

Also, while I'm complaining about things I can't control: Interwebs is not clever or funny. Stop writing it, people. The meme was over long ago, when clueless people like me were still nonplussed by it.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

No One Knows

This I know: no one knows. I support better healthcare. That's easy. I support universal coverage. Another easy one. After that, I have no clue. We are overprescribed/Europe is underprescribed. We have cruel deficiencies that punish the poor/the Europeans have to wait years for their procedures. If you have insurance, it's fairly easy to see a specialist/in European systems, seeing a specialist means more waiting.

In order to cover the poor, must those with the best coverage disgorge some of their coverage? If we went to a single payer system, this is what would happen. Less healthcare for the well off, and more for the poor. That's socialism right there (*everyone gasps*). And that's never going to happen here. For one, the political will is not there. For two, bringing those with no medical insurance into the fold need not mean the end of Mr. Monopoly seeing a specialist every time he has a tickle in his ear.

Obama's plan, as I (I am sure poorly) understand it, tries to fill most of the coverage gaps while ostensibly allowing everyone to keep the insurance they already have. I guess that's a political necessity, but I'm not sure it's s a viable solution. If there is a public option that employers can choose that is cheaper than private, then companies will go public. Remember when HMOs came into fashion? Most of us working folk ended up with HMO insurance although technically, we all (our employers) had a choice as to what type of health insurance to purchase. I suppose the competition could drive the private insurers to offer more reasonable plans, but it also seems possible the private insurers would be obsolete.

What seems most likely is that we will end up with a two-tier system that is an incremental improvement on the present lack thereof. Professionals who demand premium perks will still get premium health coverage through their employers. So too will members of unions still powerful enough (and in industries still viable enough) to demand premium coverage.

It's true that those in the lower end of the earning spectrum will not be able to see a specialist. But they can't do it now. Crappy government insurance is presumably better than a trip to the emergency room. Those in the upper echelon will continue to enjoy the quality of care they already have. As long as we have rich people willing to pay, the service will be there for them.

So it seems to me that the present plan may decrease the quality of coverage for a portion of working people who receive coverage through their employers. But if the competition drives costs down, it could put more money in the workers' pockets' and keep their employers' financially healthier. Perhaps more small businesses would be able to provide healthcare as a benefit and more people will be covered overall. So while the individual quality might drop for some working people, the overall quality would spike dramatically by virtue of so many people going from uninsured to insured.

So we have a compromise healthcare bill. Of course. It's the only thing we could have. Obama is a law professor who comes out of the Chicago political machine. He knows how sausages are made. He knows the legislation game. It doesn't mean he'll win the game, but he seems to have a much better chance of succeeding than Clinton did.

I think the biggest question is: where is the funding coming from? New taxes. I support more taxes to achieve 100% coverage, but most people don't. We are a nation that demands reward without sacrifice. And, from the richest to the poorest, we want others to do well, so long as it doesn't impair us in the least.

Which brings me back to the title of this post: no one knows. We can know the basic premises and we can understand the basic contours of proposed reform, but the legislation is so complex, as is the universe it attempts to redress, that a layperson cannot begin to understand what the truth of the matter is. We are forced to rely on experts, pundits, and politicians, who overestimate their expertise, twist facts to meet their agendas, and lie outright for money and power.

So I am left with this (weak) conclusion: we need coverage for the poor in this nation. I am willing to swollow the bloat and inefficiency that must come with it, as part of a higher tax burden, and perhaps even lowered quality of my personal coverage, because this nay be the only chance for some time that any legislation, no matter how flawed, has a chance to pass. I also don't see how to overcome the insurance lobby and staunch opposition from free-marketeers without leaving private insurers largely intact. I don't see a better way in this political climate.

I hope that the present wrangling over the bill will improve it, though it seems to me that the more time the money has to pound away at the bill, the weaker it will get. I just hope something happens, and that the something that happens is even slightly better than the nothing so many have now.

Hurt Locker

In my last post, I praised Funny People. By all means, see Funny People. But see Hurt Locker first. It follows a US military bomb disarming team. Nearly every second is tense. Set in 2004 Iraq, it maintains the tension and suspense of an old-fashioned thriller or horror movie. Unlike a horror movie, the stakes are so real and the characters so finely drawn that every near-death experience is emotionally draining. Despite being obvious fiction, it has the ring of truth. It's a tough but rewarding 2:20 that left me emotionally raw, with an unstable lower lip, and a heart that kept pounding some time after the credits had rolled. It is punishing viewing, but well worth the pain. Not only is it one of the best war movies I've seen, it's one of the best movies I've seen in some time, and up there with the finest I have ever seen.

It's easy to forget that we've been in Iraq for six years now, and that every day, soldiers and civilians risk their lives. I know I often prefer not to think about it. I forget how lucky I am that I get to sit here in an easy chair with my laptop while war blooms around the world and people live in various hells created by avarice and fear.

. . .

Two days in a row I've posted now. Perhaps I'll get back up to a once a week average or something like it.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Other Side

The bar exam is over. Three years of law school followed by three months of intensive bar review, and for the first time in a long time, there is nothing law-related to make me anxious. I get two weeks off before I start a job I am actually excited to have. It's a blessing to have a job right out of school, and even more of a blessing to have a job I am excited to do.

So I have hundreds of flashcards and binders full of outlines that I would like to throw away, but I'll hang on to them for just a bit longer. Like until November when I find out whether I passed the bar exam. I feel confident that I did pass, but I'll hang on to my study materials nonetheless.

Honestly, the summer was not too bad until the last three weeks leading up to the test. I knew from previous takers that working furiously from day one was not necessary. I did a few hours of homework most days, and then, from July 10th or so forward, I studied almost all day every day. I knew I would pass, but failure would be such a burden that I had plenty of incentive to work. I don't think I would get fired if I failed once, but it wouldn't look good; and even worse, I'd have to study and take it again with seriously dented confidence. It was not intellectually difficult, but more of a grind. The volume of information one needs to be familiar with is great, even though one need not have great depth of knowledge, and even though a comparatively small amount is tested on each exam. I spent a whole lot of time learning about corporations, which I didn't take in law school, and it didn't show up on the exam at all.

Did it seem awful sometimes? Sure. But being in a position to take the bar exam is a privilege, and the work required is not so onerous compared to, say, working on a factory floor. I tried to remind myself each morning that I was lucky to be able to spend the day studying.

If I was lucky then, I am smack in the lap of luxury now.

Mrs. Beckett and I even got to see a movie yesterday: Funny People. It was only $15 for the two of us with a matinee price. Ah, small town living. In NYC, you can never get the matinee price on the day the movie premiers.

The movie is darker than the trailers would lead one to believe, and it's a little long (over two hours), but it's worth seeing. The NY Times review (written by the most pretentious of the Times' reviewers) is not kind to the film, but the review is misguided. For one, it claims that Adam Sandler is overmatched by the part. On the contrary, I'd say that Sandler lives the part. He is right on target throughout.

So far, Sandler has acquitted himself well as a "serious" actor. He is excellent in Punch Drunk Love (a movie many people think is a disaster, but that I love), and is just as compelling playing a very different character in Funny People. In both films, it is clear he is coming from a very true place in himself. He knows awkward and anxious, and he knows celebrity self-loathing, and he's not afraid to bare his shame and darkness onscreen. That is truth in acting.

Eric Bana is pitch-perfect as well.

Funny People
is not a great movie, but it's a very good movie, and the stand-up sequences are simply great (though there were a few too many dick jokes for Mrs. Beckett's taste). The plot keeps going places you don't expect, and doesn't settle for easy tie-ups, even as it also doesn't end as cruelly as it might.

. . .

La Misma, thank you for reminding me about this little blog. It's very nice to have a reader. I will get in touch with Glen. We have not communicated in some time, but I'll see how he's doing and if he'd like to contribute again.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Law School Is Over

Three years of classes and exams and near constant anxiety expired today.

A great burden has lifted.

It will take some time to truly recover.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Gum in Urinals

I hate seeing gum or other trash in urinals. It means that some poor maintenance person has to come and fish it out. Sure, people who clean public bathrooms wear gloves and generally clean up after people, but are you really so lazy and self centered that you are willing to add cleaning your trash out of the urinal to their list of unpleasant duties? Huh, urinal gum-spitting guy? The cleaner might have to change those cakes once a week, but you really want him to have to stick his hand in there today, don't ya?

Almost as bad are people who piss on toilet seats. How hard is it to lift the lid you savages? Push the lid up with your foot if you're scared of bathroom cooties.

Thursday, April 09, 2009


For a while I confused art with profound feeling. I could not appreciate the planning, trial, and error that must go into making a successful work. I had the temperament and sensitivity to be an artist, but not the dedication.

It's not just a matter of time. It's a willingness to sit in hard feelings, to feel uncomfortable. It's a willingness to risk it all in order to see more clearly. It's a state of being that is as much dream as reality, and as much future and past as present. Three dimensions are rendered in two. All of complex reality is merged into word or image.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Infinite Universes

If there are infinite universes, will my consciousness go forever? At a minimum, I will live my full possible life.

If there are infinite universes, do I have infinite consciousnesses or just one consciousness with infinite aspects?

There are infinite universes and infinite consciousness within the known universe.

I hope there's a universe in which I have the power of flight. And one in which I play professional baseball.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Time and Trial

I had a class last night for which the topic was time management. All work and no play takes all the fun out of work. The pace will not relent, so I have to do the best I can to stay calm when madness spins about me.

I have a trial starting in a week. But I still don't know what I'll be arguing, because my young clients don't know what they want.

Of course they don't know. Two strangers just rolled into their house today and said: so, there's a trial coming up and if the judge finds that your parent did something wrong, you could get put in foster care. If the judge says your parent didn't do anything wrong, it goes back to the way it was before: you don't go to therapy anymore, and there's no more order of protection for your parent not to hit you.

How could we have even expected the kids to have a ready answer to that kind of question? We phrased it much less confusingly than the example above (I hope).

We'll probably have to interview the kids again before the trial, even though it's very disruptive for the family.

I honestly don't know if I could bear doing this kind of work on a daily basis. Someone needs to do it. Someone, like me, whose heart breaks for his clients, will probably be the most dedicated advocate for the kids. But someone like me, who might be haunted by his cases 24/7, is especially susceptible to burnout. I have 3 cases right now. Legal Aid children's attorneys have as many as 150 cases at a time.