Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Month: May, 2013

Two Inches

Light travels at 671 million miles per hour. The sun is 93 million miles away from the earth. That means that if the sun exploded, we would not see it for 8 minutes and 19 seconds. A light year is the distance that light can travel in one earth year. This equates to 5,878,625 million miles, or roughly 6 quadrillion miles. The universe is estimated at about 93 billion light years across. How insignificant do you feel?

An electron is less than 1/1000 the diameter of a proton. A proton has a diameter of approximately 1/25,000,000,000,000 inch. Consider that there are about 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 electrons in the average human body. How colossal do you feel?

Cancer is the unchecked growth of mutated cells in an organism. Once established and supplied with their own blood source, these neoplasms or tumors replicate out of control. It typically takes 1,000,000,000 cancer cells in a tumor for it to be detectable using physical examination or conventional radiology.

It is against that backdrop that we humans can feel like the center of the universe in one breath and like cosmic dust in the next. We can feel like masters of our own dominion on the inhale and poker chips in a biological warfare game on the exhale. We spend our lives pushing against both our physical and mental limitations, shaping the imaginary form of what we can control in an effort to appreciate our daily lives and mollify our aspirations of significance, if not eternal life through posterity.

We all begin life believing we are the most important creature on earth. Over time, we struggle to accept that we must share this public stage; that the applause we hear is only ours to share. Eventually, we realize that the mark we make on the world is ours to carve and that we may use no tools save those of our own intelligence. We claw with our fingernails at an indifferent earth, paying the price of birth, baring the scars of experience (the blood-stained reminders of our successes and the rescued wisdom gleaned from our defeats) before giving way to those behind us. Life is a disorderly queue and each surviving generation steps ever forward to take the place of those who have gone before us.

And yet, with all of the collective knowledge humanity has amassed, cancer , biology and the march of time relentlessly cuts us down with concern for neither our individual accomplishments nor mankind’s self-appointed importance. None of which prevents us from fighting it. We bargain, promise, diet, pray, in essence, delude ourselves into thinking that chemistry, physics and biology are somehow under the purview of our control. Nowhere is this more evident than when disease or chance affects those we love the most. A willing suspension of belief absorbs us; we somehow seek mystical ways of trading places with our afflicted loved ones, to take the proverbial bullet on their behalf, ignoring the axiomatic in favor of the absurd.

It is this hopeless sensation that I feel when embracing my wife, whose cancerous tumors lay two inches below the skin’s surface, bent on their suicidal quest to metastasize beyond her lungs. Were I able, in that enveloping hug, I would pull the cancer out of her lungs through her back and into my fingertips, freeing her of the daily pain and altered future demanded of her illness. Willingly, I would cut off my hand, burn the cancerous appendage and celebrate the event in song and dance if it would help my wife.  All for the sake of two inches. How long would it take light to travel those two inches? How many electrons, were they capable of being paused and lined up, would it take to traverse those two inches? For the sake of those two inches, I am helpless.  Two inches.


After seeing the blinder-wearing, simplistic, dogmatic, vitriol of the attendees at the NRA Paranoia Jamboree in Houston (and its glaring lack of racial diversity), I now agree with the speakers at the convention, such as:

Governor Rick “Prayer, Guns, and um…um… oops” Perry

Senator Ted “Filibuster and Lie about an imaginary Gun Registry” Cruz

Ted Cruz website

There was NO gun registry language in the proposed legislation that Senator Cruz first filibustered against and then voted against. In fact, there were strict penalties in the legislation for anyone attempting a gun registry. That did not stop the Senator from posting this on his website and causing dim followers to froth.

Senator John “Poison Pill” Cornyn

Attorney General Greg “Keep your guns, come to Texas” Abbott

Representative Steve “If Babies Had Guns They Wouldn’t Be Aborted/Win an AR-15!” Stockman

Texas Representative Steve “What’s the Supremacy Clause?” Toth

Governor Sarah “Helicopter Hunter” Palin

Ted “Messy Pants” Nugent

Wayne “Tyranny, Confiscation, Tyranny, Confiscation” LaPierre

“Leadership” Forum!

Senator Rick “The Bill of Rights came from God” Santorum

and Glenn “Am I Still Relevant?” Beck.

When these Pavlov-inspired  “leaders” have the ability to distill a solution to all of society’s ills down to a bumper sticker (“The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”) and have it swallowed whole by their one-note flock who hug the Bible in one hand and an AR-15 in the other, who can somehow justify loving God and can, with a clear conscience, kill His creatures, who cloak their racism as patriotism and assemble arsenals to defend themselves against the America they profess to love, who consider “victory” to be any time the “fake” black president loses and, of whom  44% consider the possibility of an armed rebellion against the government likely in the next few years, yes, maybe we should give them what they want. Let them secede. Concern over the porosity of our border and a demand for an impenetrable fence begins to sound good. In fact, we should insist that the fence continue around the entire Texas perimeter and commit every gun manufacturer and gun owner in the other 49 states to live in this newly minted country we’ll call Gunistan.  God bless Gunistan. Lock and Load.

Wow. Just, wow.

While the rest of the country is trying to curtail the carnage caused by a society drowning in firearms, the Texas legislature recently passed 12 bills weakening Texas gun laws. So take your guns, hug them tight, tuck them in at night under your pillow and the rest of us will leave you alone. Please do us the courtesy of doing the same. No longer will you fear Texas turning blue. It will forever be, blood-red.


GUEST POST: Modernity, Maternity and God

aa graphicAllāhu Akbar!

The phrase literally means, “Allah is greater”, but can be generalized to mean “God is Greater”. As a call to action, it is a consistent part of daily Muslim prayers.

When talking to CNN, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva had this to say about her sons’ deaths: “My oldest one is killed, I don’t care. I don’t care if my youngest one is going to be killed today. I want the world to hear this. And I don’t care if I am to get killed too, okay? And I will say Allāhu Akbar!”

The public condemned this statement. How could a mother be so callous about her children’s lives? Is she even human? Is this not proof that Islam is a religion of pieces, rather than a religion of peace? (This stupid pun follows in the grand intellectual footsteps of “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!”) My problem with these questions is not their sentiment, but the hypocrisy that their context reveals. The vaguely racist, forced connections from immigration to religion that underscore this discussion are violent, and ignorant. Religion is the ally of child sacrifice. The religious doctrines of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all applaud child sacrifice.

Genesis, Chapter 22, beginning at Verse 1 (KJV): “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” Aside from that fact that God is said to be tempting, and not testing, (which makes him something less than perfect or good), this incitement of murder is pointless and evil. God recognizes Abraham’s love for his son before demanding the child’s death. This immoral mockery is wholly undeserving of praise. Abraham asks no questions, and Isaac’s only concern seems to be that he can’t seem to find the animal of sacrifice. His father ties him to the altar. Isaac offers no protest. Abraham shows no reservation. The most chilling line of Genesis, save for the floods and violently wicked exultations and bursts of anger from a ‘perfectly just and merciful’ God, is verse ten of the same chapter. “And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.” God chooses this moment to put down the popcorn and intervene. After egotistically claiming that his only desire was to ensure the fear of his subjects, (I can feel Job wincing), God kindly releases Abraham from the devout act of killing his only child. Unrealistically, the son in question abstains from flipping the capricious deity the bird. The Quran takes the story even further, claiming that the boy’s hands, (almost definitely referring to Isaac), did not need to be bound and that he chose sacrifice willingly. This version of the story is more toxic. The idea of child sacrifice ought to be abhorrent to both parent and child, but the willing sacrifice of a child that goes undisputed by his parent is evil. To advocate this view is to champion inhuman cruelty and vilify familial loyalty.

Temptation, fear, and apathy define the God of Genesis. Orwell taught us the perverseness of being forced to love someone that you fear. Child sacrifice is evil. Those who condone it are immoral. The Christians who claim that Abraham’s faith in God was so great that he believed that his son would be brought back from death are being impossibly revisionist. I default to Christopher Hitchens for the final word on the subject.  Speaking about his children, he says: “If I was told to sacrifice them to prove my devotion to God, if I was told to do what all monotheists are told to do, and admire the man who said, ‘Yes, I’ll gut my kid to show my love of God’, I’d say, ‘No, fuck you.’”

The proud outrage of the religious at Zubeidat Tsarnaeva’s pitiless piety is hollow. Her insistence that her sons are innocent and not terrorists is made irrelevant by her defiant exultation of “Allāhu Akbar!” Her ideas are loyal to a vile principle present in all three major monotheisms. As a human being and an American, I’ve had enough of à la Carte religion and the baseless moral condescension of the faithful. Allāhu Akbar is an abdication of responsibility. The final reminders given to the 9/11 hijackers included “Shout ‘Allāhu Akbar’ because this strikes fear in the hearts of the non-believers”. The Iranian flag has the phrase “Allāhu Akbar” written on it twenty-two times. Maryam Mohammad Yousif Farhat screamed “Allāhu Akbar!” and handed out candy upon hearing that her son had killed five people as a suicide bomber. Nidal Malik Hasan screamed “Allāhu Akbar!” before opening fire at Fort Hood. This deadly idiocy is the battle cry of piety. Their love of God is just as dangerous as their fear of him. It empowers disembodied tyrants while cheapening the lives and intellects of human beings. No mother should value her faith above her sons. God is not greater than family. God is not greater than humanity.

GUEST POST: From a Friend


Today, NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre asked the question in his NRA conference keynote speech “How many Bostonians wished they had guns two weeks ago?”, while rhetorical, I took the time to answer.

I can’t speak for everybody in the city, but when I was terrified for my life and all sense of security, the first thing that I thought of was not “I wish I had a firearm”, in fact, that thought was probably the last thing in my mind. I didn’t even begin to entertain that possibility until long after things had settled down. And when I did entertain that possibility for a fleeting moment, I cast it aside as baseless paranoia that would only endanger in the long run, not protect. My first thoughts were about my loved ones and a desire to stay safe through smarts, caring, and a trust of those authorities that remained. Not through a desire to display my ‘self-defense’ by having the leverage to impose a threat upon others, but though a solidarity in my community that was holding each other in its arms, and not pointing its arms at each other.

What I learned a few weeks ago is that if those impulses to have a gun and succumb to your fear are what strikes you immediately, you are probably an unstable person. You are probably a frightened person, and you are probably buying a gun in this spur of the moment decision out of a personal fear. Because its the easy way out, and we’re inclined to take that action as human beings. But it’s also the dangerous way out, people make horrible decisions while dictated by fear, that’s one of the reasons why terrorism is horrifically dangerous. If me and thousands of other Bostonians had a gun, things may have been escalated to state of uncontained paranoia, with shots fired at people mistaken for a home intruder, or a naive view of a who the terrorists were leading to the slaying of individuals who were outside who were Chechnyan, muslim, or whatever John King was suggesting the bombers were at a given time. Because that’s what happened without a gun, some people got assaulted, or yelled at, or falsely accused, but at least they didn’t die. Fatal actions occur when we act on our fear instead of acting with tact and logic. The situation may have been a lot worse if we all had guns.

But many say these events were a sign of a police state. Yet, trough trusting the state government of Massachusetts, and the Watertown and Boston Police Departments, we still were not in a police state, we were in a middle ground where we respected government instructions and everything turned out OK. What the NRA and Wayne LaPierre fail to understand is that a firearm is not the ultimate way to be defensive, and that it’s not the only way to be safe. It turns out, when it does its job right, government protects. So does staying smart, and listening to instructions and advisories can save lives a whole lot more than giving each individual an unbelievable power to slay. Just because we have the right to a well-regulated militia, doesn’t mean we should depend on it at the first sign of panic. These things should only be used when all other options are gone, and we shouldn’t be using fear and vitriol as the NRA does to suggest that all other options are gone.

So yeah, that’s my little ramble about why the actions that shook my life didn’t impact me enough to get a firearm, nor will I get one in case I am ever afraid in the future. Fear can make monsters of us all, and the last thing a monster needs is a weapon.

I don’t know, I may just be crazy to think this, but at least I’m not Wayne LaPierre crazy.

Your pal,

Boston Strong

Statistical Significance

I wrote comments to two gun articles, one in the Houston Chronicle, one in the New York Times.

To a Houston Chronicle editorial on May 1st, I wrote the following comment:

“The NRA is an anachronism, society’s vestigial tail. When common sense becomes more common, reason and sanity will outweigh paranoia and fear-mongering. Kudos to the Chronicle for embracing civilization.”

My comment was met with six nasty, elementary grade reading level, grammatically challenged, rebukes from gun lovers.  In a “thumbs up/thumbs down” poll, my comment received 5 thumbs up and 26 thumbs down.

To a New York Times article on March 28th, I wrote the following comment:

“No, we don’t have a problem in this country!

300,000,000 guns?

87 deaths every day, including 8 children and 11 women?

90% of the public wants universal background checks and yet Congress is stymied by what to do?

Senators Paul/Cruz/Lee want to filibuster against background checks?

Republicans think voting “Nay” to every bill is a solution?

We are no longer a Christian country. We worship guns. To bastardize a phrase from the murdered John Lennon, AR-15’s are bigger than Jesus.

If this moment passes and we do nothing (again) we have failed the victims of Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, Chicago and your town. Shame on us.”

My comment was met with one nasty, grammatically challenged retort telling me that crime had gone down due to the increased number of guns in society (in classic post hoc ergo proctor hoc attribution). This was met with two responses to the nasty remark showing how the writer was, in fact (damn those nasty facts!) wrong and questioning the writer’s tenuous grasp on reality.  In a “thumbs up” poll (the Times has no thumbs down option), my comment received 114 thumbs up.

Now, I’m no statistician, but there does seem to be some disconnect in these reactions. Draw your own conclusions.

Oh, and on a totally unrelated issue, the NRA’s new president, James Porter, takes over on Monday. No, not the catholic priest convicted of molesting 28 children in the 1990’s, the other one, the nut case. You know, the guy from Alabama who said President Obama was our “fake president” who wants to make the United States a “European socialistic, bureaucratic type of government”; who said Hilary Clinton was “trying to kill the Second Amendment at the United Nations”; and who refers to the Civil War as “the War of Northern Aggression”? Yeah, that guy. Outgoing NRA president David Keene said Porter was a “perfect fit” for the NRA presidency. First time I’ve ever agreed with the NRA. Now that’s statistically significant.

Two Videos, a Picture and a Question

Simple post today. Just two videos for you to view and think about and one picture for you to think about and answer.

Here is the first video:

How Many More Rounds?

If that didn’t move you, you have no pulse.

Here is the second:

Deja Vu

Now a question. How many more presidents, Republican or Democrat, will have to reorder those words and give the same speech with the same emotion and sincerity before we demand Congress does something? Before we demand that the “gun culture” in America is a failure that does not provide security to its citizens and that we embrace legislation similar to other industrialized nations who neither suffer our gun caused carnage nor understand our acceptance of it in the name of some bastardized definition of freedom? How long?

Now a picture for you to consider:

NRA Terrorist Organization

Discuss, debate, ruminate and then ACT. Now.