Monday, January 28, 2008

Variable Reality

Back in May of 2006 I wrote a short piece defining the present and how it relates to past and future. Now, I’d like to expand on that subject by delving into one that’s closely related: Reality.

How real is reality? The answer to that question depends entirely on your perception of unfolding events. Bear in mind that your perception of a particular event is colored by the unique perspective from which you experience that event. No one will ever experience an event in exactly the same way you do; no other person has the use of your five senses, nor can anyone access your memory, draw on your imagination, be influenced by your emotions, or witness events from your unique vantage point. In short, reality is only as real as you think it is.

Reality, such as it is, is the synthesis of memory and imagination; it exists in a dimensionless place constrained by the inadequacies of memory on one side and the limitations of imagination on the other, subject only to individual interpretation.

Consensus reality is the reality that everyone agrees on, the reality of common experience. But personal reality goes to a deeper level, and this is where differences of opinion (and many other differences) arise. The reality of the rich is not the same as the reality of the poor. The reality of the dead is quite different than the reality of the living. From states of mind to states of being, both internal and external forces exert influences to shape individual realities, one no more or less relevant than another.

Anti-drug warriors claim that drug users use drugs to escape reality, but that’s a false dichotomy. One can never escape reality; it’s simply not possible. However, it is possible to change reality, and everyone does it. Only the methods vary.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Race and Gender Issues

A few days ago I dropped by Rachel’s Tavern, and while I was there I read an article titled Let’s Get Back to the Real Issues, a short discourse on race and gender issues. When I finished reading I posted the following comment in the “comments” section:

“I don’t mean to play down the issues you listed, but until we solve the bigger problems of population numbers, global warming, energy alternatives, and a sustainable economy, tackling relatively minor problems is unlikely to make a whit of difference to the quality of anyone’s life.”

A reader who uses the handle Lyonside posted this response to my comment:

“OK Phil…

“So, how do we get that sustainable economy, alternative energy technology, etc. when a greate than expected part of the minority population is affected by drug abuse, high crime rates, poverty, poor education, lack of job opportunities, etc. in part caused and abetted by a racist society, which leads not only to high incarceration rates, but to a drain of intellectual and economic potential. How many people who with the right education and support could SOLVE those big problems are affected by crime and drugs and poverty, get discouraged by a school system that is underfunded and understaffed, and never get to explore their own potential?

“The personal is the local is the national is the global.”

While I was preparing a measured response to Lyonside’s questions, Lyonside followed up with this comment:

“BTW: I’m pretty sure Phil Hanson’s post qualifies as one of the “Ways to Derail A Racism Discussion” list that gets bandied about: ‘Why do you care about X issue when there are so many OTHER issues in the world?’

“Like we can’t expect both?”

This was my response to Lyonside’s first comment:


“Legalizing cannabis hemp would be a good place to start, as hemp has the potential to solve many of society’s most pressing problems.

“Hemp is a voracious user of carbon dioxide throughout its growth cycle, making it the ideal plant for carbon sequestration. Due to its high cellulose content, hemp would also make an excellent feedstock for cellulosic ethanol production (thus far enabling the plant to fight global warming in two ways).

“Biofuels made from hemp will also play a role in achieving energy independence by reducing our need for foreign oil. It will also minimize our use of coal, a notorious greenhouse gas emitter.

“A sustainable economy can be based on legalized hemp. At the time hemp was banned, in 1937, an estimated 25,000 different products could be manufactured from various parts of the plant. In addition to these, how many more products could be made using modern technologies and processes? A hemp-based economy presents new opportunities for financial gain and promises to create millions of high-tech, mid-tech, and low-tech jobs that currently don’t exist.

“When hemp is legalized and society doesn’t fall apart, people will be more likely to support drug legalization across the board, thereby causing the collapse of illicit drug trade and removing the establishment’s primary excuse for incarcerating black men.

“New opportunities for financial advancement bring about solutions to many of the problems Rachel cited. As I hinted at in my previous post, when you take care of the big problems, the little problems simply go away.”

Lyonside then responds:

“Um, no, society is not overprosecuting/overincarcerating black men because of MARAJUANA [sic] or any other substance.

“Our society overprosecutes black men because of systemic racism. Statistically more whites use and deal drugs than blacks or other ethnic minorities, and if dealing are usually situated at a higher level in the chain. But black and brown people are disproportionately investigated, arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated. In some instances the sentencing, bail limits, and availability of substance abuse treatments, also shows racial bias.

“Other systemic problems that feul [sic] the drug trade are poverty and lack of education. Those problems stay even if drugs were legalized. And there’s no guarantee that legalization would make anyone less racist.

“Little” problems, hunh? You must not be black or brown.”

In the first place, it was not my intention to derail any discussion of racism, only to derail the notion that small problems outweigh big problems in terms of importance and priority. In completely missing the points I made in both of my comments, Lyonside prompts me to ask: Are people of color impervious to global climate change?

Lyonside makes the classic mistake of focusing so intently on small problems that the larger problems go unnoticed—as if all things aren’t connected. It’s exactly the same mindset that allows a few trees to block one’s view of the forest.

What good does it do to address an issue that’s harmful to some people while ignoring an issue that does even more harm to everyone?

Granted, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and a lot of other isms and phobias are reprehensible and disgusting behaviors, but I fail to see how taking people out of the frying pan that such behavior has placed them in and casting them into the fires of global environmental collapse and global economic meltdown in any way betters their situation.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Of Lies and Liars

So, federal investigators are going to make an example of Olympic track star Marion Jones by sending her to prison for six months for lying to them about her use of steroids. What’s up with that, anyway? If they want to punish liars and make examples out of them, why don’t they punish people who lie about things that actually matter? You know, like George DUHbya Bush for lying the nation into a war over non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

What were the consequences of Marion Jones’ lie? For that egregious offense, Ms. Jones was stripped of her Olympic title and medals; she’s going away for six months; and she left a few pissed off federal officials (and probably a few Olympic officials) in the wake of her lie.

True, Ms. Jones won races that she might not otherwise have won without the benefit of steroid use, but her lying about steroid use had no influence on the outcome of her competitive events (other than to disqualify her and nullify her wins). Her lie to federal prosecutors was told after the fact of the race and had no bearing on the event’s initial outcome. Had she readily admitted her steroid use, the results would have been exactly the same—except for the prison time.

Compare that to the consequences of Bush’s lie: 3923 US military dead and thousands more wounded; hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead and wounded; 4 million Iraqis displaced; a nation in turmoil, its citizens living in a climate of fear and deprivation; another nation in the early stages of economic meltdown, its citizens living in fear.

Bush’s lie was told before the fact, before the action that was precipitated by the lie. In essence, it lent an aura of legitimacy to a dubious enterprise that sane people would have found illegal had the lie not been told.

Which lie had the more serious consequences? George Bush’s did; his lie killed many and destroyed much. Which liar received the harshest punishment? Marion Jones did; her lie destroyed only her Olympic record and her own reputation and credibility. Her lie killed no one (well, maybe a few federal prosecutors; we all know how much it just kills them when someone below the rank of, say, Congressperson lies to them).

If federal prosecutors want to make examples of liars, wouldn’t it be more effective for them to mete out punishment according to the severity of the lie? If the objective is to keep prisons full, they could start at the top of the political food chain and work their way down. When they reach the bottom they could start over again, and in this way keep the prisons full forever.

Think of it! Such a policy could spell the end of the War on (some) Drugs. Innocent 92-year old women need never again fear being gunned down in their living rooms by overzealous SWAT teams. Babies might never again have their fingers shot off as trigger-happy thugs shoot their mothers to death. It might even mark the return of sanity to a nation that’s desperately in need of some.

None of this is meant to imply there’s no justice in this country. There’s an abundance of justice providing you’re white enough to deserve it and rich enough to buy it.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Revisionists Ignore the Facts

Those fundamentalist neo-Con retards from the religious right are so busy rewriting history they have little time for learning anything useful about the precarious state of democracy in America, about the creeping (and creepy) fascism that threatens to undermine the freedoms that our founding fathers enshrined in the Constitution—you know, the document that couldn’t get ratified until it contained the Bill of Rights.

To the Fundamentalist Christian Taliban’s twisted way of thinking, it makes more sense to change the facts to fit their theory than it does to develop a theory that fits the facts. No wonder the country’s riding an express train on the fast track to hell.

Saying that the United States was founded on Christianity and Christian principles is a gross distortion of the facts. Such beliefs suggest that “true believers” spend far too much time engaged with religious hucksters and not nearly enough time immersed in US history. A couple of facts that Fundamentalist Christians too quickly overlook, or conveniently ignore, are that the founding fathers clearly intended there be separation between church and state, and that several of the founding fathers—George Washington and Thomas Jefferson among them—were Deists, not Christians. But why let facts get in the way of a good story.

It’s only by coincidence or a fluke of happenstance that Christianity came to be the dominant religion in America; religious dominance could have just as easily been attained by any other religion, or by no religion at all (atheism). It all depended on which group had the best story that appealed to the most people at a critical time, not because one religion is inherently superior to another.

But the very height of religion-induced ignorance—the absolute pinnacle of lame-brained nonsense—holds that God created Earth and the surrounding universe some 6,000 years ago, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that the universe is more than 2,000,000 times older, and that Earth is about 750,000 times older, than a mere 6,000 years.

In what has to be the most asinine but oft repeated non-factoid uttered since the invention of language, whenever neo-Con creationists argue against the scientific evidence of a much older Earth (which is supported by geological records and archeological artifacts) they glibly state that God created all that evidence to fool mankind into believing that the world is older than 6,000 years. To what purpose I can’t begin to imagine.

My responses to these idiotic statements always go something like this: “Why? Is God an imbecile? Or are you, for thinking I’m gullible enough to believe that load of crap?”

That’s what I say when I’m in a good mood. You don’t want to know what I say when I’m in a bad mood.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Out With the Old, In With the New (Version 63.2)

At the beginning of every year, I do a quick take on the effects of major events that transpired during the previous year, and this year is no exception. The main advantage to taking these backward glances is that it helps detect emerging trends in time to avoid—or take advantage of—their consequences. That, and for the rush I get, not at all unlike the rush I got (and this harkens back to my days as a long-haul trucker) whenever I crossed a Texas border—any Texas border—and saw Texas receding in my rearview mirror.

2007 was a net loser for billions of Gaia’s children. Iraqis didn’t fare well, nor did Pakistanis, Afghanis, the people of Darfur, the US military, the American lower and middle classes, the poor of almost every nation. Polar bears, whales, seals and sea lions, salmon and many other marine species, penguins, wolves, and various other wildlife species took a big hit, too. However, the top 20% of US income earners did better than okay, and the top 1% did especially well (as they always do).

Like many of her denizens, Gaia didn’t do so well, either. Storms raged, wildfires burned, rainforests continued to disappear, ice sheets continued to melt, the global temperature continued to rise. One sick puppy, Gaia. But, like every living organism, Gaia reacts to intrusive species in ways that tend to limit the damage they can do—hence, global climate change.

If there were any positives in 2007, I missed them all. The housing market tanked, the quality of education slid a little farther down the hill, air travel got a little suckier, energy prices escalated, the cost of healthcare went up, but the availability of healthcare didn’t. Consumer prices rose across the board, the trade deficit increased, the national debt grew larger, and consumer debt reached an all-time high.

Although the competency of government leaders has been slipping for years, every year of the Bush misadministration has set a new record for ineptitude. Just when I think that things can’t possibly get any worse, they do. 2007 saw further erosions of Constitutional protections and civil liberties.

As if to add outrageous insult to grievous injury (and I take this as a personal affront) 2007 terminated some gifted writers, among them Robert Anton Wilson, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Norman Mailer, Molly Ivins, Art Buchwald—and these are only the ones I’ve heard about; no doubt there are others. The collective loss of these talented individuals impoverishes us all.

But enough about last year; it’s history. We should be thinking about the year immediately ahead, and about what role we’ll play—if any—in the unfolding of next year’s history. It helps to make a New Year resolution or two (or ten, or twenty), which are instrumental in laying the groundwork for future accomplishments. I make several every year and, surprisingly, more of them stick than don’t.

Without further procrastination and with no excuses or apologies, these are my resolutions for 2008:

  • Read a little less, write a little more; (a) post to Petey’s Pipeline Blog more often; (b) resurrect Petey’s Pipeline E-zine (again); (c) finish a couple of e-book projects, one of which I started more than four years ago; (d) finish a minimum of six of the more than two dozen “flash” fiction projects that currently exist only as vague ideas somewhere near the back of my mind; (e) write more book reviews
  • Ride my bike more often
  • Make . . . whoa! Stop, already! Enough is enough.

If I try to put any more on my plate I’ll need a bigger plate. And we all know how that’s gonna end. Not well, I assure you.

It’s okay—good, in fact—to make a New Year resolution. A proper resolution provides exactly the right amount of incentive to help you reach your goal. Just make your resolution a realistic one if you want to keep it.