Okay, so tomorrow is the end of the world, and I was thinking about that, and a feeling hit me all sudden-like. It was a bit like a curve ball, only not so much a ball as a tree, at least in so much as the tree grows and it has leaves and sometimes an apple, or a pear, and maybe a Porsche. But seriously, I know that cars don’t grow on trees, unless maybe if it was in Pennsylvania, or at least three towns over from Anchorage, but let’s not dwell on that because the point is that honey-based BBQ does NOT go well with jalapenos. You need a more savory base for spice like that.
Any pickle knows a puppy doesn’t mug a mitten!
So, why in the Hell would anyone feed a lemon-flavored snow-cone to a kitten on a Thursday? I keep asking that and the pipes never do feed me an answer, or even a decent burger, at least not for under 15 pana. It just doesn’t make sense that far into the week, because little Muffin would only want to chase a ball up a smile and row on down the river, because that’s where uncle Ruben lives, or at least he did, back before his name was Laura.
You can only fit just so much love in a banana clip, or so I’m told.
But Uncle Laura tells me on a clear day you can see clear to the south mountains, or at least a good sonata, which is not to suggest that anyone really does love Raymond or hate Chris or even laugh at late night monologs unless they are full of jello. Because it really doesn’t pay to jiggle your belly when the fleet is in the Gulf and it’s got your whistle with it, blowin’ away at the hog-farmers from back home when they coulda just stuck a thumb out and got them some ham.
I mean seriously!
Some folks just don’t agree. They say things like; “you can’t” or “Tod-Swallow” or “that’ll be ten dollars,” which is okay really. To each his own, I say, or at least to each his neighbor’s, because that’s a lot more fun, so long as the wife ain’t involved on accounta big bossy books and seventh-day hollers. Only my neighbor’s wife is, well I’m not sure she has a wife really, and if she did I think I would just ask for a cup of sugar, because it’s well past time that I charged that battery. That, and it’s the polite thing to do.
Some people don’t understand these kinda things.
That’s why folks are just too bottle-browed. You come up and you say ‘hi’ and they just look at you all purple and such. So, you ask them for directions to Fresno or Winslow, and they make you stand in a corner. Which is really when the trouble starts if you stop to think about it.
All because of Julie!
She says you can’t pay a dime to a tulip, but I think she’s wrong really, because them things are always looking for an extra piece of the pie, even if that damned Julie doesn’t think so. She didn’t get past her first semester anyway. But there just ain’t much to be done about it really, because the river gets all fluffy in the morning and the fog sets in under your feet, so you can’t even have a doughnut with or without sprinkles. It’s just not allowed. The frizzle-master takes the order and he just gives you a pepper and shouts; “get the Hell out of here you, you damned Bug-gardener.”
Well pig my dog if I give a goat!
That man is rude.
I mean I ran, but a moment like that sticks with you, you know. Can’t really help but ruminate on it from time to time. Ruminate, Fumigate, either way your in for twenty bucks and the bad-hat doesn’t keep records. You just gotta give it to him on faith. Most times it works anyway, or at least it does for a guy out East of Houston. He eats daisies for breakfast every day on account of that fortune.
Now that’s a thought that goes boom!
It’s only because of that one time I was out with an apple and Fred and a good while and we couldn’t get any beer on account of damned clocks. And Barefoot Barbie comes out an dings the top of his car because he doesn’t even remember the shiny barrel, and we all just look at him sideways. Strangest damned thing I ever did see.
Makes me feel all somehow.
Santa Fe isn’t cold enough.
I was sitting down for lunch at a conference in Santa Fe as a snow storm settled on the town when someone asked me how the cold here compared to the cold back home. I told her it wasn’t cold enough here.
After the laughter, I explained that I had stepped in a puddle of melted snow that morning, the result being that my foot was cold and wet. This was not the sort of thing I had to worry about in Barrow, at least not for much of the year.
Santa Fe just isn’t cold enough.
Oh but it’s a beautiful city for a walk, even with the wet snow that melts around your feet and makes them wet.
Quite a few of these murals are from a sort of youth center, called Warehouse 21.
In other news, I added a couple pics to the photo-gallery for the Institute of American Indian Arts, in Santa Fe.
(If you click on it, it will grow!)
The first sin was not the eating of an apple (or even a pomegranate). No, it began when mankind (or at least Eve) gave an ear to the Serpent, or so the story goes, at least according to my old Bible-as-Literature prof. I try to keep that in mind whenever I find myself cast in the role of that Serpent, or at least one of his servants.
I am speaking of course of those moments when someone tells me that I worship Satan, or that I serve him. It is common enough to see this charge leveled at atheists, at least on the net. I doubt its occurrence is limited to that context.
I must say that it took me some time to wrap my mind around the concept. You might think it would be a little difficult to worship an entity in which you don’t believe. I certainly did. But it turns out to be remarkably easy to serve him, he does all the work for you, even without letting you know about it. I have been reassured many times that my actions serve the dark lord, regardless of my own conscious intent. I have also been told that deep down I know this to be the case, whether I will admit it or not. It’s always fascinating to find out what I know and what I believe, especially when it has the makings of a good horror story.
Just think of it; you have two competing stories!
– On the one hand, I would like to think of my story as one of a sincere guy tapping away at the keyboard in the hopes that he can present a reasonable case for a position that he thinks is correct. In the end maybe I can teach something to someone, or perhaps learn something from a well-reasoned response. We could call this the intellectual exchange model of the disc… hey you! Wake up, dammit!
– Okay, on the other hand, you have a minion of Lucifer operating under the auspices of the Dark Lord himself to invest ordinary binary code with the force of evil and send it out to work its insidious wonders on unsuspecting believers. The argument itself is hardly important; it serves as a vehicle for some sort of insidious power.
Honestly, it doesn’t take much effort to figure out which is the more interesting story. (Sigh!) And if you too count yourself as a vocal non-believer, this whole thing probably rings a bell or three in your own experience.
In truth, there is little one could do to answer such a claim, that one serves Satan, because of course every answer you give would be subject to the same suspicion. This is why I am inclined to think of the story of Adam and Eve here. …and of the Serpent. The trouble really does begin for that narrative in the decision to listen to that serpent as it is an act of disloyalty to God. To speak with His enemy at all is itself unthinkable! Subsequent troubles could hardly be surprising; they are the narrative consequence of willfully opening oneself to an evil message. If that’s the way some believers see the input of atheists, then that doesn’t bode well for anything along the lines of, um, constructive dialogue.
I do think this is the model behind the charge that atheists serve Satan. It not merely some bit of empirical confusion about what we do and don’t believe, so much as it is a warning about the nature of any message we happen to carry. That is precisely the point of casting atheists in the role of Satan’s servants; it is in effect to construe our every word and deed as an evil which one ought not to give reasonable consideration. It isn’t really even the metaphysics of this proposition that matters; it’s the pragmatics. Simply put, the moral of the story is don’t listen to anyone who casts any sort of doubt on God.
I have tried myself and seen others attempt a range of different responses to this kind of charge, but lately I am inclined to accept it.
I’ll be your huckleberry.
I don’t mean to say that I actually intend harm to others, but I am simply done trying to convince certain parties that I (or other atheists) can be good without God. If these are the terms, then I sometimes want to say ‘so be it’. I will not give those who make such accusations the satisfaction of trying to plead innocence from the bottom of a poisoned well.
The whole accusation smacks of manipulation of course, but it is not merely manipulation, because some people actually do seem to believe it, or at least they say that they do. In its own right, this sort of charge is actually a fascinating example of the limitations of reasoning.
Another of my old professors, Maurice Finnochiaro, used to talk about the study of argumentation as an historical phenomenon. He was interested in meta-argumentation, arguments about arguments. And in its own way this little gift of frustration for an unbeliever is in fact an argument about an argument. It is a clear and concise statement about the prospects for constructive discussion, albeit a rather pessimistic one.
The viewpoint in question is very much informed by the outlook of Spiritual Warfare. It reflects a range of suppositions about the spiritual powers at play in the world. It is the same sort of thinking that finds Satanic messages in so many rock&roll lyrics, Devil Worshipers in Day-care centers everywhere, and demons in Hentai images. It is the same thinking that leads to talk of protecting baby-Christians (those new in the faith) from exposure to other views, and it is the same sort of thinking that plays havoc with the lives of homosexuals in Uganda and other places where some Charismatic Christians go to press for policies they could never manage in the west. But seriously, my list of horribles aside, the point is that there is a body of religious tenets behind the sort of charge that atheists serve Satan. If we are inconvenienced by the whole thing, chances are we should count our blessings.
…though we won’t actually want to call them ‘blessings’ of course.
But the charge of Satanic worship, absurd though it may be to the mind of an unbeliever is a good reminder of the reflexive nature of reasoning. It would be a swell world for rationalists if we could divide all the ideas of humanity up into those about which we reason and then a separate list of ideas about how to reason about the items on the first list. It would be swell if that second set rested safely outside the scope of disagreement, a sort of neutral arbiter in our disputes. But it just doesn’t work like that. And in this as in any other debate, one must remember that among our disagreements we often also differ on the significance of the disagreements themselves. In other words, part of the argument is also always about the nature of argumentation itself.
Sometimes we are fortunate enough to discuss (or even debate) people with whom we share enough assumptions about the nature of reasoning to proceed with a constructive discussion, even in the face of vast disagreements over issues like belief in God. Folks may not flip their whole belief orientation on the basis of a single conversation (or even thirty of them), but sometimes we shift a little, modify an assumption, or even simply come to appreciate the aesthetics of a well argued point from the other side. Such discussions can be rewarding and pleasant exchanges, …if that is, one starts with a range of assumptions that makes it possible.
Some people just don’t make those same assumptions. When someone says that atheists serve Satan, they are sending a very clear signal that they are not down for the discussion, at least on any terms which would give an unbeliever a chance. To do so would already be a betrayal of their faith, and a mistake exposing them to tremendous evil (evil carried by you and I, my unbelieving friends). It is also a signal that the clear significance of your words (to that person) lies not in the quality of your reasoning so much as an impersonal force over which you may not have conscious control. That force will be the focus of the accuser, not the cogency of any argument you make.
So, what’s a devil to do?
Honestly, I don’t know.
Damn me anyhow!
When I tell people I live in Alaska, I almost invariably hear about a visit to Anchorage. Either that or a relative who lives there. It’s the geographic equivalent of saying; “Oh you live in Denver; I’ve been to Albuquerque,” except that Denver and Albuquerque are closer to one another, and more similar. There really is a world of difference between Barrow and Anchorage. The Anchorage skyline is full of mountains, and it doesn’t lack for trees. I always notice those first. And then I notice all the people.
I also notice the artwork.
From my first visit to Anchorage, I took a shine to its public artwork. There is a particular downtown alley so full of murals I find myself headed towards it every time I make it into town. And yes, I am happy this city is part of he state I now call home, which is probably why it makes sense after all that people bring it up. I never get into or out of Alaska without going through this stopping point.
…which is a very good thing.
I am particularly fond of a number of murals featuring themes from Alaska Natives. The Raven and Eagle symbolism is of course a prominent feature of Tlingit life, and a number of murals feature hunting motifs familiar to Yupit and Inupiat. A few specific highlights of the tour would include:
– A rather bland looking multi-panel piece with just a hint of something devious in it. (Honestly, I don’t know if I got all the panels right, but look closely. There is an interesting twist in there somewhere.)
– A Mural commemorating Alaska statehood. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘Alaskan Mount Rushmore’. It features portraits of Robert Atwood, Bob Bartlett, William Egan, and Ernest Gruening, each of which has been generated out of a range of smaller murals. You can find out more about this piece here.
– A Whaling Wall, one of a series of spectacular pieces created by the Wyland Corporation.
– The Sun Station at the Anchorage Light Speed Planet Walk.
– The Anchorage History Mural by Bob Patterson, …which should probably get its own post some day.
– I’m particularly fond of the murals on the backside of Phyllis’s Cafe, not the least of reasons being that she was kind enough to talk to me about it for a little while. the Tlingit symbolism in the mural is no accident as Phyllis belongs to the Eagle Moiety, Killer Whale clan as I recall. She told me the mural still has a little work to go. Perhaps, I will be taking new pictures of it some time in the near future. I also enjoyed a wonderful meal of King Crab and amber ale in the cafe that evening, the perfect ending to a long trip.
I have by no means captured all the artwork anchorage streets and alleys have to offer, which is good, because I plan on going back for more.
(You may click on a picture to embiggen it.)
…at a discount.
I am of course talking about the fire that broke out in Tazreen Fashion Factory in Bangladesh on Saturday, November 24th. Employees were hard at work in the factory, making clothes for Walmart, Disney, and perhaps other American labels when the fire broke out. Under normal circumstances, these people face working conditions unheard of in the contemporary U.S. According to one source, they earn 18 to 26 cents an hour and put in 72-81 hours a week, experiencing physical and mental abuse from managers on a regular basis. But of course last Saturday, all that ended, at least for 112 of them.
So, is it fair to suggest that these people died for you and I? After all, you probably didn’t decide their hours or their wages, much less pick their managers, lock an exit, or order them back to work when word first broke out of a fire. Neither did I. Someone else did all of that. You and I merely chose what clothes to wear; we were not consulted on the conditions under which they were made.
But of course that is precisely the point.
Events such as the Tazreen fire, or the horrible working conditions which preceded it, do not occur because any malevolent human being wills them to happen. They are the outcome of countless individual decisions made by perfectly reasonable human beings. You and I want quality clothing at a reasonable price. The retailers wants to make a profit, as do the distributors, and so on. All these seemingly innocent decisions combine to create a market for labor manufactured under conditions which constitute a living Hell for the workers in those factories. Last Saturday the fires of that Hell claimed the lives of people condemned not by the conscious choice of any living person, but by the invisible hand of the marketplace.
Just to be clear, I do not wish to deny the other, more familiar, metaphor of the invisible hand. At least I do not mean to deny the realities which Adam Smith used the metaphor to describe, the process by which individuals pursuing their own self interest may indeed contribute to the common good. I do not deny that such things happen. I deny that they are always the case, and I assert that they occur right alongside a process that is far more insidious than the common metaphor suggests. If the market may be thought a God, that God is a Janus-faced deity at best, content to restore market equilibrium regardless of the human cost. Market Equilibrium is simply not a standard of moral value; it may be achieved with tears as easily as it does with a smile.
What happened in Bangladesh is hardly a new story. A sweatshop full of workers, locked inside, people burning, others jumping to their deaths. Last week’s tragedy recalls the events of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911. Then it was primarily Jewish immigrants plunging to their death, or burning in the flames. Last week it was foreigners living in their own country. Either way, it is people without much say over the workings of American government laboring to supply goods for the American public (and other nations to be sure). Separated by half the globe and a hundred years, the stories could hardly be more similar if an evil genius had produced them as a message for all mankind to see.
But who would see it now that couldn’t have seen it before the fire happened? The dynamics at stake in this fire have been clear for the better part of a century, if not longer still. It is a question of political boundaries, and the way those boundaries limit government response to exploitive working conditions.
In the wake of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, America has seen countless reforms aimed at protecting the rights and safety of workers. Quite a number of these have carried the force of Federal Law under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The rationale for laws protecting workers remains simple enough. They exist to protect workers from conditions deemed unacceptable by the public at large (and one is tempted to say by decent folk anywhere).
Some would maintain that the nature of a free labor contract requires no such regulations, nor tolerance of unions. Workers are free to decline the contract, so the argument goes; is that not enough? Such arguments ignore the realities of job conditions like those in Tazreen or the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. But the problem with such an approach is less that it fails to deal with the inequalities of labor contracts than it is a willful dismissal of the lives of workers who end up in such places. It is less an approach that fails to account for the limitations of the market than it is an approach that sees in the lives of people working themselves to death little other than a unit of value in a mathematical equation.
Thankfully that argument has been defeated in every Federal Law regulating maximum hours, child labor, workplace safety, and a host of other protections, however inadequate they may sometimes prove to be. But why do such laws need to be made at the Federal level? The Supreme Court nailed the answer to this question damned well in United States v. Darby, 1941.
…interstate commerce should not be made the instrument of competition in the distribution of goods produced under substandard labor conditions which competition is injurious to the commerce and to the states from and to which the commerce flows.
Simply put, if we are to leave the protection of workers to the states, then the end result will be a race to the bottom, with that state granting the least protections becoming a magnet for factory work, all at the expense of workers in that state. And in the long run no state could long hold to high standards in the treatment of workers without risking a good deal of lost commerce. In the end, the only plausible hope of resolving the problems of exploitative (or even dangerous) working conditions lies in the prospect of Federal laws preventing trade in products made under those conditions.
We still have those laws in America, and American workers are (at least in theory, and commonly in practice) relatively safe from the scale of exploitation leading to events such as the fire of 1911. But of course many of the world’s developing nations do not, and that is precisely what many large scale corporations like about them. Several generations of American political leadership (Democrat as well as Republican) have done very little to protect American markets from competition with the products of such factories. We’ve already seen the deleterious effects of that process in the slow drain of jobs outsourced to other nations. And last weekend we saw the harmful effects on people now getting those jobs.
In effect, the free market as American diplomacy has envisioned it has opened up opportunities for exploitation on a scale most Americans can now hardly imagine. And of course we don’t have to, because it happens so far away to people we will never know. We notice the scarcity of jobs; we do not notice the lives wasted doing the work that has left our shores, at least not until events like this. But this is the cost of a global market wandering freely across the political boundaries of nations.
Simply put, there is a link between the difficulties American workers have in finding jobs and the difficulties of workers like those in Bangladesh have in finding a working exit from their own jobs.
The public is hardly capable of stopping such events as public pressure is always behind the curve. We learn about such working conditions through disasters, but not in time to stop them. The self policing efforts of companies like Walmart are hardly sufficient, and their conflict of interest should be perfectly apparent to anyone capable of reading the price tag on a shirt or a skirt. But then we pay the price in lost jobs all the while wage slavery flourishes in other parts of the world, driven by demands shaped here, at least while what’s left of the middle class still has money to spend.
I’m not arguing for any particular solution to this sort of problem, but I am increasingly impatient with those who don’t see this sort of thing as a problem at all, with those who see in the workings of the market a uniformly benevolent force, those who would pretend that all will be well, or as well as it could be, if we just keep governments from interfering with business.
If we just let the market run its course, some would say, the world will in the long run be a better place.
Last weekend the market ran its course.
It consumed a hundred and twelve people.