Do You Feel Lucky?

(and feel free to comment! My older posts are certainly no less relevant to the burning concerns of the day.)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Are you SUPERHUGE? If not, better get on it, quick!

Okay, apparently there's a Fast Muscle Trick to get me supercut and superhuge that I want to take advantage of NOW, because it could be banned soon. Have you guys seen this? It could be banned soon! Better jump on that one, fast!

See, if your not aware, the government basically just bans stuff to keep us from getting superhuge. They know that if too many of us get superhuge - big upset to their balance of power! They'd rather keep us scrawny, and consequently: disenfranchised. The government would NEVER ban something out of a concern that it appears to cause stroke, or catastrophic liver failure, or cardiac arrest.

Heck no, those "big government" punks just want to keep you from getting as big as they are. Please jump on these substances fast, before they're banned! Do the future and the gene pool a favor!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Some Stories You Can Pretty Much Leave Out The Ending.

One time I was a lot younger, just a kid didn't understand these things. I was out under a tree with this girl I liked and a bee landed on her. And she was cool with it! - taught me a lesson, she did. Very cool with the bee, no swatting, just chill - checkin' out the bee, who is checkin' out her. And I noticed a few other bees hovering around, and wondered if one might land on me? Then suddenly, with a shock of something I never quite understood falling into place, I realized - what with the sparrows hopping in the grass nearby, after bugs or what-not, and what with the blue jay right above us, chawpin' and dropping down nuts - CONDITIONS: PERFECT! BIRDS AND BEES, AWWWWWE YEAH..." but it turns out I had misjudged the omens.

And worse, I forgot about the bee on her arm. I made a sudden move.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Priorities, and Methods.

A real disagreement over politics is almost never about the goals themselves. It's almost always about either methods, priorities, or both. What means will really achieve this or that goal? And, on which of these goals should we put the strongest focus? One person (usually speaking on behalf of some team who they root for, whose aims they believe in and whose strategies they agree with) believes X goal is most important for human benefit - but you may be sure that the other side is also arguing hard for human benefit! They just don't believe X is the most important component we need, to move towards it. They think K is the most important component. Or maybe they say it's a balance, that we need X and K, but that B is more important than either of them, and if we go deeper we'll see we need a suite of other things besides. But good news! They say: if only we follow This Route, "it's all going to be achievable!"

Now this doesn't sit well with you at all. First of all, X is way more important than those other things, even if you agree those are good things. But secondly, you dispute that That Route is even the best way to get there! Even if that's where you're trying to get, you could think of two other better ways, which of course you don't advocate either. Because again, X is what we should be focusing on, not these other things. It's undeniable that we NEED X - how can anyone ignore or dispute it? To dispute it, why, they must be a BAD PERSON right? They'd have to be a bad person to be against X, it's just too obvious. All these other things will be helpful as well, but Good News! You'll see that if you focus on X, many other goods will follow in its wake. And great news, you say: we know how to get X, here's the method we've been pounding home. We need to do this.

To which the other person chimes in, no, I don't agree with you. I don't think your method will do what you say it will (get X), I think you're ignoring some of the bad consequence that will follow from your method, and I still don't think getting X is the real solution here. Also, I really don't appreciate you calling me out, implying that I must be a bad person - how dare you dismiss my commitment, devalue my experience and marginalize my oh no there it went.

Let's just...step back a sec, to catch sight of why both of these people are willing to argue so passionately, even to the point of ruining relations with someone. It is because they are both almost fanatically in favor of human benefit. Of doing things the best way to get people's suffering diminished and their needs managed, while to the greatest extent possible, freeing people's lives from fear of tyranny, and freeing their minds from whatever keeps them from seeing or seeking happiness. BOTH people want ALL THAT most, most, most.

And so at its every point, their conversation becomes a process of losing sight of that biggest goal, in a disagreement over priorities and methods. Priorities: because resources are finite. We need to put our strength where it gets the most and best goods. Which good things do we most need to stress? What bad things are risked - and which risks are most important to manage? Methods: because not all plans work as advertised. Not all plans even appear to be designed to do what they say they will do. We need to question, pick holes, suggest alternatives. Our two disputants disagree on priorities and on methods, because they do both want to get there. Human benefit. Where almost always, they both have a shockingly similar idea of what that is. You could put it in a very old school way: freedom from want. Freedom from fear. A world within which people are free to pursue happiness. Pretty much the whole disagreement is over different ways to get there, and which is most important to stress.

Yet despite their quite lofty and shared aims, and despite their deep commitment, both of these people are probably going to walk away from this conversation complaining "that other person's an ogre. A bigot. A moron," for not seeing their way my way. Both people will probably walk away saying the other is intolerant, dismissive of my person! - for the ways they each find to subtly imply the other has to be stupid to believe as they do. An uncompassionate person, an apathetic person for not caring enough to see the way it CLEARLY needs to be done. A fascist, or fascist sympathizer - whether the accuser thinks the capitalists or the socialists are the real fascists doesn't really matter, "a tyrant" would be a better word. Someone who wants others to be under their control, or under the control of how they think things be. Some way, any way, based on this or that turn of the conversation, both these people will probably walk away having found a way to dismiss the other as just a BAD PERSON.

And these are people who both, as I noted above, are almost fanatically committed to human benefit. They are both very deeply committed to it. Now I say "almost fanatical," not "fanatical." Neither of these people walks around fanatical. None of their friends would ever say they were fanatics. Neither of them will probably even bring up the topic, unless it comes up - but if it does, they won't shirk. They care, they know what's right and what needs to be done, and they won't shrink from speaking out about it! For the most part, with calm confidence, reasonably, and listing to the other's take as well. Mostly because they expect and know they can refute it, OK, but the point is they do listen. These two would never normally be fanatical about what they believe, under normal conditions. It takes a certain heightened circumstance to get them to escalate from a passionate "almost" to spitting, indignant fanaticism.

Sometimes, all that circumstance has to be is running up against another calm, reasonable, seemingly-intelligent person. Instead of making it easy for you by being the cretin you'd expect would believe a thing like that, this reasonable person inexplicably, impossibly believes the The Stance You Can't Stand. Listens to you and hears you out, but says they can't see it your way, and further, lays out why they say they can't - and it's That Stance You Can't Stand. The one you know back to front, and have a million ways it's wrong, and you trot these out! Smiling, probably - you know you're right, and what can they say to gainsay all these ways you know their stance is wrong? And they keep responding, and making points, and it just suddenly dawns on you that maybe there is a way that even a reasonable person, an intelligent person, can advocate this. And that's when you go ape. You can't accept that. You can't accept the stance whose hordes of faceless abstract adherents you casually revile can be valid for a reasonable human being to believe. A reasonable human being would share your priorities on this. You're pretty sure!

You know the kind of stance I'm talking about. You walk around telling yourself: how can anyone believe that? There's no way anyone believes that, except if they're a moron. Or the other way, if they're actually one of the "bad guys." That's your demographic breakdown of the opposition, in your mind: mostly morons, but controlled and whipped up by a few bad guys, masterminds, fanatic champions, what have you - who drive and exploit the great mass of sheep: the uneducated, the indoctrinated, the just plain ignorant, for the benefit of that nasty agenda. Because no one who is both intelligent and sincerely interested in good could believe That Stance is a good one, if they just looked at it! If they were intelligent and sincerely looked at it from all sides, they'd believe my stance then.

I can't accept you can believe in that stance and be a decent and passionately good, intelligent individual. To believe in The Stance I Can't Stand, you can only be either a dumb sheep or an active agent of evil. Either you're The Ignorant, too ignorant to see how obviously wrong your stance is, or...you must be In On It. You must be the bad guys. In which case you do know your stance is wrong, but you dress it up for the world in your drive to control and get people to conform, you want to oppress and wield power. You must be an agent of deliberate oppression: racial oppression, or sexual oppression, or economic oppression, or religious oppression, or military oppression. You must either be that, or a plain moron to believe that stance, I'm telling you.

See, that's the big breakdown. All these people, all on different sides of the same issues, all telling themselves that human good is CLEARLY best served by their stance, and that all the other people, who believe their b.s. stance (which let me tell you I know back-to-front and can refute standing on my head) are either fools who've been fooled, or the clever fiends who fool them.

If they weren't all such simpleton ignoramuses, you'd think a couple steps back and one good look at it would tell them that hey, all we have here really with these battling stances of ours are just some relatively small disagreements over points of emphasis. Over priorities, and methods.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Some say a stranger came, dealing death before the end...Pt.13

"Hell if I'm not about to die over a woman after all," the stranger Lido half-croaked, half-hissed.

Out loud, but no one could have heard. The gentle amazement in his voice was pitched too soft for even his old dog to pick up on, had he been nuzzling up the stranger's whisker-frayed cheek, as he used to do. Wherever that flea-ridden purebred greyhound cuss had wound up, even he couldn't have heard that lament.

The stranger's eyes would have misted, if his body had any water in it. He tried to pronounce the dog's name. Couldn't. Then he tried again: another name, every syllable cracked, parched, and disbelieving.

"Rose Althea,"

Nothing.

The stranger Lido was not the sort of man to lose his head or his heart, at least not over love of a woman. A dog, maybe. Yet here he was. On his belly like a dog, limbs splayed crookedly, lifelessly. Head on its side, jaw slack, mouth open in the sand. Eyes wide - purely by chance. They'd been open, just as his body ran out of energy to blink. By default, he was in a no-stakes staring contest with a far-off patch of low sky. He was going to win.

This hadn't been for any love of any woman. That was for sure. He'd lost his heart, and his head, to fury.

"Rose Althea," he observed. No fury left now.

She was gone now. No telling where, or in which direction. She could be far behind, way back towards, or beyond, or even on - the trail. Or, she could be just a little further ahead! Who knew now, how far she could get. He'd underestimated her. She was lost to view, wherever she was. In the dead scrub trees, hunkered in one of the dry cracked shallow rills or rainless crevasses that now scarred the desert's formerly entirely featureless flatness - somewhere, somewhere, she was gone.

The stranger Lido had seen her on the trail, he knew that much. He was sure of that much: far ahead of him, steadily losing ground, marked out by his own god damn white shirt that she wore, she had been his. She had stolen that shirt. Which wasn't the only thing she stole. His gunbelt. His pants, though he'd gotten those back. How she herself had escaped him then was...well. Beyond him. As she was.

It would have been only a matter of time, he knew. He'd known. But either through sheer genius or panic, she'd hit on the only way possible to save her hide. She tore off that shirt, vanished into a desert colorless as she was. Naked, like a savage Indian trickster spirit! Vanished thick and slick as her thighs into the thin, hot air of this unclaimed, empty territory. It was hers, now. Her tanned skin, shimmering into its distance, a distance composed mostly of shimmers itself. She was lost in an endlessness of earth-toned blur and buckling air, she may as well have rippled herself up into the white-blue sky. He'd found his blood-front, ruined dirty shining white shirt by the side of the track, and that was the last of her he was going to see.

Right then was about when he'd lost his sense of proportion.

He'd gotten it back, since. Burnt brutally by the day's hammering noon, and an afternoon of increasingly frantic searching, burnt worse by his own stupidity - finally, exhausted, he began to get a sense of it back. Proportion: he was a gnat. And if the universe cared, it was the sort of condescension he'd have spit at, provided the universe would kindly give him a drink first. High overhead, stars were now beginning to poke their pinprick light through the deepening velvet, like so many sewing needles in a pincushion.

The stranger Lido's bronzed skin was on fire all over. The heat, stored up daylong along the back and side of his body in the sun's hammering, was almost deliciously reversing its flow. But he knew this would not long be relief. Already, he could taste how cold the desert was about to become. He had his shirt back, but it would be scant comfort.

"Well I hope that bitch freezes to death at least," he lied.

He didn't really care what happened to Rose Althea now. "Rose Althea," he lied again, "I hope you open up a big casino in San-Fran-cisco, and become a millionairess with a litter of spoiled brats."

"And I hope that first little bastard has my eyes."

Either his voice had come back, or he was hearing things, dreaming it.

Hallucinating, the stranger Lido saw nothing but an angle of empty desert.

The thirst, the exhaustion, the sunstroke was bad enough. While he was at it, he'd got himself snakebit. It had come out of nowhere - right there, sank into the meat behind his knee! That was his first inkling he'd made a huge mistake. There'd been an unbroken string of inklings before that, that should have tipped him, but it was the snake who gave him notice he wasn't his right self. That he'd become blinded, to everything except the woman he was chasing, the woman he had no sign of, and that all of a sudden, he was probably going to die. He was so rickety and reeling by that time, he couldn't even catch the snake. Hollering, he'd sprawled after it, dizzy with the need for vengeance, ready to strangle a cactus, even - any living thing if he could lay hold of, he flailed after that snake! Wring every inch of its body, tear its head off, drink its blood! - but he was practically a damn cripple already, fallen in its wake even before the venom started working. His exhaustion had already lost the race. The snake flashed off in a writhing switchback, cheerful, jaunty, he'd swear to god it mocked him with the flip of its tail. But really it was half-seen by then, half-hallucinated. His eyes could barely follow it. He lay there now, in the same place he'd sprawled. This was all hours ago.

His leg was swollen straight, but he knew the snake bite wouldn't kill him. He was dying of thirst, first. He had gone miles out from the road. He'd thrown it all on a gut hunch, plus a few suspect marks in the hard desert pan that he convinced himself were Rose Althea's tracks. One mile out, any fool would have known he was following nothing. Any idiot would have turned back. He didn't turn back. He'd lost his sense entirely, gone simple or psychic. In his mind, he was ready to force his hunch to be right, just by sheer dint of will.

Really there was no prayer now, of making it back to the road. There was no help on the road anyhow, even if he could make it back.

"Hurry up and die, you old cuss."

He was in no particular pain, which he knew by his condition was a bad sign.

With a weird suddenness, he'd become excruciatingly bored. He wasn't sure when that happened. He wondered idly if he'd be able to see and note the signs, as he died, as things inside him began to shut down. His eyes were darkening, but so was the sky. It was hard to assign any blame to it.

He snapped awake with his eyes glued shut.

Behind his eyelids, he knew the sky was dim with morning. Why morning, he had no idea. Morning seemed gratuitous, to him. The night cold should have killed him, but it hadn't. The ground, the sky, his bones all felt frozen, but some piece of working brain told him the night simply mustn't've been nearly as cold as expectation. He was in no position to say any hallelujah of thanks. Dirt was in his dry, open mouth.

He barely moved his head, tried to spit without any spit. Finally, heroically (he admired himself for the effort), he rolled over - bringing a shooting surge of juicy agony all through his snake-bit left leg. He had forgotten about the damn snake! This was the sort of pain you had to order off the menu.

The clench of his face intensified every second, until an impossibly loud, clear shout tore itself out of his throat: "God damn it I'm done for anyway, what are you waiting for?"

"Oh quit whining," came the reply.

Lido's eyes spasmed, tried, failed to snap open. The woman's voice was impudent, well-watered, with a smile in it he could see even with his eyes closed.

Rose Althea.

The realization hit him like a bolt of lightning, like a bucket of water to the face. An instant later, the stranger Lido was drenched by a bucket's worth of water to the face.

I'm Ready To Die.

Are you ready to kill me?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Greatest album ever? Pt. 1 of a Projected Series: AC/DC's Back In Black

I'll just say "Back In Black" and leave it at that. But I should be back later with some less obvious picks. Reeling from the death of beloved rapscalion frontman and debaucher extraordinaire Bon Scott, just as the band stood poised on the seeming brink of worldcrushing superstardom - or so it seemed - the death of Scott plunged all such speculation into shock and irrelevancy. More than a ringleader, Scott was a gangleader - a guiding influence with plenty of hard-lived rock and roll experience under his belt, a sort of pervert-uncle figure to the other members a decade or so his junior - a mate, however much he was prone to the occasional fuckup, the man was integral to the chemistry of this hardscrabble guerrilla unit intent on conquering the world once again, all and always only for rock and roll. Still, unimaginable as it may have seemed then for AC/DC to exist without Bon - so close to the goal he and they all sweated, bled, and came for, can there ever have been any question of brothers Malcolm and Angus Young simply folding up the tent and going home, calling it a day for AC/DC?

Fucking unlikely.

Back In Black stands in dedication, and in rededication. A colossal musical achievement, a fitting epitaph for an irreplaceable and irrepressible (and irresponsible) man, who, goofy as he was, was yet and above all, a serious musician. Dedicated to Bon Scott: every bit as he was dedicated to his craft, every bit as he was dedicated to his female fans (and in a meaningfully different way, to all of his fans, of course). But fitting as it was, this album is far more than an epitaph. It strides forth grim with purpose, bursting with new life: a mission statement, a manifesto from the mountaintop, handing down ten perfect tracks with the force of commandments - all testified in the furious, unholy, glorious unearthly voice of the man I'd call (for three albums at least, before he more or less blew out his larynx in '83 during the Flick of the Switch tour) the greatest rock singer ever: Brian Johnson.

No replacement. No imitator. He stepped, strode, staggered into the churning, precision-honed forge of Mal and Ang's power chords, Phil and Cliff's pounding rhythms, and he alchemized it all with a howl into a sort of reverse-mithril (stray Tolkein reference must've wandered in from a stray Zep review? sorry): silverpure, steel-hard, but as heavy as fookin' lead. Nimble with it, though! The band's tutelage under legendary Shania Twainfucker Robert John "Mutt" Lange on prior outing Highway to Hell had by now matured, and borne brutal, machine-tooled fruit. These scrappy underdogs had pounded out enjoyable album after enjoyable album, full of mad dash, bravado and thrash in a blues-soaked mode, but Lange's manic perfectionist expertise had unlocked something in them, something that had lain within them always, and now the band had finally and terrifically come into its own sound: assurance, precision, muscular intricacy and power to spare, and good lord was it awesome to behold with one's ears. This album was a beauty, truth made incarnate to a worldfull of jaw-dropped beholders, forever from the first listen beholden to its inimitable might.

Back In Black.

The album-opening declaration "I'm rolling thunder, pouring rain / I'm coming on like a hurricane," only begins to cover it.

I'll be back with more "Greatest album ever" picks after this! Don't die holding your breath, though.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Some say a stranger came, dealing death before the end...Pt. 12

The stranger Lido's legs burned like scorched iron. He was trudging now at a great, loping pace. No more hurried than a machine piston, and as relentless. Head low, eyes narrow as knives, intent on the track - an old trail worn hard, headed straight and sure to someplace. He flared his nostrils in the dry air that pooled around him. If he stopped, he'd be standing with a cool, steady breeze at his back. He didn't stop. He was striding within it, becalmed in a storm's eye of his own making. In an absolute stillness, in perfect sync with his speed and direction. The world held its breath, and turned beneath him.

He was wearing a ball gown, or what once had been one. It had since been torn, distorted, remade as a sort of a dirty pink tulle poncho. He laughed once - a short, rasped bark. The whole damn caper had gone wrong, unless that was what she'd had in mind. He paid good money for this damn dress. Rose Althea was going to make it look good again, or else: before he'd decide to kill her, or not. Or wait.

None of this was anything he thought in words. He'd stopped thinking in words two days ago.

The gap was closing. He had walked all night last night timeless and moonlit through a waking nightmare that haunted him vaguely. All night, he'd kept starting in spurts of panic, sure he'd somehow passed her by, or lost the trail.

He was right behind her, now. Sure of it. This land was flat, flat - but he'd seen her. Seen somebody, up ahead: a shimmering wiggle of white on invisible legs. Her skin, tanned the same color as the desert's dry, fine sand that blurred out for miles in all directions - and above it, the white shimmy-blob of his own god-damn shirt! Topped suddenly by a weaving jet black blot - she had lost her hat? No, the black blot disappeared, tucked again under the soft no-color of her mother's sombrero.

A good hour passed. Morning was coming towards noon, and the white wiggle had vanished, for the moment at least. The stranger Lido was unconcerned. There was nowhere for it to vanish to. Nowhere for it to hide away, no place to go underground and no way short of a horse could she outdistance him. His vulture gaze devoured everything for miles. There had been no damn horse.

So she was right in front of him, and she must have looked back. Seen him coming. She must have flung herself flat, lost in the heat shimmer. She was probably crawling! Desperately, clawing her way through the dust to escape his path. He smiled so wide his bottom lip split, dry. Not enough water in those cracked lips to bleed. He smiled wider with the pain. He knew he couldn't keep walking this pace under a noonday sun, but he damn sure could hold out longer and further than she could crawl. There was no way she could've bolted upright any distance to either side of the trail without his eyes tracking her. Crawling wasn't going to get her far, not far enough. He'd soon be close enough to where she'd disappeared for his squint to pierce the waves of rippling heat, and then he'd see her, and then he'd reach her. Even if she was lying flat and perfectly still, hoping not to raise dust, not even moving to breathe - she'd be too close to the trail for him not to spot her. As soon as he closed the distance, through this heat. He was almost there now. He decided he wasn't going to rest until he was on top of her.

His eyes no longer looked down. The ground was too hard to hold much trace, anyhow. His head was up, looking side to side warily. Seeking a hiding place. This damn desert was all one color, that was the problem. It had been flat as flat forever, but now he began to see features forming. Miniscule hills, tiny hollows. Nothing to hide a person in, but enough to curse at. He forced himself to go a bit more carefully. Slowing, he felt the breeze now, and it felt almost cold. There was something up ahead, flat and lifeless to the side of the bone-dry track. Something bright against the sun-bleached dun.

It was a dirty white shirt.

The Bad Color

God's opinion is the universe. Don't ask me! Just go take a look for yourself, why don't you.

And let's face it, that God is pretty infinitely opinionated. God's like, "Well, that's just how I see it! What do you think?" But not waiting for any answer, God says "It's good!" God saw it and said, it is good. God saw Light, and said it was good. Light had a different opinion on that eventually.

God's good is not always the same as what other people think is good, it seems. Yet God's pretty secure in God's own opinion of how things should be set up. Are we? Are we secure in our own opinions, of what good is, and how things should be?

We should be! We down here are free to differ. "God, this universe is crap. Reality, life, suffering - what the hell were you thinking?"

Humans don't seem to see eye-to-eye with God on how things are set up. Usually, we have a fulsome list of things we could do without - and ever was it thus. "God cannot be both good and all-powerful," said Epicurus, a brilliant pioneer in his day! A bit of a child, by our standards. Oh, I mean a child only in terms of our understanding of cosmic mechanics. Clearly, in terms of how people live their lives, most mere mortals remain as children, next to Epicurus's principled and disciplined mind and methods. Yet in terms of how reality works, it's no insult to him to admit...he just didn't have a clue. Not really! That guy took a view of the universe as if it were the riotous profusion of a Hieronymus Bosch jungle painting, tigers and orange groves, and violence red in tooth and claw, and he said: "Ooooo, that red! That tooth and claw red is the problem! The painter could have just left that out!" And everything else would have remained, right? All to the good! Just that one little change, and all else, all that Epicurus called good, would remain. Just don't take that red paint and put it on there: simple!

Only the suffering would be removed, leaving a beautiful picture, to Epicurus's taste.

It's so hard for us to see today how Epicurus could possibly have sincerely thought this. Suffering: a purely gratuitous element! Not a consequence of the way physics is set up, no. With biology meshed in its warp and weft, thrashing forward along, relying on damage-avoidance pain mechanisms, impelled by yearnings and urges for whatever is deprived, what resource is lacking, as we wiggly creatures drive, strive and thrive - no, suffering's just a thing added on top of all that! For no reason, really. Can Epicurus have been pulling our leg? Is it possible? He seems to have had some sense that things are built on cause and effect, even if he didn't understand the perfect simplicity of it all at its core. Assuming quantum mechanical supersymmetry's barking up the right length of Planck (it sure does look like a winner!).

Well, whether he was entirely serious or not, we can't criticize Epicurus for having access only to the clues his age gave him. Today at least, the idea that you can change something fundamental at the foundation of reality, with the only result to be: reduce the owies for macroscopic squishy beings - this is a pleasantly ludicrous concept.

It's also a howlingly anthropocentric one: all of the universe, all for us! Not for us some lowly place, as a natural part of a natural universe that actually works. Such that we can proceed to figure out how it works. No, that's useless! That has no value, what we demand for a universe to be called good is: it must be custom-designed for our luxury and comfort. The needs of life itself, to change and push over obstacles as individual beings grow, die, are born all in a jumbling forwardly-evolving sprawl - that can't be the priority! A universe like that sucks! It just does.

According to some.

I say a natural universe is the highest of all goods we've been given, or could be given. Of course, I concede Epicurus's point that God could have designed an irrational universe, removed suffering that way. God could've designed a universe where effects do not proceed from causes, where matter and energy do not contort and hurl about inexorably along paths carved in fundamental forces, where miracle intervenes and must intervene, daily, constantly, anytime a tsunami, tornado or earthquake is about to hurt babies and old people. Anybody want to move to that universe? Sure why not! Sounds like heaven! Oh wait. Yeah. We've already got that.

I mean, if you're going to talk about God just to reject the premise out-of-hand, you are not reasoning. But if you credit the premise for a sec, God's already got that part of the package covered: an infinite kiss and make better, all damage healed in an instant, bliss and permanence - and knowledge, and communion in bliss with all, forevermore! This is what omnipotence means: God leaves you wallowing in freakish joy and mystery forever.

But let's be clear, though. I'm not saying "This world sucks, but heaven makes it OK." Nonsense! People who say this world sucks are fucking pansies. This world (by which I include the universe) is magnificent. Sometimes, I try to imagine the piss-poor world they claim they want. Imagine how horrifying this world would be if it were not natural. If we couldn't carve into it, learn and earn a place. If it were provably supernatural in origin, if there were no chance that we were on our own, and so to grow the fuck up and stand on our own: sufficient. A universe where, because of how everything was set up - clearly created for our benefit - we could not choose what we choose to believe, or choose simply to remain unconvinced. An improvement? Imagine if God forced God upon us, every day! Rubbed our noses in the fact of God's existence - forced us to believe! Left us a daily scripture message, written in the night sky by physically moving stars around. An improvement? A better universe? "Isn't it better to know?"

I don't know, I guess that's up to your personal good. Is it better to have a shitty universe but at least know its limits, or to have a universe of apparently limitless extent and wonder, and the tools in hand - human reason, primarily - to chase after and grasp for answers?

One thing is for sure. In a universe where God is forced in our face, we wouldn't be so free to differ with God's opinion. To create our own opinions, to give our own value to things. To hold different goods, our goods, higher and more dear to us than some inscrutable, cosmic good said to be God's. The fact that God leaves us room for doubt is a great gift. If God were forced in our face what would freedom mean? Today, we know at least that whatever God's highest good is, God's got it covered, which leaves us free to work for the goods we see. Even if there were no God, this universe and a chance to make a life within it is a thrilling, amazing gift. In this universe, we've got the universe covered. It's far bigger than us, and yet the whole thing is in our hands.

Imagine if we weren't free to learn, investigate, plumb, wring the knowledge we want from the fabric of reality. Imagine if we couldn't do that because there was nothing to learn! No natural fury, forces greater than us, implacable - indifferent to our plight! In a natural world, we can plumb these, grasp them, seize them by their inner workings and create our world around them, within them, upon them. Imagine if we weren't free to create. Let alone the world - imagine if we weren't free to self-create? To make of ourselves what we can and what we will, in our thoughts, words, actions!

And all of us together, creating our future as a species. To give a direction and purpose to it that is ours to form, ours to own. Heady stuff, this opportunity and this life we have.

Can anyone here imagine what a poor substitute the universe would be, if it were not observably, evidently built upon discoverable principles we can unlock, and reason from, from effect to cause to further effects, from theory to (eventually) testable result? Imagine a universe set up to coddle us, where we are created not as creators, but as a bunch of fucking babies. Or more accurately: prisoners. A universe with walls, which could not be pierced by human understanding or by science, because the choice had been made against nature. Against self-checked, self-sustaining nature, of which we are a part, not the purpose. Imagine claiming the highest and only good of reality ought to be the pleasure principle.

Well, you'd be an Epicurean.

Some people's opinion is that a luxury resort universe would be an improvement over the one we've got, with dangerous cliffs, and surging waves, and death at every corner. They say they'd want reality's big design requirement to be: "no boo-boos." No owies. "No More Tears!"

Well I'm glad God didn't share their babyish, wussyesque priorities, taking a baby shampoo approach to the universe's virtues. I'm glad that God valued adult virtues over childish ones, and that God gave us this far better world than the playpen some people claim they'd want. Those people can grow the fuck up at some point if they want, or if they prefer, they can just keep whining about how non-amazing, non-magnificent it is to have this chance, to carve our place in a universe that is manifestly bigger and more important than any one of us is. Bigger than all of us put together are. Fuck any pampered turds who say this universe is anything less than worthy of awestruck humility and gratitude! On the grounds that there is suffering? All suffering stems from one or the other: free will, or physics. Our ability to act and choose what we believe and who we will be, and our capacity to reach out even as far as behind the stars - and unlock them. That's worth throwing out? Cause and effect are of no value, no consequence?

I hate to be harsh. But anyone who can't see what we've got or who'd claim they want to chuck it for - some ill-formed crap version - I say: serve 'em fair if all their pets got cancer, if all their kids grew up to blame them for everything in life, if they themselves get kidnapped and imprisoned in Malaysia where every day their fingernails are torn half-off and they're gang-raped by large guard dogs. Fuck it, I'll go in there with them! Then I'll ask 'em about it in heaven, after about sixty billion years or so of coddling in indestructible bliss and luxury.

I bet the petty motherfuckers will still be bearing a grudge.

Then I'll go looking for Epicurus. Shake his hand. You know what? He had the right idea, all along. He was just a few facts short of a working model, that's all. But if his concept of things was lacking, his priorities were not wrong: it is good, a very high good and perhaps our highest human good, to do all we humanly can to increase human pleasure, and assuage human suffering.

This universe is, among other things, our chance. It is the one chance we have, to make a life's work that means something. It could mean everything. Once chance, and so much within our grasp. It must be a child, who'd scorn what that chance represents - or fail to see what a gift it is.

Now go get the red out.