What the U.S. government is doing to destroy a legally operating entity—the short list

Federal employees and contractors—including the Dept of Homeland Security!—have been ordered to stay away from the WikiLeaks’ site and from documents made available by WikiLeaks. This prohibition includes the home use of newspapers and personal computers.

The U.S. Army, the FBI, and the Justice Department are threatening to prosecute WikiLeaks for “encouraging the theft of government property.”

The feds have teams of lawyers on the lookout for a pretext to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under the Espionage Act. The government has not shown a similar interest in prosecuting the scores of right-wing bloggers who have publicly called for his murder.

The Obama administration has asked (intimidated?) Britain, Germany, Australia, and other countries to find ways to prosecute WikiLeaks and its founder.

The Library of Congress has blocked access to WikiLeaks on its computers.

The feds have threatened to prosecute newspapers and websites that have published or posted documents made available by WikiLeaks.

The U.S. State Department has warned Columbia University that diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks are “still considered classified,” and that knowledge of them would “call into question students’ ability to deal with confidential information” should they apply for a job with that agency. (How would the government know that a private citizen had accessed such documents?)

Private people and entities that the U.S. government might have influenced in its war on WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks’ founder is on bail in Sweden after being charged with raping two women. Because there is no better way to discredit an organization than by charging its founder with sex crimes, and because the U.S. government appears to be doing all it can, short of murder, to destroy WikiLeaks, a scenario in which private citizens were paid to make false accusations appears conceivable.

Moneybookers and Paypal, sites that handled donations to WikiLeaks, have ended their affiliation with WikiLeaks.

Visa and Mastercard have stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks.

Amazon.com has cancelled its web-hosting contract with WikiLeaks.

Several of the above companies violated their contracts with their users and with Wikileaks when they cancelled their services.

However much you dislike WikiLeaks, please remember that it has never been charged with any crime (it is a felony to steal government documents, not to print them), and that the government’s many threats of prosecution of WikiLeaks, its founder, and those who reproduced material that WikiLeaks provided; as well as its attempt to encourage other nations to prosecute WikiLeaks or its founder can best be understood as harassment. Even if the feds can’t throw anyone in jail, they can discredit them or break them financially, and if they are willing to destroy one law-abiding person or entity today, is it unrealistic to worry they might go after another tomorrow?

Support WikiLeaks. Support it against the tyranny of the U.S. government and its lackeys. Support it if for no other reason than that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Support it because no government that uses its vast resources to destroy a law-abiding person or organization is ever your friend.

How America honors the birth of God Incarnate and all that he stood for

America is the most populous Christian nation on earth, so it might well be asked by those of you in heathen lands how we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus, who was renowned for his unremitting opposition to greed, wealth, and consumerism; and his insistence on generosity, not to those who are able to be generous in return, but precisely to those who are unable to be generous in return.

First, we show our respect for the penitential season leading up to Christmas by only gaining eight to twelve pounds, which isn’t bad considering how much we weighed going into it.

On November 26 (the day after a major pig-out celebration known as Thanksgiving), we open our stores at 2:00 a.m. so the benefactors of the poor can get an early start on their Christmas gift buying at “Mark Down Prices.” Eager to take advantage of the “Early Bird Specials,” American Christians literally bring sleeping bags and stand—or rather lie—in line hours in advance. You can best understand this seemingly degrading ritual by comparing it to another revered religious practice known as self-flagellation.

The dedication of our citizenry to helping the poor is so intense in the weeks leading up to Jesus’ birthday, that there is a veritable shopping frenzy that continues until the night of Christmas Eve, when most stores close so their employees can go to church in order to be in the right frame of mind for distributing all of those colorfully wrapped packages to the poor on Christmas morning. “Ah,” you ask, “America is a rich country, is it not, so who are these poor people of whom you speak?” Well, sad to say, but America has many who lay claim to Christian Christmas generosity. They consist primarily of one’s spouse, children, parents, siblings, in-laws, friends, employer, and, of course, oneself.

When the holiday finally arrives, some impoverished children are so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of presents left by Santa, Mommy, Daddy, two grandmas, two grandpas, and assorted aunts and uncles, that they cry in frustration at opening them all. Truly, material excess requires some getting used to. Once all the poor people have gratefully received their holiday bounty, American Christians are so moved by the joy they brought into all those impoverished lives with the latest in Communist manufactured electronic gadgetry, that they just naturally want to go out bright and early on December 26, and give it another go. To help with this, the stores—which are understandably eager to support such a noble crusade—open in the wee hours yet again. This means that store employees have to miss out on time with their families in order to go to work in the middle of the night following two major holidays in a row, but they are only too happy to do it.

“Do American Christians observe Christmas in other ways?”

Oh, yes! Although buying gifts for indigent family, friends, and oneself most assuredly accounts for nearly all of the money spent, many churches do observe Christmas in other ways. For example, in most churches a colorfully robed choir sings happy holiday hymns amidst scores of potted poinsettias. A church near my house features a “living nativity” in which teenage girls and boys dress-up like angels, wise men, and shepherds, and take turns standing mutely around a manger that contains a fluorescently lit doll. Other churches “adopt” an entire poor family and drop gifts off at their house or apartment. Still others cook a turkey dinner for the indigent. And while most churches don’t meet on Christmas Day (making it one of the few birthday parties during which the guest of honor isn’t actually honored by his assembled friends), nearly all congregations listen to an Advent sermon in which they are reminded that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” (at least since the church converted or murdered all those solstice celebrating heathens). They are also told that they really need to give up at least a little of their accustomed holiday avarice, if not this year, then next year for sure. After all, if America’s way of honoring Christ’s birth doesn’t represent the true nature and depth of its religious piety, what does?

The manner of his burial

We brought Baxter’s body home on Friday, December 10, and buried him that Saturday. He lay on his chair for most of Friday, but Peggy put him in a cardboard box with a couple of his toys and moved him to the garage when his body began to smell.

Six of us attended his funeral, but no words were spoken. I took him out of the box, and lowered him into his grave by means of the tablecloth on which Peggy had laid him. I then tucked the tablecloth over his body, and Josh brought buckets of earth that I had stored under the eave of the house because of the rain. I emptied these buckets into his grave and tamped the dirt with a shovel.

I don’t know to what extent getting Brewsky so soon after Baxter’s death has enabled me to avoid—or at least postpone—grieving, nor do I know how much having another dog has helped. I do know that every time I lose a loved one to death, my own desire to live becomes that much less. Of course, I still have a lot to live for.

The state of my health

I’ll be lying awake in pain from osteoarthritis, syringomyelia, chondromalacia, a Baker’s Cyst, and an aching back, but I’ll be high at the same time because I will have taken a few Percocets or a couple of Demerols. Anyway, I’ll be lying there unable to sleep—partly because of the pain, and partly because being high makes my mind bounce all over the place—and I’ll think to myself: “Snow, you really could put yourself to sleep, you know. All you would have to do would be to take a maximum dose of one narcotic or another and a maximum dose of one sleeping pill or another plus three Neurontins, two Tofranils, and one Requip, and wash it all down with a shot of vodka… Okay, forget the vodka, at least until I build up such a tolerance to the pills that they stop working.” Well, it’s tempting sometimes because I’ve been lying awake most nights for years. Of course, the downside would be that I might die, or the house might burn down around me without me waking up until the roof fell on my chest.

I take a fair amount of scary drugs, and sometimes I enjoy them, but I never take more than I need, and rarely as much as I need. I sometimes wonder which would actually be worse for my body, taking enough pills to make me sleep, or the exhaustion I experience from never getting enough sleep. I just know that I take more pills than I ever imagined I would, and, as a consequence of the pills and the pain, I never feel really good anymore, and I never feel really intelligent anymore either. In fact, I worry about how much more I can handle before my organs start to fail.

I got another referral to a neurologist (the same neurologist who did my vertebral biopsy when my C5 turned up osteonecrotic—aka dead), but she won’t see me until I get another MRI, but I can’t get another MRI until insurance okays it, but insurance can’t okay it until my orthopedist submits the proper form. Insurance denied the Synvisc injections, so I have that on appeal, only I have no idea how speedily the orthopedist’s staff is moving on it. I just know that medical staff people tend to thwart a patient at every turn if he becomes impatient. I think this is because overpaid doctors, who are mostly male, treat underpaid staff people, who are mostly female, disrespectfully, so staff people take it out on the only people who are lower on the totem pole than they are, the patients—especially the male patients, although I am not too sure about this part of my theory. But anyway…

The steroid shot I got earlier this month has already stopped working, so I’m positively screwed, pain-wise, until I either get the Synvisc, or the surgical neurologist cuts me open again, or the orthopedist cuts me open again. I’ve been waiting for one thing or another to happen for years, and the glacial slowness of the process really makes me envy people who are so rich that they can get on their Lear Jets, fly to the top specialists, and plop a hundred thousand dollars on the counter and not miss it. They can no doubt get themselves moved to the head of every line too, but I wouldn’t do that, and I wouldn’t mind even a little bit shooting any rich person who did. Of course, that's a politically incorrect thing to say just as saying that I sometimes enjoy being high on narcotics is a politically incorrect thing to say. But, you know, my fondest dream is that I would never need another pill for as long as I live. As for shooting rich people, I think we could do with a few less of those bloodsuckers.

Cat, $35; toys and accessories $783; damage to property $682; playing mean tricks on cat, priceless

Is my cat the feline equivalent of trailer trash if he ignores his new seven-story “cat tower,” but goes bananas over the box it came in?

If my cat hates his new bed and cat toys but loves the worn-out bed and beat-up dog toys that belonged to my recently deceased schnauzer, is my cat possessed by my schnauzer’s ghost?

When my wife and I are reading in bed at night, and we hear claws ripping through leather furniture and knickknacks crashing to the floor all over our house as our cat systematically demolishes everything we’ve worked 39 years to accumulate; would it be an overreaction to shoot, stab, strangle, or immolate our cat?

If I’m unable to wake my cat up to play during the evening hours even if I hold him upside down by his hind feet and shake him, but he wakes me up to play throughout the night by jumping on my face and yowling, does this mean that I adopted a night-shift cat when what I really wanted was an evening shift cat?

When my elderly and blind heeler is trying to make her way to her food bowl, why won’t my young and agile cat move to one side rather than wait patiently for the dog to get within range and then shred her nose?

My cat appears to love me, but I can’t escape the sneaky suspicion that it would kill me and play games with my corpse if I were suddenly reduced to the size of a mouse. Am I simply being paranoid?

Do you know where I can find the book Dogs are from God; Cats are from Satan?

What to name the baby?

Baxter wouldn't understand us getting a cat, and he would be incensed to learn that the cat prefers the chair that he sat in for eleven years, the one that is by the window that overlooks his grave. These things are hard for Peggy and me too.

Peggy "wasn't ready" to get another dog until four years after our last schnauzer, Wendy, died in 1993. That other dog was Bonnie, who is now 13. So, when she suggested going to the humane society two days after Baxter's death to look at dogs, I jumped at the chance for fear that I might not get another one for years. When none of the dogs clicked with us, we visited the cattery--just for the hell of it, you know--and there was a little mellow kitten that, wonder of wonders, we both liked. I want to name him Buzz (he purrs long and loud), but Peggy insists on Brewster, and Peggy usually gets her way. Just between you and me though, isn't Buzz a better name? I won't hate you--and Peggy will love you--if you disagree.

The manner of his passing

Following a pleasant but fatiguing walk and a quiet afternoon that he spent cuddling with Peggy, Baxter began coughing up blood and struggling to breathe last night. Peggy became frantic, and sat on the floor holding him and wailing. She asked me to call two nearby friends, which I did. First Ellie and then Shirley stayed with us until after midnight. Before they arrived, Peggy had said she was going to have the vet come to our house and euthanize Baxter today, but when the normal doses of the medications I gave him proved inadequate, she asked me to euthanize him immediately.

I gave him fourteen times his usual dose of a tranquilizer, but when he was still awake two hours later, I gave him four (human) doses of Percocet, but the entire night passed without him going to sleep, although he was able to rest peacefully in Peggy's arms. He continued to gasp for air, and his heart continued to beat at a phenomenal rate, but he no longer coughed, and he did not appear to be in pain or emotional distress. I saw no point in giving him more pills.

Peggy stayed up with Baxter all night, but I couldn't just sit with him because of his odors and my grief, so I stayed busy doing what I could to provide for his and Peggy's comfort, and I took two naps when there was nothing more to do. I think that, perhaps, Peggy is stronger than I because I couldn't have done what she did. Of course, I suppose it's also possible that she couldn't have done what I did.

As soon as the vet's office opened, I got an appointment to take Baxter in at 8:45 to be euthanized. Ellie went with us. Sean first gave him a shot containing three sedatives followed ten minutes later by an injection to stop his heart. Peggy and I held our hands over his strong little heart until he was gone. Sean was surprised that my own efforts to kill Baxter hadn't succeeded, and he had no explanation why this was so.

The hardest part of the night was to watch Baxter's desperate efforts to live and to think that we hadn't done everything we could to give him that chance. I was all but wild with remorse until Sean said that, if we had treated Baxter, it most likely would have resulted in five months of keeping him alive in pain and misery versus the three months of love and comfort he had enjoyed. Oh, but I want to be with him! Shirley offered that someday I will be, but I can't even begin to accept an idea for which there is no evidence. As I see it, in the entire history of the universe, Baxter existed for 11 years, three months, and three days, and now he has returned to everlasting nothingness. Yesterday at this time, he was taking a nap with Peggy. Now, he is gone, and it's very hard to take that in despite the fact that I have seen more deaths than most people.

As I write, Baxter is lying on the chair that he and Peggy shared for these many years, but he is cold and stiff and his eyes are glazed, so there is no comfort in touching him. Yet, when I look at him, he appears to be breathing. Above his chair is a window and a feeder that I built for the squirrels. Baxter loved to watch squirrels, and I would often hold him in my arms so that he could get a better view. When we brought him home from the vet today, I held him there for the last time. It was a gesture of questionable merit, but I was desperate to do something.

Peggy has been asleep for hours, but sadness kept me awake--that and the fact that I slept, perhaps, three hours last night. I couldn't sleep for the sadness. Ellie's son, Josh, was to dig Baxter's grave tomorrow, but I went ahead and did it. Perhaps, I will be in physical pain a long time for that, but it was what I wanted to do. It was all that was left for me to do. Now, I can be still with my grief.

The following is entitled Baxter's Lullaby. Peggy composed it in 1999, soon after we brought him home:

Sleep, baby sleep, sleep the whole night through.
Sleep, baby sleep, you know that I love you.
And when you wake, the night will turn to day.
Sleep, baby sleep, sleep the night away.

Dream, baby dream, of things you love to do.
Dream, baby dream, dream the whole night through.
And when you wake, your dreams will make you smile.
Dream, baby dream, dream a little while.

This is Baxter's Nonsense Verse that Peggy wrote a few months later:

Baxter-waxter, wally-woo
Best'est dog I ever knew.
Baxter-waxter, wally-west
Best'est dog of all the rest.

Baxter-waxter, wally-wee
Best'est dog for you and me.
Baxter-waxter, wally-wuv,
Best'est dog a girl could love.

Isabella and Baxter

Isabella moved in a few days ago. I took her back out, but it was so cold that I couldn’t bring myself to leave her, so I brought her in again and gave her some fruit. She was quite hungry. She disappears everyday only to turn up again in some unexpected place at night. I let her crawl around on my hand while I watch TV, and then I put her to bed on her fruit plate. I placed an upside-down bowl partway on top of the plate, so Isabella could sleep in the dark, but she prefers to sleep on top of the bowl.

I have a hornets’ nest hanging in the den, and Peggy worried that Isabella was but a precursor to hordes that were about to hatch out, but I assured her that there is no mistaking a yellow jacket for a bald-face hornet, and this made her feel some better, but she still won't cuddle up with Isabella.

Oregon doesn’t have nearly as many kinds of wasps as Mississippi did, and I miss them. One night in 1977 when I was building our house down there, I was smoking pot while painting the upper portion of a vaulted ceiling. A few dozen large red wasps were flying aimlessly in the vicinity of a light that was on the wall above the second floor balcony. They had come indoors that day, had been unable to find their way out, so were now awake hours past their bedtime with no hope of going home again. I was atop a sixteen-foot ladder, a bucket of paint in one hand and a brush in the other, and I was moving ever closer to these wasps.

In my altered condition, I believed I was able to tune into their mental state, and that we were on the same wavelength, this despite their increasing agitation each time I moved in their direction. I kept advancing anyway, certain that their anxiety was not prompted by me but by the smell of paint in the hot, humid air. When I got within five feet of them, they began feinting dives at my head, and otherwise making it clear that they were about to nail me. I finally descended in the belief that my connection with them might not have been imaginary—after all, they had shown more patience than I had a right to expect.

When my father and I painted houses together, he would destroy red wasp nests by dousing them with gasoline. The moment it touched them, the wasps would fall straight to the ground by the hundreds. Then, he would knock the nest down. The rest of the day, the ones who hadn’t been on the nest would fly around aimlessly, but without a family to defend, they seldom stung.

I built a home for solitary wasps, and every year I have a few small nests of yellow wasps in my toolshed. I used to remove these nests, but most years, I would forget to look up to see that they were there until the summer was half over. After a few years of brushing my head against them without ever once being stung, I left them in peace. I think of wasps in the same way that I think of a lot of other creatures that have the power to hurt or even kill me, but don’t go around looking for an excuse to do so. All that they ask of me is that I respect their boundaries.

Unfortunately, this is hard to do with aggressive wasps that I don’t even see—like yellow jackets that live in the ground. There have been years when Peggy and I and both dogs were stung many times because we walked over their holes while hiking. I’ve even seen Peggy stand on top of a hole brushing yellow jackets out of Baxter’s fur while more were pouring out at them. She’s a funny girl when her maternal instincts go into overdrive.

I’ve thought a lot about what is right for Isabella. Her family is dead, and she has no real home and no work to do, so it might be better if I left her to die in the cold. Whether it’s a plant, a dog, or a wasp, once I take something in, I feel morally obligated to care for it, yet I don’t always know what is best.

Night before last, Baxter started moaning and shivering as he struggled to breathe. I have many drugs that might relieve his distress, but which might also kill him. I tried to talk the matter over with Peggy, but she didn’t have much to say, and I concluded that this was one of those situations that she wanted me to handle. I was about to give him a few grains of a Percocet when I remembered that I had a tranquilizer that we give to Bonnie anytime there are fireworks, so I gave a quarter tablet of it to Baxter. That should have been a low dose, but it knocked Baxter on his ass. In fact, I thought I had killed him, and I cried off and on for the next six hours while I waited for him to die. He looked so little and so pitiful that I didn’t know how I could bear it. Every time I thought I had pulled myself together, I would cry some more.

At one point, I tried to rouse him by standing him up, but his every leg splayed out in a different direction. Six hours later, I woke him up enough to pee, but as he was standing in the yard struggling to stay on his feet, Bonnie—who is blind—knocked him over. I couldn’t help but laugh at my two elderly dogs, but five minutes later, I was crying again. Now that I’m getting old and have seen a lot of death, you might think I would handle these things better, but the truth is that death seems even heavier to me now than it did when I was young.

The next day, Baxter was alert and active only to sink again last night. This time, I gave him an eighth of a tranquilizer, and that amount seemed just about right. Peggy suggested that we call the vet to be sure the pills are safe for him, but I told her that I didn’t see any need for that since he’s dying anyway. My only goal is to keep him comfortable. When I can no longer do that, I would prefer to euthanize him myself, but Peggy is determined that the vet do it.

Peggy becomes ever more unreasonable

Peggy went to bed before I did last night because she had a migraine, so I put the dogs out to go potty just before I went to bed. I forgot to let them back in because I’m not used to letting them out, and they froze to death. Of course, I didn’t know this because I was asleep. Anyway, Peggy got up first—having gone to bed first—and couldn’t find the dogs. After she had looked all over the house, it finally occurred to her to look outside, and there they were, two little pupsicles, right by the front door.

Since I could hardly bring them back to life anyway, and since I certainly don’t believe in the “power of prayer,” she could have let me sleep, but, no, not Peggy. She was upset, so, by god, she wanted me to be upset too. Putting that aside, I tried to comfort her in my usual compassionate manner by pointing out that they were old and sickly anyway, so their deaths probably saved us a lot of vet bills and carpet cleanings, but that just seemed to make her madder. I’m really tired of Peggy getting pissed-off over every little thing. To hear her tell it, she never makes mistakes. Yeah, right, when she’s asleep.

That was our second fight this week. The first occurred when she found out that I had invited my EOAWSGI group (Embittered Old Atheists Who Spit on God and Innocence) over to smoke dope and watch porn the same night that her VYCWEEEV group (Voluptuous Young Christians Who Eschew Evil and Embrace Virtue) was supposed to come over to bake brownies and look at pictures of a church they built in Haiti last summer so that all those starving people would have a place to pray for food.

I suggested that we bake the brownies with the dope inside and then watch the porn together, but she said that my idea was asinine because my atheist friends are all foul-mouth jerks who only want to make god-fearing Christians look stupid. She then said that my friends are all idiots, just like me; to which I replied that it takes one to know one and that all her friends are all idiots twice over, just like her. Things went downhill from there. I don’t know why Peggy can’t treat me the way she did when we had our first date in 1971. When you get married, you don’t expect your spouse to go all to hell this way.

Peggy offers a **#%*! suggestion

Peggy sometimes offers subtle criticisms regarding the subjects I write about. For example,

“Why the fuck don’t you ever write about something more interesting than religion?” (Peggy will argue that that she didn’t say the f___ word, but since I am “overly sensitive to criticism,” as my mother put it, I always HEAR the f___ word at the least suggestion that I'm anything less than perfect.)

“Okay, Sweet Lambikins Baby Lovey Dovey Pumpkin Strudel, what do you suggest?” (I ask smilingly).

“Well, how about what you just said?”

What I had just said was that Fox News’ policy of continually assuring its listeners that it’s “fair and balanced,” is not only unforgivably redundant, it also suggests a cynical attempt to appeal to an audience that is too stupid to distinguish between a claim and a reality (“Your president is not a crook;” “I didn’t have sex with that woman;” “I know the Bible is true because the Bible says it’s true;” and my own dear father’s favorite, “I’m going to be honest with you”). Furthermore, it reeks of Orwell:

“Political language is designed to…give an appearance of solidity to pure wind;”

of Lenin: “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes truth;”

of Hitler: “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it;”

and even of that bumbling little bastard who was our last president: “See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again…to kind of catapult the propaganda.”

“But isn’t what I just said rather obvious, Peggy Darling Dearest?”

“Not to some people.”

Which is precisely why I had said it to Peggy. Intelligent though she is, she doesn’t know the difference between a Republican and a Democrat, a Catholic and a Shiite, a Brit Hume and a Jon Stewart, simply because it is all so senseless and depressing that she doesn’t want to know the difference.

Sometimes, I think Peggy is onto something, yet I remain inveterately incapable of “turning on, tuning in, and dropping out,” because if there's safety to be had, surely it lies in at least knowing from which direction danger approaches. Besides, human inanity can be awfully entertaining at times.

Liquidambar styraciflua

I could travel the world and never see anything more lovely than a sweet gum in the fall (do click on the photo). This raises the question of why I should travel the world. I am far from opposing such expeditions, yet it seems to me that most of them are inspired by nothing more noble than the desire to escape obliviousness at home by imagining oneself to have experienced something abroad.

A relative was here recently. He had driven 5,300 miles in two weeks and planned to complete the final third of his journey in one week. He explained that it's sometimes possible to see two national parks in a single day if one takes a business-like approach (i.e. treat them as a prostitute to be done with rather than as a lover to romance). His own scheme was to pick a park’s most celebrated feature—which the federal government would have conveniently situated near a commodious parking lot—take a snapshot of it, and drive on to the next park. He had already bagged Rushmore, Yellowstone, and Crater Lake, and had his sites set on Yosemite, Sequoia, the Grand Canyon, and, last but not least, heaven. I’ve heard that, despite its extreme heat and various other inconveniences, hell does have a first-rate postal service, so I’m hoping Earl will send me a snapshot of Yahweh to go alongside his other trophies.

I’m confused by the part of the Bible where it says that god doesn't confuse people

If it’s such a great thing to be a sheep, why do Christian schools always name their football teams after lions, Crusaders, and even bulldogs? I think Atomic Lambs has a nice ring to it.

Could it be, do you think, that animals got a raw deal? On the one hand, they’re cursed, not because they screwed-up, but because we screwed-up. Yet, we get to go to heaven, and they just get to be dead. I guess the truth of the matter is that animals are only good for providing us with food, clothes, and lab rats. Small wonder then that none of the churches care about animals. When you look at where their money goes, I don’t think they care much about people either, but of course I’m an atheist, and everyone knows that atheists are “embittered God haters.”

I guess I do hate god, but not in the way religious people think. I hate god in much the same way that I hate Hitler. If everyone had ignored Hitler, he could have spent his entire life jumping up and down and screaming at people, and no one would have gotten hurt. God—or rather the concept of god—is the same way. If everyone ignored him, no one would get hurt. The problem is that people think he’s real, so they try to suck up to him in order to get mansions, virgins, and dark chocolate.

I personally think that the Moslem heaven sounds like one hell of a lot of fun, at least for the men. For the women, not so much.

When missionaries come around, they never talk about the good I can do for others but the good I can do for myself. Every Christian virtue is secondary to the desire for eternal wealth, and not just for a few gold serving spoons either but for entire gold turnpikes.

I think of heaven as like the Bahamas, only a whole lot nicer. The problem with heaven is that every iPod only contains one song—the Hallelujah Chorus no less—and you have to hangout with your inlaws, assuming that they didn’t end up in the goat line. My inlaws tithe, so they will probably go to the head of the sheep line. Some of them can’t even afford to neuter their pets because of all the money they put into the church plate, so, yeah, they’ll be in the sheep line.

If Christians are right about how I’ll be screaming for god to save me just before I die, I’ll end up in the sheep line too, and it won’t have cost me all that money, and it won’t have caused my pets to give birth to all those unwanted litters. Based upon this, it’s probably just as well that I’m a “godless atheist.”

The downside of waiting until the last minute to get religion is that I could be killed instantly by a falling safe or a speeding train. I could also get laryngitis. The Bible says that everyone—atheists included—has to “confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord,” so it probably wouldn’t work to write it down, but even if it would, I might be too sick to go looking for a pencil.

Even so, I really like it that you only have to do okay for your last few minutes over here in order to get a really nice bungalow over there. It’s like if you went all the way through school and made a zero on every test you ever took, but you got to graduate with honors because you said that you believed in arithmetic three seconds before the final bell.

When an atheist or an agnostic says that Jesus wasn’t god, but that he was a great man anyway, I always wonder what in the hell they’re talking about. If Jesus wasn’t god, then Jesus was a fruitcake, except that real fruitcakes taste good.

The god of the New Testament is supposed to have been the same as the god of the Old Testament except for one difference. When he got mad in the New Testament, he just threatened to torture people for all eternity instead of murdering them immediately. That’s quite an improvement, I guess. It’s probably why everyone says the New Testament god is a “God of love.”

One person who used to read this blog told me that I couldn’t be an atheist, at least not a terribly good atheist, because I didn’t know enough about theology (I think he meant Christian theology as opposed to the theologies of all those false religions). But if this were true, wouldn’t it also be true that most Christians don’t know enough about theology to be theists?

I think the Bible contains a lot of contradictions, but then I stopped taking theology classes after my junior year. Like in one place, Jesus said to turn the other cheek, but in another place, he said to buy a sword even if you had to sell your coat to pay for it (I always wondered if he gave that order in winter). When I mention this to Christians, some think he really did say the first thing but he really didn’t say the second thing. Others think he wants us to stab everyone who refuses to accept his love. I just think he was in a bad mood when he said the second thing.

I’ve noticed that Baptist theologians always agree with the Baptist church, and that Catholic theologians always agree with the Catholic church. Since that is too weird to be a coincidence, it has to be a miracle, which means that god probably does exist.

My problem is that Episcopal theologians don’t agree with one another or with anyone else, and this makes me think that I was right all along about god not existing.

Does the Church of Scientology even have theologians? If I run into Tom Cruise, I’ll ask him. I’ll also suggest that he take his shoes off before he stands on the furniture. My mother always said that we had to take care of our furniture because we couldn’t afford new furniture, and that’s what I have faith in to this very day. Peggy’s mother always said that her family could afford new furniture, and that’s what Peggy has faith in to this very day. When Peggy says that our marriage is plagued by theological incompatibilities, I tell her that Job’s wife gave him a lot of unnecessary trouble too, and, for some strange reason, that always seems to piss her off.

Skinheads, Neo-Nazis, and the KKK

For months, I’ve been reading every non-fiction book the library has about neo-Nazis, racist skinheads, and the Ku Klux Klan.

Damn! You must be about ready to join-up.

Sure, who wouldn’t be? I mean isn’t it obvious it that the Jews were the sole orchestrators and the sole beneficiaries of both world wars; that Satan had sex with Eve who gave birth to the father of the black race; that the scummiest white criminal is superior to the best person of color; that practically every problem that any white person has is the fault of “the Jewish conspiracy;” and that, despite the fact that the Jews are able to run nearly the entire world from behind the scenes for their own profit, they are nonetheless rather dim-witted?

So why do you read this stuff?

I don’t self-analyze about what I read. It’s not that I’m uninterested; it’s just that I wouldn’t know where to begin. Once I learn about some things, they leave my system forever, whereas I cycle back through other things again and again—for example, botany, geology, knot tying, and the Hardy Boys series. If I were to tell you what it is that I learn from reading about hate groups, it’s an understanding of why people think that way.

Okay, why?

It gives them someone to blame for their failures. It also gives them a tight-knit community which values them and tells them that they’re better than everyone who belongs to an inferior group or has fallen for the “Jewish lie.” It even offers them a vision of how wonderful the world could be if those who think like they do were in charge. You don’t have to have an IQ of 85 to believe this stuff, you just have to regard yourself as an outsider and a failure who wants to be an insider and a success, but you can’t figure out how to make that happen in the current scheme of things. It also helps if you’re a minority white kid who is surrounded by black kids in a ghetto—or if you’re a nerdy white kid who is bullied by jocks and preppies in a suburb—and it’s the skinheads who protect you. People are just naturally attracted to groups that promote their survival, and this makes them more susceptible to beliefs that would otherwise seem ridiculous.

I would say that my study of these groups has done two things for me. One is that it has made me hate what these people believe—and what they do—even more than I already did, and it has given me a measure of sympathy for them. They’re not all irredeemable, and, when they are redeemed, they are in a far better position to work with their former supporters and, at times, their former victim groups, than you or I. For us, it’s a mindset that we can only imagine, but, for them, it’s something they’ve lived, and every time I’ve read about one who was redeemed, that redemption was made possible by people who kept their hearts open. In many cases, those people were black or Jewish. If that doesn’t make you shed a tear, I don’t know what will.

How did the CFI meeting go?

Good, I guess. Since no one would help facilitate, I spent hours creating a program all by myself, but the three people who previewed it thought it was too structured. I edited it down from two hours to a fifteen minute introduction, and left the rest of the meeting open for an unmoderated discussion. As soon as I finished my part, people exploded into a verbosity that made my presence pretty much redundant, and that was fine with me because, by then, I was a bit drunk. I had thought that my glass held three ounces of vodka, but it actually held four and a half—as I later realized while trying to determine why I had been so affected by so little—which meant that I was sufficiently wasted by the time I finished my introduction that I was afraid to open my mouth for fear of slurring my speech. After two years of narcotics and sleeping pills, I am sorry to report that I can no longer hold my liquor.

When everyone departed, they said they had a great time, and I had to take their word for it because I was pretty clueless myself. God at the food they left! I asked them to bring snacks, and, predictably, some brought nothing and others brought enough for five people, so there was a substantial net gain to me that consisted of sundry hors d'oeuvres, two partial bottles of wine, one full bottle of wine, three six packs of beer, three bottles of hard cider, and two liters of soft drinks (I’ll save the unopened liquor for our next meeting).

As the meeting closed, I said that I could do the Internet announcements; I could be the welcoming committee; I could do the writing; I could support people who wanted to sponsor an event; and I could host events; but everything else was best left to someone else. No one complained, so that’s where we left it. Two days later, someone offered to sponsor a book group, and we have another general meeting scheduled, so the group gives every appearance of really taking off despite our recent loss of the two people who started the Eugene chapter.

It’s both funny and sad that no matter how hard I worked to support any group that I was ever in, I always felt like an outsider. Now that I’m older than most of the people in this group, at least, I feel that way even more.

News and views, as it were

When Baxter succumbs to lung cancer—he coughed up blood for the first time yesterday—I would like to adopt a rescue schnauzer in a year or two, or even a week or two, but Peggy insists on waiting several years (and even then she would prefer a dog that’s small enough to fit under the seat on an airplane). She felt the same way when our last schnauzer died in 1993, and it made life very difficult for me. Yesterday, I looked at photos of rescue schnauzers on the Internet and literally sobbed, partly out of grief for Baxter, and partly because I don’t want to be without a schnauzer.

My orthopedist called today in response to a letter I sent in which I asked if a third shoulder surgery was advisable. He said it wouldn’t help unless it was a replacement, and that I could look forward to continued pain in both shoulders even I had them both replaced. This got me down a little. It didn’t surprise me, but it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

I voted straight Democratic today, although I hate all politicians at this point. I’m sick of their lies; I’m sick of their supporters knocking on my door several times a week; I'm weary of throwing away their slanderous mail; and I'm incensed at having them call me on the phone everyday (yesterday, Peggy told one to “Fuck off”). I’m tempted to withdraw from the voting roll simply to end the harassment, but I can’t because the stakes are too high. However bad the Democrats are, the Republicans are infinitely worse.

I’m the host and de facto local leader of an international group called the Center for Inquiry (its purpose is to: “foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values”). Our first meeting was in May, and since then, we’ve been piddling along with about six people at each meeting. With five days to go until our next meeting, our membership recently jumped from 40 to 61, of which 16 are signed up to come. Only four of those have been to a meeting before, and I’m the only one who is willing to lead even part of this next meeting. I’m very unhappy about the lack of cooperation, but I can’t just sit back and do nothing. I’ve been working hard preparing my presentation—for the whole damn meeting—which is why I’m so far behind on visiting other people’s blogs. It seems that this group is poised to really take off, and that all the responsibility for its success is upon me. Without the generous support I’ve been getting from Sylvia, a volunteer in the Portland office, I really don’t know what I would do. I don’t think I would simply cancel the meeting, but I would sure be tempted.

I recently received dues notices for the IOOF and the Masons, but I’m not going to renew. Both require a belief in god, but neither define god. Well, I can say I’m a pantheist easily enough, but then it’s obvious that my fellow members define god as a supernatural entity. Furthermore, the rituals of both lodges assume that this entity is available to grant favors. I’ve hung in there for upwards of twenty years, but I’m thinking I’m ready to let it all go, although I’ve grieved a great deal over the matter.

The content of atheism and pantheism is, or at least can be, the same, but this just raises the question of why anyone would feel the need to add the extra word—i.e. pantheist. Some people do, but I’ve found it increasingly hard to do so myself. I’m even a member of the World Pantheist Society, but I’ll probably let that lapse too. I know that some of you think I’m an atheist because I’m pigheaded, but the truth is just the opposite. I did my best to hold onto religion, any religion, for as long as I could and then some, but the bottom-line is that I’m unable to accept the existence of a supernatural deity simply because I see no evidence for the existence of a supernatural deity.

Who would you like to go back in time and kill?

Oh, the usual—Hitler, Stalin, George W. Bush.

Anybody else?

Well, there might be one or two, but you’d think I was absolutely horrible if I told you.

No, we wouldn’t.


Me and the Internet. You know you can trust us.

Well, alright then, here goes.

I would take out Napoleon, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and everyone else who ever tried to rule the world. Columbus and all the old Indian fighters (that’s Native American Indians, not Indian Indians, but maybe some of them too). Ted Bundy and all other serial killers and mass murderers (yes, I do recognize the irony) as well as all torturers, drug lords, child molesters, and slave owners. Then would come Jesus, Mohammed, Jim Jones, David Koresh, and a lot of other religious leaders. Everyone who ever killed another human being for reasons of race, religion, or ethnicity.

Let’s see, who else? Demagogues. Union busters. Furriers. Rapists (I would definitely kill rapists even if I do get off on an occasional rape fantasy). Chronic litterbugs (I can sympathize with a great many murderers, but littering is inexcusable). Druggies who have multiple babies that are taken away by Children’s Protective Services. People who breed animals to fight or dump their pets on the side of the road (I would really like to take them out). Men who beat women. Vivisectionists. Bullies who drive their classmates to suicide. People who are mean and/or dishonest their whole adult lives. Every last monarch and rich person who ever became wealthy off the backs of others. Yes, I know this would include Britain’s own dear Queen Elizabeth II. Sorry, Queenie. You’re not the worst of the lot by far, but you are the richest woman in the world, and what the hell have you done to deserve that?

God, Snowbrush, you are one bloodthirsty son of a bitch.

Thanks, but shut up now, I'm on a roll.

I would also kill all psychopaths and sociopaths, and I would euthanize advanced dementia sufferers and profoundly retarded people who are kept alive at taxpayer expense (the money really could be better spent, you know). Oh, yeah, everyone who ever suffered needlessly only to die anyway (I would be gentle with them). And, of course, lawyers—not quite every lawyer, but almost every lawyer. Sarah Palin? She died with the other demagogues.

But enough about me. Who would you kill?

Nobody. It's patently wrong to go around killing people, even mean people. You are one sick s.o.b.

So, you’re telling me that you would let 70-million people die before you would kill one Austrian megalomaniac!!!??? What if your family was being attacked, and the only way you could save them would be to kill the attackers. Are you saying you wouldn’t do it?

I wouldn’t know until it happened, but that’s different from what you’re talking about. You’re talking about the premeditated murders of thousands of people.

I would call it execution (and, in some cases, euthanasia), but putting that aside, if wanting to go back in time and right wrongs before they occur is evil, then I’m evil—and proud of it.

How do you know that killing all those people wouldn’t lead to even more suffering?

In some cases it would. For example, if I kill a child molester who is the sole support of his family, then his family might starve, or 300 years later, the world might be denied the birth of a truly great person. If I knew that would be the outcome, I would spare him, but my fantasy doesn’t allow me to consider the everlasting implications of every case. It only allows me to do what I think would make things better in the big picture. Since none of us can see into the future, this is basically how we already live.

But would you REALLY kill all those people?

You question reminds me of a joke. A man was seated beside an attractive woman at a dinner party. After an exchange of pleasantries, he asked if she would go to bed with him for a million dollars. “I would,” she said. “Well, then, would you go to bed with me for $25?” “Sir! What kind of a woman do you think I am?” “We’ve already settled that. Now, we’re dickering on price.”

Now, you tell me whether or not you would kill Hitler. On the one hand, you have the lives of 70 million people, untold millions of other creatures, and the lifelong emotional and physical impairment of many times that number. You also have incalculable environmental, artistic, historical, and financial destruction. On the other, you have the life of a scumball named Adolf Hitler. Furthermore, imagine that you don’t even have to go back in time and get your hands dirty; you can kill him right now simply by wishing it so. Picture him in his crib in May 1889 (see photo), and wish him dead, and, presto, he’s dead. If you don’t kill him, then I, for one, will think of you as someone whose ethics are so divorced from reality as to be utterly egocentric, but if you do kill him, we will know what you are. The only remaining question is whom else you would kill. Surely, Stalin. Unquestionably, Pol Pot. Doubtlessly, Kim Jong-iI. Where would you stop? Why would you stop?

What of compassion?

"You find out something important about a person when you see how they treat those who are weaker than them. But you find out most about a person when you see how they treat those who have absolutely no power; those who are helpless....the most obvious candidates for this status are animals." —from The Philosopher and the Wolf by Mark Rowlands

What does it say about our species that we subject helpless creatures to short miserable lives that end in brutal deaths so that we might enjoy the taste of milk, cheese, eggs, and meat? If we do this to them for so small a reward, then what might we do to one another for a much greater reward—if we thought we could get away with it?

To those who say that people's religion is their business

Peggy’s sister, Pam, is a morbidly obese diabetic who eats what she pleases and as much as she pleases. She won’t take insulin, check her glucose levels, or see a doctor. Pam can put away more food at one meal than I eat all day. If she dies suddenly, her death won’t be of much consequence to the taxpayer, but if she has a debilitating stroke, her care could cost millions.

Pam thinks that what she eats is her business. People who do drugs or drink too much think that is their business too. New York State has asked the federal government to prohibit people who are on the dole from buying soft drinks with food stamps, but food stamp recipients are up in arms. "What we drink is our business," they say.

Most states now require people in cars to wear seatbelts and people on motorcycles to wear helmets, partly because it is unfair to the taxpayer for them to take unnecessary risks on public roads. Many people say that such laws are unfair. They say that their safety is nobody’s business but their own.

How restrictive the government should be is not a simple question. For instance, should it ban cigarettes and junk foods? Should it outlaw skydiving and rock climbing? Should it send overweight people to fitness camps? Most of us would say no to such extremes, yet people’s risky behavior does harm the rest of society.

Government can’t successfully outlaw religion any more than it has been able to successfully outlaw certain drugs. Yet, those who hold that religion is a private matter overlook its public cost. They say that they don’t like proselytizing atheists anymore than they like proselytizing Christians, but I have the same right to criticize religion that I have to criticize Pam’s overeating. You might not want to hear it, and if ours was a one-on-one relationship, I would honor your request just as I have honored Pam’s request. But my blog is a public forum where I write about what is important to me, and opposing what I consider to be an irrational and destructive worldview is important to me.

But why do you single out Christianity?

Because I see it as the primary enemy of my own place and time. It is also the religion that has caused the most harm to me personally, and the one that I know the most about.

You mentioned the harm caused by smoking and overeating, so why not criticize them?

Everyone who smokes or overeats knows it is harmful because they’ve been warned by people who have a lot more expertise in these fields than I do. I usually avoid writing about politics for a similar reason. For example, I don’t think President Obama has done a good job, but I would be reluctant to debate the matter with someone who has studied the Obama presidency because I would look like an ignoramus. Only one reader ever said that I’m an ignoramus in regard to religion, but since he offered no evidence to support his assertion, I couldn’t agree with it.

I dislike religion even more than I dislike fascism or Communism simply because I know more about it. It was no accident that atheists who took the Pew Religious Knowledge Survey knew more about religion than Christians because the more you learn about religion, the less likely you are to be religious. Ironically, the more I am told that I shouldn’t write about religion, the more inclined I am to write about religion simply because I hope that I can eventually express myself well enough that at least a people who are now clueless will understand.

I sometimes see a bumper sticker that reads, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” I remember that sticker every time someone tells me that religion is a private matter, and that I shouldn’t criticize it. Oddly, these are often the same people who have told me—based upon a spiritual insight they claim to have had—that all life is connected.

I agree with their “insight,” because it seems to me that there are few if any private matters. The only question is whether we use force or reason to oppose those who endanger the public. Both have their place, which is why we have policemen and prisons, but I wouldn’t prohibit anyone’s private observance of religion even if I could. If I weren’t discriminated against by Christians, compelled by my government to publicly support religion, and made to bow to the repressive laws that Christians have put on the books, I would have no reason to criticize Christianity. After all, the world is full of irrational beliefs that I consider unworthy of mention. You can avoid black cats, walk around ladders, throw salt over your shoulder, read your horoscope, swing crystals over your boo-boos, believe in little green men, or play with Tarot cards, and I will but pity you. As long as you don’t try to force me to support your beliefs, we can even be friends. After all, no two people are without their differences.

See Dick. See Dick die.

The “funeral” was a reception held by Dick’s five grown children at his house a few doors down. I arrived on time, and it was just them and me for awhile, but other people eventually began to trickle in. I ate too much; I drank too much; and my social unease probably led me to talk too much. After two hours, I figured I had done my duty, so I walked home.

Dick’s wife died two years ago. I tried to befriend him afterwards, but he showed no interest in such support as I had to offer, so I withdrew totally. Someone suggested that I still try to be there for him, just not so much, but I’m no good at striking happy mediums with people I can’t begin to understand. Dick was like my father-in-law, Earl, in that he was always polite but never present emotionally. I used to try to draw Earl out, but it was like beating my head against a wall, so I gave up. He will be here next week, and I anticipate giving little and expecting nothing because I don’t know what else to do. I met him 39 years ago, and I still don’t know who he is. Maybe he doesn’t either. I suppose that if a person smothers his emotions long enough, they eventually die. I figure that the best part of Dick probably died in childhood, so his funeral was but an anti-climax.

What I will remember best about Dick is that, after his wife died, he read magazines nearly all day everyday while sitting with his back to his picture window. I walked or biked past his house several times a day, and I made a game of trying to get by before he turned around and saw me, but I seldom could. He would wave and smile, and I would wave and smile, but I would mostly be wondering what in the hell he was doing. He spent the greater part of the last two years pretending to read but in reality turning around every few seconds to see who was on the street.

Today is gray as most days will be for the next six months, and my insides are gray too.

What if you had to take a written exam to get into heaven?

You might be aware of the recent Pew Forum's U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey on which atheists beat out Christians (I scored 100). Last week, I laughed until I cried listening to representatives from various denominations explain on National Public Radio why the test was unfair and the results were irrelevant anyway.

I mean, come on guys, if you're an American Christian, you have the good fortune to live in the most religious of First World nations BY FAR, yet atheists know more about religion than YOU do! ATHEISTS!!! I mean, aren't you just a little embarrassed? If you are, good for you. At least you're more humble--or, perhaps, just more honest--than the experts on the radio. I can't prove it, of course, but I would bet you anything that if the atheists had flunked, those same experts would be saying, "See there. The reason atheists don't believe in God is that they don't know enough about religion."

"But were the differences significant," you might ask. YES! Atheists barely edged out Jews, and Jews barely edged out Mormons, but other Christians might as well have been riding hobbyhorses in the Tour de France. The poor Catholics were clueless about the role of the bread and wine in the mass, and Protestants were fuzzy on the identity of an old-timer named Martin Luther. Arrrgh! All I can say is LOL.

I remain sincerely yours,
An Insufferably Smart-Alecky Atheist

P.S. Enjoy Sunday school!

A chewer of pinesap

Last week for no known reason, the pain in my shoulders went away for the first time in four years, and the fire in my shinbones eased up too. How sweet it was to sleep without being continually awakened by pain. “Oh, boy,” I exulted, “I can finally get caught up with my work.”

To that end, I built a 24-foot (7.3 meter) ladder out of 2x4s, and got three people to help me raise it to the first limb of my Ponderosa Pine. I then spent part of two days in the top of the Ponderosa removing limbs that overhung the house. I would first tie them to the trunk, and, after they were severed, move down the trunk cutting them into small sections that I then dropped to the ground. I went to bed each night happier than I’ve been in years as I anticipated continuing my work the next day despite that fact that my muscles are so atropied that the job was far harder than when I last did it.

I wasn’t through with my work on the third day, but Peggy wanted to wash the outside of the house—another long neglected job—with rags and brushes, and I felt obligated to help. This job occupied part of three days, and we finished it yesterday. Last night, the fire returned to my shinbones, and my shoulders hurt so much that sleep was impossible even with ice and narcotics. We still have a fence and a storage shed to wash, plus I left my ropes and tools high in the tree so I wouldn’t have to hoist them up again. I’m hoping the pain will ease up enough that I can at least retrieve them before it rains on Sunday.

You might point out that I took on too much too fast, and I won’t argue with that, but I’m as hungry for work as a man who hasn’t eaten in weeks is hungry for food. Work gave me purpose, and enabled me to feel that I earned the food I put in my mouth. During my years in pain, I could still attend to business and was eventually able to do light housework. More recently, I’ve even been able to do yard work, but hard and challenging labor was what I most loved and craved, and it is also what Peggy is the least able to do. She often urged me to hire various jobs done so that they would at least have gotten done, but that would have represented so great a failure that I would have been hard pressed to bear it.

While I was in the tree, I chewed pinesap, and its sweetness and the joy I took in my work are still fresh in my memory. I can but hope that I’m able to return to them soon.

Baxter's not the only one with problems

Peggy had an ovarian cancer scare last month after her yearly physical, but blood tests, two ultrasounds, and a visit to a surgical gynecologist made it seem unlikely. The only way to rule cancer out completely would be an ovariectomy, but her surgeon recommended against it. Peggy had initially said, “Get this thing out of me!” but she trusted her doctor enough to leave it in.

Yesterday, I went to my orthopedist, Mark (see photo), because my own pain has been through the roof lately. Of the many narcotics I’ve tried, I still have a good supply of Vicodin, Norco, Percocet, and Demerol, but none of them help much, and they sometimes make me very ill. I also have the sleeping pills Ambien, Lunesta, Restoril, and Dalmane, all of which work better than the narcotics.

When I go to a doctor, I usually give him a written overview of why I am there, and what I want done. Mark usually does everything I ask. Yesterday, he gave me a steroid shot in my left shoulder, a prescription for Tramadol (a painkiller), and a humongous prescription for the sleeping pill Dalmane (Dalmane is so good that I call it "The Great God Dalmane.") He also agreed to hyaluronate injections (a joint lubricant).

I love Mark. If there were only one thing that I could counsel you to do if you should need surgery, it would be to find a surgeon whom you trust technically and as a caring human being. I’ve had the uncaring kind twice, and I promise you, if you don’t like your surgeon before surgery (no matter how good everyone says he is), you will want to murder him after surgery when you are overwhelmed with pain and despair, and he doesn’t give a rip. I can’t overemphasize the importance of having a good rapport with your doctor. The following is what I wrote for Mark yesterday.

“Pain in my left shoulder still awakens me many times each night and requires ice. Pain in my right shoulder also continues to be a problem. At times, it bothers me almost as much as the left. Bilateral shoulder pain in combination with bilateral knee pain has made both hiking and handyman projects disagreeable if not impossible.

“I saw a pain specialist in April due to shoulder pain and to sunburn-like pain in both shins. My internist said I had Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome, but the pain specialist suspected syringomyelia, and prescribed Neurontin and Tofranil. They helped the shin pain but did nothing for the shoulder or knee pain.

“I am here to get your thoughts about the continued left shoulder pain in particular, and a recent and severe increase in pain in both knees and both shoulders.

“I would also like to discuss alternatives for pain relief. The narcotics I’ve tried don’t help much, and they make me itch too much to sleep. Sleeping pills continue to be my best option—especially Dalmane—but the pain still awakens me ten times or more times each night.

“I read that Tramadol is sometimes used for moderate to severe arthritic pain, and would like to try it. Ultrasound is another option, but I haven’t found anyone who uses it, and my PT said the home units are a waste of money. I would also like to talk about hyaluronate injections—read the enclosed info at your convenience.

“I’m wondering if steroid shots might also help, although I’ve had mixed results from them in the past. I’m especially concerned about any harm they might do to joints.

“I’m now more open to the possibility of partial shoulder replacements, although I had rather pursue any reasonable option before agreeing to a joint replacement.

“In the last nine days, I’ve intentionally lost four pounds to make things easier on my knees, and I’m experimenting with a gluten-free diet. Other ideas would be appreciated.”

I need to stop answering comments for now

I need to stop responding to comments regarding my last post because, after what I wrote to KJ, I realized that my heart is closed. A closed heart doesn’t necessarily preclude honesty, but it sure as hell precludes compassion and respect.

We took Baxter to the vet yesterday—on his eleventh birthday—about a persistent cough. X-rays showed that the cause is most likely lung cancer. Our choices suck. We can do our best to make his remaining time comfortable, or we can put him through a lot of suffering, ourselves through a lot of anguish, and spend untold thousands of dollars and probably lose him anyway.

I’ve never been much good at compartmentalizing my emotions. Yesterday at the vet’s, Peggy had tears in her eyes, yet she was able to listen closely and ask intelligent questions. Yesterday at the vet’s, I stood to one side with a blank expression on my face. After the word cancer, I was too consumed by fear and grief to listen.

Say what you will, much of life is lose/lose. Much of life is about making the best of the worst.

I wrote the second half of my blog entry yesterday after the vet visit. Maybe I should have written it at another time, not because I don’t believe every word of it, but because I lack tact when I’m hurting.

I had rather see entire nations perish than to lose one of my dogs. That’s not an admirable thing to say, maybe, but it too is true.

Sic semper tyrannis

Doyd was 92. Whenever I phoned, his wife would answer and tell him it was me. “Hello, my friend,” he would say as my heart leaped for joy. Well, that’s over. Never again.

I would hate funerals anyway, but I hate them a lot more when they’re religious funerals, and Doyd’s was about as religious as they get. Did the pastor actually believe that all of Doyd’s friends were conservative Christians, or did he just not care? Was that why he opened the service by saying, “We are gathered to proclaim Christ crucified…” [Silly me, I thought we were “gathered” to bury Doyd.] And is that why everyone was instructed to recite the Lord’s prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed, and to make other Christian professions of belief? It’s one thing for someone like myself to have to remain silent through an occasional avowal of faith, but I had to remain silent through the entire service because there was literally nothing that I could repeat in good conscience.

I think that being an atheist is like being deaf in that people don’t make a point of excluding you, but you are excluded just the same. In America, I am excluded every time the Pledge of Allegiance is recited, or “God Bless America” is sung, or prayers are said at otherwise secular events, or my fellow jurors take an oath with one hand upon a Bible, or I am taxed to support religious groups, or I am forced to use currency that contains a statement of religious belief. At every turn, I am expected to either participate in religious ritual, or to remain respectfully silent during religious ritual.

To better understand how this feels, imagine that all of this worship was directed at Allah. How would YOU (I’m assuming that I have no Moslem readers) feel about saying “One Nation Under Allah,” as part of the Pledge of Allegiance, or watching your president take the oath of office on a Koran? How would you feel if your money contained the words “In Allah We Trust,” or your tax dollars went to Moslem clergymen and Moslem charities? When you attended a city council meeting and was instructed to kneel toward Mecca, would you be okay with that, and would you instruct those who complained that they should “live and let live,” which is how some of you have instructed me?

There is no cow more sacred in this culture than a respect for religion, yet there is no corresponding obligation on the part of the religious to respect those of us who hold opposing views. And, to tell you the truth, I think this whole thing about respecting one another’s religion is just so much politically correct hypocrisy anyway because each of them thinks that they’re at least a shade closer to god than the rest, and even this is only true for the ones who don’t think the rest are going to hell in a hand-basket.

This situation in Florida where a preacher is planning to burn Korans on September 11. No matter what you think about whether that’s a good idea, tell me this. Do you respect Islam? Government officials are forever assuring us that Islam is a “religion of peace,” yet every time I turn around, Moslems all over the world are doing the same thing that Christians all over the world used to do (and will probably do again someday), which is to say that they resort to intimidation and murder when they don’t get their way. Truly, there is no complaint too trivial to inspire them to violence, and I don’t just mean one or two nutcases—I mean millions of nutcases.

Indeed, it is precisely because Islam is anything but a religion of peace that the U.S. government is putting so much pressure on that preacher to call off his book burning. For my part, I hope he goes through with it. Let’s put the cards on the table. Let’s show everyone who is naïve enough to maintain any illusion about the peacefulness of Islam exactly what happens when a citizen of the United States exercises his Constitutional right to burn any book he pleases. I would just like to see him throw in a few Bibles and top the pile off with an American flag and assorted other symbols of tyranny. If god doesn’t like it, then how about letting god stand up for himself for a change? He has been allowing his representatives on earth to murder one another to no avail for thousands of years, so how about we all step aside and give him a chance to get off his duff, and, well, if he can’t get off his duff, then, just maybe, he has no duff. Just maybe, he’s not even real.

How I survived the weekend...not very well, I fear

Peggy and I went for an easy (i.e. flat) six-mile hike last week, and my knees have been hurting so much ever since that I haven’t even been walking the dogs here in town. My left shoulder has also been giving me fits again, and I don’t even know what I did to bring the pain back. Yesterday, I was desperate to go to the woods for a walk, but I knew I shouldn’t go far, so I decided to use our outing to look for new places close to town (we hike abandoned logging roads, partly because they’re easier on my knees than trails, and partly because our blind dog, Bonnie, can navigate them without her leash).

I didn’t expect the area I chose to be so steep. I turned back after only 25 minutes, and Peggy and the dogs went on alone. While I waited for them, I sat in a lawn chair, and read from a geology book (geology and botany being two enduring interests of mine). I also fell into a funk over my physical problems.

Being in a funk makes everything hurt worse, so by the time we got home, I was miserable. I wanted to open a bottle of wine, but since I’m trying to lose weight so that my knee won’t bother me as much, I took a full dose of hydrocodone (a narcotic) plus two Benadryl (to alleviate the itching caused by the hydrocodone). A few hours later, I took a Neurontin for the fire in my shins that is caused by the cyst in my spinal cord (syringomyelia, it’s called), plus two more painkillers. After an hour spent lying awake in a murderous rage at the whole world but especially at my failing body, I also took a Dalmane (a strong sleeping pill). Even with all this, the pain still woke me up early, so I’m sleepy and in pain yet again, and thinking seriously of opening that bottle of wine.

I used to be wary of taking so many drugs, but I’m pretty much to the point that I don’t care anymore. If my liver or my kidneys fail, I will be extremely bummed, but death itself isn’t of much concern except for the fact that I would be leaving Peggy and the dogs.

Honestly, if it wasn’t for them, I don’t know how much more suffering and indignity I would endure. Sometimes, I feel myself slipping so deeply into depression that I wonder how I am able to bear it and still function. Sometimes, I really don’t know how much more I can take. Sometimes, my misery is so profound that I wonder how much deeper the bottom could be. That said, I know it could be a lot deeper—like if Peggy died—but I also know I probably wouldn’t survive if it were.

I try to think of thoughts with which to console myself, and there are many. I still have about 75% of my vision, most of my other senses, and 80% of my mental capacity. I’m ambulatory, financially comfortable, have a cozy home, a loving wife, adequate leisure, and two good dogs. What I don’t have is a body that will do what I want it to do, or freedom from significant pain, or friends whom I greatly value (well, maybe one or two), or the feeling that my life counts for anything, or the confidence that I’ve utilized my talents wisely. I’m 61, and the writing is on the wall that it might very well be downhill physically and mentally from here.

Peggy works 20 hours a week, and hopes to retire in five years. Then, we will travel. I used to like traveling. Whether I would still like traveling, I don’t know. When I ask myself where I would like to go, I can’t think of many places. I never tire of Oregon, and I wouldn’t mind an occasional trip to other parts of the American West, but I’ve no special interest in the rest of the world or even the rest of the country. The only person I would want to visit is my half sister. Peggy has her father and two sisters along with assorted nieces and nephews, but I’m not close enough to them to want to visit them—or to think they would consider me as anything but Peggy’s baggage.

The nearby woods, coast, and desert all bring me joy. Learning about nature brings me joy. Being with Peggy and the dogs brings me joy. Blogging brings me joy but also guilt because I never feel that I visit other people’s blogs enough. Hosting that atheist group last week brought me joy. But, clearly, I need more joy and less heartache. Even though the pain is better at times, it always comes screaming back really bad, and I’ll be damned if I know how to stay optimistic in the face of it. I have a cabinet full of liquor and a drawer full of narcotics and sleeping pills, yet I must go on living. It’s not easy, but I do have two great comforts. One is that I might get better after all. The second is that I don’t have that many years left anyway. I also have one great obligation—Peggy.

Warning: Unbearably Sexy Photo

We went camping again last week—a two nighter this time—to a 19th century gold mining area that is littered with abandoned mines and ghost towns. The valleys being warm, we camped at the mile-high level.

Peggy and I both enjoy the woods, but her real passion starts at timberline, which is around 7,500 feet (2,286 meters) in Western Oregon. I think of timberline as a gray and barren area with few redeeming virtues aside from an expansive view, so I prefer to spend my time rhapsodizing over snakes, alder leaves, mountain streams, and other humble interests that only exist at lower elevations.

Peggy was a devoted climber (she’s in the middle of the photo) until arthritis forced her to give it up. She always wanted me to climb with her, but I couldn’t see the point in working that hard in the interest of recreation, and, as I said, the high country has a spiritual dimension for her that it lacks for me. The highest she ever got me to go was the 8,363-foot summit of St. Helens, and I wouldn’t have climbed it if Peggy’s friend Shirley hadn’t previously gone. Because Shirley is a known woos, I figured St. Helens just couldn’t be that bad. Well, I guess it wasn’t in one way, but in another it was pretty awful. Gray, gray, and more gray, all day long nothing but sharp gray lava under an intense mountain sun that made me feel like a cat in a microwave. When we finally returned to the world of greenery, I was as happy as if I had been away for years.

On our trip last week, I left the narcotics at home (no more night sweats, diarrhea, and hallucinations in the middle of the woods for me, thank you very much) and just took sleeping pills. I couldn’t decide which ones to take, so I just tossed some Restoril and Dalmane in with my vitamins. Well, wouldn’t you know it, with only two kinds of pills to keep straight—one orange and one blue—I still got them mixed up, and double-dosed on the Dalmane. It didn’t seem to hurt me any, and I slept better than I have in months—if not in years. The second night, I double-dosed a second time. A few minutes later, we decided to get out of bed and watch the Perseid meteor shower. All of the stars looked like shooting stars to me, but I could pick out the real ones because they moved faster. I finally just sort of fell over backwards and, it being a warm night, Peggy left me where I landed. When she got up the next day, I was still in the same position. (If I were you, I wouldn’t believe QUITE everything I read here.)

I have long been convinced that I would go insane if I couldn’t go camping regularly, and now that I haven’t been for two years prior to this summer, I think it safe to report that I was correct. Those who have only met me during those two years don’t know what my life was like for much of my adulthood, so I’ll tell you. It was hard manual labor punctuated by camping trips. I’ve long since lost the ability to do the former, but I’m regaining the latter, so maybe the other will come with it eventually.

I’ve decided that since I’m getting past the worst of the pain from my two shoulder surgeries, maybe I should develop a life other than the Internet, so I’ve joined three local atheistic groups. One of them is supposed to meet here this week to watch the movie Religulous, and it will be something of a return to the old days when groups met here all the time. I always enjoyed having people over, partly because I love my home and partly because I had rather stay here and have people come to me than for me to go out to be with them.

I know that I haven’t been visiting blogs as faithfully as I usually do, but what with it being summer, I just don’t want to spend so much time at the computer. I feel bad about that though. I can but ask that you pardon my absence, and that you let me know if anything momentous should happen in your life because, I assure you, I'm here if you need me.

How do you recognize a non-comformist?

They all look alike. In 1923 Germany, they looked like Hitler. In 2010 Oregon, they wear tattoos, nose rings, lip rings, eyebrow rings, green hair, and faded jeans with gaping holes in the knees. The Hitler look was more than a fad, of course, while the current buffoonery will soon go the way of crewcuts and bellbottoms, and dermatologists will get even richer removing indecipherable tattoos from wrinkling skin.

I’ve become absorbed in Hitler lately. No, I’m not going to become a neo-Nazi. Passing passions are just how I learn. They’re why I know a little about a lot of things, but not a lot about anything. So it is that my time of late has been devoted to Hitler documentaries, Hitler movies, and Hitler books. I even took a stab at the music of Wagner, but sixty minutes of boredom was enough.

I have a Nazi flag plus the certificate an American soldier had to get signed to bring it home as a war souvenir. I bought the flag at an estate sale in Minneapolis in 1989. $75 seemed like a good price, so I figured I would sell it and pocket the difference. Then it occurred to me that some neo-Nazi group might buy it, so I kept it. Now, I don’t even know where it is, but it’s here, probably tucked away in a box of clothes that I bought on sale but never wore (I’m forever thinking I should dress better, but I never quite work up to doing it). I once got the idea that I should burn the flag as a symbolic refutation of evil, but then I remembered that destroying history was what the Nazis did—and what the Taliban did when they blew up that statue of the Buddha.

Besides, I rather like having that flag because it’s surely the single most powerful symbol the world has ever known (there being many different Christian crosses). Even though I don’t even know where it is, the mere fact that it’s in this house somewhere gives me a connection with the billions of people whose lives it touched. Kind of, anyway. My problem is that the past seldom seems real to me. The future doesn’t either, actually, but it seems more real than the past because the past is gone, and the future hasn’t gotten here yet. The present seems real enough, but everytime I try to grasp it, it has already become the past. This makes me feel as if I’m floating, which is why I plan to re-read Sartre’s Nausea when I’m done with Hitler.

Of all I’ve read and all I’ve watched, the thing that stands out most is the execution of a Nazi war criminal by a firing squad. His was but one of scores of deaths I saw, but the rest run together. The morning on which he was marched into a large pit was cold. He wore his uniform and walked upright. When he reached the place where he was to die, his legs were tied together loosely for no good reason that I could see. Then a hood was placed over his head and his hands were tied behind a wooden post. He was standing tall with his chest out when the twelve soldiers fired. A spray appeared behind him, and, after a moment, he slumped forward. Then a dog howled piteously. I watched this execution…

I stopped writing to answer the phone, and, as I talked, I could see the words I was saying. I could even see the punctuation. It’s scarier to hallucinate when I haven’t taken anything, but it’s also more interesting.

I watched him die repeatedly in slow motion. The spray seemed to be composed of flesh and splinters, which was what I expected. But I also saw what looked like smoke rising, and it took me awhile to realize that it was condensation caused by heat from his body meeting the cold air. A few moments earlier, the heat had come from his nose; now it came from his back. Over and over, I listened to that dog, and his howl seemed to encapsulate all the misery of the war. Fifty-five million people died. Imagining their deaths is like imagining time without end or space without boundaries. Still, I can’t stop reading about the man who started it all, the man who would surely have been stillborn if the universe were benevolent.

Peggy has little tolerance for tragedy (she sees enough of it as a nurse), so last night—after having watched a little of what I had watched and hearing me talk about it for days—she insisted on watching “Charlotte’s Web” to lift her spirits. Until this moment—now—I never shed a tear about all the misery I absorbed through my study of Hitler, yet I cried over the death of a make-believe spider in “Charlotte’s Web.” I guess it was safer that way.

I can’t leave World War II alone (I’ve returned to one aspect of it or another for years) because to do so would be to imply that all that misery didn’t matter. Besides, I am desperate to understand it. I simply have to know why we are as bad as we are when it would seem so easy to be better. I write this as a citizen of a nation that is ever at war. I think it’s what our leaders do to feel important, and that was probably Hitler’s reason too, that and wanting to rule the world.

I always edit for days before I post, but this feels right without editing. I’ll probably be mortified tomorrow and spend next week editing the hell out of it, but I’ll take that chance. I’ve heard that shit happens, so I suppose spontaneity does too.