Friday, March 8, 2019

Inherit the Wind - a film review

Inherit the Wind (1960) Spencer Tracy and Fredric March

As a belated Darwin Day treat to myself I finally got around to watching the lionized film Inherit the Wind, the theatrical adaptation of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. As I watched, it seemed incredible the movie was ever made, let alone in the heart of a conservative era 60 years ago. The atheist versus theist overtones create quite the backdrop for a court case that would argue if evolution should be taught in the public classroom.

And that's where my primary surprise kicked in. The film has very little to do with evolution, instead it accurately represents the basis of The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, in that it represents a state's lawful ability to prevent a teacher's right to teach science. Further, I was expecting significantly more discussion of the merits of evolution by natural selection as opposed to creation stories. Alas, the primary thrust of the film was to make a stand for human agency, and how a state can legislate against a man's right to think for himself and to teach ideas to his students. The subtle implication is a teacher should be able to teach what they wish in their classroom, either science or pseudoscience.

Side note, I researched the actual trial and ironically it turns out the high school teacher probably didn't even teach evolution is his class, as he was primarily a math teacher. So much for representing the true story. I'll concede, the acting in the film is steadfast, even if the courtroom arguments become quite jumbled. The courtroom drama of To Kill a Mockingbird, in comparison, I found to be more compelling overall. 

As an non-theist, you might think I'd celebrate the breakdown of the blowhard evangelist prosecutor in the film, alas it was more of a sad representation of how indoctrination can overwhelm our senses, rather than find a position of integrity that integrates compassion and reason.

In the end, this film is worth watching as it does offer several thoughtful nuggets to contemplate along the way. Sadly, the verdict of the trial results in a victory for the state and a fine of Scopes, who is portrayed as a modest religious believer simply trying to teach his kids the latest science. For me, this verdict serves as vindication for religious overreach and celebration of cognitive dissonance; specifically, that one can heartily believe in a creationist origin of man simultaneous with the evidence-based origin of man. In 60's parlance, that's a bunch of poppycock in my book, to encourage students to dismiss consistency and reason in favor of feel-good mythical indoctrination.

The story ending presents perhaps the most harrowing of the film's symbolism. First of all, the journalist who had championed the court case is shamed in the final scene by the defense lawyer for having stirred up the fervor of religion versus science. To be sure, he had profit and showmanship in mind, but underlying those motives lies the journalistic virtue of seeking out the truth with integrity. To suggest that the reporter would die alone indicated to me that mindful discussion of important topics is anathema if it contradicts tradition.

The second act of symbolism dramatizes the defense lawyer contemplating the bible and Darwin's evolutionary treatise before thoughtfully walking out with both in hand. One could stretch the meaning of the gesture to represent that compassion and reason can make for good partners in the pursuit of truth. Alas, the less subtle point being sold is the idea that religion and science need not conflict, and in fact, might be stronger together. And that is how Hollywood sells tickets by creating a fantastical moment that moves the phantom spirit, more than mind and heart.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Second Date Spirals (a belated valentine poem)

friendly eyes and lip-gloss allure
across the table her aura I adore
velvety smooth and aglow like lava
the tomato bisque arrives--sans guava
soon to follow comes an errant fly
spiraling about us like Cupid's spy

her smile sharpens, she winks at me
telegraphing a sultry date number three?
focused on flirting she twirls her spoon
glimmering photons from the super moon
from on high the fly descends between lunar beams
plunging deep into rosy puree muffles its screams

a fly in her soup, how trite
a fly now drowning out of sight
and bent on killing our budding romance
so my mind does a mental break-dance
where fear finds me on the spot
inspiring a circle of thought

cycle of life, a fly three days old
having flown its trajectory quite bold
foraged, copulated and explored a-wing
its helix of dna now passed on to offspring
once itself a larva implanted upon poop
Lucilia sericata, now the fly in her soup

frozen across from my date I remain
a maelstrom within wants to exclaim
distract her, swap bowls and wittily quip
yet I watch her spoon fall in an eloquent dip
she gives a sniff, a slurp then, to me, a devilish wink
with a grim crunch the green bottle fly is now extinct

aghast at my thin chivalrous display
an epic failure to warn her away
with a wily nod she motions me close, surely to question
to scold, to spite, to implode any chance of future affection
my internal regret whirls emoting why oh why
as she slyly whispers "that was one delicious fly"

Friday, February 15, 2019

States of Change: Chapter 20: Magnolia

States of Change is an ongoing work of serial fiction.
The speculative story-line seeks to inspire thought on ethics, culture and our planet's future.

The year is 2076, decades after Oosa's defederalization. 
Fifty independent States have forged their societies from revolutionary technology and ideology.
Prominently, The Augment, a real-time, virtual overlay of sensory data 
has become widely available for personal use throughout many of the post-fed nation-states.

Mississippi's State Flage (reinstated 2038)

"You may enter the realm beyond if you can answer my riddle. What runs on two legs during the day, two wheels in the evening and two exabytes in the night time?" asked the Special Hybrid Intelligent Nexus.

Oeddie rolls his eyes at the guardian cyborg. Then in sing-song tones, he answers, "Per-son-hood, well duhh."

--exerpt from SpHINx and Oeddie Go To Market

Solitude. That is where I am going, thought Lance.

"Welcome everyone to my funeral." A chuckle snuck into the greeting. "I understand you all have your doubts about me ending my life, which is why I've invoked the Magnolia Protocol."

"But Lance..." his mom faltered for words.

"Mother." Lance managed a smile. "Please sit. The point of this gathering is to address your questions and to deal with the feelings involved. The death with dignity process is designed to help us through this moment."

Victoria Benjamin lowered her head with a grimace, then she lowered her torso to the cushioned chair. As if the gesture were magic, the buzz of whispers softened between family members and friends, fading like a gentle breeze finding its way through a field of amber sorghum.

"Thank you. Again I welcome you all to this discussion. Celebrant Gold is here in the circle to serve as witness for the state of Mississippi, and I also like to count her as a friend. If you have any questions about the legal nature of exercising of my rights, she can address them. Ms. Cody, if you could bring this funeral session officially to order."

"Yes, Mr. Benjamin. Per Mississippi Civil Code Article Five, each citizen of the state has the right to call for a dignified end to his life. Mr. Lance Ryan Benjamin's request as such has been approved after assessment by the appropriate state authorities. The living funeral here today provides an opportunity to assuage those close to the citizen and to affirm positively the cycle of life. Per Section 3 a funeral must occur on the final day of..."

The circle of eighteen was more than I expected to attend. My mother, two sisters and a few close friends who had been patient companions over the last two years of treatments, that's all I expected. The array of estranged friends, in-laws, nephews, nieces, an ex-girlfriend from twenty-years ago and even a couple childhood friends was enough of a surprise to be unsettling.

The Celebrant finished the required statement. She had given the official rhetoric a touch of warmth as Lance had hoped. 

"All parties are encouraged to voice their feelings' however, please recognize Mr. Benjamin's election is his own. I personally have known Lance prior to the collapse of Oosa. As fellow non-theists we share the belief that life is of natural origin, is finite and is both amazing and painful in part for those facts. That our very being will indeed perish is scary, still with courage the transition to not being has value if only to celebrate the mortal life lived prior to returning to the nowhere place we occupied prior to birth. With joy and compassion as your state representative, I wish you well Lance."

"Thank you Martha. Let me add that this life has indeed been amazing, albeit one filled with moments of sadness and of joy and many moments of neutral qualities that I am unable to recount. A long time ago I believed in an afterlife. I am proud that I found my way to a more secular path, but mostly I am glad I spent my during-life connecting with all of you here and many not here, as well as with the world and the many experiences it has had on offer."

Lance sighed. "Okay, great, I've said my piece. Please share as you will."

"This is so very Quaker of you, dear brother," interjected his older sister and professional mid-wife Friday. "I thought you had disavowed your Christianity entirely. Most atheists would just off themselves without any call to family and friends. For that, I thank you; a quick exit would have brought more pain to those who love you. I do support your choice, though it pains me. I know your rollercoaster ride with Lyme IX was not pleasant and I would not wish anyone to take a path they do not want."

Friday walked to Lance and gave him a warm hug.

"Thanks sis. Yeah, I guess this has a Quaker circle up aspect to it, but hey I may deny any evidence for gods and goddesses, but not for the loving meaningfulness of community."

"Oh Lance," his mother's voice quavered, "the doctors continue to recommend at least another six weeks of treatment are needed to be sure of your long term mental acuity. I know that the transition after your brain death has been more challenging than most, but trust me, if the final upload takes, your quality of life will soar. Son, I love you and I know that's affecting my judgment, but bring your logic to bear Lance, continuing with the neural network therapy is a path worth pursuing."

"Ma, I understand your frustration. Sure I believe this life is all there is, still the upload path is not for me. I gave the past six months to the upload path, and it's just not gelling. Eighty percent of uploads after neurological trauma experience critical degradation eventually requiring termination. All the signs are I am headed that way. I'm choosing to end it before I turn into a similar statistic. Sure there is something scary, but also something beautiful about death. I've reached a point of melancholy where I feel good about letting go, It's like grandpa used to say. It's time the next generation's turn, and I find I have little to add to the world after upload. Just know I thank you for your encouragement, and I appreciate all the joy and persnickety love you've given me along the way."

His mother smiled and then bowed her head with a nod, the faint circuitry at her ear the only suggestion of the cyborg life extension she had undergone five years ago.

"Lance," my teenage buddy Jopha began, "I know we had a falling out many years ago over I don't even remember. In truth you were a jerk, but I suspect I was too. I'm sorry it took so many years for..."

And so the circle of sharing continued. I paid attention as well as I could, once analog memories floating in and out of view. In the end the therapy was like any funeral, meant for the living, and successfully uploaded. And in all honesty I just didn't have the spark in me anymore to even distantly care. Reason alone kept me in the circle for the good of my friends and family. And yes I could patiently wait for the upload patterns to fully fragment in their own time, but for my own good I was glad that I would close the door tonight on my own terms. 


Thursday, February 7, 2019

A Schooling by Fishes

An Opossum Pipefish, one of many species on the decline in the Port St. Lucie Estuary
Cognitive dissonance is the invisible shark in the sea of humanity. This mental predator permits even the most intelligent among us to expound sympathetically on the aggregate evidence, yet still think and act in opposition to reality.

Recently I attended a lecture by a seasoned riparian scientist who presented the challenges of preserving numerous species in the St. Lucie estuary system, the opossum pipefish and bigmouth sleeper in particular. He delightfully highlighted several fishes he discovered and identified as unique species and the habitat loss their species are challenged with. His final appeal to the audience was to reduce fertilizer use on lawns as the best thing one could do to preserve the estuary biome toward saving these species.

And yet, he had no problem referencing throughout his presentation the continued killing of fish in the area for sport. (as humans do not require the flesh of fish to live healthily, all fish killing aka "fishing" is for sport). It is ironic to the point of insanity that a caring scientist who has championed endangered and threatened listings of native fishes for decades would condone the killing of fish when it is completely unnecessary.

The euphemism of "going fishing" has been implanted in our culture as an activity where a person can escape the travails of working to relax and connect with nature. In truth, these fisherpeople are zoning out to their barbarous actions. They will readily cite the long, treasured traditions of their ancestors killing in attempt to legitimize their deadly pastime. 

The better path is to contemplate the entirety of the evidence with integrity, especially when such evidence contradicts preconceptions that have accrued from past tradition. So, yes, stop spraying unneeded fertilizers on your lawns and consider more intelligent options such as turning ones lawn into a thriving biome using native plant species.

But if you are truly an advocate of restoring wildlife habitat and eliminating abuse of animals, please stop killing (directly and indirectly) all the fishes and other animals that simply want to live on the planet that belongs to them as much as it does to us.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Ocala National Forest Backpack (Scrub Jays, Spiders, and Bears, Oh My!!!)

Journey's Start: Outside Juniper Springs

In January a contingent of Florida Tropical Trekkers backpacked through Ocala National Forest along the Florida National Scenic Trail from Juniper Springs to Rodman’s Dam. With the deft planning and leadership of Jim Couillard, this small fellowship successfully completed their journey along nearly fifty miles of longleaf pine sandhills and peninsula inland scrub.

Banana Spider Four Inch Span

Along the way they encountered a variety of flora and fauna, including a charm of scrub jay frolicking trailside in stands of scrub oak. An occasional banana spider and a myriad of unique insects were spotted as well. 

Florida Trekkers Mid-trek

Although frequent and fresh black bear scat was found on the trail, all ursine tales remained second-hand or night-sky inspired.  

Mars and a waxing Moon heralded frigid temperatures on a few nights of the trek, chilling noses and toes. Nevertheless, dry weather, a backpacker’s best friend, permitted the trekkers to saunter (like a bale of turtles) to their destination. 

Ocala National Forest  Campout, Shutdown Notwithstanding
At journey’s end comradery, adventure, and the great outdoors were celebrated with steamy showers and a brick oven of pizzas.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Happy New Day Toward An Honorable New You

The world is what you and I make it.

As far as holidays go, New Year's Day seems to be the most frivolous. Sure, the end of a calendar year has no connection with holy rites, patriotic grandstanding, or compassionate activism. It is simply the flipping of a new annual number.

Still that number change is built into our civilization's time sense. January 1st is an arbitrary new beginning and a recognition time receding behind us. Of course, there is nothing like the present, if only because the present is the only inherent thing that exists, and each of us is surfing that wave as long as we can.

Many find the new year a fine time to put forward new resolutions. For me it is a time to renew my resolve to live an honorable life. Of late that transfers to living with a blend of compassion and rationality in general and modifying my thinking and actions toward inspiring a better world for all.

"All" is not only my family, my friends, and my species, but also a thriving environment, thinking creatures everywhere, and the creation of thoughtful immersive experiences with a peaceful positive activism. And so each day I attempt to look within and ask how can I do better, before going about imperfectly implementing that intention.

The only thing stopping our world from spinning horrifically out of control is each of us human beings, for no creature on the planet has wielded the skills to effect change inside and out. To that ends, with compassion and reason engaged, consider asking deeply of yourself each day the simple question "how can I do better?"