Tuesday, May 31, 2016

On a day filled with seemingly 108 mundane and mildly annoying tasks (getting brakes fixed in the car, replacing the air filter in the home HVAC, work, etc.), I keep thinking about these words of Kahlil Gibran:

Death is an ending to the son of  the earth,
But to the soul it is the start,
The triumph of life.

If it's our individual consciousness that separates us from all other things, then the cessation of consciousness is the most intimate moment with the whole rest of the universe.  Or as Louis CK puts it, "A lot of things happen after you die.  They just don't involve you."

Monday, May 30, 2016

What's It Like To Be A Stuffed Animal?

If it weren't for so-called "missing links," both the gaps in the fossil record and the gaps in living species due to the absence of descendents from extinct species, we wouldn't even have a concept of "species." There would be a complete continuum between one life form and the next, and no one would be able to place a stake in the record to say this is where one species ends and another begins. A hominid never gave birth to a homo sapiens, but over the millenia, there was enough difference between some of one generation and the next until, looking way back over time, we can see distinct differences with a whole lot of grey in between.   A "species" and differentiation between species are human constructs - in life, there are no orders, no genus, and no species, just life.

Taking the trash out today, I marvelled at watching some birds across the street fly through the woods and around trees at astonishing speed, precisely veering in a split-second as needed to avoid colliding with limbs and trunks. Their minds must be working at remarkably fast rates to navigate the aerial terrain at that speed, I thought, far faster than my mind could process the hazards in my flight path (assuming I could fly).

What's it like to be a bird?  Is all their thought that fast?  And what constitutes "thought" for a bird, and does all life always rush by for them at that mile-a-minute rate?  Watching them, it seems they rely on excellent wing-eye coordination, and I've rarely seen birds fly into objects other than glass buildings which they've mistaken for open sky.  

I live with two cats, and have studied their minds - how they perceive the world, how they interact with me, with each other, with the physical world.  They seem to be tunnel-visioned and don't rely on their eyesight nearly as much as we do, but still traverse a three-dimensional world, jumping up on and off of table-tops, dressers, and other furniture, scrambling around corners and immediately leaping up onto a desk, and so on.  Their basic mode of getting around resembles the most complex parkour moves a human would ever attempt.  

But they don't rely on eyesight to determine where to land and when to leap, and their remarkable hearing doesn't help them with inanimate objects.  They rely on memory to tell them what's around the corner, what's below their next leap, what's on top of the table they are leaping up upon.  So nothing pisses a cat off more than rearranging furniture and moving things around - their mental maps are suddenly of no use, and they have to learn all their jumps and leaps and dives all over again.   

So birds seem to rely on their eyes and quick reflexes, and cats their memory and agility.  In a famous essay, "What's It Like To Be A Bat?," Thomas Nagel noted how impossible it would be for us to understand the conscious experience of echolocution, and wondered if we could understand the conscious experience of any other species.

Going back to my opening statement about the arbitrariness of differentiating between species, if we drop away the concept of "species," Nagel's question takes on two different aspects.  First, can we really know the conscious experience of anything other than the self?  What it's like to be another human may be just as inscrutable as what it's like to be a bat.  On the other hand, if all life's actually a continuum, and if we can come up with a reasonable, scientifically plausible conjecture of what it's like to be another person, then we should be able to extrapolate that to our closest species.  But since the Neanderthal are extinct (probably due to our own aggressiveness), we may have to make the small leap to bonobos, or chimpanzees, or gorillas, or orangutans.  From there, it's just another small step from apes to monkeys, and from monkeys to lemurs, and so on and so forth until we come to cats, bats, and birds.

Of course, the first thing this exercise shows us is that humans are probably the only living things that wonder what it's like being something else.  As soon as we experience or understand the consciousness and experience of our nearest relatives, the process stops, because as far as we know, chimps don't wonder what it's like being a macaque.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

LOL, the black feet make the sign look like it says "Illinops"

Friday, May 20, 2016

There's no need to add these words to this picture of a building, just as when drawing a snake, there's no need to add a leg.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The 52-story Georgia-Pacific building in downtown Atlanta was being built when I moved here in 1981 and was finished in 1982.  It was Atlanta's second tallest building from 1982 to 1987, after the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel.  The newspapers in town were aghast when it was reported that the building was going to be covered with pink, of all colors, granite from Texas.

The building is on the former site of the Loew's Grand Theatre, where the 1939 premiere for Gone with the Wind was held. The theatre could not be demolished because of its landmark status, but when it burned down in 1978, the site was clear for the G-P building.

Georgia-Pacific is a pulp-and-paper company that produces Brawny paper towels, Sparkle paper towels,  Mardi Gras paper towels, Angel Soft toilet paper, Quilted Northern toilet paper, Dixie paper plates, and Vanity Fair paper napkins. It is owned by Koch Industries, which is owned by the notorious Koch Brother, Charles and David, of Wichita.

As widely reported, even though the Koch Brothers are arch-conservatives and mega-donors to Republican candidates, they detest Donald Trump so much that Charles Koch told the press that he thought Hillary Clinton might make a better president than the short-fingered vulgarian Trump.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A thunderstorm came through Georgia early this morning, pretty violent and with a hard, hard, downpour, but I had no fear, because the big scary tree that was hanging over my house is now gone.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Last Day of the Big Scary Tree

Here's what was left of the big scary tree at 8:00 a.m. this morning.

The tree crew arrived shortly after 8:00 and almost immediately took off that last branch.

They then steadily lowered the remaining trunk.

 Each one of those sections measured over 42 inches across.

Before noon, the trunk was lowered to the height of my poor impacted tool shed.

Each section of the trunk was cut into one-foot sections, quartered, and hand carried onto a truck.

Here's the view of what's left, and a lot more sky visible than before.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Enjoying Atlanta's Shaky Knees festival with Britney (left).

Friday, May 13, 2016

Shaky Knees

I'm fortunate enough to have Britney down here in Atlanta with me this weekend, and together we've been to the first day of the Shaky Knees music festival. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Getting the house ready today for a very special guest.  The last of the big scary tree comes down Monday.  Everything's moving forward according to plan . . . . 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

I've been having fun all day today thinking of new and different situations that would prevent someone from getting a new Secure ID driver's licence in Georgia and then not be able to show a valid photo ID to vote.

Here's one:  Imagine that you just got your PhD in, let's say, political science.  You've been in school for years and don't yet have a job, so you're living at your parents house.  Not an unusual situation in this day and age.  Well, in Georgia, you won't be able to show proof of residence and get a Secure ID driver's licence because you won't have employer's verification and the utility bills are in your parent's name. It's even worse if your parents had remarried and you don't have the same last name as your parents. You might have money in the bank (but probably don't) and can show a bank statement with your address, but you need TWO forms of proof of residence, and without either a utility bill in your name or employer's verification, you're out of luck.  No driver's licence (which further impairs your ability to find employment) and no vote.  Take THAT, Mr. Poly Sci!

Okay, here's another one:  let's say your're a native-born American citizen, and your house burned down, destroying your birth certificate and passport with it.  Well, until you can get replacements for either one of those (no small bureaucratic challenge, especially if you lost both), you won't be able to show the proof of citizenship required for a Georgia Secure ID driver's licence and you won't be able to vote.  There's a third option - you can show a certificate of naturalization, but if you're native born, you won't have that, and even if you did, it would probably have been lost in the fire, too. 

So, here's the thing:  I do have the necessary paperwork and credentials and proofs to get a Secure ID driver's licence in Georgia and I will be able to vote, and I'll be using my franchise to vote out of office the jack-asses who passed the laws making it so difficult to be able to vote (and drive!).

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Voter Suppression In Georgia

This red state of Georgia in which I live has been requiring photo ID to vote for years now.  I'm aware that this practice suppresses the minority and disadvantaged vote, but it hasn't been a major political issue here in the state.

That may change.  I got a postcard in the mail today from the Georgia Department of Driver Services reminding me that my licence is up for renewal this year, and warning me that the DDS is now issuing "Secure ID Driver's Licences and ID Cards."  In order to even drive an automobile in this state, much less have a photo ID to use to vote, I will have to produce either a certified U.S. birth certificate, a valid U.S. passport, or a certificate of naturalization.  No problem, I can do that, but I wonder how many poor people have passports and how many people who live transient lifestyles still have their birth certificate.

In addition, I will also have to provide a Social Security card, a W-2 form, or a paystub showing my full Social Security number.  Again, I can do that, but how many transients still have their Social Security card, and if you don't have a job, good luck with the W-2 and the paystub.

But wait, there's more.  In addition to the above, I also have to prove my residential address by producing not one but two of the following: a utility bill, a bank statement, or employer verification. Obviously, this will be difficult for those without a job, money in the bank, or a utility account in their name.  If you're having a difficult life, chances are good that you won't get to vote in an attempt to improve your lot.

Finally, I will have to list the country club to which I belong, my golf handicap, and a recent scorecard signed by a caddie.  Okay, just kidding, that one's a joke, but it's not that much more absurd than the actual list.  To vote in Georgia, you need a photo ID, and to get the most common photo ID, you pretty much have to have a job, have money in the bank, and manage to have been stable enough in life to hang onto birth certificates and Social Security cards from long ago. 

On a related note, I've heard several Republican friends of mine saying that voting should be restricted only to those who own property.  I don't think they realize that what they're saying is they believe there should be an American landed aristocracy, landowners who get to choose their representatives in government while the rest of the population, those living in large cities, those who can't yet afford their first home, those who are down on their luck, and many others in many other situations in life, have to bend to the will and the laws of the wealthier overlords. 

These conservatives don't want to go back to an earlier America, they want to go back to pre-Magna Carta feudal England.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Happy Mother's Day!

To my Mom, who I still at least partly forgive for bringing a sister into my world (grin).

In all seriousness, best wishes and good health to my Mom, who is just now finally experiencing the first month of her retirement.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Anything you have to pay someone to teach you is not worth learning.

Anything someone is willing to teach for free must be so important to them that you really should learn it.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Mural on Spring Street (now renamed Ted Turner Drive because that's apparently how we roll down here) near The Tabernacle.  Traces of the old "Coca Cola" logo are still visible beneath the paint.