Saturday, March 31, 2012

Desert Solitaire

A few choice excerpts from Edward Abbey's seminal work on "A Season in the Wilderness" that I had to share (much of it quite prescient for 1968).

To refute the solipsist or the metaphysical idealist all that you have to do is take him out and throw a rock at his head: if he ducks he's a liar. His logic may be airtight but his argument, far from revealing the delusions of living experience, only exposes the limitations of logic.

There is no shortage of water in the desert but exactly the right amount, a perfect ratio of water to rock, of water to sand, insuring that wide, free, open, generous spacing among plants and animals, homes and towns and cities, which makes the arid West so different from any other part of the nation. There is no lack of water here, unless you try to establish a city where no city should be.

...I would like to introduce here an entirely new argument in what has now become a stylized debate: the wilderness should be preserved for political reasons. We may need it someday not only as a refuge from excessive industrialism but also as a refuge from authoritarian government, from political oppression. Grand Canyon, Big Bend, Yellowstone and the High Sierras may be required to function as bases for guerrilla warfare against tyranny. What reason have we Americans to think that our own society will necessarily escape the world-wide drift toward the totalitarian organization of men and institutions?
This may seem, at the moment, like a fantastic thesis. Yet history demonstrates that personal liberty is a rare and precious thing, that all societies tend toward the absolute until attack from without or collapse from within breaks up the social machine and makes freedom and innovation again possible.

And finally,

Looking out on this panorama of light, space, rock and silence I am inclined to congratulate the dead man on his choice of jumping-off place; he had good taste. He had good luck - I envy him the manner of his going: to die alone, on rock under sun at the brink of the unknown, like a wolf, like a great bird, seems to me very good fortune indeed. To die in the open, under the sky, far from the insolent interference of leech and priest, before this desert vastness opening like a window onto eternity - that surely was an overwhelming stroke of rare good luck.... He would not have suffered much after that; he may have died in his sleep, dreaming of the edge of things, of flight into space, of soaring.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dream Catch Me

It sometimes amazes me how the human brain functions. Not simply on an electrochemical level, sending signals back and forth, but as a self-aware entity. Let me give an example.
I'm at a point in my career - in my life, I suppose - when I question what I'm doing, where I'm headed, what my purpose is. With the funding for my (previously) chosen career heading down the drain, I'm forced to reexamine my priorities (the funding issue being only a catalyst, and not the root cause in this particular instance). It's a conscious conundrum that I can't seem to untie.
Over the past couple weeks, however, I've had some pretty vivid dreams. Most of them involve people I knew in high school. In one instance, a good friend is sitting in the back of my car, telling me not to take what appears to be the last exit off the interstate, asking instead, "why don't you use the GPS?" The GPS unit leads me a mere five miles farther down the road, to a well-developed and pleasant area. In another dream, I am keen to demonstrate to a musician friend the unique way in which I've learned to play the cello, but upsettingly I find that the beautiful low-toned sounds I made at home cannot be reproduced by the stage-and-microphone setup available to me at the studio. In other words, I've developed a way of playing this instrument, but this microphone picks up the wrong tones.
Even as my waking life makes no sense, my subconscious brain is aware of the problem and trying to work out a solution. Consider that all of the friends who appear in my dreams are from high school: the last point in time when I felt, rightly or not, that I was genuinely talented at several things (and not just one specialist thing). So the part of me that feels like the "renaissance man" is speaking to the part of me that has specialized too far. And what is the message? This may seem like the last chance, but this isn't your exit. It's not how you play the instrument that's the problem, it's the particular stage on which you play which is wrong for your performance.
Listen to your dreams - your brain knows more than you think it does. Sure, it's not necessarily new information, but it may be information that your conscious self has forgotten, ignored or accidentally overlooked. It may be information brought together in new ways, forming new patterns, breaking old habits that have prevented the creative boost that you needed.
I can only hope there are more dreams to come.

Monday, March 26, 2012

It's Something

It isn't much in the grander scheme of things, but a little bit of good news: my facility, the Holifield Radioactive Ion Beam Facility, will continue operations for an additional two weeks to complete high-priority experiments.
Now if only we could get another ten years...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I cannot let this go any further.

There are members of the Republican party - state and federal legislators - who are trying their best to take the United States back into the "good old days" before things like women's rights and birth control. They parrot lines about "family values" and "religious freedom," but this isn't what they actually mean when they propose these laws. Not even close.

Contraceptives. Contraceptives are not evil, Rush Limbaugh is evil. I personally was prescribed a low estrogen birth control pill for medical reasons long before I was sexually active. Requiring that an employer (or an insurance company, as the compromise allows) cover reproductive health, such as contraceptives, is not an issue of religious freedom. My employer doesn't get to decide, regardless of his/her religious beliefs. I decide based on my religious beliefs. That's religious freedom.

Abortion. Abortion is not evil. You're entitled to believe so if you wish, but you simply can't make public the fact that someone had one performed. To mandate that such information be made public is perverted and cruel. And Planned Parenthood is not some commie-funded abortion mill. Planned Parenthood is absolutely indispensable.

Sex Ed. Sex ed needs to include actual education. Telling young people only about abstinence is dangerously depriving them of necessary information. And besides, scientifically we know that approach doesn't work.

There are so many things wrong with the situation that I can't even bear to get into it - the number of letters I've written recently, begging for a continuation of science funding, demanding better science education, making it abundantly clear that women, minorities and immigrants are real people too - but I will say this. Contact your local, state and federal representatives. Write to the President. And VOTE. Please, for the love of all that is good and right in the world, vote.

Nothing will change without our help.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Most Astounding Fact

Couldn't have said it better myself.