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Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Religious Faith of Atheism

What is the best way to get to the mountain top?

Religious faith is all about striving to get to the mountain top, and believing that your particular denomination has the true map to get you there. They are all climbing the same mountain but the routes they take have them approaching the journey from all sides of the mountain. There are two types of people who don't bother to make the trip because they believe that there's no there, there. They are:

The A-theist

The atheist totally rejects the belief that there is a Deity, or dieties. Their belief runs counter to the Theist who acepts that there is at least one deity.

The Agnostic

The agnostic takes the view that the truth value in certain claims, such as claims about the existence of any deity, as well as other religious and metaphysical claims, are currently unknown. In other words they are waiting for irrefutable proof to convince them.

I am aware I have opened the book of a very huge subject indeed, so I will stick my neck out just a tiny bit to express my own opinion. I do not intend to change any one's thinking, in fact I hope my opinion doesn't make the slighest difference in the thought process of atheists. I have been simply mulling around in my mind the question of whether atheism made any sense to which I could adhere.

I have tried several religious denominations but I always found that things went on in the House of the Lord that were so hypocritical that I walked away from them and simply gave up. Had I become an atheist? Well, no, as I observe the world around me what I see is perfectly organised chaos at work. Wonderful and horrible things happen, and there are explanations that apply to both. As examples, the first thing we see is that the system of life and environment is all a delicate balance. We have beauty balanced by ugly; kindness balanced by unkindness; gentleness offset by cruelity.

The list goes on and on and on, including the fact that when tragedies occur where massive loss of human life happens, that is a culling of the species. Our world can only support a limited number of humans and animals. We humans have found ways to live longer through improving health measures, but that places additional strain on the planet. We talk about the day when the earth's population of humans will reach 10 billion. Perhaps this is an unsustainable number, so like rabbits and rats and other creatures that we humans have culled, we too will face a time when we will undergo  a severe reduction in our specie. 
Who, or what is responsible for the administration of the Universe? If not a deity then it all has to be happening through randomness. The complexity of the construction of the human being and the mechanism through which our bodies, and more importantly our minds work would have had to evolve entirely on its own and would have had to replicate itself throughout all humankind without any help. Is this possible?

Why are we humans not all the same? Why do we speak different languages, and why is there such a difference between how men and women think and perceive things? I think we are given these differences as a challenge to communicate successfully in spite of the chasms between us, and also our differences make life interesting.

So far, I have only dealt with the relatively uncomplicated world of human beings. At least we are all one specie. The animal kingdom is so very different where some walk on all fours, some fly, some swim, and some do all of the above.

If I were an atheist, when standing back and taking in the wonder of the universe, what would I rely on to sustain my belief that there is no deity in control? I cannot think of one thing. Well then, since there is a God what gender do we ascribe? Why not both, or none? 

I read a book in which a child asked his mother, what colour is God? His mother replied that God is the colour of water.

That is good enough for me!

Copyright (c) 2013  Eugene Carmichael

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Oprah Winfrey Incident

The amazing Ms "O"

So, the story goes that O was travelling in Europe and stopped in a boutigue shop selling handbags that  employed as a sales assistant, someone who, we hope, learned a valuable lesson.  O appeared to be just another American visitor with none of the trappings to make her stand out. She noticed one of the handbags was being displayed in a locked cabinet. It took her fancy, so she asked the sales lady to bring it forth for inspection. The bag cost $38,000. The lady decided that it was too exxpensive for any black person to afford so she would not even bother to go through the process of fetching it as requested.

O was bemused: She had been racially profiled; and secondly she had met someone on the planet who didn't recognize her. Even before she had left the city the whole world came to know about the incident, which had led to the store owner apologizing, the country's chief minister apologizing, and even O herself apologizing as it was not her intent to make such a big deal of it. She simply hoped that sales people everywhere would learn a lesson from the incident and to not make assumptions in the future.

O is entirely correct about that!

Many wealthy people live their wealth in every way, and when they are in your presence you know that here is a really rich person. Others, mainly old money, who have been through that phase and have learned that it can be both dangerous and a nuisance when people know what you have, changed their approach and are selective about living their riches. I came to know a billonaire over many years, and I got to know his habits. He generally dressed down when simply going out and about his daily routine, and even though we were living on a small island, the man in the street would just pass him by as though he were invisible.

He lost his wife due to illness, and that put him in an impossible position. He couldn't just hope to meet someone who might fall in love with him just based on his personality. Women all over the world were perfectly aware that he was lonely and that gave him nightmares.

Other rich people might walk into any store looking as though they could really use a good meal and a bath. This is a security measure that allows them to slip around under the radar without a contingent of bodyguards. The one thing they have in common are charge cards with  high limits. In the case of O, if she wished she could have bought about 75,000 of those bags at $38,000 each. In the event she didn't buy the bag, which is justifiable punishment for those involved.

So, the moral of the story is: sales assistants, all you need do is follow through on your customer's request. If you are asked to show a particular piece of merchandise, just do it! You may not have any idea  who you are dealing with.

Copyright (c) 2013   Eugene Carmichael

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Are you a nervous airline traveller?

One of the safest forms of travel

This week I was ready to comment on The Oprah Winfrey Incident, but I made the mistake of finally getting around to watching "Flight", starring Denzel Washington. If you are a nervous airline traveller perhaps it would be a good idea to give this film a miss.

"Flight" is the new "Jaws." Both are made for entertainment and mega profits, and as films go it is a far cry away from a documentary. I do not wish to spoil it for you, so I will only say that its main focus is the alcoholic pilot. There have been very rare cases of pilots who have been escorted out of the cockpit because their crew members deemed them unfit for service, as was the case of a Quantas pilot in Sydney, Australia.

Everyday we place our lives in the hands of professionals, who, if they are impaired in their ability to perform could actually kill us. Here in Spain we have suffered two train wrecks due to excessive speed over the posted limits. The general perception is that these were most probably due to human error. There have been bus mishaps, and taxis are constantly under scruitny. Long distance truckers who are delivering on tight schedules are a nightmare; and hospitals are scary places because they bring together both high stress and a plentiful supply of drugs to escape into.

In the United States, Pres. Reagan signed an Executive Order on September 15, 1986 directing that all federal agencies establish testing protocols especially for safety-sensitive employees. This extends across a very wide band of activity, but especially focuses on the aviation industry. With respect to pilots there is an on-going random drug/alcohol testing program, and because of this the character portrayed by Denzel Washington could not exist. In fact, self preservation limits undisciplined behaviour to a rare few. Positive results only appear so rarely that the cost for each is about $45,000.

Not only are pilots examined but also those people we never see or even think about who are equally responsible for our safety are caught in the net of examinations, such as the service and maintenance crew, and that means the mechanics and air traffic controllers.  Air travel in the United States has become safer than ever, starting with vetting the passengers through to everyone who is involved in flight. The chances that a pilot or cabin crew member could sign on while evidently drunk or high on drugs is minimised by the fact that person would endanger their fellow staff.

So, if you are a person flying in the United States you could watch that film and take it simply as entertainment, although I certainly hope no company makes the mistake of showing it as the in-flight movie.


I have only dealt with flying within the U.S. National carriers around the world operate under a variety of rules when it comes to control of pilots and service personnel, so the truth is that we take much more of a gamble overseas. It is quite amazing that there are not a constant flow of air tragedies, given the absence of U.S. strict controls, so apparently self-preservation  is working although we know in our hearts there are people who are doing irresponsible things.

I wish I had not seen "Flight!"

Copyright (c) 2013   Eugene Carmichael

Sunday, September 8, 2013

What is the Essence of Mankind?

Humankind: What is their Essence?
What is Essence: The most basic feature or element.

I found myself wondering what was the answer to this question, so I put it to the Internet, and what I have found is that this is perhaps one of those very huge questions with probably no wrong answers. I found a lot of answers from a group of students who had the question for an exam. They offered such noble traits as honesty, truthfulness, trustworthiness, faithfulness, diligence, belief in God, among others.

I am not helping matters because I have come up with my own answer, that will only serve to further muddy the waters, but before I get to that, here are some thoughts from famous people on the topic:

Aristotle: The energy of the mind is the essence of life:
Julius Caesar: It is better to create than to learn: Creating is the essence of life.
George Orwell: The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection.
Baruch Spinoza: Desire is the very essence of man.
Kathy Bates: I want to be dignified by my own essence.
Tina Turner asks: I want to know what the difference between the essence of a man, and a woman is?

Good question Tina, and I will say that I don't think there is a difference, but perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself.

First, who is mankind? In the Big Picture, we are simply another specie, but we think very highly of ourselves. We have been capable of amazing things over the years, some good, some definately horrible. We have the power to think and to reason and to know the difference between right and wrong. We have become masters of our domain, but other species are perhaps just as brilliant. Consider the birds and the fish, two species upon which we have designed solutions to our own problems. However, in communications both of these are light years ahead of ourselves.

We do have the same thing in common with fish and birds, and that is our first order of business is the procreation of life. This is a built-in instinct, and if it were not so powerful I doubt that men and women would be able to cooperate on anything, so vastly different are our points of view on just about everything.

As males, we are driven to create and to solve, but there is always somebody for whom we dedicate our lives...somebody to whom we can say, " I did it for you, and the children."  Even in same sex relationships the essence remains alive. We all know that two men or two women can never bring forth a new life from their own bodies, but that does nothing to diminish their need to fulfill their essence.

So, before we get to all the great achievements of humankind, I believe that our basic order of business is to ensure the survival of the specie...the human specie.

It may be correct and acceptable to say that getting laid is a kind of social duty, so get busy!

Copyright (c) 2013    Eugene Carmichael

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Visitors and the Tomatina

La Tomatina-This is both fun and cathartic

It's wonderful to have visitors at any time during the year. The effect on the host family is to reanimate our lives so that we do things and see things through the eyes of our visitors. When our visitors are fun loving and easy going, that is a bonus.

We live very close to the town of Buñol, home of the world famous Tomatina. We have personally been there and done that more than a few times, although for many of the town's locals they never get enough of it. We saw Kevin and Heather on our visit to England and we talked excitedly about their upcoming visit to Valencia. Time has a way of fleeting, so before we knew it, they were here and ready to go.

This year marked the first time that some control, and common sense was added to the original Tomatina program that has run for many years. The event is staged along a narrow street that is one-way. Normally, it can accommodate cars only, but massive trucks need to travel along the route bringing in 130,000 kilos of ripe tomatoes while the road was filled with people. This year entrance was strictly limited to 20,000 people, instead of the record 40,000 + who attended last year in the same space.

I constantly marvel over the fact that no-one has been killed beneath the wheels of the trucks, or at least I don't think anyone has been lost that way. I really don't know how anyone could tell as blood and tomato sauce are the same colour.

Apparently it was a grand success with 15,000 people paying a 10 euro entrance fee, plus another 5,000 tickets issued to locals without charge. Men were much better behaved this year and our visitors really enjoyed themselves. The organizors were happy to report no untoward incidents.

In spite of the continuing crisis every town has presented its fiestas this summer. There has been several things to attend every day, but without visitors we most probably would have ignored all the many events because we have been there and got the tee-shirt. However, when sharing events with people who are seeing them for the first time it's as though we too are seeing them as never before.

We took Kevin and Heather off the plane and straight to a long procession parading handheld fireworks that discharged fire and smoke and explosions. That was the prelude to what would become a street war between the many combatants that was to have started at 1:30 am, and would go through till the sun arose. That night, around 1am the heavens opened and poured the heaviest rains we've seen for a very long time. Kevin and Heather's first night ended in flooding in their apartment. However, I believe the fight did go on.

Since then we did many things between the rain showers and between siestas, and both they and we thoroughly enjoyed the entire ten days of their visit. We have been very lucky to have had a fabulous Summer, between our own visit to England for the family reunion, and Elizabeth's visit to us, (my wife's sister) who had a ten day road trip with my wife, and Kev and Heather's ten day adventure.

I have previously written a couple of blogs about family and the importance of close relationships. That is a continuing story that seems to become more important the older one gets.

Two very happy people who have been at the sauce - the tomato sauce!
Copyright (c) 2013   Eugene Carmichael