Sunday, April 25, 2010

Spiritual, Not Religious: Honest, Responsible Agnosticism

After spending a lot of time considering the issue, I have decided that two, equally reasonable conclusions can be arrived at regarding human existence.  We are more than our physical bodies, or we are not.  It is one or the other.

Either consciousness is an epiphenomenon of matter, or matter is an epiphenomenon of consciousness.  We are frisky dust destined for the nothingness of the deep sleep, or we are immortal and this often irritating Earthly experience is a very brief episode in a very long journey.  Life and mind are an accident, against all the odds, or they are part of a scheme, infinitely conceived and beyond the conception our earthly senses and limited intellect can afford us.  Take your choice.  What's your poison? 

I think the reason so many of my atheist friends are atheist is because they have limited the choice in the debate between having to choose between having martinis with Christopher Hitchens or suffer an infuriatingly ridiculous evening with Pat Robertson.  

Between the two institutions of organized, dogmatic religion and The First Church of Atheism we have three options:  heaven, hell, or nothing. I choose a fourth option:  none of the above.

We know that we owe what we can sense of ourselves, and the world we live in, to the Big Bang, but do not know what caused it.  We are involved in matter, but thanks to quantum physics we do not know exactly what matter is.  Matter is not Newtonian billiard balls, but something hardly substantive, more like energy and waves of probabilities than something that can be swatted with a tennis racket.  Space and time are interdependent, curved and relative.  Physicist have postulated the possibility of multiple universes.

As humans we know our physical environment through our senses which are only tuned to consciously perceiving a minutia of the broadband that is available.  We only consciously use a small percentage of our brains.  

The only honest answer to the biggest of ontological questions is that we just do not know, and may never have the capacity to do so given the limits of what we have to work with here.  But that does not mean we should stop trying.  

The True Believers of dogmatic-mythically conceived religions would say we should stop, because all the answers are contained in sacred texts written by ancient inhabitants of Earth who thought the world was flat and not very old. 

My atheist friends and I can agree that we are evolving creatures.  Everything evolves.  Nothing does not evolve.  And anyone who would challenge the facts that science has provided us should be shunned and marginalized, like the Pat Robertsons of the world.   

I would add, we are here to evolve, not just physically, but spiritually.  That this world might be a laboratory designed to force us to evolve, and no matter what happens here, we graduate intact. 

It is my choice to believe that we are more than our physical bodies; that we are primarily consciousness and only secondarily matter, and therefore something immortal.  That choice is built on hunches of intuition which I cannot take out of a box and show anyone.  It is also based on the rationalization that it makes existence infinitely more interesting and wide open with possibilities. 

Dogmatically based religion would have us put a lid on scientifically verifiable knowledge when it is not in line with the mythic-fantasy espoused by it.  Atheist would have us put a lid on speculation that we, and the world we live in, might be a subset of a much greater universe, or universes, that are conscious-mental-spiritual, not physical, in nature.    

Science, logic and reason are indispensable tools to be utilized on the quest to knowing ourselves and the reality we live in, not just a means by which to minimize pain and maximize pleasure.  As evolving beings, we owe it to ourselves to keep open the possibilities and not to shut the door on mature, reasoned speculation no matter where it might lead us.              

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, 
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Smug Ass' Guide to Verbal Superiority

Today's installment of A Smug Ass' Guide to Verbal Superiority features a word that should always be in handy reach when a quick, show-stopping insult is in order.  When the end of an otherwise perfectly amicable relationship is required, troglodyte never fails to deliver dissolution better.

By pulling out the troglodyte card you can show the world that you are adroit and erudite at the fine art of insult through the use of multisyllabic elocution.  So, troglodytes, you subterranean boneheads, enjoy.

trog-lo-dyte, noun
1a.  A member of a fabulous or prehistoric race of people that lived in caves, dens or holes.  b.   A person considered to be reclusive, reactionary, out of date, or brutish.
2a. An anthropoid ape, such as a gorilla, or chimpanzee.  b.  An animal that lives underground, as an ant or worm.

Use it with gusto and zeal.  But remember, The Lawyer and The Engineer are not responsible for any physical harm that may result from the unwieldy use of said stinging rebuke.  Caveat Emptor, troglodytes!

Sunday, April 4, 2010


 “Yo Tony! Tony, are you in here?” Charley said. “Boss, I need to talk to you about something.”

Charley “Two Bit” Scarfonso was the lieutenant of the Brasi crime family, second in line for the top spot, a spot that he didn’t want. His motto was “If you’re at the top, you’re the one with the target on your back.”

Just then Tony walked out of the bathroom.  “My sister, love her to death, but she is the worst cook! The worst! How she can mess up Mom’s recipe for Manicotti is the great mystery. Don’t go in there by the way.

So just what did you need that was such a frickin rush? Did you get the Vig from the Lorenzo cleaners like I asked ya?”

“No, Tony! Listen to me! Just like I told you twelve times before, we killed them last month! Remember?” Charley said.

“Oh ya... sorry, I keep forgetting.” Tony lamented on, “Charley,  it ain’t like it used to be is it? Remember when we could just walk down the street and people worshiped us. Money in our pockets, dames, respect!  Remember that Charley? Respect?”

“That’s what I came to talk to you about! Remember my cousin Louie?” Charley asked.
“Louie…Louie…oh ya I remember, the skinny punk who went to college? College boy, ha! What about him?”

“Well, he knows this accountant, and from what he told me, it’s going to be the good times all over, Tony. This accountant has got this scheme to make us all rich bastards. Just like the old days.” said Charley “And the best part of it is, we don’t have to use hardly any of our own money!”

“Accountant huh, what’s this pencil pushers name?” asked Tony

“Well, he is coming over right now so he can explain it all himself. His name is Golden Sack. But he likes to be called Arnie. I think it’s Norwegian or some shit like that.” said Charley

Tony started laughing, “Ha, now that’s a laugh. I gotta tell ya, if I was named Golden Sack…”

Just then the door knocked. Tony nodded for Charley to let him in. Charley walked over and open the door. There stood a person of the most unfortunate genetic material. He was bald on top but his hair went straight out on the sides like a birds nest. He nose was running like a fire hydrant and the rest of him must have been about 98 pounds. But worst of all, the color of his clothes were lime green and looked like they hadn't been changed for a week”

Arnie came in immediately. ‘Gentlemen, I won’t waste your time with the boring chit chat. Let me start right in. What if I told you that you can take a small amount of money, say 1 million dollars, and use that to borrow 60 million?”

“You can do that?” Tony asked “With just a million?”

“Trust me you can, new rules since the 1980’s. You remember, back when you were wearing your Tony Montana white suit.”

“Just like yesterday, baby!  Those were the days..” Tony wistfully staring at the ceiling

“Cmon, stay with me on this, Ok?” said Arnie

Tony snapped out of the daydream. “Great great, so we made 59 million dollars by taking that money? Big deal! That’s the scheme?” asked Tony.

“No, let me finish. You take that 60 million and loan it out to other people. But you choose people that are willing to pay a little extra interest, uh what do you mob guys call it,  oh ya…Vig.  Kapeesh?”

“Are you trying to say capice? Cause if you are, stop it numb nuts.” said Tony. “And hurry it up because I got to hit the can again. My stomach is killing me, thank you little sister.”

“Now this is where it gets good. You take those groups of loans, bundle them together like a….a big plate of spaghetti, you guys know spaghetti, right?”

“Hey, hey, you better show some respect, ya bean counting pile of…” mumbled Tony

“Tony, hear him out. Trust me you’ll like what you hear. He is a numbers wiz, this kid.” Charley said.

Arnie continued ‘Well, before I was interrupted, you take that plate and you turnaround and sell it to some other people. People with a lot of money just sitting around collecting dust. We call it in the accounting biz asset based securities. These guys love this stuff because they can make a lot of dough, a whole lot more than normal. “

Tony interrupted again “That isn’t a scheme! We could just loan the money to these people and get the interest ourselves. What do we gain by having these people?”

“Think about it, Tony. You are getting Vig from 60 million dollars of loans and you only put up 1 million dollars!” Charley enthusiastically said.

“Now this is the best part!”  Charley continued. “Because we are the ones that bundled up this plate of crap, we can group the bad loans together and sell those to investors, telling them they are pure gold rated. My cousin owns a company that will rate anything we say as a creampuff.”

“Now tell them the best part, Arnie. You got to hear this boss!” said Charley

Arnie went on with his explanation. “Because we know which one is the bad plate of noodles, we can take out some insurance that will pay BIG time if that plate, er… I mean securities package fails. It's called a Credit Default Swap and it is completely unregulated. Are you dirty rats with me?" Arnie said with his best Cagney accent.
Charley glanced at Arnie with a "shut the hell up, are you crazy?" look. Arnie slunk down in his chair.

“Cmon, you can do that?” Tony said “How much does it pay?”

Arnie blurted “How does 1000 times what the loans were worth sound to those ravioli ears of yours?” He instantly wished he could take the words back before they finished coming out of his mouth.

Surprisingly, Tony didn’t react with anger. He seemed to be immersed with the idea, mulling it over in his head.

Suddenly, Tony burst out laughing. “Cmon kid, what do you take me for? That has got to be the most cockamamie scheme I have ever heard! And let me tell you, I heard them all. Plus if that ever happened, the government would be all over us like old Charley here is on my Mother’s plate of fresh Cannoli . The Feds would never allow something like that to occur. But, I have to hand it to ya kid, nice try. Now get the hell out of here, I got an appointment with the porcelain gods. Charley, see Mr. Gold Sack here, that name just kills me, out the door. And then bring me a magazine or something, will ya? I have a feeling I may be busy for awhile.”

Saturday, April 3, 2010

An Easter Story by The Lawyer

It’s funny how I remember the dreams better than the times we shared awake and living in the world.  Steve appeared out of nowhere.  To tell you the truth, I don’t know where ‘where’ was in the dream, but all of a sudden, there he was.
“Steve,” I said.  
“Hey, man.”
I asked, “So, what’s it like to be dead?”  
“It’s not so bad,” he said, possessed, with a contented and calm smile.
It was the morning after a ripping bender out on town.  The night before, a bunch of us loaded up in Steve’s old muscle car, a fixer-upper in progress.  A cooler was in the back seat with a case of beer sloshing around in the ice.  After a few bars we
ended up  in an old warehouse downtown that some guy had converted into a semi-inhabitable apartment.
We drank until the wee hours of the morning.  How I came to wake up in my own bed the next morning is still a bit of a mystery to me.  
It was back in the days, before kids, and other pressing responsibilities, when I still could get away with staying up that
late, drinking to my heart’s content, and spend a wasted day nurturing a hangover until it eventually went away.  Or, as was the case on that morning, I would kick the hangover with sweat.  
I called Steve.  “Dude, I am so fucking hungover.”
“Me too,” he said.
“Let’s go sweat it off.” 
“My thoughts exactly,” he said.
For a month, or so, Steve had not been acting right.  Steve was a talented defender on the soccer field; tall, fast and fearless.  He showed up to the match without shin guards.  To not wear shin guards was not an option and against the rules.  Steve knew that.  Everyone knew that.  But on that day he protested his rights not to wear shin guards with the referee to the point that all of us there thought a physical altercation would break out between them.  
A couple of us stepped in and calmed Steve down.  Pushing and pulling him away from the referee, Steve sputtered, “Fuck him, fuck him,” over and over.  
“Hey man, you have to wear shin guards,” some one said.  “Just go buy some real quick and come back,” some one else said.  “Calm down,” I said, or some one else said, or maybe I just thought it.
Steve drove off, and headed for a Walmart close by.  “What in the hell is wrong with him?” I was asked.  I didn’t know, and shrugged.
Steve returned with these ridiculous little cheap shin guards for a six year-old that were not up to the task, but they were good enough for the referee to allow him onto the field.  
This was an adult men’s league.  No one was being paid to play.  There was no trophy at stake, and the spectators mostly consisted of other players on other teams waiting for our match to end, and for theirs to begin.  Slide tackling was frowned upon and would eventually get you a red card.  Steve knew that.  Everyone knew that.
He played that day like a man possessed with fury.  When a benign shoulder tackle would do, he would come sprinting up, take flight, cleats out, clear the ball away and take the opponent’s feat clear out from under him.  More than once he would end up in a cloud of dust with a midfielder or forward from the other team toppling down to the ground on and around him.  He was red carded, and left the field, while strongly suggesting to anyone who wanted to listen that they could go and fuck themselves.  
“What in the hell is wrong with your friend?” a teammate asked me after the match.
I didn’t know.  He had always had a bit of a fiery disposition, but this was something else.  It was too violent.
There was another time, a week before the beer drenched night out on the town, and the horrible next day.  Steve was parked out in front of our house as I pulled up arriving back from the office and another day’s work.  Steve got out of his car, slammed the door.  His shirt was torn, and he was mad with rage.  The way he explained it, and the way I remember it, was that he had gone to a convenient store close by to fuel up his car.  He wasn’t sure how it happened, or maybe it was that he didn’t know how to explain it.  He had gotten in a fist fight with a total stranger and didn’t know why.
I sensed that there was more than rage boiling in him.  He was equally scared and confused; not all his normal self.   “Why did you get in a fight with the guy?” I asked more than once.  He could not give a good answer.  He had beaten a man up for reasons that couldn’t be understood or explained.  Eventually he calmed down over a few beers on the front porch.
Steve had been on his own since he was a teenager, supporting himself working odd jobs , dealing marijuana, and renting apartments.  He was born into the unfortunate circumstance of being an intelligent, free spirit to authoritarian parents.  He didn’t fit the role they intended for him, and whoever’s choice it was it wouldn’t do for him to live under the same roof as his parents.
He was the epitome of tall, dark and handsome.  I was always envious of his talent for walking into a party, or a bar, and pretty much pick and choose which girl he would get in bed with that night.  
I knew him in high school, but was reacquainted in Norman where he was putting himself through college and I was attending law school.  We began hanging out a little and eventually became close friends.  Good conversations and lots of laughs, combined with confiding in each other life’s irritations and mysteries made us like brothers.  
He introduced me to my future wife, to whom I would be married, and who would be pregnant with our first daughter at his funeral.  
There have been other dreams and other people.  One that comes to mind is when Jerry, my mentor in law practice, appeared in my dream.  It was night time, and we walked along a paved path together for a while, talking about life in general.  Suddenly there was a house in front of us.  “That looks like a nice place to live,” I said.
“If you want it, then it is all yours, boy,” he said and then slapped me on the back which sent me stumbling forward and caused the contents of my pockets to empty in front of me.  And he was gone.
The next morning I got the call that Jerry had been found dead on his front porch,  with a hand full of files scattered around him, and his dog Danny lying next to him licking Jerry’s hand.  Either he was just leaving or returning when he dropped dead of a heart attack.
The dream I had about Nanny was the most livid and lucid.  I had no doubt that I was dreaming as I walked through a dusty ranch style house and found her lying in bed in a nicotine yellow room.  The light streaming through the window illuminated a column of dust floating through it.  
Nanny was my great grandmother.  She had died of emphysema.  We still joke about how in her last days she would unwind the hose to her oxygen tank so that she had enough length in it to go outside and have a cigarette.  
Nanny was fond of saying to me, “You’re my favorite little shit.”  It’s one of the perks that come with being the first born of a generation.  It was always good and comfortable being with her, because I could feel that she loved me.  
The weird thing, I remember thinking, was that the dusty ranch style house was not hers.  I had never seen it before.  But there she was, sitting up in bed as I came in.  “But, you’re dead,” I said.
“Why weren’t you at my funeral?” she asked.
“I couldn’t do it,” I explained.  “I was scared to see your body.”
We talked for a while.  Eventually she grabbed my wrist and pulled me to her.  “I’ve got to go,” she said.  She looked at me, completely serious, and said, “Learn, learn, learn, and never quit learning.”  
I walked down to the field with my soccer bag slung over my shoulder.  Steve was sitting on the front row of aluminum bleachers at the side of the field with his back to me, probably lacing up his cleats, I thought.  I sat down beside him, opened my bag, pulled out my cleats and started to put them on.  
“My head is killing me,” I said.  “It’s a nice day though, maybe a little hot.”  Steve did not respond.  “How long have you been here?” I asked.  No response.  
I looked at Steve for the first time since I had sat down.  He only had one cleat on with the strings resting untied on either side of his foot as he looked out across the field in front of him.  “Steve,” I said.  “Are you okay?”  He slowly turned and looked at me, his head kind of swiveling like he had been spun in circles and couldn’t keep it all straight and focused in front him.  “Steve, what in the hell is wrong?”  His eyes rolled back into his head and he lightly fell on his side towards me.  I caught him and gently eased him down to the ground.  He vomited yellow bile on my cleats.  I rummaged in his bag, found his cell phone and dialed 911.  
It was a stroke.  Twenty-seven years old and hit with a massive stroke, out of fucking no where.  “What drugs is he on?” asked the gruff, gray-headed emergency responder, while others lifted the gurney and rolled Steve into the back of the ambulance.  “Come on!” said the responder.   “You need to tell me.  What drugs is your friend on?”
“He smokes a lot of pot,” I said.  “That’s it, and he drinks, too.  We were out here to play soccer, not to get fucked up, damn it.”
While in the hospital his eyes had gone from brown to silver.  He couldn’t talk.  He could raise his arms to gesture exasperation, doubt and ignorance at anything he was asked.  He was in a helpless and hopeless place and didn’t seem to know how he got there.
Two weeks later I got the word.  He died at the hospital after a second surgery.
That was thirteen years ago, almost to the day.  It was Easter weekend. 

I’m forty now, and am becoming acquainted with middle age; the usual stuff, like waking up sore for no reason.  My hairline is receding.  I’m not easily outraged by things like politics and injustice like I was thirteen years ago when I was full of righteous indignation and principle.  
I am a dad of two girls, a husband, a lawyer, a writer, a seeker.  I am also a whole lot of other things that I can intuit from time to time; things that I have a dreamy but distant sense of, like seeing a form in a thick haze that is just out of sight and out of touch, but there, more than my physical self, and more than can be adequately explained in language--much more.  
The best thing about growing older for me is that I have lost my fear of death.  It’s not some horrible specter that needs to be covered up with all kinds of tricks of the psyche that make people weird and paranoid.  Death is going to happen eventually, but in the meantime I enjoy being alive and in the world, watching the people around me being alive and in the world.  
I often wonder what Steve would be like at forty, and whether he would be married with kids, or divorced and working on his third marriage, and his forth career, or a perennial bachelor.  I wonder how the serious business of having to work for a living might have affected him.  Would life have made him bitter and harsh, insipid and uninspired, or profound and wise.  What choices would he have made?
Steve appeared out of no where.  It was like we were in a different place, not here.  I sensed a certain serenity in him--a peaceful calmness that had not been there in such abundance before, the raw edginess, gone.  
“Steve,” I said.  
“Hey, man.”
And I asked, “So, what’s it like to be dead?”  
“It’s not so bad,” he said, possessed, with a contented and calm smile.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I, Sylvester--Love Me

Hi.  My name is Sylvester.  I'm a bastard.  As you can see in this photo--a damn handsome representation of yours truly, if I may say so--I am one charming go-getter.

Owing to my unrelenting allure, I was able to hypnotize the corpulent, pink, two-legged mammal that took this photo, into feeding me on a pretty regular basis.  Things are definitely looking up.

My credentials:  I'm a real man.  The towering pink one verified this by turning me over on my back and pointing at my beans and dangler, as he declared, "Irm ug blah storgen falpuden," or something like that.  I don't speak English, just Cat.  I'm very affectionate;  some say to the point of being f**king irritating.  I'm the tri-state area champion mouser, or so my business card says.  Recommendations provided upon request.

If you are interested in me adopting you, please contact the ridiculous prick that took this photo of me.

Did I mention, I am also a certified, licensed acupuncturist.