I Must Confess My Dark Secret...

I have a confession.  A Dark confession. I hate the title of this blog.  Hate it!  And besides that, I don't like it. I keep thinking I'm confusing myself with a dance studio.  So I have decided to change the name of this blog.

Now, in my opinion, one of the most annoying things anyone can do is change their blog's URL.  But if you change your blog's name, and not your blog's URL, you sink in the search engine rankings.  At least that's what I hear.  I don't want to sink in the search engine rankings more than I need to.  So I'm going to change both the name of my blog and my blog's URL address.  In short, I'm fixing to get a whole new blog.

The new blog can be found here. It's already up and running.

The name of the new blog is "Sunstone's Cafe".  Yeah, I suck at names.  But I still think "Sunstone's Cafe" is a less confusing name than "Cafe of the Cosmic Dance".

I apologize for the inconvenience this change may have caused you.  To make it up to you a little bit, I plan on never again changing my blog URL or name.  So please update your blogrolls with the new title and location in full confidence that, barring a catastrophe, you won't have to update them again.  Ever.

Sunstone's Cafe.

Posting to Start Tomorrow

Sorry for my long absence.  I intend to start regular posting to this blog on the usual variety of subjects beginning tomorrow. 

"Women Don't Care About Contraception"

The Republican governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, does not seem to think that women care about contraception.  If that is a mainstream view among Republican leaders, I am willing to bet they are a bit out of touch with the concerns of American women.

Do Freedom and Equality Ever Go Together in Practice?

One of the more interesting notions that most of us seem to accept at one or another point in our lives is the notion that freedom and equality are incompatible. 

I have heard that notion advanced in this manner: Jones has many marketable talents, while Smith has few marketable talents.  Thus, if Jones is free to make as much money as he can, he will make more money than Smith.  So, for Jones and Smith to be financially equal, something must done to limit Jones' earnings.  But anything you do to limit Jones' earnings deprives Jones of his freedom. Consequently, you cannot have both freedom and equality at the same time.

Now, it seems to me the notion you cannot have both freedom and equality at the same time is one of those notions that has just enough truth to it to hoodwink many of us into generalizing from such examples as "Smith and Jones" above to whole societies.  However, the more one examines the notion, the less warranted that sort of generalization might seem.

The problem is history.

The rarest complex societies in history have been those in which most people were more or less free.  But those rare, relatively free societies have also tended at the same time to be more egalitarian.

Tocqueville, for instance, noticed that white males living in the America of the 1830s were both freer and more equal than white males living in either the England or France of the same period.  Again, both male and female citizens of the Roman Republic seem to have been both freer and more equal than their counterparts living in the Roman Empire.

So the notion that freedom and equality are incompatible, while perhaps seeming to have some reason and logic on its side, does not always pan out in practice.  But if that is indeed the case, then why is it the case?

I think the reason freedom and equality often go together in practice -- if not so often in theory -- is ultimately because of human nature.  Plutarch observed 2000 years ago that no republic had ever long withstood a large gap between rich and poor.  It seems that whenever such a gap is allowed to exist, some of the rich inevitably use their wealth to gather to themselves the reins of power.  And, because they are far richer than most anyone else, there are few if any people who can effectively oppose them. Thus, they subjugate the rest of us.

If all of that is true enough, then it follows that equality is not the enemy of freedom -- at least not in practice -- but rather its companion.  For, if there is a relatively small gap between rich and poor, then comparatively more people will be in a position to effectively oppose the usurping of power by another group of people.

At least, that's my guess why history seems to show that freedom and equality often enough go together in practice.  What's your guess?

The Concentration of Wealth in America

According to the polling, most Americans have no idea how concentrated wealth is in America.

Apparently, we tend to think it is much more evenly distributed than it in fact is.  So here's a fun figure: In 2007, one-fifth of Americans owned 85% of the privately held wealth in America.

In other words, the vast majority of Americans -- eight in every ten of us -- made do with only 15% of the nation's wealth.

That's quite an interesting fact, methinks.

I'm no economist, but it seems to me like our policies of shipping most of the well paid jobs off-shore while cutting taxes on the rich might be having consequences.

But whatever the cause of the concentration of wealth, I doubt what's left of representative democracy in America can long withstand such an unequal distribution of wealth. 

Free Will

Like most of us, I was taught while growing up that humans have free will.  That important lesson was not delivered by my school teachers, however, nor even by my parent or relatives, but by my nanny.

My nanny was an elderly lady with no formal education beyond high school.  She was diligent, caring, and tolerant, but she was an uncritical thinker.  That is, she simply accepted what had been taught her, without much mulling it over, and passed it on to me.

One of the things that had been taught her, and which she uncritically passed on to me, was the notion of hell.  My mother, an agnostic at the time, was no more concerned with teaching me about hell than she was concerned with teaching me about what some far distant Amazonian tribe wore to weddings.  I don't even know if she believed in hell.  But my nanny had been taught hell, had never questioned it, and thought it important.

I was about five or six when my nanny taught me about hell.  And it was in teaching me about hell that she introduced me to the concept of free will.  I vaguely recall she actually used the term "free will", but that could be my memory adding its frills and laces to the facts.  At any rate, I believe it was as my nanny was teaching me about god, afterlife, hell, and salvation, that I formed my first notion of free will  -- although I can't be sure whether I learned the term then or later.

Naturally, all that talk of hell caused tears.  When my mother got home from work, she had to comfort me.  Which she did -- as was her custom -- in an intellectual way.  There were no hugs and kisses and reassurances that I was a good boy and would go to heaven. I probably would not have been satisfied by those things anyway, for I was an intellectual kid. 

Instead, mom verbally asserted -- like the good agnostic that she was -- that the concept of hell was highly questionable, and that I was too young to make a decision about whether there was such a thing.  As I recall, her words did not entirely calm me down and comfort me, but they did, I think, steer me in the direction of critical thought -- for one of the most important lessons to learn about critical thinking is the wisdom of suspending judgment.

Over the years, my sporadic reflections on free will have led me to greater and greater uncertainty about the concept. Today, I only think there is an exceedingly small chance of it.  That is, if you define free will as whether, given two absolutely identical situations, your choice of action could vary from one of those situations to the other, then I think the odds are overwhelming that free will does not exist.  And if it does exist, then -- for reasons too complex to discuss here -- I suspect it might be negative in nature.  That is, you cannot freely will to do something, but in some limited way, you might be able to freely will not to do something.

In other words, what we call "free will" might not amount to much more than the inhibitory functions of consciousness.  I guess it would depend on whether or not those functions are caused.  If they are caused, then the will is not free.  If they somehow cause themselves (and how could that be!), then the will has a certain measure of freedom.

What do you think about the notion of free will?  Does it have any merit?  Why or why not?

Observation of New Things

It's about 30 minutes before dawn.  I hear a wild goose off in the distance, and then my neighbor cough. Now and then a car passing on the distant street. My thoughts come and go.  I feel I should grab one of those thoughts, wrestle it into submission, and present it as a blog post.

But that can wait.  For now, I'd rather just watch the night turn into day.  The refrigerator comes on.  The furnace creaks.  I hear wind chimes from across the yard.

The sky is light enough the trees are silhouetted against it now.  The early dawn.

I think an odd thing about observation is that we so often want to give it a purpose and then guide it. By guide it, I mean we want to weed out some of what's happening because it doesn't fit in with our purpose -- with what we're looking for.  Then, too, we want to hold onto other parts of what's happening because those parts actually fit our purpose.

Yet -- when we observe with a purpose in mind -- we more or less observe what we expect to observe.

I've lived in this cottage for almost a year now, and this morning was the first time I've noticed how many wind chimes there are in my immediate neighborhood.  I wasn't expecting to notice them, though.  I was instead having one of those rare moments when you observe without much in the way of expecting anything. 
It seems to me that it can be extraordinarily difficult to observe without any purpose.  For the most part, we're looking for something.  Often, that "something" is beauty, pleasure, or whatever we expect to find because we've seen it before.  But whatever it is, we are actively looking for it.

Still, it's in those rarer moments when we are not looking for anything -- when we do not seek beauty, pleasure, or this or that thing -- that we are most likely to discover the new.

The Occupy Movement

It seems like the Occupy Movement is still going, despite what appears to be little or no mainstream media coverage. 

I do not own a TV and follow the mainstream media mostly via their websites, so I could be very wrong about the lack of mainstream media coverage.  Does anyone know whether the major networks have been covering the Occupy Movement?

On the other hand, I get email updates of some of the things happening in New York City.  At times, I am being told that the marchers have filled up the street for four or five city blocks.  That could easily be a thousand or more people.  But, again, the media seems to be silent on these protests, which are now happening frequently.

Is it news that the Occupy Movement appears to be coming back after the winter?

Are the Republicans Against Obama, or Against a Fiction They Call "Obama"?

Bill Maher strikes me as making an interesting point here when he states that "Republicans have created an entirely fictional President [Obama]" that they are running against instead of running against the real Obama.  The things the Republican candidates are saying about Obama are simply not true, but are widely believed by the Republican Base. 

According to Maher, this is largely a Republican thing.  That is, the Democrats by and large did not make things up about Bush when running against him, but Bush made things up about Kerry when running against him.

I think Maher might have a point.  And, if so, I wonder how much of the situation could be owed to the Republicans having their own media outlets in the Fox News Network and Clearwater Communications.  Neither one of those outlets provides a fair and balanced view of the world, but rather puts a conservative spin on things, which could go far in allowing the Republican Base to live in a little bubble, rather than to confront reality.

But what do you think?  Is there any truth to what Maher says?

Your Advice, Please?

Very recently, I have taken up painting with acrylics.  After a little playing around, I've been most pleased with the Golden Open Acrylics because of their longer drying times.  As for subject matter, I have been butchering everything I can think of, from still-lifes to landscapes to portraits.  The main thing I've found out from my experiments so far is that I have a whole lot to learn.

So does anyone have any advice for working with acrylic paints -- or with any paints, for that matter?

That was Fun (Sarcasm)

My computer problems are now solved.  I was thinking of writing about the long, tedious string of multiple problems I had  (when it rains it pours), but I really don't want to relive the sickening experience.  Instead, I'll just get back to blogging as soon as I can think of something to blog about.