Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Doings

Today I followed my usual Memorial Day practice of putting flowers on the graves of people who had none. I went to the older section of the Logan Cemetery and put flowers on four graves. As I did so, I'd say to each one, "This is for you, and for....." I have four names I put in the dotted section of that last sentence: Lucy Alice Smith Shook (mom); James Mitchell Shook (dad); James Walk Shook (brother. We don't know exactly where his grave is); and Walter Canby Shook (brother). None of the four are buried where I can get to them, and it's not probable that my brothers' graves get flowers at all, so it's kind of long-distance remembrance.
Today, I found myself adding things. I started looking for graves that would put the person therein interred in the same age bracket as my family member. Walter (Wally) was 11 months old when he died, so I looked for someone who was under a year when he died.
I've got to stop doing that. If I don't, pretty soon I will add other requirements regarding the age and sex of the person I'm giving flowers to, trying to match them perfectly with the family member, and so on, until what is a simple act of remembrance becomes a ritual. Add a few more flourishes and I'll get a religious ceremony.
I can do without that.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Seeing the Sea Lions

From time to time, I travel out to Oregon to see family. No, the sea lions in the title are not members of my family; they rejected me. I visited the town of Newport, which has a great beach with breakers that start waaaaay out and come foaming and crashing in all day long. My guide and daughter Sarah took us on a down and around and down and in and out route and finally ended up in a quaint, charming, tourist gotcha street bordering an actual working fish harbor.
There’s where we saw the sea lions. Some one with an eye for the comfort of the sea lions and for what tourists like had built some sea lion homes out of boards. They were boardwalks, only they were floating in the harbor just under the dock we walked out on. We could look into the sea lions’ home life from about thirty feet up. Now I know how those aliens in UFO’s must feel as they xray our bedrooms at night.
I guess there were thirty sea lions who had set up housekeeping there, which consisted mostly of lounging about and occasionally giving a loud, harsh, raspy bark, kinda like a large dog with a sore throat. Sea lions, for those of you who don’t know about such things, are just like seals, except they really need to diet. There heads aren’t much larger than a seal’s, and shaped the same, but from the neck down the body bloats so that they look like they’ve been sucking on an air hose. In the water, they are sleek and graceful, out of the water, they’re sacks of blubber. They enter the water easily but in getting out they look like a comedy skit. You try hauling 500 pounds of blubber out of the water with two hands shaped like Japanese fans and see how you look.
What kept me, and everybody else riveted to the dock was not how the sea lions looked or swam, nor the noises they made, but their social activity. Apparently, the criterion of social standing for a sea lion is space. If you have no social standing, you are crowded on the boardwalk like New Yorkers in a subway. If you have high standing, you get room to stretch out. One old guy who weighed in the neighborhood of 600 pounds had about 10 feet of boardwalk all for himself, out of a total of maybe 60 feet all together. On the other hand, there were 15 skinnier, younger, low-on-the-list sea lions in the 10 feet next to him.
The main activity of the group seemed centered around getting more space. Those who had it defended it by biting at interlopers, or simply bumping them off the board with their (I assume) hips and shoulders. Those who didn’t have space tried to get it, and having gotten it, enlarged it. One poor little sea lion spent most of his time in the water. He would furtively poke his snout onto the boards, and if not immediately repelled, slither up. He’d usually get about half way up when he’d get noticed and shunted back into the water.
My indignation was aroused. I wanted to shout down at them, “Look you knotheads. If you give everybody an equal share, then you can all use the boardwalk. There’s plenty for everybody. Why can’t you be rational, like humans?”
As I was thinking this, somebody squeezed into the gap between me and my daughter. I felt like giving him a good elbow in the ribs.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Morality and all that

I've been reading a book by Robert Wright called The Evolution of God, in which he traces the changes in the nature of God (or of how people think of God) from forces of nature to tribal deities to national gods to the idea of one God to the idea of a loving universal God. Fascinating stuff and well worth reading.
But that's not what this is about. What this blog is about is what powered the evolution of God. Now Wright doesn't say anything about this, but as he outlines the ideas and the history, a progression becomes clear. The first step in the progression is an advancement in science/technology (domesticating of grains; irrigation). From this springs an advance in civilization (rise of cities; laws). From this springs an increase in moral understanding. And finally, from the increase in moral understanding, comes a change in religious thought.
I note two things from this: First that the understanding of the nature of the world around us is the wellspring of all progress, temporal and spiritual. Second, religion is a tag-along and in no way a leader in all of this. In fact, religion is usually dragging its feet, heels dug in, kicking and screaming.
One reason I feel compelled to write this is a widespread belief that "science has failed us." I wonder at the sheer gall and massive silliness of people who can actually say such things without going into giggle fits.
In fact, science is not only what has saved us, it's the only thing that offers any hope for the future.