November 26, 2002

Ancestral considerations

I neither am particularly concerned nor do I care to know who my ancestors were. I think that information is only of mild anecdotal interest, like "this is where Pickett's charge took place": cute if you are touring Gettysburg, but not essential to the knowledge of history. Even if I had some more information about my ancestors than I do, and if most of it beyond two or three generations was not utterly lost among the ashes of the Holocaust, I would be neither particularly proud to have "good" ancestors nor particularly ashamed to have "bad" ones. As it happens and will be seen later, all of us in all likelihood have both.

But though the questions of WHO don�t motivate me, the questions of HOW MANY seem to lead to some startling conclusions. Please let me know of any errors you find in my reasoning.

The length of a generation is usually acknowledged to be between 25 and 30 years, i.e., three or four generations per century. The exact figure we choose does not change the results substantially. And let us keep into account that throughout most of history the length of a generation was much less, because people of 25 or 30 years were already old and most often bred at much earlier ages. Let us count four generations per century.

Let us take eighteen hundred years ago as an arbitrary date for computation: we are in 202 C.E., during the empire of Septimius Severus, 1800/25=72 generations ago.

Since all of us have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents and the number of our ancestors doubles with each generation, the number of our ancestors 72 generations ago was

This is 787,061,080,478.274 (roughly seven hundred and eighty seven billion) times the current world population estimated at six billion.

Even if the world population had been 6 billion during the entire time human beings have been on this planet, the total number of human beings EVER would be much less than 4,722,366,482,869,650,000,000.

This leads me to the following conclusions: all of us have many ancestors in common; many of those ancestors in turn must have had the same ancestors, many of whom had the same ancestors, many of whom had the same ancestors, many of whom had the same ancestors...

We are all so mixed that ALL racial distinctions are utterly meaningless, like the presence or absence of a mole or eye color.

Does this mean that Adolph Hitler and I have some of the same ancestors? Alas, yes, though far enough in the past to be shrouded in the mists of antiquity... And besides I DID start out saying I would be neither proud nor ashamed of my ancestors, didn�t I?...

Besides in my opinion the sharing of memes counts for much more than the sharing of genes. That is why I prefer my friends to my relatives, and I AM proud of my memetic ancestors, whom I have chosen, unlike my genetic ones, whom I have not.

Unreadable web pages

Is it just me, because I'm getting older and my eyesight is deteriorating? What's with colored backgrounds on web pages and text that is only a shade darker or lighter than the background? Are the authors of such pages reluctant to expose their musings to the perusal of others and so make them difficult to read as a half-way measure toward not posting them at all? What's wrong with good old black on white?

It used to be that when I found a page like that I would copy the text and paste it in Notepad so as to be able to read it. Now, unless I have powerful reasons to believe that the text in question contains the secrets of life or some other highly desirable insights (HA!) I just pass it over.

Yes, I know I can tell my browser to remove colored backgrounds, but, as with the copying and pasting, mostly it's not worth the effort, and if the author is so keen on preventing me from reading her/his site I'm happy to accommodate.

November 18, 2002


Jodi's blog entry Let's talk about sets made me think of Bloodroot, a feminist restaurant and bookstore in Bridgeport, Connecticut which I visited several times throughout the years while I was living in the New York area. Bloodroot is run by the Bloodroot Collective, and in my opinion it provides a most interesting experience. Unlike most restaurants, the silverware and the plates and cups they use are all different, from different sets. This is a political statement - one of many the place makes: it is meant to celebrate diversity and avoid waste, and to eschew the uniformity that is associated with patriarchal systems (think of uniforms, "one country, one people, one leader", and, most especially, one god). Visit Bloodroot if you're anywhere within reasonable distance, and by all means read their web pages.

November 15, 2002

Seven sinless people in the whole history of the world

In patriarchal religions, no matter what you do you can't be in full compliance with The Rules. That is very bad for one's mental health and self-esteem. Yes, this is a sore subject for me, and one of the grudges I hold against such doctrines, under the pernicious pervading power of which I grew up and still live to a large extent, though striving eagerly for liberation.

I heard many years ago from my Rav Eli Carlebach, of blessed memory, that it says in the Talmud that in the whole history of the world there have been only SEVEN (7) people who never in their whole lives committed any sin. (The story was later picked up by the Roman Catholic Church, though of course their seven sinless people are not the same as in the Jewish list.) So if one wanted to live a life free of sin one would be doomed from the start: if only seven people in history succeeded one would have a MUCH greater chance of winning the lottery, being struck by lightning or going through some other highly unlikely event. So it seems to me that according to those doctrines God WANTS me to sin, i.e., to fail to hit the mark. Why make a set of rules that only seven people, of all the millions that ever existed, could observe it its entirety, without any deviation? Yes, I know: I sin, God forgives me, we're all friends. But what about my self-esteem? I'm a miserable sinner who can't do anything right. That we are ALL sinners is one of the basic tenets in both Judaism and Christianity. We are constantly in need of forgiveness, absolution, pardon, amnesty, indulgence, clemency, exoneration, conveniently arranged, of course, by the religious establishments. Am I the only one who thinks this is sick?

Would an allegedly loving, all-compassionate Deity create such an impracticable, virtually impossible-to-follow set of rules? Or else the supposed "crown" of His creation � i.e., we � is a complete failure.

I wonder whether perhaps He is actually some minor spirit, allowed by His elders and betters to play with this remote splattering of mud � i.e., our solar system area of the Milky Way � as His fiefdom so as to keep him off the streets and out of worse mischief, sort of like Napoleon being named Emperor of Elba. That could account for His Meanness and His Bad Temper.

It wouldn�t take much to impress us human beings with a few Divinity-like trappings; a few relatively elementary tricks and our jaws would drop in awe.

Another thing I could never understand is why a sinner who repents is supposed to have preference over someone who has not sinned (not that there are so many of those). Isn�t that an encouragement to sin for someone who wants to please her/his God?

I know: it's all a mystery, unfathomable for us "mere" mortals. Well, if you can swallow it and are happy with it that's great. But throughout history followers of patriarchal religions have pushed and pushed their modes of behavior (I refuse to call it "thought") to the point that everyone is suffering under them. In spite of the first amendment to the US Constitution ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.") we have laws regarding who can get married that reflect Jud�o-Christian doctrine as well as many other laws also upholding Jud�o-Christian ideas. Including a sneaky pronouncement which, under the guise of extending health insurance benefits, is a horribly dangerous blow to women's reproductive freedom of choice: read about it in Raye's blog. As Raye writes very aptly: "this isn't a slippery slope any longer. It's a headlong dive off the cliff."

To any Jud�o-Christian who might feel what I write attacks her/his religion I say: Do you see now why many of us non-Jud�o-Christians resent your religion(s)? Indeed, the free exercise of religion should not be impeded, but that doesn�t include trying to control the behavior of others. Don�t have an abortion and don�t marry a person of the same sex if your religion forbids it, but do not try to curtail my freedom to do so if I want to, since MY religion does allow it.

You personally may not have burned any members of my religion at the stake, but prominent members of your religion(s) have, IN THE NAME OF YOUR RELIGION(S) and supposedly in compliance with their commandments. But we'll leave that, as a reason to resent your religion(s), for another blog entry.

November 08, 2002

PaganSpeak topics for November 2002

PaganSpeak topics for November 2002:

Topic #1: Faith (courtesy of Wren's Nest) What is faith? Is it simply a decision to believe in something rooted in our psychological needs, or is it deeper than that? Is it illogical, or based in a logic that goes beyond what our conscious minds can grasp?

We Pagans might try to "reclaim" the word "faith" from the abuse it has suffered at the hands of monotheistic religions, but I don�t have much faith in faith, the concept has been battered too much. I don�t think "a decision to believe" is possible; one either believes something or one doesn�t. One could decide to claim to have faith in something, and I suspect many do, and there is a theory that acting as if one had faith might generate such faith, but why would one fake it to begin with? There are possible reasons, like entry into a group seen as desirable, but I see great dangers in faking anything. I "believe" or "have faith in" what my own experience, including that of a spiritual nature obtained through meditation or reflection, tells me is true. Yes, I could be horribly wrong, but I "have faith" in the teaching of the Buddha: "Be a lamp unto your own feet". I don�t expect anyone else to have faith in the same manner I do and I feel inclined neither to burn at the stake nor in any other way to harm those who don�t share my faith.

Faith (as in "keeping faith") also has the meaning of loyalty to a group. I have the highest regard for loyalty, but I believe in keeping in mind the story of Plato being bested in an argument by an opponent, to Plato's great embarrassment; a close friend of Plato's agreed with Plato's opponent and another friend protested: "How come you agree with his opponent, being that you are such a good friend of Plato's?" "I am a friend of Plato's, but I feel even greater friendship for the truth".

Ultimately I suspect that our experiences and what we believe in form a mutually reinforcing network.

Topic #2: Magic for Personal Gain (courtesy of Wren's Nest) Do you think magick/spells should be used for personal gain? What constitutes personal gain (e.g. love spells, money spells, healing spells, self-improvement spells...)

In my opinion any magick that harms no one is ethically acceptable; however I would strongly recommend GREAT caution in asking for anything too specific like money, and I would also strongly recommend NEVER doing any magick without including some formula like "for the good of all and according to the free will of all", as recommended by Marion Weinstein in "Positive Magic". Remember Oscar Wilde's wise dictum about there being two tragedies in life: one being not to get what one wants and the other, even worse, to get it; one difference being that in the first case the onset of disappointment does not occur so fast.

Love spells geared to influence another person's feelings without her/his consent are a form of psychic attack, as are healing spells done for someone else without that person's consent and preferably active self-initiated request.

Rather than love, money, health or special abilities in my opinion it is better to ask for wisdom and insight to understand the reasons why things happen, the strength and ability to cope with them and the awareness to learn from the experiences. I believe Goddess knows what's best for us better than we do. And invariably gives it to us, even without our asking.

Topic #3: Thanksgiving In the USA we are about to celebrate Thanksgiving. This doesn't mean it has to be an American-only holiday however, what are you thankful for this year?

Gratitude to the Gods for their boons is a feeling that ought to be cultivated and practiced at all times. That is one reason why I'm not fond of the Thanksgiving holiday as observed in November. The pictures of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians sitting together in unity like brothers is totally false: the Wampanoag Indians helped the Pilgrims establish themselves and avoid starvation and other dangers, and as soon as the Pilgrims were settled and comfortable they proceeded to exterminate the Wampanoag Indians (do you know of many Wampanoag Indians in Plymouth, Massachusetts at the present time?).

As to the exchanges of gifts also depicted often in connection with the Thanksgiving holiday, it actually went more or less like this: the Indians gave the Europeans the constitutional decentralized form of government the US has used so successfully (at least until the Republican coup d'�tat of 2000), a number of useful plants, including some that are now staples all over the world, like potatoes, tomatoes and that most wonderful of foods, chocolate and the ability to survive in the American continent, while the Europeans gave the Indians syphilis, genocide, smallpox-contaminated blankets, pollution and a level of poverty and incarceration in Indian communities at the present time that defies imagination and is higher that for any other group in the country.

I am thankful to the Gods for many things, including enjoying the system of government we owe to a large extent to the Indians, but I don�t observe the Thanksgiving holiday, and I wish white people would use the day off to contemplate what has been done to the original inhabitants of this continent and attempt some reparation and restitution.

November 07, 2002

Why blog? and other stuff

In the interests of transparency, full disclosure and compliance with sunshine laws I have to declare at the outset that one of my purposes in writing this is to encourage my friends (and also anyone else, even if s/he's not in that exalted category) to start and maintain their own blogs. It's fun, and since it harms no one that should be sufficient reason to do it. The requirements of an examined life, however, compel me to analyze the reasons further.

It is true that adding even more drivel to the blogosphere harms us all, so let us endeavor mightily and effectively to make what we write non-drivel...

This subject has already been covered very well in Molly's blog entry of 07/24/02. I'd like to say that in my opinion it doesn�t matter that "every blogger has written about it at one point or another". Is it really possible to write anything new and original? Just like the air I breathe has been breathed before by countless others, something similar to anything I think or feel has already, in all likelihood, been thought/felt by others. Or even by me. That doesn�t invalidate anyone's experience. Perhaps on the contrary, it should give us all something to share, a common ground, a basis for understanding.

Through my blog I am "meeting" a number of interesting people and learning a lot from them, and being stimulated to thought by what they write. The blogosphere is like a huge circle in which we can choose when to speak and when to listen. A blog is like a talking stick in this circle.

Sean has chosen Socrates' advice "Know thyself" as epigraph for his blog. Of course we all know Socrates' recommendation � usually, alas, "more honour'd in the breach than the observance" � but it is useful to be reminded of it now and then. Blogging is an excellent tool to pursue this goal. Perhaps one (or more) of my readers � if any... � can tell me the source of this quotation I love: "How can I know what I think/feel until I read what I write?". Blogging is useful to dig into one's mind, where everything we need is to be found, according to the sages. Mullah Nasruddin was seen one night in the street outside his house, circling a lamppost on his hands and knees, examining the ground with great attention. One of his friends walked by and, though accustomed to the Mullah's strange behaviors, could not refrain from asking: "Did you lose anything, Mullah?" "Yes, my keys; I misplaced them in the house and now I can't find them" The friend asked in astonishment: "Mullah, if you misplaced them in the house why are you looking for them out here??" The Mullah looked at his friend with compassion for his lack of understanding and replied: "Well, the light is much better out here!".

The Buddha taught "Be a lamp unto your own feet", let your own light illumine your path. Consider the words of the sages, but don�t go anywhere just because they tell you to.

On the other hand, I'm sad about the results of the election. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe women should not have the right to do as they choose with their own bodies. Maybe we should bomb Irak into the stone age (remember that delightful phrase?). Maybe we should strive for a gun in every pocket. Maybe...

Am I bitter about the election? You bet I am. I try to comfort myself thinking that after all what I consider the side of justice and compassion did not lose for THAT big a margin. Some historian � I can't locate the quotation now � wrote that the US is unique in the history of the world because all other empires have had a beginning, a period of maturity, and decadence, while the US has gone from beginning to decadence without going through maturity.

I believe there are reasons for everything, and maybe eventually we'll find out what they are.

November 02, 2002

More on whether to vote or not

Please read Raye's post on the "President's" nominee to serve on the Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee at the Food and Drug Administration, and think whether you want to help elect as many Democratic candidates as possible this election.