News & Articles
Browse all content by date.
One of my favorite cartoonists, the just-plain-weird Gary Larson, has a cartoon about globalization, ignorance, and historical illiteracy that outlines why we have a present world population that stretches thought and practice from caves to the complex society of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” A child is leaning up against a tree with an apple on his head. His father is standing a few paces from him with bow and arrow in hand. The child is imploring, “C’mon, Dad! Shoot the apple! Shoot the apple!” Underneath the drawing the caption reads, “Unknown to most historians, William Tell had an older and less fortunate son named Warren.” From the words “less fortunate” we can easily guess what happened to Warren on Daddy’s first try.
We live in an increasingly technologically complex world, with scientific advancements clearly outpacing the religious, educational, and intellectual capabilities of many people living in complex societies. As an example, Google has developed an online mapping tool that will show how much sea levels will rise in U.S. coastal areas depending upon the strength and duration of future storms. All a weatherman has to do is punch in the ZIP Code of the area and read the Surging Seas database developed from research by ten federal agencies. Vice-President Ben Strauss of Climate Central, a private foundation that helped fund this project, says, “This is a brave new world. Rising seas are posing a totally new challenge to American ingenuity.” And we still have U.S. senators who believe climate change is “a big hoax.”
The Marriage Of Neighbors Mohammad Ali And Zakia
Science and technology are gradually removing some of the mysteries and myths from religions that are still relying on the ignorant rantings of prophets, mystics, apostles, priests, mullahs, bishops, and witch doctors. They have frightened and confounded believers with the flames of Hell for many centuries.
But while a scientist can punch a key and see what will happen to Manhattan in a storm greater than Superstorm Sandy, we have the old “religious” story of Afghani farming neighbors Mohammad and Zakia, who fell in love as children and wanted to get married in adulthood. But Zakia was a member of the Islamic Sunni Tajiks and Mohammad a member of the Islamic Shiite Hazara, religious enemies who have regularly and fanatically killed each other since the seventh century. Her family had threatened to kill both of them if they married. At age 18, Zakia ran to a woman’s shelter where she stayed for months. The pair decided to elope in March.
They have been running from family and authorities since, hiding in at least eight different places, and once living for a short time in cold mountain caves. The Taliban police have charged them with attempted adultery and a charge of bigamy. (Rather strange in a country where a Muslim can marry four wives!) They are currently living somewhere in the high mountains of the Hindu Kush Range near the Pakistan border, moving constantly to keep from being killed in “honor killings.” Ironically, in their ancient world they do have a modern cellphone—but reception is terrible in the mountains.
Giorgio The Donkey Out-Performs Diego The Pony
Sometimes people and other living things have to learn to live in several different worlds. The March New Yorker magazine noted the life of Giorgio, a donkey who played an important role in “Union Jack,” a New York City Ballet production that has been performed for 31 years. Giorgio performed his job perfectly beginning in 1976. Led by a young boy, he pulled two girls in a cart to a position on center stage, where the girls leaped off the cart and joined in a dance with sailors to the music of the old favorite “There Is a Tavern in the Town.” He waited patiently until the girls jumped back into the cart and then carried them off to the wings.
Giorgio lived in stables near the theater with other animals used in plays and musicals. He was known to be calm and relaxed in all situations. But Giorgio died of old age last year, so the ballet company had to find a replacement. The powers-to-be thought they had an adequate replacement in Diego, another donkey, but he didn’t work out during his first performance. He pulled the girls onstage okay, but then, possibly star-struck, refused to leave the stage. Diego put four feet down, and it took 15 minutes for handlers to remove Diego from the stage. Some of the audience loved it.
Diego was fired. He was replaced by a Shetland pony named Spanky. Spanky did fine during three rehearsals, but during his first ballet everything went well until he was to pull the cart offstage. Spanky stopped in the middle of the huge stage and dropped a whole load of pony biscuits to the delight of the audience—and the shock and awe of the director. They still have not found Giorgio’s replacement. As Donald Rumsfeld would say, “Stuff happens!” in a modern, unpredictable world.
Shakespeare Had Us Pegged
My favorite playwright was born 450 years ago this past week. Let’s celebrate him for a moment. He knew us well—all of our heroics, foibles, and eccentricities. In “As You Like It” he stripped us of all our clothes and revealed our blemishes, quirks, and all the parts we play in life. See if he has you pegged:
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven stages. At first the infant, mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel and shining morning face,
Creeping like snail unwillingly to school. And then the lover, sighing like a furnace,
With a woeful ballad made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard, jealous in honour,
Sudden and quick in quarrel, seeking the bubble reputation in the cannon’s mouth.
And then the justice, in fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut, full of wise sayings and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side, his youthful hose, well saved,
A world too wide for his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again to childish treble, pipes and whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, that
Ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans [without] teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
Suddenly I have discovered that I have survived to an almost eighth stage, short of teeth and eyesight, amazed by what has happened during my lifetime: from two-holers to landing on the moon, from country school and syrup pail lunches to tracking asteroids across the sky, from farm party-line telephones to satellite phones calling from Mt. Everest, from squirrel stew to salmon flown daily from Alaska, and other remarkable events. But even old farts and fogies need to change and live in a modern world.
Research Shows Americans Are Optimistic About Future Science And Technology
The Pew Research Center gave me confidence the other day that ignorance, bigotry, and gullibility may still lose out to science and new discoveries. It took the Roman Catholic Church over 400 years to admit that Galileo and his 16th-century cohorts were right about the earth orbiting around the sun. The Inquisition forced Galileo to recant his idea under fear of death, but Galileo’s young, passionate assistant Giordano Bruno refused to recant, so he was stripped naked, had his tongue smashed by a wood press to quiet him, and was burned alive at the stake in the city square for his scientific challenge. The latest saint of the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II, publicly apologized to Galileo for doubting him. He said nothing about Bruno. John Paul was somewhat of a realist about science. He also accepted evolution as a scientific truth over 150 years after Darwin’s “Origin of the Species.” Better late than never for the pope that did nothing to halt sexual abuse by priests, bishops, and stray cardinals during his absolute reign of 27 years.
The Pew Poll reveals that 80 percent of Americans believe that most defective organs of the body will soon be replaced by transplant organs grown in labs. Over half believe that computers will be advanced enough to create human-like art, and 30 percent agree that we have a chance to colonize other planets within the next 50 years. Americans are worried, however, about parents using DNA to “make” perfect children, and about robots being used as caregivers for the elderly and those with dementia. Even almost 40 percent are science fiction fans enough to say we have a chance to develop teleportation by 2100. Scientists have a problem with that prediction.
Are Millennials “Smarter Than That?”
But technology is moving at a rapid pace. Aaron Smith, a senior researcher at Pew, reminds us in USA Today: “If you’d told me in 1995 that I would have a device in my pocket that gave me access to all the world’s information and let me communicate with anyone I knew at a moment’s notice... I would have been dumbfounded.” And science is continuing to take its toll on religious superstitions, ignorant prophets, medieval philosophies, and 6,000-year-old universe fantasies. Non-believers now make up about 20 percent of the population and are increasing in number hourly. A USA Today writer from Vancouver reacted this way to a pastor suggesting that “Millennials” read the Bible: “If Millennials do start reading the Bible, chances are they will do so with their minds engaged, not closed, and if so, they will certainly see at least some of the many contradictory, incredulous and inhumane passages contained therein.... Science says something? Give me 100% proof! Religion says something? Don’t question, just believe. Millennials may well prove to be smarter than that.”
The World-A Combination of Zoo And Asylum
Last week former New York mayor billionaire Michael Bloomberg added to our confusion about religion when he said, “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to Heaven, I’m not stopping to be interviewed, I am heading straight in. I have earned my place.” Spoken like a true One Percenter.
But people are the most weird and among the funniest animals on earth. A recent survey reveals that 74 percent of Americans say Heaven is real—while only 59 percent say Hell is. Maybe we should put that disparity under “optimism.” Many people have written about their near-death, quick trips to Paradise. There are only two books I know of written about near-death experiences in Hell. Maybe they “have earned their place,” like Bloomberg.
This country and the world are still like a combination zoo and asylum to me: fascinating.
The U.S. Census has revealed that we still have 1.6 million people without complete plumbing facilities, which usually means a two-holer out back. They mainly live in Alabama, Kentucky, West Virginia, and South Dakota. I’m sure these folks would like to know that we paid a Russian company $19 million to put an extra toilet on the International Space Station in 2008. It’s expensive because leg restraints and thigh bars have to be installed to keep the astronaut on the toilet while duty is done.
As people sit in a two-holer on a frosty morning, I’m sure they will appreciate the fact that with the help of forty partners, Google has built a Global Forest Watch. The system can track the loss of forests around the world, whether in the Amazon, Siberia, New York’s Central Park, the suburbs of Atlanta, or where WalMart has cleared land to build another superstore. Science seems to be at warp speed, while humans still stumble to the two-holer.
Raymond is a former Marine officer and
school board superintendent and resides
in Detroit Lakes.