Friday, June 22, 2007

The Good Old Days

1967. I remember it well. It was a very good year. Hover-cars, picture-phones, atomic ovens, robot maids. It all seems so old fashioned now, but at the time those things were considered very modern. Personal teleportation devices, brain transplants, and the like were years in the future. We take them for granted now, of course, but it wasn't so long ago that they were considered the stuff of science fiction. But now, here we are in the year 2007 and they're part of our everyday lives. It's amazing to think of the changes I have seen in my lifetime. So many technological marvels. They've certainly made life easier, but sometimes I wonder if our world is really the better for them. Teleportation is okay, I guess, if you’ve really got to get somewhere in a hurry, but doggone it, I miss the slower pace of life, those leisurely Sunday afternoon flights we used to take down the skyway at a thousand miles per hour. It gave you time to take in the scenery, and think, and relax. I miss that. These days, it's just hurry-hurry-hurry all the time. And, as for brain transplants, well, this new artificial body of mine is nice and all, but there’s something to be said for getting sick once in a while, and growing old. It builds character. And another thing, it was a more interesting world when everybody wasn’t young and didn’t all look the same. I can understand why they made us look the same. It was well intentioned. They gave us green skin because they wanted to get rid of racism. But somehow it just don’t seem right. I wish we were all different colors like it was in the old days. And now I hear they’re going to start taking holographic pictures of our brains and store them in a big brain repository, so if your brain is destroyed in an accident the doctors can use the holograph to make a new one. Which means there’s no possibility of anyone ever dying again. We’ll all be immortal. But what good is being immortal in a world where Nixon is still President of the World? I didn’t like the guy when he was elected in 1960 and I haven’t grown any fonder of him since, far from it. And mark my words, they'll make it a requirement for us to get new brains just like they make it a requirement to get these new bodies. They're already talking about how the new brains will be better than the ones we've got now. They’re going to erase all the bad thoughts, they say, which probably means they’re going to erase all bad thoughts about Nixon. They're going to make us all think alike, just like they made us all look alike. I don't think I want to be immortal in a world like that. Why, it’s enough to make me want to stick my head in an anti-matter trash can and destroy my brain before they can take a holograph of it. But I guess I won’t. I guess I'm just being old fashioned …

I Am Accused of a Heinous Crime

This morning, shortly before seven, as I walked to my day job at the University of Texas, carrying my briefcase and thermos, I saw a man down the street, standing on the corner of 22nd and Guadalupe. He appeared to be waiting to cross Guadalupe to the campus side of the street.

There was nothing remarkable about him. He was black-haired, appeared to be Hispanic, and was dressed neatly in black pants and white shirt. Also, he was carrying a backpack, as many people do in the campus area. Nothing remarkable at all. However, there was something in his body language that caught my eye, something subtle, which I might not have noticed, had he not been directly ahead of me and the only person other than myself on the street.

This is what he would do. From time to time, he would turn his head in my direction, ever so slightly, just for a moment, then turn back—a quick, nervous movement that indicated he was casting a furtive glance in my direction. He did this several times. Then, as I drew nearer, he turned facing me, walked over a few steps to a newspaper vending machine, and stood there looking down at it, as if reading the headlines. He stood there a long time, and was still standing there when I was within ten paces of him.

I glanced at him. If he was a student, he was older than average, in his forties, perhaps a grad student. Or maybe he was a faculty member. Then I noticed that his backpack hung limply from his hand, as if it held only a single heavy object. Backpacks on campus, whether carried by student or faculty, are generally packed quite full.

I started to pass him. He looked up from the vending machine and said, “Are you all right this morning?”

I nodded, then said good morning as I walked past him. From behind, I heard him say, “Good morning.”

I crossed 22nd to the other corner to wait for the light to change. In my peripheral vision, I saw him shift indecisively for a moment, then stride across the street to stand beside me. We stood there silently. I looked straight ahead. The campus was directly across the street. Cars streamed past.

“Are you a teacher?” he asked.

“No, I’m not.”

The light was still red. A few more cars streamed past. I looked to the left to see if there was a break in the traffic. There was. Then I looked to the right, saw it was clear, and crossed the street. He did not follow me, but remained on the corner.

I was almost across the street when he screamed, “SERIAL KILLER!”

I walked faster. He kept screaming from the corner. “SERIAL KILLER! SERIAL KILLER!”

His scream grew fainter and blended with the sounds of cars as I hurried across campus.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Life Review

This morning, with the rain pattering outside and thunder grumbling in the cloudy sky, I found myself pondering the mystery of near-death experiences. I did some research …


When you have a panoramic life review, you literally relive your life, in 360 degrees panorama. You see everything that's ever happened. You even see how many leaves were on the tree when you were six years old playing in the dirt in the front yard. You literally re-live it. Next you watch your life from a second person's point of view. In this life we're taught to be sympathetic toward others. But from the second person's point of view, you'll feel empathy, not sympathy. After that, you literally will become every person that you've ever encountered. You will feel what it feels like to be that person and you will feel the direct results of your interaction between you and that person. You know the story of the Book of Judgment? Guess what? When you have your panoramic life review, you are the judger ... You do the judging. If you doubt me, believe this: you are the toughest judge you will ever have ... (READ MORE)

From Wikipedia:

The effect of a life review is by all accounts a strongly transformative experience. Experiencers describe them as extremely unpleasant from the perspective of the unhappiness they had inflicted on others, including feelings they had never dreamed of as resulting, and equally pleasant from the perspective of the good feeling they had brought to others' lives, extending to the littlest forgotten details. Almost without exception, in result, experiencers report a sharp drop in materialistic outlook (both acquisitive and philosophical), an intensified compassion for others and sense of interconnectedness, newfound altruistic activities, personality changes (though occasionally entailing divorce), a new interest in self-education and spirituality, and so on. Dannion Brinkley as one instance described himself as putting off previously deep-rooted sociopathic traits ingrained from a difficult childhood through his work as a sniper in the Vietnam War. A frequent comment by experiencers is that they later strongly avoided unethical or inconsiderate actions because they wanted to avoid painfully reliving the receiving end of the action which they knew would await them.

The transformative effect is in fact so statistically uniform in comparison with other areas of demographic study that some NDE investigators point to it as much as to experiencer accounts' detail as evidence for the empirical reality of the phenomenon itself. Kenneth Ring's book
Lessons from the Light also includes numerous accounts of an NDE permitting people hitherto blind, including cases from birth, as enabled to see (and interpret) the sight they had never before enjoyed. (READ MORE)

I'm not looking forward to my life review. Are you? No, I didn’t think so. We have all made mistakes and done things we're ashamed of. We have all inflicted hurt or failed in some other way to fulfill our potential as loving human beings. We don't like to be reminded of these failures, let alone re-experience them with the "3D" vividness of the panoramic life review, but there is no escaping the truth that we have sometimes failed. We are human, and if we did not make mistakes--well, we would not be human. Also, it is by making mistakes that we learn, and hopefully do better.

When the time comes for my life review, it won't be pleasant, but I'll try to be a man about it and face the ugliness the best I can. And maybe it won't be so bad. There were those times when I didn't screw up and instead contributed something positive to the world. Maybe it all balance out and I'll feel okay with my life. Maybe, in the end, the good and bad balance out for all of us. Maybe it even balances out for people like Dick Cheney, though I doubt it. My life review won't be a picnic, but at least I'm not Dick Cheney, or one of those other pro-torture, mass-murdering, freedom-trampling, joy-killing neo-cons. I wouldn't trade places with them on a bet. Their life reviews will be horrible, given all the pain they've caused. But I should not judge ...

Some scientists think the near-death experience is not a spiritual phenomena at all, but purely physical, a hallucination caused by chemical changes in the dying brain. But, assuming that is so, does it make the experience any less real? Of course not. If it feels real, it is real. Consciousness and reality are things that scientists have not even begun to quantify and explain, and never will. You can say pleasure is "only" due to the flow of endorphins, but that says nothing about the subjective experience of pleasure and its meaning. Endorphins, neurotransmitters, and so forth are the physical components of something that is beyond physical, they are not the thing itself. The thing itself is the experience, which cannot be defined in purely physical terms. Therefore, whether we view the near-death experience as a neurological phenomena, or spiritual, or both (my opinion), doesn't matter. It is still a genuine and profound experience.

I wonder if physical life is a game played by souls, something they do to become better souls, a test they must pass before they can ascend to a higher plane, the experience of the finite world being something the soul must know before it can truly embrace infinity. I don't know. I just wonder. But when I read about people's near-death experiences I am struck by how often they say that what they learned from the experience was the importance of love. Love, apparently, is the meaning of life. Learning to love, or perhaps re-learning.

We are born loving. That is our true nature, I think, but things happen to us along the way that cause us to forget our true nature, therefore we learn to hate. But the degree to which we do not forget and continue to love, or re-learn to love, is how we measure our success in this world.

At any rate, whether we believe or not in the reality of the near-death experience and the panoramic life review doesn't matter. It will happen anyway, even if it is "only" the rush of chemicals through the dying brain. We will review our lives, whether we want to or not, and we will feel both anguish and joy when it happens. How much joy, relative to how much anguish, is something we can decide right now while we still live in these physical bodies. We can do that by reviewing our lives now, not later, and if we see more inconsiderate acts or outright cruelty than we see acts of kindness and unconditional love, we can make the necessary adjustments now. Do it now and the life review will be a breeze.


Tonight SMiles Lewis and I will be doing a new LIVE edition of PsiOp Radio. The show starts at 7 pm CDT / 0100 UTC and will last an hour. To listen, CLICK HERE. Hope you can join us!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Death to All Fascists

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Airline Pilots vs. the TSA

In the previous post, I mentioned the clown who wrote in his blog about the TSA confiscating his make-up. In the comments section of his blog, an American Airlines pilot wrote the following:

The TSA hassles us pilots too. I have a list of things that I *MUST* have with me to legally fly the airplane. Included in that list is a flashlight. We used to have large, nice, weather-resistant Mag-Lite lamps with the company logo on them. The TSA confiscates them as "potential weapons." I might use it to "take control of the aircraft." I AM A FREAKIN CAPTAIN, I AM ALREADY IN CONTROL OF THE DAMN AIRCRAFT! Of course, if I actually SAY that, I get labelled a "security risk" and lose my ratings. At least all they can take from you is your stuff - Those damn trolls can take away my CAREER with a few paper forms.

So there you have it. In the interest of air safety, the TSA routinely confiscates items needed by airline pilots for safety. Is it not fantastic? I do not know whether to laugh or cry.

Finally: Zero Tolerance for Zero Tolerance

For years I’ve been asking the rhetorical question, “When are we going to start practicing zero tolerance for Zero Tolerance?”

I say rhetorical because I thought I knew the answer: "Never." I had become so cynical, you see, so pessimistic and bereft of hope that I truly doubted we would ever see a return to sanity in our nation's schools.

Zero Tolerance madness is too far gone, I thought. It is like a fire raging out of control. The opportunity to put it out, when it was just a cigarette butt smoldering on the forest floor, is long since past. Now it is consuming the entire forest and no help is on the way.

That was yesterday. Today I am happy to report that help is on the way. The mood has changed in this country. Tolerance for Zero Tolerance is at an all-time low, and sinking. Action is finally being taken.

But, before I describe this positive development, I should first briefly review the history of Zero Tolerance and what it has wrought ...

Zero Tolerance policies were first instituted in our nation's schools some ten years ago, the idea being that it would bring an end to drug abuse and violence in schools. Of course, there were already rules against dangerous drugs and weapons in schools. But, it was argued, they weren’t being adequately enforced. Therefore, what was needed was a new rule to ensure that the old rules should always be enforced, with no exceptions. Thus was born Zero Tolerance.

It was a good idea, a fine idea, a noble idea, in theory--but oh, what a horrible thing it turned out to be in practice. It was the worst thing that could have been done. What we discovered was that putting a Zero Tolerance policy into the hand of the average school official was like putting a gun into the hand of a raving lunatic. Whatever inhibitions that might have once kept a high school principal, or middle-school vice-principal, or fifth-grade teacher, or kindergarten teacher's inner despot at bay were now gone, utterly gone, sending these otherwise sane individuals on a power-drunk rampage, a rights-trampling spree that was awful to see.

It was mass hysteria, a witch hunt of epic proportions, a psychotic breakdown that spread like a contagion throughout the nation's school systems. In their sick hallucinations, the Zero Tolerance zealots saw everything as dangerous: switchblades were the same as nail clippers, Bowie knives the same as butter knives, squirt guns no better than 57 magnums, a drawing of an M16 as bad as the real thing, aspirin a doorway drug to marijuana, crystal meth, crack, heroin, all of them—it was all the same to the zealots. Anything at any time might violate Zero Tolerance.

The madness spread quickly, so quickly we could not believe our eyes. Soon it became routine to read such news stories as these:

At a fifth-grade graduation ceremony in California, students who adorned their mortarboards with toy soldiers to show support for the troops were forced to cut off their miniature weapons ...

In Utah, a boy was suspended from school after giving his cousin a cold pill that had been prescribed to both students ...

In Rhode Island, a kindergartner was suspended for bringing a plastic knife to class so he could cut cookies ...

And the madness raged on. It raged on, and it got worse, much worse. Soon, the zealots were looking for other things to practice Zero Tolerance on. Keeping schools safe from squirt guns and plastic sporks and pictures of aspirin bottles didn't get them high any more. They needed something else to feed their addiction to Zero Tolerance, they needed another target, and they found it.

Sexual harassment was added to the list. Like narcotics and weapons in schools, sexual harassment had always been against the rules. It had always been a disciplinary matter if a teenage boy, say, pestered a girl with unwelcome attentions or obscenities, or groped her. But the Zero Tolerance zealots wanted more. They wanted to widen the definition of the crime to include ten-year-olds who indulged in name-calling, and kindergartners who hugged each other, or hugged their teachers. It is unbelievable, but it is true. These things, too, were classified as sexual harassment and punished.

And did this satisfy the zealots? No, nothing ever satisfies them for long. They needed something else to feed their addiction to Zero Tolerance, and what they settled on next was harsher punishments for students. Where a reprimand had once been sufficient, now only an expulsion would do, and matters that had once been handled by the principal were now passed on to the juvenile authorities. A great many students, then, began to be sent to jail for somewhat-less-than criminal infractions, and there spend time with real juvenile delinquents, and be beaten and raped, and grow bitter and sick and twisted inside, and then leave jail with criminal records to impress prospective employers--in other words, to be groomed for lives of crime.

As I write this, the madness yet rages on. Nothing so far has been able to stop it, not the cries of an outraged public, not lawsuits from angry parents, not even a plea from the National School Boards Association itself to tone down the Zero Tolerance a little, not even a 2006 study by the American Psychological Association that showed that Zero Tolerance policies do no good, only harm. No, nothing so far has stopped the madness. But, today, at least there is hope.

Today we read that many states across the country are introducing legislation that would compel school officials to practice common sense when implementing Zero Tolerance policies. (LINK)

This is a good start. True, it is disappointing to realize that it takes a law to make grown-up educators practice common sense, a thing that most of us do on our own, but it takes what it takes, I guess. And let's hope it works, and if it works, perhaps we should next try it out on the Transportation Security Adminstration (TSA). Today, for instance, it was reported that TSA agents at O’Hare Airport in Chicago confiscated a clown’s make-up. They, too, it seems, have been infected with Zero Tolerance and need some help practicing common sense.