Thoughts About Nothing

Contemplative Moorings
    Nothing is set in stone,
    except perhaps for the occasional fossil.

    No man is an island unto himself,
    though I’ve known a few peninsulas.

    There are no absolutes in life,
    except for the fact that there are no absolutes.

    I may be talking nonsense here,
    but sometimes it’s the only sensible thing.
Copyright 2015

The Grammar Police Can Get a Wee Bit Aggressive


Through these many years of blogging, a few trends have caught my attention. Perhaps the one most surprising to me has been the consistent misspelling of the word “lightning” which I often encounter in the guise of “lightening”. I’ve often marveled at the persistence of this typographical oversight and how it took hold of so many minds.

Not that it’s a big deal, however. As long as I can understand what I’m reading, I don’t think it matters terribly when writers mistake one word for another if they sound highly similar. Another example: “then” and “than”. The former refers to cause and effect or ordinality, the latter to a comparative antecedent, but people use the two of them interchangeably. Since each word has a distinct definition, we could easily combine them into one word anyway, something which happens a lot as language evolves.

So, I do think that the self-appointed correctors of the English Language ought to chill a bit (and not in the temperature lowering definition of that word, he clarified archly.) There is however one misusage that does annoy me more than a smidge which is the use of “literally” to imply obvious exaggeration, as in “I literally died laughing.” This butchering of the concept of literalness, though intentionally ironic, does undermine the ability of people to tell when said irony is taking place. If I were to say, “I literally ran ten miles.” and mean it, people in this day and age likely would take that as hyperbole, which is precisely what the term “literally” was invented to disambiguate.

Then, let me leave you all with this last thought. Some mistakes trip us up, some expand our minds, and some become monuments to both the ignorance and creativity of the human mind. This is language, all.

Nothing Happens Twice

I emerged from the blankness of my depression when a nearby man of less than average height began his futile attempts to reach a book upon a high shelf. I suppose my intent and wordless gaze fell on him far too long. As he finally looked in my direction, I lowered my eyeline but didn’t turn away, a misguided motion of guilt.

HIM: “Do you mind lending me a hand? I can’t quite reach it.”

ME: “Sure. I can, sure.”

My words carried me up out of the plush chair I’d slunk into and away from the news magazine that heralded all the ill-fated people and places of recent weeks. I went immediately to this stranger’s aid at only his simple request. He pointed me toward the book that troubled his reach as I came forth, arm raised.

HIM: “Thank you, sir. I don’t know why they make these stacks so tall. Shrink them a couple of inches, and I’d have no problem, you know?”

ME: ” I know. They’re probably much taller than they need to be.”

That library in particular was spare in its selection. Most of its shelves held less than half their capacity. Why use the top shelves at all? A man of less than average height likely needed this variety of assistance often. I could scarcely deign not to oblige.

HIM: “Thank you again, sir. I do appreciate it.”

ME: “Absolutely. You are quite welcome.”

He smiled and I returned as much reciprocal emotion as my mood allowed. Then he strode off to some other part of the library where, hopefully, his intentions lay within easier reach. My eyes returned to the voids in the shelves. It flashed into my mind that in movies, tv shows, and other depictions of libraries, books fill the premises almost to their limitations. Reality, of course, demands excess capacity, a place for everything when it is not wandering the world.

ME: What a strange place to be thinking about nothing.

These last words I murmured to myself, still standing, eyes fixed on the heart of the quiet buzz of activity all around me, desire for re-engaging that aforementioned periodical gone. Yes. Strange indeed.

Copyright 2015

(Note: The title of this piece is a reference to the Samuel Beckett play Waiting for Godot.)

Thoughts (Life Values)


Conducting a conversation on values is a difficult task especially existential ones. One of the main difficulties in my experience lies in the contradictions at the heart of the debate over so-called Pro-Life principles. People often rely on transcendent ideas to justify the preservation and promotion of human life, such as the Sanctity of Life and the Moral Animal arguments. Yet, at the same time, these same people will often reduce humanity down to reductive biological concepts, such as Genetics, Conception, and basic Cardiovascular Function. This would seem to simplify life down to the maxim, “We are alive because we are alive.”

The issue, I tend to think, is one of passivity, i.e. we are defined by traits we do not control. The specialness of the human soul, I believe, emerges from its capacity for reciprocity, not just Golden Rule-style behavior but even the ability to arbitrarily produce harmonious give and take, as in games and casual social interactions. This is intimately entwined with human health. If the creation and nurturing of life is to have meaning, it must have social meaning.

In a nutshell, we cannot measure the value of life as if a series of individuals but as an integration of individuals into a social environment. We must consider the obligation of the individual to the social environment as well as the reverse. Most Pro-Life arguments fail this test and, I believe, leave us stuck in the untenable position of taking sides in a battle that is not a battle but becomes analogous to one when we fail to heed the essence of civilization: United we stand; divided we fall.

Copyright 2015

Sexism in Ten Words (or More)

Via bspencer:

Succinct, no? And really, the concept of vice, whether ignorance, laziness, indulgence or what all, exists solely to marginalize people, either individuals or groups. This is most obvious when an entire class of people is blamed for some transgression or dismissed for a stereotypical trait as with sexism or racism. It’s less obvious when done to individuals, but it is common for us to excuse behavior of any type from those we perceive as above us. Our peers don’t fair quite as well. Those we perceive as below us, well, they can do almost no right.

Biases are subtle this way, so we usually aren’t able to perceive them within ourselves. For this, I believe the greater part of virtue lies in examining closely our own motives and being honest with ourselves about them. One could certainly do worse than not.

(Cross-posted in The Box Ajar)

Blog Overhaul

I like how my blog page looks. Unfortunately, I get few visitors to the main version of my blog page. Most people who read my posts do so either through the WordPress Reader or on a mobile device. Either way the left and right sidebars are invisible to most people who visit which is a shame.

I’ve debated about this and have decided to put more visual aspects and more links in the body of my posts which have upto now been mostly restricted to text. This isn’t ideal, in my view, especially since each post will look a bit more cluttered, but I want everything I create to reach more eyeballs as it were, so I’m going to try some different things out in my next few posts and see how they look. Any feedback on the layouts would be much appreciated. Thank you in advance for your constructive criticism. :-)