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What colors?

pumpkin-spice-latte-sign-785463Today’s Daily Prompt is all about autumn. It’s all about changing colors, dropping temperatures, pumpkin spice lattes. The prompt asks whether fall fills your heart with warmth or with dread.

I live in San Francisco. In the city. In the heart of the city.

Fall in San Francisco is not like fall on the East Coast. In fact, September is generally the warmest month of the year here. Summer’s fog has blown off and winter’s rains — which we desperately need here in California — have not yet arrived.

With the warmer days (in the low 70s) and the abundant sunshine, it’s a great time of the year to take advantage of all that this remarkable city has to offer.

I will admit, though, that I do miss the cornucopia of colors and the crisp fall air of autumn in the east. I spent most of my life on the East Coast. In the DC area, then in the New York City area, and then in the Boston area.

Unquestionably, fall was my favorite time of the year. The heat and humidity of the summer had finally abated. Autumn provided a respite of crisp, cool air for several months before the cold, gray days of winter were upon us.

And the trees, oh the trees, with their crowns of reds, golds, oranges, coppers, cinnamons, and yellows. They paint a landscape that is truly spectacular and awe-inspiring and that cannot be replicated by even the best artists’ brushes.

I loved fall in the east.

But if I want to experience the colors of autumn here in the Bay Area, all I need to do is hop into my car and head out of the city. The Sierras around Lake Tahoe are already luminous.

Even closer, I can cross the Golden Gate Bridge and see some of fall’s finest plumage just to the north. Maybe not quite as spectacular or vivid as on the East Coast, but beautiful nonetheless.

And most important, there’s a Starbucks just around the corner from where I live, so I can score a pumpkin spice latte any time I feel the need.

Which is right about now.

 
14 Comments

Posted by on September 21, 2014 in Blogging

 

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Short and sweet

brevityToday’s Daily Prompt asks, “Where do you fall on the brevity/verbosity spectrum?”

I’ve written any number of posts about this topic, so rather than reinventing the wheel, so to speak, I’m going to pull excerpts from several previous posts to explain where I fall on the brevity/verbosity spectrum.

Back in March of 2011, I wrote, “No one has ever accused me of being too succinct. And I am the first to admit that I have a tendency to over-explain things or to use more words or sentences than are necessary.” Case in point, right?

In another post a few weeks later, I complained how hard it is to be brief. “It goes against the grain of the way I’ve been writing all of my life.” In an attempt to justify my verbosity, I wrote:

I’ve always felt that my style of writing, verbose though it may occasionally be, adds color and life to what I write, and demonstrates that I’m an intelligent and articulate writer with an excellent command of the language.

And then I said this:

Removing what some might consider to be unnecessary words from my writing is difficult for me because everything I write is, in my humble opinion, germane to the subject matter. Thus, nothing is unnecessary. For me, removing sentences is akin to asking a mother to choose which child she’s willing to edit out of her family.

How’s that for a great example of an overblown analogy?

Some of the best writers in the world have acknowledged how challenging it is to write concisely. Henry David Thoreau said, “Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long time to make it short.” Mark Twain reportedly said, “If I had more time, I’d write shorter.”

I am well aware that my verbosity might be a hindrance to typically short-attention-span blog readers, I have pledged — a number of times, actually — to keep my posts’ word counts down. In fact, more than three years ago I wrote:

Recognizing this tendency to use too many words in my blog posts, I have decided to attempt to exercise a greater economy of words going forward. Whereas my previous posts typically logged between 600 and 900 words each — and occasionally even more — I will endeavor to limit my blog posts to between 300 and 500 words, making it easier and quicker for you, my readers, to digest my observations, wit, and wisdom in smaller, more concise, bite-sized chunks.

Seriously? It takes chutzpah to write those two sentences in a post promising to write more succinctly. I should simply have written:

I know I use too many words in my posts, so I’m going to strive for no more than 500 words in each.

I do think I’m on the right path, however. Last year I examined the average length of my posts. Even though I had previously committed to writing shorter posts, during a 13-month period from January 2013 through February 2014, my average number of words per post was 793.

I just went back and reviewed some of my most recent posts and the trend looks positive. They ranged from a low of 325 words to a high of 1,009 words. The average for those posts was 675 words. So we’re moving in the right direction.

Still, what I’ve discovered is that, for someone who believes he has a way with words, it’s extremely difficult for me to do away with words.


This post has 572 words.

 
41 Comments

Posted by on September 20, 2014 in Blogging

 

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Above and below

above and belowRonald is not just your average Joe. Not by a long shot. He is seriously above average. Just ask him. He’ll tell you.

Oh wow. You must think that he is one conceited SOB to make such a claim. He must really be full of himself; quite the egoist, right?

The truth is that, by almost any measure, Ronald is, in fact, a highly accomplished individual.

He has earned several graduate degrees. He has a fulfilling, high-paying job. He’s highly regarded, both at his job and in his community. He lives a comfortable life. He pays his bills on time and in full each month and still has plenty of money left over to enjoy some of the finer things life has to offer.

He and his wife have been happily married for three decades and together they raised three wonderful children who have grown up to become above average adults in their own rights.

So yes, Ronald feels pretty good about all that. Sure, there are other aspects of his life about which he might not feel so good, but this is neither the time nor the place to discuss such matters.

It’s very clear to anyone who is paying close attention that Ronald is above average. And I mean that quite literally.

I know this about Ronald because he has introduced me to the occupant of the apartment directly beneath his own. That occupant is a gentleman by the name of François Averagé.

His name is pronounced ah-vuh-RAHZH-ay. He’s French, according to Ronald. Or Belgian. Ronald’s not sure.

So you see, because he lives in the apartment directly above Mr. Averagé from France or Belgium, it cannot be denied that Ronald is, indeed, above Averagé.

Interestingly, the woman who lives in the apartment directly above Ronald is Victoria Arness. She recently got married, though, and now lives the apartment above Roland with her husband, Samuel Belt.

Thus, while Ronald is above Averagé, he is also below the Belts.


This is my response to this week’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt. Linda G Hill challenged us to write a post containing the word “average.” She instructs that we can use it as our theme or try to stick the word in somewhere.

 
16 Comments

Posted by on September 20, 2014 in Blogging, Humor

 

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You and me

You envelopeAs I opened the front door of my apartment building this morning, I saw an envelope — it was the size of a typical invitation envelope — on the ground. I reached down and picked it up. The flap was tucked into the back of the envelope, but it was not sealed.

On the front, where the address would normally have been, was just the word “You” in a calligraphy-stylized font. There was no return address.

Driven by my curiosity, I opened the flap of the envelope. There was a note inside. It read, “Go to the corner of West Main Street and 10th Avenue.” I was on my way to the grocery store, which was only two blocks from the intersection specified on the note. So I headed there.

I looked around upon my arrival and didn’t see anyone or anything unusual until I spotted another envelope propped up against the base of a tree. Like the first one, it was addressed to “You.” It was also unsealed, with just the back flap tucked in.

Once again, I opened the envelope and read the note. This time it read, “Go to 411 10th Avenue and knock on the door.”

I walked to the address, climbed the half-a-dozen steps that led to the to the front door, and knocked. The door swung open and a stunning woman — possibly the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in real life — handed me another envelope with simply the word “You” on the outside.

I pulled open the flap and read the note. It said, “I’ve been waiting for you to finally show up at my door. Please come in.”

And then I woke up.


This post is my response to Writing 101 exercise #5. I tried to be as brief as I could.

 
27 Comments

Posted by on September 19, 2014 in Blogging

 

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Atheism is a religion

atheismI hear that a lot — that atheism is a religion — from people who are not atheists. And, of course, we atheists have our snide cute, catch-phrase responses:

Atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sexual position.
Atheism is a religion like bald is a hair color.
Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.
Atheism is a religion like health is a disease.

But seriously folks, atheism is a religion like the Bible is a history book and like creationism is science.

I think part of the reason that people believe that atheism is a religion is because most people don’t really understand what it is…and what it isn’t. In fact, for some reason, some people are actually intimidated by atheism.

According to a recent Pew Research Study, atheists are one of the most universally disliked groups in America. Atheists are in a virtual tie with Muslims for being unwelcome in our society. Isn’t that special?

But this should come as no surprise when animosity between religions, distrust, and anger seem to be the norms in this country.

Before we discuss what atheism is or is not, let’s define what a religion is.

Religion: a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

So if religion is a set of beliefs, and atheists believe that God does not exist, doesn’t that constitute a “set of beliefs,” thus making atheism a religion?

No, it does not. Atheism is not a belief system nor is it a religion. Let’s be real clear here. Atheism is not a set of believes. It’s not even a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods. It is merely a lack of belief in the existence of God or the gods. It is a lack of belief that there is an afterlife. It is the belief that the material universe is all that is real.

Some claim that atheists equate science with religion and elevate scientists to almost god-like worship. Well, most of us do respect science and scientists, but what makes something a religion is when it asserts the existence of some sort of supernatural divinity and/or an afterlife. Science does not.

And unlike religions, atheism doesn’t operate under a clearly defined set of rules. The only common thread that ties all atheists together is a lack of belief in gods and supernatural beings. Other than that, atheists can do and believe anything they want, and still call themselves atheist, which is another reason that I dislike the label “non-believer” being applied to atheists.

Do all atheists share a common philosophy, a common code of conduct? Like everyone else, atheists have philosophies by which we live. But there is not a clearly defined, unified philosophy that is common to all, or even to most, atheists. Unlike with religions, a lack of belief in the existence of God or the gods does not lead to any particular or specific philosophy of life.

Atheists do not abide by any particular dogma, do not practice specific rituals, do not have any sort of ancient, sacred scripture, and do not follow some human, spiritual leader who serves as the agent of God on Earth.

Atheists often diverge on issues, ideas, ideologies, philosophies, politics. There simply is no common atheist belief system. Thus, atheism is not a religion.

I’ve been told that it’s not very tolerant of me, a man who claims to be a “live-and-let-live” kind of a person, to be critical of a belief system based upon mysticism, mythology, and superstition.

Well, I can be critical of anything I wish to be critical of, but I don’t try to impose my beliefs onto others. I don’t condemn others to eternal damnation for holding beliefs based upon mysticism, mythology, and superstition. I don’t need to. They do that enough to each other anyway. I don’t feel the need to punish or injure others because their belief systems are different from my own.

It’s also been suggested that atheists speak in absolutes, which is better, in my humble opinion, than speaking in tongues. What the hell are they saying, anyway?

So what are these absolutes that atheists speak in? There is absolutely no God. Atheism is absolutely not a religion. Religions are absolutely based in mythology and superstition.

First, atheists don’t say that there is absolutely is God. We say that there is no evidence that we’ve seen or experienced to cause us to believe in the existence of a god.

Second, I’ve tried to make a case here that atheism is not a religion, but if there are those who believe that it is, well they are entitled to believe whatever they want to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Third, as to all religions being based in mythology and superstition, that is absolutely the case. If there is an exception to that “absolute,” please inform me of any religion that is not based in mythology and superstition. I’ll listen with an open mind.

And finally, I’ve been asked where the harm is in religion. “As long as those people aren’t bothering me,” why should I care?

If only that were the case that “those people” aren’t bothering me.

“Those people” are trying to legislate their religious beliefs into the law of the land of a free society, one that offers freedom of, and freedom from, religion.

“Those people” are indoctrinating their children with a belief system that reinforces the idea that “we are right and they are wrong.”

“Those people” are focusing on what makes us different and what divides us rather than on what we all have in common as human beings.

“Those people” are doing harm. And that is where I draw a line in the sand.


This will be my last post on religion/atheism for a while. This subject is exhausting me.

 
74 Comments

Posted by on September 18, 2014 in Religion, Society

 

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Loss of Innocence, Part One

soda fountainToday’s Writing 101 assignment — the third or fourth, I can’t remember; I’m bad with numbers — is to write about a loss. The twist for this assignment is that this must be the first post in a three-post series.

Like every one of us, I have suffered loss. Someone. Something. But as I thought about a loss I’ve experienced and considered the kind of loss that I could stretch across three posts, the loss that occurred to me was one that happened in my youth and one I will never, ever forget.

It was the time I lost my virginity.

It happened in the mid-sixties, during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. I was 17 at the time. I don’t know, maybe by today’s standards, losing one’s virginity at the age of 17 seems kind of quaint. Times were very different then, I suppose. I was the first guy in my neighborhood to lose his virginity, which made me the go to guy for everyone else when it came to explaining what it was like.

But I digress. My two best friends, Mickey and Pat, worked part-time at the local drug store back in the day when drugstores had soda fountains. You could get hotdogs, sandwiches, ice cream sundaes, root beer floats, milkshakes, and coffee at the drug store soda fountain.

I would periodically hang out at the counter with them when they were working the fountain and, because they were my best friends, they would often give me a free milkshake and hot dog.

One day, while I was sitting on a stool at the counter drinking my milkshake and chatting aimlessly with Mickey and Pat, an attractive redhead walked into the drug store, sat down at the other end of the counter, and ordered an ice cream soda.

Pat jumped to make her the ice cream soda, while Mickey came over to me, leaned across the counter, put a hand toward my ear, and, with a slight snigger, whispered, “That’s Jack-off Sue.”

“Huh?” I responded. Mickey explained that Sue, who worked across the street at the local beauty academy, had a reputation for, well, let’s just say, taking matters into her own hands. I looked across the counter toward Sue and my imagination — that of a hormonal 17-year-old boy — started firing on all cylinders.

Sundae_no_spoon_smllAfter Pat served Sue her ice cream soda, he came over to where Mickey and I were at the other end of the counter and the three of us huddled like a trio of conspirators. Sue seemed to be enjoying both her ice cream soda and the attention she was getting from the three of us.

I saw her pull out a pencil from her purse and write something down on her napkin. Then she looked toward the three of us and said, “Who wants my cherry?”

It was all the three of us guys could do but to keep from going completely nuts. Egged on by my two compadres, I, almost sheepishly, responded, “I do.”

message on a napkinSue got up off her stool, walked over to where I was sitting, popped the cherry from her ice cream soda into my mouth, which was conveniently hanging gapingly open, and handed me the napkin with the writing on it.

In a very matter of fact way, she simply said, “Pick me up at 8 on Saturday night.” Then she turned around and sashayed her way out of the drug store.

I looked at the napkin and saw, scratched out by what appeared to have been an eyebrow pencil, an address and phone number, along with the impression of her lipstick covered lips.

Mickey and Pat were laughing hysterically.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2014 in Blogging, Memories

 

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Whatever floats your boat

whatever floats your boatI published a post last week, The meaning of life. It generated a fair number of comments — 51 as of when I wrote this post. Some who commented agreed with what I wrote in that post. Others not so much.

But there was a very interesting exchange with one commenter, which has prompted me to write a post in response, rather than to just respond in the comments section of my previous post.

The commenter was naptimethoughts, a wife, a mother to two kids, and with a zoo at home. She also pointed out that she has an atheist brother “who has no idea that he is just as bad as evangelicals.” Oh snap!

I’m not going to repeat, verbatim, our dialogue in the comments section of my post. You can go there yourself, if you wish to. I’m just going to paraphrase here.

“Our lives are full of choices,” naptimethoughts said. She “has made the choice to believe in God and science, as they are not mutually exclusive.” And she has made the choice to believe in heaven rather than believing in nothing, because believing in God, and heaven, “and all that good shit,” is much better than believing in nothing. Believing in nothing, she wrote, “sucks in comparison.”

I don’t believe that God exists or that heaven exists, other than in the minds of those who do believe that God and heaven exist. But it’s not my place or my ambition to persuade those who do believe that God and heaven exist that they really don’t.

That said, I do need to dispel the misconception that atheists believe in nothing. I can’t speak for all atheists, but most of us are not nihilists. I responded, “As an atheist, I don’t believe in ‘nothing.’ I believe in a lot of things, which is why I sort of bristle at the term ‘non-believer.’ … It’s not a matter of believing God versus believing in nothing.”

Naptimethoughts agreed, to an extent. She wrote, ”Okay, I get that, and I think non-believer is not a nice term either.” She pointed out, quite accurately, that our time on Earth is limited. She went on to say:

I want to believe that my friends and family who’ve gone before are waiting, just on the other side, for me to join them. It makes the concept of death easier to swallow, and it’s comforting. … I’m good with the idea of returning to the earth, but I want my soul to move on. That’s what I mean by “nothing,” not that you believe in nothing, but that after our world is over for you, there is nothing tangible for your soul.

“I want to believe.” “It makes the concept of death easier to swallow.” “It’s comforting.”

Exactly!

That’s why these beliefs — in God, in religion, in the afterlife — are so damn compelling, so tantalizing. It makes life, and especially death, easier to bear. If we believe that there’s more to life than the few decades we have on this planet, that there is an eternal afterlife, and that our soul, whatever that is, will persist in some other “tangible” place or way, of course that’s comforting.

And that’s why we invented it. And that’s why we cling to it. That’s why so many people, including naptimethoughts, believe that “all religions got it right.”

But she also wrote that religions are “all the same, anyway. No matter what book you read, they all say the same thing: love God, love your neighbor, love yourself, be nice and a good person.”

I’m sorry, but I just don’t see it the same way. I see Christianity broken into all kinds of sects and sub sects. And they’re not all the same. If they were, why would we need to have different Christian religions? Why different versions of the Bible? Why different practices and rituals?

And then, when you go beyond Christianity, the differences in religions and beliefs are even greater. All religions don’t necessarily teach the same lessons. They may teach that you should love your neighbor, so long as your neighbor believes the same way you do. They may teach you to love yourself, but then tell you that you are a natural born sinner and you need to repent.

Be nice and be a good person, they teach, but if you don’t believe in God and you don’t love Jesus, then you aren’t, and can’t be, a nice and good person. Because you have no moral compass and, as a result, you can’t possibly know right from wrong, good from evil.

And you deserve to burn in hell for an eternity.

Be a nice and be a good person, but smite your enemies. Smite the heretics. Smite the infidels.

And remember, what is piousness to one religious man is apostasy to another.

I’m not an “evangelical atheist,” but I look at all of the atrocities that man has committed against man across the ages in the name of God, in the name of religion, and I don’t see how anyone can possibly say all religions are the same, much less “all religions got it right.”

But if believing in God and going to church help people get through and make the most of this life, without bringing harm to themselves or to others, then hey, whatever floats your boat.

 
54 Comments

Posted by on September 17, 2014 in Religion

 

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