October 08, 2007


Caption: Seamus McGoogle has a tragic sense of life.

El Cabrero has been musing on optimism and pessimism lately. It has occurred to me that I know some pretty miserable people who consider themselves to be optimists.

I tend to be pessimistic at times about the Big Picture by virtue of temperament and persuasion but otherwise am pretty content. I'm even optimistic about small things. The universe as a whole may be tending towards entropy but not all parts of it are at any given moment.

Camus once said that while he was pessimistic about human destiny, he was optimistic about people.

Let me explain the pessimistic part first. While I don't think the universe is out to get us, it probably won't go out of its way to cut us any slack. In the human world, bad things happen to good people and vice versa all the time. The distribution of wealth, power, and prestige seems to me to have more to do with randomness than with merit. As the writer of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes put it:

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. (9:11)

Another prophet, Leonard Cohen, put it this way:

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

(Parenthetically, the next verse of the song pretty well sums up life under the Bush administration:

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died)

Then there's the whole Buddhist thing about the noble truth of suffering. That tradition speaks of six major kinds of suffering that can happen to everyone: birth/becoming, death/dying, sickness, aging and the loss of abilities, having what you don't want and wanting what you don't have. That's a pretty good list.

Many religions teach that all this will be straightened out farther along. That would be nice, but it's beyond the view of the naked eye.

Not that I'm complaining or anything. All this doesn't mean we can't win sometimes--it makes it sweeter when we do. And even though we can't fix everything, we can fix a lot.

Nietzsche spoke about "Saying Yes to life even in its strangest and hardest problems."

That works for me.

THE LAST WORD on President Bush's CHIP veto goes to Jon Stewart.

AN ENDANGERED SPECIES. The US invasion of Iraq and subsequent events is threatening the survival of what may be the world's last remaining authentic Gnostic sect, the Mandeans. Gnosticism was once a powerful movement within early Christianity and had pagan and Jewish varieties. Here's an interesting op-ed on the subject.

DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL. At first I thought this was a joke, but it looks like for a time some folks at the Air Force considered the development of a bomb that would lead to rampant homosexual activity. It even won an "award" of sorts. The possibilities of snark are overwhelming to me at this point, so I'll just pass.

FACTOIDS DEPARTMENT. According to The Week Magazine

The salary of Gen. David Petraeus, the senior U.S. commander in Iraq, works out to $493 a day. Senior managers of Blackwater, a private contractor paid by the U.S. government to provide security in Iraq, make $1,075 a day.


More than three times as many blacks live in prison cells than in college dorms, according to a new Census Bureau report. For Latinos, the ration is 2.7 inmates for every dorm dweller. Twice as many whites live in college housing as in prison.

PUT UP OR... E.J. Dionne's newest column asks "Would conservatives and Republicans support the war in Iraq if they had to pay for it?" Speaking of which, I actually got something useful out of a George Will column, to wit this Adam Smith quote:

Were the expense of war to be defrayed always by a revenue raised within the year...wars would in general be more speedily concluded, and less wantonly undertaken.


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