Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Throwing Out the Baby with the Bathwater

There are many questions I get asked when I reveal that I'm a heathen.  The most common one is possibly "what happened?"  There are many posts in this blog that already address this question.  Of course, I am more than happy to answer those who ask out of genuine curiosity and not to be patronizing.  So it goes without saying, those who come to wish me a "refu'ah sheleimah" (speedy recovery), you know where to find the exit.

The question I would like to address today is "what do you believe in?"  Rest assured, I am not eating dead babies and pouring their blood as a libation to Molokh.  But mainly, when I deny God, they want to know if I don't believe at all.  This discussion is one that's long and involved (and may require more than one post).  Since I am on a library computer, and I am working within a time limit,

I inevitably will have to cut this post short.  So bear with me while I put the pieces together.

On Science.

Yeah science!  Almost all of us card-carrying skeptics first turn to science to find the answers that religion has not satisfactorily answered.

Of course, science cannot answer everything either.  Some of those questions are better left toward metaphysics.  And many times, the answers provided there are no more satisfying than the ones furnished by religion.

The best baseline I've found for science are the ones set by Karl Popper.  For a question to be scientific, it has to be a) testable, and b) falsifiable.  A question like "is there a God?" is not scientifically testable.  There are no tests that can be set up using the scientific method and reproduced in a lab with (nearly) identical results.  It is not falsifiable either.  Ask most religious people if there's any way you can get them to stop believing, they will say no.  There is no way to empirically prove/disprove that God exists.  Therefore, it is not in the scope of science to answer that question.

Next, one can glimpse into the realm of logic.  Sure, there are plenty of logical proofs that assert God exists.  But in my experience, those proofs do not hold water when scrutinized.  One could use similar logic to prove "black is really white" (cf. Douglas Adams).  I may devote later posts to this.

 But using logic, one can most certainly prove that belief in God is valid, but not that it's sound.

In order for those arguments to be sound, we enter the realm of faith.  And this is where it all becomes murky....

In essence, trying to prove the existence of God is as fruitless as the “Babel Fish Argument” from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.  In the end, proof denies faith, and without faith, God is nothing (hyperbole intended, you fools!)

Which brings me to the question, what is my take on science?

There are many blogs better devoted to an in-depth scientific view on the universe.  I am no expert on science.  I love science.  I love reading about it.  But my knowledge of mathematical axioms and scientific realities are unfortunately very limited.  As such, I cannot parse the intricacies of General (or Special) Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Thermodynamics, or even Epigenetics, Macroevolution, the Biochemistry behind the Krebs Cycle, Photosynthesis, or even something as simple as “how do birds fly?” 

But does that mean I cannot put my faith in science?  Absolutely not.  Everyone puts their faith in something sometimes.  How many readers here have ever driven a car?  Now, how many of us actually can explain how a car works?   One doesn’t have to understand how a car works to drive it.  I don’t have to be able to explain how the combustion of fuel drives the various pistons and components of the motor.  I can use GPS without knowing the physics of it.  This internet connection I’m using right now, I only  have a rudimentary understanding of how the Internet works; and yet I am an avid Information Superhighway Surfer. 

Why put my faith in science but not God?
I propose the following solution:

Constant Conjunction.

This is not a very strong argument.  But it is the simplest one I can think of on the spot.  And thus, I will use it for now.

For those unfamiliar, constant conjunction is a term used by David Hume to describe how we can empirically know that causality exists.  For example, How do I know that next time I drop a pencil, it will fall to the ground?  Maybe next time, the laws of gravity will defy themselves.  In my living memory, every time I’ve dropped a pencil, it has fallen.  Constant conjunction.  And then, we have Newton et al explaining how this gravity behaves. 

And now, to apply it to science vs god.

Science is not perfect.  It is a work in progress.  Scientists are always updating their views.  A biology textbook from 10 years ago might have some of the same basics as one printed today.  But if one were studying more advanced biology, there would be differences.  A physics textbook  printed before 1915 would not have any mention of General Relativity.  But after 1915 (I’m not sure how soon after), once General Relativity made a splash, it would soon be ubiquitous. 

Theology, in its nature, is more static than science.  The scientific method is one that is set up such that any one datum can raise questions to even established knowledge, and once said datum is scrutinized, reviewed, and further tested, a new theory can be made to supersede our old theory.  Yes, a scientist should not live his life thinking arrogantly that his way is the only way. 

Theology, on the other hand, relies more on dogma.  Even when it does use logic, the logic of the theologian tends to be much more pedantic.  How many clergymen have seriously scrutinized their own beliefs?  I’m not going to say zero; I know for a fact that many have gone through periods where they questioned everything.  But by and large, when talking to a person about faith, they do not utilize the same level of scrutiny to their faith as they would to a scientific principle.  Yes, I’m talking about educated people too. 

Back to Popper’s Laws:  Many religious claims are not testable or falsifiable.  Therefore, I am more partial to science than I am to religion.  Religion, to me, is like asking which hand it is better to masturbate with.  We can argue about that until the cows come home, but I would think that most of us have better things to do with our time.  That’s the same way I feel about religious claims in general.

Is there a higher power?  Maybe.  But why waste my time worrying about it?

 So, what do you believe in?

If I may be coy for a second, I believe in me.  As John Lennon (quoted by Ferris Beuller) said, "I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me..."

But unlike your standard run-of-the-mill narcissist, I also believe in others.  I do not know what makes my mind separate from others.  I cannot tell you where my mind ends and where others' begin.  I especially cannot tell you what makes me conscious, everyone around me conscious, but I am only personally aware of my own consciousness.  I believe in me.  I believe in others.  But I can't understand what mechanism separates me from others.

In my formative years, I might have believed in an eternal mind.  Perhaps, like Atman, there is a collective consciousness.  Sometimes, when deep in the throes of an orgasm, I feel a slight out of body/mind experience ephemerally.   If there is a higher intelligence, why is it so hard for us to reach it?  Or is it all in my head?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Dear Faigy Mayer

Dear Faigy,

Today, April 20, 2016 would have been your 30th birthday. You would have been celebrating your entry in your thirties with a nice big jamboree. You would have picked a very nice restaurant. You would have been surrounded by friends. You would be all smiles, that large infectious smile of yours. And you would have made some awkward comments about your birthday being the perfect day to be a stoner, even though you're not a toker. Today would have been a very happy day.

I remember the time I visited you up in Columbia Presbyterian Psych Ward up in White Plains. Your first words to me were "is this your first time in a looney bin?"  Your life was on the rocks. Your relationship with your parents sucked. Your dad had you committed. You had no idea where you would go after you were discharged. But during the time I visited you, you were all smiles. You were very hospitable. I made you smile, you returned the favor.

But my fondest memory of you will always be the last time I saw you.

It was the day of my Savta's funeral. I wish you could have met Savta. You would have loved her. I know, she would have made things awkward. She would have badgered me about why I am bringing such a pretty girl to her apartment but we don't get married. She might even have hunted down your parents and called them trying to make a shidduch. That would have been very awkward. I wouldn't mind. But you might. And so would my parents.

Savta's funeral was in Borough Park at Shomrei Emunim, the same place yours would be two months later. Savta was very special to me. Thanks to her, I'm a teacher. She had a funny way of showing it, but she loved me. I loved her too. I loved her enough to go into Borough Park on a regular basis to visit. I loved her enough to spend a few days of Pesach with her. I hate Pesach. I hate being around frum people for long periods. But I love Savta enough to spend that time with her.

After the funeral ended, I was distraught. I was beyond shaken. I took a long walk to the 55th St train station. It was about a mile. I didn't care. I needed to clear my head. Long walks are therapeutic.

I got on the D train. I got on the phone while I was sti overground to tell my after-school students I wouldn't be coming. At around the  Ft Hamilton stop you got on the train. I heard you calling my name. I looked up, and there you were with a big smile on your face. I grimaced back, but indicated that I would be with you in a minute.

Boy was I glad to see you. I was still shaken. If anyone could cheer me up, it was you.

I got off the phone at around 36th St. You were already seated next to me. Your life was falling apart. But you still were happy to see me.

I told you that Savta died. You say there and listened to me as I ranted and raged about how much I miss her. You were a good listener. Every so often, you chimed in with an awkward comment or two. But today, I was so glad to hear them. Someone else might have been offended. I wasn't. You were like an angel, sent by a god I no longer believe in, sent to console me. And you did.

You were headed to 34th St for something work related. I wish I took the time to discuss your situation. I didn't. I should have been a better friend to you. Hindsight is 20/20.

When you got off the train, I hugged you goodbye. I couldn't have known it would be the last time we ever hugged. It would be the last time I ever saw you.

Thank you Faigy. As I write this I am tearing up on a city bus. You were like an angel. Like your name, you flew into my life, and you were no more.

May your memory continue to bring smiles and inspire all who knew you.

Better Call Saul Status Update: Klick

                Those of you who follow me on Facebook might be familiar with my Better Call Saul review.  Today, I decided to simply post it on my blog.
        Today’s episode of BCS is brought to you by the word DON’T!  That one word could be used to describe this entire episode.  When Mike found that card on his windshield, it was almost like the dues ex machina stepping out from behind the clockwork and nudging Mike away from his current trajectory.  But the same message can apply to Jimmy; the same message can apply to Chuck; and most of all, the same message for us, the audience.
        We begin with another flashback.  Anyone who’s ever seen me in a writing workshop (few of my current readers) knows that I hate flashbacks at the beginning of episodes; I consider it a lazy literary device.  However, Gilligan, Gould, et al use the device quite tastefully (usually).  In this case, we get a further glimpse into the complex relationship between Jimmy and Chuck.
        We haven’t heard a whole lot about mother McGill.  We know that she cared for Jimmy.  We have previously heard that when Jimmy was arrested for doing a Chicago sunroof, Mrs. McGill convinced Chuck to save Jimmy.  We don’t know a whole lot else about her.  But similar to Mr. McGill, we see that Jimmy was also the “favorite son.”  Yes, Chuck is the one who is willing to do the “right thing” and stay with his mother the whole time.  But even so, the mother’s dying words were “Jimmy”, not even acknowledging that Chuck was in the room.  Even though Chuck was the “good one”, Jimmy is still the more likeable one.
        In general, Jimmy is much more likeable than Chuck:  Chuck is Bert to Jimmy’s Ernie; Chuck is Squidward to Jimmy’s SpongeBob; Chuck is David Spade to Jimmy’s Chris Farley; Chuck is Laertes to Jimmy’s Hamlet; Chuck is Zeppo to Jimmy’s Groucho; Chuck is Alan Harper to Jimmy’s Charlie Harper; Abbot to Costello; Hardy to Laurel—well, you get the picture. 
        And so, Chuck, who is not content to be the other brother, begins to finally give Jimmy what he deserves.  Chuck has done the right thing all of his life.  He has followed the rules.  He worked hard.  He got a great job.  He once had a beautiful wife (who probably also liked Jimmy better), a beautiful home, and a prestigious law firm with his name on it.  But now, like the ruins of Ozymandias, Chuck McGill is separated from the wife (we don’t know why yet), living in squalor, suffering from a possibly psychosomatic disorder—electromagnetic hypersensitivity, which is considered idisomatic by the WHO and thus not considered an actual diagnosis—, and obsessed with finally giving Jimmy what he deserves.
        You see, Jimmy has always played fast-and-easy with the rules.  From his days clipping money from his father’s register (though to be fair, that wasn’t all Jimmy), to his days as Jimmy Cicero/Slipping Jimmy, to the specter of his future as Saul Goodman, Chuck McGill is almost Cassandralike in that he sees what his brother is destined to become.  Much like the old Sesame Street book The Monster at the End of this Book, Chuck behaves like Grover trying to keep us from turning the pages.  Chuck thinks that the monster at the end of the book is Jimmy/Saul, and he will do anything to keep Jimmy from reaching the end of the book.  But in the end, guess what?  The monster at the end of this episode was not Jimmy; it was Chuck.
        If Jimmy is our tragic antihero, his hubris is that he is too empathetic.  We have already seen how much care he puts into each client.  And the clients he serves love him.  He has patience for the elderly where most people wouldn’t.  In that sense, he is gifted.  But if only he stuck to being Ben Matlock, he would be fine.  Jimmy is no Matlock.  Unlike Matlock, he is Machiavellian on the inside.  Yes, he is willing to doctor some documents to make his brother lose a client, which was stolen from Kim to begin with. 
        Yes, a few episodes ago, Jimmy dared Chuck to get down in the mud with him.  Chuck said no.  But was that “no” really a no?  No it was not.  In fact, as we saw, Chuck did Kim pretty dirty by convincing her client to stick with HHM. So Jimmy did Chuck one by doctoring the documents.  Chuck, with his obsessiveness to detail, knows he did not make that error.  So he knows Jimmy, who was in his house, must have done something wrong.
        It is pretty scary how accurate Chuck was.  But it all changed when Chuck fainted and bumped his head.  Enter our first Don’t.
        Don’t go in and save your brother!  Saul Goodman wouldn’t.  But Jimmy is not yet Saul.  Blood is after all thicker than water.  So he goes in to save his brother.  And of course, Chuck sees right through it.  He knows Jimmy engineered it all.  Ernesto even joins Jimmy, just like Kim did, seeing that Chuck was losing his edge.
        The scene in the hospital was quite intense.  Almost torture, watching Chuck’s POV as they were prodding, poking, EKGing, CAT scanning, et al.  Chuck didn’t want any of it.  But they were legally bound to.  And Jimmy was still trying to “save” Chuck (while Chuck suspected that Jimmy was going to put Chuck away).
        Why did Jimmy save Chuck?  The smart thing would have been to make like Walter when he saw Janie ODing on heroin and walk away.  But just like the Jimmy who cried hardest at his dad’s funeral, and just like the Jimmy whose mother’s dying words were his name, Jimmy stood by Chuck.  It’s almost like role reversal here; now it’s Jimmy who is doing the right thing and Chuck who is the bad guy.
        Don’t Confess to your brother!  The culmination of the episode is Chuck finally acting like he’s “bought the farm.”  He has retired from HHM, and is now making himself a virtual Faraday Cage by lining his room with space blankets.  Jimmy’s gaslighting has finally gotten to his head.  It’s time for him to retire, enclose himself in a cocoon of space blankets, never to bother the world again.
        Jimmy’s reaction was sheer pain.  The smart thing would have been to throw up his shoulders and give up on Chuck.  Just like after Chuck told Jimmy “you are not a real lawyer” and confessed that it was he who told Howard to not hire Jimmy—and Jimmy abandoned Chuck, but not for good—Jimmy should have taken a permanent exeunt, and perhaps had his brother committed. 
        Instead, Jimmy convinced his brother that he is a good lawyer and he will be lawyering to his death.  And then Jimmy, thinking it was Chuck’s word against Jimmy, told Chuck the entire scenario.  And the episode ends with a klick.  Chuck recorded the whole thing.
        Ladies, Gentlemen, and others:  Here we have it.  Just when you thought you knew Chuck; just when you thought you hated Chuck; Chuck does one on Jimmy.
        Sure, Jimmy is guilty of a felony.  Sure, Jimmy screwed his brother over.  Sure, Jimmy is a criminal.  But by now, we’ve grown to love Jimmy so much, that we actually want to see Chuck fail.  Much as we rejoice when the Boogie-Woogie Sheep take Bert outside, much as we rejoiced when Leia finally shut C3P0 off in The Empire Strikes Back, and much as we cheered when Cpt. Picard told Wesley Crusher to shut up, we took serious schadenfreude when Jimmy humiliated Chuck.  And when we saw that yes, Chuck can play just as dirty as Jimmy can, we were ambivalent.  Do we still hate Chuck, or do we feel bad for him now? 
        Those of you who read my posts regularly know that I feel for Chuck.  Right now, I feel less bad for him.  Much as I know he’s in the right as Jimmy is the criminal (not him), what he did was pretty backhanded.  As my father would say, “don’t bullshit the bullshitter.”  We shall see how Jimmy gets out of this one.  My guess:  this is entrapment and inadmissible as evidence.
        Don’t shoot Hector Salamanca.  The most explicit DON’T was found on Mike’s windshield.  Now Jimmy violated the DON’Ts I mentioned above.  But Mike now has no choice but to follow it, as he finds it on his windshield. 
        Mike’s parts were rather subdued.  First, he’s testing out that rifle we’ve already seen him looking at.  The gun merchant, a BB favorite, is a perfect pairing with Mike.  Both are very terse, but the gun merchant is a lot more amiable.  Both know their weapons and both have very refined tastes.  But whereas Mike is caustic and sarcastic, the gun dealer has much better customer service.  He helps Mike perfect his shot.  But then, he cleans off the gun, “no offense.” 
        The shooting scene was a great moment in silence.  Hector and Nacho are about to shoot an innocent man (the truck driver?)  Mike wants to shoot Hector, but Nacho is in the way.  He could have shot Nacho and there would have been no problem.  But Mike is still taking half-measures.  He doesn’t want to shoot Nacho.  Even if Nacho knows that Mike was the one who screwed the family, he has too much to lose by snitching on Mike.  So Mike possibly returns the favor by not shooting him.
        But we know Hector doesn’t die.  We don’t know what happens to Nacho.  Supposedly, in the Season 2 episode of BB where we first meet Saul, when Jesse and Walt were holding Saul at gunpoint and Saul said “it wasn’t me, it was Ignacio,” it is hinted that Ignacio was Nacho.
        Either way, for some reason the deus ex machine interfered with the Mike narrative, pushing him away from being a cold-blooded killer (for now).  But Jimmy is not being pushed into being Saul; not yet. The writers want it to be organic.  Since we already know it’s going to happen, they don’t want to force or rush it. 
And so, this show does not seem forced.  The entire beauty of this show is how it portrays the human comedy/tragedy, complex/intricate relationships, and what makes us tick.  The characters are all flawed.  They are not lofty, dramatic, or by any means forced.  And this is why BCS just may be one of the most brilliantly underrated shows currently on TV.