Thursday, July 21, 2016


The summer doldrums are beginning to set in. The weather in Vermont has been hot and dry, with a cool day on occasion. Ordinarily I would have done a lot of stargazing by now, but, despite the relatively low level of light pollution here, good viewing conditions are rare because of the turbulent atmosphere above, with moisture streaming up from the Gulf of Mexico. Then, if the moon is out, that makes it even more difficult to see faint objects such as galaxies, globular clusters, planetary nebulae and supernova remnants. As a consolation, you can usually see planets and binary stars even under poor conditions, so last night I looked at Albireo, one of the prettiest multiple star systems visible from Earth, 430 light years away, with gold and blue stars.

We have a new cat, William, who is about a year old. He is still kittenish and likes to run around. He seems very youthful compared to our previous cat, Winston, who was lethargic and grumpy most of the time. We chose William partly because he resembles my cat, Dusty, who died in 1980. William is polydactyl, which means that he has extra toes. His front paws look as if they have thumbs, so he can give a thumbs-up. Polydactyl cats are common on the East Coast and in parts of England and Wales. They were once popular on ships and were considered good luck.

Like many, we have been following the Republican presidential nomination process for amusement, though I can only take so much of it, because if you observe closely it can become quite disturbing. To me, the political ascent of Donald Trump is yet another proof that human beings are incapable of self-governance. If you look at the last two presidents, it isn't a pretty sight. George W. Bush was self-confident but had no idea what he was doing. Barack Obama is cautious but unimaginative and ineffectual. If Trump were to become president, he would bring nothing but political, economic and social ignorance to the job. Fortunately, the disunity in the Republican Party will probably be his undoing, even with a weak Democratic opponent. Everyone and his brother will be testifying to the emptiness, dishonesty and egoism of Trump, and while that alone may not be sufficient to defeat him, he will most likely lose the election. Trump may go down as the biggest bullshitter in American history.

When I think about the American political system specifically in relation to my views, the picture becomes absurd immediately. I don't accept many of the premises of being an American citizen, though technically I am one. First of all, I don't think that government positions should be filled by popular vote; algorithms could produce better results. Second, I don't favor nationalism of any kind; I would prefer a world government. Third, I think personal freedom should be far more restricted in the U.S. than it is currently. Fourth, I don't think the "land of opportunity" model is sustainable, and capitalism should be wound down in a coordinated global effort as soon as possible. Fifth, as an atheist, I find the religious ideology in both parties highly offensive, and I much prefer the idea of "freedom from religion" to the idea of "freedom of religion." There is little that I can relate to in American politics at the national level.

In most public educational systems you are taught a set of ideas about the nature of the society in which you live. Children usually internalize those ideas and don't seriously question them as adults. I remember thinking that I lived in the modern world, which was enlightened compare to the past, and I used to feel fortunate to have escaped a primitive, oppressive existence.  It is true that many of us have higher standards of living than our ancestors did – we live longer, healthier lives and have more free time – but I now think that far in the future our descendants will pity us for having had to live in this barbaric environment, where ignorance prevails.

I've started to read Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, by Simone de Beauvoir, and will probably comment on it in a few days.

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