Archive for April, 2014

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition*

April 29, 2014

imagesIn the Spanish Inquisition, if your beliefs did not conform to religious orthodoxy, you would be tortured to change them; and failing that, burned alive. America is different and, being nonconformist myself, I cherish that difference. I’ve always felt free to express myself. Yet even America has its Inquisitors.

Brendan Eich was not tortured or burned alive for his beliefs. images-1Not quite. But a campaign by gay activists recently forced him out of his job as head of Mozilla. His crime? In 2008, he donated to California’s referendum against gay marriage.

Now, such censoriousness might arguably be defensible were the beliefs in question especially stupid and/or heinous. Holocaust denial, say. Though in my view even Holocaust deniers have a right to hold and express their ideas (and not be jailed, as has occurred in Europe).

However, in Eich’s case, the views at issue were not beyond the pale. In fact, at the time, his was the prevailing view. That referendum passed, remember. Yet now, to have supported it is deemed so atrocious that a man should lose his job over it? Have Eich’s persecutors lost their minds? What about the other 50+% of Californians who voted “yes”? Fire them all too? (Good thing there’s a secret ballot.)

Gay marriage is a just cause. But it’s sullied when its advocates pursue it by unjust means. You (and I) might think opponents are wrong, but theirs is not an illegitimate opinion to which they have no right.

Unknown-2Unfortunately the Eich episode isn’t some isolated aberration. It’s all too typical of the mentality of the so-called “progressive” left, which thoroughly contaminates their politics. While the left is all “free speech” and “freedom of expression” and “academic freedom,” what they really mean is freedom for them and them alone. The hypocrisy mirrors Putin’s – he’s all against outside interference in a country’s affairs – Russia’s affairs — but not Ukraine’s. (And all against Ukraine “killing their own people” – after Putin killed at least 25,000 Russian Chechens.) The left even has a magazine named Dissent! I guess opposing gay marriage doesn’t count as dissent. Or at least not the good kind.

Eich is, again, no aberration. Remember when Larry Summers speculated that women’s underrepresentation in math and sciences might be due to brain differences? Truthiness didn’t save him from Harvard’s feminist political correctness Inquisition, which ultimately booted him out of the school’s presidency. images-2And in campuses all across America, students and teachers are criminalized and booted out for violating “speech codes” that sacralize particular political orthodoxies. Is this what the 1960s campus “free speech” movement was for?

Of course, the right too demonizes opposing views. But there’s a real difference. You don’t see the right seeking to punish anyone for their opinions. At one time communists were jailed, but nobody would seriously suggest that now. Indeed, for all the liberal alarm about the religious right and putatively looming theocracy, nobody – nobody – would seriously suggest punishing atheists! Only the left is into punishing dissent.

Why? Why is the left so gosh-darn intolerant? Because they are imbued with hypermoralism? Seeing politics as a morality play, with diverging views not just mistaken but evil? There is certainly a lot of that. Yet that’s true on the right as well, but, again, the right doesn’t generally seek actual suppression, and indeed punishment, of opposing opinions. Maybe the difference is that the right doesn’t imagine for a moment they could get away with it; whereas the left, certain of its monopoly on virtue and posturing on the high horse of a tolerance ethic, can get away with the worst intolerance. Sanctifying nonjudgmentalism, they are the most judgmental of people. And don’t forget McCarthyism and blacklisting — people persecuted, and kept from working, due to their political beliefs. The left still lionizes those victims and loves to cry “McCarthyism!” Yet isn’t the Eich story perfect McCarthyism?

The howling contradiction between the left’s professed ethos and its actual behavior seems baffling.

Then again, so many policies embraced by the left are likewise grounded in curbing other people’s freedom. Unknown-3Progressives seem to have an Orwellian understanding of the word. (They certainly have down pat 1984’s concept of “thought crime.”) And how about their excusing the rottenest human rights abuses by monsters like Castro or Chavez? But cynicism is a hallmark of left thinking too.

Columnist Charles Krauthammer recently addressed the whole Citizens United money-in-politics issue. There’s irresolvable tension between the undeniably corrupting effect political money can have, and the idea that in a free country government has no business regulating political participation at all (which always really amounts to incumbent protection). Krauthammer saw the ideal answer as full disclosure of political contributions and spending. But then he noted how disclosing Eich’s referendum donation resulted in the man’s persecution, ruining his life. Krauthammer therefore concluded that his full disclosure solution to the campaign finance conundrum is – as often happens – ruined by zealots. People should feel free to make political donations without expecting the Spanish (or American) Inquisition.

Here yet again we see the scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners style of partisanship poisoning our body politic.

Unknown-1Jefferson said that the best response to bad ideas is not suppression, but better ideas. Nobody should expect the Spanish Inquisition, and punishment for their beliefs. In general I see people whose views differ from mine as being wrong, but not evil. These are the precepts of a genuinely free and good society. But undermining those crucial precepts – as happened in the Eich case – may be not just wrong but evil.

*For my younger readers, the reference is to a famous Monty Python skit. In a conversation, one guy being questioned a bit closely blurts out, “Well, I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition!” At that, a bunch of red-robed churchmen suddenly materializes, intoning “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

UPDATE NOTE: The comments by “Rob” illustrate exactly what I’m talking about regarding the left-wing mind and freedom of speech. Worth a look; really frightening.

Advertisements

Are We Becoming Less Trustworthy – Or Just Less Trusting?

April 25, 2014

A recent Associated Press-GfK poll finds declining levels of trust among Americans. Lost faith in institutions, like government, or churches, might be no surprise. But we’re also losing faith in each other. Only a third now say most people can be trusted, down from half in 1972. images

But are we becoming less trustworthy – or is it just that more of us believe so? Yet this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy if we relate to others with increasing distrust and circumspection.

The AP report said “social trust” brings benefits: people more willing to compromise, make deals, and work together; whereas distrust diverts energies and encourages corruption. So trust boosts the economy. Indeed, a generally high level of interpersonal trust is one of humanity’s “killer apps,” enabling our species to develop our uniquely elaborate social structures.

A good illustration is auto travel. UnknownIt couldn’t work if we didn’t all observe the rules of the road – and trust that everyone else will too. (Or practically everyone.)

I don’t perceive the trustworthiness of the average person as declining. Sure, some are always eager to take advantage of others (the “free rider” problem in academic discourse); but that’s a small minority. A key curb on such behavior is that it doesn’t usually occur in a vacuum; people generally foresee future interactions, wherein their past conduct will be taken into account. In my own little coin business, I send almost all orders in advance of payment, even to people I don’t know. images-1The nonpayment rate is negligible. Of course, if they hope to order again, they’ll pay. A further incentive is the “deadbeat list” publicized on my website. Such shaming is actually a very ancient method for deterring cheaters.

Interestingly, I got an e-mail recently from a guy in Tanzania I’d never heard of, selling coins. He was smart enough to realize Western buyers probably wouldn’t trust an unknown African; but also that they probably could be trusted. So he too offered sending merchandise before payment. I ordered; he sent it; I paid.

This is in fact how most of the world’s commerce takes place. Without somebody trusting somebody, elaborate and cumbersome safeguards would be needed, inhibiting trade, to everyone’s loss.

I’ve written before how China differs here, its pervasive societal norm being deceit and corruption. If the AP’s survey questions were asked in China, they’d reveal far lower levels of trust than in the West. A reading of Chinese history shows that this factor has, in past epochs, held the country back. More recently China has advanced greatly in spite of it; but this is still a fundamental handicap that cannot but limit the nation’s progress, if they don’t learn to be more transparent, trustworthy, and trusting. (Note to leadership: in traditional Communist party style you can call these “the three tr’s.”)

Getting back to America, why has trust declined? The AP report quotes some professor blaming economic inequality – “more Americans feel shut out,” and have “lost their sense of a shared fate.”  This says more about the professor than about trust, reflecting an obsession with inequality and imputing a resentment most Americans in fact do not feel (even if politicized lefties believe they should).

No – this is not about politics, or economics, this is sociology. As the AP story also does suggest, it has a lot more to do with the “Bowling Alone” phenomenon (from the title of Robert Putnam’s landmark book). Unknown-1Quite simply, we spend less time actually interacting with other people.

I’m not one of those who laments modernity as pathology; its benefits are worth the costs; but one of those costs seems to be reduced face-to-face social intercourse. That impedes building a body of experience validating an assumption of trustworthiness; while perceptions get skewed in the opposite direction by increased exposure, from ubiquitous media, to the underside of human conduct. It’s a cliché that an air crash makes the news but thousands of safe landings do not. Similarly, we are relentlessly informed about people behaving badly while the vastly commoner examples of decent behavior become invisible. I send coin orders before payment because, having done it thousands of times, I know to a fare-thee-well what the payment rate is. images-2But few people nowadays get the benefit of comparable experience with human trustworthiness.

Lucretius, The Swerve, and Understanding Reality

April 20, 2014

imagesStephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve centers on a book-length First Century BC poem by Lucretius, On The Nature Of Things; apparently lost (like so much ancient literature) until book-hunter Poggio Bracciolini unearthed a forgotten copy in a monastery in 1417. Greenblatt casts this as triggering modernity’s emergence (the “swerve” of the title).

I’ve also perused the poem itself, which Greenblatt deems a literary masterpiece. Maybe its poetic virtues didn’t survive W. E. Leonard’s translation from the Latin. It helped greatly to have first read Greenblatt’s lucid bullet-point distillation (further distilled below).

Imaginary portrait of Lucretius. No real one exists

Imaginary portrait of Lucretius. No real one exists

The poem presents a bracingly materialist view of reality and the human condition which, though rooted in the philosophy of Epicurus, even earlier, is indeed very modern, and undermined the reigning Christian thought system. But Greenblatt overstates his case that Lucretius was central to the latter’s retreat. The Renaissance was sparked by a great complex of factors, which actually gathered force gradually over a long interval; intellectual ferment was fizzing all over; Lucretius’s rediscovery fed into this but was hardly, by itself, seminal.Unknown-2 (The scientific revolution did more to change the intellectual climate.)

And if Lucretius still isn’t exactly a household name, nor was he in Roman times. While his book did enjoy some circulation among the cognoscenti, he lived and died in relative obscurity — probably because few contemporaries could have made sense of a work profoundly incompatible with then-conventional ideas.

Someone in my book group mocked things Lucretius got wrong. But I was blown away by how much he got right — considering that he predated any proper science, with human understanding of the world being a mess of clueless superstition. Lucretius could only use his reasoning mind and his observation of reality to intuit its underpinnings:

images-1Invisible particles (what we call atoms), constantly in motion, combine and recombine to make up everything in the universe, from stars to rocks to humans. They are immutable, eternal, and (till the 1940’s!) indivisible. Like the letters of an alphabet, their workings are governed by a code, though not all letters and words can combine with every other. And the code — in principle at least — could be investigated and understood by humans (what we now call chemistry).

The particles don’t move by predetermination in straight lines, but sometimes “swerve,” causing collisions and recombinations; and that indeterminacy is what gives us free will. (I have similarly suggested that at the molecular level brain activity entails quantum mechanical effects, inherently unpredictable, hence true determinism is impossible.)

images-2All living things evolved through a long complex process of trial and error. Nature engenders variations, and those better adapted to live and reproduce proliferate, while failures go extinct. Humans are merely one such resulting animal. (It took nineteen centuries for Darwin to rediscover this idea of evolution by natural selection.)

images-4Human society did not begin in some golden age of tranquility and plenty, but in a primitive struggle for survival. (The myth of a prelapsarian paradise stubbornly persists; see my review of Steve Taylor’s The Fall.) Only gradually did social cooperation evolve; likewise language, arts, agriculture, religion, law (Lucretius anticipated Hobbes and social contract theory) and other elements of culture.

Space and time are unbounded, with no beginnings or ends — and never a creator or designer. Such beings as gods, if they exist (Lucretius doesn’t say otherwise) couldn’t possibly care about you or the minutiae of human affairs.

All religions are superstitious delusions, built on primal fears and longings. They always embody the cruelty of retribution fantasies (Hell) and human sacrifice, symbolic or otherwise. Unknown-3(Lucretius could not have foreseen the mother of all such sacrifice theologies — belief that Christ had to be tortured to death to save humanity.)

There is no cosmic purpose to existence, and no afterlife. (Lucretius spends pages deconstructing the nonsensicality of belief in a “soul.”) But since you won’t be around to experience nonexistence, it shouldn’t faze you. And this life being all we have, there is no higher ethical imperative than maximizing pleasure* and minimizing pain. All others — serving the state, glorification of God, pursuing virtue through self-sacrifice, etc. — are secondary, misguided, or fraudulent. The greatest obstacle to pleasure is not pain, but delusion.

None of this is cause for despair. To the contrary, understanding these realities is crucial for the possibility of happiness. To fantasize some higher reality, to aspire toward, only puts people in a destructive relation with the environment they actually inhabit. But by looking calmly at the true nature of things, we can experience a more genuine awe, and achieve a more genuine fulfillment.images-3

Taking a cynically dim view of humankind is common among intellectuals. But I am proud of my species. And learning about this man who, so long ago, could achieve such insight — it often gave me goosebumps — redoubles that pride.

* By “pleasure” Lucretius, following Epicurus, doesn’t mean hedonism. Rather, it really means the enjoyment derived from living a fulfilling life.

 

Cheryl Strayed: Wild

April 16, 2014

imagesThis best-selling memoir relates Cheryl Strayed’s 1995 1100-mile Pacific Crest Trail hike, from lower California through Oregon. I’d urged it on one of my book groups, but an outdoorsy member objected vehemently: “You don’t go on such a hike as unprepared as she was. It’s just stupid.”

I finally persuaded her that the stupidity was actually what the book was partly about, so we read it.Unknown-2

Strayed, then 26, was kind of messed up, from her mother’s death, her recent divorce, and a heavy heroin bout. She embarked on this extreme hike – without much relevant experience – hoping to find herself. Or something.

Well, she wasn’t totally unprepared; in fact, did quite a lot of planning and prep work, including acquiring a ton of gear, and arranging a series of resupply boxes to be mailed to her along the route. But for all the actually meticulous planning, she did stupidly omit something obvious: a trial run.

“Ton of gear” was a slight overstatement, but only slight. The book describes her organizing it in her motel room the day before starting out, cataloguing all the items. While reading, I’m thinking, “how much does all this weigh?”

Unknown-1So she gets it all packed into (and dangling from) her huge backpack, which is sitting on the floor, and only now, for the first time, tries to lift it. Guess what? Can’t budge it an inch.

Well, somehow Strayed did manage to maneuver what she dubbed “Monster” onto her back, and even to stand up, and walk with it. Eventually a more experienced hiker she meets on the trail persuades her to offload some of her excess burden.

The other obvious (even to me) thing you’d want to test out beforehand is how the boots fit. Fairly critical, you’d think. They seemed to fit fine, in the store. On the trail, not so much.

In fact, the book startlingly opens with her accidentally losing a boot over a cliff edge. One boot being useless, she then throws the other over too.images-1

But later we learn this wasn’t as disastrous as it might seem. The ill-fitting boots were from a company called REI, and after suffering in them for hundreds of miles, wrecking her feet, another hiker tells Strayed to call REI and they’ll send her a larger pair, free. She did, and they did. So after losing the first pair, she managed to hobble on makeshift duct-taped sandals to the next settlement to collect the replacement boots.

Unsurprisingly, Strayed has some glowing words for REI and its customer service. This points up something I’ve stressed often. With all the “corporate-this, corporate-that” invective, many people view businesses in general as impersonal malefactors caring only for profits. And admittedly some are. But this ignores a basic aspect of the human character, and businesses are human enterprises. Most people don’t want to see themselves as evil but, rather, as doing good.

Thus REI’s kind of customer service is not in fact uncommon. (I’ve mentioned my terrific experience with 48 Hour Books.) Many businesses realize it’s actually good for the bottom line. In the long run, it’s those behaving like REI and 48 Hour that succeed and prosper. And, if you think about it, the great majority of your interactions with businesses are altogether positive.

But competition is a crucial factor here. I’ve also written of my less-than-terrific experience with enterprises that don’t really have to compete for my dollar (eBay and the Postal Service). That’s why I’m a believer in free market economics. Any government intervention should aim at greater competition, but too often actually undermines it (by aiding some businesses to the detriment of others).

Unknown-3Another company Strayed lauds is Snapple, whose lemonade was a sublime treat at civilization stops after long hiking stretches. Likewise she makes the reader almost salivate at how luscious a cheeseburger tasted on such occasions. images-2This points up another of my pet themes: how we take civilization and its benefits for granted. Cheryl Strayed, after a couple of weeks roughing it, most certainly did not. Coming out of the woods, a Snapple lemonade and a cheeseburger were for her a Very Big Deal.

So, did the hike straighten out her life? As we used to say in grade school book reports, read Wild and find out.

Finally, you might ask, is there any sex in it? There is. Only one episode, really. But hot enough that it made me put the book down and go looking for my wife.

Do Women Earn Less Than Men?

April 12, 2014

President Obama’s been loudly hitting the supposed pay gap between women and men. All too typically, this is a phony issue distracting from our true economic problems he should be tackling.

Unknown-1Obama dismisses pay gap deniers by saying, “It’s just math.” I’m reminded of the old line, “figures don’t lie, but liars can figure.”

True, if you average all American women, and all men, women earn less. But what’s the significance of this? Not much – because it ignores differences in jobs, industries, career paths, etc. The fact is that women and men don’t have comparable working lives. Women – for a host of reasons (many having to do with differences in psychology and temperament; male and female brains don’t work identically; not to mention divergent parenting roles) – tend to have different talents and proclivities, to want different things, and to choose different careers and jobs than men. They tend to interrupt their career paths more often. And to be less aggressive in seeking advancement.

Such factors explain why, on average, women earn less. But – studies have found that if you control for these factors – that is, you analyze women and men following comparable career paths in comparable jobs – the pay gap is practically zero.

The President might reply that, well, women can’t necessarily get the jobs men get. But that’s wrong for the same reason that pay for comparable jobs really is virtually equal. imagesBecause in today’s highly competitive globalized economy, businesses cannot afford to discriminate against women, instead needing to get the best talent, irrespective of gender. In fact, if it really were true that firms could hire women with equal qualifications for less pay than men – why would they hire any men?

Undoubtedly, at one time women did face severe career limitations. images-3But that time is long past, and so this latest presidential crusade is disgracefully bogus; a cynical political ploy to posture as the champion of women (against a purported Republican “war on women”) and to perpetuate a gender gap that really does exist – in voting.

But it actually sends women a bad message, falsely warning that they face workplace discrimination. How many young women will thereby be discouraged in their career choices? Wrongly imagining they’d be blocked in their true ambitions, and choosing lesser ones instead? And I don’t think the politics of stoking resentments is good for the country.

Nor are the remedies Obama seeks for this largely nonexistent bugaboo of discrimination. All would reduce flexibility while adding bureaucratic and paperwork burdens for businesses, and pretexts for proliferating litigation, making it harder and costlier for firms to function. Yet again we see a president who constantly whines about jobs and pay yet constantly does things that handicap the businesses that provide jobs and their ability to pay workers.

images-4Meantime he ignores what is surely our biggest economic problem: ever more retirees soaking up pensions and health care, with an ever shrinking percentage of working people taxed to pay for it. That’s our real pay gap, and borrowing cannot bridge it forever. It will end in an equal-opportunity catastrophe, for all Americans – working and nonworking – and women as well as men.

My Love Poems

April 7, 2014

April is National Poetry Month. So – having authored a novel as well as books about politics, coin collecting, and what I hubristically call philosophy – it’s time for my poetry book.

Microsoft Word - LOVE POEMS cover copy.docxMy wife Therese Broderick is the real poet in the family, with a degree and everything. When she started going to open mikes, I’d go with her. So much left-wing stuff, I once remarked. She replied, “You should do some right-wing poetry.” Not that I’m really “right-wing.” But I tried; it was very hard; the left has all the good tropes. So my first effort was, actually, a parody of a lefty rant. In fact I titled it “Rant.” After I read it at an open mike, one gal gushed that she loved it. I didn’t have the heart to ask if she realized it was a satire.

But my poetry book is apolitical. I had also started giving my wife poems for birthdays and anniversaries and like occasions. This past Valentine’s Day she surprised me with an album housing all those poems that she’d kept – and encouraged me to publish them.IMG_3211

The edgy and imaginative title is Love Poems. (I preferred Love & Sex Poems, but wifey said no.) It contains 37 poems and poem-like things. Some are indeed sexy, some serious, some sappy, some silly (this is called “alliteration,” it’s a poetic device), and a few in Spanish (which my wife has been studying. My own high school Spanish being pretty rusty, I took it as a challenge to see what I could do with a limited vocabulary; though I may have cheated a bit using Google Translate.)

This beautiful book (well, the binding and printing are beautiful at least; done by 48 Hour Books, I can’t recommend them highly enough) is attractively priced at just $3.99; plus $1 mailing cost (within USA; Paypal OK; e-mail frank@fsrcoin.com; address Box 8600, Albany, NY 12208).

But here is a free sample – this one was for Therese’s Fifty-first birthday:

THERESE 5.1

The latest version!
New and improved!
Fully updated and state-of-the art,
Retaining all the best features
Of the previous versions,
While fixing, of course,
Their bugs and glitches.
I want to launch you on my desktop,
With soft mouse clicks,
Through my fingers
That caress your icon,
My face pressed up
Against the screen,
My eyes devouring
Your luscious code,
Stripped down to
Its naked noughts and ones;
I want to penetrateUnknown
Your open logic gate,
You killer app, you.
I can hardly wait
For Therese 5.2

 

 

 

PZ Myers, The Happy Atheist

April 2, 2014

Unknown-1I’ve read the major atheist books – Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens – which might be called “combative.” Some feel the confrontational stance disserves the cause. I’m of two minds. True, telling believers “you’re idiots” is not helpful. But religious thought has been so powerful for so long (with such bad consequences) that assertive dissent seems well justified.

PZ Meyers (that’s how he spells his name), in The Happy Atheist, pulls no punches, laying on the scorn; but he does it in an easy, breezy, good humored manner. UnknownBooks debunking religion go all the way back to Tom Paine, but Myers does it well, not content with just making the obvious points.

For example, it’s clear that ideas of Heaven and Hell are rooted in fear of death and chafing at unfairness in life. Myers, however, digs down to dissect these beliefs, showing how incoherent they actually are. A Hell where people are tortured forever? Myers notes that souls have no bodies and hence no pain receptors. But even ignoring that, such sustained agony would soon disintegrate one’s psyche, and continuing to torture an insensate husk would be pointless. Maybe an omnipotent deity could get around that; but how does this sadism square with the idea of a loving and forgiving God? Unknown-2While punishment as a deterrent makes sense, souls in Hell have no way to get back in God’s good graces, so what is the point? And, as Myers puts it, in your brief earthly life you get to guess which faith is true, and if you guess wrong, it’s billions of years of horrific suffering. “That’s insane,” he writes.

Undoubtedly, “Hell” is the creation of people full of bitterness toward other people; such a belief is an insult to God.

Myers similarly unpacks the idea of Heaven. The problem is that desires and dreams are what life is about. Fulfill them all, and where does that leave you? In “a kind of retirement home where everyone is waiting to die. Waiting forever.” images-1Alternatively, believers might cast Heaven as some sort of “pure bliss, pure joy . . . unadulterated rapturous ecstasy . . . the crack cocaine vision of afterlife.” Tempting, perhaps, but this isn’t any kind of worthwhile existence either.

As Myers says, death is an end, that “deserves all the sorrow that the living bring to it, but the absurd attempts of believers to soften it with lies are a contemptible disservice to the life that is over.” Religion actually makes a mockery of death’s seriousness.

One chapter is headed, “What Dreadful Price Must We Pay to Be Atheists?” Of course Myers is being facetious; but apropos the book’s title, many religionists do think atheists must be miserable misfits with something awry in their heads, unable to accept God’s love and all the happiness it confers. But atheists reject religion for one simple reason: it isn’t true. Trying to make oneself believe lies is no recipe for contentment. If believers get happiness from their faith, it’s a false paradise (I’ll refrain from saying “fool’s paradise”). Freeing ourselves from falsehood, and looking life’s truth fearlessly in the eye, is a recipe for happiness. That’s why atheists aren’t the afflicted lost souls believers think they are.

In fact, I know people who were tormented by their religion, struggling to square all its circles, that no prodigies of ratiocination could ever achieve. Only when they were able to extricate themselves from that briar patch could they finally feel at peace with their existence.

imagesIt’s true it comes to an end. But a fairy tale of immortality doesn’t alter that. I’ve noticed that people who insist they’re Heaven bound are in no hurry to go. However, knowing there’s no afterlife makes me appreciate this one all the more profoundly. In an impersonal cosmos with no god, life is an almost miraculous gift. Disgruntlement at not having more would be absurd. I am happy with what I’ve got.