Please…Not again!

History is filled with tragic accounts of people being accused of mental incompetence or worse when their beliefs are counter to mainstream opinions. Some accusers genuinely believe that the victim is mentally unfit, as in those instances where the victim is an apostate against the prevalent religion. There is another kind of accuser: his accusations are disingenuous.

In the severely polluted atmosphere of current American politics, the accusation of mental unfitness leveled against President Trump is disingenuous. I doubt that anyone, including his accusers, really believes that Trump is mentally challenged. But the accusations serve a double purpose: they relieve the accuser’s anguish about an enormous political defeat for the Democratic Party and pave the way to probable impeachment.

Before I continue, it’s important to emphasize that I’m not a political partisan. Nor is this article in defense of President Trump or an endorsement of any political party, political organization, or politician.

Only three presidents have been impeached (Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton).  Andrew Johnson was narrowly acquitted after a Senate trial, Richard Nixon chose to resign because a trial would undoubtedly result in a conviction, and Bill Clinton was acquitted by the Senate ‘jury’ despite his equivocal responses to questions which at least suggested ‘perjury’ and ‘obstruction of justice.’

All three presidential impeachments were traumatic for most Americans. All three included painfully extensive and convoluted legal entanglements. All three included titanic battles between the Legislative and Executive branches of our democracy or ─ more precisely ─ our republic.

The creators of the Constitution made it difficult to remove a sitting president: and for good reason. Wisely, their criteria for impeachment are not complex. “Treason, bribery, and high crimes and misdemeanors” are not ambiguous words. Despite that, all kinds of specious arguments are being bandied about to promote President Trump’s impeachment, including treason, bribery, and high crimes.

My age gives me the advantage of remembering when Barry Goldwater, a famous conservative in a highly liberal society, was said to be mentally unstable. A magazine (titled Fact) headlined, “1,189 Psychiatrists Say Goldwater is Psychologically Unfit to be President.” In reality, any psychologically fit individual who reads Goldwater’s quotes today may or may not agree with him, but would know there was nothing unfit about Goldwater’s mind.  (Of course Goldwater sued for libel, and won.) 

Moreover, the American Psychiatric Association declared, “It’s unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.” That became known as the “Goldwater Rule.”  The rule was in place until 33 psychiatrists and psychologists cited Trump’s inauguration speech as proof (!) of Trump’s “grave emotional instability” and that Trump was “incapable of safely serving as president.”  In addition, several ‘significant’ psychiatrists resigned from the APA to protest the “Goldwater Rule” itself as a restriction on their freedom of speech! With tongue in cheek, I submit that perhaps it was they who suffered from “grave emotional instability.”

I watched a segment of the proceedings when the United States House of Representatives  deliberated on President Clinton’s impeachment. The one instance that stands out in my memory is when one of the House’s representatives rose above the ‘politics as usual’ claptrap and asked his fellow congressmen to consider the fundamental issue: Did Clinton’s obvious perjury (to the Grand Jury) and obstruction of justice (to cover his sexual activities) legally merit his removal from office? His reasonable question was ignored by the House, and President Clinton was tried by the Senate. It was an ugly trial that may have been avoided had the members of the House taken that senator’s advice.

Sweeping aside the perennial battles amongst the three branches of government, I submit that reduced to its essentials, the entire Clinton impeachment event was not really about perjury or obstruction of justice as it was purported to be. It was about politics, just as the Goldwater incident was not about his mental health but about politics.

For about a year at once a month Clinton had sex with a government intern. At least on one occasion she fellated him in the Oval Office while he was on the phone and she under his desk, a common sexual fantasy wherein one partner engages in an activity other than direct sex: e.g., while casually flipping through a pornographic magazine or watching a sports event or engaging in a phone conversation as Clinton did ─ a perfectly realized fantasy when we consider who they were at the time ─ he, the President of the United States and she, a young Whitehouse intern.

Clinton’s impeachment had the authenticity of a scandal or movie magazine. Its saga is extensively documented: it includes leaks, investigations endlessly proliferating into other tenuously related investigations, media feeding frenzy, and heightened political division between partisans in government and amongst average Americans. Does that sound familiar?

Clinton was acquitted by the Senate because, like him or not, everyone knows that consensual sex is the most private of all human activities. And perhaps more significantly, because a sort of subliminal ‘checks and balances’ phenomenon developed amongst the public, Senate, and the President.

Clinton was acquitted because he was liked. Trump is not liked: so much so that prominent governmental politicians and celebrities were calling for his impeachment on his inauguration day! To put it mildly, that is bizarre. Purportedly, the 33 ‘psychiatrists and psychologists’ derived their warnings about Trump’s “grave emotional disability” and that he is “incapable of safely serving as President” from Trump’s inauguration speech. I read that speech moments ago. It’s a typical political speech. I won’t be leaving the country any time soon based on the purported opinions of those ‘psychiatrists’ and ‘psychologists.’ It was certainly not as professionals that they spoke, but as devout partisans.

I’ve seen this political pattern just before (and after) other national elections: a spike in already saturated partisan vitriol, celebrities threatening to leave the country if their choice for president is not realized, and then remaining in the United States despite their threats to leave the country.

So far, the call for impeachment is a replay of Clinton’s impeachment ─ investigations proliferating to other investigations which, in turn, lead to other investigations, special councils, committees, and so on and on, and ─ as demonstrated by Mario Cuomo ─ a great opportunity to begin their campaign for the next presidency.  Other career politicians jostle for visibility in the light of which they can promote their agendas and careers. Have you noticed that when they are engaged in hearings they are soft to heavyweight witnesses who can extract revenge on them in the future but hard and sanctimonious when they question a lightweight witness for whom they have no future use?

Reflecting the rapid decline of precise language, many words no longer have the same meaning as they did when the Constitution of the United States was written. Unfortunately, that has resulted in the far too casual meaning of words like ‘perjury, obstruction of justice, and high crimes.’  Those words should send shivers down the spines of Americans: that’s what the founding fathers meant them to do, not just serve as traps to unseat a President.  A blue dress stained with semen does not qualify as an instance of treason, bribery, or high crimes despite a legal trap designated as ‘perjury’ at Clinton’s Grand Jury hearing.

Once again, a president’s adversaries are relentlessly setting traps to remove him from office.  This time, the accusations are far more complex than those leveled against Clinton, but they are just as devious ─ if not more so ─ than those faced by Bill Clinton.

There are larger issues beyond political intrigue: Despite their magnificent benefits for humanity, the Information Age and unprecedented technological advances are impotent against the dissemination and misinformation about every major human issue.

In Academia, virtually all professors of history and the humanities are spewing the same

decadent political philosophy I heard from their predecessors when I was a student at New York University.  I’m especially concerned about our youth flirting with socialism.

In News and Social Media, I observe an amazing phenomenon. Before television, there were brief radio news broadcasts and daily newspapers, all of which strictly separated news from commentary. Now, television provides Americans with the ultimate form of transparency. Yet, many Americans are not nearly as knowledgeable as they should be about the horrors of socialism.    

On the street, we have the spectacle of people misbehaving as if this were the French and Russian revolutions when peasants were forced to do violence to the aristocracy. Tragically, they indiscriminately killed benign aristocrats along with despots simply because they feared aristocratic resurgence. How wise and compassionate was Britain’s Bloodless Revolution! And how irresponsible are the thugs in the streets of America whose protest tactics emulate those of Kristallnacht!

In a sea of political confusion, our nation is being badgered by a group that is purportedly against Fascism (Antifa) but is in itself an example of extreme Fascist activism. Loyalties are on political quicksand: former admirers of Russia for its Union of Socialist ‘Republics’ now uncharacteristically denounce it for its interference in the American electoral process.

I decry America’s shift towards European political attitudes. For example, I suspect that the  term, The Resistance, was conceived ─ I think not quite by chance ─ because it is reminiscent of the resistance to the Nazi occupation of most of Europe in World war ll. That might be far-fetched on my part, but since the pen is mightier than the sword, I’m wary of the subtlest subjective suggestions in an atmosphere of blatant political hyperbole. Words, not necessarily laws, will determine whether or not Trump will be impeached and possibly be removed from office.

Partisan wars of words are at their optimum. Parallels to Clinton’s impeachment are heavily cited (today’s political red meat is Deep State Throat). I’m shocked but not surprised that odds-makers are taking bets on whether Trump will or will not be impeached as though they are dealing with a sports event.

All this will fade into the dustbin of history, but I’m alarmed by the possibility that history will once again repeat itself with the common fate that political turmoil engenders: It would be profoundly tragic if Americans are lured to socialism, and deeply regret it “Like the base Indian, [who] threw a pearl away richer than all his tribe.”

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A Stream of Random Thoughts

In many ways, a society’s characteristics are not plainly visible to its contemporaries ─ at least not by its overwhelming majority. But at my age I’m not exactly contemporary and have never been part of the majority. Perhaps some of the following thoughts may be of use to you.

AI is a contradiction in terms despite its tremendous current and potential technological value, but by definition there is nothing artificial about intelligence ─  the ABCs of the alphabet are the result of  human concepts, as are numbers ─ the source of language and mathematics is living tissue we call the brain ─ it is not reasonable to attribute intelligence to a machine created by human intelligence no matter how spectacular the machine’s capabilities, including self-correction and self-advancement of its functions ─ denying the exclusive concept and reality of intelligent life on the one hand and applying it to inanimate machines on the other, violates the axiom that nothing can be and not be at the same time ─ if the dreams of AI’s staunchest advocates were to be realized, over time the human brain would retrograde as an accessory to automated consciousness ─ that’s not bloody likely…

…and, about the rage for robots in the first place: a major distinction between humans and all other lifeforms is that human beings have the exclusive ability to willfully alter their environment as part of their survival skills and unlike bird nest and beaver constructions, which are products of instinct alone, human environmental adjustments combine instinct and creative thought, a function that includes imagination ─ robots can’t hack that, only humans can ─ computer engineers tell us that they have or shortly will have ‘thinking machines with imagination,’ the fact is that they haven’t a clue about how an artist creates art ─ I know, because I’m an artist…

…and, if Genetic Engineering isn’t exclusively limited to the eradication of diseases and preventative physical anomalies, the human race will face a whole new set of personal and social problems, not the least of which will be ferocious commercial cosmetic competition and even ─ God forbid ─ a race for a super race (other than robots, of course)…

…and, there have always been premature or unfounded or contradictory theories and failed predictions about humankind’s direction ─ in the large theater of human experience and its reportage, historians and anthropologists have extensively noted the BIG stories of human existence, those include wars, political movements, economic circumstances, and so on ─ titles are given to periods, ages, and eras ─ that will also be so about our time ─ whatever those big stories and grand titles may be, they will not reflect the core of life as it is lived at the daily level ─ I’ve done that one day at a time for almost a century…

…and, a sort of malaise pervades our society ─ it’s characterized by crammed work schedules, laptops on workers’ laps in transit to and from work and, I suppose, in the bathroom, never- ending acquisitions of electronic devices, their maintenance and updating, over-the-top cell phone and E-mail communications (all ostensibly urgent), and an extensive list of other activities (all ostensibly important), an obsession for brevity (ad absurdum) and breakneck speed when speaking, an inordinate volume of things being communicated in both social media and private conversations, ads screaming at us online: our lifestyle is like that of hamsters on a spinner…

…and, when people encounter friends walking towards each other but who are headed in  different directions or getting in or out of cabs or elevators, their body language and facial expressions are tense, their speech almost a blur for maximum speed, their anxiety to keep moving obvious ─  when an acquaintance whizzes past me, I feel that my quick “hello, how are you?” is being timed by an Olympic Games stopwatch ─ there is a constant sense of urgency that we used to reserve for emergencies only, ”can’t talk now! gotta go! seeyalater!” or, for maximum brevity, simply: “later!”…

…and, the worst of it, at least for me, are those instances when I must speak to people about a matter that can’t wait, but even when just a few words need to be said and my message is for their advantage, I feel pressed by them to speak more rapidly ─ I sense their impatience before they know what I need to tell them ─ I know that is somewhat my fault because I find it difficult to edit my thoughts for the sake of brevity without adherence to linear thought and communication, the form of thinking and communicating to which I’m accustomed ─ the frantic dynamic of today’s mass speed obsession is exacerbated by mental blank spots and misunderstandings within the reluctant listener’s mind: that, in itself, sets off a whole set of extra thoughts and words I must find just so that I might keep my message on track for the listener whose mind is elsewhere ─ just about everyone is continuously distracted, in effect, a victim of attention deficit…

…and, despite the blinding glare of the Information Age and its exponential advancement of technology ─ including communication devices ─ rational  and meaningful conversations are in extraordinary decline, a phenomenon that exacerbates the very isolation that millions of people who seek to escape while paradoxically and voluntarily dedicating themselves to machine  “companionship,” a dark forecast of advanced ‘artificial’ intelligence and robotic rigged ‘conversations’ with humans: that would not lead to a revolt of machines against humans physically ─ which is merely a death wish ─ but it would further reverse the combined legacy of the Classic Age, Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Information Age: that could be the death of the only intelligence possible, which ─ for want of a better word ─ is natural intelligence.

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The Tyranny of Conformity

If I were to author a film about the following real-life story, the opening scene would depict the experience I had about two years ago. I came home from a grocery store and saw a small package at the foot of my front door. Laden with grocery bags, I elbowed my way into the house to free my arms of groceries before returning to the unmarked package. As I picked it up, a familiar young man appeared and told me that the package contained a pair of his shoes. I then asked him, “What are they doing here?” In a quiet, unemotional, and as-a-matter-of-fact tone, he responded, “I don’t like my house.” My imagined film then cuts to a flashback that begins two years ago and continues to this day. Of course the names of real people and most locations are fictitious.

‘John’ is severely autistic. I didn’t know that until I first saw him at the narrow exit of a store. He was hugging each lady in a group of four as they passed single-file through the exit. Each of them disdainfully pushed him away. Sadly, he was baffled by their rejection. It was also evident to me that this was a recurring event. A few days later I noticed that John hugged passersby, many of whom knew him and some who did not. Gender was not a factor: his hugs are sheer affection, not at all sexual. Some males who know him briefly return his affection, others do not. The same is true of females. A few gently welcome his affection and will even genuinely smile and say a word or two to him before they move on or, more likely, pleasantly greet him without stopping at all, just as many ordinary people do during their hurried daily rounds. In a roundabout way John is a sort of celebrity in the neighborhood!

But no one ever stops to talk to him except neighbors who have known him since he was born. I’m told that his mother abandoned him when he was an infant and that his father is in jail. And with no presumption about John’s psychological state of mind or any medical assumptions at all on my part, I think that the reason for his proclivity to hug strangers is at least in part a function of his early childhood abandonment (although I believe that autism is primarily genetic).  In any case, what I can posit because of my overall view of life is that individuality is capable of trumping  heredity and environment at the core of one’s being. For example, medical science and ‘studies’ assume that John is indifferent to the suffering of others, and that he cannot relate to other human beings. I know otherwise. John belies many of the characteristics that are generally associated with if not central to the “autistic spectrum.”

One warm summer day, I sat on a ledge just outside my front door and saw John and two other men working directly across my street. The three men had no facilities to eat lunch during their break and asked me if it would be okay to use my home’s masonry as tables and chairs. Of course I consented and offered them paper cups, napkins, and a box of cookies as dessert. The cups and napkins were appreciated but ignored, but the men devoured the cookies. That brief association with them was reassuring: it countered the sting I had felt when John had been summarily rejected by the ladies at the grocery store. I was pleased when one of the men warmly offered John additional French fries.

I continued my role as host until their job was finished. But John came back for more. He’d come at about the same time in the afternoon and we’d chat. When the fall weather made it too cold to continue our Tea and Sympathy ritual outdoors, I took it into my home. Then, at a one-on-one basis it became possible for me to teach John elementary facts, e.g., the days of the week in order.

I live in one room at ground level. The room is large and haply is surrounded by three large windows and two huge bay windows. I have no window shades because I can pull curtains open and see the sky all day, quite a feat in Brooklyn.  Having no doorbell, I answer visitors when they tap on the nearest window to my door.

One evening, long after our break, John tapped on that window. I reminded him that I work on my computer in the evening and that I would be glad to see him the following day. He left. But about a half hour later tapped on the window again. Firmly but gently I told him that I would be glad to see him the next day at the usual hour. He left again. But shortly after, he began tapping the window again. In order to avoid a precedent, I did not go to the window. The tapping continued intermittently for about fifteen minutes. It was difficult to keep myself from responding but when the taps finally stopped, I was relieved.

About three hours later I was jolted by a devastating experience. One of my windows had an old air conditioner that had a mobile accordion-like accessory attached to it so that the AC could fit snugly within the larger window frame.  Just before putting my lights out, I saw John’s limp arm hanging out of the fully opened aperture of the AC accessory. That uncanny image was compounded by the sight of John drenched by pouring rain. Autism has a way of throwing a piercing light on its brand of human tragedy.

Always striving to live life as it should be rather than as it is, I always consider the other’s state of being. In part, that means that within my moral parameters and his, I enter John’s world. The depth to which one is able/willing to enter another’s inner world is the fundamental factor that defines the level of any relationship. On the other hand, the ‘herd instinct’ (nature’s design for group survival in animals) is counter to the individuation of humans. That conflict is at the root of prejudices ─ racial, political, religious, or social.

Autism ─ a severe communications handicap ─ is very low on the Handicap Tolerance Scale (as I call it). The HTS registers even greater intolerance for autism than the intolerance that is aroused by the hearing impaired. For just about everyone, it’s one thing to have to repeat a word or (God forbid) a whole sentence to someone who has difficulty hearing, but it’s another to hear pathologically repeated words, the hallmark symptom of autism.

Prejudices, including racism, are spawned and fed by mindless intolerance combined with ignorance. Autism is no exception. John is confronted daily by prejudice. Although baffled by marginalization and raw rejection, he continues to pleasantly greet people on the street. That attitude combined with street smarts assures me that in the long run he’ll be okay. But it’s a serious matter when prejudice hinders someone from social equality, as John has been.

About six months ago, John came to me with a Driver’s Manual issued by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. He was ─ and still is ─ seeking a Driver’s Permit, the first step required to be admitted to a driving school. Without hesitation, I thought, “Why not?” So we began.


John can’t read. On the back cover of the driving manual are printed 16 road signs. The road signs have words and pictures. For example, the words “slippery when wet” are written beneath the picture of a car with skid marks in the wake of its back tires.

On white cardboard, I cut out the shapes of each sign (and a few others not on that cover, e.g., “one way street”) and applied the colors assigned for each of those signs as they appear on the road. But I omitted all words. Then, I provided John with spoken words beneath the signs and a pantomimic gesture for each of the signs. For example, on sight John would say, “Slippery when wet” while he pantomimed falling snow followed by rain and then ice; then he grabbed an imaginary steering wheel and swayed from side to side as though he were a driver struggling to control a skid.

I repeatedly tested him by randomly placing all the cardboard pieces face-down, then choosing one piece at a time and asking him to name and describe the meaning of each sign. He now does that without hesitation and to perfection.

I also taught and drilled him about dozens of rules of the road, some of which even seasoned experienced drivers don’t know, e.g., “In what position should your car’s front wheels be while you are waiting to complete a left turn at an intersection of a two way highway?”

In addition to knowing the manual’s content thoroughly, I’ve drawn on my experience as a driving instructor at a school where I was also chosen as the instructor for the school classes.

The Test

When I thought John was ready to be tested for a driving permit, we went to the DMV. It was then that I learned that the test is given on a computer. Although there is a version of the test for illiterate candidates, John has virtually no idea how to work a computer. To exacerbate matters he had never known the concept of multiple choice questions. The very concept of multiple choice is antithetical to the structure of John’s mind which is dedicated to sameness. Yet, John can correctly and easily answer direct questions, e.g., “When is the only time that you are legally allowed to pass a car on its RIGHT?” Using a diagram of two intersecting roads and a group of pennies to represent cars, John can demonstrate the safe and legal manner to pass on the right. He can do the same in answer to many other questions about the rules of the road.

In addition to that, I’ve observed John’s head movements: instinctively they respond to traffic and pedestrian movement all about us (a combination of “safety first” and “defensive driving”).

Catch 22

But there is a problem.

Despite being highly informed about driving, John is prohibited from earning a driving permit only because he does not know how to handle a computer. The DMV is a governmental institution. Therefore, its workers are forced to be robotic. As a result: No computer skill, no permit possible.

Various devices have been designed to make it possible for physically handicapped people to drive. Why must John be deprived of an opportunity for independence just because he must prove he  can learn to drive only through a computer?

If he were granted the opportunity to have a one-on-one test with a human being, he would have a shot at acquiring a driver’s permit making him eligible as a student in a driving school. At the school he would ‘learn’ most of what he already knows, plus how to park a car, a skill that requires him to be at the wheel. Why not afford him the same opportunity that millions of others are granted?

So far, representatives at the DMV have not favorably responded to my request that John is granted a one-on-one interview to demonstrate his knowledge about driving. After all, the test’s only function is presumed to ascertain the extent of John’s (theoretical) knowledge about driving, not his computer skills.

Ironically, many people who easily pass the computer test will be the cause of fatal accidents because they are drinkers. On the other hand, John, who does not drink, will almost certainly be denied a driver permit because of a subliminal prejudice against individuals who are autistic.

But, like Don Quixote, I will continue to struggle for his impossible dream.

Stay tuned.

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Ethics Made Simple

On a cold day in February, I found myself stuck in a car that unilaterally chose not to continue moving. The situation was bleak. I was at the dead end of a divided street that cut through at least a mile of an empty, fenced-in recreational area on one side and rows of cottage-sized homes on the other side. At mid-afternoon, the area had the look of a ghost town: not a person in sight.

Because of a hearing problem I don’t carry a cellphone. I ask passersby for help whenever I’m in trouble outdoors. But this time no one was passing by: I might just as well have been in the Alaskan Tundra.

At about the time when I was reassuring myself that freezing to death mercifully numbs a victim before killing him, a lady walked out of one of the homes. I asked her if she might help me make a call to the AAA. In response she shook her head: “No.” I said, “I see you’re not interested in helping me.” She responded with a cold stare and walked away. I stopped her for a moment to ask for the name of the street. She would not give me the name and just walked away.

Out of nowhere a man and two teenagers appeared behind the fence for football practice. I asked him if he might help me. He thoroughly and cordially did so at once.

Technically, there are only two kinds of people worldwide: those like that woman and those like that man. The niceties vary but the essence of fine ethics is absolute at every level of human behavior from the intimate to the political to the religious.       

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Aptitude and Ability Tests

My grandfather, Mario, had two grandchildren whose names were also Mario. I was one of the two.  My cousin Mario and I would visit grandpa often (generation gaps were uncommon then). One fall day, I visited grandpa and found him and my cousin building a wooden shelter for his exquisite fig trees. Grandpa was testing Mario to see if he could be of help.

I asked grandpa if I could also help. He graciously accepted my offer, instructed me about the use of a hammer and nails, and asked me to evenly bind two pieces of wood. My cousin stopped hammering and, along with grandpa, watched my first attempt at elementary carpentry. Nails bent. The hammer often missed the nails’ heads. When I finished it was obvious that the two pieces of wood could just as well have been bound by ‘scotch tape.’

Grandpa pointed to my cousin and said, “Tu, si” (“You, yes”). Then he gently put his hand on my shoulder, smiled affectionately, and said, “Tu, no.”  I was relieved.

At about that time in my life I lived in a home with a backyard that had a 10’ x 15’ patch of dirt  that I mistook for soil. Having appointed myself as Morality Officer of my poor family, I decided to grow vegetables. Being of Italian decent, I planned to plant lots of seeds for the obligatory tomatoes and a few seeds for lettuce.

First, I had to clear the ‘garden,’ which was laden with weeds. As I wrenched them out by their roots, years of debris were uncovered, mainly bottles and cans. Among those, there was a torn, yellowed page from a Chinese newspaper. I wondered how that item found its way into an Italian/Jewish neighborhood. Given the demographics of Brooklyn, that excavation was equivalent to the 9th layer of ancient Troy.

In the hot sun, I removed rocks larger than pebbles and reduced the hardened dirt almost to the texture of sugar. But being congenitally unable to handle manure, I stinted on mixing manure  with the plot of dirt. That was probably my undoing.

I planted the seeds as instructed on their packets. I watered them. I ruthlessly plucked their weed rivals at their roots as soon as their sprouts hit the light of day. But tomato sprouts never broke through the surface of the savage dirt. I thought, “Perhaps the lettuce seeds succeeded because they are something like weeds.” (Judging by their taste, I still think that spinach, escarole, and kale are really weeds posturing as vegetables.) Somehow, the lettuce was fine.

I harvested all the lettuce in about 15 minutes. But there was enough of the leafy vegetable to provide a family of seven with the salad for a single dinner. Technically, it wasn’t exactly a salad because it consisted of one vegetable. But in time of crisis niceties must be swept aside. I seasoned the salad with my recipe for Italian dressing and placed it on the dinner table as “Une Salade Simple.”

To put everyone at ease I was the first to laugh at my colossal failure. Yet, that salad provided us with laughter at that dinner and the echoes of that laughter through the years─ one of the ways a family keeps its identity alive.

My experience also assured me that I had no aptitude for agriculture.

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Exactly one day after I posted my article titled Extraterrestrials in a Nutshell, December 2, 2017) I stumbled upon a mega documentary (or a patched-together-series of documentaries) dedicated to extraterrestrials. It aired on the History Channel. My article was basically restricted to the alleged superiority of what appear to be extraterrestrials hovering about the earth.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I have difficulty being brief. But this time, my chance encounter with that documentary jolted me into writing this postscript.

Following are two related examples of the documentary’s topics and my reactions to them.

Genetic Engineering

Human genetic engineering is currently banned because of profound ethical and potentially negative biological consequences. If alleged UFO abductions are practiced by ETs for genetic experimentation, they certainly have shed ethical reservations if they ever had any. That would be a certain sign of moral inferiority.        

Beyond Natural Selection

There is also an inadvertent proof of ET moral inferiority if a segment of the documentary really happened as described. The documentary strongly suggests that ETs have created radically different designs of human species (subspecies?). To that end we are shown several skulls of failed experiments.  I don’t know if the different brains in those skulls were designed for promising Simians or for blossoming Homo Sapiens. In either case, the documentary emphatically posits that Darwin’s theory of the ‘Origin of Species’ may not be entirely correct after all, at least since the dinosaurs were gone. Were those skulls merely the remains of humans who, like several other human species, just didn’t make it to our present form? Or were they failed species created by godlike ETs who goofed?

On the surface those and other examples appear to be just speculation about intelligent life other than ours. But the documentary reflects a perfect existential storm coming our way. Or, should I say, being drawn to us by our own blindness?

Mandated by the need to be entertaining, the documentary’s authors and narrators cheerfully blur and blend fantasy and fact. The fact is that genetic engineering is like nuclear energy: it requires extreme caution. I hope genetic engineering will be practiced only to eradicate serious diseases, not to ‘enhance’ human nature.

And, while I’m at it, I might add that the obsession for robots may well be no more than a desire for humankind to commit suicide. I hope that is not a fact.

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Extraterrestrials in a Nutshell

Okay, maybe there are extraterrestrials whose technology is exponentially superior to ours. Does that mean that they are superior to us? Not necessarily. Although understandable, the pervasive assumption that intelligent life is measurable by its scientific genius bears scrutiny. Superior modes of travel ─ earthly or otherwise ─ are just one factor in the assessment of intelligent life, terrestrial or extraterrestrial. There are many other factors that define intelligent life.

In addition to universal characteristics like heat/cold, expansion/contraction, matter/energy, and space/time, there is every indication that the universe is physically uniform.  Seen from another galaxy, the earth is that distant point in deep space. But, unlike those universal characteristics, intelligent life is known to us only on earth. Still, if the UFO sightings and narratives about alien abductions prove to be true ─ even if only in one instance ─ that would not confirm that the aliens are superior to us ─ only that they are faster.

For decades we’ve heard about extraterrestrials giving a hand to ancient Egyptians building  pyramids. I can’t imagine why ETs would care to do that on an interstellar voyage. Surely, encounters of the third kind would merit something more impressive than advice on hauling and assembling stones for literally monumental human egos. I’m not big on hieroglyphics and pictographs and am not about to rely on them as evidence of an ET visitation. They’re fine for narratives about harvests, wars, and Pharos, but something carved on stone that looks like a space craft or helmet falls short of credible evidence of an astral visit. Certainly so momentous an event would be at least as well recorded as Egyptian pottery at the time.

Definitive proof of encounters of the third kind is essential to determine whether an event of that significance has ever occurred. So far, there is no hard evidence that alien life has interacted with us long-term over centuries or intermittently or even only once. Obviously, absolute proof of any one of those possibilities would provide us with answers to many major questions about intelligent life in the universe.  But the greater question is not whether or not intelligent life exists elsewhere, but whether it has visited us and, if so, why the Great Silence?

Assuming that the UFOs and abductions of humans are basically as described by ‘witnesses,’ that tells us very little about ET thought other than advanced mechanical and genetic  technology.  It tells us nothing about what we call the humanities. Whatever similarities might exist between ETs and humans, differences in thought may be well beyond anything we (or ‘they’) are able to imagine.

Unlike the physically uniform universe, intelligent life, although made of the same stardust as all other life forms on earth, is not uniform. The profoundly singular factor that makes intelligent life unique is thought and its corollary, free will. In turn, creativity is a major component of thought, as is evidenced in rock carvings of prehistoric humans. (Neutron stars are the same throughout the universe, the minds of identical twins are unique unto themselves. Of course the same is true of all human minds.)

One of the many factors to which I refer above as integral for any assessment of intelligent life is art. Speculation about the ‘nature’ of alien beings is almost certain to be at least as complex as the perceptions we have of our human nature. Haven’t you ever thought that the man next door is so weird he may just as well be from another planet?  And isn’t it also true that the branches of what we call philosophy are totally entangled? Is it reasonable to assess intelligence merely on the basis of advanced technology? That certainly has not been the case here on earth.

Can there really be definitive criteria for an objective measure of intelligent life? Einstein’s discovery of space/time is incomparable but his private life was ordinary and in some ways below average.  Also ordinary, was a 19th century individual who knew eighty languages but who (according to George Bernard Shaw) had nothing of importance to say. Apparently he just had a superb memory. But then, so do ‘idiot savants’ (no offence intended). We are in justifiable awe of individuals who instantly know the sum of 174,048,205 multiplied by 850,362,999 (those nines are killers). Yet, whatever it is that enables certain people to instantly juggle mathematical computations ‘in their heads’ is only a fraction of the essence of intelligent life on earth.

Whenever claims and counterclaims are murky, as they severely are with UFO sightings and human abductions, I garner whatever absolute facts are at my disposal in the search for truth. In this instance, the highly touted speed of ET spacecraft strongly implies ET superiority over humans in terms of space highways, but exactly how can we list criteria for intelligence?  Here on earth technology does not have a monopoly on the assessment of or comparison to works of art. Why, then, are ETs deemed to be superior to humans? Unless otherwise proved, art is the prime example of intelligent life on earth.

There is no comparison between any pyramid in the world and the exquisite Parthenon. Piling rocks upon rocks is primitive, the Parthenon is world-class architecture. It and superb three- dimensional painting and sculpture introduced by Western Civilization is at least as advanced as ET mobile technology.

Despite my great respect for anthropologists, I can’t resist alluding to the endless correlations  attributed to heavenly bodies and ancient structures on earth. The three stars in Orion’s Belt were selected as the heavenly markers for the Great Gaza Pyramids. That alignment was long thought to be precise. The facts emphatically suggest otherwise.  I resist the urge to explain those facts but have not done so in an effort to avoid further cluttering the issue of alleged ET superiority, except to state that Adolph Hitler and his gang had generally high IQs but were fundamentally stupid.

Although it is unlikely that I have anything new to add to the glut of extraterrestrial speculation,   I’ve submitted this somewhat whimsical tongue in cheek perspective on art and ET folklore with the hope that it has not already been expressed by someone before me.

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