What do we tell the kids?

I wrote this in response to a very touching article by a mother with terminal lung cancer.  It’s a beautifully written article, and well worth reading.  I totally get where she is coming from.  Hiding the truth from children is a terrible idea.  But her truth made me feel really sad:

A beautiful woman with her beautiful daughter.

Picture from the article used without permission.

(I initially put this in the comments under the article, which is why it speaks directly to the author.  But then I wanted to share it with Darwin Harmless readers.  To preserve my anonymity I decided to put it up here instead.)

This is such a difficult time for you, and a difficult subject. It takes a lot of courage to face it the way you do. And yet, you don’t face it at all as I would. You told your daughter your truth. But everybody’s “truth” is different.

You see, I am an atheist. I do not believe in an afterlife. And telling my children that I will be watching them from an invisible place is not a truth I can believe.

What I would tell my child is that time passes and things change. There will come a time when I am no longer here. I will not exist, except as a memory.

I might ask my child if they remember what it was like before they were born. Unless they engage in intense fantasy, they will recognize that they don’t know, they don’t remember. I will explain that they have no memory of that time because they didn’t exist yet. It will be the same for them after they are dead. They won’t exist. And I won’t exist after I am dead. There is nothing wrong with that. Nothing to fear. Not existing, which is the same as being dead, didn’t bother us before we were born. Why would it bother us after we die?

It is painful to live without somebody you have loved. I miss my father and mother terribly, and I miss friends who have died. But pretending they still exist just doesn’t work for me. It would be like losing an arm in an industrial accident, yet insisting that my arm still existed, only invisibly, in another place.

Everybody goes where they need to go to get comfortable with death. Our social norm is to deny that death really happens. For me, that is not accepting reality. That is not truth. I find reality is not all that terrible, if I just accept it. And I’m not going to pass on a belief in an afterlife, no matter how socially accepted or attractive, to my children as “truth”.

I’m okay with knowing that time passes and things change.

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Oh no. No. No. Please not that.

Okay, I’ve got it figured out now. That horrible ripping roaring rumbling, complete with moans and screams, I heard last night was the sound of my echo chamber falling apart.

President trump our new reality.

Obviously my echo chamber has been saving me from perceiving reality. The people I talk to, associate with, or count as Facebook friends, are all in the echo chamber with me. None of them would have voted for Trump. None of them are sexist, racist, ignorant privileged fools. Nobody I knew thought Trump spoke for them, or considered him their hero. He wasn’t even good at what he claimed as his turf, business.  He would be worth more, I was told, if he had simply invested his inheritance in an indexed fund and avoided the business world.
Every Facebook meme condemned Trump.  Every comedian made fun of Trump.  Every clip of Trump talking made him look absolutely unelectable.  The Scots made fun of Trump in very colorful language.  The British parliament was forced to debate the question of banning Trump from the U.K, triggered by a petition that garnered thousands of names, and did so with appropriate disdain, calling him a fool and a buffoon.  It seemed that everybody was against Trump and the only warning that he would be elected came from Michael Moore and could be dismissed as a scare tactic to motivate Americans to vote.  Who on earth, other than the idiots at his rally, was going to vote for Trump.
So I was left with the impression that we are safe. There was no way Trump could win.
Damn, I’m going to miss my echo chamber. It made me feel so good. But now it’s time to explore the real world. Sigh. Couldn’t I just enjoy my childhood for a while longer?
I usually refrain from commenting on things that are covered so completely by other bloggers and the Internet.  Usually I have nothing more to add.  But this is about me.  My pain. My worry.  My awakening.  My disillusionment.
Capitalism has failed the American middle class.  They have responded by electing the ultimate capitalist pig.  I may die of irony poisoning.

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Virtual Groping is as Real as Any Other Sexual Assault

I just read this article by Jordan Belamire about being groped in virtual reality.  Then I read the comments, most of which were empathetic and supportive except… wouldn’t you know it.  The bros have to show up to tell this woman that she is “insulting real victims of sexual assaault” and sexual assault in VR is not at all the same as sexual assault in reality so she should stop whining about it.  Damn but bros can be assholes. I guess you all knew that already.

from the virtual groping article

Here’s the thing.  The only difference between happy consensual sex and sexual assault is… are you ready for it… consent. The physical aspect of sexual assault is not the problem, though of course it can be.  The problem is in the mind of the victim.  And sexual assault in virtual reality is no different in this way, except the physical component is missing.  But so what.  It’s the mind that counts.

Every time I sit in a dentist chair and am subjected to pain inflicted by needles and drills, I think about the scene in “Marathon Man” with Dustin Hoffman being drilled and grilled by Sir Lawrence Olivier.  It always amazes me that I take the pain with no screaming, no fear, no objection.  If that pain were being inflicted with malicious intent, with a promise of worse to come, I would be in anticipatory agony.  What happens to us physically is not nearly as bad as what happens to us mentally and emotionally, most of the time.  I think sexual assault works the same way.  If somebody asks to be whipped, spanked, beaten, and gets off on it, then the most egregious physical assault is endured without complaint, in fact with enjoyment.  But without the request and consent, a mere touch can be traumatic in the extreme. And in virtual reality, a virtual touch is enough to meet my definition of assault.

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Unbelievable Cruelty Under Our Noses and Ignored

I am no animal rights fanatic.  Sure, I hate factory farming and testing cosmetics on cute little bunnies.  But most of the cruelty of our society I can shrug off without raising my voice in protest. When our cruelty has a purpose, or serves our best interest, I can usually turn a blind eye and repress my gag impulse. But this is too much.


I snapped this picture in a Canadian Tire outlet in a Canadian city. I’m sure they are not the only company that sells this product. This is paper covered with glue that catches mice.

I tried this out, years ago, and the result was horrifying. The mouse is caught all right.  It’s feet and belly stick to the paper and it can’t move.  And you can’t release it.  Trying to free it from the paper will tear the skin from its body.  Maybe there is a solvent that will allow you to free it, but the mouse I caught was beyond repair by the time I was ready to consider such a tactic.  So there it is, stuck to the paper, terrified and in agony.  It’s hard to imagine anything worse.  I suppose a leg hold trap comes close, but for shear sadistic nastiness this is hard to beat.

Of course once you find a mouse captured in this way you can dispatch it with a quick bonk on the head, though I imagine most people are a bit more squeamish than I about bonking a mouse.   But until you find it, imagine how the creature suffers.  And why?  This is no more effective than the well known kill traps we all have used, the ones that do in a mouse or a rat instantly, with only a very rare misfire when they catch the tail or other non-lethal body part, so rare that I’ve never seen it happen.

Think about the kind of mind that could invent a mouse capture method like this.  Think about the kind of culture that could accept it, and put it on sale without a thought.

I am no fan of mice, though outdoor mice are fine with me.  Rats are another animal entirely.  Rats are our enemies and I will happily shoot rats until I blister my trigger finger. But not even a rat deserves to be captured on sticky paper. I wouldn’t do that to Donald Trump.

I happened to be buying grass seed and a new rat trap at Canadian Tire when I noticed this display.  I took one of the packages with me to the checkout counter. Showed it to the clerk who’s name, according to her name tag, is Tracy.

Tracy, I said, you seem like a nice person.  I want you to take this to your boss and tell them that you are getting complaints from customers about this product.  I then went into a graphic description of what happens to a mouse when it is trapped on this sticky paper.  Probably ruined her whole day.

Whether she will actually report my complaint to her boss is anybody’s guess.  Maybe if enough customers bring it to their attention, they will get the message.  This kind of needless, pointless, cruelty has no place in a civilized society. It certainly has no place in a display at Canadian Tire.

If you happen to see this product displayed, please join me in complaining about it.  It should be banned.

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The War on Drugs is No Failure

I’ve been so wrong.  For years I’ve been preaching the obvious, that the war on drugs has not reduced drug use, that the war on drugs has been a total failure.  But I misunderstood.


The powers that be don’t give a flying frog about your drug use.  In fact, they like you to be nice and sedated, all the time, and your doctor will probably write you a prescription if you just complain about feeling bad.  The purpose of the war on drugs was not to combat drugs.  That was the cover.  That was the official story.  The war on drugs had and continues to have a completely different purpose – justifying money for bullet proof vests, ever more and larger guns, all the expensive tools of law enforcement, including wages for those enforcing the law, but most of all an excuse to incarcerate those who might want to change the status quo.

What brought me to this cynical realization?  I recently learned that a convicted felon in America loses their voting rights.  And there you have it.  What beautiful simplicity.  Not only has the establishment churned money through lawyers, courts, cops, surveillance, and enforcement. they have shut a huge percentage of the population out of the democratic system.  Simply brilliant.

Felony disenfranchisement is not a simply situation.  It varies from state to state, and sometimes is temporary, sometimes not so temporary. But now the war on drugs makes a bit more sense. It’s been a flaming success.

“In the national elections 2012, all the various state felony disenfranchisement laws added together blocked an estimated 5.85 million felons from voting, up from 1.2 million in 1976. This comprised 2.5% of the potential voters in general; and included 8% of the potential African-American voters. The state with the highest number of disenfranchised voters was Florida, with 1.5 million disenfranchised, including more than a fifth of potential African-American voters.”

And now that the war on drugs has obviously been ineffective in curbing drug use, now that the cover has been blown, a bunch of white guys are poised to make millions doing what put black guys in jail for decades.  If you are a fan of evil, it doesn’t get better than this.

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Okay, Now He’s Gone Too Far

I couldn't stand to put up his picture so here's a blind naked mole rat.

I couldn’t bring myself to put up his picture, so here’s a naked blind mole rat using his voice.

I’d like to get through a day without hearing the name Donald Trump, but that’s obviously going to be impossible until November and possibly beyond for at least another four years.  Perish the thought.  Everybody is writing about the blowhard billionaire populist demagogue, almost all of it disparaging and lately quite terrifying.  Here is an example that really should scare the crap out of all of us.  And here’s another linked from that same article.  Enough has been said. I don’t want to add my voice, but now I must.

When Trump looked into the camera and announced “I am your voice.” that was too much.  No, Mr. Trump.  The last thing you are is my voice.  I see you for what you are, a narcissistic attention sucking megalomaniac who will say anything to get the approval and support of angry frightened people. You may be a voice for some of them, but you sure are not my voice. If anything, you are my worst nightmare.

I’ve lived in China, and I’ve read the history of the Chinese revolution and the rise of Mao Tse-Tung.  You are like his reincarnation on a bad hair day.  I can see what is coming if you take the reins of the most powerful country in the world, a country which you are managing to convince your followers is now weak and ridiculed, one of your biggest lies. Like Mao you are a bully on steroids.  I can imagine an America plastered with your face, and slogans which you will get somebody else to write for you. It’s an America making enemies at home and abroad, so that you have somebody to terrify your followers  with and foment riots against. I can see the purges of enemies, the incarceration of reasonable voices, the rabid howls of the mob screaming your name and denouncing traitors. I think you are capable of doing everything Mao did, and worse.

I am a tall, white man and I am not angry.  I know you lie like a rug. I’m also a Canadian, so I don’t get to vote against you.  But believe me, the whole world is holding its breath and hoping that Americans are the people we think they are – strong, intelligent, educated people who recognize a con man when they see one.   We’re in deep shit if this isn’t true.

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I Had a Thought


black lives matter

With Black Lives Matter and the pushback to that campaign, plus the police murders of black men and the murders of police in retaliation, race relations are very much on my mind these days.

And I had a thought.  You know how the colour black is so often used as a negative – black hearted, black mood, blackmail, etc.  Well, I think it’s time we all stopped doing that and I’m going to try.

In China we called the unlicensed taxis that waited outside our gate “black taxis”.  This is not accurate.  Some of them were indeed black.  But really they were unlicensed.  That’s what we should have called them.

Black hearted?  Do you really mean evil?  Nasty?

Black mood? Are you talking about depression? Or anger?

Blackmail?  Isn’t that extortion?

Black market?  Do you mean underground market?

Black ball?  Isn’t that simply rejection?

Blackguard?  Do you mean villain?

I think anybody with a descent vocabulary can find ways of describing the world without giving it a colour that is offensive to so many people.  I’m going to start.

Language is important.

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Is this how Alan Turing felt?


I have now been chemically castrated.  I assume this was done with the same drugs that were used to chemically castrate Alan Turing as punishment/control for his homosexuality. If not the same drugs, then the same results.  I have been injected with a drug that blocks my testosterone.  I am now sexless.

In my case, the law no longer cares whether I am gay or not.  I have been rendered sexless as the first step in treating my prostate cancer. So, what did Alan Turing experience?  Certainly it’s not something that will lead me to suicide. That would be counter productive indeed, since this hormone therapy is intended to save my life.  Obvious it was the social pressures, the stigma, and the bullying by legal authorities that contributed to Turing’s depression and suicide.  The physical symptoms of being chemically castrated are no big deal.

In fact, I’m having a hard time putting my finger on any physical/emotional symptoms at all.  Maybe I have the occasional hot flash.  Maybe the old fire in the belly for achievement and success has been banked somewhat. My aesthetic appreciation of sexuality seems unaffected.  I still find young women attractive and erect dicks erotic. I don’t think that my appreciation of sensuality has changed.  But there definitely is a difference in functionality.  I’m now like a dog chasing cars.  There’s not much I could do if I catch one.

Mind you, even this is untested theory.  It’s been a while since I caught one.  Who knows what would happen with the right partner and circumstances. As the old saw goes, I used to have to avoid temptation but now temptation avoids me.  Alas.

In the meantime I can experience a fancied connection to one of the great men of science. What is life but a series of experiences.

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Naked People and Egregious Art Vandalism

Last week I revisited the Sistine Chapel

When I was about six years old I was very interested in naked people.  I’m told that many children share this interest.  But in those days, the mid fifties of the last century, porn was not as close as your smart phone. Pictures of naked people were only available in National Geographic Magazine, which seemed to include bare breasted African natives in every issue, and in art.  My mother had a big coffee table book, put out by Life Magazine, entitled “Great Art of the World”.  It included details of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.  And in those pictures I could see at least two naked people, Adam and Eve.  I poured over those pictures.

If you imagine the Sistine Chapel through the eyes of a child, it’s like a horror movie.  You have the mother holding her infant above the rising flood waters, the boatman on the river Styx with his glowing red eyes, and of course Adam and Eve being driven from the garden of Eden.  Strong stuff.  I was fascinated.

The first time I went to Rome, in the mid seventies, I had the good fortune to meet a beautiful art historian.  We had a love affair worthy of a Hollywood movie.  I told her of my fascination with the Sistine Chapel.  Let’s go see it.  But she had seen it many times and wasn’t interested in seeing it again.  She advised me to get to the ticket office early, and don’t spend time in the Vatican museum, but march the kilometers to the chapel without looking left or right, else I would find myself crowded in with other tourists.  So that’s what I did.  I got to the chapel long before anybody else.  I got to lie down on the floor and spend an hour, undisturbed, soaking up the images of that famous ceiling.

Sistine Chapel crowd

This time was quite different.  As before, I arrived well before the opening time at the ticket office.  But by eight in the morning there were already thousands of tourists following the tour guide flags, lining up, waiting to get through the entrance doors.  I paid a premium to allow me to jump the queues, and tried to push my way through the crowds in the hallways preceding the chapel.  But by the time I got there, the space was shoulder to shoulder.  No lying down on the floor this time.  Every few minutes a voice with an strong Italian accent would demand silence and remind everybody that no photos or videos are allowed. Somehow he did not add to the sanctity of the place.

Still, it was worth it.  Unbelievable colours, especially the flesh tones.  Gorgeous.  They left a tiny square in the top corner uncleaned, just so we can see the difference.  And the difference is beyond dramatic.  What I saw on my first visit was like looking at the ceiling through dirty sunglasses in dim light.

Of course I am no longer looking at those stories through the eyes of a seven year old.  Now they seem horrible, and stupid beyond belief.  Especially the whole ark thing.  It has the credibility of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”.  So strange that there are people who believe it is an actual historical event that really happened.  Strange world we live in.

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Dodged the Second Bullet

I had a visit with my oncologist last week.  The good news is that my CT scan also came in clear.  So my cancer is confined to my prostate and I’m not likely to die in the immediate future.  Whew.

The bad news is that I should undergo treatment.  My oncologist is recommending a triple treatment approach – hormone therapy, focused radiation therapy, and implanted radioactive seeds (brachytherapy).  For me the most worrisome of these is the hormone therapy, which shuts off my testosterone.

I’ve started on the pills, one a day, and next week I’ll have an injection.  And then that’s it for a sex drive until this thing is over, if my sex drive ever comes back.  Two things to be grateful for: in the old days the hormone therapy involved an orchiectomy, which is the nice not so scary medical term for castration, and there is a possibility that my testosterone level will rise after treatment.    I guess the third thing to be grateful for is that this beats dying.  But just barely.  I’m going to die eventually anyway.  We all do. But, much as I love it, there’s more to my life than sex.  I’m glad I’m going to stick around for a while.

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