The ages of things: understanding what is true

This post is as much for my benefit as it is anything else.  I’ve spent a couple of hours over the last few days piecing together the various ages of things that I think are pretty darn awesome.  Estimates here are of course based on the latest science as far as I could determine, so being based on good science, they are subject to adjustment with better evidence.

Enjoy!

Please comment below if you see any mistakes or updates that need to be made. Also let me know if there are some really cool events that I may have missed that you think deserve to be on the timeline.

Letter to the Editor: Marietta Daily Journal – Despite Hines, equality under the law will prevail — even for gays

What follows is a letter I wrote to the editors of my local newspaper in response to this column from Roger Hines, Why not tailored laws for everybody?  I left it to the editorial staff to title my letter and am not displeased that this is the message they took away. Equality under the law will prevail.

DEAR EDITOR:

I hesitated before writing this letter in response to Roger Hines’ column, “Why not tailored laws for everybody?” because a part of me just wants tired, desperate, and homophobic opinions like his to stay hidden away where they typically reside; in the dark recesses of old frightened minds. My trepidation was that by bringing it up again, I may inadvertently goad these ideas back in to the light of day. But perhaps that’s what we need. For the extinction of this unsightly beast called bigotry can only be brought about by its relentless exposure to the light of reason.

You see, this single statement in Roger’s column, “The homosexual lobby and their sycophant corporations don’t want me to live according to my beliefs, but according to theirs,” provides more than enough context to expose the absurdity of his argument. It’s typical of the warped rationale that takes place in the minds of anyone who has convinced themselves that extending equal rights to others different than them, will somehow diminish their own well-being.

How does someone’s respect for diversity and their desire for all people to be treated equally with dignity and respect, keep another person from believing whatever it is that person wants to believe? It doesn’t. So as is often the case where a certain segment of society has vilified another segment based on some characteristic they fear, the argument makes no rational sense.

Roger quoted Thomas Jefferson’s 1809 letter to the Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church as a means to insinuate that Jefferson would have supported his position. But he needs to take a closer look. Jefferson said, “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of civil authority.” Conscience. This is the realm of ideas, not actions. When marriage equality is extended to all members of society who are legally able to enter in to contracts, Roger’s “conscience” will remain intact. No government intervention will force him to change his mind about what he believes is true, nor will Roger be punished by the government for expressing those beliefs.

And please, before you even go there, don’t confuse “beliefs” with “actions.” The rights to hold beliefs and to freely express ideas are protected, as they most certainly should be. Actions however, no matter what belief may have inspired them, are well within the purview of civil authority. On this subject, Jefferson was also unequivocally clear. He explained as much in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association when he said, “…the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions.”

And while we’re in the business of invoking the sagacious Jefferson, his 1816 letter to John Adams provides perhaps the most salient sentiment given the times. “Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. Education and free discussion are the antidotes of both. We are destined to be a barrier against the returns of ignorance and barbarism.”

Some beliefs will remain intact. Some people will change their minds. The world will turn. But let the reasonable among us deliver the antidotes. Equality under the law will prevail, eventually, as it always has in our great nation.

-Ryan Bays

Tuesday February 10, 2015 – Blood Pressure: 140/92

What follows is a journal entry I penned several months ago.

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This date is special for two very important reasons. First and foremost, it’s the birthday of someone extremely dear to me, my son! Second, it’s the day that I decided to try everything I could to lower my blood pressure without resorting to a doctor’s visit and the subsequent lifelong supply of Losartan that was sure to follow.

A little bit of context. I  am 43 years old, in reasonably good shape with a reasonably good diet.  I’m the father of two children and have been married to the same wonderful woman for 22 years.  I have a good job. I have a nice house that’s way too big for our family.  I have a liberal arts education and still try to read constantly.  All told, my life is pretty wonderful.

That’s enough back-story for now, back to the blood pressure machine at Publix and the word “high” that accompanied my reading of “140/92.”  That’s not scary high, but for a guy my age and my level of fitness, it was a depressing number.

Of course I have heard about meditation throughout my life; as a kid I thought it was just that funny thing that Buddhist monks did when they crossed their legs in an impossible way and sat for hours on end, eyes closed, hands turned upward on their knees with their fingers forming a sort of reverse A-OK.

As I got older, I understood meditation to have somewhat of a wider audience; I knew that some people who practice Yoga for example will sometimes incorporate meditation in to their routines.  But I never had any real firsthand experience with mediation or, as far as I knew, with anyone who meditates.

Fast forward to today. To be honest, I’m not sure if mediation qualifies as a fad – it has been around for at least 2600 years – but it does seem to have gained a much wider following well outside of Buddhist temples and Yoga studios. Not only is meditation making its way in to main stream mental health practices, it has even found a home in the corner offices of corporate CEOs.  It’s effectiveness in reducing stress, and even blood pressure, has been measured and documented.

Even blood pressure?  Staring at 140/92 I thought, “why not?”

Remember earlier when I mentioned that I try to read constantly? One of my favorite genres is popular science and within popular science, I enjoy neuroscience  – the science that studies the brain and nervous system.  It turns out that according to some fairly recent neuroscience research, in addition to the stress relieving effects I mentioned, meditation has some very real, very measurable benefits on the brains of those who practice.

I rolled all of that up together in to one obvious conclusion. I am going to start my meditation practice. That night, not really knowing where to begin, I went home and did a Google search for “guided meditation.” That search led me to the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.  I clicked on the link for Free Guided Meditations and then clicked “play” on the first link called, “Breathing Meditation.”

No really knowing what to do, I sat on our chaise lounge facing the large window which opens to our backyard, closed my eyes, and tried for about five minutes to listen and focus only on my breath.

And so it begins.

Sunday morning tea: running

My running shoesIt’s official. I really love running. It has taken me over four decades of bipedal movement to arrive at this conclusion but after reflecting on a lifetime of running, I suppose I can finally admit it to myself.  I used to run because I felt I should. Now I run because of how it makes me feel.  The deeper into the woods I get, the more at peace I feel.   It’s primal, and even occasionally, spiritual.

I’m sure I’m not alone on this, but when I’m running, I’m always more aware of my body, my breath, the sounds of my feet propelling me forward on dirt or pine straw, the birdsong, the thoughts in my head.

And I’ve never enjoyed running with music in my ears.  I know for many, the rhythm of a steady beat is what motivates their footsteps, but for me, I’ve always enjoyed the sounds of my environment, whether nature or cityscape.  And the music overwhelms any opportunity to enjoy what’s happening in the world at that time. Don’t get me wrong, I love music, but when I’m on the trail I don’t want anything to obfuscate what’s happening in my present moment.

I want to run mindfully. To use the opportunity without distraction, to tune in without any negative emotions, to the sensations arising in my legs or my chest.  I want to feel the wind on my face and in my hair. I want to pay attention to my breathing and notice when it increases on a climb and decreases on a straightaway.  In effect, running is now a part of my mindfulness meditation practice.  It’s another way for me to be aware of the reality of my place in the present moment, and it’s wonderful.  This is what I mean when I say that running is sometimes spiritual.  When all of the past falls away, when I stop manufacturing future scenarios to worry about, and I’m just a sentient primate in the cosmos, moving forward, reveling in consciousness and the opportunity to breath.

The “ophobia” ruse as a means to protect ideas from critique

Twitter Richard Dawkins Ryan BaysMy morning started early with a cup of coffee and great intentions of adding a few paragraphs to my book project. As the rain fell soothingly outside, and just as I was getting the old writing wheels warmed up, I stole a quick skim of my twitter timeline. One of my favorite accounts is that of famous biologist Richard Dawkins and this morning, Dr. Dawkins was tweeting about British politics. In particular, about a Labour Party desire, expressed in no uncertain terms by Ed Millband, to outlaw the “scourge” of Islamophobia by making it a crime.

Islamophobia a crime? Absurd. How can criticism of anything be considered criminal in a free society? Writing, speaking, blogging, and drawing, all methods of critique, none of which do any real harm to anyone save challenging them to examine their own beliefs, and in so doing perhaps hurting their feelings. I replied to Dr. Dawkins’ tweet with one of my own:

“I suppose by attaching the suffix “ophobia” to the end of a set of beliefs, they expect immunity from criticism.”

Judging by the response to Dr. Dawkin’s re-tweet, this assessment resonated positively with a great many of his reasonable followers (and incidentally, quite negatively with a few of his less rational).

It would seem that the trick to ensure that one’s feelings remain unhurt, is to simply affix “ophobia” to the end of the label that captures whatever “deeply held beliefs” they hold, and then charge any critics with this new and wholly fictional affront.  Of course this is a gimmick. A cop-out. It’s impossible to but a boundary around what ideas fit within the protection of the “ophobia” and what ideas must make their case on the open market. There’s no limit to the “ophobias” that the holders of ridiculous or dangerous ideas can cower behind.

What’s this? You think L. Ron Hubbard’s book is silly? You’re just exhibiting Scientolophobia.

Did I hear you scoff at the doctrine of transubstantiation? You must be a Catholophobe.

What do you mean you don’t believe in Santa Clause? You are guilty of Santophobia.

Critical of religious doctrines that encourage death to apostates? Careful if you live in England, for if Milliband has his way, you may just end up breaking laws prohibiting Islamophobia.

We in the Western world have been down this road before. The road where certain beliefs and ideas were placed beyond reproach by the rule of theocratic law, but rather than label their critics as “Islamophobes” or “Christophobes,” critics were called “blasphemers” and “heretics” and were garroted or burned at the stake.  Of course, free governments will no longer issue death penalties for the crime of being offensive, but criminal penalties of any type are unconscionable.  No idea is beyond critique. No belief is too precious to be held above examination and yes, even ridicule.

If the goal of freedom-loving societies is to ensure the maximum number of people living in them have access to the possibility of human happiness, and if human happiness is a product of actions inspired by beliefs, then all beliefs need to be on the table. How else can we choose which are worthy of our respect? How else can we cause to whiter away under the relentless light of rational critique, those beliefs which inspire actual atrocities?