Stephen Kahn

Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category

Canada Train Trip and Class System (Part 1 of ?)

In Good news, Humor on January 11, 2013 at 12:54 am

Pete shined the bat signal in the cloudy midday sky. As always, I am confused. About what? Well, at the age of 68, just confused. For example, what should I post about? If I post about my main activity (starting an “atheist church” on Whidbey), I run the risk of irritating my Christian readers). If I post about anything else, I am sure I am irritating/boring all four or five or six of my readers). Well, I was going to write about our train trip across Canada. So I will. I better get an answer from Pete, at least.

As we left Vancouver, we saw wires running on poles alongside the train tracks. I assumed they were power lines. One of the train crew helpfully told us that they were telegraph line wires, from the pre-telephone line days when the train tracks were first laid across Canada. The railroad finds it too expensive to tear them down. If I knew Morse Code, I suppose I could use the lines to send a secret message to . . . whom? The Taliban? Do they know Morse Code to send secret messages the CIA would never spot. Is Morse Code compatible with the Koran?

An interesting thing we discovered as we crossed Canada was that “Via Rail,” the passenger train system crossing Canada is actually three different railroads imperfectly merged into one system. Each section of the railroad has different crews, different cultures, different economies, and different virtues and flaws.

The Western part of Canada has the best economy. The service was the best, at least as far as meals and crew chipperness. My wife and I were traveling “first class,” (something we could not quite grasp or deal with, never having traveled first class on anything before in our lives). Meals were excellent and the crewfolk were cheerful and upbeat. However, every silver lining has a cloud.

The silver lining in Western Canada was that the first class crew assumed that the first class passengers knew the drill. At various points during the trip, we had to switch trains in various train stations. What my wife and I did not understand (not being part of the “landed gentry” or whatever they are called in Canada), is that first class passengers have special semi-hidden “lounges” in the train stations where they first class passengers gather and drink themselves silly. (My wife and I are just naturally silly, without needing that much alcohol to assist the process.) After a while, the lounge crew guide the addled passengers to their first class cars.

My wife and I continually lined ourselves up with the third class (steerage?) passengers and thus finding ourselves at the wrong gate or in the wrong line. The train crew, doing their best imitation of supercilious English butlers would look at our tickets and say, “Oh, no, madam and sir, you are supposed to be at Gate 17.” [instead of Gate 4 or wherever we were standing]. Although I have never been to Europe, as Canada is a combination of English and French people], I presume Canadian train staff have cross-bred to create a kind of impeccable disdain that merges to form a kind of genetically modified SUPER- SUPERCILIOUS monstrosity. So whenever we found ourselves in the incorrect line (every time we made a transfer) the staff would look at us with a polite expression of “I thought everyone in the effete upper class was born knowing what line to stand in as they were being driven to the slaughterhouse. . .”

How I almost became a Kenyan millionaire (Part 3)

In Humor on July 26, 2012 at 9:09 pm

In fact, while I am sure the Aga Khan is a very spiritual man, he makes me think of Mitt Romney, who also is a very spiritual man who belongs to a religious group that is very big on tithing, and finds no contradiction between his spirituality and his interest in making lots of money.

(But then Osama bin Laden was a very rich religious leader, and he could hardly think of anything more fun to do than spreading Islam by sword, bomb, crashing airplane, suicide vest, and anything else he and his buddies could think of, so you never know what will float (or sink) someone’s boat.)

Hasan explained to us that while he was a Muslim from India, he belonged to a family of people who had lived in Kenya for three generations, and owned many business enterprises in Kenya. Hasan had moved to the United States at some point (so he could study in an American university). He earnestly assured us that he was a very peaceful Muslim. He also made appointments to interview each of us personally. In my interview, apparently recognizing my last name (Kahn) as a Jewish one, he asked me about my religious beliefs. When I explained that my ancestors were Jews, I was not a religious believer. He seemed perfectly happy with this answer. I consider it quite compatible with his religious approach to money (let’s make lots of money). I dimly grasped at the time, and feel more certain now, that he was only interested in 1) my desire to make a lot of money and 2) my willingness to subordinate myself to his ego.

As he spoke to the group, Hasan indicated that his ties to Kenya indicated that there were great business possibilities in promoting trade between Kenya and the United States. The main Kenyan products I remember him mentioning were tea and tropical hard woods (which are probably now considered as coming from endangered species of hardwood trees).

Hardwoods endangered

Hassan assured us that he had a lot of successful business experience, in part because his family were all successful business owners in Kenya and because he had a lot of successful business experience as a salesman in the United States, working for a large pharmaceutical company, selling what are called“ethical drugs,”an oxymoron similar to “military intelligence.”As soon as I realized he was a salesman, the hairs on the back of my neck stirred, just as the neck hairs on a vampire hunter stir when he notices a person in a coffee shop who casts no shadow.

After assuring us he was not a dangerous Muslim [only a greedy one], Hasan felt obligated to reassure us about Africa and Kenya.

How I almost became a Kenyan Millionaire. (Last story, Part 2)

In Humor, Uncategorized on July 20, 2012 at 12:06 am

This would be more likely to apply to my brother, who actually lived in Senegal for three years, and actually became fluent in Wolof, and who actually learned how to be a silversmith, though it didn’t make him a millionaire (or he wouldn’t whine about money so much and would offer to pay our train fare on our trip from Whidbey to Portland, ME via Canadian rail this fall.) Though to be fair, he did offer to help pay for part of our fare from Halifax. If we figure out how to get from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Portland, Maine Though given all the difficulty we are having making connections, I do not know how people ever manage to travel in darkest France or Eastest India or even More Easterly China, where my cousin became an actual millionaire. And, I should add, my brother became lead guitar for a Senegalese rock and roll band, as I guess he failed to convince them to become a bluegrass band, which he much prefers to rock and roll, even Senegalese variety.

Anyway, in my last year teaching computer classes for the library system, an Indian man from East India took a class, and then asked me if I could do some consulting work for him. When I went to a meeting with – Hasan, I will call him, which is something like his real name and typical of his religious group, I found myself in a room with about a dozen people. One of whom was a man who taught fifth grade and ran a small business on the side. Another one was an attractive woman in her 30s who ran a small limousine service with one vehicle. There were about twenty or so other people who ran very small and very marginal part-time or full-time businesses.

This was a time, not that distant from the attack on the WorldTradeTowers, when America was nervous about Muslims. (Now, of course, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc. all live in peace and harmony in America.) So Hasan cut right to the chase, explaining that he was a Muslim from India, a member of the sect headed by the Aga Khan. If you go to Wikipedia you can learn everything you want to know (and probably a great deal more than you want to know) about the Aga Khan. I’ll boil it down to: he is one of the richest religious leaders in the world. Millions of followers pay him tithes. He is too busy occupying himself with important religious enterprises such as breeding and racing horses to indulge in silly activities such as spreading Islam by bomb, sword, firearm, or crashing airplane.

Founding an atheist church?

In Good news, Humor on July 4, 2012 at 7:43 pm

I belong to what is supposed to be one of the best Health Maintenance Organizations in the United States, but like the making of sausage and legislation, close examination of medical care can be dispiriting. I have encountered about a dozen doctors, about a dozen nurses, and more medications than I can keep track of in the course of treating my illness. The health care workers have all been kind and considerate, but they do not all agree with each other (though being tactful, they do not criticize each other). The different medications do not all agree with each other. They are less tactful, and seem to argue with each other as they course through my bloodstream and digestive system.

However, despite setbacks and frets, I am making progress. I took off some bandages, took a shower, engaged in some exercise, trimming weeds on the edge of our property.

My irreligious efforts have not gone all that well, either. I set out yesterday to attend an atheist/free thinker/secular humanist/agnostic (etc.) picnic in Seattle yesterday, but the directions were vague (and my comprehension dim) and I never found the other people and missed the picnic. A I get older, it is getting too difficult for me to attend these groups in Seattle any more. My project is to found a non-believer church on Whidbey Island. I am about to head over to Craig and Sharon’s house where they are hosting a picnic for my wife and myself. Perhaps their pastor and parish leader can provide assistance to me in helping start a Whidbey atheist church. Such a project would test their tolerance to the limit, I fear.

Oxymoron Stephen about to head out to a picnic with the friendly neighbors.

The underground non church church

In Hard to tell, Humor on June 18, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Omnivores (a category that includes our chickens, my wife, and myself), seem to function best if they eat a varied diet and engage in a variety of activities. Thus our chickens eat a worm here, a beetle there, a blade of grass over there, and a clover leaf just next to where you are standing. They wander from one part or another of the chicken run, sometimes pecking each other to test the pecking order, sometimes hiding in the ferns (for who knows what reason), sometimes running to the gate in the hope I have brought them some “chicken candy” (raw oat flakes).

I appreciate that some of my blog readers are religious believers (who tolerate my atheistic rantings) and that some of them are like me, “ethical nihilists,” or very close to such. I hang out with the Lutherans at the wood splitting (and probably will again) when my current ailments mend enough. For the most part I find them amiable enough, but I do not attend their church services. I also hang out with the organic farmers and gardeners, and with the local library folk, and sometimes even head a little far afield, as when I attended the Whidbey Island Republican caucus, where I placed my own nomination for President (a libertarian but not Ron Paul) and spoke in favor of gay marriage (so my daughter and daughter out of law can make honest women of each other).

However, at the last Lutheran woodsplitters get together, their amusement at their indoctrination of tiny children rubbed me the wrong way. So I set forth to attend an atheistic church session. Which I did, though things almost went badly amiss. I will tell more in future episodes, as well as revealing my devious plans for Whidbey Island proselytizing.

How to win friends & influence people (2012 version)

In Humor on June 17, 2012 at 9:15 pm

In my 68 years on this earth, I have learned few things (and I am forgetting them quickly).

Nine out of ten people would prefer to proselytize (a fancy word for “sell”) than be proselytized.

Nine out of ten people are more interested in themselves than in other people.

Nine out of ten people are more convinced of their own correctness than in the information provided by others.

If you can identify that tenth person in any group you happen to be in, that person will buy anything you have to sell, will listen to everything you have to say with rapt attention, and will happily and enthusiastically join the cult you are starting.

Tell me why you stopped reading this post

In Bad news, Good news, Hard to tell, Humor, Uncategorized on June 10, 2012 at 9:20 pm

Getting back to the cults I belong to, I will briefly and redundantly review the ones I have described.

Transition Whidbey. Worthwhile points: realize that we are running out of fossil fuels and that economics based on never ending growth cannot continue. Silly points: Failing to realize that humans are dangerous, wicked creatures; failing to acknowledge we need to shoot people before they shoot us; and thinking that positive thinking avoids conflict and tough decisions.

Trinity Lutheran Church. Worthwhile points: treating each other kindly and supportively; outgrowing nastiness and cruelty of earlier versions of Christianity. Silly points: Believing in unreal and imaginary concepts such as God, Satan, Heaven, and Hell and life after death.

Another cult I belong to is the Red Cross. As with other cults to which I belong, I am completely unsuited to this cult. Worthwhile points: The Red Cross acknowledges that bad stuff happens in this mundane life, and tries to prevent such events (where possible) and prepare for recovery and aid. The bad stuff occurs because of natural disasters – storms, earthquakes, floods, land and snow slides, forest fires, epidemics, and a multitude of other such events, as well as from human caused disasters, whether wars, genocides, land and snow slides, epidemics, forest fires, and so on.

As unsuited as I am for the Red Cross, I am even less suited to be a First Responder, a person who rushes to the scene of an disaster and provides immediate medical attention or SWAT team firepower. For example, if trying to perform CPR I would forget the exact steps and be squeamish about breaking the victim’s rib cage.

Transition Whidbey talks about future events that may not be occur or may be forestalled. We may not really run out of fossil fuel, or may at least discover some substitute that does just as well – solar energy, tidal power, bicycles. Religious believers talk about events that can’t not be proved or disproved – Heaven, Hell, etc.

The Red Cross forecasts events that occur often enough – such as hurricanes and tornadoes – that they seem likely to occur again – and also forecasts events rare enough – that many people consider them unlikely, and prefer not to spend time thinking about them, much less energy and money preparing for them. For example, the most likely disasters where my wife and I live are probably a major earthquake and/or a tsunami. My wife and I have prepared in ways large and small. Small: we have placed a sturdy rubber band around the knobs of our main kitchen cabinet. In the event of a moderate to strong earthquake, the band will (we hope) prevent the doors from flying open and all our china dish ware flying to the floor. It’s a little inconvenient because we have to remember to put the band back on each time we open the cabinet doors to remove or return a dish. Large: We have installed (at some expense) a large water tank outside our house. If power is out for days, our well pump will not work, so we may need to have enough water to live on for weeks. Also, we have purchased a large (cranky) generator so we can run the well for short periods of time, run our refrigerator-freezer, for short periods of time. If no earthquake occurs, this will all be wasted time and effort. On the other hand, if a major earthquake occurs, we will be glad, though we will then be faced with the issue of whether to share with (or leach off) our sparse neighbors, mostly (like us) living on acreage in the woods.

Some of the possible disaster events are unlikely indeed, but not impossible. For example, consider volcanoes. Having lived in Portland, OR at the time Mt. St. Helens erupted, and having quite a bit of volcanic ash land on our roof and our street (and having driven through a serious and almost blinding ash cloud on a trip between Portland and Seattle), I don’t consider volcanic eruptions impossible. However, scientists talk about supervolcanoes that have occurred in the past. Some have occurred in fairly recent times, one of the most famous being Krakatoa, in Indonesia. Just as the Richter Scale measures earthquakes, the Volcano Explosive Index (VEI) scale measures volcanic eruptions. Krakatoa was probably a VEI6, killing somewhere between 30,000 to 120,000 people. Geological records indicate that some volcanic eruptions have hit VEI8. In modern times, a VEI8 eruption would quite likely destroy humanity.

A lot of speculation focuses on Yellowstone, where VEI8 eruptions probably occurred before humanity was around to wipe out other species, such as dodo birds. If a VEI8 occurred, we (people living on Whidbey Island) would probably not have much time to worry about anything, but it’s quite possible that a VEI6 or VEI7 might occur, and then all our preparations for disaster might prove useful, or might simply prolong our agony.

But not to worry, there are lots of other natural and unnatural disasters to fret about, such as Electromagnetic pulses (EMP). During the cold war, both the United States and USSR considered using EMP pulses as weapons, as they might destroy the infrastructure of an enemy, particularly communications, power generation and transmission, and the like. Although the cold war has subsided a bit (though not dangers of various kinds of warfare), nature still likes to yank human beings around. So our old friend SOL (the sun at the center of the solar system) creates its own EMPs, by occasionally sending us star signals (solar flares.) We may be due for some jolly ones next year. Probably the largest documented solar “storm” in human history was in 1859. While there was no Internet at that time, humans did have some “modern” devices, such as telegraphs, and they were hit hard.

“Around the world, telegraph systems crashed, machines burst into flames, and electric shocks rendered operators unconscious. Compasses and other sensitive instruments reeled as if struck by a massive magnetic fist. For the first time, people began to suspect that the Earth was not isolated from the rest of the universe.”

One of the projects the Red Cross works on is encouraging people to be prepared for disasters. Mostly disasters likely to occur in our geographic region. My brother lives near Joplin, MO, so he should be prepared for a tornado. My brother’s situation is complicated as 1) he was a weatherman when he was in the Navy and 2) he is crazy (either schizophrenia or bipolar, depending on which of his psychiatrists you talk to). The last time there was a frightening storm in his area, he was looking out the door with interest describing the weather cells while his wife (who related the story to me) was urging him to get downstairs into the storm cellar. Also, a lot of people in these area don’t have storm cellars, though after a tornado hits, quite a few people who were not hit, rush to buy one. I think they may also be called “barn doors” as a nickname, as in “Closing the barn door after the horse has been blown away by the tornado.”

Here in Puget Sound, we are not likely to have a tornado. However, a few weeks ago I was a bit surprised to read in the local newspaper that a “twister” hit a nearby town, knocking down several trees (though injuring no one). Near the end of the story, a person who had observed the storm said that he had lived in the Midwest, observed tornadoes, and would have to describe our storm as a “tornado.” (I am guessing that the newspaper decided not to use the word “tornado” in the headline or lead paragraphs of the story.

Problems with trying to alert people to prepare for possible disasters include objections such as 1) “Prepping” (apparently “preppers” is now a term preferred to “survivalists”) is expensive; 2) Prepping is difficult; 3) thinking about disasters is frightening; 4) leading to “I don’t want to think about something so scary.”

If this blog post was so frightening (or boring) that you stopped reading about ten or twenty paragraphs ago, please leave a comment about why you stopped reading.

The bitter libertarian who hates social workers

In Hard to tell, Humor, Uncategorized on June 8, 2012 at 5:23 pm

I met J at the gym. Gradually, we found we have much in common, but are also quite incompatible.

For example, in the stuff in common category, we are both Jewish (though do not much regard it as a meaningful label), both come from unhappy families, both at times lived in the New York City area (though Joe much longer than I), both have had some slightly dangerous and disquieting experiences. (J worked for an alarm company for a while.)

For one thing, my wife and I are both still alive, and both in reasonably good health, despite a variety of aches and pains (not unsurprising to people in their 60s) and despite my recent leg infection and hospital visits.

J, on the other hand, lost his wife to an illness a few years ago. Evidently, the experience left him bitter and angry, as he was I gather, quite fond of her. (Perhaps there is some guilt involved, but I can’t really decipher if this is the case.)

J has contemplated suicide, and as he is a bright fellow, he has thought through the most effective way to perform such a deed. He finds it difficult to amuse and distract himself, but he says what works best is to read books with short anecdotes. I tried to find some books for him that fall into this classification, but he is very prickly and and more often than not, says, “No. That does not amuse me that much,” when I suggest something, though on a couple of occasions I did have some success.

J, also considers himself a libertarian, and rails about big government and taxation. I gather (though I am not sure) that over the years he has amassed (through investments) quite a bit of money. We don’t have much money, though, for now we get by comfortably enough. I suspect, that now that his wife is gone – his money does not comfort him that much.

I attended the recent Republican presidential caucus for my part of Whidbey Island, though through most of my life I have more often voted Democratic (though not rigidly or exclusively). As this was before Romney became the probably nominee, people were all over the map in their choices, with interesting ironies and paradoxes. (Such as members of the party of “family values” fervently supporting Newt Gingrich, hardly a paragon of keeping it in his pants.)

There was a strong contingent of libertarians present. I was not entirely surprised to see J there, advocating for Ron Paul. I have an emotional attachment to anarchism/libertarianism, though I consider it quite impractical as an actual system of organizing human society.

J was there, crankily muttering about Ron Paul. Everyone got a minute or so to speak to the assembled group, before breaking up into small groups and then with members of our own precinct). I spoke in favor of Gary Johnson instead of Ron Paul. Gary Johnson is younger than Ron Paul. While Ron Paul seems fit and coherently incoherent, he is a bit on the elderly side, and as I am as well, I felt entitled to speak in favor of a younger person. Also, as Gary Johnson has actually held public office (as governor of New Mexico), he seems surprisingly pragmatic for a libertarian. No one paid any attention to me, including my acquaintance J.

Washington State is going through a commotion about gay marriage. My daughter and her partner don’t want to settle for civil union or domestic partnership. I spoke to others asking them not to sign the petition to repeal Washington State’s gay marriage law. [A while after the caucus I write about, it has been submitted, and there will indeed be an election in Washington state.]

I was amused. In a small group where I spoke in favor of gay marriage, limiting myself to one minute, and disclosing that my daughter wants to marry her partner). A gentleman politely responded, explaining that some of his best friends were homosexual, and that he had nothing against homosexuals, etc., etc., and going on for 15 minutes, (I checked my watch) and explaining about what God and Jesus wanted, etc.

Finally, after listening and not arguing, I politely said I had to rejoin my caucus group and left his table, where he may still be going on about what God and Jesus want, for all I know.

J has a thing about social workers. Apparently (I never quite got all the details), as his wife was dying in her hospital bed, a social worker told him something, or reassured him about something, or simply said something that upset him. Anyway, he speaks of social workers with great bitterness and contempt.

I have known a few social workers. Similar to how I regard people of various religious groups, ethnic groups, etc., I think they come in a variety of qualities as far as intelligence, ethics, likability, etc. J was having nothing of it. On the other hand, he doesn’t care a whit about homosexual marriage, though I doubt he objects to it. Side bread is buttered on, etc.

After listening to him rant about social workers a few times, I finally revealed to him that my aunt Arlene had been studying to be a social worker at UCLA and was murdered. J had the grace to restrain himself from blurting out, “Served her right,” though I suspect the thought ran through his mind. Whatever.

Water! And let’s hear it for specialists.

In Good news, Humor, Uncategorized on May 31, 2012 at 7:52 pm

My wife called the man who had dug our well. He gave her the name of a man who specializes in well-electrical interfaces. My wife called him. This morning, reasonably early, he arrived with his daughter. After a little tinkering, he fixed the electrical connection to our well. After some sputtering (the ozone filter having a bit of a fit), water came from our tap. The End of Civilization crisis of the day is over.

The cost of the repair came to several hundred dollars, which we can ill afford, but as everything is relative, we can afford it much better than the several thousand dollars replacing the well pump would have cost, so we abstained from whining.

As we chatted with the well-electrical system specialist (who had traveled down from Oak Harbor), he cheerfully told us about his problems. Near the end of last year, his house had partially burned down. The process of rebuilding his house had turned into a nightmare. As the contractors on South Whidbey are often rather lackadaisical, I expressed surprise he had encountered similar problems in Oak Harbor – he related tales of contractors who seldom finished tasks or did them poorly, blamed him for their problems, and so on. He said, the contractors he had used had come from Seattle. I guess the moral is that things are bad all over.

I thanked him enthusiastically for his prompt arrival and successful work on fixing our problem. We paid his fee cheerfully. Civilization bounces back for another day.

The gentle, tolerant evangelicals

In Good news, Humor, Uncategorized on May 31, 2012 at 4:20 pm

I think my recent serious, but not deadly, illness, distracted me from writing about the religious cult to which I belong, Transition Lutheran Church. I participate in a peripheral way with the “wood ministry” crew that cuts, splits, and hauls wood, and sells it to people (at a very reduced cost) for heating purposes.

In the past, I communicated with conservative evangelical Christians (mostly on the Internet, but in a few cases in person). Most of the ones I encountered professed (and perhaps really did believe) that God exists, that Jesus is his son, and that with the Holy Ghost they make up some kind of magical “Trinity.” I regarded this as absurd and offensive. These conservative evangelicals were full of intolerance and hostility (while prating constantly about love), and full of condemnation of Communists (reasonable enough) and of Muslims (not so reasonable), atheists, abortion doctors, homosexuals, “liberals,” and lots of other people who don’t agree with them. After several years of participating in their discussions, I was eventually “banned.” from participation. Though I was guilty of a few intemperate remarks, mostly – as I said in a comment – “evangelical Christians like to dish it out, but they don’t much like to be on the receiving end of dishing.”

However, all humans – individually and in groups – change and evolve. When I began to participate with Trinity Lutheran, it took me a while to realize that they were indeed Christian zealots, as much obsessed with “converting me” as the evangelicals I encountered before. However, the Trinity group with much more tolerant and open-minded than the zealots at worldmagblog (a division of World Magazine, the group I had encountered before.

At Trinity, the obsession with bringing people into the flock is much purer, more ecumenical, gentler, and inclusive than the obsessions I encountered before. “You are a Jew? You are a Muslim? You are a Hindu? You are a [whatever your faith] – well, that’s fine. We all worship some aspect of the same God” seems to be the current doctrine.”

However, I am a stone cold, fanatical atheist. Most of the people who participate in the wood splitters are at least 90% of the way to religious belief, so it only takes a gentle push to push to get them that last 10%. But as I said not too long ago, at most I am .01% of the way to religious belief.

Even so, my friend and neighbor Craig (much like the sweet Karen O), takes that as a sign for optimism. He told me, one day (after I irritated my wife by telling Craig and Sharon I am an atheist), “That’s OK. We have atheists in our congregation. In fact, Pastor Jim has a special sermon he delivers at the funerals of atheists.”

Craig even took it amicably when I sardonically responded, “I suppose I appreciate the thought, but after I die, I will not be paying much attention to any sermons delivered on my behalf.”