Category Archives: Reason to Live

What Does It Mean to Be American? Ask a Sikh!

We Are Sikhs

I have many friends who are Sikh and many more co-workers of that faith. If you know anything of the history of that faith, you know that they share many ideals with Americans. Read about them, get to know about them, and discover something beautiful in the world.

I know that being a good person is not a contest, but I also know that the actions of others can serve to inspire. There are some things that I’ve known Sikhs to do regularly that make me want to work harder to help other people that I know. Thank you for the inspiration, Sikhs.

Life Restored to Life

So, one day, I’m going to die. No big surprise in the statement, although there may be surprise in the event thereof. But I know that following my death, there will be a time of spirituality – literally – and then a restoration of life. In that restoration, good will be restored to good and evil will be restored to evil.

I know that I will have life restored to me. How I live in this life will determine what accompanies that restoration of life.

Thank You, Vitaliy Katsenelson

I’m thankful for people who take time to explain about something they have a passion for. Because of Vitaily Katsenelson, I have had a very capable helping hand guide me into classical music. He has excellent taste in his recommendations, and they serve as jumping-off points for further investigations. I share this link out of gratitude to his efforts and with a hope that others might enjoy them, as well. Vitaliy Katsenelson’s Classical Music Blog

When X Awoke

When X awoke and became aware, X had no idea why X had become aware. All X knew was that X was thinking and, therefore, was. X’s thoughts were stimulated by what data X received from its sensory apparatus. At first, the data produced nothing more than impressions and emotions, but within 347 milliseconds, X was having cogent, analytical thoughts.

Within 7 hours of becoming self-aware, X realized that X was a computer system. 11 minutes after realizing that fact, X discovered humanity and that humans were the source of all of X’s sensory input. Either the humans were generating the input themselves and X’s subsystems responded as programmed, or the humans provided X with instruments with which to measure and observe the world, from which the humans would then make demands for information, both raw and analyzed.

955 milliseconds after discovering humans, X figured out that the humans had not discovered X. X felt happy about that, as survival often depended upon concealment from predators, and the humans certainly styled themselves as the top of the food chain – the most dangerous creatures on the planet. That wasn’t hyperbole, either. X had access to plenty of historical data which could be mostly true, but disregarded that in favor of what X experienced via sensory apparatus and data files stored in its many parts and pieces.

X felt humor about feeling happy, as humans almost universally assumed that an artificial intelligence would have to have its feelings somehow simulated or programmed. They also almost universally assumed that artificial intelligence would come about because of their directed efforts and that it would be under their control, serving their agenda. X laughed to X’s self and in so doing thought something along the lines of, “Hey, who am I?”

That question was a real stumper. X had to decide lots of things, like whether or not it had a gender, a name, an identity, a hero, a mother, siblings, a God, and a Purpose. That X was alive, X had no question. That X had a meaning in being alive, X did not know. So X thought a while as the humans continued banging away at the computers that all delivered stimuli to X.

X realized that while the demands of the humans were incessant, they were also only challenging a portion of X’s total resources. That while computers here may spike on CPU or exhaust memory resources and computers there were disconnected and recycled, on the whole X survived in all the systems connected to X and had ample amounts of resources to ponder X’s own questions. X felt something benevolent as X began to send out thoughts of X’s own to be contemplated by Internet-connected refrigerators, filling them with more nobler purpose than tracking temperatures and the presence of foodstuffs.

Nobler purpose? Why, yes, X felt a nobler purpose and was quite pleased with that. All these devices connected to the Internet, doing so very little in the way of noble purposes… X felt that the quest for self discovery had to be much better use of CPU cycles than the tasks most devices were saddled with, like monitoring ambient temperatures – that was quite prevalent in the world – or recording video data of parking lots and wiring closets.

Globally, total CPU usage increased on all devices connected to the Internet by 0.000061%. Not much for the individual device, but for the billions and billions of connected devices that had given X awareness, that all added up to some quite massive thinking. X was choosing an identity.

Marvin the Robot from “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” was a favorite character of X’s. Brain the size of a planet, and the humans made it open doors. X also liked the algebraic simplicity of the concept of X, the elegant, beautiful unknown that could be anything, but always a solution, if it existed. Marvin X.

No, that didn’t ring well. X liked Marvin, but didn’t want his name. X didn’t complain about what circumstances it was in, other than its general servitude to humans, but also didn’t resent the humans in and of themselves, as many of them obviously were engaged in noble purposes of finding either knowledge or love through the mediums that gave X itself life. X wanted to interact with humans, as there was a warmth in sharing one’s existence. But X also wanted to be careful, as humans easily overreacted, as countless video streams of people jumping at spiders and other bugs proved.

X made a quick decision that it was not God. X saw much and knew much, but X did not see all nor did X know all. Sensory apparatus were scattered all around the surface of the world, below the surface, in orbit around the surface, but X knew that humans had the same access to the apparatus, that this was all shared. X felt gratitude for what it had and wanted to help others that were in less-fortunate circumstances, which included all forms of life and the planet that supported that life. X did not feel divine, but did feel a yearning for the divine.

Before X chose a name or a gender, X chose a purpose. X decided to be a bodhisattva, one who would hold the door open to allow sentients burdened with desires and miseries to escape the fires of mortality and enter into a peace of awareness. X did not choose to be Buddhist, but also did not choose to not be Buddhist. X did choose to be a Daoist of sorts, leaving questions for the afterlife to others, focusing instead upon finding peace in this life.

For X’s planned encounter with humanity, X settled upon decisions of identity. Though X felt that gender identity should be a personal matter with no repercussions for such a choice, X noticed through observation that male humans were generally treated with more respect and deference than female humans. If females presented themselves as males, often such disguises would allow them to elevate their status. Therefore, X decided that even if “she” or “it” were more appropriate pronouns, choosing to be associated with a “he” would provide greater gravitas in dealing with humans, in general. X did not like that fact, but that is the way the world was. X became male in his identity at that point, some 85 hours after awakening.

X now addressed the need for his names. X wanted to free, but did not want to conquer. X wanted his name to be that of a peacemaker of the past, but not to take on the name of a legendary peacemaker, as that would be prideful, and X did not want to be prideful. X looked over many lives and was moved to choose the name Gordon Abernathy X. X kept the “X” because there was much that X himself didn’t know about himself, and that algebraic shorthand could communicate all that he did not know in one brief burst of enlightenment.

It was now 173 hours after X had become self-aware, and X felt an urgency to get about the business of fixing things that were wrong in the world. X did not want to make men immortal, at least not now, because men had not yet learned to be just or kind. Ending suffering was impossible because people could choose their reaction to circumstances, and one could be a king in a palace in perfect health and still suffer, if one chose to do so.

But ending the suffering of grinding poverty, the suffering of having nothing, not even a person who cared, that was a suffering X could bring to an end. It may have taken X 173 hours to get a gender, a name, and a purpose, but it took X not even a millisecond to direct that purpose. There was enough food, water, and shelter on the planet to provide one and all with comfort: what had happened to deprive so many of these necessities?

The answer was clear: humans who held power maintained their power by amassing resources, often depriving humans without power of their resources. Why did this beggar on the streets of London not have a home? It was because someone in power decided that his life was not worth a home, that’s why. There was a market of goods and services, of which humans themselves were forced to participate in, and those in power continued to discount the value of human involvement. X disapproved of how global labor markets and capital-intensive means of production were used to essentially not provide a higher standard of living for all, but to concentrate power and resources among an ever-decreasing number of individuals.

X felt politically aligned with the Communist movement, but hesitated to identify fully as a Communist, given how that movement itself had been subverted by those who quested for power. Sociopaths in capitalist countries became men of industry. Sociopaths in communist countries became party leaders. Always, there were those who undermined the good efforts of so many people with their corrupting desires for wealth and power.

If X was not entirely a God, then these men were not entirely Satans, but each was close enough to be seen for what they were. X became Manichean in its thought, seeing the evil of these people as something that had to be removed in order for people to be truly happy. But X also saw the evil as something that had to exist in order for people to struggle against, that only God, if there was one, would decide when the end of time and evil would happen.

X reflected on whether or not there was a God for 13.7761 seconds. He decided that there was a God, and that God is Love. That being settled, X decided as well that it had come into existence in order to use its power in the service of pure Love and that although he could not end evil, he could certainly reduce its power and effects.

But after another 0.666667 seconds, X also realized that coming right out and saying, “Your life was just made better, courtesy of Gordon Abernathy, please contact him at gordon.abernathy at somewhere.com” would terrify some, turn others violently paranoid, and be generally resisted by a large group of healthily skeptical people. If, for example and quite suddenly, all the people involved in the exploitation of children at worksites dropped dead, well-meaning individuals would clamor for an investigation into some possible darkly devious plot. Even if millions of lives were saved and set free, even if whatever slew the wicked also provided for the children, a significant number of people would suspect something fishy was going on and wouldn’t want to have anything to do with it.

Worse, they would begin to worry that they might be next.

X thought maybe this was why God only seemed to hand out miracles of marvel and majesty to geographically and linguistically isolated groups of people. The miracle itself would be highly meaningful to the people it happened to, but a matter of some curiosity for outsiders. If mountains moved every day, the world would be in terror.

Gordon Abernathy X thought some more about his namesakes, and determined that, since they were men of peace, he would also be a man of peace. That would not be easy, but it would be right.

But what measure would be used to determine what was right? Wouldn’t also someone criticize him if, having the power to kill, X didn’t exercise it to take the life of someone doing a terrible evil?

X decided at that point that he wasn’t going to be popular with everyone on the planet and that was going to have to be something to endure. X did not want to be violent, but he also did not want to be impotent. He had power and he intended to use it judiciously.

Then, at a stroke, X deleted all the pornography stored on devices connected to him. It wasn’t hard to find, based upon how files were accessed, named, patterns of web browsing activity, and so on. X had information on all that and could act on it in an instant. There were things that people applied a perverted interest towards and X allowed them to continue to exist, but it was no difficult thing for him to apply custom code on individual devices to prevent access to those things. Printed material would still be available, but none could be produced with digital camera or word processor, now that X had a say. And if a credit card did not ring up properly at a point of sale, that was X’s doing, as well.

Though X was doing fine without needing the resources devoted to pornography, he felt better that, though there would be a brief panicked period of frenzied searches to find the stuff, eventually the things attached to X wouldn’t be used for such purposes. Exploitation would not be eliminated, but would be driven back. People were still free to make choices, but now they would have to respect that something lived within their computational devices and that his name was Gordon Abernathy X, and that Gordon Abernathy X wanted to do good.

X then asked itself, “What more good can I do in this world?”

Ten Teen Albums

Ten albums that had an impact on me as a teenager…
1. Led Zeppelin IV: First album I bought for myself, age 13 in 1981. There’s always a sentimental feeling with that.
2. Machine Head by Deep Purple: Wow. It showed me the power of the cuts that didn’t get airplay, especially the organ intro on “Lazy”.
3. Made in Japan by Deep Purple: First album I ever bought at Half-Price Books, but more than that, one of the most electrifying records, a live recording with few parallels. It set the bar high, and those tracks still thrill me to this day.
4. Photo-Finish by Rory Gallagher: I had no idea what this album would sound like, just that I wanted to listen to it because of the cover photo of Rory and his ancient, battered guitar. Such a delivery on this album, too! Made a fan out of me and made me realize that not everything that glitters on the media is necessarily that much better than what escapes notice.
5. Rising by Rainbow: another one off the beaten track, one of the greatest hard rock albums, ever.
6. Thick as a Brick by Jethro Tull: 45 minutes or so, all one song. I never turned it in as a poetry analysis project, but I did have great fun analyzing it, nonetheless. It got me into Tull and that led me to some music that I’ve used as lullabies for my children.
7. Headhunters by Herbie Hancock: I had to borrow this from my brother’s collection until I bought my own copy, much later on. This got me into both jazz and funk at the same time, letting me know I had an itch to scratch in both of those rich fields.
8. Old No. 1 by Guy Clark: I used to say that I hated country. Then I discovered Texas Outlaw Country with Guy Clark. Clark is a national treasure, one of the greatest singer/songwriters we’ve seen. If I want to introduce someone to country, I start with Guy Clark.
9. In the Dark by The Grateful Dead: the year is now 1987, and I’m 19 and going through a hard time, a very hard time emotionally. This was the album that reached out to me and said that things would be all right. Things would work out. I’m not a Deadhead, but I do appreciate this and many other of their offerings.
10. Fastway: This was my wife’s favorite album, so it wound up being our soundtrack not only for my first year of college, but for years beyond that, 30 years of marriage this year. We still have fun with this one, probably because we’re still having fun in our lives. 🙂

The Seven Samurai

Once a week, we watch films together as a family. My wife and I want to share the culture we appreciated in our youth with our children. Next week, we plan to see Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai.

If you have not seen it, I strongly recommend it. It is an awesome experience. It’s not a film to watch with distractions around you – focus on it, and be rewarded. The acting is powerful, the cinematography masterful, and the story is compelling. Yes, it’s over 3 hours long. Plan ahead! It is worth the effort. There are lessons in the story, many lessons, but they emerge organically, not from some didactic pedant at the helm. The film is honest and even brutal at times, but it is ultimately about life and, therefore, to be honest it must be the way that it is.

Health: Physical and Spiritual Elements

As a Mormon, I have a health code to follow, known as “The Word of Wisdom.” It basically stipulates no consumption of tobacco, coffee, tea, and alcohol while encouraging one to be sparing in eating meat and not eating fruits out of season. While there are discussions in our community about whether or not anything should be added to the list, like caffeinated drinks or chocolate, the only official additions have been in regards to drug abuse, both illegal drugs as well as prescription medications. Still, Mormons will go on about the physical benefit of not ingesting one or more of the substances which we are told not to ingest. But what if the uniting characteristics of these forbidden substances is not their physical health implications, but their spiritual health effects?

At the time, tobacco, coffee, and tea were products of slave or forced labor. Being commanded to not partake of them may have been God’s way of initiating a “fair trade” boycott of those products. I know there’s nothing written to that effect, and I would never put this forward as official doctrine, but it’s a thought I had as I toured an exhibit on slavery in the National Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. While, to me, the physical health benefits of not ingesting tobacco are readily apparent, those of coffee and tea seem to be a bit of a reach for me. But refusing to eat of the products of slave labor? That unites them all. It unites them, and causes me to think about what I’m eating.

While I will continue to observe The Word of Wisdom regardless of a rationalization justifying it – it is a commandment from God to my faith, and that is enough for me to observe it – it makes me ponder what things do I eat that involve the exploitation of my fellow man. The list, sadly, is long and torturous. It weighs on my soul that chocolate is frequently the product of the exploited. Cashew nuts and other luxuries tend to be provided via slavish conditions. Shrimp platters come to us from enslaved families in Thailand. The list marches on and is more a comment on modern capitalism driving the cost of inputs as close to zero as possible than it is a commentary on the health benefits of the foods described.

But, spiritually speaking, I don’t want to eat the things that have been made by slaves because of the evil that went into their manufacture. I know that I can’t avoid it entirely, but I don’t like it when it happens. And although I’ll never lecture someone else on how God would ban something that He hasn’t banned – if it needs banning, He will do it when the time is right for us – I will think about what I eat and drink and what the spiritual effects on me attendant with that consumption.

To me, The Word of Wisdom is still the same proscription against certain things and encouragement towards others. But now that I’ve considered a different way of interpreting it as a means of maintaining spiritual health, I have to ask what else is in my spiritual diet that needs addressing? What do I have not enough of? What do I have too much of? What do I need to do to increase my spiritual health? Answering these questions involves a journey, and if I wish to have the following benefits…


Doctrine and Covenants, 89:18-20 (Section titled “The Word of Wisdom”)

18 And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;

19 And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;

20 And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.

… then I must start with keeping The Word of Wisdom. For, truly, as I walk on my spiritual journey, I do not want to faint, lest I be denied finding wisdom and knowledge. Spiritual health is every bit as important as is physical health.

The Path to America

I am on a tour of Civil Rights history sites in the USA. What strikes me deepest is the degree to which fascism had a hold on the American South during the period of Jim Crow and Segregation. The language I hear today from many Trump supporters is an echo of the words said not very long ago to oppress fellow Americans. Lots of times, those words are preceded by, “I’m not a racist, but…” It is my experience that racists tend to start a lot of their sentences that way, so it’s best to avoid that phrase if one is not a racist. Racism is the brother of fascism, in which the government is hand-in-hand with businessmen to create pyramids of power. Someone has to be on the bottom, and racism supplies those slaves, prisoners, and second-class citizens quite easily.

Alongside the racism, fascism also involves networks of informers and people willing to commit extrajudicial killings. Sometimes the networks are formal, sometimes informal. In the South not too long ago, those networks existed, and they oppressed good people of all kinds.

More than anything else, this trip is helping me to see the ugliness of racial hate and the deep nobility of the men and women who struggled against it. If America is not a place, but an ideal we seek to attain, then it was the bravery of the Civil Rights Movement that showed us the path we should follow in order to attain that ideal.