by Bruce Patterson, June 7, 2017
Seeing how generous they are when they’re handing them out, the gods must love humankind’s imperfections. Since only the gods have achieved perfection, watching us tassel-headed bipeds questing after it must tickle them pink.
“T’is but hubris!” Shouts an angry god in a heavenly watering hole. “These humans constantly blowing smoke up our arses.”
One result of having an overly inflated self-regard is losing your commonsense, that being knowledge based the scientifically proven facts. That is, facts established by generations of human experience buttressed by systematic observations, experiments that can be replicated and logic so unassailable that everybody knows it’s true even if some, whether in the name of god, the devil or that flea-bit chimera called “individual liberty,” refuse to admit it. For example, every autumn, and much to the delight of horses everywhere, billions of apples fall from apple trees. They fall to the ground and not up into the sky, as everybody knows. The gods gave humans Commonsense the way they gave horses Horse Sense. Say you walk up straight behind a horse like you’re in a big old hurry to grab a shopping cart and, startled, it double-barrels you somewhere between your neck, bellybutton and shoulders. After taking a shoo-fly lick like that from a horse, for the poor human it could very well mean bye-bye to buzzing horseflies, chirping little birdies, spooky horses and the rest of this Cold Cruel World. Whereas, for the horse, it was a simple exercise in plain old common Horse Sense.
After the war, I met an astrophysicist who, among other things, taught me some about Operational Philosophy. First and foremost and in a nutshell, things should be seen in their effects and functionality (relationships) first and foremost (no harm, no foul). Furthermore, that which can neither be seen, measured nor listened to is something without consequence, and therefore without existence and meaning—it is nothing as in no thing.
Since, if you wish to escape poverty, being practical and pragmatic is essential, what I got of Operational Philosophy sounded like commonsense to me.
Myself a high school dropout with a voracious appetite for novel experiences and learning, I once tried to impress my friend by pointing out that Buddhists believe that all is one, one is none and none is all. And, as Buddha Gautama had discovered, Desire is the source of all human misery, which includes the lust for knowledge.
My friend agreed. He appreciated Buddha’s apt and compact cosmology, too. Einstein’s E=MC squared, he informed me, says the same thing.
Old enough to be my dad, my friend was doing Top Secret research up at China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station. Since we were both actively anti-war (it was 1971), he working with the Union of Concerned Scientists, myself with Cal Vets Movement and VVAW, when my friend assured me that he had nothing to do with weapons development I believed him. He was on loan to the Navy and his mission was to help figure out how to get accurate measures of all of the atmosphere’s—it’s like the fuzz on this peach of a planet—particles including its plethora of man-made chemicals circling way up high. The Navy wanted to rate everything in terms of Parts per Million and they wanted the numbers to be spot on.
Since my friend was doing most of his work on a newfangled, government-issue computer, he only needed to go to China Lake (it’s dry) two or three times a month and then mostly just for meetings. He was convinced that people have a right to know what’s floating around in the air they breathe and, besides, so long as we’re pumping pollutants into the atmosphere, we’ve got to be able to know at what point they become net effects and what these effects are whether for good or ill or measures of both. It’s very difficult to play Poker without a table, chairs, a new deck and chips.
Besides, having to go up to China Lake got him out of the city and oh how he’s getting to hate “freeways” popping up like mushrooms and all noise and fumes, the wrecks, killings and maimings, and the Gridlock that follows as the authorities shut down the highway so they can sniff around and scratch their heads. Also, he and some buddies usually take a graded dirt road off to someplace safe for a picnic and to hike around some in the Great Big Silence.
Did I know that in the high-country up that way are Bristlecone pines maybe three times as old as the oldest Redwoods? Did I know Kangaroo Rats can go their whole lives without putting their lips to water? Did I know a Roadrunner can spook a horse and how a Mojave Brave, if given a decent head start, could outrun a cavalryman’s horse? Knee-high sagebrush can grow a taproot fifty-foot-deep, believe it or not, and some creosote bushes may be twice as old as the Bristlecones.
And on my friend would go like the College Professor he’d once been, myself charmed enough by his stories to go up into the China Lake country myself to refresh my memories. It’s located on the geological rift where the northern edge of the Mojave Desert disappears under the Coso Basin and Range while, northward, lies magnificent Owens Valley with Panamint Valley running the Reservation’s eastern flank.
The northern Mojave is easy to get to from LA. Just be sure to bring your own water. Also, like Nevada’s Areas 59 and 24Z, China Lake is Off Limits to Unauthorized Personnel. And while in those parts a hermitically free Desert Rat is more likely to shoo you off his claim with a shotgun than to invite you into his hobble for beans, or soup, or bean soup, you absolutely do not wish to trespass into the navy shooting range nor chance getting yourself caught snooping around out there by military robocops straightjacketed under strict orders and convinced that, if you ain’t working for The Enemy, then you’ve sure got yourself some brass balls, you Breaking the Law and Violating the Perimeter and forcing them to come out to locate, subdue and arrest you.
The Reservation is set down in Badlands, as in Outlaw Country, where people are few and far between, everybody likes it that way and looks the other way when need be. To somebody from Back East or Up North, the naked, wrinkled, scraggly-assed land looks like Death. Death in the bottom of some giant sandblasted fissure made of ancient sea creatures and ash heated and squeezed into rocks. A land without shadows where melted and then solidified black lava is as finely grained as the finest window glass. Out where the Dry Heat can paste your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Out where Dust Devils whistle by after midnight and a glance at the sunrise can singe your eyeballs.
Speaking of desert lore, the one-donkey, one-blanket, no-partner prospectors (“Desert Rats”) could spin more horseshit than about anybody except some of the old Big Tree Redwood Loggers. Take Pan-a-Mint Valley. To pan for gold, you need water, right? Where’s the water? You see any sign of water? Since humans have been living thereabouts for at least 14,000 years, there actually is clean and cold water available if you’ve been shown where to find it. Good luck if you haven’t.
The two most famous springs in Panamint Valley are Wildrose way high up in the Panamint Mountains (they top out at 11,049ft.) and Darwin Springs just north of the navy’s shooting range. Darwin Springs has a locally famous waterfall hidden in a brush and boulder-choked slot canyon not far from the valley bottom and the “world famous” Panamint Springs Resort sitting at the 1,925ft. Down the valley bottom some 60 miles, standing 270ft. lower, lies a town called Trona that’s America’s newest abandoned Company Town.
The new Panamint Springs Resort (it was essentially a squatter’s camp when I was a kid) is like a movie set. It’s a modern frontier resort movie set built for Germans, Frenchmen and others who came to the USA to take the Las Vegas, Death Valley, Yosemite and San Francisco Grand Southwestern Tour (the least expensive tour if you don’t drink or gamble). Out at the resort they can face the Death Valley sun so long that when they return home they can show off their curled eyebrows. . .
It’s 10:00am, June 1st and the Free World awaits Donald J. Trump’s decision on whether or not to repudiate the Paris Accord on Climate Change (Under the New Reality, if God’s Green Earth gets raped, it represents a disturbing mood change: here, take these pills twice a day and see me in six months. NEXT. By the way, how come nobody ever utters the world “Tranquilizers” anymore? Could it be everybody’s ripped on tranks?)
As usual, His Highness is fashionably late and so the latest breaking news is: Will there be A Deal or No Deal? Will Fossil Fuel Man win the day and The Economy, the Giver and Taker of all Things, be saved? Will American Consumers now enjoy safe, secure and affordable sources of renewable energy for generations to come? Or will the Environmental lobbyists win out and the radical Leftists in the Democratic Party condemn everyone to endless poverty caused by the massive National Debt they threaten to leave us with?
This just in: Donald J. Trump repudiates the Treaty and exposes the fake climate news that for a half century has been sabotaging American Prosperity. These so-called Scientists should be ashamed of themselves for heartlessly pushing such a destructive and mean-spirited hoax, says The Donald. Thanks to him, he tells us, we’re saved. We’re back in the money again. . .
My friend—I think it was he—told me a story about the time a young Ben Franklin, already famous as a shining light of the Enlightenment and the promise of modern science, was at a Social Occasion and got accosted by a Hellfire and Brimstone Southern Baptist preacher. No, sir, the preacher insisted, one cannot trust his five senses nor abstract logic to arrive at any meaningful conclusions here on God’s Green Earth. People can’t learn anything new because all truth is contained in the Bible and is to be found nowhere else but in the Bible. The Word of God is a soul’s sole master and everything in this world is condemned to death and decay and destruction. It’s all an illusion anyway since we were born to Everlasting Glory so long as we walk the Straight and Narrow. Now, tell me, how can you disagree with any of that?
The crowd is silence; all await the young Ben’s response.
“And so you say this World and this Universe is an illusion and everything worldly matters not?”
The preacher vigorously nods in agreement.
Young Ben he viciously stomps on the preacher’s toes with the heel of his boot, causing him to hop off yowling like an alley cat with its tail stuck in a church door.
The crowd is scandalized. “I rest my case,” says Ben.