Trump: How Do I Explain This to My Daughters?

I was really looking forward to tonight. I was excited to sit down with my family, with my wife and two girls, to watch the first woman in history become president of the United States. “This will be something you can tell your grandchildren,” I said to them. “That you were there. That you remember.” But when Clinton lost Ohio, and then Florida, my twelve year old could see it on my face. I was devastated. Heartbroken. She started to cry.

How could such a human being rise to the highest office in the land? How is it possible that so many Americans could side with a racist, a sex offender, a conman and an ignoramus? How can so many people be so oblivious to history, that they do not see the parallels between Trump and every fascist/dictator who has ever lived?

This is a man who makes fun of handicapped people on TV, who cheats his employees and bankrupts small business owners, who brags about sexual assault. This is a man who jokes about murdering his political opponent, and threatens to jail her during a debate as angry mobs chant “lock her up” while hanging her in effigy. This is someone who stated, “We have nuclear weapons, why can’t we use them?” This is a man who wants to stop immigration because of religion, and deport millions of working families based on race, because according to him, they are either terrorists, murderers or rapists. Shades of Hitler cannot be denied here, no matter how cliche the comparison has become. Any one of his statements should have disqualified him. I would have been shocked had he won even a quarter of the votes he did. If a fourth of every American chose a Fascist to represent them, I would have been frightened to leave my front door. But no. Hillary didn’t win in a landslide, as expected. She lost the election.

The president is supposed to represent the best of us. The best of what it means to be an American. The most compassionate, the most intelligent, the most ethical. Is this really the best we can do? Is this really the man parents want their children waking up to? What are we teaching our kids by electing such a person? That if you have money and influence, decency doesn’t matter? How do we teach our kids that bullying is wrong, racism is wrong, sexism is wrong, if the president represents all of these things and more? How do we teach them that knowledge and education have value when the president thinks global warming is a hoax? How do we teach them the value of honesty when the president lies at every turn and sets up fake schools to steal money from prospective students?

Today, I am sickened. I am sickened with disillusionment, because America is not what we thought it was. This nation was not built on tolerance and freedom, but on bloodshed and tribalism. Our history is written in the blood of the Negro, on the unmarked graves of the American Indian. The classic 1915 film, Birth of a Nation, tells the history of the United States and that of the Ku Klux Klan in tandem, painting its “white knights” as heroes. In many ways, the Civil War still goes on. The seeds of hate are planted too deep to be washed away. The Obama presidency taught us all too well, stirring age old hatreds from our nation’s roots. Like rats, white supremacists emerged from their hiding places, but this time they came with masks so that the more tolerant among us would not recognize them. I always knew such evil existed, and evil is its true name, but I never knew to what extent and to what depth, before tonight.

This election was never about politics. Had Romney won in ’12, I would not have felt this way. No. This was about love vs. hate, knowledge vs. ignorance, deceit vs. truth, freedom vs. tyranny. I want my children to believe they live in a better world than this one. A world where no sensible human being would ever vote for a hate monger and an idiot. How do I explain to them what happened tonight? That America is broken. America is lost.

People of Aenya: Thelana

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Thelana 2016 courtesy of Alexey Lipatov

Thelana is born in the river valley of Ilmarinen, the middle child in a family of twelve. Her eldest brother, Borz, is sold into slavery when she is very young. As the dark hemisphere creeps eastward, famine forces Thelana into the wild. Her life is spent on the edge of survival, hunting for prey and hiding from predators. Wounded by a cannibalistic half-man, she is rescued by Captain Dantes and taken to a nearby military encampment, where she proves her archery skills and is recruited into the Kratan army. Years pass until, on the Plains of Narth, Dantes’ forces are decimated by bogren, and Thelana, torn with longing for the life she knew, abandons the battlefield. In Ilmarinen, she finds the crops and ilm flowers have withered, with no trace of her family. Overcome by grief, she manages her way to the coastal cities, where she meets Kinj, who introduces her to the life of the thief. Later, when he tries to violate her, Thelana steals his mechanical bow-sword and leaves him to die in an alley. Fleeing to Hedonia, Thelana hides in the slums among the city’s outcasts, before making a suicidal attempt to climb into the pyramid Temple of Sargonus. As she pries the giant pearl eye from the idol of the Hedonian Sea God, she is found by the zealous High Priest, and the first Ilmar she has seen since leaving home. With the aid of the Ilmarin stranger, Thelana is apprehended and thrown into a pit beneath the city. There she waits, wondering about the man she has just met. Is he a traitor to their people? Or will he come for her?

Most civilized races see Thelana as either a savage or an animal, owing to her people’s disregard of clothing and tolerance for the wild. To learn more about Thelana’s people, see ILMAR.

Appearances: Ages of Aenya, The City of the Drowned, The Nude EquestrianThe Skyclad Warriors

Articles: Thelana: Feminist Icon?The Naked Wood Nymph in the Forest of My MindNudity on Mars: Dejah Thoris, meet Thelana

 


 

Dungeons & Dragons 5th ed. character sheet

 

Thelana

Strength: 12 +1
Intelligence: 11 +0
Wisdom: 11 +0
Dexterity: 18 +4
Constitution: 17 +3
Charisma: 12 +1

Race: Ilmar
Class: Ranger
Level: 1 (+2)
Armor Class: 17 (nude)
Hit Points: 13
Duel Wield: +6 / 1d8 +4 (short sword) + 1d4 (dagger)
Spear: +3 / 1d10 +1
Longbow: +6 / 1d8 +4 (range 150/600)
Alignment: Chaotic Good

Saving Throws: Strength +3, Dexterity +6
Skills: Athletics +3, Nature +2, Stealth +6
Special: Natural Explorer, Favored Enemy: bogren (goblins), horg (orcs)

Equipment: Short sword, longbow, spear, dagger, quiver, arrows, jade cloak


 

Dungeons & Dragons 5th ed. Race: ILMAR

Ability Score Increase. Dexterity and Constitution increases by 2.

Primitive Survival. The Ilmar can survive one cycle (ten days) without water and 3 cycles without food, can walk across the most rugged terrain without footwear, and can survive comfortably (without clothing) in temperatures just above freezing.

Unarmored Defense. Ilmar abhor clothing. In light, medium or heavy armor, you have Disadvantage on all attack rolls and Dexterity based skill checks. While going completely nude, you have a heightened sense of awareness, gaining Proficiency in Perception . Wearing no clothes and carrying no shield, your (natural) base Armor Class is 13.

Alignment. Ilmar tend toward chaotic and neutral alignments.

Size. Ilmar are human sized, weighing between 100 to 180 lbs. and standing between 5′ and 6′ tall, tending toward more muscular and slender physiques.

Speed. Base walking speed is 30 feet.

Languages. The Ilmar speak common and their own unique dialect, but literacy is uncommon.

Preferred Classes. Ilmarin characters are limited to the following classes: barbarians, fighters, monks, rangers and rogues. This is due, primarily, to the setting, in that magic is virtually unknown on Aenya. Monks and rangers draw their power from “spiritual” and “quantum” sources. In other settings, Ilmarin PC’s may choose a spell caster class, but lose connection to their deity, and consequently, any racial (non-human) abilities.

Starting Equipment. None

Guns vs. Nudity: What is Truly Offensive?

Again I feel compelled to alienate potential readers with my stance on gun control. Both my brother and my best friend are card carrying members of the NRA, and yet I feel morally obligated to champion this cause, and the view held by more than half of all Americans. We are morally obligated to make it harder for criminals and terrorists to obtain guns. We are morally obligated to shut down the gun show / online store loophole. And we must ban semi-automatic weapons, and oversized magazine clips which can serve no purpose but for the zombie apocalypse. We should also be encouraging, not prohibiting, organizations like the CDC to do the proper research with regards to gun safety. If the NRA is truly confident in its position, why not allow a third party to prove it?

I happened to be vacationing with my family in Orlando when the terrible shooting that claimed 49 lives took place. Of course, with a wife and two kids, I was nowhere near any gay bars, but it’s frightening just the same, because in the theme park capital of the world, crowds are always plentiful and security is often lax. With millions of impatient visitors eager to jump on the latest rollercoaster, and parks eager to accommodate those visitors, we go through the motions of what can only be described as ‘security theater.’ Someone determined to get beyond the underpaid staff poking around your backpack is going to succeed. Even if security were to be beefed up, there are enough potential victims waiting in line to make the recent shooting seem tame by comparison.

Here’s the sad truth: this is going to happen again. It’s only a matter of time. And when it does, the same rhetoric will get bandied back and forth. What we are not seeing is change, change to help lessen these occurrences, or, when they are likely to happen, change to ensure less people suffer.

Every time a mass shooting takes place, gun advocates refer to their talking points, framing the conversation as to divert from gun legislation. It can’t be the guns. Blame anything and everything but the guns. After Newtown, the NRA insisted mental health was the core issue. If we could rein in every troubled teen, they argued, we could solve the problem of gun violence. This, of course, seems a more reasonable position to a gun lover: legislating people instead of things. But the massacre in Orlando had everything to do with religion and homophobia. Had we listened to the NRA and focused our efforts on the mentally ill, we’d still be mourning the loss of 49 innocent people. Now Donald Trump proposes we lay the blame on Muslims. Again, we are presented with the solution of regulating people rather than things, which is somehow constitutional, whereas gun control remains a violation of civil liberties. So lock up anyone with a history of mental disorder, lock up anyone who is Muslim, and lock up anyone who doesn’t like gays. This might work, until another shooting happens under a different motive. Perhaps a fundamentalist pro-lifer will gun down an abortion clinic. Eventually, we will run out of scape goats, and our capacity to lay blame on people with grievances, because reasons for mass murder might as well be infinite. And when all is said and done, when hundreds, maybe thousands more are killed, we will be left with the problem of guns.

I distinctly recall my first visit to Barnes & Nobles, circa 20 years ago. The magazine section was extensive. Of particular interest to me was N Magazine, which featured naturism, but after two weeks the publication was pulled from the shelves. But what remains to this day are High Times and Guns & Ammo, because apparently, nudity is more offensive than drugs or killing.

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Advocates like to paint the gun debate in terms of freedom vs. tyranny, but this is not the reality. Absolute freedom is an American myth. Historically, what people can and cannot do has always been curtailed by common sense restrictions. You cannot legally drink and drive a car because it’s dangerous. You cannot smoke at a gas station or use your cell phone on an airplane for the same reasons. We all abide by these rules without a qualm, but when it comes to guns, we are beholden to the notion that freedom trumps safety. Why? It boils down to one simple word: MONEY. There is a lot of money to be made in the sale of bullets and pistols and semi-automatic rifles, and this money pays for lobby groups like the NRA, who pay off our politicians. Innocent civilians are dying for profit.

I can think of no other, more personal decision than what I choose to wear, if anything at all. Last time I checked, no one has ever been killed by the sight of a nipple or a penis. And if you really think about it, a penis is a kind of reverse-gun, creating life instead of taking it away, but should I decide to visit even a remote part of the beach in nothing but my skin, I’d get arrested, and possibly be put on the Sex Offender Registry List, to forever be associated with rapists and child molesters. If, on the other hand, I were to show up at a Starbucks armed to the teeth, I’d be heralded, by about half of all Americans, as a patriot. Again this begs the question of why. Why is the sight of the human body, something that has never harmed anyone, deemed illegal and offensive, while owning a device that exists for no other purpose but to kill regarded an inalienable right? I have no doubt aliens would find this dichotomy, between what is “modest” and what constitutes “freedom” utterly absurd, which is perhaps why they have yet to visit us. But again, I have the answer: there is no money to be made in public nudity. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Imagine how much revenue the clothing industry will lose when people realize the uselessness of bathing suits?

Open Carry March on March 12, 2014

This is legal.

WBNR-hippie

This is not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If we truly wish to lessen the frequency of mass shootings, not to stop, mind you, but to lessen, we need the political will to pass new safety legislation. The will must come from the people. Celebrities like Seth McFarlane, Samantha Bee, and Stephen Colbert have all come out for sensible legislation. Even Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly admitted “you can’t have a bazooka.” It’s only a matter of time before we’ll look back at this gruesome era of gun violence and wonder how we could have waited so long. How many more needless deaths before common sense prevails?


 

Now before you start sending me your comments, consider that I’ve read all of the arguments, and have fully addressed them here in an earlier post: One Dead Child is One Too Many

 

 

 

 

 

The Nomad: Chapter 4

Disclaimer: This is a love story and an adventure, a modern take on The Odyssey, set in a mythological past where all of the world’s pantheons coexist. It is my first full-length novel, that I wrote in high school, circa 1993. 

The Nomad represents a much younger and less experienced Nick Alimonos, but also, a time when I was more passionate, confident, and brash. If you can get past the warts, I think you’ll find plenty to enjoy. Thank You.


 

Chapter 4

Any man who would have said to me those words, would I have taken his life. But I could not bring myself to be angry with the King. Though he now despised me, and would never see me again, I still thought of him as my friend, my only friend. At times, I even wished to call him father, for that is what he would be to me, if he had granted the wish I so deeply desired. But rather than be filled with spite, I turned unto myself and hated what I was. I am a god, worshipped by multitudes, and yet, I would rather wish to be a pauper or a mortal servant. Though I would not live forever, nor dwell among the gods on Mount Olympus, nor seduce so many into my bed—I would have sacrificed everything to be but near her, not as a husband or a lover, but as a servant, one who could enter the palace of the King and not be shunned, if only to see my beloved Seline.

Very slowly did I return to my home. As quickly as I had journeyed to the king’s palace, did I now ride Thunderfoot, at merely a trod. I dirtied my hands in the dust of the white stone, of the mountain that I climbed. When I reached the top of the cliff, I was tired, though it was a thing I had never known before. My muscles sagged and my massive arms lay limp and dead like from my shoulders. My head bowed low, so that, I could dwell only on the earth. For I could not bring myself to look up into the heavens, in fear of seeing that which made me. Lowly was I, lowly to live not upon a towering mountain, but within the dirt, like the worms and the bugs. Finally, I collapsed upon my knees, not in weariness but in prayer. I, then, looked up into the sky, up into the sun, and did cry out and raise my hands unto heaven. And the white clouds did close in and encircle the sun and form an image. I could see a beard as white as snow and two eyes blazing with blinding light. Then, did I cry my father’s name, “ Z O R !! “ And his name was carried out all across the land, through every mountain, off every stone, echoing in the ears of every nymph and god of nature. But, he did not answer me.

Several days passed and I lived atop a boulder in the mountain. I made myself fire and hunted for food. But I did not return to my palace. I did not feel worthy enough to live there.

Then, on one hot day, as I was hiking through the mountains, I heard a scream. At once, I rushed to the sound of the voice. And as I neared closer, I heard that it was the voice of a woman. Then, I began running, running until I heard the voice calling for help directly below me. I looked down over a broken ledge and saw a string of blonde hair blowing in the wind and a pair of delicate hands clinging desperately to the rock.

“Seline!” I called, reaching out my hand. She looked up at me, her fear stricken countenance subsiding to a happy smile. “Dynotus, I knew you would save me!” she said.

“I have not saved you yet, my dear. Reach out your hand so that I may catch it!”

“I can’t! I can’t hold on with one hand!” she screamed back.

I stretched to grab her as best I could, but I could not reach her. Determined to find another way, I yelled, “hold on!”

“Please, hurry! I don’t think I can hold on much longer!”

Desperate, I leaped over the edge of the cliff and caught myself upon the slight protrusions of the rock wall. I then grabbed her by the waist and with all my might, pushed her up over the edge, knowing it would cause my fall. Seline tumbled to safety. I dropped like a stone. When she gained her senses, she looked over and screamed, “Dynotus! NOOOO!!”

Luckily, I landed on a small ledge about fifty feet below. Only my godly might saved me from death. Yet, still, I believed that I had broken a rib. As I lay unable to stand, I saw Seline running and reaching her hands toward me. We embraced, and I found her in my arms again. “Dynotus, why, why didn’t you fly?” she said, and looked at me, confused.

“Fly? I cannot fly,” I replied.

“But. . .but you are a god, are you not?” she asked.

“No, I have told you countless times. I am only a man. I am not even. . . .not even a strong man. Even now, I cannot bear to be without you.”

“Nor can I,” she said.

“You. . .you came to find me?” I asked in amazement.

“The King was cruel and harsh to you. I overheard what things he said. I felt so horrible, but there was no way that I could convince him that your feelings for me were true. I even showed him the letter that you wrote to me, but he thought nothing of it and tore it up!”

“You heard what he said of me? Than you must think of me as an animal.”

“No, no, I do not. I don’t care what you did or have done in your past. What matters is that we be together.”

“But. . .how did you get here?” I asked.

“At night, when the guards were asleep, I crept out of my window and rode my horse to this mountain. It was the highest one, and it was here that I knew I would find you.”

“But why, Seline? You should not be here. Your father will miss you and I cannot love you the way I desire.”

She began to press herself in my arms, resting her head on my chest and gently caressing her fingers against my worn, rough face, “but why? Do you not want me? Do you not love me?”

I pushed her away, “NO! You cannot understand the way I feel for you- the way. . . .the way I love you.”

She tried to coerce me again, “show me!” she said.

I turned away. “I already have. It is not in the flesh and so, you have not seen it. You are blind to it. And I cannot take you. . .I will not take you like a whore. If I could be. . . .if I could be your husband. But it is law. I cannot marry you without your father’s permission.”

“Why. . .why are you crying? Men. . .men don’t cry,” she said softly.

I touched her cheek, “this one does. Tonight, you may rest here. But in the morning, I will take you back to the King.”

That night, I made a fire and hunted us something to eat. While we sat around the flame, under the starry sky, Seline and I began to talk. “What’s it like being a god?” she asked.

“It’s not so different than being a man. Except. . .it’s very lonely.”

“Isn’t wonderful, to be able to lift anything and be stabbed by knives and things and not be killed?”

I lifted my hand in the air and let a bolt of lightning come down from the sky. “And what would I lift? If I could live forever, what would I do?”

“Do you. . .do you get bored, up here?” she asked.

“Yes, but tell me, what’s it like being a princess?”

“I think. . .I think it’s very awful. My father. . .he locks me in my room and doesn’t let me go out. He’s afraid that I’ll get pregnant with some boy or that I’ll be raped or something. I can’t go anywhere or do anything, without mobs of people wanting to look at you and kiss you and fondle you, and tell you how pretty you are and how they would like to live in the palace. And I have no friends. So many say they are my friends, but they don’t really care about me. They don’t see the person inside. All they see and all they care of is my father’s wealth. Of course everyone wants to marry me, I’m the princess!”

“I understand how you feel. It’s horrible that your father locks you in. Such a beautiful creature should not be kept locked up. She should be free to roam wild, to do what she wants and go where she pleases. I hope that the person you marry gives you greater freedom than your father.”

Seline frowned, and said quietly, “no. I fear whoever I will marry. The men below are not like you. They are not gentle and kind. They don’t think of women as people, but as pieces of meat, meat to be enjoyed. And when they are bored of you, they keep you to do work. My husband will marry me for my riches, and then force me into cooking and cleaning and staying home. If he doesn’t like what food I serve or if the palace is unclean, he will beat me.”

“No. . .don’t say such things.”

“It’s true. I know. All the wives I’ve known get beaten. Astymeloisa, the maid servant who lives in the palace, has a husband who is in the army. Every night he comes home late, after whoring around with other women, and then he is drunk and beats her. I find her every day with new bruises and scars, but she says they are nothing, that she hit her head on a table by accident. But I know better. Rather would I die than be married to any man. Any man, that is, but you.”

“I’m sorry. . . I wish that I could do something.”

“Please, let’s change the subject.”

“What should we talk about?”

“Tell me anything. Just speak to me.”

“You know, in the light of the fire, your eyes sparkle like the stars.”           Seline looked up, brushing her hair, and said, “tell me about the stars.”

I pointed up to three stars that were aligned in the heavens and asked, “do you see those three? Those stars are really a belt, and if you look around them, you can see the shape of a person, can you not?”

“Yes! . .I never noticed that before.”

“Well, that is Orion. He was a great hunter. And he was very handsome.

One day, while he was out hunting with his pack of dogs, he was seen by the Goddess of the Hunt, Artemia. Though Artemia is a devout virgin, she fell in love with him. However, Apollo, the brother of Artemia, became jealous of Orion. And so, Apollo schemed to be rid of him.

One day, when Artemia was swimming out in the ocean, Apollo came to her and challenged her hunting skill, saying that she was unable to shoot a far off bird that flew over the water, with her bow and arrow. Well, Artemia became very angry, and she took her bow and did shoot down the bird. However, as she approached closer to see what she had shot down, she realized that the bird she had killed was not a bird at all, but in fact, that it was her loved one, Orion. Well, when mighty Zeus, God of the Heavens, saw how grief stricken she had become, he came down to earth to take Orion’s body, putting him in the sky to remain forever as a constellation.”

After telling the tale, I looked and saw that Seline had fallen fast asleep. I shivered, feeling a gust of cold wind come in from the West. I stood up and looked for something warm that could be used as a blanket. It was then that I found my horse, Thunderfoot, and saw that on his back he wore a sheep skin saddle. And so, I took the sheep skin saddle from him and walking over to where Seline slept, did drop the blanket over her, whispering, “good night, sweet princess.” Making sure she was tucked in tight, I crawled to a nearby boulder, trying as best I could to keep myself warm.

 

I woke early the next morning. I didn’t sleep well; for I was plagued with strange nightmares. I fought the demi-god, Phobos, and lost.

Placing Seline on Thunderfoot, I began making my way down the mountain toward the King. Then, as we were descending, Seline cried out, saying, “what is that!?”

I looked to where she was pointing, seeing down below, at the base of the mountain, a swarm of marching men. “It is the King!” I cried.

Seline looked at me, terrified, “he brought the entire army!”

I separated from her, “stay here, I’ll handle this.”

“No, I can tell them to stop. It’s me that he wants. Let me go alone, so that they do not hurt you.”

“It doesn’t matter. The King thinks I have stolen you, and for such a crime, he will not let me live. I must face him, or forever run and be in hiding.”

 

I went down to meet the army. The soldiers stopped in front of me, armed with swords and shields and wearing helmets. One of them stepped forward and said, “where have you hidden the princess?”

“She is safe. I will return her to the King if you do not attack me.” “Silence, swine! You are in no position to make demands. We shall find the princess and then slaughter you!”

“Do you know who I am!? I am a god! I, in fact, have not kidnapped the princess. But, if you wish to meet your fate, step closer.”

“Ha! you are no more a god than I. You are but a man who knows nothing but to rape and force women, for you could never know love like a man with a wife, like I, with my Astymeloisa.”

“Bastard! Die!” I screamed, and thrust my sword through his gut. He dropped over dead. When the other soldiers saw what happened, without having heard what was spoken, they rushed in and attacked, thinking that I had initiated the battle through a blatant and impudent act of violence. Without thought, I became a raving mad man, rushing into battle with my bloody sword. The army fell around me and swung their weapons to strike me dead. I blocked and parried their futile blows and struck back with such force, that no shield, sword or helm could save their lives. I created a circle of death, and any who came within striking distance of me did I slay. All at once, they charged toward me, but I hacked them down like long stemmed weeds, cutting through and killing three or four with each blow. Others tried to stab me through the back, but I was too fast for them and too conscious of my surroundings. Using the skills I had learned in the Far East, I did fight with both hands and both feet. Those behind me felt the force of my kicking blows, which shattered their armor and broke their bones. Those in front of me felt the cutting edge of my swirling blade. Those beside me felt my fists of rage. And though I was great in might, their numbers overwhelmed me, and soon, I began to feel the slings and gashes of many blades cut into me, those which I did not see or could not catch. After dropping hordes of men, I grew weary at my blood loss, and fell back in retreat. As my blood cooled and my savage madness left me, I realized, that, I was fighting Greek soldiers, the same people who I had sworn to protect. Then, I felt my weakness, and did run to find my horse.

I reached, Thunderfoot, finding Seline sitting upon him. She looked at me in shock, and upon seeing her, did I lose all my strength and drop to the ground. Seline fell to my side, so that her long blonde hair dipped into my blood. “Oh, God! Dynotus, you’re. . .you’re dying!”

I reached up to touch her face, already seeing the tears welling in her eyes. “It’s all my fault. I shouldn’t have fallen in love. God’s do not fall in love the way I fell in love with you.”

“But. . .they hurt you. They made you bleed. You are not a god. You are a man.

When you climbed upon the ledge to save me, you risked your life. You could have died. Why did you do that? Why did you risk your life for me, if you knew that you could not even marry me?”

“I would give my life for you. This is what I’d do, this is how I love you.”

“Now, I understand. I know now what you feel for me.”

“I wish that I could live, just to be with you. But it is better to die, if I am to live without you.”

“But you won’t die. Your wounds are not that severe.”

“No, but the rest of the Greek army is coming and they come to kill me.”

“Can’t you run?” she asked.

“No, I cannot run forever.”

“Run, run and come back to fight another day.”

“I cannot fight the Greek army. I am and will always be Greek, and I have sworn my life to protect the Greek people. I cannot fight my own people. It would be a sin to bear far worse than any simple death.”

“No! I will not let them harm you!” she cried.

When Seline turned around, she saw a legion of men standing before her. One of the soldiers approached, and taking off his helmet, bowed and said, “princess, thank Zeus that you are safe.”

“Get away! Do not harm this man!”

“But, princess, he raped and kidnapped you!”

“He did not kidnap me! I came here on my own. Nor did he ever lay a finger on me. He is the kindest, most loving soul I have ever known. You shall not touch him!”

The soldier lifted his sword, “he may have not kidnapped you or raped you, but he did kill Astymeloisa’s husband and many other good men. He must be put to death!”

“Astymeloisa’s husband deserved it, the bastard! And well, as for the other men, they’re all bastards too!”

“Move aside, princess!” he ordered.

“No! I will not! If you want to kill him, your sword will have to go through me!”

“Please, Seline, do not endanger yourself,” I said.

She knelt down beside me, “but. . .but I love you.”

And her tears washed away my wounds and cleaned my bloody scars and I said, “all right. For you, I will run.”

I stood and pointed my sword at the leader of the army. “Do you wish to fight again!? Maybe your men will take me down, but I shall take more with me, and surely you shall not survive. Order them back, or I will kill you!”

He looked down at the sharpness of my magic blade and said, “all right. Give us the princess and you can go.”

“Only under one condition,” I replied.

Both Seline and the soldier looked at me in surprise, “what condition?” he asked.

“You must swear. You must make an oath that you will do what I ask. Do you swear?”

“I swear.”

“You must promise to let her be free, to go where she wants, when she wants, and to never keep her locked in her room again. Also, when she gets married, it will be your responsibility to be sure that she is never beaten by her husband, and if she is, I will come find you and kill you myself.”

Suddenly, a voice called from the distance, “no need for that!”

The three of us turned. “Father!” Seline proclaimed.

“King!” said the soldier and bowed.

“Demaratus! It is good that you are here, so that I may give these demands to you myself.”

The King leaped off his horse and everyone, save for Seline and myself, knelt and bowed. “There will be no need for these demands, if you can carry them out yourself.”

“Whatever do you mean?” I asked.

“I have decided that you may marry my daughter, if, you bring back to me, to be used as a wedding wreath, the Crown of Kirce.”

Then, I realized that the King, indeed, wished me dead. For he still believed me to have kidnapped his daughter, and feared that, if I were to escape alive, would return to kidnap her again. Thus, he wished me to find the Crown of Kirce, an artifact almost impossible to find, every hero having tried also having died, hoping that I, too, would seek it and not return. And though I knew that I could run and never be caught, I loved Seline so much, that I was willing to gamble this small chance with my life, in the hope of marriage. First, however, I had to be sure that the King would keep his word.

“And how do I know that you will not lie, as you did the night of the banquet, and not give your blessing?”

“I will swear by the river, Styx, that if you bring me the Crown of Kirce, my daughter shall I give to thee in marriage.”

“None may break that oath, even gods, and not be damned for all eternity. Very well, I shall accept your offer. I will search and find the Crown of Kirce, and return to be wed to Seline.”


 

 

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The Greek Pedophile/Pederasty Stereotype


Not exactly child porn.

Were the Ancient Greeks more homosexual than other groups from antiquity? Were homosexuals more commonly found in Greece? Was pederasty, or man-boy-love, a common expression of gay love? And is it even fair to make broad generalizations about any group of people, whether they be Greek or gay? 

This is by no means a scholarly paper. If it were, I would have done weeks of research in a university library. Rather, this is me, a history major using my blog to vent. 

Last night, I had the unfortunate experience of getting into a debate with the worst kind of debater, the type of person I like to call an informed ignoramus. Unlike your typical ignoramus, the informed ignoramus possesses a kernel of knowledge about a certain subject, and using this little bit of knowledge, they often make outlandish claims that are, for lack of a better word, utter bull-crap. What was worse for me, I once considered this person my friend, someone very liberal in his views, and very sensitive when it comes to matters of race and sexual orientation. He would never make broad generalizations about black people, Hispanics, Muslims or LGBT people. Unfortunately, I am none of those things. I am Greek, and being Greek isn’t in vogue these days. You don’t see anybody on social media speaking out against Greek stereotypes, so my friend could not understand my being offended when he generalized about my ancestors. 

Negative stereotypes exist for Greeks, like any other group, and it hurts just the same. People call us loud, rude, and egotistical. While this may be true for some individuals, it isn’t true for everyone I know, just as not all Asians are bad drivers and not all Irish are drunkards. But while making a “dumb Polack” joke or calling a Jewish person stingy is usually frowned upon, when it comes to the Greeks, anything goes. Make fun of us, the world says, our feelings don’t matter. Never mind that our country suffered one of the greatest, if not longest oppression in the history of the world—four hundred years—by the Ottoman Turks, or that, after our war of independence in 1821, we were left so poor that over one hundred thousand people died of starvation in a single year. Never mind the daily struggles for survival my own parents endured during their childhoods. Our recent history is swept under the rug, willfully forgotten, to make room for jokes that go back two thousand years. Most of these jokes, as you probably know, involve gay sex and pedophilia. To give you a taste, a friend of mine wrote in my senior yearbook, “How do you separate the Greek men from the boys? With a crowbar!” All I could do is use a black marker to blot out what he had written, leaving an ugly stain on a cherished childhood souvenir. Flash forward twenty years, and I am still dealing with the same kind of ignorance. 

Now I have nothing against homosexuality or homosexuals. I only take offense to the notion that the Ancient Greeks were pedophiles, and somehow “more gay” than any other group. We also must not confuse, as Vladimir Putin has, sexual orientation with child abuse. As someone who has been sexually molested as a child, by a Greek relative no less, this is a sensitive subject for me. 

But like all stereotypes, there is evidence to support it. Plato talked about man-boy love in the Symposium, and we know from other sources that in Athens, pubescent boys engaged in “sexual relations” with their male teachers. But how frequent and accepted was this practice? The answer is, as I often like to remind people about history, complicated.  

This is a problem intrinsic to the study of history itself, and something that came up again and again when I was in graduate school. My professors consistently chastised us for making claims based on too little evidence. I’d write a paper arguing a particular point, with a handful of references, and my professor would say to me, “Yes, but, did you read this book? And did you look at this guy? Oh, and that piece there, that’s been debunked.” The worst grade I ever got, for this very reason, wasn’t even an F. He simply wrote on the back of my paper, “You’d be crucified by any other historian!” Crucified! When I wrote my thesis on the Battle of Thermopylae, I asked my professor how many sources he wanted to see. His answer shocked me. “All of them.” And he followed that up with, “And you have it easy, in my day, we had to read every source in every language, including ancient Greek.” Shit. This is why our current Google/Wikipedia age infuriates me. YOU CANNOT SUPPLANT ACTUAL RESEARCH WITH A QUICK GOOGLE SEARCH. 

Another problem with studying history can be thought of this way: Imagine a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle, but we only have about one hundred pieces, and for some parts of the world, we have almost no pieces. Now let’s extrapolate this further, using the United States as an example. Imagine you are a historian living in the year 4015, and you want to know everything you can about life in the U.S. today. So, you dig through some ruins, trying to learn what you can, and what do you come across? Religion everywhere! How many churches do we have? How many Bibles in hotel rooms? How many laws have we passed discriminating against gays based strictly on religion? With this evidence, future historians could make a strong case that America in 2015 was utterly Puritanical. But wait, that’s just half the puzzle. After a bit more digging, archaeologists might find bookstores filled with the works of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet, and a number of other atheists, which may leave a lot of future historians scratching their heads in confusion. 

My argument, then, when talking to my informed ignoramus friend, was that you cannot make broad generalizations about a loosely organized group of city-states, existing over two-thousand years ago, spanning centuries of time, based on the few books you’ve read. What I know about Ancient Greece, based on my studies, is that sex between a man and a boy may have been more tolerated than it is today, but that the practice was localized to a specific time, place, and social class. There is also debate regarding what these “sexual relations” actually involved. I have yet to see an image of a boy, in any museum, bent over, in the aforementioned “crowbar” position. What we do see on vase paintings is quite tame, closer to Michael Jackson-type fondling than outright sex. Conversely, there are considerable examples of heterosexual penetration on pottery, images strikingly similar to what you might find on Porn Hub. But again, ancient pornography is no more proof of depravity than pornographic websites prove all Americans have orgies in their bedrooms. While the Greeks did not differentiate between heterosexuals and homosexuals, we know it was socially stigmatizing for a male to be on the receiving end of sex. In times of war, male-on-male rape was often used, much like in prisons today, as a form of domination and humiliation. Given, then, the lack of “penetrative” artwork from antiquity, coupled with the stigma of male penetration, most historians believe pederasty went no further than intercrural sex, or simply, “sex between the thighs.” 

Now, if we look beyond Plato, to Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, something as important to the Greek identity as the Torah is for the Jews, we find no mention of homosexuality. It has been suggested that Achilles, who fought at Troy, was involved in a gay relationship with his cousin, Patroclus, but I found no mention of this in the translation I read, and it makes no sense in the larger context of the story, considering that Achilles refuses to fight after his female lover is taken captive by King Agamemnon. No other hero is described as a homosexual, though their love interests are often central to their myths, with Odysseus traveling twenty years to return to his wife in Ithaca (while cheating on her frequently); Perseus heroically rescuing Andromache, a damsel in distress, from a giant sea monster; and Heracles, who was killed by his jealous wife after his infidelity. None of the gods engage in pederasty either, but for Apollo, and Zeus, who seduced 112 mortal women and Ganymede. In the comedy by Aristophanes, Lysistrata, the women of Athens and Sparta refuse sex with their husbands in an effort to end the Peloponnesian War. One must wonder, if male on male sex was as rampant as some stereotypes suggest, why this would have been such a problem.  

This isn’t to say that homosexuality did not exist in Ancient Greece; it certainly did and it was probably common, but no more so than anywhere else, and it is an affront to the LGBT community to claim otherwise. Homosexuality is a natural occurrence, not a social aberration. If we limit it to just one part of the world, we suggest it has nothing to do with biology. While the Hebrews strictly forbid homosexuality in Leviticus (which only goes to prove its practice), we know next to nothing about the Celts, the Saxons, or any other European group at the time, nor do we know anything of the habits of the people in Asia, the Russian steppes, or China. The Roman historian, Plutarch, on the other hand, asserts that the Persians engaged in pederasty with boy eunuchs, and modern historians debate how common gay relationships were in Egypt. If anything set the Greeks apart, it may be their propensity for expressing matters of eros, and their tolerance for differences in sexuality

The only thing we can say with certainty about the ancient world stems from the writings that survived, and when compared to more recent history, it is a puzzle with far too many missing pieces. For all we know, Plato and his ilk may have been the Greek equivalent of NAMBLA. Modern historian, Enid Bloch, suggests that Socrates may have suffered trauma from early sexual abuse. Are we to assume, then, that such abuse was both rampant and prevalent, in a society that gave us science, mathematics, medicine and philosophy? 

Even if we were to agree that Plato and Herodotus reflects a large part of Greek life, the writings themselves are suspect, often failing to corroborate with archaeological evidence. Herodotus states, for instance, that 5 million Persians (500 ten thousands) invaded Greece, which we know to be untrue, based on simple logistics; he also claimed that the city of Babylon was 10 miles by 10 miles square, also untrue. When it comes to sex and sexuality, Herodotus writes that “a woman cannot be raped,” and that there exists a country where “the men pee sitting down, and the women pee standing up.” Thucydides, all the while, who is considered a much more reliable source, says almost nothing about sex or pederasty. Based on Herodotus alone, our impression of the invading Persians may reflect the film 300, but a closer look at Persian art and architecture reveals a much less violent and more sophisticated society. The same can be said of the Vikings, who were no more violent than their European neighbors, but were vilified by the writings of early Christian monks. My friend, incidentally, is Norwegian, but I would never suggest he is the descendant of rapists.  

Not such an evil looking door, is it?


So, where does all this leave us? Were the Ancient Greeks a gay people? No more than anyone else. Were they all pedophiles? No more than anyone else. Were they overly fond of man-boy-love? No, but perhaps, at a specific time and place, were more accepting of it. Does this stereotype carry any weight? Nope. But if we must generalize, let us not say that the Greeks were more or less gay, but like much of the modern world, that they were more tolerant and enlightened. 

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JE SUIS CHARLIE and the Threat of Absolutism

The Prophet Mohammed?

“I am Charlie,” people are saying around the world, since the massacre of the twelve staffers who worked at Charlie Hebdo, the satirical Parisian periodical.

I am not terribly political by any means, aside from my ritual viewing of The Daily Show and the late great The Colbert Report, but I have had first hand experience in matters of fundamentalism and censorship. As an author who promotes an unorthodox and, for some, offensive lifestyle, I am mindful of those who would silence me. I fret over censors at Facebook and Google, over people who cannot differentiate between tasteful, artistic nudity and pornography. And, having been raised in a stringent Baptist school and having married into a Moroccan household, I am all too familiar with radical religious viewpoints. But what happened last week in Paris is symptomatic of a much larger problem. Philosopher Sam Harris and biologist Richard Dawkins, among others, will no doubt blame religion. Those apologetic toward people of faith, like CNN correspondent Fareed Zakaria, will lay the blame solely on fundamentalists and a false interpretation of Koranic verse. A third group will only see the suffering and violence and say: this is evil, pure and simple. None of these people are wrong. And yet, the issue runs far deeper, for the massacre at Charlie Hebdo reflects a fundamental difference in culture, between East and West, and it dates back thousands of years.

Western civilization is largely informed by Greek thought. It was in Athens, the birthplace of democracy, when, some 2500 years ago, humanity recognized the need to honor and respect dissenting opinion. It can be seen in the way the Greeks practiced their religion, in the veneration of different gods, most of whom did not agree and often warred with one another. Thanks, in part, to Socrates, who was condemned to death for “atheism” and for “disrupting the youth,” but who is today one of the world’s greatest historical figures, we learned the value of doubt and questioning beliefs. From these ancient foundations, European and American society was built, and later, the scientific method, a key part of which is skepticism.

Coming out of the East, at around the same time, we have a burgeoning adherence to the absolute. The Hebrews worshiped ONE God, who was all powerful, all knowing, and infallible. God makes no mistakes in the Torah. There was no Middle Eastern Socrates, to suggest that the gods may be unjust, or if there was, his/her influence vanished long ago. For Jews, Christians and Muslims, there is a central historical figure, Abraham, from whom we can understand all of “western” religion and Eastern thought. Abraham argued to save his nephew, Lot, from God’s wrath at Sodom, but God is never at fault. When Abraham is commanded to kill his son, Isaac, he illustrates obedience to God. The moral? God is absolute and is never to be doubted. Absolutist thinking continues to permeate Islam, and to some extent, radical “Westboro Church” Christianity. Even among the Egyptians and Persians, the notion of the absolute can be found in how the pharaohs and kings were portrayed, not as men, but as gods themselves. When King Xerxes invaded Greece, Eastern ideology clashed with that of Western philosophy. To be fair, the Persians were never as violent or barbaric as the film 300 portrays, but the idea of a god king was abhorrent to the Greeks. It wasn’t so much democracy the Spartans were defending, who were themselves an oligarchy ruling through terror and intimidation, but the freedom to hold a dissenting voice, even if that voice was found to be obscene or offensive. This is what the staffers at Charlie Hebdo represented, and in defense of this very Western idea, they lost their lives, because the radicals storming into their offices did not value dissent, or doubt, or understand the necessity of offense. Like most people born into a culture of absolutism (and this includes countries outside geographic East, including, sadly, the U.S.), their way of thinking did not allow for it. We struggle to rationalize the violence, to find common ground, but fundamentalists do not rationalize when it comes to matters of faith. Like Abraham, you obey God and do not question, even if it means murdering innocents.    

We get a glimpse into Eastern culture with the Arabian Nights, a book of fiction compiled between 700-1200, during the Golden Age of Islam. In one story, a groom does not properly wash his hands after eating garlic. The bride, who is from a much wealthier and more powerful family, is so incensed, she orders that her husband have his hands cut off. Only after her servants plead for mercy is the punishment lessened to removing the thumbs. This is not to suggest that Arab people are unusually cruel. Equally horrific tales can be found throughout medieval Europe, like in the writings of the Grimm’s brothers, where Cinderella’s step-sisters cut off their own toes and heels to fit into the glass slipper. But Arab culture stands apart in the way in which its people are expected to behave. In such a culture, proper speech and polite action is crucial to civil society. Normally, my mouth is at liberty to spout whatever pops into my head, but in Morocco I learned to censor myself. In 2013, during the holy month of Ramadan, I thought it’d be funny to make up a song about Mohammed’s camel, set to the tune of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. As you can probably imagine, nobody was amused, my wife especially. If something so innocent could cause offense, I cannot imagine making perverted jokes at the expense of the Prophet, as the people at Charlie Hebdo often did.  

The difference between Western and Eastern attitudes are deeply entrenched, dating back centuries, and it is unlikely to change any time soon. But while I do not wish to value one view over another, the matter ultimately comes down to ethics. Does freedom of expression lead to a better and more just society, or does respect and tradition? Mind you, this is not a question of offense. Everyone has the right to feel offended, especially Muslims when their Prophet is slandered. Though I champion free speech, I am often offended by the wanton cruelty I see on TV. But the only ethical response to words is words. The only way to defend against incendiary cartoons is to make incendiary cartoons of your own. This is how Free Speech functions. The right to question, to dissent, to doubt, and sometimes to offend, means much more than allowing people to do and say what they want. Free speech works, because only in a society where free speech is protected can truth come to light. If your society, your government, your religion, is cruel or unjust, without freedom of dissent, it can only remain that way forever. And if your philosophy, your politics, your faith, is right and just and true, then there is no need for guns and violence. If your ideology cannot endure by the strength of its own ideas, it is not worth defending.

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Kurzweil’s Future? No thanks . . .

 

You could say I am a bit of a Luddite. I have never been a fan of the future and the only science fiction I like are the kinds that promise a return to simplicity, like Avatar, or those that are really fantasy in disguise, Star Wars, or those apocalyptic stories that warn against excessive technology, A Brave New World, 1984, Cloud Atlas. It may seem ironic to complain about technology in a blog, of all places, but what choice do I have? I live in a world surrounded by technology, as are all of my friends and family. It is inescapable. I would much rather discuss this subject around a tribal fire or at the local town square, but those things no longer exist. I am also not impractical. I am not about to go Ted Kaczynski and retreat into the woods to wage a personal war against IBM. Like most people on the planet, I accept the modern world. Hipsters who retreat to communes are deluding themselves if they think they’re going primitive. Nature is all well and good until somebody needs antibiotics. So, yes, I do own a computer, a laptop, a widescreen TV, a Blu-Ray player, a Wii U. I may sound like a hypocrite, until you ask me, why do I have all these things? And the reasons are plenty: loneliness, boredom, a desire to be part of society. Yet those reasons, those needs for technology, were less crucial when my father was growing up. For him, Facebook meant face-to-face conversation. Television was singing and playing the bouzouki around the dinner table. Halo was bird hunting in the Greek countryside. Now you might be saying, Sure, Nick, you say you want to live like that, but you’re just romanticizing the past. Certainly, it was a worse time to live. Maybe. But I can recall my own childhood, before hundreds of cartoons played 24/7 on TV, when all I had was He-Man, G.I.*Joe and Transformers. I remember a time before Nintendo, when I busied myself writing stories and living out those stories with my toys. Maybe it’s just nostalgia talking, but those were happier days. I actually used my own imagination then. I created my own worlds. Today, I watch my kids and they barely touch their toys, or think up games to play. Instead, they’ve become information sponges, absorbing whatever is coming from Nick Jr. or Super Mario Bros.. They definitely don’t look any happier with all of this extra stuff, and I am willing to bet that, as long as their basic needs are met, children of all generations are equally happy with the technology they are born with.

The notion that the next great thing will make you happy is a myth, perpetuated by corporations that need you to buy their stuff, by a consumer driven society that places emphasis on wealth. Blu-Ray disc is a perfect example. Everyone was content with the quality of DVD until high definition discs came along. But did the newer format make everyone happier? To me, it seems, all it did is make everyone unhappy with their old DVDs. It only goes to prove what Buddhists have known for centuries. Wanting things is the root cause of suffering. It is an ever perpetuating illusion. We pursue what we most desire, whatever it may be, a new car, a bigger house, the latest iPhone, like a donkey after a carrot on a stick, but those things never manage to provide what we actually want, or, if we do feel happy for a time, the feeling is short lived. Like a drug addict, we are convinced that the answer is more. More stuff. Newer stuff. It never ends. Like Henry David Thoreau said in Walden, and I paraphrase here, you don’t own things, things own you. 

The impetus for this blog was an article a friend showed me by Ray Kurzweil. For those who’ve never heard of him, Kurzweil is an optimist and a futurist, and he has made some truly outlandish predictions. Among other things, by ten years time, he says, we will find a way to live forever. The basis for this claim is something he calls The Law of Accelerating Returns. According to the theory, biological and technological advancement accelerates on an exponential curve, which is itself exponential. With a whole lot of charts and graphs, Kurzweil describes the rapid evolution of life, from animal species to man, the light speed achievements of civilization within geologic time, and the current rate of doubling computer power. With considerable evidence, he makes a compelling case for a world dominated by nanobots, computers that can think far beyond human capacity, and for a time when biology and technology are integrated to form a new kind of human. He’s not talking science fiction here, or a distant, unimaginable future. For Kurzweil, this will be happening in our own lifetimes. My friend who showed me the article thinks this is all hunky dory, but I find it unnerving. OK, maybe I am being short sighted. Maybe my children or grandchildren will think me old fashioned, the way I think of my father, as I cling to my books and my disc based entertainment, while they have nanobots inserted into their brains for virtual reality experiences.

I will admit that many modern conveniences do make our lives better. It brings to mind The Carousel of Progress, which was featured at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City, by one visionary future optimist, Walt Disney. You can still see it at the Magic Kingdom. The show is literally a carousel that rotates in stages, showing scenes as played out by animatronic actors. Each stage is a time period. As the decades pass, you can see how simple things like plumbing, washing machines, and electric ovens saved people, especially housewives, from devoting all of their time to work. The final stage, representing “the future” is hardly futuristic at all. Grandma is playing some video game with a heavy looking VR helmet and the oven has an automatic sensor to detect when the food is cooked. We basically have these things already. We are living in the future Walt Disney envisioned. But how much better is human life today when compared to the 60’s, the 70’s or the 80’s? As I see it, our existence has become too convenient, which is why we suffer from obesity. At the same time, it has also become more stressful, with all of our time devoted to filtering spam in our e-mails and checking our bank accounts on our phones. Technology has made it so that I can roll my car window up with the push of a button, except that now I have to worry about rising gas prices, global warming, and a car payment. I would much rather ride my bike everywhere, but the streets are congested with technology, cars, cars and more cars! Even cell phones, everyone’s favorite new distraction, has its pitfalls. The other day I sat in an ice cream shop with my daughter, watching five teenage girls, all seated around a single table, simply staring in silence, like zombies, at their iPhones. What Kurzweil fails to realize with all of his graphs is that for every major innovation, new, unimagined problems are created. He argues that technological development will continue to become more prevalent in our lives, whether we like it or not, and so the best solution to the evils of technology is more good technology. He uses the triumph of programming over the computer virus as an example, which is all fine and good, but where is the programming to help bring people together? I remember a time when kids met at arcades and played in the street or in the woods. Time travelers from the 60’s would find our neighborhoods gravely quiet. They might assume some calamity took place to have made the children vanish, or, should they look through a window, for parents to feel the need to sequester their kids indoors.

I cannot deny that change is coming, unimaginable change. But change isn’t always for the better. Computers superior to humans? Hasn’t Kurzweil seen The Matrix? Terminator? Even if those scenarios are unlikely, a more possible outcome, I think, is a world where humans become obsolete. Who needs writers, musicians, painters, directors, when a machine can do just as well if not better? Kurzweil counters that humans will also have advanced, but unlike machines, people will continue to have selfish needs, like incomes and free time to play and rest. Just as factory machines replaced countless artisans during the Industrial Revolution, computers will takeover the last vestige of human expertise: artistic endeavor. If a computer can write a better screenplay, without pay, why hire a writer? OK, so maybe I am overreacting. Let us assume Kurzweil is correct and a new species of uber-human will out-compete computer labor. What will be the nature of this new humanity? In his article, Kurzweil delves into the philosophy of identity. He argues, rightly so, that we are not made up of the same cells since birth, that we’re not even our physical selves from the previous year—each of our cells die off and are then replaced by new ones. In essence, we are more like a river, with our cells passing in and out of existence, leaving only a repeating pattern. Should, then, each of these cells gradually be replaced, one-by-one, by nanotech, would we then not retain our identities while becoming superior in the process? He makes a compelling case, but there is a flaw. As I see it, Nick Alimonos is neither a cluster of cells nor a recurring pattern. Nick Alimonos is comprised of the times and places he has lived, the people and experiences he has known, and yes, his strengths and his limitations. Of the many facets of my personality, one is simply this: I do not like sports. Why? Most likely because I am extremely near sided, which I never knew until the 6th grade, so I never learned to catch a ball properly. I also have weak lungs and my heart rate is all over the place, so I am physically ill-equipped for sports. P.E. was a continual torment for me. I was ridiculed, almost continuously, by my coach and my classmates. Like Pavlov’s dog, I was conditioned to dislike football and basketball, so I turned my focus to what I could do well, like reading and writing. My lack of ability defines who I am. Place me in the body of Michael Jordan, which I am sure is right around the corner should we ask Kurzweil, and I am no longer Nick Alimonos.

Maybe I am being overly sensitive, but the future scares me. Unlike Kurzweil, I see a potential looming dark age. History is cyclical. Before 1200 B.C., the Cycladic Greeks lived in a kind of paradise (from which the Atlantis myth derives). Afterward, Greece entered into a thousand years of darkness. The same thing happened after the fall of the Roman Empire. Kurzweil argues that, looking at the larger picture, humanity has continually moved forward, and I cannot argue with that, but as individuals we are short lived and fragile. Should we enter another dark age, one populated by killer cyborgs, we may die before coming to an eventual utopia. I am not all doom and gloom about the future, however. I look forward to a time when fossil fuels are replaced by clean energy, when cities are redesigned to integrate seamlessly with nature, when food is grown hydroponically in skyscrapers, and where the primary method of transportation will be either walking, cycling, or mass transit. But what we do not need is nanobots inserted into our brains, or computers that can outthink us, or robots to do all of our laundry. It’s all just stuff, newer and better, but stuff has never made us any happier and it never will.