My favorite optical illusion is the blue sky. We all see a semi-metallic sphere of sky above us. If you are clever you may perceive that its radius is much smaller than the Earth. If you travel up all you see is clear, thin air getting clearer and thinner as you rise. As soon as the sun falls below the horizon, it is gone and we perceive the true universe. At least as much as a human can perceive. The blue sphere is not ever there.

And the best part is that no one thinks of the blue sky as an illusion.

Sidewalks get dark when it rains. Nobody I speak with understands this. Liquids act as light pipes that allow light through. Water, oil, even clear wax make things more transparent. Sidewalks are dark in the middle. If a medieval man puts oiled parchment in his windows they appear dark in the day and light at night by the outside brightness. This only works for porous materials. A white bikini doesn’t turn transparent if made from nonporous vinyl. Alas.

Glamour is the illusion that things are more than they are. Think the iPhone. Tell people it is just a phone with lousy battery life. They will lynch you. Perfume and clothing adds sell this to women. Glamour can also fascinate with terror.

When I was a boy there was a secular mythology that we all grew up with. The world would end soon. There were priests from the Rand Foundation and the Brookings Institute. There was the Original Sin of Hiroshima. The end times would bring about Fimbulwinter. The great enemy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was greater and more ruthless than we. Repent and do penance. Then in two seasons the illusion melted away with the Soviet Union. The world didn’t change, but the pervading fear melted away. I was glad to let go of that world.

A wise man once said that peace is the theoretical state we deduce from the occasional gaps between wars. I hated that. It was so cynical. Alas, it comes back to me. I really didn’t want it to be an illusion.

There was a wonderful illusion in 1998. Peace had come. A new thing called the Internet was changing the world. A book called ‘The End of History’ claimed that strife was over. In the future all governments would be representative democracies. The Stock market was booming. People said the Dow Jones average would be over 10,000 in ten years. The Millennium had occurred right on schedule. A year later the internet stocks crashed. In 2001 the theocracies said they weren’t going away and would let us convert or die. The Stalinist states of Cuba and North Korea decided to stick around for a while. The president of Venezuela suspended the constitution and became a socialist dictator. It was a nice illusion while it lasted.

We have learned our lesson. Our eyes are clear and the sky bright. We have no illusions and see the truth.


He is trying to deceive you. I am trying to enlighten you. Which is nobler?


Lives of Dogs

Diogenes and Alexander


I cannot get though a week of the current political campaign without someone decrying the ‘cynicism’ of the American electorate. But, they use cynic to mean ‘Bad voter. Bad!’ Or they use the word to say nothing but to intimate undefined failings. I am not a Cynic. But I respect them. And they have some very good points.

Cynic means dog. One can learn a lot from dogs. Dogs know what is real: Love, devotion, pleasure, pain, hunger, satiation.

Cynics believe that when one is being told of higher level abstractions, one is being manipulated. ‘When someone speaks to me of my honor, I feel for my wallet.’ as the sage said. When people describe socialist justice or historical necessity, for two, they are often trying to convince you of things for which they have no cogent argument. When someone claims something is settled science they have two choices: Either they show you the math, do the calculations, and make a prediction. Or they wave their hands, make personal attacks, and argue from the authority of an absent other. When a famous scientist copyrights his data and won’t let it be seen. Well then, he …. Basta.

Cynics believe in extreme simplicity. Diogenes had only one change of clothing. He had a cup until he saw a dog drinking and abandoned the cup. I didn’t understand that until Thoreau explained it. Thoreau said that the cost of something is really how much of your life the possession costs you. I find my automobile useful, but the cost of fuel, maintenance, and repair can be daunting. I had an ill friend once who offered me his yacht. Even free – and the conversation didn’t go far enough to verify that – I couldn’t afford it. Not to mention the likelihood of a landlubber like me simply finding it an interesting form of suicide.

Diogenes felt that anyone with substantial possessions was less the possessor than the possessed. Such a man could not be honest. He cannot speak the truth lest he lose his things. The only free man is he who has noting to lose. That’s why he did the silly stunt of walking in the broad daylight with a lamp to search for an honest man. True honesty is something a prosperous man can seldom afford.

‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.’ – Kris Kristofferson

I am not a cynic because I aspire to things beyond the phallus and the belly. But – but, there is a certain truth there. Many people have sold their lives for things that don’t exist. Gratitude for one.

It is said that when Athens was conquered, Alexander sought out Diogenes. Alexander found him sunning himself.
‘I am Alexander the great king.’
‘I am Diogenes the dog.’
‘I can do great things for you. What do you want.’
‘You can get out of my light.’

Consider the freedom in that exchange. No wonder that Alexander said that if he could not be himself he would want to be Diogenes.

Cynicism is a philosophy for oppressive regimes. One cannot be easily bribed or punished. The more that is taken, the more free the Cynic feels.

When people attack cynicism I feel they are manipulating us all.

Or they don’t know what it means.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *      *


A bit over a century ago there was an American vogue for cynicism. Ambrose Bierce wrote a famous dictionary of cynical definitions called The Devil’s Dictionary. How can I fail to include a few?

APPEAL, v.t. In law, to put the dice into the box for another throw.

APHORISM, n. Predigested wisdom.

The flabby wine-skin of his brain
Yields to some pathologic strain,
And voids from its unstored abysm
The driblet of an aphorism.
—”The Mad Philosopher,” 1697

MAUSOLEUM, n. The final and funniest folly of the rich.

MESMERISM, n. Hypnotism before it wore good clothes, kept a carriage and asked Incredulity to dinner.

MYTHOLOGY, n. The body of a primitive people’s beliefs concerning its origin, early history, heroes, deities and so forth, as distinguished from the true accounts which it invents later.

REASONABLE, adj. Accessible to the infection of our own opinions. Hospitable to persuasion, dissuasion and evasion.

RELIGION, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.”What is your religion, my son?” inquired the Archbishop of Rheims.

“Pardon, monseigneur,” replied Rochebriant; “I am ashamed of it.”

“Then why do you not become an atheist?”

“Impossible! I should be ashamed of atheism.”

“In that case, monsieur, you should join the Protestants.”

FUTURE, n. That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness is assured.

CONJUGAL, adj. (Lat. con, mutual, and jugum, a yoke.) Relating to a popular kind of penal servitude — the yoking together of two fools by a parson.

YOKE, n. An implement, madam, to whose Latin name, jugum, we owe one of the most illuminating words in our language — a word that defines the matrimonial situation with precision, point and poignancy. A thousand apologies for withholding it.


Can We Do It Differently This Time?


How long is America going to pretend, that the world is not at war? From Berlin, Rome and Tokyo, were have been described as a nation of weaklings and playboys who hire British or Russian, or Chinese soldiers, to do our fighting for us. We’ve been trained to think we’re invincible, and our people think Hitler and his Nazi thugs are Europe’s problem. We have to do more. Does anyone think that victory is possible without facing danger? At times like these we all need to be reminded who we truly are. That we will not give up. That we will not give in.  – Fake Franklin Roosevelt in ‘Pearl Harbor’ 2001

Like the Yamamoto quote, that should have been said.

When did World War III start?

I sometimes read old books. I noticed that many writers saw World War II coming years before it happened. Years before anyone in the British government really saw it coming. Well, Churchill saw the shape of things to come. People who see the future are required to give warning.

Even World War I was predicted. Saki predicted the war in which he would die in 1910 in his book “When William Came.” The “Riddle of the Sands” was credited with changing British defence plans.

Also, most wars are accidents. Your enemy doesn’t want war. He wants your house, spouse, possessions, and death without exertion. Britain only was pulled into World I because Germany decided to attack France through Belgium. And only Britain could bottle up the German High Seas Fleet. Japan thought Pearl Harbor would keep America out if their interests in the Western Pacific.

Picture the globe. Russia is still in the process of taking the Russian speaking regions of the Ukraine and digesting Georgia. Poland and the Baltic states are experiencing a build up of NATO aircraft. Boko Haram is still smearing blood across Africa. Syria and Iraq…. Millions of military age men are fleeing into Europe. Merkel’s actions may make the German government unstable. War in Yemen. The Saudi government must change its rules of succession or go through increasingly rapid changes of government. China has been building an excellent Navy but is about to go through a rapid drop in military age men. There is an expiration date on its military. The United States after seventy years of being the World’s policeman has spent a decade appearing week and foolish.

In half a dozen places miscalculation could precipitate war. And if war breaks out in one place, another player may decide to take a chance when the world’s attention is elsewhere.

In short, I am having flashbacks to the 1930’s. Ukraine looks like the Sudetenland.
Are we in World War III? When did it start?

There is a corollary: If we go to war with the military we have, should we be preparing before the fuse lights the blasting cap? Poland and France I am talking to you.

I really hope I am being a fool.