Almost Over
By R. D. Flavin

     'Apathy' (Greek apatheia – without feeling or emotion) is used to indicate either impassiveness or indifference.  It’s a common behavioral issue.  We say that sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you. [Note: Insert charitable plug for How Much can a Bare Bear Bear? to avoid the ‘bare’ and ‘baring’ temptation.]  All experience apathy with occasions of giving or receiving by a toss of the bones.  Exactitude in defining distinctions between walking over or around that dead body on a public sidewalk pushed aside, it’s about not caring. [Note: Insert Elie Wiesel’s “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference.  The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.”]  We let go of indifference or embrace it in our own way.   It’s one of those individual determinations.  I’d like to wake up one morning and care a little more about some things and a little less about others.  It’s a given (and song lyric) that we can’t always get what we want, yet I can imagine relaxing and forgoing concern about my occasional apathetic behavior or when I experience the apathy of others.  It’s almost over and I’m sure I’ll soon not care whether or not I care or don’t care, perhaps even a little, about what I do or don’t care about.  Being positive about being negative gets muddy and in many snowy regions we're just beginning winter.  Almost over?  Yes, no, maybe and any other qualifiers necessary.  The year 2007 of the Common Era will end very soon and that’s a start.

     The following is a sequel, of sorts, to my 12-15-06 column, “
Reason's Greetings.”  It suggests a few personal low points in 2007 and offers a small measure of optimism for 2008.  A column about Christmas would seem appropriate, possibly even considerate, yet that bright joy currently eludes me and one shouldn’t be in the dark when writing about the birth of a child.   My 2007 halls are decked with failures and in need of swabbing.  The dining hall should be cleaned first, if I had one, as it would assuredly be messy.  Most take our meals for granted, but too many are unsure as to where they’ll find their next meal and some have given up trying.  I’ve previously reached out to those in need with bags of sandwiches or groceries when finances or an opportunity allowed, admittedly not for a while, and in 2007 I spent more than a few months being sympathetic to those who were hungry and on the streets.  Yeah, sympathy alone isn’t enough.

     As mentioned in my recent column, “
Got Food?,” last summer I thought I’d hit upon an idea to get hot meals to folks on the street, but there were problems with the product.  During the first weeks of planning (read: unrealistically hoping for) a way to feed those who don’t or can’t visit the shelters and open-kitchens, I took a closer look at the city I’ve called home for some years now and was deeply troubled by what I saw.  In retrospect, the sadness likely started in July while I was writing my “Common Colors” column.  Researching the history of the Boston Common and learning of its racist past, the hired thugs and the violence against non-whites was unexpected.  I knew about the executions, the anti-Catholic festivals, and was aware on some level that the disenfranchised had congregated there for some time, but I was ignorant of Bostonian racist laws and traditions against Native Americans and African Americans which lasted well into the nineteenth century.  The early Irish immigrants were met with hatred, yet so too were subsequent ethnic groups and newbies continue to find it difficult to find their spoke in the Hub.  When I put together my "The City of Boston Homeless Hall of Shame" and sent a printed copy and a cover letter to the Mayor, I was sure my actions were an expression of social concern and had nothing to do with self-promotion or making money off of the suffering of others.  Now, I’m not so sure and that personal uncertainty has brought out the garlic and the sleeping pills.

     A local newspaper editor and writer was working on a story about homelessness and hunger and asked permission to reproduce some of my photographs.  I agreed, disagreed, and likely ended with some variation of “I don’t care.”  Two of my photographs were used in the printed story, though not in the newspaper’s online version.  One of my photographs was cropped (with a slight change of color contrast in the background to obscure location details) and printed on the front page.  No credit was given and I was told there was some confusion about accreditation, as whoever doctored my work should also receive recognition.  A second photograph was used inside the newspaper, reprinted untouched, with an informal photo credit.  I use photographs without seeking the permission of the proper copyright holders too often, yet I console myself that my web-site is basically not-for-profit and I don’t imply credit for the work of others.  It’s a “Fair Use” matter and the newspaper survives on advertizing revenue while I pay for my web-site (and, technically, the uncredited photograph also, as I left a dollar bill wedged under the hand of the sleeping homeless person with the mumbled suggestion, “Go buy a hot cup of coffee,” as it was a snappy autumn morning in Beantown).  Anywho, it isn’t about money (I was never promised compensation nor would I sue for copyright violation regarding improper accreditation), rather it’s about homelessness and apathy.  Mine, the newspaper’s, government services and certain so-called charitable organizations, and folks with too many vowels in their names (though, be equally alert for those with an abundance of consonants, as well).  We’re a pathetic and apathetic society and we could and should do better.

Click for larger images.

      Indifference may also prompt episodic laziness and the normally attentive have been known to underachieve when interest wanes.  Standing the above quasi-emo on its head, I’m at a loss about what to do regarding the improper accreditation and mis-attribution by the highly respected science journal, Nature, and one of their fluff online pieces written especially for a web-based subscription service.  It would be an honor to be mentioned in Nature, in either their print or online editions, if the mention was deserved, but in this case it’s not.  It was poor science writing and it got past the fact-checkers and editors. [Note: Insert “Que Sera, Sera” reference to give indifference a cute face.]  The time to put on a kettle and smoke pot is over, at least for now, and I need to be on guard against hypocrisy.    

Screen-shot from 10-22-07.

      Last year, as part of a History of Science course, I indulged my personal speculations as to the origin and diffusion of the zodiac in a paper entitled, “Another Wretched Subject: an example of symbolic number in Augustine’s De Genesi ad litteram with attention to the influence of Babylonian mathematics on Hebrew and Christian scriptures.”  I got an A- in the course, but I’m unsure what grade I received on that assignment.  My online version (available here) features a great many uncredited photographs, that’s where Nature got the image, and whoever did the page layout put my name under a descriptive caption which allows it to appear as if the copyright to the photograph is mine and the explanatory words were written by me.  Veritas; it’s my best guess.

mulAPIN as a “plough” constellation (Waerden, 1949; p. 15).

     The online Nature article reported on a recent refinement in the dating of the source observations of copies of the MUL.APIN texts to approximately 1370 BCE.  I think the latest work is great and though this exactitude follows many previous estimates, it’s an advancement which doesn’t take a considerable step forward , though it’s notable (read: somewhat cool) none the less. [Note: Insert mention that most kids don’t want to grow up to be an Assyriologist, but rather aspire to be a fireman, astronaut, policeman, etc.]  The caption reads: “The MUL.APIN tablets record the dates that constellations appeared in the Assyrian sky.”  Now, if mention was made that the copy of MUL.APIN in question was made in the Neo-Assyrian period incorporating observations made during Middle Babylonian times, that planets, individual stars, constellations including paranatellons were observed, or that the goal of astral divination was still evolving and the formulation of an accurate schematic calendar was the primary impetus for such star-lists (like the so-called “astro-labe” texts which MUL.APIN subsumes), ...then I’d consider letting the matter rest.  Others (e. g. Rochberg-Halton 1984, Hunger & Pingree 1989) have explained and speculated about MUL.APIN and I’d suggest that science writers consider visiting a library from time to time and not rely so much on the Web.

2007 monograph claiming that Alexander the Great is buried in southern Illinois.

      Still, I’d prefer the errors of a lazy science writer to those of a crackpot and con-artist any day.  The privately printed publication pictured above reprints material about an ongoing hyper-diffusionist hoax (for more, see various articles about Burrows’ Cave on my Twisted History web-site).  Obligatory skinny review: not carbon friendly – causes a build-up of carbon dioxide in the blood producing uncontrollable yawning and doesn't burn well.

     I’ve become indifferent to many such claims and wish it wasn’t so.  The comedy of Greg Giraldo comes to mind (“Underwear Goes Inside the Pants,” from Lazyboy TV, produced by Douglas and Rasted; Umvd Labels, 2004): “This homeless guy asked me for money the other day.  I was about to give it to him and then I thought he was going to use it on drugs or alcohol.  And then I thought, that's what I'm going to use it on.  Why am I judging this poor bastard?”  I’ve been accused of not listening to the crackpot theories of others because I’ve an agenda of promoting my own crackpot theories. [Note: Insert a “Gentlemen of the Shade” curse of having one’s entrails wrapped sun-wise around a tree.]  Being mindful of one’s apathy and indifference is a stumble rather than a step.  Catholic guilt trumps common sense.  I feel bad about not caring, but not too bad.  We all miss the mark periodically. 

Boston Christmas Tree on the Common; Nov. 29, 2007.

     When I was five or six I noticed some wrapped presents stashed in a hallway closet a couple of weeks before Christmas, immediately told my older brother (by four and a half years) that Santa didn’t exist, got punished by my parents for making my brother cry, and for all intents and purposes became a card-carrying skeptic then and there.  I was in my late teens before I understood that the Matthean and Lukan nativity accounts were narrative embellishments to the Gospel of Mark.  I was too old to “punish,” though my folks did share some uncomfortable silent treatment at my holiday faux pas.  I’m still trying to get my head around the fact that “Stille Nacht” is a guitar song.  I’d never utter a “humbug,” though indifference to Christmas seems just as bad.  Oh, oh, oh...

     We’re built to look ahead, not behind.  2007 is almost over and with 2008 we have the American electoral process as entertainment and the return of ABC’s Lost as a societal duty to support the Writers’ Union.  I look forward to 2008 and am indifferent to those who believe the year will be anything other than wonderful and that we’ll experience POE again.

Hunger, H. and D. Pingree.  1989.  MUL.APIN, an astronomical compendium in Cuneiform. (Archiv für Orientforshung)  Bieheft 24.  See also:
   Hunger, H. and D. Pingree.  1999.  Astral Sciences in Mesopotamia.  Boston, MA: Brill.
Rochberg-Halton, F.  1984.  “New Evidence for the History of Astrology.”  Journal of Near Eastern Studies.  43, 2: 115-140.
Waerden, B. L. van der.  1949.  “Babylonian Astronomy. II. The Thirty-Six Stars.”  Journal of Near Eastern Studies.  8, 1: 6-26.  See also: Waerden,
  B. L. van der.  1974.  Science Awakening II: The Birth of Astronomy.  With contributions by Peter Huber.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Fortifying the ‘nog,

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