315. Waiting for Mohammed

It may seem strange to have a chess partner who is a young Libyan man in Turtle Town, but that’s what the deal is.  Mohammed hangs out at the coffee shop most afternoons. His mother functions as a cross between a social worker and pied piper for the lost ones who congregate around the town square. She is passionately kind to the disenfranchised and very sweet to her son, Mohammed.  I have no idea what their back story is, how they came from London to the U.S. No idea. I do know tenderness when I see it, though.

Anyway, I often wait for Mohammed to show up so that we can get in as many games as possible. We don’t talk that much, though he told me he is a poet. We thank each other at the end of every game– win, lose, or stalemate. Smiles and a handshake. “Good game.” “That was fun.” I tend to mutter Marvin Gaye lyrics while I play… “only three things for sure– taxes, death and Trouble.  Trouble man.”

He says some odd things at times.  A while ago he asked for free advice. (He knows I provide therapy.)  “My advice to you is not to ask for free advice.”

“Oh.”

Lately he said, “I am wondering if God exists. Check.”

I said, “Good, keep wondering. It’s a critical question to answer. Uncheck, you booger.”

“Why do you say that? Do you believe in God?”

“Yes, I do, but whether you do or do not believe, your answer will form a core belief and inform you about your purpose and meaning in life. Check.”

“What does that mean? Not the check, I follow that.”

“Well, have you ever seen a house being built from start to finish?”

“Sure.”

“So one day there is an empty plot of ground and someone starts dreaming and designing a lovely structure that will fit superbly on this spot. A surveyor stakes out the foundation one day and sets the corners. A while later a backhoe operator digs the footers for concrete. Eventually you get a detailed structure. Check.”

“I don’t get it. What does a house have to do with God’s existence? Uncheck.”

“Well, it’s an analogy to building a faith system. Once you break ground, (in your case it’s deciding if God exists) you begin building a structure of beliefs that connect to one another.”

“And what if I decide God does not exist? Check.”

“You still build a structure, a belief system around that core belief.”

“Oh, I thought belief systems were religions.”

“Religions are belief systems, but so are paths in science and political systems. Communism and socialism and fascism are all political belief systems that are not religions. In fact, they often outlaw religion or restrict it severely. Uncheck.”

“Hmmm. Gaddafi was religious, but he was also a total dictator.”

“Yeah, he was sort of a mutant combination of being the tribal chief, president for life, thug godfather, and well, let’s see what Hollowverse says….

“Gaddafi was quite taken with the principle of democracy. To him, multi-party, representational democracy was not truly democratic–nor was a dictatorship, though he was widely considered a dictator. And perhaps he was, but regardless, only three years after Gaddafi orchestrated a bloodless coup in Libya, he stepped down as Premier of the Libyan government, re-titling himself “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,” and instituting a complex series of self-governing citizen bodies with titles like “The People’s Committees” and the “General People’s Congress.”

“Yeah, that’s a delusional belief system. ”

“He was a very bad man for a very long time. Check.”

“Yep. I wonder if he believed in God? or if he thought he was God?”

“The thing about God that stops me from believing is the evil in the world. All these innocent people who are abused and killed. Where is God for them?”

“That’s an old complaint lodged against the idea of a good, loving, all powerful God. Why would He allow evil to flourish? Uncheck.”

“So evil makes me not want to believe in God.”

“Uh huh. That’s evil’s job, though, to eliminate hope and belief in a better world. Evil destroys and pollutes and desecrates. Like Gaddafi. Because he caused so much evil, does that mean that good does not exist? God, on the other hand, if you believe in Him, originates, creates, purifies, redeems, saves. He heals what evil perpetrates. Mate.”

“I don’t think I believe that. Not the checkmate. I get that.”

“So how do you explain beauty and the order of nature? Do you think it’s all the random outcome of a bunch of random stuff? And when you see extraordinary kindness like your mother shows, how do you explain that? Did compassion for one’s fellow man just evolve out of a mud puddle like pollywogs?”

“I don’t know what are pollywogs?”

“They are evolving frogs, uh, tadpoles. It’s a stage between the frog egg and the mature frog. Actually… like you, Mohammed. You are evolving into your final adult form. Seeking the answer to whether God exists or not is part of your spiritual/intellectual growth.”

“You think so?”

“Sure. I remember reading that every thinking person must answer three questions. 1. Where did I come from?  2. Where do I go after I die?  3. What should I do between those two points?”

“I can’t answer those questions yet.”

“That’s okay, Tadpole. Did anyone every tell you that you look like Chico Marx?”

“No, who was that?”

“Groucho Marx’s older brother. Have you ever seen a Marx Brothers movie?”

“No.”

“You’re probably better off without the Marx Brothers experience.  Let’s just say they were some crazy comic brothers back in the day.”

“Do you think they believed in God?”

“Yeah, I do… at least they had to believe in miracles because their movies were incredibly stupid, and yet they made a good living from being silly.”

“Maybe I could do that too.”

“Mohammed, stand up comedy and you… I’m not seeing it.”

“No, here is a keeler joke:  How many Tunisians does it take to change light bulb?”

“You got me. How many?”

“Whole country.”

“Where’s the punch line, Mohammed?”

“Don’t you remember Arab Spring?  The Tunisians changed leaders like old light bulb.”

“Oh, yeah. Keeler, man. Let’s stick with theology.”

“But why?”

“Cuz you’re killin’ me.”

 

 

203. Reverse Engineering

I know nothing about the topic. Almost, I mean I can spell the term. I just like the sound of it, how it seems to suggest that I might be smart enough to follow it up with related meaty thoughts. I think the phrase means something like beginning with a finished  product and deconstructing it to figure out how it was made and then copying that product, often without permission. (Shhhh!!!  I believe the Chinese are skilled at this sort of thing, but I don’t want to be considered xenophobic, another favorite word of mine that I can’t often use in context. It’s just awkward for everyone when there’s a sneeze, and instead of “Gesundheit”, I say, “Xenophobia to you and your germs.”) I suppose the folks who do this are called reverse engineers. So the guys at the other end, the creators, should be known as forward engineers, I guess, but not in the social sense of “being forward” because we know engineers are mostly awkward, socially backward nerds. In fact, the only engineer joke I know was told to me by a backward, stuttering engineer.

The set up line went like this– “You know I-I-ifffff  engineers ra-ra-ran the wha-wha- world, ev-ev-rytha-tha-thing woo-w00-w0uld work and ruh-ruh-run on ta-ta-ta-ta-time.”

The punch line eventually followed– “Ba-ba-but nah-ha-no bah-bah-body woo-wooo-would have any fffffffun!”

I liked it with or without the stutter. Even if you stutter backwards.

This reverse engineering process has been very helpful for military purposes, I understand. For instance, if you find an unexploded Russian missile in your yard, and you successfully take it apart and duplicate each component, then put it back together, you wind up with two Russian missiles in your backyard. You can sell one or blow one up and keep the other for breeder stock.  Reverse engineering at last defeats the age old proposition that ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too’. Well, yes you can if you are eating cell phones or computers or missiles. Hah! Take that you snarky old xenophobic naysayers.

Now I just need to find something to deconstruct, figure out, and then duplicate.  The only thing that comes to mind is a Marvin Gaye song, which may be because I heard it on the radio on my way in to work this morning.  HMMM, but as I ponder this process, I realize that Marvin already did this. He found the love missile in “What’s Goin’ On?” and duplicated it successfully in “Let’s Get It On” and then resurrected that song into “Keep On Getting It On”.  And we’re all better for it. Thanks, Marvin. Now let’s look carefully at the components he skillfully manipulated.

“What’s Going On”

Mother, mother There’s too many of you crying Brother, brother, brother There’s far too many of you dying You know we’ve got to find a way To bring some lovin’ here today – Ya
Father, father We don’t need to escalate You see, war is not the answer For only love can conquer hate You know we’ve got to find a way To bring some lovin’ here today
Picket lines and picket signs Don’t punish me with brutality Talk to me, so you can see Oh, what’s going on What’s going on Ya, what’s going on Ah, what’s going on
In the mean time Right on, baby Right on Right on
Father, father, everybody thinks we’re wrong Oh, but who are they to judge us Simply because our hair is long Oh, you know we’ve got to find a way To bring some understanding here today Oh
Picket lines and picket signs Don’t punish me with brutality Talk to me So you can see What’s going on Ya, what’s going on Tell me what’s going on I’ll tell you what’s going on – Uh Right on baby Right on baby
And now for the reverse engineering by Wikipedia.

What’s Going On” is a song by American recording artist Marvin Gaye, released in 1971 on the Motown subsidiary, Tamla. Originally inspired by a police brutality incident witnessed by Renaldo “Obie” Benson, the song was composed by Benson, Al Cleveland and Gaye and produced by Gaye himself. The song, which focused on major seventh and minor seventh chords, and was oriented in sounds by jazz, gospel and classical music orchestration, was mainly viewed as a meditation on the troubles and problems of the world, proving to be a timely and relatable release, and marked Gaye’s departure from the Motown Sound towards more personal material. Later topping the Hot Soul Singles chart for five weeks and crossing over to number-two on the Billboard Hot 100, it would sell over two million copies, becoming Gaye’s second most successful Motown song to date.

The song topped Detroit‘s Metro Times list of the 100 Greatest Detroit Songs of All Time, and in 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it the fourth greatest song of all time, in its updated 2011 list, the song remained at that position. It is also included in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame‘s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list, along with two other songs by the singer. It was also listed at number fourteen on VH-1‘s 100 Greatest Rock Songs.

So there you have it. Now, just go out and find a modern equivalent of police brutality and work it into a new sound that can appeal to all audiences. Have a silky voiced dude record it flawlessly but passionately. Release it during an unsettled period of history. Then wait for it to go platinum.  In the meantime bake two cakes and eat one.