The mystery of religious belief that we’re special

Back when most current religions were in their infancy, we thought we were the center of the universe. We had no idea what stars and planets really were, and in some cases, didn’t even realize the world was round. And that world? It was only a few thousand years old.

Now we know that we are one of trillions of planets, surrounding billions of stars in millions of galaxies. We know that the planet is billions of years old, dinosaurs ruled the planet for about 200 million years, and humans have only been around for a few hundred thousand.

So among the many questions I often ponder is how rational, intelligent people who still believe in these religions interpret this? Why did God create such an amazingly expansive universe and then stick us way out in the suburbs of some minor galaxy? Why did he wait trillions of years before creating the earth if it is where his chosen people were to live? Why did he allow dinosaurs to roam for the vast majority of the time on the earth before getting around to creating us in his own image?

Oh, I know that believers will find a way to rationalize this in the same way they can believe in some of the Bible 100% but 0% in the parts they don’t like, picking and choosing “ultimate truths” like options on a Chinese menu. Time means nothing to God; where he placed us is irrelevant, and so on. So why even create all this extra stuff to begin with?

I mean, if I wanted to play The Sims and create people, I could make an area for them all to live easily enough. Why would I then waste time creating 99.99999999999999999999999% space that these people will never use?

Often religious people will call atheists self-centered for not believing, but I have often wondered about someone who thinks that we are special in a universe that is vast and has existed for billions of years — how is that not self-centered?

The ability of people whose intellects I admire to rationalize all of this — well, that’s the biggest mystery of all.

Ringo Starr’s Best Songs

With Ringo finally getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I thought it might be nice to look at his solo work and share my favorites.

Ringo’s voice is … well, let’s use the word “unique.” It’s certainly distinctive. Whenever there was a group sing-a-long, Ringo’s voice always seemed to come to the forefront (listen to “Bungalow Bill” or “Carry that Weight” — it’s almost like the other three, whose voices blended so well, were his backup singers!).

But Ringo knew how to surround himself with good people, and his best solo work owes much to the musicians he recruited. See for yourself…

In chronological order:

It Don’t Come Easy.  Ringo wrote this simple song but George’s production made it special. It has that Phil Spector-ish production that George learned while working on the “All Things Must Pass” album, and the George’s guitar hook at the beginning makes the song special.

I’m The Greatest. John wrote this for Ringo, in which he happily sings “Yes, my name is Billy Shears, Yes it has been for so many years…”  John’s backup singing is perfect.

Photograph. This was Ringo’s first #1 song … and he reached #1 before John did! I wonder how that went over. This is co-written by George, who played guitar.

Snookeroo.  Elton John was at the height of his career when he wrote this one for Ringo. That’s Elton on piano, too. It sounds exactly like an Elton John song sung by Ringo.

Goodnight Vienna. Another John-penned song and you can hear him counting off and screaming “all right” at the start. That’s him playing piano. Billy Preston is there as well. Although Paul has written songs for Ringo and played on the albums as well (that’s Paul playing kazoo on “You’re Sixteen”) it seems that Paul didn’t give Ringo any really great material.

Vertical Man. Now we zoom all the way from the 70s to the late 90s, when Ringo hooked up with Mark Hudson (of the “Hudson Brothers” – remember them?). Mark Hudson is a huge Beatles fan who loves going to Beatles convention (where I met him!).  His own songwriting shows the Beatles influence so, not surprisingly, many of my favorite Ringo songs are from the albums he did with Mark doing much of the writing and producing. This particular song is just plain fun. (And that’s Ozzy Osbourne singing backup, believe it or not.)

La De Da. This is a catchy one, although the video here is from the short single version. Typical Ringo lyrics. “I’ve lived my life / It’s only right ’cause I can’t live your life for you.”

Never Without You. This is the song Ringo wrote after George’s death. A sad tribute, with lead guitar from George’s old friend Eric Clapton.

Fading In Fading Out. This is another song co-written with Mark Hudson that is just one of those happy pop songs that you can’t help but like.

Don’t Hang Up. This is a nice piece where Ringo shares vocals with Chrissie Hynde. Always makes me smile!

Liverpool 8. Ringo has a lot of songs about his life with the Beatles. I mean, how can you top that? This is one of the best, with production by Dave Stewart.

Since I only listed my ten favorites, I had to leave out many songs featuring other musicians and singers like Marc Bolan, David Gilmour, Levon Helm, Nicky Hopkins, Dr. John, Jim Keltner, Al Kooper, Jeff Lynne, Bette Midler, Alanis Morrisette, Harry Nilsson, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Stephen Stills, Steven Tyler, Luther Vandross, Klaus Voorman, Joe Walsh, Don Was, Edgar Winter, Ronnie Woods, Gary Wright …

Listening to Ringo is sometimes like having a reunion with old friend.

And, if you’re more interested in seeing his Top Ten Greatest Hits (as opposed to my personal ten favorites), here’s a list based on chart success.  (The number in parenthesis shows how high on the charts the song reached.)

  1. Photograph (1)
  2. You’re Sixteen (1)
  3. No No Song (3)
  4. It Don’t Come Easy (4)
  5. Oh My My (5)
  6. Only You (6)
  7. Back Off Bugaloo (9)
  8. A Dose of Rock and Roll (26)
  9. Goodnight Vienna (31)
  10. Wrack My Brain (38)

That’s not what Karl Marx said

I am constantly amazed at how many people think Karl Marx led the Russian Revolution and was all in favor of suppressing the public and stamping out all that is good in the world. I have seen political views being called “Marxist” that Karl Marx himself would have hated.

Let’s put this in perspective: Marx was observing how terrible life was for working people during the start of the industrial revolution. Children were working for pennies a day in unsafe factories seven days a week without adequate food, shelter or medical care. Europe and America were turning into a sort of feudal system where the rich trampled upon the poor, and it appeared that it would never change.Original_Marx_Brothers

Marx thought that the only solution to this was a revolution, after which would be the establishment of communism. His idea of communism is like the hippies thought in the 60s: We’ll all work together, live in a commune (hence “communism”) and share equally, with no one above anyone else.

His view was that by sharing in this way, everyone could benefit.

Keep in mind that Marx, being an economist, was mostly talking about the economy. Marx was not against democracy. He saw democracy as “the road to socialism” and before he died, he even backed away from the idea that a revolution was needed (having observed the progress that was made in America thanks to unions). Marx was not against freedom of speech or other basic rights. He imagined that the people would still vote for their leaders but that the leaders would not be richer or better off than anyone they represented.

All of this is impossible, impractical, and will never happen.

But his ideas were still appealing to those people on the bottom rungs of society, and so when Lenin and Stalin brought about the Russian Revolution, they claimed they were doing this to bring about communism and thus help everyone. They lied. Obviously, Stalin did not have any intention of installing a democracy or allowing free speech, any more than Mao did in China using the same rhetoric.

And that’s the problem. As wrong-headed as Marx was about society and what solutions were needed to fix the problems he saw, he thought his ideas would benefit people, not enslave them. He was not evil incarnate. He was trying to make things better. His theory was warped by those who used it to accomplish their ends.

Keep in mind that Marx died in 1883, thirty-four years before the Russian Revolution. He had already begun to change his theories about what was needed to solve the vast inequalities in society, and it’s pretty clear that he would not have supported Stalin’s brutal regime which pretended to be communist.

Now, for those of you who skimmed over this and are now calling me a Marxist: No, I clearly am not. (Unless you mean Groucho.)  Communism, which robs humans of individuality and discourages individual thought and incentive, will never work. And neither will capitalism, which rewards the rich and the powerful while enslaving the majority. The solution is what basically every country in the world now has: a socialist system somewhere between those two extremes.

The debate is over where on the scale we should be.

And it doesn’t help when any politician who suggests that maybe helping poor people get health care gets compared to Karl Marx.