Category Archives: Philosophy

Are We There Yet?

Will It Come To This?

Nearly 50 years ago I was preparing for a revolution. It was premature, but I was young and brash. Now I’m an old man and, although I’m in reasonably good shape, old bodies don’t lend themselves readily to battle.

Nevertheless, it’s looking more likely to me a revolution will be necessary to defeat Trump and his bootlickers, toadies, and sycophants. They are all inexorably locked into white supremacy and patriarchy and I don’t see logic doing anything to disabuse them of their hatreds and prejudices.

I think there’s a better than even chance Trump and his minions will find a way to steal the presidency. Should we flip the Senate (hardly guaranteed) and retain the House (all but guaranteed) it’s quite possible Trump can be impeached again—a first for the country—and found guilty this time.

I remain hopeful we can keep from descending into a Balkanized mess of a country but, should the populace rise up, I will do everything in my power to support them for as long as I’m able.

At the same time, should Trump manage to pull off an electoral coup, I’m more than ready to support an effort for California and other states to secede. The country I was born and raised in is already becoming completely unrecognizable to me.

I wish it were otherwise, but here we are.


A Return Engagement

I quite accidentally came across an old Facebook post, which I’m pasting in below, that I wrote and shared a little over six years ago. I’m a little ashamed (embarrassed might be a better word) that I announced my intention, only to not complete what I said I had started. I truly had started but, shortly after doing so I was approached by a former colleague at Rocketdyne and was offered a job.

Here Comes the Bar Mitzvah Boy

Since my primary goal at the time was to bring in enough supplemental income to allow us to maintain our modest, yet comfortable, lifestyle, I dove into the job head first. I had also gotten an editing gig shortly after the post, which took a great deal of my time and overlapped with my return to Rocketdyne. For a couple of weeks I was working up to 13 or 14 hours per day.

So, here I am six years later and I have begun serious work on what I used to think were my memoirs. This past Wednesday I woke up thinking I needed to better understand the difference between a memoir and an autobiography. After a moment’s worth of research I realized I was not working on my memoirs; rather, I was working on my autobiography.

A Favorite Award

I have, therefore, decided I am now working on three projects. The most ambitious is my autobiography. Ancillary to that effort are two subsets of my life, which I will write and publish as memoirs: one surrounding my experiences of more than 50 years of drug use and what I learned about myself and others; the other about my experiences with the Peace & Justice movement during the late sixties and early seventies and how it’s affected my politics and my philosophy of life.

I had done a fair amount of work on an outline, which currently consists of 158 entries (many of which are partially written, some recently and others copied from blog posts that are relevant to the subjects I cover. Many of the blog posts need to be somewhat re-tooled to fit the format of either a memoir or an autobiography, and much needs to be added, but I’m currently at almost 16,000 words. My Peace & Justice movement project is currently at nearly 3,800 words, and my drug use project currently consists primarily of a reasonably thorough outline.

Some Political Collectibles

Previously, I was deeply concerned about our household income. I am not as concerned now and a couple of things are driving me to complete these projects reasonably soon. The first is my age and the age of others who were substantial parts of my life. As far as my political activities back in the day go, at least three of the people I am writing about are no longer with us, with two of them passing in the last few years. I was hoping to interview them. That’s no longer possible. Fortunately, they’ve all left a legacy and there’s plenty of material for me to glean from and help me remember the activities I shared with them, as well as others who we worked with who are still available.

The second reason isn’t directly related to my age, but is nevertheless a result of it. As I’ve written about previously, I have what are called “essential” or “familial” tremors. There are three areas in which these tremors affect those who suffer from them: the neck muscles (my mother was a “bobblehead”); the vocal cords (think Bette Davis); and the hands. My experience is mostly with my hands, though on occasion I can swear I feel it coming on in my neck muscles as well.

You Can Call Me Reverend Ricky

I want to finish these projects before I can’t type at all. There were times, during my two-year return to Rocketdyne, when my left hand was shaking so badly I couldn’t log on to my computer. I had to enter my user name and password with one finger on one hand. There are times when my left hand shakes so much I can’t possibly type like I’m used to.

I’ve already contacted a half dozen people, including former roommates, a former girlfriend, and my first wife. They have all not only expressed a willingness to be part of this, they have already provided me with recollections I had forgotten, all of which will surely improve the quality of the stories I plan on writing.

My Brother’s Wedding With Me Officiating

So I’ve set a goal for myself. Currently, it’s 500 words per day but I’m going to probably up that to 1,000 words per day. It’s not really all that difficult once I get going, especially since my outline now is quite thorough and all I need do is tell my stories. Another goal is to, as I mentioned in my post of six years ago, stand up a Kickstarter campaign to see if I can raise any money. I don’t need a lot and I think I have a fairly interesting story (actually stories) to tell.

For the first time in my life, this IS my job. If nothing else, I will leave a legacy for my two daughters, to whom these works will be dedicated.



I am on the verge of taking on what I believe to be an important project. I’ve been thinking about it for well over a year and I have discussed it with several old friends who were part of the experiences the project will speak to.

I plan on writing a book. It will be a combination of my memoirs, as well as a history, of a part of the peace & justice movement, specifically in Southern California, from about 1968 until 1973. At the time I was part of a group of amateur, yet reasonably well-trained, people who provided much of the security for rallies, demonstrations, and numerous cultural events. We provided building and personal security, including occasional armed bodyguard work, for people like Jane Fonda, Daniel Ellsworth, Tony Russo, a group of Vietnamese students studying in the U.S., Roger McAfee and family (they put their ranch up for Angela Davis’s bail after Jonathan Jackson’s disastrous attempt to break his brother, George, out of the Marin County Courthouse), Mrs. Salvador Allende, and cultural groups such as Quilapayun, Arco Iris, and Holly Near – to name a few.

The book I propose to write would be a combination of my memoirs and those of many others (some of whom I have recently contacted and who expressed great interest in seeing this happen) who I worked with. I was a member of groups such as The Peace Action Council with Irv Sarnoff, The Indochina Peace Campaign with Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, and Bruce Gilbert, Vietnam Veterans Against the War with Ron Kovic, as well as individuals such as Dorothy Healey, Frank Wilkinson, and others – many of whom I will need to do some research on to refresh my memory.

Part of this piece will be aimed at setting the record straight. Part of it will be pointing out the many sacrifices lots of people made in speaking and acting out during that time. We thank members of the military for their “service”, regardless of what they did and what their motives truly were, yet the people who risked so much during those difficult times were – and frequently still are – vilified as traitors and un-American. I’d like to help set the record straight.

Those of my friends who have any experience or thoughts about those times and the activities I will be addressing are welcome – actually, encouraged – to share them with me. While I am willing to read, even address, contrary opinion, anyone who attempts to engage me in frivolous argumentation will be asked to stop and, if that doesn’t work, will be unfriended. I am interested in useful, thoughtful opinion even if it doesn’t agree with how I see or remember those days, but only if it helps me understand my perspective more completely. I have a well-established POV after all these years and I’m not interested in useless argumentation over its validity.

This also means I will be incrementally backing off of Facebook; posting far less and paying less attention to others, even with the all-important mid-term elections looming. I want to get this done while I’m still able to and I will have a lot of reading, interviewing, and writing to do. I’m also thinking of using Kickstarter to raise some money so I don’t have to worry about further depleting what savings we’ve managed to accumulate prior to my somewhat forced retirement. I’m thinking, if a guy who’s merely making potato salad can raise $70,000, I might be able to find enough interest to get $15 – $20,000. I’m anticipating the need to travel for some interviews. Many of the people involved at that time likely won’t be available via online technology.

I will probably share this more than a few times in the next couple of days or so. Knowing there’s only a small percentage of my friends who will see this at any given time, I think it will be useful to share it at different times. Please forgive me if I annoy you. Feedback is, of course, more than welcome. I’ll also be sharing my progress as I go along.


Secular Religion. WTF?

The United States’ rogue Attorney General, Bill Barr, gave an interview to right wing dick bag, Mark Levin, the other day and I came across this tweet and response that highlights what I think is a deeply troubling reality about religion in today’s United States.

Putting aside Barr’s constant projection, what Soap And Science, PhD says about how much of the religious world views science seems on point. Science is based, above all else, on provable facts and reproducible evidence. Conclusions may be reduced by some to dogma, but they will not be able to withstand the scrutiny of others who can show reality is otherwise. We’re constantly updating our scientific knowledge as we learn more.

Not so with religion. Most all religions, certainly the major religions of the world, are built on dogma. For Judaism it’s the Torah, the Old Testament. For Christians it’s the New Testament with a nod to the Old Testament. For Islam, it’s the Koran with a nod to both the New and the Old Testaments. For Hinduism, it’s the Bhagavad-gita, and for Buddhism it’s the Sutras of Buddha, as well as others. I certainly don’t hold myself out as a religious scholar, so please don’t hold me too strictly to my list. I’ve likely missed quite a few and, perhaps, mis-characterized one or more of the others. All these books might as well have been written in stone, as they are accepted (mostly) as the word of the Almighty. (NB – I don’t think the Buddha was seen as a God, per se, but I think the basic theme here is correct.)

What concerns me most about the point Soap And Science is getting at is the concept that religious nutbags like Barr are, indeed, jealous of how well science works and, in fact, that it serves to explain the world far better than any religion has or is capable of doing.

While it pains me to do so, I don’t see any other conclusion than that the right—representing, in part, fundamental Christianity—will not hesitate to use violence when they realize they’re not getting their way. They are more than capable of perpetrating every vile thing they accuse the left of currently doing. In fact, that it’s in the very nature is proved by their accusations when there’s no evidence to substantiate them. They are hateful and violent; ergo so is everyone else, especially those they fear the most.

As Rachel Maddow is fond of saying, “watch this space.”


U.S. or Him?

The Little Boy Pouts

Yesterday, an article in PoliticusUSA was published under the headline, “Trump Wasted An Entire White House Meeting Trying To Convince His Aides That He’s Mentally Fit.” I’m of the opinion anyone who studies Trump carefully will have no problem seeing this as a predominant feature of his personality. After all, he really is a malignant narcissist, a sociopath, a man with a complete and total lack of humility, humanity, and empathy . . . among other things. I shared the article on Facebook with the following comments:

This serves to highlight the main problem I have (and most of us have) with him as President. How can he serve the interests of the nation when he’s far more interested in how he looks, the optics, than he is on any accomplishment that benefits the American people . . . and I don’t mean corporate America? Kinda reminds me of the concept I’ve held dear since I first became politically active in the sixties: some people are more interested in “being” right, than in “doing” right. These people, who are intent on winning regardless of the cost, need to be avoided.

This also reminds me of something one of my first year law professors said to me. I’m working on a blog post about it and, recently, I hunted him down. His name is Kenneth Cloke and he’s still living and working in Santa Monica, where he’s a mediator and conflicts resolution systems designer. Lately, I’ve tried to articulate the saying and I have yet to convince myself I’m getting it right. There seems to be some nuance missing that I can’t put my finger on, but I’m going to attempt it here.

During a conversation we were having about leftist politics, Ken said “If I had to choose between someone who had the right politics, but was lacking in humanity, and someone who had the wrong politics, but was a humane person, I would choose the latter.” I suppose this is why, despite my being a Marxist, I am always looking for ways to work with people who don’t share my political philosophy. It’s how I’m able to vote as a Democrat. Everything about the Democratic Party, in my estimation, is far more humane than anything about the Republican Party. Also, I think it’s much easier to find compromise with someone who respects your humanity and hard-ass ideologues generally aren’t inhabiting that space.


Isolation. It’s Like Forever Only Much Shorter-Part 2

This is the second post by my long-time friend, Susan Marlow. Her first post was published on 28 March 2020 and this is somewhat of a follow-up.

by Susan Marlow – 18 May 2020

Each morning now after more than three months of restriction and isolation I wake up feeling constricted.  As I come to, a small gasp escapes out of me and I realize I am still here and still isolated.  I feel saddened as I realize this time is all too precious.  I have adapted to this thing we call quarantine and I can continue, but I am not enjoying the isolation as much now.

I grumble my acceptance of this new way of life and stretch my body out on the mattress which we meant to replace months ago when it hit the ten year mark of discomfort.  With no store to shop for it this mattress is condemned to continue servicing me. Then I take a deep breath of recognition that my day has begun.  I thank God for this day.

Since I began in late February I have continued with my gardening and composting.  I have 37 gallons of beautiful, sweet smelling dirt which will soon be ready for my garden.  Meanwhile, I am experimenting with how to grow vegetables from food that we eat by planting the roots and stems.  I have a big tub of bright green tubers growing from bits of potatoes.  No potato famine here at this house.  Come to think of it what does one potato cost?  No matter . . . this is my victory garden.

The wall surrounding our pool equipment has been painted bright blue.  The dog has had his hair cut a little- oh lucky pooch.  My hair continues to grow like corn stalks sticking out every which way after the hay is collected into mounds,.  Nothing to be done about that. I was already white haired before our quarantine began so I do not have to see one color disappear slowly in an awkward manner.

I am beginning to book zoom meets on my calendar—some back to back.  It’s like being back at work with appointments to keep.  Two zooms are for Funerals and one is for sitting Shiva.   Today I will exercise with ladies in Woodstock, New York via zoom.  The next birthday zoom is for someone who turns 100. Life and death continue.

During my long period of study and introspection I have come across two items which tell the story of how others, also restricted and far more deprived, nevertheless found ways to cope with fear, death, and massive loss of personal freedom,  They too have left remembrances of a once impossibly difficult time in our not-too-distant past. From these little keepsakes we see the human spirit is quite resilient and forever hopeful.

The first is a delicate small fan, not unlike a cocktail fan, known by the name of a Wagasa.  Look closely and you will see a familiar character; the symbol of Camel cigarettes. These delicate little fans were created using the only spare items available-in this case cigarette packages. It took great patience and a fine delicate handwork to create one of these. Even though it now resembles a little mai tai cocktail fan it has far more to say to us. Behind the stark wooden walls of an internment camp in the desert an unknown  human spirit lived and created such beauty with whatever they had at hand while they patiently waited to see if their lives would, at some unknown point, resume and in what manner.

Japanese Umbrella
A Miniature Wagasa (Umbrella) made of Camel Cigarette Packs, Toothpicks, and thread

I also invite you to look at a tiny deck of cards, pictured below. Each one hand inscribed and beautifully drawn by my father during a perilous escape from Nazi Europe to Palestine, which was a beacon of safety and promise to Jews. This was a working deck of cards created from mini cigarette packages available during WWII.  You can see a handwritten inscription in Latin on just one card, the Ace of Spades, Athlit, November 13, 1940.  It is a poem and prayer by Horace, the Roman poet.

By then my father had been on that boat between 9-12 months. Those desperate souls were left on board a Turkish coal ship for many, many months.  This was not a passenger ship. The bathrooms consisted of “walking the plank” and squatting out over the ocean in full view.  There were no private rooms, just a large open space for coal storage.  The “rooms” were created by internal scaffolding.  This was an exodus boat headed to Israel carrying 2300 Jews from all corners of Europe.  Perhaps they would be allowed to land or perhaps they would be turned back—like the St. Louis—to almost certain death. Meanwhile, those on board this boat waited and played cards together with a deck constructed of Chesterfield, Pall Mall, or Lucky Strikes packages patiently collected and artfully created. They waited as we wait.

So I look around and begin to think, what will I leave behind during this time of Covid19 to show my family that, while this isolation may seem like forever, it is actually far less.  I try to embrace this time of waiting.  I try not to think of the time as lost to me.  It is my personal journey yes, but without the cigarettes!


Thank You, I Think

This post is from my old blog, The Cranky Curmudgeon. It was written nearly 14 years ago, shortly after my oldest’s fifth birthday.

Well, Hallmark Thinks It’s Important, And They Have No Vested Interest . . . Right?

So what is it with Thank You cards? When did they become de rigeur . . . a fixture of every child’s birthday and gift-giving Winter solstice celebration?

My daughter celebrated her 5th birthday recently and we had a party for over twenty children and adults. We provided entertainment for the children, lots of food and drink for everybody, really nice loot bags for the kids, a large cake, and a pinata filled with lots of candy. My wife spent around a week’s worth of her spare time researching and purchasing everything necessary to make the kids feel special. This included purchasing inexpensive cowboy/cowgirl hats and bandanas, as the party was held at a nearby farm where the kids could feed animals and enjoy some really fun and clever rides. I spent a good 10 – 15 hours running around and picking up things and making arrangements. We really wanted everyone to have a good time.

Now comes the aftermath. My wife is not the best at sending out Thank You cards, and I have virtually no experience doing it at all. I mean, isn’t it against the law for men to do this kind of thing – no matter how sensitive they are? So . . . here it is, a couple of weeks later and the cards she took the time to purchase are still sitting on the table . . . in their original box. They’re taunting me. Like chocolate in a candy dish, I sometimes hear them calling out my name.

Isn’t a sincere “Thank You” at the party’s end enough for everybody? I don’t know; maybe she feels better about not doing it than I do, but why do I have this sinking feeling we must carry some sort of guilt because we have yet to send a hand-written, personalized note written by us as though it was our child channeling Emily Post or Martha Stewart?

Here’s an example of a Thank You we received the day after a 5-year-old’s birthday party:

Thank for coming to my birthday party. I was really happy you could be there. The Spiderman backpack will be really useful next year in Kindergarten to carry my laptop as I’m learning how to post covered calls without the help of my broker.

Now how are we going to follow that?


Less Than Perfect

The following is a post from an earlier blog of mine, The Cranky Curmudgeon. It was posted on February 27, 2006.

Why do people, perfectly rational in other ways, defend the indefensible? Why do they continue along a path that is demonstrably wrong and easily abandoned? I’m not talking about the barbarous torture being carried out in our name, with our money, by our government. I’m talking about the indefensible butchering of the English language by educated, enlightened people.

I’m talking about people who are scientists, who make their living off understanding and precisely defining physical properties of phenomena in order to reshape the world and our relationship to it. People who demand, and thrive off of, minutiae – accurate minutiae.

I heard three words in a meeting the other day that just drove me crazy. These three words were:

  • Libary (for library)
  • Ec Cetera (for et cetera), and
  • Hierarchial (for Hierarchical)

Hearing these words butchered gives me the chills, but I learned a long time ago not to question an Engineer’s pronunciation of any word, lest one wishes to be the recipient of a surprised, somewhat pained expression followed by a derisive comment on one’s propensity for detail. Something like “Well. You knew what I meant. What are you? A Lawyer?”.

Well. Maybe. Maybe I knew what you meant and maybe I am a Lawyer. The latter part of the question is of no real consequence, and can be safely ignored as the silly attack it is, but the former isn’t necessarily all that clear. I knew what you meant? Could I be certain?

One of the simpler equations in physics is f = ma (force = mass x acceleration). Would an Engineer complain if I expressed it as f = na in a paper or in an analysis of a design or test results? Would it be OK if I said “Well, it’s only off by one letter and, after all, you know what I meant” (hee hee)?

I suppose, to be fair, there is the tongue twist factor to take into consideration. After all, library, et cetera, and hierarchical take a bit of concentration and practice to say properly. But here’s the real issue. Language is used to – now get this – communicate. Good, accurate, complete communication requires precision. It ain’t horse shoes or hand grenades.

So here’s what I have to say to those sloppy speakers who complain about merely being asked to correct their butchered pronunciations and complain they’re close enough to being “there”.

They’re ain’t no there their. You’re turn to figure out where your going (sic.)


Dialectical Zenosity

The Interpenetration of Opposites

My philosophy of life has been informed by two people, both of whom I was first introduced to (not personally, but via their writings) in my early twenties. They helped me understand the meaning of the dialectic of life; the yin yang of our corporeal (and intellectual) existence.

The former brought me an understanding of spirituality that did not require the existence of a supreme “being,” while the latter helped me to see how our thinking is shaped by the material world we live in, and how our thinking can then help us act to change that world for the better.

The former brought me “The Wisdom of Insecurity” and taught me to accept the tenuousness of existence and the need to slow down and enjoy life absent regret for the past or anxiety for the future (not that I am proficient at it always,) while the latter gave me a much clearer understanding of both biological evolution and the evolution of human society.

These two people are: Alan Watts, who many considered the western world’s foremost authority on Zen, a philosophy I believe reflects our place in the universe; and Karl Marx who, along with Friedrich Engels, developed and promulgated the philosophy of dialectical materialism, which I believe accurately reflects how the physical world informs our existence and how our ability to understand that physical world gives us the ability to significantly alter it.

It’s been over fifty years since I first encountered these two aspects of what I consider to be a somewhat “unified” theory of existence. Nothing in the interim has dissuaded me from following their teachings. I find the physical universe to be infinitely more beautiful and mystical than any of the Gods humans have worshiped over millennia.


Yikes!

The photo on the bottom has haunted me for 50 years. Not that I think about it every day . . . or even every year, but over a half century it’s come to mind far more times than I would have liked. So, when I saw the top picture on my phone, it instantly evoked the extra-judicial execution of Nguyễn Văn Lém. I needed to do this to stop thinking about it. Too much thinking about death lately. 😕


Moving Forward

No matter what happens as we are coming out of this crisis, we should never settle for returning to the status quo ante. We need to think of humans and our societies as living organisms; as interconnected and interdependent systems. When some of us are suffering, we must recognize it as an insult to all of us.

“We’re all in this together” doesn’t stop being true when this pandemic is “over.” It remains true except for those idiotic and stubborn people who still believe in rugged individualism as the ideal condition for humans to follow. In my opinion, that model is a recipe for disaster for all but people who live in the woods and, even then—with the exception of people like Ted Kaczynski—if they take advantage of roads, communication channels, and the efforts of entities like the US Forest Service, etc. they’re part of the gestalt that is humanity.

A friend of mine posted this quote on Facebook. It was posted by someone who I don’t know, and his name isn’t important here, but the quote is useful and is what prompted me to write what I did above:

“Indeed, you have to wonder if the virus is so very different from extractive capitalism. It commandeers the manufacturing elements of its hosts, gets them to make stuff for it; kills a fair few, but not enough to stop it spreading. There is no normal for us to go back to. People sleeping in the streets wasn’t normal; children living in poverty wasn’t normal; neither was our taxes helping to bomb the people of Yemen. Using other people’s lives to pile up objects wasn’t normal, the whole thing was absurd. Governments are currently busy pouring money into propping up existing inequalities, and bailing out businesses that have made their shareholders rich. The world’s worst people think that everybody is going to come out of this in a few months and go willingly back into a kind of numbing servitude. Surely it’s time to start imagining something better.”

~ Frankie Boyle

I was also sent a link to a wonderful essay in The Guardian’s “The Long Read” collection. I recommend it highly, though it is a long read. I’m memorializing it partly because I want to return to it and re-read it, perhaps numerous times. I see it as a booster to help me continue to advocate for fundamental structural change in our economy and our society. Our culture.

Here’s a quote, though there are so many useful ones in this particular essay, it’s hard to pick only one:

The first lesson a disaster teaches is that everything is connected. In fact, disasters, I found while living through a medium-sized one (the 1989 earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area) and later writing about major ones (including 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in Japan), are crash courses in those connections. At moments of immense change, we see with new clarity the systems – political, economic, social, ecological – in which we are immersed as they change around us. We see what’s strong, what’s weak, what’s corrupt, what matters and what doesn’t.

I often think of these times as akin to a spring thaw: it’s as if the pack ice has broken up, the water starts flowing again and boats can move through places they could not during winter. The ice was the arrangement of power relations that we call the status quo – it seems to be stable, and those who benefit from it often insist that it’s unchangeable. Then it changes fast and dramatically, and that can be exhilarating, terrifying, or both.

Finally, here’s a link to the article itself. Read it. You won’t regret it.


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