Category Archives: Philosophy

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.


The Quiet Leadership That Matters Most

Well . . . this came at an auspicious time. This article was just shared by a friend on FB, in a local Indivisible group. It’s very short, but contains a TED Talk that’s a little over six minutes long. It’s really worth watching; game me the chills. Also, think about what we’re doing right now by staying home and practicing social distancing. I am certain it’s making a difference, thought it may be another couple of weeks before the numbers will make it clear. And, since I’m one of the people who’s theoretically inside the bullseye (age and comorbidities) I’m thankful to everyone who’s taking this seriously. I certainly am.

This moment that we are living through right now, is really rather extraordinary. Tens of millions of us are sitting at home. We don’t have our military patrolling the  streets, threatening to…

With respect to the subject of the video, there was a group of us at Rocketdyne who used to constantly say, “lead from where you are,” meaning “don’t wait for others to tell you what to do or how to do it; step up and step out. You know what to do. Now do it!” So, in addition to the speaker’s assertion that we need to accept ourselves as leaders, I would add we need to recognize the opportunities presented to us to do so. Enjoy the talk.

Source: The Quiet Leadership That Matters Most – Political⚡Charge


I Stand With All People

I’ve been an atheist—meaning I don’t believe there is such a thing as God, i.e. a supreme being—since I was 15. I’m now 72. However, I was raised as a Jew and am bar mitzvah (a man of the commandments.) My ethics are fundamentally based on my Jewish background, especially given my four years of Hebrew school, with liberal sprinklings of Christianity and—later—Buddhism, primarily Zen.

I sometimes refer to myself as a Jewddhist, but my favorite designation—for fun—is Quantum Gestalt Humanist. Quantum for my belief in science and reality; Gestalt for my recognition of the totality, synergy, and systemic nature of the universe, and Humanist for my recognition of the beauty and value of my fellow human beings. Still . . . the ethics I recall learning, especially in Hebrew school, form the basis of these beliefs and feelings.

Even though I haven’t been to schul since I attended a very familiar, yet very uncomfortable, Yom Kippur service about 20 years ago, I will always be a Jew . . . and not just because my parents were Jews, but because the world—especially anti-Semites, but even the ignorant and those easily swayed by propaganda—will always see me as a Jew; nothing more. Besides, I was raised to respect and stand up for the oppressed and, despite the actions of the Israeli government, with whom I greatly disagree, there is no place for any kind of bigotry in my world, and that includes anti-Semitism. There is a world of difference between being anti-Semitic and being anti-Zionist.

I hope the United States is the enlightened society I’ve been led to believe it is, but my confidence level is not very high and my Jewish angstometer is slowly flashing a soft, pastel red. Donald Trump has been stoking the fires of hatred since long before he was “elected” president. Incidents of anti-Semitism, as well as attacks on other minorities, have risen rather dramatically and there appears to be a correlation in the rise of these acts following every one of his rallies.

So . . . I want to make it perfectly clear I will defend Jews, including Hasidic Jews with whom I share absolutely nothing save for a long, somewhat convoluted history. At the same time, my “faith” in the interdependency of the human race and all life compels me to stand with everyone, especially the oppressed and downtrodden.

Unfortunately, age is starting to wreak havoc with me. I lift weights and work at staying fit, but I’m approaching 73 and it’s quite clear things are slowing down. I haven’t the stamina, nor the strength, I once had. I’m pretty sure I don’t have the intellectual capacity I once had, but I must continue to fight in any way I’m capable.

I’m planning on attending this year’s Women’s March next Saturday in downtown Los Angeles, not far from the place of my birth. I’m bringing my 18-year-old and a friend of hers who’s in town from the Bay Area, where she’s attending her first year of college. They both went with me last year. I’m hopeful my 16-year-old, who was problematic last year and had to stay home, will also attend. I wish I had the ability to attend the numerous events taking place locally, some as protest and some for electoral politics, but I still have to earn enough to supplement my retirement income (not as easy as it once was), and I also have to help my troubled high school sophomore get through the next two and a half years.


Understanding Grief

I’ve written fairly frequently about death and dying. The concept of non-existence for eternity fascinates me. I suppose that might be a taste weird, but I have a feeling I’m not alone in my wondering. One of my first posts on the subject is about my attitude toward my own death. You can read it here, if you’re so inclined.

I’ve also written about one of my closest friends who was killed in Vietnam, long ago. That post is located here. Another came much later, and is about another friend I had known since before I can remember. I hadn’t spoken with him in a long time and heard about his death from one of his brothers. It can be found here.

I also touched on the subject of grief, somewhat generally, in a post where I ended by lamenting the loss of people I never knew but somehow felt I should have upon hearing from those who were close to them. That post is located here.

All this is merely an intro to a thought I encountered recently on Facebook, and I wanted to share. I think it more than adequately expresses what grief truly is, and how it affects us. What follows is that sentiment. I want to remember it well.


Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in the hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.

~Jamie Anderson


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