Category Archives: Philosophy

Phony Patriots

Let’s get something straight. There’s little love lost between me and the government. I don’t believe, despite being (ostensibly) a constitutional republic embodied in a democratic body politic, that we are in actuality a functioning democracy. Sure, we have elections, but I have a hard time believing most of the people who are able to run for office represent the majority of us. It takes too much money to wage a successful campaign, especially for a statewide or nationwide office.

According to Open Secrets, as of 2020 more than half of the members of the 116th Congress were millionaires and the median net worth of the entire House was a little over $1,000,000.00. Contrast that with the median household net worth of all Americans as of 2020 which, according to Census.gov, is a mere $140,800.00.

Keep in mind, that’s the median. That means half the population has even less wealth and, again according to Census.gov, the bottom 10% of American households have a negative net worth (-$1,450.00)! That 10% represents 33 million people. That’s an awful lot of people residing in the so-called wealthiest nation in the world who have a collective negative net worth.

This being the case, I find it hard to imagine virtually any politician being able to empathize with and understand the issues most Americans are faced with in living their lives. While there may be some local elected officials who aren’t reasonably well-off, I think it safe to say the majority, especially in the more populous states, are in at least the 75th percentile when it comes to income and net worth.

I’m pointing this out to make an argument for my not being an apologist or cheerleader for the ruling class of these United States of America. Add to that my years of experience in the peace & justice movement during the late sixties and early seventies, as well as my two-month trip to Cuba in 1973 as a guest of the Cuban government, and you might get the idea I’m not exactly enamored of the way our country is managed. Also, even though I “settled down” after my years of full-time activism, I’ve still remained a socialist and am supportive of progressive (if not revolutionary) ideas and action. Truth to tell, the only reason I’m not currently advocating for a socialist revolution in this country is because I’m a privileged white man and I don’t think it’s my place to suggest actions that may affect others far more adversely than they will affect me. I believe a revolution in this country would best be led by others than the likes of me.

Nevertheless, if forced to choose between what I would characterize as the regular order of how things are run and the kind of order people who support groups like this Armored Republic wants to equip so they can “honor Jesus” by arming themselves to the teeth to “defend” what they conceive of as “liberty”, I’ll take the former. I have no doubt these jerks are Christian white supremacists and their idea of freedom doesn’t include participation by people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, most women, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, etc.

These are the kind of people who stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2001 and who support and defend Donald Trump. I want nothing to do with them or the kind of society they envision constructing to honor their “savior”.


Fragile Masculinity is a Disease

As a genuine, card-carrying man I’d like to offer my opinion on the study I’m linking to here. In 1967 I set out to discover what was happening up in San Francisco, specifically in the Haight-Ashbury district of the city. It was the end of the summer. I had a little money and a fair amount of wetness behind the ears.

I spent the next couple of years living on and (barely) off the streets. I slept in parks during the day, on lots of couches, and was at times able to rent a room, sparse as it may have been. I spent a lot of time dealing with strangers, some of whom were possibly dangerous. Although I had some experience fighting (it was hard to grow up as a Jewish boy without running into some anti-semitism) it wasn’t something I relished or had a great deal of experience at.

I had to learn to protect myself and I learned two valuable lessons very quickly. The first lesson was that the best way to win a fight was to never get into one in the first place. The second was somewhat of a corollary and speaks to the substance of this article. I learned that even the appearance of quiet confidence (no matter how twisted your gut was with fear or anxiety) went a long way toward making all but the craziest think twice before going after you physically.

I also learned, as a part of the second lesson, that the men who exhibited the most braggadocio, the ones who (figuratively) pounded their chests or banged their fists on the table, were almost without fail the most insecure and fearful of failure.

In my less than humble opinion, any man who looks up to Donald Trump as a strong man or role model is seriously lacking in self-confidence and self-assurance. Trump (aka #TFG) is demonstrably one of the most insecure and unmanly men I have had the displeasure of encountering in my over 75 years. No man, in my experience, who is secure in his masculinity has to brag about the size of his dick, as if that had anything to do with his worth as a human being.

Fragile masculinity is a disease and is far too widespread, and paternalism and patriarchy are poisons to a truly just and egalitarian society. More men need to speak up, IMO, and this includes defending our LGBTQI+ brothers and sisters.

/<soapbox>


Neil Young Can Kiss My Shriveled Ass

So there I was, minding my own business, living my best life when all of a sudden this old guy snuck up behind me and took over my body. I don’t think I can kick him out, either. Maybe some day, but it will probably be fatal. Tis a bother.

You may find I will be harping a bit on this subject. You see, I’ve never been this old before and I’m learning how to be a senior, or an old fart. I’m not used to it. I find it interesting that I look far older in pictures than I do in the mirror. Why is that? (Don’t answer; it’s rhetorical.)

You may now move about the cabin.


Quantum Spirituality

I included this video in a blog post I wrote over ten years ago. In the process of compiling some of those posts, along with other material, into a memoir I encountered it again. It still moves me to tears.

I am an atheist, but I do feel a certain sense of spirituality in the universe. Not the supernatural kind, but one borne of the reality we are all (as Joni sang) stardust. We are all made of the same stuff and on a quantum level we are deeply connected. I believe this to be true though most of us are blissfully and completely unaware of it.

I was fortunate to be a member of the Space Shuttle Main Engine program for nearly a quarter century, beginning a year after Challenger was destroyed and ending a year before the Shuttle program was forever cancelled.

I have long considered it our “sacred” duty to get off this planet and establish not merely a scientific presence, but also a cultural presence in case we suffer an extinction level event. In that way we might assure ourselves the human race will continue, rebuild, and flourish. It’s a big reason I was able to stay so long on that program despite the insufferable bureaucracy of the three corporations who owned Rocketdyne during my tenure: Rockwell Int’l.; The Boeing Co.; and Pratt & Whitney/United Technologies.

I hope some of you enjoy this as much as I did.


Transference

What follows is an attempt at writing a short story from something like ten years ago. It’s based on an actual experience of mine that was both enlightening and humbling.

James had been napping for at least an hour. His lunch with Daniel proved a little too much for him, as the salt content of the food made him uncomfortable and a little uneasy. Jewish soul food sure was comforting and tasty, but it would never be mistaken for health food. This was especially true if one had hypertension, like James, accompanied by a deep love of Matzo Ball soup and kosher pickles. He was pretty sure, now that he had no choice but to think about it, he’d ingested at least three or four teaspoons of salt. Although it was now the middle of the afternoon and there remained things to do, the sensations he was experiencing were unsettling and he felt he had no choice but to nap, even if somewhat fitfully. He lay in bed, drifting between different states of consciousness, at times dreaming comfortably and at others becoming keenly aware of what was happening elsewhere in the house. 

His wife, Doreen, had come into the room earlier and asked if he wanted to get up for dinner, but James declined, choosing to allow himself a few more precious minutes of rest and relaxation prior to assuming the chores he had no choice but to perform. After all, the trash and recycle containers weren’t going to take themselves out to the curb and, since the kids were off from school the next day, he wanted to get it out that evening rather than arising early to make sure they weren’t passed up by the trash trucks that always came at daybreak. 

Unfortunately, things weren’t working out quite as he hoped they would. He could hear his children arguing at the dinner table . . . and the volume seemed to be increasing dramatically. Suddenly, he heard angry footsteps approaching the girls’ bedroom across the hall, followed by a triple slamming of the door and loud screaming. He tried to ignore it. This, of course, was impossible and he was shortly fully awake. And upset. 

He forced himself out of bed and popped his head into the girls’ bedroom. His oldest, Angela, was sitting propped up in the corner, sobbing uncontrollably. He wasn’t feeling sympathetic and fixed her with as menacing a glare as he could muster.  

“How many times have I asked you not to slam doors? I’m not feeling well and you woke me up.” 

He continued his glare. She seemed not to care, merely staring back at him with sad, tear-filled eyes. Of course, this infuriated him more. Fortunately, he managed to summon up his nurturing side; at least enough to realize he wasn’t going to help by getting angry with her. With a heavy sigh, he withdrew and moved into the family room. He sat down and instead trained his glare on the television which, to his surprise, also showed no sign of caring. 

Doreen, seeing him now awake, began to recount—step-by-step—the events leading up to this latest drama. He didn’t want to hear it. Most of the conversation, arguing, and yelling between the kids had made it into his consciousness while he was struggling to ignore it and remain asleep; he had no desire to relive it all from her viewpoint, thank you very much. If he had been feeling better, he would have listened better. He wasn’t. 

Ten minutes later, he could still hear Angela sobbing heavily in her room. James was finally convinced he wasn’t having a heart attack and now was becoming concerned for his oldest daughter’s anguish. He felt a little pang of guilt for having scolded her. Feeling a bit selfish and narcissistic, he wanted to do something about it. 

Softly, he knocked on the bedroom door. There was no response. He knocked again and heard a quiet, somewhat surly “What is it?” He now had permission to enter the room and state his business. 

James walked slowly over to the bed. Angela was still sobbing, not even looking up to acknowledge his presence. He gently sat on the bed and looked at his oldest. Her sadness washed over him and his guilt was replaced with warmth and the love he felt for this wonderful child he felt so privileged to have in his life. He took her hand. She looked up, somewhat surprised, and he stared directly into her eyes. 

“Sweetheart, I’m very sorry I yelled at you for waking me up. I know you had a fight with your sister and you’re very upset.” She continued to stare at him, softening slightly from the stone-faced, hurt child he’d seen when he entered the room. 

“I can’t stay mad at you, and it hurts me to see you like this. Is there anything I can do to help?” Her face again softened almost imperceptibly as he continued, “I’ll talk to Annie about teasing you and being so annoying. Would you like that?” The mention of her little sister brought Angela back to the feelings she had before he entered the room. Again she began to sob. James took a deep breath, wondering how he could make this better. 

Seeing one of the great loves of his life this miserable was overwhelming and, as he looked into her eyes, he felt tears beginning to fill his own. He could not look away from her and, therefore, could not hide the fact he was crying. As she saw the tears in his eyes, the corners of her mouth began to turn up ever so slightly, and her eyes took on a slight twinkle. 

“You know how much I love you, baby. Can you forgive me for getting angry with you? I really, really am sorry.” As he spoke, a tear slowly flowed from one eye and began running down his cheek. Angela’s eyes widened and she smiled at him with a look of both wonder and appreciation. 

“Would you like to come out of the room with me and see what Mommy’s fixing for dinner?” he asked. She nodded, and continued to look lovingly into his eyes. James was filled with a sense of deep relief and not a little wonder at what had just happened. He’d entered the room hoping to merely calm his daughter down a little. Now he had unwittingly achieved something far greater and more enduring. 

Somehow, his display of emotion had managed to suck the anguish out of Angela. Since he was much older than her, it was easy for him to deal with the depth of feeling he experienced and, in fact, once he saw her reaction he was filled with a profound sense of satisfaction. 

He arose and held out his hand. Angela took it and stood up beside him. “Feeling better?” he asked. She nodded. He turned and led her out of the room—this magical room where something special had just happened. Mommy was making dinner and Annie was still Annie, lying in wait out in the family room. This moment, though, was very special and he savored it. He knew there would be more—perhaps even greater—battles fought between the two of them but, for now he was content to soak up the intense connection he had found in his short conversation with Angela. Life would, indeed, go on. 


How to Die Well, According to a Palliative Care Doctor

Came across this wonderful, reasonably short article about death and dying, a subject I have long been interested in; especially as I’m winding down my 75th year here.

Preparing for death by making peace with it.

Excerpt:

Source: How to Die Well, According to a Palliative Care Doctor


Windmills

Jordan Spieth at the 149th playing of the British Open

I watched the last two rounds of The British Open at Royal St. George last month. One one particular hole there was a large bank of wind turbines visible in the background. I thought of how some people complain that wind turbines are a blight; that looking at them is disturbing, in-artful, etc. However, knowing they are contributing to the long-term habitability of our planet, I’m fine with it. In fact, it’s beautiful. It’s reminiscent of how I, and many artists, envisioned the worlds of science fiction.

An Artist’s conception of a space habitat

While much of the artwork to be found in science fiction can be pretty dystopian, there are also a lot of concepts that are truly beautiful and evoke human capabilities far beyond those we’re able to employ nowadays. This is especially true of artwork depicting habitats built to exist in space. Like the art depicted above, these habitats are invariably curved, since a “station” that slowly rotates around a central axis will create a gravitational simulation that should suit the human body as much as “real” gravity on our home planet.

At least, that’s what I think would happen. Nobody’s done it yet, though I believe the science is pretty sound. It’s conceivable to me this future awaits us; surely not in my lifetime, but within the next hundred or so years. That being the case, I find it easy to put up with a bank of windmills off in the distance. The reality is, if we’re ever going to be a space-faring world—I mean really able to move off the planet—we first have to ensure Earth remains reasonably habitable … and we don’t seem to be doing a very good job of that right now. More about that later.


Who’s Counting?

I started writing this post a couple weeks prior to my 74th birthday. Then all hell broke loose with my younger daughter and I had to drop just about everything I was doing and work diligently with her. The issues remain and we’re still figuring out how best to deal with these newly surfaced problems, but I’m finally getting back to writing and posting here. The next four paragraphs were written in May. The rest was written today. If some of it seems a bit disjointed, it’s likely because I forgot exactly the point I was trying to make and have added a bit of speculation and a conclusion that may not track as well as they could. C’est la vie!

You’d think a man my age wouldn’t be paying close enough attention to approaching birthdays all that much and, for the most part, that may be true. It’s not like I’m obsessed with my birthday. There was at least one year where I completely forgot about it until my mother asked what I was planning. Many others have passed that weren’t all that important or memorable. But something has changed … very recently. I’m realizing the prism through which I view the world has tilted a bit. This tilt is primarily a result of my age and what it means for me as an individual and as a functioning member of society.

I’ve been giving it a little thought and I believe I understand the dynamics of what’s happening. When we’re young—and even into our 40s, maybe 50s—we’re generally looking forward to improving our lot professionally or with respect to how we make our living. Usually, with age and experience come greater responsibility and authority, as well as increased income and growing benefits … if you’re lucky. Once you reach retirement age, things begin to change. Suddenly opportunities aren’t as easy to come by. Advancement may even stop, with the exception of very few positions, which are reserved for only a few.

In most of the world age and wisdom are revered. The elderly are respected for their accumulated experience and knowledge. In the United States of America, that just isn’t the case. We are a society enamored of youth and derisive of age. We tend to toss people aside once they reach around 65 years of age; the deadline we’ve set for determining retirement eligibility. I’m way beyond that, but I’m just beginning to realize the changes I need to make in my thinking in order to smooth out my final chapters.

When I was in my thirties I came to the conclusion the only thing I was truly interested in achieving was wisdom. Yet I knew that it not only came with age, but one can’t merely hang out a shingle declaring oneself a wise person. That’s for others to determine. At least, that’s how I see it … if one isn’t a charlatan. What’s happening to me now is I’ve realized, viscerally as opposed to intellectually, I am at an age where growing older has nothing to do with improving my lot in life, at least not with respect to employment or professional standing.

I believe my task now is to strive to accept the physical and intellectual limitations brought on by the aging process, while strenuously working to minimize their destructive or deteriorating effects in whatever way I’m capable of. This is why I have been going to the gym to lift weights. It’s also why I write. As well, I’ve decided not to just sit back and be “retired.” I still have a great deal to say. I’m still deeply interested in the direction our country is going in. I care for my daughters and my wife and want to be here for them as long as possible, while staying as healthy and as “in touch” as possible.

I think there’s something deeper that’s going on with me and my view of the world, and I think I was approaching it when I began this post two months (approx) ago. Unfortunately, my memory is suffering from what seems to be a combination of old age (which might means either it’s degrading or I just don’t give a shit about many of the things I did before) and the lingering effects of having Covid-19 at the beginning of the year. Which means I’ll have a lot more to say about this as time goes by. Stay tuned!


Power To The People

Corporations, conglomerates, and industrial organizations aren’t the enemy, ipso facto. In fact, they make socialism not only possible, but necessary, IMO.

What is the enemy is unbridled greed, rampant cronyism, nepotism and, especially, the codification of deep income inequality. It is not good for a society when individuals can amass fortunes they can’t possibly spend. That they then turn some of that fortune into philanthropy and charitable organizations doesn’t change the fact that it should be criminal for one individual to take that much surplus value from the workforce that made their fortune possible. It’s estimated Jeff Bezos makes (not earns) around $2,500/second. Dafuque does he do, other than own Amazon stock?

I’m not saying inventors, creators, entrepreneurs, etc. aren’t entitled to profit from their efforts, but they shouldn’t be able to continue siphoning profit off an organization that has reached a point where it could easily survive without them. By the same token, intellectual property law has expanded patent and copyright protections way beyond their original intent, creating other avenues of indecent profit-making.

And getting back to what I said about making socialism possible and necessary, without large profitable organizations, we’d all be living off mom & pop’s and craft-making. Many of the products we enjoy, and that provide the grease that skids civilization as we know it, would not be possible without large factories, laboratories, and other institutions. By their very nature, though, they transcend the control and direction of any one individual, and I believe our pay/profit structure needs to take that much more into consideration, providing a larger share to the workers who have helped make the org successful.


Keep It To Yourself, Please

Recently, I came across an article on Axios.com with the title “America is losing its religion.” In the article, the author (Bryan Walsh) opens by saying, “New surveys show Americans’ membership in communities of worship has declined sharply in recent years, with less than 50% of the country belonging to a church, synagogue or mosque.” He goes on to list the Gallup poll results he rests his premise on and concludes with the following thought: “But conventional religion’s power is on the wane, and it might take a miracle for that to change.”

I can’t say I’m bothered in the slightest about this trend. Being an atheist, I have a somewhat dim view of organized religion, especially when it’s used to deny rights to others based on some cockamamie interpretation of words that were uttered thousands of years ago, when life, economics, and society in general were much different than they are now.

On the other hand, I understand, and empathize with, the desire for community that religious observance brings to those who practice, but belief in a supreme intelligence/being that literally created us and watches over us is, IMO, patently absurd. I find acknowledging and appreciating how physics, chemistry, and cosmology (in other words, science) explain where we came from far more compelling and beautiful than anything to be found in any religious text I’ve read. And to be clear, my general attitude toward religion is, “what you believe is none of my business … until you start telling me or others we are required to believe as you do or we’re damned.”

So … here’s the deal. If attending services at a “house of worship” is your cup of tea, and you attend with others who share your beliefs or your faith (however you define those) I say “zei gezunt,” which is Yiddish for “be well” or, as I tend to think of it, and somewhat more ironically “more power to you.” Just keep it to yourself. Don’t bring it to the commons. Enjoy it for you and those who you consider part of your fellowship, but don’t for one minute suppose you can tell others this is the ONLY way. Do that and you will richly deserve to be shunned by others who don’t feel as you do.

PS – You can read the article, which contains a bit more detail than I’m including, here.


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