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Category Archives: Philosophy

Richard Ladd – Professional Eclectic, SMSD

As a noun, Merriam-Webster defines eclectic as “one who uses a method or approach that is composed of elements drawn from various sources.” I think this describes me pretty well. So well, in fact, I once printed up business cards introducing me (see the title of this post) as Richard Ladd – Professional Eclectic, SMSD. I used different fonts for each letter of the title, chosen to stress their difference yet not such that they appeared garish or disjointed. At least, that was my intent. I have no idea if I succeeded because I never really passed any of them out. It was a silly conceit of mine.

I added the SMSD embellishment very purposefully. Although I have two advanced degrees I’m reasonably proud of having earned, I seldom place their initials after my name. However, I intended the business card to be somewhat of a joke and, coupled with some minor discomfort in holding myself out as being a true eclectic, I thought to broaden it and thereby soften the harshness of what I worried might be too heady a self-endorsement. One could easily imply calling oneself an eclectic might be a backhanded way of suggesting one was a polymath.

Merriam-Webster defines dilettante as “a person whose interest in an art or in an area of knowledge is not very deep or serious.” Although I have long had a keen interest in many different fields of study, I am not sure that interest is deep enough for me to really be a person with eclectic interests or tastes, not necessarily a true eclectic. SMSD, therefore, stands for “Some May Say Dilettante.” I considered it a sort of backhanded disclaimer, a way of acknowledging I just might not be very good at my eclecticism.

A recent example from an attempt to recreate a former business card

A recent example from an attempt to recreate a former business card

What caused me to think of this? I was looking at my desk, which I had actually cleaned off not too long ago. It is once again cluttered, as it almost always is. It reminded me that I’ve always been interested in many things and easily distracted as well, and it finally hit me that I will likely never be “organized”.

It’s not limited to what I read and study either. When I was living in Playa del Rey and my family’s business was in Vernon (East L.A.) I often tried different routes to go back and forth. I get bored really easy with doing the same thing the same way, over and over. When I worked at Rocketdyne for over two decades, I often drove different routes to get to work and, even more importantly, I often tried new ways of doing things; always looking for a better way to get my work done.

I once worked with a guy who insisted he was far too busy to take time to learn something new. It was his goto response when I suggested he take 10 – 15 minutes to learn a couple of keyboard shortcuts or learn about a macro command that would save time in the future. I’m always amazed by people who have no curiosity and see learning as a chore or something that impedes their ability to get their work done. That attitude is the epitome of the saying “pennywise and pound foolish”, IMO. It’s also the antithesis of being able to see systems or what is frequently referred to as Systems Thinking.

Hmmm. It seems my propensity for wandering has happened with this post as well. I think my main point was a recognition that one needn’t be “organized” or to see it as the be all and end all of being an effective person. Some of us just aren’t built that way, yet we manage to do quite well overall. Yeah. That’s the ticket.

 

 

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Want Something to Worship? Try This

Instead of attending services — whether in a Church, Synagogue, Mosque, or Temple — watch this. It’s far more powerful than any scripture I’ve ever encountered.


Giving Thanks is a Year-Round Affair

Senior Center at Thanksgiving

Some carving, some cooking, and the calm before the storm.

Last night’s dinner at the Simi Valley Senior Center, organized by my Rotary Club, and for which I was a co-Chair, was a resounding success. There were a few less people than the past couple of years, but we still fed around 350 – 400 seniors, plus a ton of volunteers. It is so gratifying to see so many people come together to make something happen like this and, truthfully, it is all the Thanksgiving I need.

Today will be a lagniappe; a little something extra; a little more than I need or have any reason to expect.

I have so much to be grateful for. My family and, especially, the two beautiful girls without whom my life would be so much poorer (though I’m having some doubts about the 13 y/o 😉 ). My wife, Linda, who puts up with my volatility, especially since I retired from the job I expected to work at until I dropped dead at my desk. My life after retirement, which is slowly resolving into something considerably different than I thought it would, but that I’m settling into rather comfortably. The wonderful people I’ve had the opportunity to work with and learn from. My numerous friends, both irl and virtual, whose sharing, comfort, and kindness have kept me from despondency and buoyed my spirits when things weren’t looking all that good, and who have also helped me continue to grow as a human being.

I’m also grateful for the ability to think critically and the strength to seek out the truth and accept its lessons, no matter how challenging or harsh they may be, without losing faith or diminishing the love I feel for the human race and this beautiful world we live in.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. Be well, be strong, be faithful to the truth. Much love and respect to you all.


Finally! I Gave My Secular Invocation

As I wrote about almost two years ago, I knew there would come a time when it was my turn to give the invocation at the beginning of my Rotary Club‘s weekly meeting. I won’t say I agonized over it, nor did I obsess over it. I did, however, worry about what I would say when that day rolled around. I have opted out of being the “Ratfink”, which is a role that requires the skills of a stand up comedian. I am not suited for that role. I am suited, in my less than humble opinion, to give an invocation. In fact, I really wanted to do it, as I have some thoughts about who, why, and how we are.

Actually, I became an ordained minister nearly 50 years ago, via The First Church of God The Father. It isn’t much different than the Universal Life Church, though I was actually nominated for the position and went through a very cursory ordination ceremony, as opposed to merely sending in a request. I’m not sure it exists any longer as a recognized entity. In the eyes of the State, a church is a business entity (albeit a tax-exempt one) and I am but an agent – if that – of the organization. Frankly, I did it so I could perform non-sexist, non-religious wedding ceremonies . . . and I’ve done over fifty of them over the years. Some were very interesting, to say the least.

Stellar Evolution

Example of Stellar Evolution and the Creation of Heavier Elements

I never did one that didn’t keep me up a night or two, fretting over whether or not either or both sets of parents might be offended. As far as I can remember, nobody ever was. My brother once told me a particular ceremony I did was too short, his argument being, since people are there for a ritual they want their money’s worth. Walking that thin line between too short and too long is (at least was for me) a harrowing task.

I’m so glad to have this behind me. I know I worry a little too much about pleasing people, but it’s my nature. I don’t think I’ve suffered all that much because of it, though there has been some gnashing of the teeth and beating of the breast, and let’s not forget the aforementioned occasional sleeping difficulties. Thankfully, I slept well last night (a full five hours, which is quite normal for me), but I did a final edit — and made some changes — when I got up. What follows is the text of my invocation. I wrote the first part, though it’s a riff on one of my favorite quotes, “Hydrogen, given enough time, eventually wonders where it came from, and where it’s going.” The rest is partly from other secular invocations I found online, somewhat heavily edited to fit the way I see things. The second question in Rotary’s Four-Way Test is, “Is it fair to all concerned” and to address that in the last paragraph, which also relates to one of Rotary‘s official mottoes, “Service Above Self.”

Let us be mindful of our place in this amazing universe as well as our place on this beautiful planet. As cosmic beings we have developed the extraordinary ability to wonder where we came from and to contemplate where we’re going. We are also capable of reflecting on the circumstance of our existence on this tiny blue dot floating in a vast ocean of near emptiness.

As human beings, let us be thankful for the sustenance and joy we receive from nature’s bounty and, especially, for the hard work and dedication of those who grow, harvest, transport, prepare, and serve its fruits for us. Not to mention cleaning up our mess.

May our efforts be measured through insight, undertaken with compassion, and guided by understanding and wisdom. We seek to serve with respect for all. May our personal faiths give us the strength to act well and honestly in all matters before us.

I have to add it was very well received. I was given kudos be several people, including the Director of Spiritual Care Services at Simi Valley Hospital. I was even asked to email a copy to one of our long-time members. I am both gratified . . . and immensely relieved to put it behind me, though I am sure I will be asked again. It’s a rotating duty. I’m surprised it took this long to get around to me.


A Subtle Dig From Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut quote

Damn Right!

Thanks to a post I made on Facebook yesterday, I came across this wonderful excerpt from a story by Kurt Vonnegut, “God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian”. I’m thinking it might fit nicely somewhere in my book. Many thanks to my Facebook friend Sam Garrett for pointing me to it.

“This morning, thanks to a controlled near-death experience, I was lucky enough to meet, at the far end of the blue tunnel, a man named Salvatore Biagini. Last July 8th, Mr. Biagini, a retired construction worker, age seventy, suffered a fatal heart attack while rescuing his beloved schnauzer, Teddy, from an assault by an unrestrained pit bull named Chele, in Queens.

“The pit bull, with no previous record of violence against man or beast, jumped a four-foot fence in order to have at Teddy. Mr. Biagini, an unarmed man with a history of heart trouble, grabbed him, allowing the schnauzer to run away. So the pit bull bit Mr. Biagini in several places and then Mr. Biagini’s heart quit beating, never to beat again.

“I asked this heroic pet lover how it felt to have died for a schnauzer named Teddy. Salvador Biagini was philosophical. He said it sure as heck beat dying for absolutely nothing in the Viet Nam War.”

You can substitute Iraq for Vietnam and it works just as well, eh?


The Vietnam Anti-War Movement: A Participant’s Perspective

Below is the text of a post I just made on Facebook. Rather than spending the time to edit it, I’m pointing this out so you understand why it reads the way it does. I welcome feedback here as well.


Vietnam war protestors

Protesters making their sentiments known on the streets

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.


Living Out Loud

Lanterns afloat

My intent is for the act of sharing to be liberating for me . . . and informative for others.

I decided to celebrate my birthday this year by doing something I may regret. No, I’m not taking off to Vegas with $5k and a desire to lose my inhibitions completely, nor am I going to see if I can find some Window Pane or Orange Owsley and relive the late sixties. I’m going to delve a little deeper into what I see as a corollary of something I’ve been writing a little bit more about lately . . . working out loud. The corollary is . . . living out loud. Let me explain.

Working out loud is about finding ways to work where not merely the fruits, but also the cultivation, planting, and meticulous care and grooming of those fruits are conducted in a manner that allows others to follow along, perhaps contribute somewhere along the way. It involves activities such as moving conversations away from email and into other forms of internal communication; e.g. micro-blogging, wikis, other types of social networking/communicating/collaborating tools, etc. I have found from experience it is not an easy thing to do, even when you are a wholehearted supporter of the idea. The entire ethos of our work culture militates against it and, for some, it’s downright dangerous and heretical.

Living out loud, however, is something a little bit different. I’ve never had to do an activity report though, come to think of it, as a kid I did have to face my father’s wrath when I forgot to do one of my chores. Now, however, I’ve retired from the last place I had a regular job at, so nobody much requires me to report to them. I do have some activities I’m involved in where I keep people apprised of my efforts and progress, but it’s not the same as when I worked at Rocketdyne. Anyway, in an effort to share a little more of me, here’s my first formal attempt. I posted the following on Facebook first.

This is the first birthday I haven’t much looked forward to. Although it seems not to mean all that much, since some time in April I am seven years older than my father was when he died. I think about it, because I grew up being told I was “exactly like your father”, especially when I did something untoward or displeasing to my mother. Medically, although my experience is not like my father’s, I am nonetheless in uncharted waters. It’s a situation both my daughters will likely have to deal with their entire lives.

Also, this year I will be closer to 70 than to 65. I am entering my dotage and, frankly, my worry isn’t for me. If it was just me and Linda, I think we’d be fine. We’d get along OK. However, we have two young girls to care for and see into adulthood and sometimes I fear I won’t be there for them much longer. I’m not yet losing any sleep over it and I surely don’t plan to, but the thought I could be gone any day has a little more power than it would have even 10 years ago.

I also think the feeling was somewhat exacerbated by the sudden loss a couple of weeks ago of a long-time friend who was a half a decade or so younger than me. I was deeply affected by her loss and I’m quite certain it’s still haunting me a bit, though I don’t consciously think about it that much.

I know a few of my friends are older than I am. If you’re reading this and you’re older than me, please take pity on me.  I’m a relatively new old man. It takes some getting used to and I’ve also kind of determined this is one hell of a good place to leave some stuff for my kids. It’s why I welcomed the Timeline when it was introduced, and why I’ve uploaded some pictures I have that were taken before digital pics existed.

Sorry if I’m bothering or boring anyone. I’m experimenting with living out loud. Your mileage may vary.

 


Jesus Laughed at Your Sins

The Laughing Jesus - Click to Enlarge

The Laughing Jesus – Click to Enlarge

As those of us who “celebrate” Christmas begin the long awaited and incredibly drawn-out windup to the denouement of the shop ’til you drop for Jesus season, we’re beginning to encounter articles about who he was and what kind of man he might have been.

Reading these reminded me of my favorite depiction of The Man, drawn by Fred Berger, which appeared in an article written by the Harvard Divinity School Theologian, Harvey Cox. It was published in the December 1969 issue of Playboy Magazine and was entitled “For Christ’s Sake”.

This picture has stuck in my mind all these years because it was the first time I had seen or read about Jesus as an actual human being, not some poor schmuck hanging from a cross. Given the biblical account of his life I knew about, it made perfect sense to me he was a radical revolutionary. Still does. Today, however, I’m afraid what most people think about when it comes to Christmas is gifting . . . and decorating. I can’t believe how many people are plotzing over getting their decorations up. They don’t want to wait until Thanksgiving is over; they want it NOW! Jesus must be twirling in his grave at about 42K RPM.


An Eerie Realization

So . . . I’ve just got to share this. In my mind, the feeling/realization described in this animated gif file is somewhat related to a post I did a while back on whether we would have any way of realizing we’re dead and, in so doing, somehow miss the life we had so recently departed from. What they’re calling a realization I think of as a feeling. I have often marveled at the tenuous yet, in some ways, deep connection I have with random people in random vehicles heading in random directions other than my own. My mind momentarily expands, seeking the trajectories of their lives and the countless people they interact (or not) with. This picture seems to convey the feeling rather well. It’s also evocative of a paper I once wrote for a Labor Law class, where I likened society to a living being and analogized commerce to the human circulatory system. 

 


Out of The Final Closet?

Atheism and the Earth

Our Real Common Bond is our Life on Earth . . . in This Cosmos.

In October of last year, I posted about a dilemma I was having with the possibility I would, at some time, be asked to give the pre-meeting invocation at one of my Rotary Club’s weekly meetings. I haven’t been asked yet and, even though there are no comments to the post, I have received a couple of emails from others who have dealt with the problem before.

As I said, I haven’t been asked and I’m not in the lineup for at least another month or so. Neither have I bothered to write anything. I will likely wait until it’s absolutely necessary prior to doing so. I need the actual pressure of a deadline sometimes to get things done. I do, however, think about what to say quite frequently, especially when I come across a story that touches on the issues.

Today, a friend shared a link to an Arizona publication that posted a story about a State Legislator – Juan Mendez, of Tempe – who gave a prayer-less “invocation” before a session of the Arizona House of Representatives. The story pointed out, as well, that he quoted Carl Sagan in closing. Here’s a link and, just in case you don’t bother to go there but would like to know a bit more, here’s an excerpt:

“Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads,” Mendez said. “I would like to ask that you not bow your heads. I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and of dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people in our state.”

He went on to say:

“This is a room in which there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration. But this is also a room where, as my secular humanist tradition stresses, by the very fact of being human, we have much more in common than we have differences. We share the same spectrum of potential for care, for compassion, for fear, for joy, for love.”

And closed with:

“Carl Sagan once wrote, ‘For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.'”

He said one more thing I think is especially pertinent to what happened yesterday (May 21, 2013) in Arizona. It also reflects how I feel about the importance of “coming out” for those of us who profess no belief in a supreme deity, and it’s something I’ve struggled with for years. It hasn’t shaken the strength of my convictions, but it has been a royal pain in the ass at times.

When I worked on the SSME program at Rocketdyne, I felt it necessary to be very careful about expressing my beliefs for at least a decade. When I first started working there (late 80s) it was practically a shrine to Ronald Reagan, and overtly identifying myself as an atheist I’m pretty sure would have been counter-productive, if not self-destructive :).

As an ordained Minister (in the eyes of the State, a “Church” is a corporation) I have performed somewhere around fifty weddings over the years. All of them have been non-religious, non-sexist ceremonies, using a combination of portions of The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran, descriptions of folklore and customs I had learned about, and the occasional poem written especially for the couple. I was pretty close to a lot of the people I performed the ritual for, including my brother and sister-in-law and my sister and brother-in-law. Crafting something especially for them was pretty easy. I usually worried, however, that someone’s parents would be offended though, of course, no one ever was. Come to think of it, Gibran uses the word “God” a couple of times in one of the pieces I used repeatedly.

Here’s the final quote I think is so important, in light of my experiences and those of so many others:

“I hope today marks the beginning of a new era in which Arizona’s non believers can feel as welcome and valued here as believers.”

The part of me that’s remains Jewish wants to say “from his lips to G-d’s ears”, but that would be just silly, right?


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