A Well-Deserved BuhBye

I think we all can agree this year (2020) has been a real pain in the ass. So many things that dismayed, disappointed, and disgusted the majority of us. I just came across this short video with a Holiday Message for the past year. It conveys my sentiments exactly. Quite likely yours too.


Understanding Empathy

One of the ways I’ve been working on upping my writing game is by paying attention to what people are reading here on my blog so I might get an idea of what moves my readers. I have now posted well over six hundred times and about 90% of these posts are essentially essays regarding my thoughts about various things, e.g. politics, religion, life, the universe, and everything. The other 10% are tests and sharing things I’ve come across but have little to say about. I also occasionally have reason to look back myself, even if no one has recently read a particular post of mine I find interesting.

Suspension of Disbelief
To Open Up And Believe

Because there have been many highly emotional news stories lately, and emotions are high to begin with, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the role of emotions and, especially, how they relate to empathy. Turns out I had written about empathy over eight years ago, long before Donald Trump’s presidency. Since the reality has hit us that he is entirely without empathy, I would like to share a concatenation of the two posts I wrote in late September of 2012. It’s my hope these two are as pertinent today as they were when I wrote them; perhaps more so because I was only writing then about my feelings and now what I wrote seems so pertinent to what we’re all experiencing in the waning days of this disastrous presidency.


The willing suspension of disbelief. What a powerful, magical, and exceedingly frightening thing it can be – at least for me. Not always, though. It’s been quite a while since my last venture into the genre but, a long time ago – in a galaxy far, far away – I read a lot of Science Fiction. Reading it can’t possibly be enjoyable if you aren’t able to suspend your ability to think critically. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the hell out of what many an author hated being called Sci-Fi.

I’m normally somewhat cynical and am a fairly skeptical person, so I’m continuously surprised at how easily I can get sucked into a compelling story, especially if the characters are even moderately complex. I think it actually frightens me to realize how deeply I have disappeared into many a television drama.

This tendency has no doubt been exacerbated by my becoming a father at the ripe old age of 55, when my wife and I culminated a decision we had made a couple of years earlier and traveled to the People’s Republic of China to adopt our first child. We repeated the process four years later and, at the tender age of 59, I once again became a new father.

I now find myself immersed in shows where children are involved (it happens far more often than one might think) and I can’t help but identify with the parents, which sometimes brings me to tears – occasionally racking sobs of grief.

It has always been this way. I’ve been told the men in my family – many of them – were blubberers. Though I couldn’t have been older than five or six at the time, I recall the first time I saw my father cry. He had just received news that my Bubbie Jennie, his mother, had died. He hadn’t seen much of her since moving to Southern California. She had remained in Chicago, where both my parents were born. It was eerie, and not a little unsettling to see my father, a young boy’s tower of strength and resolve, break down like that.

It was made more difficult because I had only met her once, when she came to visit for a week, and she was unfamiliar to me. On the other hand, my maternal grandparents lived with us and I felt a strong emotional tie to them I could not summon up for her. She was by Bubbie, though. My mother’s mother was just Grandma.

I frequently ask myself, however, why I am so deeply and painfully drawn into these stories. I’m not entirely certain I have the answer, but I’m pretty sure it’s not so much the story itself as it is the relationship those stories bear to my own life.

Dictionary.com defines empathy as follows: the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. That seems pretty straight-forward, yes? I am a fairly empathetic person and I tend toward the second part of that definition, i.e. I feel the pain of others vicariously. However, I don’t think this captures the essence of what is happening when I am fully immersed in a story.

Perhaps it’s too fine a point and the distinction isn’t all that great, but it seems to me what’s really happening is I’m overlaying the experience in the story onto my own life. I’m not so much experiencing the feelings of another as I’m experiencing the feelings I would have were I to be in that situation. I don’t think they’re the same. Then again, maybe that’s the mechanism that actually facilitates empathy.

This is a minor conundrum that comes to me most every time it happens and, usually, I forget about it within a minute or two. Lately I decided to try and get a descriptive handle on it and this is my first attempt.

Empathy is a valuable and deeply human trait. It is one of the five traits listed as characteristic of emotional intelligence which, in turn, is seen by many as a valuable business and leadership skill. It’s important to understand and to cultivate in order that we may better understand the people in our lives, whether at work, play, or home.

I want to understand what is moving me when this happens. On some levels it seems patently ridiculous to get so emotionally involved in a fiction story. On the other hand, perhaps it is really what makes us human. I’m wondering if someone with a more classical education than I have knows more of the thinking humans have brought to the subject. I’m sure some in the Arts (especially the Theater Arts) have tackled it. I’ll have to do more research. In the meantime, I’m glad there’s plenty of tissue in the house.

As it turns out, thanks to a friend I discovered an interesting answer through a wonderful TED talk by VS Ramachandran, a Neuroscientist who has studied the functions of mirror neurons. It would seem there is overwhelming evidence we humans are more closely connected than I was hinting at.

In his talk he says, “There is no real independent self, aloof from other human beings, inspecting the world, inspecting other people. You are, in fact, connected not just via Facebook and Internet, you’re actually quite literally connected by your neurons.” I find this resonates in many ways with my understanding of Systems Dynamics, Quantum Theory, and Zen and goes a long way toward answering my question. Frankly I find it a meaningful addition to my understanding, but still find myself wondering why it manifests itself so powerfully in some . . . and not at all in others. After all, the world is filled with people who are anti-social in varying degrees of severity from mild conduct disorders to outright sociopathy or APSD.

Regardless, there is much value in this talk. He speaks of the wonders of the human brain and, with respect to the issues I raised yesterday, uses words like imitation and emulation, ultimately winding his way to empathy. Rather than repeat any of his talk, I urge you to listen to it. There’s at least one very cool surprise a little more than halfway through. At less than eight minutes, it’s really engaging. Here’s the video. I’d love to hear what others think of this:


History Repeats Itself

As I have mentioned in other posts, I have been working at understanding Photoshop well enough to create my own memes, to touch up photos new and old, and to generally be able to utilize most of the power it provides to those patient enough to work on the skills. This is my latest, though the overlay of Trump’s fugliness on what is likely a painting of Marie Antoinette I stole from the Intertubes. I actually had a piece I did with Donald’s face on Marie, but I would have had to pull off some kind of mighty effort to have a plate and raised hand available to showcase to CORONA virus.

This story is disturbing. President Trump and nearly every one of the Republicans in Congress have failed to protect the American public from both this virus and from the economic effects of efforts to mitigate its destructiveness. That they will rush to vaccinate themselves before essential workers disgusts and appalls me. It doesn’t, however, surprise me. The Republican party is stuffed to the gills with pompous preeners who care little for the people they purport to represent. I suspect quite a few Democrats, especially the old guard, have similar propensities. We need to elect people who care about their constituents.


Is There A Doctor In The House?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I suspect just about everyone is aware of the flap over an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal regarding our soon-to-be First Lady’s credentials. Written by Joseph Epstein, it’s entitled “Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D.” and subtitled “Jill Biden should think about dropping the honorific, which feels fraudulent, even comic.”

My most recent job was as the Business Manager for a Machine Learning (AI) Software Development firm, the co-founder of which had a PhD in computer science. When last I spoke with her, which was at least a year ago, she was not using her title, which she feared was seen as somewhat presumptuous. I’m not sure how she feels about it now, and I’m inclined to agree with those who see this op/ed piece as misogynistic and hollow. Frankly, I have often wondered if I could use the honorific “Dr.” in front of my name because I have earned a Juris Doctorate (JD) when I graduated Law School in 1976. However, I’ve never done so because the amount of schooling, and the quality of work, required for the degree don’t match up to that of a PhD or EdD. Actually, I tend to agree with those who suggest calling oneself “Dr.” when in possession of a law degree is ridiculous and pedantic.

It’s been discussed at great length by now, torn apart and analyzed by people far better at it than I, but I’d like to bring up what I think is an ancillary issue to that of the rank sexism and hypocrisy that exists wrt men and their seeming inability to accept women as their equals. What I’m referring to, which affects both men and women, regardless of race, creed, or color (though there are differences in degree and approach) is the depth of anti-intellectualism that has come to seemingly dominate our public life.

Just look at how many people are not only comfortable with, but are absolutely adamant about, ignoring science, facts, and reality-based analysis/synthesis. The number of people who believe most scientists are only doing what they do for the money is astounding. It’s likely one of, if not the, main reasons we’re doing so poorly in handling the pandemic here in the States.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Hardly! I recall deciding in the third grade (that would have been around 1955) I didn’t want to be seen by everybody as an egghead, which changed the trajectory of my life . . . and probably not in the best way it could have. I remember feeling at the time that I wouldn’t have any friends if I continued on the path of academic excellence I had been on. Part of me wishes I hadn’t made that choice, though my life turned out pretty well regardless. It’s just that, in retrospect, the decision was made because of the negative view most people I knew seemed to have about being too intelligent; or, at least, being willing to use that intelligence in a positive way.

I believe this is one of the reasons the United States is in the bind it’s in right now. We’re just coming off of a four-year bender with the sleaziest and dumbest President in our nation’s history. He came to power as the result of years of anti-intellectual posturing and reality TV-informed ignorance. I am thankful I have never watched one reality TV show, especially not The Apprentice or Celebrity Apprentice. It’s clear Donald Chrump managed to suck a large portion of the nation into believing he was a highly successful businessman when, in fact, he’s a serial fuck-up who managed to burn through tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars given to him by his father.

These past four years of the worst “leadership” of my lifetime has been brought to us by our nation’s well-developed sense of anti-intellectualism. This does not bode well for maintaining our position as a preeminent nation of entrepreneurs and innovators. Our quality of life in the United States is what it is in large part because of our scientific accomplishments. It amazes me so many people don’t recognize the value that science has added to our lives, be it at work, home, or play. Virtually every aspect of our lives is enhanced by science and the products and enhancements it brings to us on a heretofore regular basis. I fear we’re going to lose that edge. Perhaps we already have. More the pity.


Fear of Sharing

My wife would say I’m overly gregarious and too willing to share things about my life and experiences, and from all appearances, I seem to have spent much of that life being outgoing and transparent, yet I think I just realized that in actuality, I have always hidden much of who I am from others. Specific others, not everyone . . . and not about everything. Most of the things I’ve kept to myself over the years aren’t deeds I’m ashamed of or thoughts I’ve believed in and now think are wrong. It’s just that it wasn’t important for certain people to know about them.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

For instance, I never shared my experiences in the late sixties with the “Free Love” movement with my mother. Somehow, I felt she wouldn’t have appreciated learning why I refer to myself as a “battle-scarred veteran” of the Sexual Revolution. Similarly, when I first hired in at Rockwell International’s Rocketdyne division, to work on the Space Shuttle Main Engine team, I didn’t think they needed to know I had spent two months in Cuba in 1973 as a guest of the Cuban government. The list goes on.

When I became a first-time, adoptive father at the age of 55, I considered writing about the experience of adopting, but decided against it because I thought it stood too much of a chance of violating my children’s privacy. I’m still a bit conflicted over how much I can share about my experience for fear of sharing too much of their lives, and those things don’t belong to me alone.

Now that I’m less than a year and a half from my 75th birthday, I’m thinking it’s time to stop being so concerned about embarrassing anyone who knows or is related to me . . . and just write my truth and put it out there for everyone to judge for themselves. That is what I’m doing, but I’m also just realizing how seriously I have been hobbled by my unwillingness to risk bringing shame to my family . . . even though I’m hardly ashamed about anything I’ve done over the years. Sorry for some things, yes – because they hurt me or others I loved and cared about – but shame does not emanate from this boy.

Having recognized this serious impediment to telling my story, it’s now my job to overcome what it’s done to me over the years (it hasn’t perzackly helped me overcome “imposter syndrome.”) I can no longer embarrass my parents or grandparents; they’ve been gone for quite some time, and I need to get these stories out, regardless. Even if I live to be ninety, I won’t have to regret anything (which I likely won’t anyway) for very long.


Buh Bye, Y’all.

Seventeen states have joined the State of Texas to petition the United States Supreme Court to delay the certification of the results in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Georgia, arguing that alleged issues with the votes need to be investigated. While alleging fraud, the lawsuit offers no evidence that fraud has occurred. Instead, they argue that new methods of voting (all of which were approved by State Legislatures) could have resulted in fraud arguing, “The constitutional issue is not whether voters committed fraud but whether state officials violated the law by systematically loosening the measures for ballot integrity so that fraud becomes undetectable.”

What’s disturbing about this lawsuit’s theory of the case is that mail-in voting has been in use for decades, and these alleged “vulnerable” methods of voting have only been expanded in use, not changed in how they’re implemented and exercised.

This is really the height of frivolity and, in my opinion, every one of these Attorneys General should be investigated by their state bar. This is a naked attempt to disenfranchise millions of voters, most of whom are persons of color, aka Democrats. The four states they’re targeting are Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. Many have pointed out, and I will as well, they aren’t alleging the same issues in states where Trump won, even though the situation in those states is similar to that of the four targeted states.

I’m not sure if the decision is expected today, though the Electoral College convenes on Monday to officially cast their votes and that will further cement the Biden/Harris victory. I believe the Court will want to render their decision prior to that happening. We’ll see. I’ve been consumed by fixing a health insurance problem I have for my kids, and a bunch of recipes I have to help my 17-year-old shop for and cook/bake, so haven’t been paying attention quite as closely as I normally would. I do expect it will be thrown out. What we don’t know is whether or not the justices will take the opportunity to teach these idiots a lesson in constitutional law. That would be a hoot.


Thanks For Nothing, SCE!

Listen!
You can hear the wind howl
And feel it shaking the house
As the dog's quick to growl
And is shushed by my spouse.
Patience!
SCE proactively turned off our power
Last night at 7 was when it went dead
Hoping now in the kitchen the milk doesn't sour
Yet the butter I've found is so easily spread.
Worry!
It's not just the reefer I worry about
It's more than the food that might spoil
It's my iPhone's ability to let me shout out
When its battery gets low on oil.
Resignation.
So I sit here and wait for my phone to go dead
And try to ignore angry thoughts in my head
Cause they told us the power won't be back 'til tomorrow
And I've little to do save to drown in my sorrow.

Thankfully, the power came on an hour or so after I finished writing this and nothing spoiled. We got lucky, IMO.


To The Mall, Then.

I took my kids shopping today. Their mother’s (that would be my wife’s) birthday is in two days and they needed to buy a present for her. It’s kind of frustrating; they either don’t remember or don’t care, depending on how things are going, and I’m horrible at remembering these kinds of things. Nevertheless, I did have it together enough to work out a time and date on which to take them.

Should Have Taken a Photo, But This One Will Do (Shows Just How Empty The Place Was.)

We sort of snuck out of the house so Linda wouldn’t see us leaving, though I’m pretty sure she has a good idea of what we were doing. We headed over to Target, where I thought for sure they’d be able to find something for her. I found a parking space (it was crowded) and told them I would wait in the car until they had picked something out, then they could text me and I’d come in and pay for the item(s) they’d decided on.

Fifteen minutes later I got a text saying they couldn’t find anything, so I told them to come on out and we’d go somewhere else. Unfortunately, there aren’t very many places to go, what with the Covid restrictions tightening because some of us are too stupid to understand science, and too selfish to care about others. We drove to the Simi Town Center, our local, primarily outdoor, mall that has been struggling ever since it opened. We walked around a bit, but just about everything was closed; many of the storefronts were empty.

We finally ended up at Marshall’s, where we had started and my oldest didn’t want to wait in line to get in (we would have been third in line.) When, after walking around for a while, we returned we were sixth in line. Regardless, it didn’t take long and within about 10 minutes we were inside. I knew Marshall’s had, in addition to clothing, lots of decorative and household items and that’s where we looked. We ended up finding a few nice things we’re hopeful she’ll like. I’m thinking she’ll just be happy they got her something.

I’m also happy I remembered. I’ve always had trouble remembering birthdays; I’ve even forgotten mine. Years ago (10 and a half to be pretty close to exact) I posted my thoughts about Facebook making it easier for people like me (maybe “men like me” would be more correct) to recall birthdays but, as I’ve got enough friends that at least one—sometimes three or four—will be celebrating on any given day, I’ve come to the conclusion I just can’t afford doing it each and every day. Relatives and close friends are different, yet I even forget or pass over wishing them a happy birthday. Maybe it’s right; maybe I’m an asshole. I’m not fit to make that call.


The 1984 Olympics

I don’t think I’ve ever shared this photo before; at least not here in Systems Savvy. In 1984 I had a friend whose parents had purchased tickets to the opening ceremonies of the Los Angeles Olympics and to a day of track and field events. This friend’s mother got very sick and they knew they would not be able to attend, so they offered the tickets for sale at face value. That was $200 per ticket for the opening ceremonies. According to this site, in today’s dollars each ticket would have gone for slightly more than $500.00.

So, I was thirty-seven years old and making really good money at the time, and I purchased those tickets and invited my brother to attend on opening day. We headed over to the Memorial Coliseum early, found a place to park and, since we were there early, we managed to find a nice dive bar in which to have a drink prior to entering and finding our seats.

The picture was taken as the final participants, the “home team” as it were, the United States had pretty much entered the venue but was not yet off the track and in place in the field. The Coliseum itself was impressive, as it had been renovated and freshly painted. I believe the Olympic Torch was brought into the Coliseum by Rafer Johnson, who ascended the steps with it to light the flame that burned at the top of that column you can see above the portion in between the two Jumbotrons, one of which showed the name of the nation that was currently entered the field and the other of which showed its flag.

In writing the above paragraph I had to look up and make sure I had spelled Rafer’s name correctly. In doing so I discovered he died four days ago. I don’t recall hearing anything about it. How sad. He was an Olympic Champion. I can’t help but think this is at least in part because a certain someone is constantly sucking up all the oxygen in the country, and the media (for the most part) just keep salivating like Pavlov’s dogs. It causes me to wonder two things: 1. Will they ever learn? 2. Will I live long enough to see it? My suspicion is the answer to both questions is “No.”


Justice Matters – 12/05/20

Here’s another episode of Glenn Kirschner’s informative vlog on the state of our justice system. While I’m not quite as sanguine about how the system is holding up against the assault of Trump and his Zombpublicans, it is heartening to look at how thoroughly the Trump/Giuliani efforts to overturn the election in the courts have been rebuffed.

The concurring opinion Glenn reads and discusses in this episode is, as he points out, especially powerful because the Judge who wrote it was President of his law school’s Federalist Society chapter and comes from a tradition of conservatism. After reading a little about him, and based on the quality of argument in his dissent Glenn discusses here, I’m of the opinion he is more closely allied with the never-Trump wing of conservatism.

In case you’re interested in the actual opinion, I have embedded the official .pdf file issued by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which contains Justice Hagedorn’s consenting opinion. I think it’s worth noting this was a 4-3 decision. I find it a bit frightening there were three justices that though this case had merit. We’re nowhere near out of the woods. Then again, in most respects most of us have never actually been out of the woods given the true nature of our nation’s government and history.


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