Thursday, June 29, 2006

Bleak Reflections

My wife feels depressed. She didn't get the job she was counting on, and she wonders if anyone will ever hire her in that field. She spent six months training intensively for it, passed her certification test, and no one will hire her. Why didn't the instructor tell her from the outset that she would almost certainly not find work in that field unless and until she improved her English? Why didn't we figure this out ourselves and go in a different direction? And if she can't find work in that field, what field can she work in where she can earn half-way decent pay with half-way decent benefits? She was raised by parents who always worked hard and expect their children to do the same, and good Thai children do what their parents expect of them.

As for me, my self-confidence diminishes by the day. I grow more convinced with each day that I am profoundly defective in an overwhelming number of ways cognitively and that my career prospects are bleak at best, and I don't know what to do about it. Get up off my ass and do something? Do what? Do it how?

I wish I had never married my wife. I love her, but she deserves better than she'll ever have with me. I've done some bad things in my life, but marrying her was the worst thing I've ever done because it has tied a precious human life with so much beauty, intelligence, and promise to someone abysmally lacking in almost every way.

People who read this blog have commented before that I'm not seeing myself realistically. But they judge only by what I write or by what they know of me from superficial interaction in person. They don't begin to know me as well as I know myself. They don't see the things I struggle to understand and do every day that normal people understand and do without effort. Writing is just about the ONLY thing I can do with any proficiency at all. But I don't begin to do it well enough to make up for all of the other things I can't do or can hardly do at all.

I won't always feel as gloomy as I do now. At least not in the forefront of my consciousness the way I do now. But these thoughts and feelings are always beneath the surface to fill my mind and heart whenever I'm able or compelled to take a look at reality as it is rather than how I would like it to be.

I feel lost,and so does my wife because she's stuck in a foreign country married to a loser. That is my naked reflection for today.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Krishnamurti and Other Treasures on Google Video

I've known about Google Video for some time, but I never truly appreciated just what a wonderful resource it is until yesterday when I followed someone's blog link to a two-part series on religion vs reason hosted by evolution theorist Richard Dawkins. I'll probably have more to say about that program in a future entry. But right now, I just want to mention that I found amazing free videos featuring great musicians, philosophers, scientists, sages, and martial artists.

One such
video featured the renowned scholar of comparative religion Huston Smith dialoguing with legendary sage Krishnamurti on whether it's possible to view life with total "lucidity." Krishnamurti defined "lucidity" as seeing and understanding reality not just intellectually but with all of one's being. When Smith asked him "how" one is to do this, Krishnamurti replied that it can't be done through any mechanical "method" or technique handed down by alleged authorities. It must simply be done directly, as in the Nike commercial "Just do it."

But how does one do it, asked Smith, to which Krishnamurti replied that he was asking the wrong question. A better question would be, What are the "obstructions" standing in the way of lucidity? The implication seemed to be that if we understood the nature of those obstructions, they would disappear and lucidity would be left in their wake.

When I was younger, I took this argument--advanced as it was by Krishnamurti, Alan Watts, and other sages I respected--very seriously and used it as a rationale for not engaging in any formal spiritual practice. But today, I'm inclined to take more seriously the arguments of people such as Ken Wilber that there are time-honored methods for progressing in spiritual realization and overall consciousness development, and that the vast majority of us have no hope of accomplishing this any other way. The kind of direct seeing that Krishnamurti advocated just won't work for most human beings.

Still, I found the dialogue intriguing, and I think it's wonderful that one can see videos of these celebrated figures free on demand and gain a sense of what they were like. There are numerous other Krishnamurti videos available that you might also want to check out.

Right now, I'm going to watch a great old
video on "the art of meditation" featuring Alan Watts talking over beautiful scenes from nature.

Fire and Other Bad News

Yesterday, my wife and I went out for our evening walk. We immediately saw smoke pouring into the sky from somewhere nearby and heard the wail of sirens. We walked toward the smoke and discovered that a fire was raging at the local park, consuming the extensive wooden playground equipment that was a source of pride to the community and great pleasure to countless children since 1992. It was clear even then that the fire was too big and had spread too rapidly to have happened by accident, and the Sacramento Bee this morning confirms that it was, indeed, a case of arson.

Why would someone do that? What should happen to him if he's caught? The massive playground was the first community playground in Sacramento and had been built by hundreds of volunteers at the cost of $111,000. At the very least, the person responsible for burning it down should have to foot the cost of rebuilding it and pay for deploying firefighters and police to the scene, even if his paycheck has to be garnished for the rest of his life to do it. Two other arson fires also happened close by around the same time, and a pickup truck was seen speeding away from one of them. I hope they catch this person before a house burns or someone gets hurt.

As my wife and I continued our walk, we passed by the mayor's house. She was out watering in the front yard. We said "Hi" to each other. I wanted to tell her about the fire, but I didn't. I told myself that she either already knew about it or would find out soon enough, and that, in any case, she didn't want to talk with a nobody like me. But I wish I had told her anyway.

Before I went to bed, I checked my e-mail and read a shocking and very sad message from a friend about her mother having died recently and with unexpected suddenness from a ruptured brain aneurysm. My friend lost her father to a heart attack in May of last year, was diagnosed with lymphoma eight months later, and has now lost her mom. How can life deal some people so much misfortune over such a short time? And how can those individuals get through it? Some don't. It's just too much for them. But I think my friend will make it. She's a strong, wise, and good person with family and friends who love her and are there for her.

But, still, it ain't gonna be easy.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Moving Meditation on the Lanes

I bowled better last night than I have in a long time. I scored better too. I attribute it to being true to my new bowling ideal. My ideal is not to be concerned with how I score or with whether I win. My ideal is to focus strictly on mindful execution of my approach and delivery. My ideal is for bowling to be meditation in motion.

Last night it was just that much of the time. I began my first game with eight strikes in a row. Interestingly, I lost my focus a little in the ninth frame, as thoughts of a perfect 300 game began dancing in my head, and I threw a bad shot and ended up with an open frame. After that, I regained my focus and struck twice in the tenth for a 260 game. I began the next game well and had a chance at another high score. And, once again, I threw some bad balls when I became more concerned with my score than I did with my execution and ended up with a 221 game after opening in the tenth frame with a split. I was able to stay focused on execution the third game and bowled a 277 game. That gave me a 758 series for the night. By not trying to score well, I scored my best league series of the year. By not trying to win, our team won all three games. Alan Watts
had two names for this intriguing phenomenon: "the law of reversed effort," and, more simply, "the backwards law."

I accomplished this by focusing on execution instead of score, and also by giving up trying to throw the ball hard with a lot of revolutions the way I did when I was younger. Instead, I tried to be smooth and steady with my approach and release. And what I lost in power and in the exciting explosiveness of my ball at the pins, I more than made up for in the consistency of my ball reaction and by outstanding carry on a variety of different ball entrances to the pocket.

I think last night's experience helped to make me a wiser, better bowler.

No Test Today

I was supposed to take my medical coding certification test this morning. I cancelled after taking a practice test a few days ago. I scored well on the test. But I took far longer to complete it than the allotted five hours, and I hurried through it at that. There's no way I could pass it now, and, thus, no go reason to take it now. I did well in the coding course I recently completed. I thought I was ready. But my problem is that I'm too slow. Accurate, but slow. I'm not sure how I'm going to build my speed. Practice, I guess. Practice and more practice, pushing myself every step of the way to go faster...faster.

I don't know why there's such an emphasis placed on speed. We're hurrying through life, trying to do more and more in less and less time. A vital aspect of
Eknath Easwaran's spiritual path is to "slow down." But how can we when everyone and everything is pushing us to go fast? Even a certification exam for a profession in which accuracy is paramount seems to be asking for impossibly fast performance. Well, it's obviously not impossible for everybody. Lots of people have passed the exam. I hope I can find a way to make myself one of them in September. In the meantime, I will try to follow the famous advice of the immortal John Wooden: "Be quick but don't hurry."

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Chris Angel and Other Matters

Last night, I watched Chris Angel's show Mindfreak for the first time. It won't be my last. He did some amazing things. In fact, "amazing" is a huge understatement. He "levitated" in a number of settings both indoor and out including from the roof of one tall buidling to another with people standing below him watching in awestruck disbelief. How did he do it? I don't really want to know. I want to be able to entertain, in the perpetual child portion of my mind, the fantastic notion that there really IS magic that overrides the laws of physics and that some extraordinary human beings among us are capable of performing it. But how DID he do that levitation trick?

My wife went for a job interview today, and it looks like she may get the job. I'm so proud of her! She's self-conscious about her English and was very nervous going to that interview. But she sucked it up and went in there and did a great job. I couldn't imagine myself doing the same in Thai in Thailand, even if I spoke Thai at the same level that my wife speaks English.

As we were driving to her interview, I saw a restaurant-bar named "The Plantation," and below the name were the words, "Where soul food was created." I couldn't help but think of how it would be for a restaurant for Jews to be called "The Concentration Camp."

I'm watching Bill Moyers and his wife on Charlie Rose talking about their upcoming series on religion. I'm now looking more forward than ever to seeing it. And I'm more grateful than ever that Charlie Rose is back with us.

It was 102 in Sacramento today, and it's supposed to be hotter tomorrow and hotter still Saturday and Sunday. I'm glad I don't mind the heat more than I do.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Dream and Real Life

Last night I dreamed that I was in a train station with my grandmother. Sitting across from us was a man holding a big live bird that appeared to be his pet. Suddenly, the man pulled out a meat cleaver and began hacking away at the bird. At first, I couldn't believe that he was actually slicing the bird. I thought he must be hitting it with the dull end as some kind of sick joke. But when I saw bloody cuts in the bird and saw the bird flap its wings and heard it cry out in pain, I was beside myself. At one point, the bird just looked at the man as though it were saying: "I loved you and trusted you. Why are you doing this terrible thing to me?" And there was a mixture of fear and helpless resignation in its eyes.

I couldn't bear to watch any more of this, so I jumped up and began to leave the terminal when the man said to me, in a British or Australian accent, something like, "What's wrong? Why are you leaving?" I don't recall my exact words of reply, but I do remember that I told him off for committing such a barbaric act against that poor bird and in front of all of us. People in the terminal cheered me. And then I stepped outside. My grandmother followed me out. I felt angry toward the man, profoundly sad for the bird, and proud of myself for being strong enough to speak up against that man's cruelty.

What would I do in real life?

Speaking of barbarous acts, it appears as though the two American soldiers captured by insurgents last weekend in Iraq were tortured to death. It wasn't reported exactly how they died, but their recovered bodies were said to have been mutilated beyond recognition and there was strong evidence that they had died in a "barbaric" way. A statement from a group believed to be linked to al Qaeda crowed, "We announce the good news to our Islamic nation that we executed God's will and slaughtered the two crusader animals we had in captivity."

Part of me wants to find those responsible and subject them (and their families) to the most protractedly excruciating deaths the human mind can devise. The better part of me looks at their language of having "slaughtered" the "animals" and thinks that we must not give in to the impulse to dehumanize these individuals or anyone else. That may not stop others from dehumanizing us and ours, but, at least, we can do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and maybe, just maybe if we did that consistently, an increasingly wide circle of other people would do the same over time.

But whether they did or didn't, WE would be doing the right thing. But, instead, we and our leaders will call these individuals "evil monsters," and the cycle of violence will continue indefinitely, perhaps spinning completely out of control. And not only will we harm, mutilate, and destroy each other with our violent thoughts and deeds. We will also harm, mutilate, and destroy ourselves.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Me and My Shadow?

I just read a local news story of a young man "with an extensive criminal history" being detained by the California Highway Patrol for speeding and drunken driving and suddenly bolting from the officers, jumping over a concrete divide along the freeway, and being struck and killed by an SUV. And you know the first thought that came to my mind?


I'm not proud of thinking this way. But how should I feel about what happened to this man or about my first reaction to learning of it?

I watch "Cops" and "World's Wildest Police Videos" from time to time, and both programs abound with drunken or drug-crazed drivers fleeing police and being chased along crowded freeways and busy city steets imperiling themselves, the police who chase them, and innocent citizens. I often want to see these people caught, dragged out of their cars, and Rodney Kinged to within an inch of their lives, or see them shot if they run after the officer tells them to "Freeze!"

Why do I feel these things? Is it hatred for my own "shadow"? If so, what exactly is this shadow of mine?

When I was younger, oh so much younger than today, I once ran from the police after being told to "Stay where you are!" A friend of mine and I were in Riverside, California at the state junior bowling tournament, had been doing some underage drinking that night in our motel room, and wandered outside for a moment only to be seen by a cop down the hall who shouted at us and we reflexively took off running. In what seemed like a millisecond, the cop was right there, his gun pointing at us, shouting, "Freeze!" We froze.

It turned out that this cop was investigating reports of break-ins to that motel complex by a couple of guys who looked a lot like us, and he happened to see us right after we stepped outside our room. We ran because we didn't want to get in trouble for drinking, and we didn't take the time to consider how much more trouble or worse we could get in for running from a police officer. We were let go with a stern reprimand. It could have been worse. Much worse. I found out later that the Riverside police were notorious for their "Shoot first, ask questions later" policy. What if I had been more addled by alcohol or something stronger than I was and had continued to run after being told to "Freeze!"?

I wouldn't be here now blogging about the anger if not hatred part of me feels toward people who defy and flee the police.

Two Sad Tales

I've just received two disturbing e-mails. One is about a guy I used to know who's been arrested for murdering an elderly couple in the Bay Area. At least, I suspect it's the same guy I used to know, although I hope it isn't, or that, if it is, he's innocent. I admit that I knew him a long, long time ago and that people can change a lot over time or not be what you think they are in the first place. But I can't imagine the guy I used to know doing what this man is accused of.

The second e-mail tells the profoundly disturbing story of a young woman named Jacqui Saburido who came here from Venezuela when she was nineteen to study English and was hit in her vehicle by a drunken teen driver and burned horribly. She lived, but this once vibrant and gorgeous young woman has been mutilated almost beyond comprehension, and I feel such deep sadness for her and such anger and even hatred for the young man who did it to her.

By all accounts, he too is suffering for his deed not only because he's serving time for it in prison, but also because he feels deep remorse for the suffering he inflicted on Jacqui and for the deaths of two of her friends who were in the vehicle with her. But is that suffering enough?

The fact of the matter is that there but for the grace of God go many of us who have had a few drinks and then gotten behind the wheel and driven away. I've been pretty good about this, but only because I have the ability to know when I've had too much to drink to be able to drive safely. Alcohol seems to rob some people of this ability to monitor and assess themselves.

I can't imagine being Jacqui or the young man responsible for her awful plight. But I pray that no one else has to stand in either of their shoes ever again, although I know that my prayer will not be answered.


From my diary.

I have the feeling that I dreamed last night of sitting here now typing this. Did I really dream this? An old psychology professor of mine once explained deja vu as the result of part of our brain unconsciously experiencing an event a fraction of a second before another part of our brain consciously experiences it. Sometimes, for some reason, the conscious part becomes aware of the prior unconscious experience of the other part and interprets that prior experience as having arisen much earlier--e.g., in a dream the night before--than it actually did. Her explanation kind of made sense to my bored mind at the time. But when I think about it now, it raises more questions than it answers.

I decided not to go bowling this morning. Instead, I watched it on TV. One was a classic match between Mark Baker and Dave Ferraro in which Baker won 279 to 278. Ferraro's was the highest losing score ever on TV at that time. But then I watched another old bowling show after that in which Mike Aulby beat David Ozio 300 to 279. What great bowling by two of the greatest bowlers ever! And what a shame that somebody had to lose! I wish I had Ozio's style. It's the sweetest style I've ever seen. By contrast, my style is hopelessly awkward and ugly. But it's too late to change now in any significant way. What else is it too late to change?

My wife went to the temple today while I started this blog and brought some food home from it. She wants to return to it this evening, and she wants me to go with her and eat dinner with her there. I'm sure the food is very good. But I don't want to go. Yet, I also don't want to be a stick in the mud all the time. I don't do enough with my wife as it is, and I know it bothers her and that she feels bored either doing nothing or doing too many things without me by her side.

I called Mom and invited her to a 4th of July gathering at my wife's uncle's house. I didn't expect her to be free that day, but she said she will be. It will be nice if that doesn't change and she can finally meet part of my wife's family besides her sister.

After I talked with Mom, I called my ex-girlfriend. At one point we talked about language learning software, and she mentioned the Rosetta Stone programs. She thought the English version might be good for my wife, but I said I think my wife's English skills are already beyond the scope of that course. What she needs more than anything now is practice in pronunciation and fairly advanced listening comprehension. But a course like that in Thai or some other language might do me some good.


My wife and I took our nightly walk and then watched a TV movie called "Touching the Top of the Sky" or something like that about the only blind man to ever climb Mt. Everest. His was an impressive feat to be sure, but I wish the movie telling his story had been more impressive. Still, it was good for someone like myself who's afraid to try anything new to watch someone like that do something like that.

Gagdad Bob recently
hinted that he might discontinue his blog. It sounds like he might be feeling a little burned out and underappreciated. I can't say that I understand most of what he writes much less agree with it, but I'm glad he's out there, and I hope he stays, even if he stops posting every day and does it only once or twice a week.

It's supposed to heat up as the week wears on, climbing into the 100's by the end of the week. That's OK. We've got fans and, if we really need it, we've got air conditioning.


From my diary.

It was hot yesterday, almost a hundred. But that's the norm for this area this time of year. I don't mind it much. We have air conditioning when we need it, but we mostly use just the fans. Fortunately, the air is usually pretty dry. That makes the heat easier to live with, even if my wife disagrees. My wife hails from a much balmier clime, and she despises the crackling dry heat of places like Las Vegas. Fortunately, we don't live in Vegas. I used to think that high humidity makes us sweat more and low humidity makes us sweat less. But what I learned recently is that we sweat pretty much as much no matter what the humidity. But when the humidity is higher, the air is so moist already that it can't draw as much sweat from our skin as it can when it's drier. So the sweat just stays on the skin and makes us feel uncomfortable instead of evaporating and making us feel better.

I say I learned this "recently." Actually, I learned it a long time ago. But then I forgot it. I forget a lot of things. Most of us do, I suppose. But I think I forget more than most. This can be very discouraging. I have a stockpile of books I've never read because, even though I want to learn what's in them, I'm convinced that if I read them, I'll forget what's in them, and the time I spent reading them will have been wasted.

Yesterday, my heart continued to bother me. Perhaps not quite as bad as the previous couple of days, but it still wasn't fun.
I have Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. It's a heart condition I was diagnosed with in my late teens. It sounds worse than it usually is, and very few people die from it. I take medication for it that keeps it very well controlled most of the time. But the last few days I've been having palpitations that have me a little on edge. I've gone through this before and things always returned to normal on their own. But I'm getting older, and I may not be as resilient as I used to be. But I still hate going to doctors and will probably ride this out unless I decide that I just can't, or my body decides for me. Actually, it's much better today. I've had very few palpitations. I hope it continues that way. Wouldn't you know it? Just after I wrote that, I began having more palpitations.

Yesterday, my wife and I went to the local humane society to look at cats. We already have one cat, but why settle for only one when we can have two? We saw a beautiful boy cat who looked a bit like the cat we have already, and I was really tempted to take him. But then I read on his papers that his owner gave him up because of "inappropriate urination." Now that is something my wife and I just don't need. Our own cat has been known to manifest this problem too, although he's been pretty good lately, and I don't want to deal with it in another cat or have it draw the same problem out of dormancy in my cat. Still, I felt sad when I walked away from that cat, because he's slated to be put down anytime, and I'm quite certain that this will be his fate, since nobody who reads what I read and understands it is likely to adopt a cat that pisses on the rug or furniture. This cat is only a year old and appears alert and intelligent and sweet. The more I write about him and think about him, the sadder I feel. I also think about all the kittens I saw there yesterday who will probably die before they've even begun to live. At least I hope they die painlessly and fearlessly. If they do, they might be better off than the ones who live. At least that's what I try to tell myself to assuage my sadness and guilt over not taking them all home with me.

We watched a little of the replay of the World Cup match between Italy and the USA. The final score was 1-1, which, I suppose, was something of a minor triumph for the USA team. I don't care for soccer. But my wife grew up with it, and love means trying to share interests with the person one loves.

Last night, we watched "Cops." I probably shouldn't, but I really like watching that show. I like watching all kinds of cops deal with all kinds of people in all kinds of circumstances and feeling that no matter how bad I may think I have it sometimes, I'm infinitely better off than some of the poor souls I see on that show. But then I feel sad that some people are so hopelessly lacking in intelligence and wisdom that they could live essentially like subhuman animals bent on virtually nothing more than drinking, taking drugs, fucking, and committing crime. Wouldn't they and the whole world be better off if they just crawled into a hole somewhere and died? But is that how I really want to think?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Visser on Shadows vs Core Qualities

Frank Visser has finally addressed on his blog his recent run-in with Ken Wilber. He suggests that if criticism of Wilber's system may be partly the result of people attacking their own shadows, it may also be motivated by valid observations, and Wilber's response may be an attack on his own shadows. Furthermore, says Visser, it might be more profitable to address the whole dynamic of the conflict in terms of a "conflict resolution strategy (pioneered byDaniel Ofman)" employing the concept of "core qualities."

"The idea," explains Visser, "is that each mental quality has an extreme version (its "pitfall"), but also its opposite quality (or "challenge"), which in turn has its extreme version (or "allergy").For example: The quality of eloquence has the pitfall of being talkative, the challenge of knowing when to be quiet, and the allergy of never speaking up. Now an eloquent person will typically have an allergy for people who never speak up -- and a quiet person hates those who are talkative. When allergies escalate, a conflict is born. The trick of conflict resolution is to acknowledge and affirm both qualities in each other, while avoiding their pitfalls, c.q. allergies."

I'm no psychologist, but it seems to me as though there might be something to this approach.

New Bill Moyers Series

"Can religion and reason peacefully coexist? From a scan of the headlines it doesn't seem so. The world appears polarized, incapable of even agreeing to disagree on matters of faith."
--David Ian Miller

Bill Moyers will be hosting a new seven-part series called Bill Moyers on Faith and Reason coming to a PBS station near you this Friday. After each episode airs, it will be available for free viewing on demand on the PBS website. Each episode will feature Moyers conversing with a writer who recently attended the PEN World Voices festival in New York. Salman Rushdie will be one of those writers. The discussions will focus on reconciling religious faith with reason at a time when they seem to be increasingly at odds.

Says Moyers, "I want my audience to see that they're not alone -- there are people like them who don't live polarized, one-sided lives. Most of us move back and forth in the twilight zone where faith and doubt stroll together like old lovers, once estranged, now reconciled, conducting a quiet, respectful and intimate conversation in the hope of understanding each other better."

I don't know how good this series will be, but I suspect that it will be a lot better than most TV fare this summer.

Bobservations on Chomsky

Gagdad Bob says that Noam Chomsky’s ideas are so “bizarre” that it would be “a waste of time” to analyze them. Perhaps he’s right, but I wouldn’t know, because he doesn’t explain how they’re bizarre. He says Chomsky has made a long career of being “wrong about everything,” but, again, I wouldn’t know, because he doesn’t give examples and explanations of why they’re wrong. This is unfortunate, because if Chomsky really is wrong about something, I’d like to know it and understand why it’s wrong. But it looks like I may never find out from Gagdad Bob, because he says that Chomsky is “much more of a religious cult figure and should be regarded as such. He cannot be discredited.”

For the record, I don’t worship Chomsky or reflexively accept everything he says about U.S. foreign policy as being true. But I have great respect for his tremendous intellect and awesome erudition, and it seems to me that many of his observations regarding this nation’s actions abroad ring of some degree of truth. Maybe not the whole truth, but at least part of it.

Bob says that according to Chomsky, “it always comes out looking the same: U.S. bad, enemies of U.S. good.” I respectfully disagree. I think Chomsky has credited the U.S. with good deeds and “enemies” of the U.S. with bad ones. Furthermore, I think he’s been realistic in saying that virtually any country in the U.S.’s position of power would do at least as many bad or questionable things to preserve that power as this country has. He says that every nation looks out for its own interests first and foremost and will exercise as much power as it has to serve those interests. Nothing “bizarre” about this that I can see.

I think a more compelling case might be made for saying that Gagdad Bob’s behavior is the antithesis of what he falsely accuses Chomsky’s of being. For Gagdad Bob, it always comes out looking the same: U.S. good, enemies of the U.S. bad. He probably wouldn’t even deny this. But what I’m afraid he would do is fail to satisfactorily explain how his assertion is true.

That’s too bad, because I think Gagdad Bob is a brilliant man and a great writer. I’d like to think he can do better.

I've Reconsidered

I said I was going to stop posting to my blog unless and until I experienced some kind of profound transformation of my being and writing. But I thought about it some more and realized that no profound transformation is likely to occur no matter what I do or don’t do. What’s more, if I undergo any transformation whatsoever, it’s likely to come about at least partially as the result of my using writing as an instrument to clarify and organize my and other people’s ideas and insights into useful patterns.

So, I’ve decided to resume posting here far, far sooner than I anticipated when I announced my hiatus. However, I don’t expect to post almost every day like before. It will probably be more like almost every week, when there’s something I really want to say rather than my conducting a dutiful exercise. I say “probably” because who knows how often it will end up being?

I hope we can find out together.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Going Fishing Indefinitely

I've been posting pretty regularly to this blog since January of 2005. I'd like to continue doing it. But I've decided that I can't give this blog the time, effort, and, most importantly, the quality it deserves unless and until I read more, contemplate more, live more, learn more, and have more to say about things worth saying, and more discipline and skill to say them the way I want to say them.

I don't know when that will be or if it will ever be. I'm trying not to be negative about myself and pessimistic about my future, but I am. I don't feel depressed. I have in the past. I know very well what depression feels like, but I don't feel that now. I just feel a sense of futility in going on the way I'm going. I feel the need to either go a different way, or to resign myself to a life in which the best I can hope for is to earn a modest living, be a decent husband and decent person overall, and stop trying to figure out what it's all about and stop trying to write about it.

Because as long as I go on the way I'm going now, I'm not really going to figure anything out or have anything to say that's worth saying. And more or less just going through the motions of posting to this blog the way I'm doing now is stealing incalculably precious time away from the practical necessities of life that I've been neglecting AND from the kind of disciplined study and integral life practice in which I need to engage in order to produce the kind of blog I want to produce and write the kinds of books I want to write if I really have what it takes to do it and haven't merely been deceiving myself all along into thinking I have what I don't have.

At times like these, I suspect that I HAVE been deceiving myself. I suspect that I bring too little intelligence, talent, and willpower to the table to create anything that isn't less than mediocre, and if I can't be better than less than mediocre at something, I'd rather not do it at all. But the fact of the matter is that I just don't know what I have the capacity to do with my learning and writing, because I've never really given myself the chance to find out. During my time away from this blog, I hope to find out. And if I discover that I have anything to say that seems to be truly worth saying, I'll be back to say it here just as soon as I can.

I don't know how many people read this blog regularly or even semi-regularly and truly give a damn about anything I've written here, but I thank you for spending time here with me, and I hope that if I come back, you will too.


Friday, June 16, 2006

Postmodern Spirituality?

"Any premodern spirituality that does not come to terms with both modernity and postmodernity has no chance of survival in today's world."

The quote above is from Ken Wilber's essay From the Great Chain of Being to Postmodernism in Three Easy Steps. If Wilber is, in this instance, using "spirituality" to mean "religion," I disagree with him. It seems to me that premodern religion divorced from modern and postmodern understandings is not only surviving but flourishing and will probably continue to do so indefinitely. However, speaking for myself, I cannot embrace the teachings and practices of any premodern religion cut off from modern and postmodern understandings of self, culture and nature stemming from such varied disciplines as the physical, biological, psychological, and social sciences, linguistics, philosophy, and theology.

Yet, many who claim to agree with this also continue to call themselves Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist or whatever and to adhere faithfully to the teachings and practices of those premodern traditions. I don't know how they do it, and, until I do, I can't do it myself.

But then, what SHOULD I do?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Healthy Skepticism?

Frederick Crews is a Professor of English Emeritus at U.C. Berkeley, has written several books, and is perhaps best known for his controversial essays about Freudian theory and recovered memory. His latest book, Follies of the Wise, is a collection of skeptical essays about everything from psychology to UFO’s to literary theory to religion. In the Introduction to his book, he stresses the importance of “unsparing empirical review, the tools we need to forestall another such outbreak of mass irrationality” in science, religion, and popular culture.

Crews begins his introductory essay by addressing problems with
theodicy—the attempt to rationally reconcile God’s alleged omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence—in order to call attention to a “clash between two intellectual currents.” These conflicting currents are “scientific empiricism” and “traditional authority” of religious and other kinds. Crews comes down strongly in favor of the former and believes that it leads to “metaphysical naturalism,” which Wikipedia explains as the supposition that “the fundamental constituents of reality, from which everything derives and upon which everything depends, is fundamentally mindless. So if any variety of metaphysical naturalism is true, then any mental properties that exist (hence any mental powers or beings) are causally derived from, and ontologically dependent on, systems of nonmental powers, properties, or things.”

I think my own outlook pretty much meets this definition. I know that many people believe in some kind of transcendent Spirit that is the matrix or ground if not also the goal of manifold Reality, but I have not yet been able to understand how any kind of “spiritual” mind, intelligence, agency, or force could arise or exist independently of “systems of nonmental powers, properties, or things” or be the “telos” we are intrinsically motivated to fulfill. When people from traditional religionists to Ken Wilber insist that if there were no universe, there would still be Spirit or God, part of me wants to believe them, but I can’t honestly say that I do, for I just don’t understand how it could be true. What and where would this Spirit be?

Says Crews,
“Metaphysical naturalism may be undiplomatic, then, but it is favored by the totality of evidence at hand. Only a secular Darwinian perspective, I believe, can make general sense of humankind and its works. Our species appears to have constituted an adaptive experiment in the partial and imperfect substitution of culture for instinct, with all the liability to self-deception and fanaticism that such an experiment involves. We chronically strain against our animality by inhabiting self-fashioned webs of significance—myths, theologies, theories—that are more likely than not to generate illusory and often murderous “wisdom.” That is the price we pay for the same faculty of abstraction and pattern drawing that enables us to be not mere occupiers of an ecological niche but planners, explorers, and, yes, scientists who can piece together facts about our world and our own emergence and makeup.”

I suppose that philosophers from Bob Godwin to Ken Wilber would contend that our “myths, theologies, [and] theories” and our “faculty of abstraction and pattern drawing” arise from more than a strictly “natural” substratum and aim at more than merely killing time between the maternity ward and the crematorium. If I’m not mistaken, they would argue that these human products and traits can be understood fully only as immanent instantiations of transcendent Spirit seeking to know and harmonize with Itself.

Crews tangentially addresses this when he writes:
“Here it may be objected that myths, theologies, and theories themselves, as nonmaterial things that can nevertheless set in motion great social movements and collisions of armies, confound a materialist or metaphysically naturalist perspective. Not at all. We materialists don’t deny the force of ideas; we merely say that the minds precipitating them are wholly situated within brains and that the brain, like everything else about which we possess some fairly dependable information, seems to have emerged without any need for miracles. Although this is not a provable point, it is a necessary aid to clear thought, because, now that scientific rationality has conclusively shown its formidable explanatory power, recourse to the miraculous is always a regressive, obfuscating move.”

By “recourse to the miraculous,” Crews seems to be talking about, among other things, the notion of a transcendent Spirit that philosophers such as Godwin and Wilber would say we cannot know by strict empirical observation or “scientific rationality” but must apprehend by a deeper, more direct, and more intuitive means. But, says Crews, “there is no such thing as deep knowledge, in the sense of insight so compelling that it needs no validation. There is only knowledge, period. It is recognizable not by its air of holiness or its emotional appeal but by its capacity to pass the most demanding scrutiny of well-informed people who have no prior investment in confirming it. And a politics of sorts, neither leftist nor rightist, follows from this understanding. If knowledge can be certified only by a social process of peer review, we ought to do what we can to foster communities of uncompromised experts. That means actively resisting guru-ism, intellectual cliquishness, guilt-assuaging double standards, and, needless to say, disdain for the very concept of objectivity.”

This resonates with me. I’m wary of the alleged certitude of the “deep knowledge” of intuition or mystical insight, even if part of me wants to believe in it. It seems to me as though all proposed truths need to be validated by a community of people qualified to validate them. But how do people who have “no prior investment” in confirming alleged spiritual insights become qualified to confirm them? Don’t most, if not all, who undertake rigorous spiritual discipline to the point where they become “qualified” to validate alleged truths do it with great “investment” in doing so? That is, aren’t they strongly biased in favor of confirming those insights from the very beginning? If so, how reliable are their validations?

Finally, Crews outlines what we should be on the lookout for when we weigh the claims of different “schools of thought”:
“The question, of course, is how an outsider can be sure that one school of thought is less entitled to our trust than a rival one. In many instances such confidence would be unwarranted. Certain indicators of bad faith, however, are unmistakable: persistence in claims that have already been exploded; reliance on ill-designed studies, idolized lawgivers, and self-serving anecdotes; evasion of objections and negative instances; indifference to rival theories and to the need for independent replication; and “movement” belligerence. Where several of these traits are found together, even a lay observer can be sure that no sound case could be made for the shielded theory; its uncompetitiveness is precisely what has necessitated these indulgences.”

As I was reading this, I couldn’t help but think of one increasingly controversial “school of thought” that I won’t name. I hope Crews’ cautionary words don’t really apply to it even if, unfortunately, it seems as though they might.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

What To Do?

What should one do when one's own moral sense tells him an act is wrong; yet, he believes in levels of moral and spiritual wisdom, and someone he's considered to be at higher levels of moral and spiritual wisdom than himself is the person who committed the act and insists that what he did stemmed from his higher wisdom and was right? Does one abandon one's own moral sense in this instance and accept what the other person says as true and what the other person did as right? Or does one trust one's own moral sense in this instance and reject what the other person says as false and what he did as wrong?

If one does the former, concluding that his own moral sense in this instance is wrong, when can he ever trust his own moral sense to be right? And if he can't trust his own moral sense, can he trust his sense of what's true in other respects, including his sense that someone else is wiser than he is and offers a "map" of reality that is worth studying in depth and detail? On the other hand, if one does the latter, concluding that the other person's moral sense in this instance is wrong even though he continues to insist that it's right, when can one ever trust the other person's moral sense to be right when it disagrees with one's own? And, once again, when can one ever trust anything else that person says to be true?

Anyone who's been reading this blog lately knows what and who I'm alluding to, but I don't want to mention any particular incidents or names, because I'm talking now about more, much more than just one particular incident or person. I'm talking about general issues of morality and truth. How do we know what is right and wrong? How do we know what is true and false? I've always been inclined to say that we need to listen closely to our "inner voice" that tells us when something is or is likely to be right or true on the one hand or wrong or false on the other. But what is this inner voice, and how reliable is it, especially if there really ARE different lines and levels of cognitive, interpersonal, moral, and spiritual development, and the inner voice of people at higher levels or of those we believe to be at higher levels than ourselves disagree with what our own inner voice says?

I used to ask these kinds of questions all the time and systematically try to reason my way to definitive answers. But I pretty much gave up when I came to the provisional conclusion that no definitive answers were forthcoming. Since then, I've managed to become pretty comfortable with uncertainty while continuing to place considerable trust in my intuition or inner voice to steer me right most of the time. But times like these give me pause and have me wondering, at least for the time being, how much I can trust my own inner voice or anyone else's and how to proceed in the absence of trust.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Walking the Talk?

I'm reading a piece in What is Enlightenment?. In the introduction, Ken Wilber says to the crowd gathered before him:

One of my favorite exercises from Quaker prayer gatherings is: “Let the next sentence out of your mouth be from your very highest self.” Everybody gets quiet at that point! But that’s the kind of attitude we want to bring to these dialogues. New structures in consciousness are being laid down right now—they are just faint footprints on the face of the cosmos. So your behavior, to the extent that you live up to your highest, is actually creating structures that future humanity will inhabit. Therefore, choose your acts very, very carefully. Make sure that the next action you take comes from your highest self. Make sure that the next thing that you say comes from your highest self. Then there’s hope for the future. Those structures are already being laid down. God is laying them down; Spirit is laying them down—through us. So we have to become appropriate vehicles for Spirit to lay down the very structures that humanity is going to inhabit. And if we don’t, that is a guilt we will carry with us for eternity.

These are beautiful words. I agree with them completely. However, I have a simple and sincere question for Ken Wilber and his devoted followers: Does Ken's recent, controversial post to his blog truly come from his "highest self" and truly help to create the kind of structure we want humanity to inhabit?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Not Surprised but Still Disappointed

Ken Wilber says his previous post was a kind of verbal Rorschach test. We are what we see in it. Or, more accurately, the bad things we see in it actually reside in ourselves or our “shadows,” and the good things we see in it are actually in Ken Wilber. If we see bad things, we aren’t ready for Prime Time Integral and can continue wallowing in the “herd mentality” of those stiffly humorless and chokingly well-mannered souls who found the post, whatever its motivations, unacceptably ugly. If we see the good things, we can congratulate Wilber for his amazing cleverness and second or even third tier sagacity and pat ourselves on the back for having the right stuff to come “fly”with Wilber and the other special folks at Integral Institute who have the rarified ability to discriminate between the medium and the message and to know genuine compassion from the “idiot compassion” of those who dare not “ruffle” the “feathers” of even those who richly deserve and desperately need it.

I’m not surprised by Wilber’s explanation. In fact, I think the only thing that would have surprised me would have been no follow-up explanation of precisely the kind he gave us. I guess that, coupled with the fact that I wasn’t outraged or repulsed by his previous post but simply puzzled by it and disappointed with it, means that, by Wilberian Integral reckoning, there may still be a nanosecond’s hope for me after I’ve had a few more years to mature along several key “lines” of consciousness.

But I confess that I still feel disappointed in Wilber and in those, like Stuart Davis, who gleefully praise Wilber for sticking it to those “green shits” and “toxic, petty fuckers” for their low “altitude” and insanely “preposterous attacks” on integral ghosts. Wilber would no doubt say that I should actually be disappointed in myself and in those who, like myself, didn’t “get it.” Perhaps it’s the ultimate measure of my low altitude cluelessness that I continue to believe that HE and those who support his previous post are the ones who may truly not get it.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Is THIS Enlightenment?

“Jesus said succinctly, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” If you want to know how people have progressed on the spiritual path, just watch them in the little interactions of everyday life. Are they patient? Cheerful? Sensitive to the needs of those around them? Are they free from compulsive likes and dislikes? Can they work harmoniously with others? If so, they are evolving, though they may have never had a vision or psychic experience…”
--Eknath Easwaran

“But simply still, I simply cannot stand this criticism of simply anything, let alone “simply,” so simply suck my dick, whaddaya say?…I am long gone, dude, down the road, flying at the speed of thought, looking for yet more yummies to share with readers, and these painfully sluggish critics, dragging their bloated bellies across the ground at a snail’s pace of gray dreariness, can frankly just eat my dust and bite my ass…And even a bald bastard with ambition, I might add, instead of even being able to lay blame where it in fact belongs, which is on its own sorry-ass, first tier, lame-brain case of arrested development, a two-bit, no-fit, nobody-quoting, self-promoting, gas-floating, over-bloating, no-deposit, lame-composite, really lost it, never had it, wanna bees, felled at the knees, first-tier fleas, flick ‘em off his back and never look back…”
Ken Wilber

Many have criticized Ken Wilber. They’ve criticized his ideas. They’ve criticized his Integral Institute. And they’ve criticized the way he and his followers respond to this criticism. Yesterday, he replied to his critics, and the Integral world is abuzz. Some praise him for “compassionately” “combining the mind of a bodhisattva with the mouth of a gangsta rapper” and for letting his justifiable frustration loose on his clueless critics without putting on false and simpleminded airs of goodness. But most, I suspect, will find his reply mean-spirited, juvenile, petulant, “dismissive, conceited,” lacking in substance, and damaging to the Integral movement.

As for me, I offer no criticisms, only questions. If I were somehow able to scale the heights of integral practice and awareness that Wilber has, would I conduct myself the way Wilber did in his reply? Was THAT an “integrally informed,” psychologically mature, and spiritually advanced response? Did it successfully refute his critics, vindicate his ideas, advance the Integral cause, or truly benefit him or anyone else psychologically, spiritually, or in any other way?

Can anyone explain how it was or accomplished any of these things? If they can’t, does that mean they’re just not evolved enough? How would Jesus respond to criticism? Buddha? The Dalai Lama? Thich Nhat Hanh? Eknath Easwaran? Mother Teresa? Huston Smith? Are we wrong to hold up these people as role models, as spiritual exemplars? If not, how does Wilber’s conduct compare to theirs? What are we to think of his reply? More importantly, what kind of person do we aspire to be, and how should we try to fulfill that aspiration? By becoming more “integrally informed? By practicing the spiritual disciplines that Wilber practices or recommends? By becoming more like Ken Wilber?

If we feel disillusioned after reading Wilber’s reply, should we not?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Al-Zarqawi's Death

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is dead, and many in the world celebrate. But how should I feel?

I believe that we are all essentially God and that all human life is sacred. So, should I be happy that al-Zarqawi was killed yesterday? I admit that I AM happy, even though my happiness is tempered by the realization that innocent people died in that house with al-Zarqawi and that al-Zarkawi’s death will undoubtedly create a vacuum to be quickly filled by another deranged leader and by vengeful hatred. But should I feel happy at all?

What should one do when one’s emotions contradict one’s principles? What I’m doing today is trying to step back from my emotions—neither embracing nor rejecting them, neither praising nor condemning myself for feeling them—and trying to view mindfully everything that’s happening in the world outside and inside my mind “sub species aeternitas.” This was the great philosopher
Spinoza’s phrase for taking the long-term, kosmic perspective of events that is characteristic of deep and abiding wisdom. For what the world needs now is not only love, but also all the profound and genuine wisdom it can muster. And this process must begin with each and every mindful one of us.

I’m happy that al-Zarqawi’s dead, and sad that I’m happy, and happy that I’m sad. Beyond that, I try to see the world more clearly and completely and to extend my circle of unconditional love outward to encompass as many people and other living creatures as I can. “Love and do what you will.”

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

To Torture or Not to Torture?

I listened to talk radio for a few minutes yesterday in the car. The host discussed the recent case of Muslim extremists arrested in Canada for a terrorist plot to blow up buildings and behead the Prime Minister unless their demands were met. He went on to talk about the Geneva Conventions and ask whether we should follow them in the way we treat people apprehended for terrorist plots and acts.

He explained that the Geneva Conventions rest on the principle that soldiers fighting for nations aren’t necessarily responsible for their actions on the battlefield because, after all, they’re just carrying out the commands of their leaders. They may even disagree with those orders, but they follow them anyway because that’s what good, loyal soldiers do. Thus, they shouldn’t be tortured or killed in captivity for following the orders of their nation’s leaders.

Yet, the host continued, terrorists are a different matter. They aren’t following the orders of leaders of nations; they’re plotting their own acts and carrying them out, often with savage hatred for all who don’t share their fanaticism. Not only that, but they haven’t agreed to follow the Geneva Conventions and most certainly don’t with the captives they torment and behead. Why should we follow the Geneva Conventions with them, especially when we might be able to coerce them into disclosing vital information that would enable us to avert future acts of terrorism?

For instance, said the host, two American citizens were arrested who appeared to have ties to the suspects in Canada. In their possession were encrypted computer files that FBI cryptologists have been unable to crack. It’s believed that those files might well contain information about terrorists and terrorist plots that law enforcement desperately needs. Should we be bound by the Geneva Conventions to abstain from using necessary means to extract from these suspects the information we need to decode those files and learn what’s in them?

I think there are compelling arguments for both sides. I worry about terrorism perpetrated by hateful religious and political extremists. But I also worry about granting our law enforcement and military the corrupting power to torture and kill people for acts they may not have even committed or planned to commit. I also worry about what this does to the psyches of the torturers and to those of an entire citizenry that condone the acts of the torturers. But, in the final analysis, I don’t yet know where I stand on this issue.

Not long ago, I would have denounced torture of any kind for any reason, and I would have blasted the Bush administration for even a hint of a suggestion that torture is ever justified. Now, I’m not so sure. The only thing I’m sure of is that we should always see torture, at best, as an occasionally necessary but nevertheless terrible evil that should be engaged in with extreme reluctance and sorrow.

Does my willingness to at least consider the use of torture under some circumstances mean that I’m letting my fears of terrorism plunge me into a state of moral devolution? Or does it mean that my morality is evolving out of a more realistic view of the world? What do you think?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Gay Marriage Ban

George Bush has been preaching from the presidential pulpit for a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. He argues that without this amendment, “activist judges” will increasingly permit gay marriage which, in turn, will threaten the “institution” of marriage and ultimately America itself.

There has been much discussion in the popular media as well as in the blogosphere about the underlying motives for Bush’s and the Republican Party’s renewed push for this amendment at this particular time. Many argue that it stems more from political considerations than from religious or moral convictions. This may or may not be the case. I won’t speculate on motives because this strikes me as irrelevant to the central issue that I want to address today.

It seems to me that the central issue is the claim that gay marriage threatens the institution of marriage and America itself. If this claim is true, then it seems to me as though the Republican Party’s motives for pushing the amendment now don’t matter. What matters is that we make sure we prohibit gay marriage, and a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting it seems like the surest way to go. On the other hand, if gay marriage doesn’t pose any grave threat, we should reject the amendment.

What I have never understood is how gay marriage threatens the institution of marriage. Is Bush suggesting that if gay couples marry, heterosexual couples won’t marry or married heterosexual couples will split up because of gay marriage? If so, what compelling evidence or reason does he have for this? I’m married to a wonderful woman whom I love with all my heart. If gays could marry, would my wife and I rush out to file divorce papers? This strikes me as preposterous. It strikes me as equally preposterous that if I weren’t already married, I would be any less likely to get married if gays could marry. If I found the right woman and we loved each other deeply, I’m quite certain that we’d be just as inclined to formalize our commitment to love, honor, and serve one another till death do us part if gay couples were also allowed to do this as we would be if they were not. Can any heterosexual person honestly say otherwise? If they can, then it seems to me that they should seriously question their reasons for marrying in the first place.

Of course, the Republican Party seems to have another reason for opposing gay marriage, and one of its most prominent representatives, Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, has expressed it very clearly and concisely in his recent letter to all U.S. senators. Here is an excerpt from that letter:

Attaching the word marriage to the association of same-sex individuals mistakenly presumes that marriage is principally a matter of adult benefits and adult rights. In fact, marriage is principally about the nurturing and development of children. And the successful development of children is critical to the preservation and success of our nation.

I have two questions about this statement. First, is it true, in this age of rising population and overcrowding, that marriage is “principally about the nurturing and development of children?” Or is it about formalizing between two adults a loving commitment that may or may not include children? I don’t understand why two women or two men who have the same feelings for each other and who want to make the same commitment to each other that my wife and I have shouldn’t be able to have society formally recognize and reward that love and commitment the same way that it recognizes and rewards them between my wife and myself. My wife and I don’t have any children and probably never will. Our marriage is about “adult benefits and adult rights,” just as it is for millions of other HETEROSEXUAL couples. If we can enjoy those benefits and rights, why can’t homosexual couples do the same?

But what about homosexual couples who want to participate in the “nurturing and development of children”? Unless a Constitutional banning of gay marriage is to be followed by one of homosexual couples raising children, homosexual couples can still raise children even if they aren’t married. So, do supporters of the proposed ban on gay marriage plan to support a follow-up ban on homosexual couples raising children? If not, why ban gay marriage for the sake of children? If so, what compelling evidence do supporters of such a ban have that children raised by gay couples are any less happy or turn out any less well-adjusted than do children raised by heterosexual couples? Where is the compelling evidence that gay couples endanger, as Romney implies, “the successful development of children” which, in turn, endangers “the preservation and success of our nation"?

If no such evidence is forthcoming, it seems to me that there’s no good reason for a Constitutional banning of gay marriage. In fact, it seems to me as though this nation should encourage gay marriage. After all, if gay marriage won’t harm children or undermine heterosexual marriage, then by increasing the number of Americans who marry, it should actually strengthen the institution of marriage in this country. After all, the more members an institution has, the stronger it’s likely to be. It may also discourage the spreading of STD’s by encouraging commitment to formally recognized monogamous homosexual relationships in place of homosexual promiscuity.

Maybe I’m being too commonsensical in how I look at this. Maybe I’m being simplistic. Maybe I’m wrong to oppose the Constitutional banning of gay marriage and to actually support gay marriage. But if I am, will somebody please show me why I’m wrong? And don’t just quote the Bible. I’m not talking about religious marriages. Religions can enforce their bans on homosexual marriages among their members to their hearts’ content. I’m talking about CIVIL marriages. Why shouldn’t civil marriage be an option for homosexual couples?

Monday, June 05, 2006

The 40-Year Old Virgin

My wife and I watched The 40-Year-Old Virgin last night. I don’t know why I imposed this on myself and on her. I knew deep down that it would be a complete waste of time. Yet, I wanted to believe the reviews that said it was a genuinely funny and insightful movie. I also wanted to give my wife respite from the serious dramas to which I normally subject her.

But the plot was pedestrian, the dialog mindlessly juvenile, and the message hackneyed and utterly lacking in meaningful substance. The movie was so lousy, in my estimation, that it’s not worth saying any more about it other than the fact that I think the premise could have been turned into something with real heart and insight about shyness, prolonged adolescence, and the importance of finding the courage to open up and be yourself instead of what you think society expects you to be.

As I’ve mentioned previously, my own virginity ended significantly later than did that of most of my peers (although I was nowhere near 40). And, like the character in the film, I felt shy and awkward around women, and fell into the vicious cycle of the longer I went without experience, the more embarrassed I became about it and the more difficult it was for me to overcome that embarrassment and approach women. But, that’s just about where any similarity between the movie’s protagonist and myself or any other real guy is likely to end.

Too bad.

Sunday, June 04, 2006


Last night, my wife and I watched the movie Pleasantville.” I’d heard of it for a long time but never seen it. I was prompted to watch it by the fact that I recently proofread an essay a friend of mine wrote for her philosophy class on “Pleasantville” and the nature of happiness. For those of you who haven’t seen it, “Pleasantville” is about a teenage boy who loves to watch reruns of an old Mayberryesque TV sitcom called “Pleasantville” to escape the unhappy complexities of his real life until, one night, he and his sister are magically swept into their TV and into the Pleasantville universe. And that is exactly what it is--an entire universe where if you go far enough down Main Street, you end up where you started. In this universe, life is like an old back-and-white TV sitcom. Husbands and wives sleep in separate beds; firemen do nothing more than rescue cats from trees; father comes home from work and says, “Honey, I’m home” and the wife cheerfully greets him with refreshments; teenage boys and girls unfailingly mind their parents, respect authority, and do nothing more together than hold hands after they’ve “gone steady” for a long time; the basketball team never misses a shot; and there aren’t even any toilets in the bathrooms. There are no ups and downs, joys and sorrows, excitement and creativity. There is only a kind of bland contentment from living perfectly predictable lives where nothing serious ever goes wrong and everyone gets pretty much everything he wants (or thinks he wants) without even having to try hard for it.

My friend wrote in her paper:

People in Pleasantville have never experienced art, rain, color, or anything other than a simpleminded parody of perfection and have no awareness of a world or life outside of Pleasantville. They are not strengthened by confrontation with life's hardships because there are none, and they cannot enjoy the real satisfaction of surmounting these hardships and growing in mind and spirit. This “perfect” world does not allow people to experience true happiness. Happiness, as Aristotle suggests, is an enduring condition of living “in accord with perfect virtue”…

But my friend also confessed to me that she didn’t believe what she wrote. She believed that the people of Pleasantville were happy until David and his sister came along from another universe to corrupt the very fabric of their universe and their utopian lives. Is she right? Or, perhaps more to the point, were they better off before things changed?

I confess that I’m not sure. If I’m honest with myself and with you, I have to admit that I’m so concerned with the presence of widespread and terrible human suffering that I may, in my heart of hearts, desire a kind of Pleasantville society that makes life as painless and effortless as possible for everyone. And I think I may secretly long for an emotional and spiritual condition not so far removed from that of the people of Pleasantville in its bland but unwavering peace and contentment. My intellect tells me that this would not be such a good thing. It agrees with my friend who wrote:

He knows deep down that he cannot be happy in a totally comfortable world of instant gratification of all of his desires except the most important desire of all—the desire to fulfill his teleological “virtue” or ultimate nature as a human being.
We all look to find true happiness in our journey through life, but we will not find it until we realize, as David finally did, that we must embrace and celebrate rather than recoil from the complexities and challenges that motivate us to learn, adapt, and grow in the strength and wisdom of our Aristotelian virtue or potential. This is the message I see compellingly conveyed by Pleasantville.

But my heart longs for a serenity and security it seldom experiences in the world as it is or is ever likely to be, and I wonder what kind of world I should strive to engender within and without.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Random Thoughts and Rants

Thursday, my wife and I went to the new Ikea store. I felt almost as out-of-place as I do in Home Depot, only I also get lost in Ikea. I see so many things and haven’t a clue as to how they would look in our home or how I would get them home and install them if I could afford them and we decided that we wanted them. It’s times like those when I feel especially sorry for my wife being stuck with me. And then I recited my mantram to try to dispel such negative thoughts, the way Easwaran recommends. But is that the way to do it? Or is the way out of such thoughts “through” them?

I spent much of Thursday cramming for my coding exam coming up later this month. There’s so much to review and so little time! Actually, there was much more time, but I threw it away with my habitual procrastination, and now I feel almost overwhelmed with how much material I need to cover in three short weeks. Why didn’t I begin studying sooner? Why did I wait until almost the last minute, the way I’ve done for most of my life? More to the point, how can I stop procrastinating? Just obey the Nike ads and “just do it”?

Thursday night I dreamed that I was running. I don’t know where or why. I seldom remember my dreams in any detail if I remember them at all. But I know I was running, and it felt incredibly good, the way it sometimes used to feel when I actually ran. It felt effortless. My feet just glided over the ground, almost off the ground in fact, and I felt completely relaxed, and my breathing remained slow and easy. I don’t usually dream of flying any more. At least I don’t remember doing so. But I do sometimes dream of running the way I did Thursday night, and I always love the feeling of it. How nice it would be to
lucid dream and run (or fly) every night. What else would I dream if I could make myself do it?

I also dreamed of happening by a school ground where elementary school age children were doing the softball throw as part of their fitness testing, the way we used to at my school. They stood back and threw toward this big house-like structure, and the teacher stood in front of the house with a bat in his hand trying to hit any softballs that reached him. One black girl threw the ball so far that it bounced high off the house, and the teacher said, “That was an exceptional throw! Just exceptional!”

Once upon a time, when I was in sixth grade, I was being tested in the softball throw. The previous year, I had thrown the ball about 130 feet or so. This time, I threw it way over the backstop. The teacher estimated the throw to be over 200 feet. I couldn’t believe it! I was almost in shock! I went on to win the district softball throw championship that year. I felt on top of the world. I was the fastest 50 and 600-yard runner, the best softball thrower, the best standing broad jumper, and the best basketball player in my school if not the entire district. I felt on top of the world, at least until I went home from school every day to hide in my room. But my superior athleticism was in areas that depended far less on applying intelligence to cultivating skill than on taking advantage of my precocious height and strength. As I grew older and my peers grew up, I no longer had that advantage, and I couldn’t compensate by using intelligence I didn’t have.

Yesterday morning, my wife and I went to the immigration department. It’s now under the Department of Bushland Insecurity. To enter the building, we had to pass through a metal detector. But first was had to take our camera cell phones back to the car, because camera phones are not allowed. It would have been nice if the website where we made our appointment had told us this in advance. Many people carry camera cell phones these days. What would they do if they came on a bus by themselves with a camera phone and were then told that they couldn’t stay in the building with it? You’d think that the security people would be able to hold it for them, but they won’t do that. What are they afraid of with camera phones anyway? That terrorists are going to take pictures that can be used to plan deadly attacks? You mean to say that dedicated terrorists couldn’t draw floor plans of the building’s layout that are just as revealing as lousy pictures taken with a cell phone camera? And how would those terrorists armed with cell phone pictures penetrate security to plant their explosive devices or wreak whatever havoc they were bent on wreaking? I also had to take my tiny pocketknife back to the car, even though I could surely do a lot more damage with my fists or teeth than I could with that flimsy little 1 1/4” blade.

We had an appointment, but it turns out that the appointment was only to take a number to sit in a big room and wait for over an hour while only one counter out of nine was open most of the time and another counter open part of the time to slowly process those in the room ahead of us. What was the point in making an appointment for that? Furthermore, why weren’t those other counters open? Because Bushland Insecurity can’t afford to pay more workers on account of tax cuts going primarily to those who don’t need them? It turns out that my wife needed only two passport photos instead of three, even though the website told us three, and we bought four passport photos yesterday because we thought we needed three and you have to buy them in sets of two. I came away from there wondering why our public servants don’t make more of an effort to actually serve us instead of making life more complicated and expensive than it needs to be.

Last night, I concentrated better, executed better, and scored much better in my bowling league than I did the previous two weeks. It was a good way to end a relatively productive day.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Greatest Liberal Rock Songs

Inspired by the National Review’s list of the “50 greatest conservative rock songs,” the folks at One Cosmos have been posting and mocking their lists of the “greatest liberal rock songs.” Their lists include “War,” “American Woman,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “Little Boxes,” “Eve of Destruction,” “San Franciscan Nights,” “Woodstock,” “One Tin Soldier,’ and, of course, John Lennon’s immortal “Imagine.” Since I can’t post there, I’d like to offer here another suggestion for their list: Steppenwolf’s “Monster.”

Once the religious, the hunted and weary
Chasing the promise of freedom and hope
Came to this country to build a new vision
Far from the reaches of kingdom and pope.
Like good Christians, some would burn the witches.
Later some got slaves to gather riches.

But still from near and far to seek America
They came by thousands to court the wild.
And she just patiently smiled and bore a child
To be their spirit and guiding light.

And once the ties with the crown had been broken,
Westward in saddle and wagon it went.
And 'til the railroad linked ocean to ocean,
Many the lives which had come to an end.
While we bullied, stole and bought our a homeland.
We began the slaughter of the red man.

But still from near and far to seek America,
They came by thousands to court the wild.
And she just patiently smiled and bore a child
To be their spirit and guiding light.

The blue and grey they stomped it,
They kicked it just like a dog.
And when the war over,
They stuffed it just like a hog.
And though the past has it's share of injustice,
Kind was the spirit in many a way.
But it's protectors and friends have been sleeping.
Now it's a monster and will not obey.

(Suicide)The spirit was freedom and justice,
And it's keepers seem generous and kind.
It's leaders were supposed to serve the country,
But now they won't pay it no mind.
'Cause the people grew fat and got lazy,
And now their vote is a meaningless joke.
They babble about law and order,
But it's all just an echo of what they've been told.

Yeah, there's a monster on the loose.
It's got our heads into a noose.
And it just sits there watchin.'

Our cities have turned into jungles.
And corruption is stranglin' the land.
The police force is watching the people.
And the people just can't understand.
We don't know how to mind our own business.'
Cause the whole worlds got to be just like us.
Now we are fighting a war over there.
No matter who's the winner,
We can't pay the cost.'

Cause there's a monster on the loose.
It's got our heads into a noose.
And it just sits there watching.

(America)America where are you now?
Don't you care about your sons and daughters?
Don't you know we need you now.
We can't fight alone against the monster.

Songs like “Imagine” may be quixotic. Songs like “Monster” may overplay the dark side of this nation’s history and condition. But, say what they will over at OC, I think that these are great songs that tell important truths about the world as it is and the world as we, in our idealistic heart of hearts, would like it to be.

I’m grateful for them.