Monday, July 31, 2017

Fred Rogers is My Role Model


This morning, a friend posted to Facebook the following question: “What inspires you?” I initially replied with a photo of Donald Trump holding a bible. Of course, I was being bitterly facetious. To my mind, Trump’s Christian pretensions are a grotesque mockery of Christianity and, even more so, of the Christians who support him. But I wasn’t content to leave that as my final answer to my friend’s sincere and serious question. So I followed up by saying:

A more serious reply to your question...is that too many things inspire me to list. But if I seek a common thread in most or all of them, what I find is people being the best they can be physically, intellectually, artistically, athletically, characterologically, "spiritually," and in every other good way possible and being a figurative light in the pandemic darkness of this world. And I've somehow come to view this guy as kind of the patron saint of "light."

I didn’t grow up watching Mr. Rogers. I came along several years before his PBS show did. But if I’d been a young kid when his show graced the airwaves, I’d like to think I would have benefitted from it. I’d also like to think I can still benefit from the shining example Fred Rogers set in videos like the one above and this one and this one.

How so? Well, I think we can all benefit from having inspiring role models in our life. It’s not that we necessarily try to be exactly like our role models. But we can do our best to internalize and manifest their spirit in everything we say and do. And when we encounter challenging circumstances where we aren’t sure exactly how we should proceed, we can ask ourselves what our role model would say or do in that situation.

Christians often ask and have been mocked for asking, “What would Jesus do?” Well, I never saw Jesus. Not in person or on video. But I’ve seen plenty of Fred Rogers. And his gentle voice and loving demeanor fill my mind with the palpable gratitude those Hollywood celebrities displayed during Fred Rogers’ acceptance speech at the daytime Emmy awards. And I want to live what’s left of my life manifesting his spirit in my own unique way.

I’m not sure how to go about doing that. I’ve bottled up a lot of anger and despair in my disappointing life, and I have a tendency to flee from Rogerian earnestness to pseudo-clever irony and caustic sarcasm, and from unconditional positive regard for my fellow humans to angry denunciation and condemnation of their words and deeds.

But I want to stop doing those things. And I’m hoping I have the wherewithal to follow through with my intention while there’s still time even if it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done or ever could do. May the saintly Fred Rogers help light the way out of my darkness.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Why I Don't Mourn My Friend's Death


Over a year ago, I wrote the following in the wake of something I wrote even earlier:
Sitting at the bedside of a good friend who seems, for reasons I don't fully understand, to be virtually comatose and close to death from cerebral hypoxia associated with an advanced stage of Alzheimer's. What an awful, cruel disease Alzheimer's is!
Three nights ago, my friend’s decline ended unceremoniously in a senior care home bed. It was the first time either I or my wife had ever watched anyone die “up close and personal.” My friend lie in bed, unresponsive to his environment, unblinking eyes wide open, gasping in a strange, rhythmically spasmodic manner for breath. And then after what seemed like ten or more seconds’  interruption in breathing, he breathed in and out a couple more times, closed his eyes briefly and opened them again, and then stopped breathing altogether. A hospice nurse arrived a half hour later to officially pronounce him deceased on July 10, 2017 at 11 pm.

I wish I could say I was struck by the momentousness of a life passing before my eyes, but I’d be lying. I felt almost nothing except sadness for my friend’s wife who, after taking tender care of her virtually comatose husband for over a year with almost superhuman diligence, lost the considerable monetary benefits she would have qualified for had he been able to hold on for just twenty-two more days.

Maybe one reason why I felt so little is because it seemed to me that my friend actually died over a year ago. Certainly, the shell of a person who lie helpless in that bed virtually unconscious for all those months requiring total care from his wife and other caregivers was not the man who watched TV with me at my house several times a week two or three short years ago and intelligently discussed politics, international events, religion, philosophy, and the copious personal adventures of his rich and varied life.

If I were to have felt anything besides sadness for his wife, maybe it should have been elation over the fact that my friend was now “free at last...free at last, thank God almighty [he is] free at last!”

Yet perhaps that possibility was tempered by various considerations such as my uncertainty of whether a fully dead or non-conscious entity can be better off than a conscious one any more than a rock is “better off” than a starving child, and of whether, if my friend’s consciousness continued in some posthumous condition or place, he actually suffered less when lying virtually comatose on this mortal plane. Suppose he died and passed on to some excruciatingly hellish afterlife or wandered alone and fearful in some strange new dimension.

Or maybe my friend’s death and death in general mean little to me anymore because life has come to mean little to me. The older I get, the more I see life as a pointless, futile exercise. My friend seemed to think of it that way too. In fact, we seemed to think a lot alike about a lot of things. Maybe that’s why we were friends.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Why Today?


As a boy and young man, I sprained my ankles so many times playing basketball and doing other things and stretched my ligaments so far that my doctor told me, umpteen sprains ago, that if I sprained one of my ankles again, it would probably require surgery. However, although I stopped playing basketball decades ago, I've managed to walk and bowl and get around just fine for years without a single ankle twist of even the mildest degree. Until today, that is.

I was walking home from the store and twisted my left ankle for no apparent reason. There might have been a slight indentation or other deformity in the sidewalk, but it wasn't a big deal. I've walked that same route and far worse countless times and never had a problem.

Fortunately, the sprain doesn't seem to have been a big deal either. When I used to sprain my ankles playing basketball, they'd go numb and then hurt like hell and throb and swell up to twice or more their normal size. This one felt only slightly numb for a minute or so and barely hurt afterward, and I see no visible signs of swelling more than an hour later.

Still, it makes one wonder what confluence of factors came together to produce such an anomalous event and whether I can do anything to forestall them from reassembling to cause a possibly worse sprain that might even force me to have the threatened surgery I've been fortunate enough to avoid for decades.

Time will tell with this as it does with everything.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

No Brain for Poker


A friend of mine is playing poker in Las Vegas. He just sent me a short video of him or someone apparently winning a poker hand. I say "apparently," because I don't understand the first thing about poker, and I think it would be difficult if not impossible for me to learn. I've never been good at learning these kinds of things. He, on the other hand, learns these and many other kinds of things easily. And he's a pretty good poker player from what he's led me to believe.

I don't know if I'm better or worse off not understanding anything about poker and probably being unable to learn. However, I think I'm much worse off being apparently incapable of learning so many things that many if not most people seem capable of learning quite readily. It makes for a very narrow range of activity I can hope to perform and enjoy with any potential competence.

I wish I wasn't so limited in what I can do. But I'm still grateful that I can do some things reasonably well. For one thing, I think I can speak and write better than most people.

I've read articles that say the printed word will increasingly give way to multimedia communications that rely more on imagery and audio than text until text becomes virtually obsolete.

I hope that never happens. But if and when it does, I guess I'll be obsolete too, if I'm not already. But maybe it won't happen until after I'm dead and won't care.

Monday, June 26, 2017

China Set to Emulate Black Mirror's Nosedive Scenario?


Last night I watched a Black Mirror episode titled "Nosedive." It was about a social media-driven dystopia in which everybody is constantly being rated by everyone with whom they come in contact in physical or electronic space, and their overall rating can have profound implications for where they can work and live, what they can buy or which services they can receive, and with whom they can associate in order to maintain or boost rather than lower their rating and enjoy the rewards or suffer the consequences thereof. This turns almost everyone into approval-seeking phonies compulsively and anxiously on guard against being down-rated by anybody in any social situation.

This Orwellian nightmare scenario seemed plausible enough in the not-too-distant future, but, judging from this alarming article (the full article is behind a paywall, but be sure to check out the video), something disconcertingly like it may already be coming to China in the form of an ominously named "social credit system," and it may come here sooner than we could have ever imagined. Be concerned. Be very concerned!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Meryl Streep's Incredibly Beautiful Photo

I’m much more of a verbal person than a visual one. So, I tend to get much more excited about beautiful words than about beautiful photographs.

But today is Meryl Streep’s 68th birthday, and when I saw the photograph above of her on a Facebook friend’s page, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I don’t know who took that photo or when they took it, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as struck by a photograph of anyone as I am of this one. I think it’s absolutely stunning. Meryl looks so incredibly beautiful and alive in it. It’s almost too much to bear. But in the best of ways.

Happy Birthday, Meryl. Your amazing photo has certainly made my day a happy one. And I suspect that it's brightened the day of virtually everyone who's seen it. Everyone, except, perhaps, Donald Trump or his supporters.

Monday, April 17, 2017

RIP Allan Holdsworth, Guitar Colossus


"I think Allan Holdsworth is the John Coltrane of guitar. I don't think anyone can do as much with the guitar as Allan Holdsworth can." ~ Robben Ford

Though I've never played an instrument, music has been a vital part of my life for as long as I can remember. And for decades, Allan Holdsworth has thrilled and inspired me like no one else with his astonishingly fluid and impossibly complex virtuosity and steadfastly uncompromising musical sensibility.

Frank Zappa called him one of the "most interesting" guitarists on the planet. Eddie Van Halen said he was simply "the best." John McLaughlin quipped that he'd steal Holdsworth's licks if he could understand them. The praise went on and on from guitar luminaries the world over.

But Allan Holdsworth died yesterday at the age of 70. So, there will be no more soul-searing guitar lines and otherworldly chordal phrasings from those magic fingers. A giant who perhaps stood taller than any other in the prodigiously demanding genre of guitar-centered "fusion" has passed on.

While it was well-known that he was in poor health, Allan's death still comes as something of a shock. A friend of mine saw him perform just a little over a week ago. And, despite his not having practiced much for a long time, he was still in virtuosic form.

Sadly, Allan never prospered from his music. In fact, he was apparently in pretty dire financial straits at the end. For while serious guitarists and hardcore guitar fans idolized him, most of the public never even heard of him. And if they happened to chance upon any of his music, they probably cringed from the strangeness of it.

I confess that, huge Holdsworth fan that I was, I found some of his music pretty "out there" too, and some of it left me cold. But then there was this solo, my favorite guitar solo ever, and this rare, hauntingly pensive and beautiful acoustic guitar piece on an album he despised and tried to suppress.

I was blessed to see Allan perform in person a couple of times. One such time was in the early to mid-80's at a local nightclub in Palo Alto, CA. This song, in particular, enraptured me and is probably my favorite song that he himself composed. I wish I'd been able to see more of him.

Fortunately, his recorded music lives on, and YouTube abounds with his live performances and this lovely tribute. RIP, Allan.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Resonance of Paterson


I saw a movie trailer months ago and knew I had to see the movie when I could. Today I could and did. And I know it will linger in my heart and mind for a long time.

It's a Jim Jarmusch film called "Paterson." It's a quiet, contemplative film about a young guy named Paterson who lives and drives a bus in Paterson, New Jersey. He wakes up every workday to the clock alarm in his head, kisses his wife, eats his Cheerios while composing poetry in his mind or notebook, and dutifully walks to work. He sits in his bus before his shift writing poetry until his beleagured boss comes along and reminds him it's time to go to work. As he drives, he listens attentively to the conversations of disparate people around him. When he gets off work, he walks to a secluded place and sits on a bench by a waterfall writing more poetry. Then he walks home, greets his endearingly ditzy wife, eats dinner, and takes his bulldog for a walk, and leaves him parked outside a cozy neighborhood bar while he ambles in for a leisurely drink and quiet conversation with the bartender-owner and an assortment of fellow patrons. The next day, it all begins, progresses, and ends almost exactly the same way.

Never before have I seen a film that resonates so powerfully with my sense of the trivial repetitiveness of life. Life's pointlessness has been acutely on my mind over the past year or so, and "Paterson" drives it home. Not in a depressing way. I'm not depressed, at least not most of the time, by seeing life as "a tale told by an idiot," even when its "sound and fury" gives way for me as it does for the film's protagonist to quiet, purposeless reiteration.

And never before, perhaps, have I identified so much with a film's character. Paterson is the guy I would likely be if I were even as bold and capable as his very unassuming and mediocre personage. For one thing, I now understand the lure of a neighborhood bar the way I could never fathom before. And if I were a little more outgoing than I actually am, I'd probably end my numbingly repetitive workdays with a trip there to sip a mug of beer and talk pensively with others while cool jazz played warmly and unobtrusively on the jukebox in the background.

And, like Paterson, I would write before and after work. Not poetry but nonfictional prose. And, because of my similar lack of ambition and/or confidence, I would do no more than Paterson to get my work published for pay or recognition.

The film also conveyed to me an acute sense of how alone we ultimately are, even if we're married to someone who truly loves us and we're surrounded by chattering people all day long. My philosophy may tell me we're all interconnected with each other and with the whole shebang of kosmic existence, but my heart feels existentially separate from every one and every thing. Yet I don't find this feeling depressing so much as simply and resignedly factual.

But it's also a fact that once in a blessed while a special film comes along that makes the idiotic tale of life and aloneness glow with rare and poignant beauty that leaves me happy to be alive, in part so I can experience such affecting works of cinematic art and bask in their affirming afterglow. "Paterson" is one such film for me.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Is Cataclysmic War Imminent?



"North Korea is a problem. The problem will be taken care of." ~ President Trump

Is there about to be a nuclear war? NBC News reports that the U.S. may launch a preemptive conventional strike against North Korea if that country seems on the verge of conducting a promised nuclear weapons test, and it's maneuvering some serious weaponry in place for this. True to form, North Korea threatens massive retaliation if the U.S. does attack. Suppose it does and they do. What then?

North Korea has nuclear weapons and says it will use them against the U.S. if it attacks. They also have conventional and presumably chemical and possibly nuclear warheads they could use to attack South Korea and elsewhere. Moreover, relations between the U.S. and China and Russia are hardly amicable at the moment. And China and Russia are neighbors and supporters of North Korea to some degree.

My wife is traveling to Thailand next week to visit her family. What if war breaks out in that part of the world while she's there? And what if it goes worldwide?

I can't help but be concerned. I deplore the way the North Korean government conducts its affairs and treats its people. By all accounts, North Korea is a hell of unimaginable oppression and suffering for millions of its people. And there is grave and legitimate concern about North Korea improving its nuclear arsenal and soon threatening the U.S. mainland with it. But what effect would a devastating war now have on countless millions of people?

And why is North Korea so bent on building its nuclear capabilities? Has U.S. saber rattling played no role in this? Has the U.S. really done its best to stop North Korea's nuclear arms development by diplomatic means, or has it been kindling the flames with its policies and posturings for decades?

What would we do if we we perceived ourselves to be threatened by a superior military power, we had a nuclear weapons program, and we believed that we needed to flex our nuclear muscle to deter aggression against us?

What concerns me even more is that Donald Trump is our president. Yes, we appear to have some capable people in charge of our military. But President Trump is in charge of the people in charge. He makes the final decisions. And I have a difficult time thinking of anyone less qualified than Donald J. Trump to make sound decisions in a time of climactic crisis.

Sometimes I get so fed up with the way of the world and with human folly that I just think, "Fuck it! Let it all be blown to hell!" But I don't really want that to happen. I want peace to prevail and for people and life everywhere to flourish on this pale blue dot.

Maybe my concerns are overblown. Maybe sanity will prevail at the moment of truth. After all, despite NBC News' report, I don't hear alarm bells going off in the journalistic media. Yet, one lesson I've learned after all this time is that human beings are dangerously unpredictable and that crises can build and spin out of control amazingly quickly. And when I look at the world as it is this morning, I'm not sanguine.

Friday, March 24, 2017

An Old Song Becomes My Reality, Sort Of

Fifty years ago, the Beatles released a song that has special relevance to today. Back when I first heard it, I was amused but emotionally detached from the distant scenario it wittily described. Today, not so much.

I've been keeping this blog for thirteen years or more. And though I haven't checked to confirm it, I think last year may have been my first birthday where I didn't publish something here.

I couldn't let myself stretch it to two, even though I don't have that much to say about anything at the moment other than the fact that I'm mostly glad to still be here, unequivocally glad I'm still able to post these entries, and very hopeful that I'll be back next year with lot more to say that's worth saying.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Trying Not to Vilify Trump Supporters

Today I posted to Facebook a Nicholas Kristof column in which he urges his readers not to vilify Trump supporters as the "enemy." He says he received a backlash from people disinclined to follow his advice after he initially tweeted it. A friend of mine commented that "Actually many of them are [enemies]." This is how I replied:
It's very easy for me to demonize and malign Trump supporters. And goodness knows I've done my share of it. But it doesn't feel good to me to despise and reject people for their beliefs, just as it doesn't feel good to be despised and rejected by others for my beliefs. It also seems counterproductive, as Kristof points out.

What helps me to stop doing this or, at least, to do less of it is to understand that various factors cause people to do the things they do, including support Trump, that they don't choose. Researchers and theorists such as Jonathan Haidt and George Lakoff are illuminating what these causes are.

The way I see it, the fact that we don't support Trump is not something we can rightfully take credit for, and we can't rightfully blame others for supporting him. What we can do is try to understand why people do what they do and work with this understanding as best we can to foster the best circumstances that we can. As the great philosopher Spinoza said, "“I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.”

I'm REALLY trying to follow Spinoza's lead because it seems like the best way to live. It's tremendously difficult at times. And this is one of those times. But, as Spinoza also said, "All excellent things are as difficult as they are rare."

Friday, February 03, 2017

Donald Trump vs Bill Clinton on Illegal Immigration?


One of my Facebook friends posted a video of President Clinton once proposing stern measures against illegal immigration arguably not so dissimilar to what President Trump proposes now, and she says: "What happened to this concept and why is it deemed so wrong today, by so many? I don't get it. I supported President Clinton on immigration then and I support President Trump now." This is how I replied to her:
"There's an old Zen saying that goes like this: "When the wrong man uses the right means, the right means work in the wrong way." One could argue that whether one agrees with Trump's immigration policies or not, he is so blatantly odious in personality and character and unsuited to the presidency in temperament and aptitude that everything he does, for good or ill, bears the insufferable stench of his overwhelming psychopathology and personal repulsiveness."

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Trump Computer Simulation Scenario?


Last night I watched an episode of the darkly brilliant series "Westworld." And I suddenly found myself wondering whether those who theorize that we are probably sentient sub-programs occupying a gigantic computer simulation might not be right, and whether the election of Donald Trump and the pride and joy many say they feel over it is something that couldn't really happen outside a computer simulation diabolically tweaked by some twisted and callous designer looking for perverse entertainment from his or her sophisticated toy. Or is all of this perhaps just my dream from which I will sooner or later awaken in joyful relief?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Black Friday in Washington DC


Donald Trump became President of the United States today, and I can't find the words to adequately describe how I'm feeling. So, I'll just say that I'm alternatingly angry, disgusted, despondent, worried, and frightened.

I'm no historian, but I think I can safely say that the White House has never been occupied by as horribly ill-suited a person for the office than Donald J. Trump has amply shown himself to be in every way imaginable. In fact, no one probably even comes close, especially in modern times. And these modern times present so many complex and dangerous challenges that need a far more capable person than Mr. Trump to deal with them.

I really don't know how to conduct myself at this point. I've been very strident in my opposition to Trump, but it did nothing to stop him from being elected, and it will do nothing to stop him from inflicting his worst on the country and world. And it won't do anything to enhance my physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being. Yet, I don't want to roll up into a pathetic ball of resignation while the nation and the world burn down around me.

What to do? I guess I'll have to figure it out as I go along.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

NLD and Wanderlust


A friend of mine sent me a Facebook message this morning with a video of Sedona, AZ and said that he will "go there soon." Like many people I know, he likes to travel to places he's never been and to do things he's never done before.

I am not like my friend in that way or in most other ways. I've long rationalized my indifference if not aversion to travel by telling myself that few places I'd ever want to go to are that different from where am I now and that places really different from where I am now are not places I'd enjoy visiting anyway, so why bother going anywhere?

The only reason I do bother to travel is to accommodate my wife. She seems to love to travel, and, when I'm with her, at least I have her to navigate and to handle the logistics of it all that I'd be clueless and powerless to handle on my own. But if not for her, I'd stay at or near home all the time.

But I think there's more to my not traveling any more than necessary to satisfy my wife than my aforementioned rationalization that every place is pretty much the same place. I think a big part of it can be traced to the same thing that so many other aspects of my life can be traced to--my NLD

According to the literature I've read about NLD, one defining characteristic of children who have it is that they don't explore their physical surroundings like their peers do. They learn about their surroundings primarily by talking and, later, reading about them. And I'm guessing the same tends to be true of adults with NLD. It's certainly true for me.

Not only do I shy away from physically exploring my surroundings because I seem to be able to learn more about them through words than through direct experience, but I'm just not that interested in them in the first place. I've generally always been more interested in the non-physical realm of ideas and ideals than I am in the things we can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. That's just how my compromised brain works.

But I wish it were otherwise. I wish I could interact more fruitfully and potently with the physical world and enjoy it in all the ways that neurotypical people do. And I think that when I scoff at those, like my friend, who like to travel a lot, I'm really just trying to assuage my sense of inferiority to them by telling myself that I'm actually superior to them by not being lured by the baubles of the gross physical world, that I'm somehow attuned to a higher plane of existence.

But deep down, I know better. And so I find myself feeling a chronic mixture of envy and resentment toward normal people like my friend.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Do Liberals Project Their Shadows Onto Trump?


A Facebook friend of mine shared this blogpost contending that liberals who hate Donald Trump are “projecting” repressed parts of themselves onto Trump. They hate the narcissism, the greed, the psychopathy, the egomania, and so forth that they subconsciously realize exist within themselves and attribute it to our President-elect to what is possibly an exaggerated extent.

However, I don’t think their attributions are exaggerated at all. I think Trump is all the unsavory things liberals say he is and with such pathological strength that there’s more than ample reason to feel very apprehensive about his looming presidency. But I do agree that the emotional responses of many are misshapen and exaggerated as a probable result of correctly seeing in Trump disowned and reviled parts of themselves.

Here is my comment from this morning on my friend’s shared blogpost:
If "projection" is attributing repressed aspects of oneself to someone else who doesn't actually embody them, then I don't think liberals are projecting pathological narcissism, egomania, greed, mendacity, intellectual vacuity, and overall incompetence onto a president-elect who doesn't truly embody these undesirable traits. I think Trump embodies those traits to a striking and extremely unsettling degree and that to deny this is to exhibit a maladaptive psychological response, by whatever name, every bit as salient as the so-called "projection" Davis attributes to liberals.
However, to the extent that liberals hate Trump for the traits at issue, I think it may well be true that this reflects the fact that liberals who hate him or who feel extreme anger or disgust toward him are manifesting their hatred, anger, or extreme disgust for traits or tendencies that ALSO exist within themselves but are repressed into "shadows." It seems to me that the healthy or un-repressed way of responding to Trump and to his impending presidency is not with hatred, violent anger, or overweaning disgust, but with grave concern and sadness that such a man could ever come to occupy the White House, and with intense determination to resist actions of his administration that threaten the safety and well-being of "We the People."