Nov 19

A Theft or a Souvenir?

In Brief — The author’s remembrance of his youthful trip through Europe with an eventful visit to Finland. [Written in April-May 2017.]


A Risky Act —

I’m an old man now, but many years ago a rich great-aunt gave me a high school graduation gift of a trip through Europe. It changed my life. “Travel is an education,” she said. Without knowing it, she planted a seed: “At some time in my life I want to live in a country other than the one into which I was born.” Today, Sweden has been my home for twenty-three years.

At eighteen I was a naïve innocent from the vast scenic deserts and mountains of New Mexico. In June I found myself on the crowded sidewalks of Manhattan. The buildings soared high above me, the ground shook beneath my feet as unseen subways roared to unseen destinations. A woman’s “Outta my way” reminded me that hurrying New Yorkers didn’t abide fascinated tourists blocking the sidewalk.

We stayed at the Waldorf Astoria where I was introduced to Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s senior aide. I met Walt Disney and his family, soon to be fellow passengers on the Queen Elizabeth. The imposing Empire State Building gave a view of the huge city that was soon to be in the ship’s wake.

The Trip Begins —

Her name was Evelyn. I’ve forgotten her last name. She was the tour leader responsible for nineteen girls and six guys between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six. Did I mention that twenty-five youngsters generated enough energy to power New York? Evelyn’s first mistake was when she told her charges that one of her proudest possessions was a souvenir Olympic flag. Another seed was planted.

Somewhere in my tossed salad life I read that the definition of confusion was trying to herd cats. Evelyn was about to learn what herding cats was about. I suspect that she retired to a quiet town after the tour.

While I traveled in First Class, some of our group didn’t have to wear a tux to dinner, but I never had trouble finding my way to get-togethers with my fellow travelers.

Through Europe —

Our travels would take us through England, Norway, Sweden, Finland for the 1952 Olympics, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France, so our first stop was England. Big Ben, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Parliament and even Stratford-on-Avon for a taste of Shakespeare. England breathed history. I was hooked.

The trip across a rough North Sea to Bergen, Norway found me falling in love with spirited Elsa who had eyes only for drunken Dixon not for a scrawny hick from out west. But those blonde Norwegian girls planted a libidinous seed that eventually led me to marrying a beautiful Swede and living in Sweden.

Sweden and Stockholm were fascinating. They still are. Old Town, the Royal Palace, luscious food, a trip to Drottningholm with its vast gardens and charming theatre. History.

On to Helsinki, Finland, and the Olympics. The points of interest and the games faded in contrast to that forest of alternating Finnish and Olympic flags beside the stadium. A souvenir grew from that seed Evelyn planted.

The Flag —

It was a drizzly night when I stood looking up at that fluttering Olympic flag. I waited for the night‘s strollers to pass. My razor-sharp pocket knife cut the rope as if it were butter. It was only when it hit the ground that I realized how big the flag was. Not to be deterred, I removed my raincoat and rotated to wrap the soggy flag around my body. Donning the raincoat, I made my way across the city’s crowded main street drawing more than a few looks of wonder at such a fat person with such a thin face.

Once in the room, I carefully folded the damp flag and placed it next to my white tux jacket. The next day as the customs inspector riffled through my bag’s contents I was as nervous as a whore in church with visions of the inside of a Finnish jail cell. Thank god it wasn’t a Finnish flag. I didn’t brag about my feat until we were well on our way once again. Needless to say, my stature increased markedly among my compatriots…but Elsa remained focused on balding Dixon.

Several of us became briefly separated from the tour group, but we came within a short distance of East Germany. Evelyn breathed again when we were reunited.

I experienced my first hangover in Switzerland after an evening carving my initials the Lucerne student club’s table. A few friends and I narrowly avoided being arrested after setting off firecrackers in a quiet Lake Como town in northern Italy. Evelyn must have winced at that adventure.

Rome’s Coliseum, Trajan’s Arch and an open-air operatic performance of Aida were highlights. Being blessed by Pope Pius XII at the Vatican after absorbing the priceless art of the Vatican Museum was breathtaking. When I gave a rosary blessed by the Pope to my mother’s Hispanic maid, you’d have thought it was a bar of gold.

Along the French Riviera, a swim in the Mediterranean, the perfume country of southern France, Paris, ah-h Paris and coffee at a sidewalk café leisurely watching strolling passers-by. The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre with its incomparable art…and, without having to deal with terrorists, finally, home.

A few weeks later, my mother’s new husband’s Finnish cousin listened to my story, laughed and informed us that his father’s factory in Finland had made my souvenir Helsinki flag. How’s that for irony?

I still have that flag…well, the moths and I.

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on April 2017.

Nov 12

Party of Three — Second Shot

Note — Recently readers had the chance to invite anybody from history to discuss their life and times and why the reader was interested in that person. Language and time are not problems.

Unfortunately, only a few stalwart readers chose to comment. Maybe others were shy. Maybe some folks didn’t know that commenting was as simple as clicking on the word “Comment” at the bottom of the piece or…maybe they just didn’t want to get involved. Maybe they aren’t reading my blog at all because they believe they have more important fish to fry.

If you want this blog to continue, read, participate, comment (or choose not to).

Surely, you are curious about what Bay will say about a subject. Surely, you have some person in history or your life who fascinates you.

Unless you are just not interested, subscribe to this blog. I promise that by subscribing (“Subscribe” is on the right side of the blog) you’ll get a simple heads-up every time a new piece is posted. No harassment, no advertising, just a quick reminder that a new piece has been posted. That’s all.

You may not be interested in a particular week’s subject. If that’s the case, tune in next week. Tell your friends about this blog. I mix the subjects up and always make an effort to keep it interesting and short enough that it won’t be a slog. I always want you to think. Thinking is what makes us human.

With that preamble, on with the show.

Out of the Pages of Life and History —

Who do you invite and why? The invitees speak your language regardless of where they come from, when they lived and no matter the changes that might have taken place in the world. The people you invite can share thoughts and insights with you or with each other. Your selection tells about your values, so you need to think carefully about the three you invite. No doubt there are many people who might be considered, but you can choose only three. Which three will you choose?

Don’t be afraid; there are no right choices, only your choices. We are all different. Your choices reflect your interests; mine reflect my interests. Remember that fear is the mind-killer.

My Choices and Reasons —

There are tens of thousands interesting people who have lived or are alive today. A few examples are: Socrates, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Lao Tzu, Adolf Hitler, Neil Armstrong, Winston Churchill, Muhammad Ali, Napoleon Bonaparte, Mark Twain, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles Lindberg, Mao Tse-tung, Nelson Mandela, Joan Baez, Satchmo Armstrong, Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Warren, Jonas Salk, a relative and many more.

In this second round, here are my three choices and the reasons I chose them.

Socrates — This Greek philosopher who lived in the 5th century BCE is best known for his method of teaching through questions. He believed that it taught his students to think for themselves. His philosophy was so disturbing to the politicians of that period that they condemned him to death. Since I strongly share his belief in getting people to think for themselves, I want to engage in a dialogue with him.

Rudolf Nureyev — This famous Russian ballet dancer and choreographer was renowned for his athleticism and astounding leaps. On the two occasions when I attended his Swan Lake ballet, I was blown away by his power and athleticism. Not only did his defection cause an international sensation, America benefitted from his decision. He died of heart inflamation at the young age 56. I would like to learn how he chose dance, why he left Russia and how that affected him.

Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke — This superbly educated, widely traveled and multi-talented woman lived and wrote during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. In her engaging book, “Sweet Swan of Avon”, Shakespearean scholar Robin Williams has presented convincing proof that Mary Sidney wrote the sonnets and plays attributed to William Shakespeare, facts that the men put forth as the author lack. I’d like to discuss the anti-female conventions of the period, how she wrote the material that we attribute to Shakespeare and why the mistaken attribution.

These are my choices for some thought-provoking conversations. You will notice that this time there is a female. Although I readily admit that there are many more outstanding women throughout history, there may be room for some psychologizing there.

Harking back to my opening note, let’s hear about your choices. Don’t hold back. Give us a look into your thinking process.

Weekly Sampler—

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on March 2017.

 

Nov 05

Choose Improved Health or Early Death

In Brief — Facts about the food humans eat that can lead either to improved health or to disease. [Written in July 2017.]

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Eating Right Can Improve Your Life —

I made a mistake. Well, it was only a small one, but nevertheless one that could shorten many lives. Genes are only part of the equation. In January of 2015, aware of my longevity inheritance, I wrote the blog piece “Eat Your Veggies.” I recommended a vegetarian diet that would improve health while at the same time saving the lives of our fellow creatures and bettering the chances that Earth can survive human predation.

Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it can make a big difference in whether we allow ourselves to be manipulated by the massive food industry, particularly large corporations; the medical community, including numerous doctors and hospitals; Big Pharma (the real drug pushers); and the politicians we elect. In short, do we remain dupes or do we take charge of the life or death aspects of our own lives? Changing what we eat is a simple act. Cheaper, too. Easy on the family budget.

A long-time friend who makes an effort to lead a balanced life sent me a documentary titled “What the Health.” It documents the ways the villains mentioned above do their manipulative dance while deliberately sacrificing all of us on the altar of Profit. The ultimate goal of the well-researched documentary is to point out the reasons we should change to a plant-oriented Vegan diet.

Being the person I am, I researched the film looking for both criticism and support. What I found was unqualified support for the message of the healing properties of a Vegan diet. The only criticisms I found were from industry sources pointing out the dangers of interfering with the market. Put bluntly, for the villains Profit is more important than human life. Heaven forbid we disturb the market.

Whatever you do, be sure to read “What the Health” (It can be found on Netflix). Read it all then return here.

Shocking Suffering by Our Fellow Creatures—

The size of the problem is apparent in the statistics. New Zealand, with a human population of about 4.5 million, has 7.5 sheep for every New Zealander. China has almost half a billion pigs while America is second with about seventy million pigs. Brazil is third with about forty million of the oinkers.

By the way, a pig is about as smart as an average three-year-old human yet it is frequently held in torturous little crates and gets to eat ground up pig meat. The next time you eat a pork chop, reflect on the fact that you’re probably eating pig fecal matter. Would food inspectors and researchers lie?

Chickens? As of 2009 there were nearly fifty billion — that’s 50 BILLION chickens — in the world, many of them in inhumanely crowded cages in huge factory farm sheds waiting to die to become those McNuggets McDonald’s serves. Republican politicians in assorted states are passing “anti-terrorism” laws to prevent compassionate activists from filming inhumane conditions most often used by huge factory farms. Profit…and lots of fecal matter, too!

And then there are helpless tortured calves that are torn from their mothers to become veal in your local market. Contemplate that the next time you serve veal cutlets. Their butchered mothers and fathers will help assure that meat-consuming humans get heart and lung diseases, diabetes, cancer and more. Oops! Upward go health care costs.

By now you have probably figured out that we humans are almost totally unaware of the monumental suffering imposed on our fellow creatures. We just don’t want to know some very uncomfortable facts, but we might just want to save the planet and its inhabitants by becoming vegetarians or Vegans.

Don’t Rock the Boat —

So what opposition will you find to eating only plant-based food? What pressures are doctors submitted to?

It may surprise you to learn that several professional medical associations opposed adding a mere seven hours of nutritional instruction for would-be doctors in medical schools in California.

While doctors are taught to diagnose and treat diseases, most don’t give attention to preventing illness. Preventive medicine gets short shrift. It cuts into profitable sick patient traffic.

Big Pharma, the world’s major drug pusher, spends millions of dollars to get doctors to prescribe their drugs. Hard-pressed and indoctrinated doctors learn it’s easier to prescribe drugs than it is to find cheaper and more effective ways to control a condition. Eating right gets ignored.

Politicians are easy targets for lobbyists to convince about the ways to keep restive constituents mollified. Both lobbyists and medial professionals make more money. Hospitals, too.

Your Responsibility —

Lest you think you are off the hook, you’re not. Don’t be so blindly trusting. Ask questions of your doctor. You might get lies or guesses, so take the time to learn how you can be healthier. The power rests in your hands.

You can often head off or reverse that disease limiting you. Eating intelligently is an important part of that quest. Eating a plant-based Vegan diet is the first step toward improved health.

Type “Vegan recipes” into your browser to find hundreds of delicious plant-based recipes. Your life is the most important gift you’ve ever been given. Treasure and care for it. Eat healthy! Eat plant-based food.

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on February 2017.

Oct 29

Jews Are Human, Too

In Brief — An exploration of the genetics of most modern Jews showing that physical traits rest in past history and human nature. Genetics and religion are different concepts that can’t be used to identify “Jewishness.” [Written in April/June 2017.]

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Being Human Determines Physical Appearance —

“I don’t look Jewish, do I?” My lovely Jewish girlfriend touched her face and expressed worried concern that her face might show her Jewishness. I assured her that she looked just like any attractive blonde female. In the years since, I’ve thought about that exchange and, indeed, have lost a wonderful friend over related issues. This piece might clear the fog away from a fraught question…at least I hope so.

As you doubtless expected, this discussion will contain a little history and scientific evidence. I’ll make it as painless as possible.

Origins and Early History of Judaism —

Generally, Judaism arose from a blending of Bronze Age Babylonian religion with a mix of elements of other early Middle Eastern monotheistic religions. Although the date is hard to place, you’d be in the ballpark with between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago.

Researchers agree that Judaism is a religion, not a race (remember that!!). Indeed, the Semites of the Middle East, including the Arabs and the early Jews, had dark complexions and spoke similar languages. “Semitic” was a language concept until fairly recent times. When you hear “anti-Semitism,” you are hearing a political evaluation that may be denigrating adherents of Judaism, the religion of Judaism itself or it may be for political advantage. Benjamin Netanyahu, the current political leader of Israel, is using the term for political advantage.

I won’t risk boring you with more details. If you’re interested, you can do your own research or read my earlier pieces on religion and the modern Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Migration of the Jews—

In earlier times for a variety of reasons that include both voluntary and forced migration, adherents of Judaism moved to various parts of the world. For our purposes, I will focus on Europe.

There are three main types of adherents to Judaism, and of these, roughly 80% are Ashkenazi, or European, Jews. Many Ashkenazi Jews moved to different areas of Europe including Germany, Poland, Russia and other European countries. This group was larger before the advent of Nazism and the Holocaust.

According to scholars, those migratory male Jews bred with local females who then converted to Judaism. Human nature is…well, human. Males want to spread their seed with any available female. So it has been since we arose from pond scum. Females, particularly in early times, converted to Judaism and passed their DNA on to their children. Genetic studies bear this out.

Naturally, the migrating Jews associated with other Jews for both religious and understandable human reasons like solidarity and security. Thus, when I used the term “clannish” to describe the early Jewish groups it was intended to indicate that the group stuck together. My former friend was wrong when his cultural sensitivity falsely labeled me as anti-Semitic. The irony in this story is that my former friend is the product of not just his adoptive Jewish parents but of Native American ancestry. I urge you to look up “clannish” or click on the highlighted word.

Admiration is Not Identification—

Although I’m an atheist, I admire the Mormon commitment to community, the Quakers’ devotion to peace, mainline Christianity’s belief in service to others less fortunate, and Judaism’s focus on knowledge, but I’m still an atheist who opposes belief in a deity…any deity anywhere. It’s normal to admire something, but that admiration doesn’t make one an adherent of a particular belief system.

Likewise, I urge non-practicing Jews to recognize that Judaism is a religion, not a race, and stop identifying themselves as “Jewish.” They are humans of different sexes and colors, Americans, Spanish, Israelis or other valid identities, but they aren’t Jews. They may feel a cultural affinity to Judaism or to Israel, they may have genetic markers, but DNA, admiration or feelings don’t make them Jewish.

Whether or not my former girlfriend had so-called “Semitic” features is irrelevant, she didn’t have to worry…she was still lovely. Her racial characteristics are those of her European forebears. It’s the religious affiliation that counts.

My friend Lionel basically advocated that it’s only when we learn to be honest with ourselves that we can get past the religious divisiveness that leads to distrust and enmity. Let’s make this a better, less divisive world by recognizing that we’re all human…even those non-adherents of Judaism identifying themselves as Jews.

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on January 2017.

 

Oct 22

Walking Under Ladders and Other Absurdities

In Brief — In January of 2017, the author contemplated a piece on superstition and how we all fall victim to some really silly mythical beliefs. After a period of simmering, this piece takes a cynical look at the phenomenon. [Written in May, 2017.]


What Fools These Mortals Be (Shakespeare) —

I confess! I used to throw spilled salt over my shoulder to avoid bad luck. I knock on wood. I know it’s a silly habit, but I still do it. I cross my fingers…or at least say it fairly often. And I’m an atheist who doesn’t believe in myths like deities and an earthly Jesus. If I do stuff like this, what do others do? Are we captive to myths? Belief in a deity is a myth, but the majority of people on Earth are captives of this myth. This deserves exploration.

Common Myths —

We are all gripped by bushwa, by false beliefs. Some of it is force of habit, but some of it is really serious stuff that dominates our lives. Given that these myths have power over us, it’s necessary to turn a spotlight on them and raise awareness of the baloney that lurks in the in the shadows of our subconscious. This is the spotlight illuminating common myths.

  • Walking under a ladder — While it is a practical fear that a can of paint or a tool may fall on you, it’s an old myth that a ladder resembles a medieval gallows or that the careless walker blasphemes the Christian Holy Trinity triangle.
  • Friday the 13th brings bad luck — This one is widely believed and is an example of confirmation bias, i.e., that because the believer may have experienced misfortune on a previous Friday the 13th, the believer will look for bad luck when that day rolls around again. Another reason is that Jesus was allegedly crucified on a Friday. In Spanish-speaking countries, bad luck is associated with Tuesday, not Friday.
  • A black cat crossing your path — Even though cats were worshipped in ancient Egypt and cats are frequent household pets, their association with the devil and witches makes them evil. In, Japan, however, black cats are believed to be omens of good luck.
  • Knocking on wood — Depending on which myth you want to believe, this superstition is either good or bad. Pagans believed that trees were inhabited by spirits who would bring good luck to a person who touched a tree. Christians believe that a wooden cross representing the one on which Jesus reputedly died carried good luck. Makes you wonder why crucifixion is considered lucky.
  • A rabbit’s foot is a good luck protective talisman — This Celtic myth…or maybe American-Caribbean voodoo, is believed to confer protection on the owner. Seems to me a three-legged rabbit whose foot adorns a key chain could dispute this.
  • Breaking a mirror results in seven years of bad luck — A mirror doesn’t just reflect your image it is believed to capture your soul. Given the fact that the number seven is often associated with good luck, it’s a long time to burden the breaker with bad luck. That’s a heavy psychological weight to carry around and could doom the believer to years of needless misery.
  • Wishing on a wishbone — Divination with bird bones goes back many centuries, but this one involves a belief that if one gets the larger piece in a contest with an opponent, the winner gets his/her wish. Presumably, this is a way of predicting the future. About that fifth race at Hialeah.,,?
  • Bad luck comes in threes — This one is another good example of confirmation bias. How often have you read about an airplane accident, and you were on the lookout for additional instances of bad luck? By George, they appeared! You had primed yourself for two more and, sure enough, they happened… but you ignored the additional ones. You just confirmed that bad luck comes in threes.
  • Crossing your fingers — This dates back to early Christianity. Crossing one finger over the other is supposed to approximate the Christian cross and was a sign of good luck. It was reportedly a signal to another Christian that s/he was among friends. Sort of like the secret symbols of fraternities. Cults, maybe? Just askin’.

These are just ten of perhaps hundreds if not thousands of superstitions. But you know something really astounding? Most of the billions of people on the planet believe in the biggest myth of all: a deity for which not even the most miniscule dust mote of evidence has ever been produced proving that a deity exists. Neither a loving deity nor an evil one. Nada.

There are numerous sincere believers who are devoted to bettering the lot of their fellow humans. These are truly practitioners of humanism, but they’re not followers of the superstition they purport to embrace.

All that said, this piece is about the little superstitions that we all carry with us. What are yours?

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on December 2016.

Oct 15

Art: The Good, Bad and Ugly

In Brief — A look at art in its varied forms: paintings, photography, sculpture, architecture, serigraphy, furniture whatever. What is art? What are its limits?

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The Eye of the Beholder —

Andy Warhol. Leonardo da Vinci. Pablo Picasso. Robert Rauschenberg. Shoji Hamada. Antoni Gaudi, Frida Kahlo. These are but a miniscule listing of the many people throughout the world recognized for their art.

Where there are artists, there are critics, tastemakers. Opinions on what is good or bad art are almost as numerous as there are people. Professional critics and average people see art in their own ways and for their own reasons. Here are the views of a few of the better-known critics.

Cartoonist Al Capp on abstract art: ”A product of the untalented sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered.”

Journalist Ambrose Bierce defines painting as ”The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather, and exposing them to the critic.”

Russian writer Leo Tolstoy says, ”To say that a work of art is good, but incomprehensible to the majority of men, is the same as saying of some kind of food that it is very good but that most people can’t eat it.”

The romantic poet William Wordsworth says cynically, ”Pictures deface walls more often than they decorate them.”

In my snarkier moments, I’ve been known to agree with them.

Addressing my narrow views, my artist wife says that bad art is still art. She’s less opinionated than I, but she has moderated my views and expanded my knowledge. Indeed, in keeping with my great aunt’s view that travel is an education, I’ve learned a bit about art in my walks through many of the world’s museums. They’ve opened my eyes to what has been judged to be great art… but I’m still opinionated.

A good example of my opinionation is Jean-Michel Basquiat. A protégé of Andy Warhol, best known for his depiction of Marilyn Monroe and a can of Campbell’s soup, Basquiat’s sloppy painting of a skull raised my blood pressuret into the red zone. Art can sometimes arouse passions and experimentation, but the annointment of Basquiat’s drivel is too big a bite for me to swallow. Basquiat is an example of the questionable power of tastemakers. Is he an indication of a good artist? I think not.

Another example is Robert Rauschenberg’s urinal. My blood boils every time I’ve seen that urinal being honored in a museum. I accept the fact that even the most mundane object in daily life can be artistic, but this object is beyond the pale for me. Am I to look with awe at the receptacle of my urine that’s being funnelled into a sewer? I think not.

Art has sometimes surprised me at the most unexpected moments. Until I saw Salvadore Dali’s paintings in the St. Petersburg, Florida museum, I considered him just a bizarre painter. Suddenly, I found myself struck dumb by Dali’s monumental painting of Jesus on the cross. Pure genius. He may have been a shameless self-promoter, but he was a talent par excellence.

Another such occasion came along in Guernica, Spain. Confronted by a life-sized copy of ”Guernica,” Pablo Picassos’s famous abstract painting considered to be the most powerful anti-war depiction in history, I was stunned by the raw emotion captured by Picasso. So strongly did the artist feel that he refused to allow the painting in Spain until the country became a democracy. Now that Franco is gone, the original is hanging in Madrid.

Until I visited the Amsterdam Museum, Vincent van Gogh’s paintings had been only pictures in a book. Seen as they were painted, van Gogh’s oils came alive with their true colors and textures. It was a startling and educational experience. The moral to this story is that one can’t really judge the quality of an artistic work until one sees the real McCoy. Does this apply to Basquiat? Not to me!

There are genuine paint artists not included in these few remarks. I’m an admirer of Andrew Wyeth, Georgia O’Keefe, Johannes Vermeer, Odd Nerdrum, Anders Zorn, Gustav Klimt, Carl Larsson, Egon Schiele and others too numerous to mention. You can see I prefer realism.

However, as can be seen, art covers a variety of areas. Architecture leaps readily to mind as do ceramics, photography and sculpture. Unfortunately, this blog piece is too short to permit me to express my tastes. That leads me to conclude that a Part 2 should be considered. So stick with me and share your preferences both to this part and whether a Part 2 is in order. Taste is in the eye of the beholder. You are a beholder.

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on November 2016.

Oct 08

Party of Four

In Brief — What sounds like being seated in a restaurant is, in fact, your invitation of four people, past and present, to join you for an exchange of thoughts on topics of interest. [Written in May 2017.]

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Revelations of Values —

Who do you invite and why? The invitees speak your language regardless of where they come from, when they lived and no matter the changes that might have taken place in the world. The people you invite can share thoughts and insights with you or with each other. Your selection tells about your values, so you need to think carefully about the four you invite. No doubt there are many people who might be considered, but you can choose only four. Which four will you choose?

Don’t be afraid; there are no right choices, only your choices. We are all different. Your choices reflect your interests; mine reflect my interests. Remember that fear is the mind-killer.

Try to limit your explanations to between twenty-five and fifty words. I may exceed that number, but this may give you an idea of what I meant by “Who do you invite and why.

My Choices and Reasons —

There are tens of thousands interesting people who have lived or are alive today. Some may even be your hero or heroine, yet you choose another. Some examples are: Socrates, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Lao Tzu, Adolf Hitler, Neil Armstrong, Winston Churchill, Nefertiti, Napoleon Bonaparte, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, Charles Lindberg, Mao Tse-tung, Nelson Mandela, Molly Ivins, Joan Baez, Satchmo Armstrong, Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Warren, Jonas Salk, etc., etc.

Here are my choices and the reasons I chose them. Although some were on my list, I chose another. Doesn’t mean the edited ones aren’t important to me, but there were four others who made the cut.

Leonardo da Vinci — A true polymath, he was an artist, inventor, scientist, architect, sculptor, anatomist, pacifist and an all-round fascinating genius. Known best for the Mona Lisa, his famous art works are legion. Though a pacifist, he designed military weapons. Centuries ahead of his time, he drew a helicopter and other flying machines. It has been speculated that he was homosexual.

Bertrand Russell — A Nobel Prize laureate, he won the prize for his writing, not the mathematics for which he is noted. He was a philosopher, writer, social critic and active anti-war pacifist. A liberal socialist, he wrote on subjects as varied as human sexuality, religion, linguistics, metaphysics, ethics and logic. He was atheistic and opposed to any form of totalitarianism.

Nelson Mandela — The first president of post-apartheid South Africa, he spent twenty-seven years in prison for his political activities opposing the apartheid regime. A lawyer, he devoted his life to freeing the black population from the iron grip of the murderous apartheid system. Land reform, black poverty, HIV/AIDS were his focus. The Nobel Peace Prize recognized his tireless pursuit of peace.

My fourth choice was a dead heat between Clarence Darrow and Mark Twain. Thus, four became five. I considered Eleanor Roosevelt, but she ultimately gave way to the men.

Clarence Darrow was a lawyer who defended the downtrodden and victims of narrow-mindedness (Scopes), government persecution (Bill Haywood) and the unpopular (Leopold/Loeb). He was a leading member of the ACLU, a supporter of women’s rights, an agnostic and a lifelong civil libertarian.

By contrast, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) was a prolific writer, humorist, lecturer and publisher. Opposed to the hypocrisy of religion, he nonetheless remained a Presbyterian despite his writings being scathing denunciations of organized religion. His humorous observations are as apt today as when he wrote them. Like Darrow, Twain/Clemens was an active civil libertarian. Even today his writings are being censored, not surprisingly by religionists and conservative politicians. He must be chuckling on that heavenly cloud.

These are my choices for some stimulating conversation leavened by humor. You may notice that all of my guests are from the past and that there are no females among them. I readily admit that there are many outstanding women such as Eleanor Roosevelt, but my guests are exclusively male. There may be room for some psychologizing there, but I can argue that there are practical reasons, too.

Let’s hear about your choices. Come on. Share. Give us a peek into your thinking process.

 

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on October 2016.

Oct 01

The Shame of Republicanism

In Brief — A frank look at why Republicans should be ashamed of their membership in a regressive political party. [Written in May 2017.]

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Backward-looking and Mean-Spirited  —

Imagine aligning yourself with ignorant scoundrels. A once-respected political party — Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt must be spinning in their graves — has abandoned governing in favor of obstructionist partisanship. Instead of negotiating with their political opponents, the representatives of the party have chosen to stomp their feet and turn their backs like spoiled children. Their supporters are proud of their representatives and far too often display racism, homophobia, ignorance and sexism. For the moment Trump leads the sorry parade and Republicans like McConnell and Ryan smile enthusiastically and follow.

It’s time to look at the definition of conservatism, the badge Republicans proudly wear.

The dictionary defines conservatism as clinging to traditional values and limiting change. Politically, conservatives want lower taxes, smaller government, freer business, a strong military, and an individual to be responsible for his/her personal needs in such areas as retirement and health care.

Real-Speak’s Spotlight —

Translating this into real-speak, it means conservatives cling to the old ways and are afraid of change. They let fear of the unknown whisper assurance. They’re afraid.

Politically, they want lower taxes so the rich can get richer while everybody else gets crumbs, less government while the world grows more competitive and dangerous, believe businessmen know better than anybody. They want a more muscular and bigger military renowned for bungling and waste, believe that people should be responsible in preparing for their “golden years” and that each person should see to his/her own matters of health despite abundant evidence that the average person doesn’t understand the fine print.

Let’s break that down into realistic, bite-size pieces.

  1. Conservatives look backward to an imagined simple past and are uncomfortable with anything new like sexual equality, freedom to love another regardless of skin color and gender, or LGBTQ folks having full rights.
  2. They want to pay lower taxes, particularly to benefit the rich folks who already get a bigger share of the pie. Simultaneously, the arts, science and people of color get the shaft…and a thumb in the eye.
  3. They believe that government must shrink even as the world becomes more complex and competitive.
  4. They believe that business is more efficient and more honest than government despite copious evidence saying the opposite.They believe that greed is rare in business whereas government is overflowing with people who are dishonest and inefficient. Let’s hear from readers who have worked in corporations…or government, for that matter.
  5. They want to give more money to a military that’s already acknowledged to be wasteful and bent on killing. They want other countries to dance to America’s tune.
  6. Conservatives believe that everybody has the money, foresight and knowledge to adequately prepare for old age despite abundant contrary evidence.
  7. To them, good health is assumed and insurance is simple, available and affordable for even the least of us regardless of income AND they’re doing all they can to assure Obamacare’s failure. Additionally, they believe everybody is knowledgeable about their own bodies, capable of predicting the future and familiar with the intricacies of the rich insurance industry that’s not noted for charity.

Do any of these beliefs conform with reality?

At the beginning, I said that being a Republican is worthy of shame. I’ve said that Republicans, whether in congress, at the state or local level, even as individuals, are backward-looking and mean-spirited. Additionally, too many are consciously or subconsciously racist, homophobic and sexist. Far too often, they wear their religion on their sleeve and are anti-science. As bad as all this is, supporting Trump is morally depraved.

The Proof is in the Pudding —

Undoubtedly a prime example can be found in the 2016 Republican Party platform. It is undeniably the scariest political document ever written. A party platform is the blueprint of what the party stands for…a wish list, if you will.

I know most readers feel they are too busy to plow through the propagandistic blather to find the juicy plums of substance. For those folks, be assured that the 2016 Republican platform is a political horror story. Please click on the highlighted area to understand why Republicans should be ashamed. [Using your cursor, swipe across the platform article to return to this blog.] On their face, many of the wishes buried in the platform’s blather look reasonable, but what the Republicans are actually doing shows the dishonesty of their weasel-worded platform and their true face. This is reality.

Readers who label themselves Republicans should read the Republican platform to see if they agree with the wish list of the Republican Party. Then they should honestly examine their beliefs against the values they hold. If they don’t agree, why are they voting for Republicans who are eagerly destroying everything America says it stands for?

Don’t let fear, ignorance and outworn tradition stand in the way of embracing a promising future. The 2018 elections give Republican voters a chance to shed their shame and breathe the fresh air of freedom.

A vote against Republicans doesn’t necessarily mean voting Democratic. That’s just one option. A vote for an independent party also carries a message of disapproval of Republicanism, BUT know what you’re voting for! A better future for America depends on your vote. Unless Republicans turn their backs on Republicanism, It’s going to get worse…much worse!

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on September 2016.

 

 

Sep 24

The Subversive Illusion of “I Can’t…”

In Brief — Some reasons why an old but eminently worthwhile book can improve your life. First, you must read it. [Written in May 2017.]


Negative Attitudes are Quicksand —

Last week it was an intriguing fantasy circus with its characters that we wish were real; this week a book that should be on every shelf and should be an integral part of every life. “Illusions” by Richard Bach, the author of “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” is a vaguely autobiographical novel that presents aphorisms that require thought to grasp the truth hiding in plain sight.

The author meets Donald Shimoda, a fellow barnstormer who is more than a skilled flyer, he’s a messiah who not only astounds, but shares his philosophy with the author. Is Shimoda the real article or is he crazy? Are the maxims in his manual feel-good advice or wisdom that has the power to change lives for the better?

Some people believe “Illusions” is just another self-help book. Among many others, I think it has the power to make the obstacles between you and your goal mere hindrances, not blocks. I often say that the one unchanging fact in the universe is change. Can you accept change? Are you willing to go around that obstacle to achieve your goal?

Shimoda’s manual says, “Argue for your limitations and, sure enough, they are yours.” On the surface, that maxim appears to be simple feel-good advice, but go deeper and it is saying that you are building a defense around your comfort zone. It is suggesting that you need to find a way around that obstacle to achieve your goal. Self-help it appears to be, but it’s up to each individual to dive deeper rather than defensibly circling the wagons around a comfort zone on the surface.

Years ago I read a book titled “A Whack on the Side of the Head.” Basically, it said that a person needs to think differently, unconventionally, not in the usual way that’s blocking progress toward a goal. That’s what that little aphorism is saying. That’s not feel-good advice.

Here are a few of the maxims in “Illusions.” Do they resonate with you? Think before you answer.

“You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however.”

 “The world is your exercise-book, the pages on which you do your sums. It is not reality, although you can express reality there if you wish. You are also free to write nonsense, or lies, or tear the pages.”

 “If you will practice being fictional for a while, you will understand that fictional characters are sometimes more real than people with bodies and heartbeats.”

 “Your conscience is the measure of the honesty of your selfishness. Listen to it carefully.”

 “Every person, all the events in your life are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you.”

There are more, but not all will touch you. Some of these have no meaning to you. Regardless, let them simmer in your thoughts, in your dreams.

I close with this thought from “Illusions”…

“Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t.”

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on August 2016.

Sep 17

The Best Fantasy Book I’ve Read

In Brief — A review of “The Night Circus” that reflects the author’s tastes. Will it reflect yours? [Written in May 2017.]

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Dreams of a Circus of Fantasy —

“The Night Circus.” My story about a story that stumbled out of the starting gate but crossed the finish line in first place.

It is said that a reader lives a thousand lives but a non-reader lives only one. If true, then I have lived a thousand lives. It seems I’ve been reading all my life. I was an asthmatic kid in his bedroom who read dictionaries while the neighbor kids played outdoors. The asthma disappeared in the high, dry climate of Santa Fe. In my early teens I was lucky in having a friend who introduced me to science fiction and fantasy. Since then, my reading has grown to include philosophy, history, theology, law, politics and other genres including fiction and, of course, fantasy.

“The Night Circus” was a gift from a former teacher friend who has generously fed my addiction with books she found particularly appealing. Unfortunately, unlike previous gifts from my special friend, this gift failed to materialize. I hovered over my Kindle expecting it to appear as others have done. It didn’t. Three days later after repeated complaints to Amazon, “The Night Circus” appeared as mysteriously as the circus does in this book.

As I said at the outset, this is the best fantasy I’ve ever read. I couldn’t put it down and could hardly wait to see where the author, Erin Morgenstern, would take me next. Not all readers will be as entranced as I, but this is my story.

Set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this tale includes wizards, magic, fated lovers and just plain people who are aficionados drawn into the spell of an unusual circus, a circus we all wish existed in our lives.

The fated Marco and Celia are surrounded by Widget, Poppet, Bailey and a host of fascinating characters who populate “The Night Circus.” They are drawn into the orbit of the circus that appears and disappears unpredictably and is open only during the night hours. As a reader, I was drawn in along with them.

What you might expect in any circus can be found here, but it’s all better. The popcorn is popped to perfection, the cider or hot drinks are delicious, the chocolate and caramel taste wonderful. The performances are awe-inspiring. Is it real magic or just beautifully done? Each tent is unique…and there are many tents.

With the circus as a backdrop, Marco and Celia are bound to a competition that will determine who is best. The winner lives; the loser must die. It’s always been like this.

Whether you read it as a paper book or on an e-reader makes little difference other than esthetic. If you are not a reader or not interested in fantasy, I will only say that you are missing something in life. And life is to be lived with all its flavors. “The Night Circus” added flavor to my life. Maybe it can add flavor to yours.

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on July 2016.