Dec 17

‘Tis the Season to Donate

In Brief—Bay points out the necessity for ignoring the commerciality that smothers the real meaning of the season and spending your money on the worthy causes that can really make a difference.


“Ho, Ho, Ho!” Donations That Have Real Impact—

We all need another tie or toy like we need water in our shoes. How many times have you smiled gamely at the giver and thanked her/him while thinking, “Oh, God! Not another gift that will never get used.” Well, here’s a solution.

For the past several years our family has agreed that we have enough “things” while there are folks who have little, who are sick, who fled their homes just to survive. We have made donations to worthy causes that address these needs and can always use more. You should do the same thing if you are not already ahead of us.

Here are organizations that can put those donations to use where they’re needed. These are truly worthwhile organizations. I’ve also provided a list of organizations that are already receiving attention but don’t really need the money they receive. By all means remember them if you need to but give where it truly counts!

Worthy Smaller Organizations that Need Your Donations—

These organizations are just a few of those recommended as worthy causes by both Bay and the courageous journalist Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. Most of the groups listed are relatively small and all give considerably more bang for the buck than the big guys.

Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres)—This organization provides medical treatment to all comers in areas often in conflict zones. Their personnel work where other organizations fear to tread. As if that isn’t enough, they provide much-needed treatment to sick people throughout the world where poverty is the killer.

Reading is Fundamental—This organization provides free books to kids who live in poverty in the United States. It’s a way for children to overcome America’s inequality while giving an intellectual boost to the kids.

American Civil Liberties Union Foundation—Despite what right-wing whiners trying to steal our rights may say, this organization is devoted to defending the First Amendment and our civil liberties. We’d be living in a fascist country if it were not for this group and others who value our freedoms.

Freedom of the Press Foundation— This is a group focused on freedom of the press under the First Amendment. Without groups like this and the ACLU the government would starve us of the right to know the truth. It’s always important, particularly when governments at the state and national level seek to bury or belittle the press.

Afghan Institute of Learning—Operated by Afghan and Pakistani women, this organization focuses on health and teaching and builds a foundation for a civil society. The Taliban wants to destroy good stuff like this.

Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee—Since 1972, this organization’s mission and efforts have been focused on turning poverty-stricken people into productive contributors to Bangladeshi society.

The Fistula Foundation—Operating in 32 countries throughout Africa and Asia, this organization provides surgery to eliminate the pain and isolation arising from a childbirth gone wrong. It’s focused on helping women.

GEMS (Girls Education & Mentoring Services)—In New York, young women who have been sexually exploited and trafficked learn solid gender-oriented principles in how to turn their lives around.

Partners in Health (PIH)—Focused primarily in Africa but with programs in other parts of the world, this organization works hard to improve the health of the poor.

In addition, Nicholas Kristof annually mentions overlooked organizations worthy of support. By reading Nicholas Kristof’s recommendations you can check out organizations that are both effective and in need of donations to carry out their missions.

By clicking on either of  the light blue highlighted areas above, you will find several additional worthwhile non-profit organizations that can use your donation to better thousands of lives.

Organizations that have More than Enough—

The following organizations may be helpful, but they get more attention and money than the smaller worthwhile groups listed above. Why do these large groups get all the attention and so much money? They spend millions in advertising, they recruit mega-stars to advance their causes. Less bang for the buck. They don’t need your donations to survive.

The Red Cross—Sometimes effective, sometimes not. Enormous advertising costs. Wasteful.

The Cancer Society—Both private and government support. Enormous world-wide research focus.

The Roman Catholic Church—The wealthiest organization on earth. Richer than the United States. Global influence.

The Muscular Dystrophy Foundation—Worthwhile but heavily funded by the American government. Recruits mega-stars to promote contributions.

Your Local Church—By all means drop your small contribution in the basket they pass around every Sabbath, but be aware that your local church is part of a wealthy religious organization.

I’ve just scratched the surface of the organizations that don’t need your contribution. There are others, but be aware that these groups have more than ample support while the smaller organizations above need your contributions to carry on their work.

Give Where it Really Counts—

However you celebrate the holidays, give thought to the small organizations that work to improve the lives of people less fortunate. Make a meaningful donation today.

Note—This piece will run for two (2) weeks because many readers will be involved in activities and travel during the holidays. I suggest you post this piece on Facebook and other social sites.

The next piece will appear on December 31, 2017. If you subscribe to this blog, you will get only a simple heads-up every time I publish a new piece. No harassment. I promise.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Dec 10

America: A Failed Experiment

In Brief — With sadness, the author briefly explores the state of America today under an erratic and autocratic leader as it descends in status. Just another flawed country that has lost its way after a promising beginning. [Written April 2017.]

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The Fall of Giants—

No, I’m not anti-American but I AM a realist. If I didn’t care about the country of my birth, I wouldn’t mourn the state of affairs that poisons America.

The facts you are about to read examine just a few of the many cracks in the structure that undermine what was once a nation that promised so much to citizens and immigrants alike. When asked by a woman about what the founding fathers had given the people, Benjamin Franklin is reported to have said, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” There is still a glimmer of hope in this fractured, ultra-partisan nation, but right now it looks like we have lost it.

A republic is defined as a country in which the supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.

America is not perfect nor has it ever been, but the experiment that was brought into being by a group of men in the 18th century was the best to arise from the Enlightment that emerged from centuries of darkness and oppression. With the guarded hopes of its founders, the oppression of the church was replaced by common men rather than prelates. And large hunks of the citizenry have now trampled on that promise.

Some of the many ways America has lost the promise that was created by the founding fathers and offered to all immigrants by the Statue of Liberty can be seen every day when we look at the destruction we see around us.

The United States, once a promising democracy that was scarred by slavery, lasted until the Civil War ended the experiment and Jim Crow took over where slavery left off. Under its current government the country is now a plutocratic and racist oligarchy that is coming dangerously close to becoming an autocracy — even a Christian theocracy — ruled by money and corruption. Times have changed, but barely camouflaged slavery still exists and inequality flourishes.

Not long ago, five conservatives on the United States Supreme Court, ruled in the Citizens United case that prodigious amounts of money are entitled to the same standing as the votes of the average voter. Put clearly, they refused to recognize that money has the power to exert outsized influence and corrupt. Indeed, money is corrupting governance not just in America but throughout the world.

Those same five conservatives ruled in the Hobby Lobby case that the religion of an owner of a closely-held corporation overrules the beliefs of the corporation’s employees. To help you understand this, it means that the religious belief of that owner negates the beliefs — religious or not — of all the company’s employees. It should come as no surprise that the conservatives on the Supreme Court are partisan politicians in black robes.

Now, let’s look at some other major flaws in the American system.

The two controlling political parties, Republican and Democrat, not only deprive the people of the power of the vote, they actively prevent Third Parties from taking part in the elective process. The legislative branch, congress, has become dysfunctional to the extent that, despite the loud objections of the Republicans, the former Democratic president was forced to do his job by executive order, executive orders now embraced and misused by the current Republican president. The congress obstructed every move by the former president for partisan and probably racist motives, but they have no trouble in accepting the current president’s corruption and unconstitutional executive orders.

America’s corrupt oligarchs wanted a widely-despised woman to be the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party while the backward-looking Republican Party that created the current ethically-challenged president now supports the most reviled man ever to occupy the Oval Office. Ignoring the message of the 2016 election, both parties now threaten — each in its own way — to bring down the country. Corruption is the mother’s milk of the American government.

America now fights wars in several parts of the world bent on forcing its vision of freedom on the people of foreign countries who want to decide their own destinies. Both political parties give more money than the American military asks for as it lies consistently and squeezes the rest of the world in its python-like embrace. At home, the military arrogantly tests new weapons on its own people despite laws designed to prevent them from doing this. Now, the Republican Party and its president shower even more money on the military. Indeed, military generals manipulate the levers of power at the highest level of government. It appears as if the military has taken over.

No doubt this piece barely scratches the surface of America’s many flaws, not least justice, sexism, racism and inequality. We know that America could do much better, but its political elite puts the pedal to the floor and heads even lower on the ethical road. Only the people have the power to put America on the right road toward the promise of its beginning. Will we do it? Is there time left?

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 2017

 

Dec 03

Humans, Super-Humans or Extinction?

In Brief — Humans arose from pond scum millions of years ago, progressed through stages to the place where they are today. Assuming progress continues, will humans become super-human or is extinction their fate? [Written in August/September 2017.]

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Where Will Time’s Arrow Lead Humanity? —

War, disease, famine or, alternatively, extended life, good health, mental power and contentment? Since we can’t see around the corner into the future, we can only guess where the arrow of time will lead us.

Author Yuval Harari’s “Sapiens” (Latin for humanity) traces the path humans are on from the time they came down out of the trees and began walking toward the future. From early humans to the technological era in which we live now, science is guiding us toward…what? As Harari posits, will humans become “Homo Deus” (Latin for man as god) are we just another animal doomed to extinction like all those who are dust on the path of history? Human hubris is now in the process of eradicating many of our fellow creatures. Are humans next? It’s an existential question for humanity, but the universe will continue with or without us, not caring that humans ever existed.

Possible Futures —

What are the possibilities that may lie ahead? Will humans become godlike and create nirvana or will circumstances lead to extinction? It seems that scientific advances hold the possibility that we can become like gods, but even small occurrences can interrupt that progress. In weighing the possibilities, we mustn’t forget that there are no guarantees that dead-ends don’t lie ahead. Will climate change or virulent new viruses interfere to steer humanity onto unpredictable paths?

With that caution, what may lie ahead?

Every human contains numerous personalities. One can be ambitious or passive, profit-seeking or phlegmatic, but one aspect is always certain…the human drive toward improvement. If one is good, two is better.

We have defeated smallpox, so why not eradicate other diseases? If an I.Q. of 140 is good, why not one of 200 or 400? We can use a computer to instantly give us the answer, so why not turn our brains into computers and eliminate the middle man?

We are now capable of editing a gene to eliminate a future threat to life, so why not create a super-human by altering other genes? Extend life markedly? It will undoubtedly be expensive, so will the wealthy be the only ones to benefit? Will this create a two-tiered society? Will resentment burn in the breasts of those who can’t afford life extension?

Ethics? The golden image shimmers ahead, so someone, somewhere, won’t care about the ethics and will forge ahead. Remember that humans are programed for pursuing a higher level. Humans will be happier with that advance…but will the happiness last or will greater advances be needed?

Religion? Once humans become godlike, how will this affect belief in deities? Will religions survive or will they fade away? If they fade away, what will fill the void?

War and weapons? Given humanity’s penchant for dominating “The Other,” will the nation or group with superior weapons dominate? Will democracy succumb to autocracy? Will the defeated side become slaves? Will slavery be part of humanity’s future? Will Homo Deus even need unimproved humans? Will those weapons be turned on common humans?

Gender? Will men or women dominate? Will gays and lesbians be treated the same as heterosexuals? Transgender persons? Will marriage survive? Is marriage even necessary?

These are just a few of the issues that will be raised in the future. Each question leads to multiple possibilities. Each of those possibilities leads us …where?

What is your view and why? Are you encouraged or frightened? Regardless, I hope to make you think about what lies around the corner. Harari’s “Sapiens” and “Homo Deus” explore past and future. For good or ill, the future lies ahead.

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 June 2017.

 

Nov 26

Chronicle from the Old Folks’ Home — Part 15

In Brief — A contemplation of humanity’s inescapable date with the Grim Reaper. The old folks’ home is the terminal where death is waiting for the next departure. [Written in July/August 2017.]

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Life is an Opportunity; Use It Before Death Ends It —

What happened to all those years that were racing by? Did I use them wisely or did I waste them? Now in old age I realize that all of them, both selfish and giving, added to the person I am, but is that enough? All I have now is the time remaining. I hope it’s enough to make up for the time wasted.

Until late 2011, I was seemingly healthy. It was a mirage. A sudden dizziness led to them telling me that a walnut-sized tumor in the back of my head was the culprit. The surgeon in Umeå warned that I might not be able to swallow. For several years before that I would briefly choke and laugh it off saying, “That’ll be the death of me.” Little did I know that it was almost true.

After the operation I awoke in the stroke ward. What am I doing here? I understand why as I look at myself today. A couple of months later, I was transferred to a rehab center where I briefly had biofeedback training to restore my ability to swallow. It halfway worked for a while, but the promising ability faded. If it had continued I might be swallowing today. I’d be a different person and wouldn’t be here. Those forks in the road can lead to different destinations.

Unfortunately, my physical deficits were a huge source of stress for my loving wife. As bad as it is to be denied the ability to eat with her, the stress of having to dance to my tune of thrice daily feedings led to my volunteering to live in an elder care facility. In 2015 that became a reality. Regular visits and loads of help are poor substitutes for a close relationship, but at least the stress is gone.

So how did blogging come about? Fearing that I’d be depressed at the abrupt change in my life, in 2013 my eldest daughter set up my blog to motivate me. I’d always heard that blogging ate your life and thus avoided it despite the requests, but now I’m hooked. For good or ill I publish a new piece every week. I see blogging as a way to maybe inspire, but, at a minimum, to plant seeds that I hope will allow me to leave the world a better place for my having been here.

Inspiration Comes Unexpectedly —

Reading is an enjoyable feeding of my brain. On July 27th, 2017, the New York Times reviewed Cory Taylor’s “Dying: A Memoir.” Although Ms. Taylor died of cancer shortly after writing it, Jennifer Senior’s moving review stirred me to write about a subject that’s one we seldom want to deal with. Living in the old folks’ home where death is a shadow in the corridor inspired me to write this.

I’ve written of how an immortal man looked with envy on a dead person. I helplessly watched a close doctor friend surrender to cancer after weeks of splintering a stick clenched between his teeth when waves of pain swept over him. I wept for a talented friend who had swallowed the Socratic elixir that would carry him away much too soon. I was stunned by the diagnosis and unexpected speed with which ALS took a psychologist friend away from us.

How will I pass into that nothingness that awaits me? Will it hurt? Will I cry in fear as my aunt did when she realized that death approached or will it silently steal upon me in sleep as it did with my mother? Will I rage, “Too soon! Too soon! I have much yet to do!” Or will I accept it as merely a natural part of the life cycle that billions before me have experienced?

Perhaps understandably, we distance ourselves from the deaths of strangers. Bullets. Bombs. Starvation. Execution. Drowning. Disease. Young and old, past and present, death comes in many forms. It is unique for each human.

Thanks to Cory Taylor and Jennifer Senior I’ll borrow from Harold Pinter. When the shadow embraces me, I’ll miss my beloved wife. I’ll miss my family. I’ll miss my friends. I’ll miss this vaie of pleasures and tears. I hope I’ll leave the world better for having been here.

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 May 2017.

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.