Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

My Uncle Martin Wood was a Saintly Man

January 5, 2011

My cousin Don Wood has been an avid hunter all his life. He told me that the tastiest game flesh he had ever experienced is the Canadian caribou. Don was born and raised on a dairy farm near Cobleskill (pronounced KOBOSKILL) NY and worked the farm all his life. In the 1950s the dirt road which ran for miles had about 40 active farms. Now there are perhaps only 2 or 3 active farms. His farm did not get electricity until the late 1940s. I once asked Don about politics and he explained that most farmers were Republican because they were small businesses. One truth, said in jest, was that the farmer is the only person who buys retail (a hammer in hardware, let us say) and sells WHOLESALE (to the dairy.) Don and his father Martin (my uncle) are two of the most moral men I have ever known in my life and I was around them for months at a time. Martin and Don only had intimacy with one woman in matrimony for their entire lives. Neither drank alcohol, used tobacco, used foul language, told dirty jokes or gossiped or spoke ill of anyone. And yet neither man was what you would call a church-goer apart from the occasional wedding or funeral. I questioned Don and his wife Lolita in detail once about their religious notions and they both readily agreed that once you die there is nothing beyond (no afterlife or rebirth). It was amazing for me to experience briefly the lives of people who are so upright and yet so secular. When I was ages 9, 10, 11 I spent a lot of time around both men as they worked and I totally TOOK IT FOR GRANTED that they were so virtuous. Only when I reached my 40s did I reflect upon how unique and saintly they are.

My uncle was a dairy farmer all his life. When I was age 10 I stayed there for the summer. I would get up at 5 am and watch him shave WITH A STRAIGHT RAZOR and a leather strop to sharpen it. Then he would cook up about 6 eggs and also have cereal with CREAM and milk. Of course the eggs and milk were from his own livestock. He did very heavy physical labor 7 days a week. He lived into his 80s. I am not certain what he died of. But obviously there are people who can eat lots of eggs and survive. I am sure the daily physical exertion played a key role in longevity.


Camus Implacable Grandeur

December 15, 2010

…I was dumbfounded when I first read your original post, but I was certain that it was a typo and I felt it would be in poor taste to even mention it but I am glad you corrected that typo. And had it NOT been a typographical error it would have been a cutting remark indeed. I wonder if one could ever say even of the most miserable wretch or fool or villain that life has “been wasted upon them.” I am reminded of what Camus says somewhere in the Sisyphus essays “The greatest sin (perhaps the ONLY sin) is to hanker after some future afterlife and take for granted the IMPLACABLE GRANDEUR of this life which we already possess.” IMPLACABLE GRANDEUR… to placate something means to satisfy it or appease it and to satisfy or appease grandeur means to stand in wide eyed gape-jawed wonder but a grandeur which is IMPLACABLE and can never be satiated is a grandeur which leaves us stunned at every single moment… and this is what anyone’s life is even a fool or a wretch or a villain… even the likes of Hitler or Hannibal Lecter I should imagine…

The World According to Kyle

December 6, 2010

Kyle, after reading your various posts for over a year, I do think you have to somehow reinvent yourself to fit in better before you can hope to achieve success in any field other that total world conquest by force.

Kyle, as difficult or impossible as it may be for you to ever change KYLE it is far more possible to do in theory than to change the world and make it the world according to Kyle. Let us try and imagine implementing your suggestion to transform SJC into a school with great book seminars which also gives people marketable skills. It occurred to me that the typical tutor who wants to make that their life’s work is someone who is willing to subordinate material success to a rich intellectual life and therefore it is unlikely that they would be of an entrepreneurial nature which means that other teaching staff would have to be hired. And anyone who has the inclination to be an entrepreneur would not be content to be a college level instructor. But LET US SAY FOR ARGUMENTS SAKE THAT WE COULD TRANSFORM SJC to your specification. How would that help your present circumstances or eliminate your bitterness over your 4 years experience or make you feel more comfortable in the medical profession. Everyone here has been very generous to accommodate you in venting your frustrations and they have offered you all the advice and remedies and suggestions imaginable. But there comes a point of diminishing returns where you must settle and resolve on some course of action and not keep harping on the same things because this group is for alumni to socialize and more or less feel as comfortable as they would in the coffee shop.

Keeping up with the Jones

November 28, 2010

In the 1960s it was a BIG EXPENSIVE DEAL to have a car phone. A television comedian told the following joke: One wealthy woman was jealous that another wealthy woman had a car phone in her limousine and so she purchased a car phone for HER limousine, and had the chauffeur take her for a ride and then she CALLED her friends car phone. The friend answered and after a few moments said “Oh, you must excuse me… my OTHER car phone is ringing.” ha ha so she had TWO car phones. …. in Germany someone with a doctorate is referred to as Herr Docktor … but one man had TWO doctorates and INSISTED that people address him as HERR DOCKTOR DOCKTOR. Kind of like people in India who become Sri Ravi Shankar but when they get older they become SRI SRI Ravi Shankar… ha ha

Transformative Ideas

May 8, 2010

If I were artistic, I would sketch the cross on Golgotha/Calgary in the distance with one person whispering to another “It’s the THOUGHT that counts!” This might sound blasphemous, but I once blogged about how the IDEA of Christ (and Buddha and Ram) unquestionably exists even if one doubts the historicity, and ideas can be transformational and salvific!

(posted to my Facebook status today )

The Sorrowless Grain of Rice

April 11, 2010

From my Facebook correspondence:

I don’t imagine life is a bed of roses for anyone, male, female, straight, gay, religious, atheist, conservative, liberal. A woman once came to Siddhartha Gautama (the historical Buddha) with her problems, so he told her to bring him a grain of rice from a household which has never known a moment of sorrow. She knocked upon many doors far and wide across the kingdom but returned to Siddhartha empty handed but with the new realization that many had sorrows greater than her own.

I met a wonderful young lesbian woman in her 20’s who works as an aid to the elderly in our building. She is comfortable with her sexual orientation. Her biggest problem that I notice is that she goes out drinking a lot on weekends and getting drunk. I have not touched a drop of alcohol or a flake of tobacco in 2 years now and hope I never do. Young people do not realize how subtly destructive such habits are.

It occurred to me just this week that our personal lives as well as the scriptures are meant to be metaphors for subjective interpretation and deconstruction rather than as some fundamentalist explicit equation not open to interpretation. Why would Jesus say SEARCH the scriptures for therein will you find… if there were some explicit unquestionable verses to point us to. We can tell Siddhartha’s unhappy client many things which are tried and true common sense but that wisdom will mean nothing to them until they spend some years knocking upon every door for that elusive grain of rice and realize for themselves, admit to themselves, that it does not exist. Also, the Epistles somewhere speak of bishops who “rightly divide the word.” Surely this means subjective interpretation rather than mechanical and objective application of some quadratic formula. Well, I shall post this now if it is not too long.

How should we lead our lives?

March 7, 2010

From a Facebook thread:


Tiger Woods isn’t just a great golfer and a sex addict—he’s a drug addict, too, according to the National Enquirer. Woods “blamed a lot of his cheating behavior on his drug addiction, saying that the drugs were responsible for impairing his judgment,” but wife Elin Nordegren isn’t buying it. The tabloid says his problem is with two substances, which Fanhouse reports are a prescription painkiller and Ambien. Meanwhile, Gatorade said today it’s dropping its onetime stalwart, the AP reports.

Considering he’s in seclusion in Arizona, Tiger’s been busy. His lawyers have scotched the risqué PETA ad using him as an example of why “too much sex can be a bad thing,” TMZ reports. And he’s received encouraging phone calls from both President Obama and Bill Clinton, Golf Digest reports in a lengthy takeout on the scandal and the fallout.


Tiger had drug problems? Well, whatever he was using he should package cause, well, he sure performed well — and not in a sport that just requires muscle.


According to the article at the link, Ambien (zolpidem) was one of the drugs. I take it myself but only one pill per day. I have one friend who overmedicated regularly with zolpidem and alprazolam (Xanax). Her speech would become quite slurred at times. She has suffered from major depression as well as occasional bulemia since her early teens. She got off the Xanax and Ambien. Now she is back on lithium.

I rather imagine that Tiger had no normal childhood because he displayed his talent at such an early age. The fame, physical beauty, wealth and youth are the really difficult drugs to handle. One begins to abuse alcohol and medications simply to handle the real problems and I suppose the constant fear of losing the fame.


Like 85% of the athletes in the U.S. aren’t drug users.


We can certainly choose to structure our life as an LCD or norm of what the majority around us do which may or may not lead to happiness but will at least be justifiable. OR we can choose some path for ourselves based upon what a minority of prudent people have chosen to do throughout history and perhaps influence the lives of 85% of the people will be influenced by our choices; and that would definitely be leadership. Life, liberty and the PURSUIT of happiness is a wide open statement about freedom and human rights which does not automatically result in happiness. Like Sartre says, we are doomed to be free.

Windows of Opportunity

February 18, 2010

From Facebook:

I suspect your son is wise in his choice to postpone college for now and gain work experience. Of course, we may educate ourselves each and every day simply by reading and putting our ideas down in writing. Formal education is so expensive and the job market is so uncertain. A young person should feel the desire and appetite for formal study and not do it simply because it is expected of us. … See MoreOne may always take one course per semester. I hope that on line study replaces class room study. I knew one unfortunate man who earned a PhD in chemistry and was never able to make a living at it. He was quite happy when he became a computer programmer in the 1980s. I knew another fellow who had 2 masters degrees in chemistry. The 2nd masters was a door prize for being booted out of a PhD program. He suffered from some form of schizophrenia and was never able to hold any job for very long. So much is being outsourced now to other countries. Conversely, there are people who earn medical or other advanced degrees in their own country and wind up in Canada or USA driving taxis or doing some work that does not utilize their training. The half life of engineering is about 10 years. The 1950s was vacuum tubes. The 1960s was transistors. The 1970s was integrated circuits, and so forth. How many are there with MBA degrees who will never re-coop their investment. One should try to be successful in life and self-sufficient but one should also try to be fulfilled. One novelist, Dixon, worked for years in bars and restaurants, writing feverishly each night until he became published. On the other hand, double entry accounting and bookkeeping never seems to go out of style.

It may sound trite to hear Joseph Campbell say several times in that long Bill Moyer documentary to “follow your dream” but essentially that is what many of us do. For a few of us that dream-following leads to fame and fortune through something uniquely innovative. For a different few the quest leads to tragic failure and a wasted life opportunity. And the vast majority of those who remain are fortunate enough to simply “survive” and settle down to the acceptance of some reality of making ends meet and “getting by” in a life where some dreams are actualized and others succeed only in the sense that we gave it our best and are consoled that it was not “the path not taken.” I suppose the worst sort of failure is some very conservative life where we desire little and risk little in exchange for some certain security but die never knowing what “might have been.” Each and every day and year present to us “windows of opportunity” through which if we take action, we pass through into some totally different future while that window shuts forever as a fortress gate sealing us in a better haven or a worse hell. And if we do nothing then that window simply vanishes never to appear again. The made for television sci-fi movie “Cube” is a thought-provoking metaphor for this kalaidoscopic window aspect of life.

Popular psychiatrist David Viscott quipped “The un-lived life is not worth examining.” Psychologist Alfred Adler wrote a wonderful book for the layperson entitled “What Life Could Mean To You.”

Adler observed that the most frequent mistake people make in their lives is not taking ENOUGH chances. Inaction is also an active choice in the sense that we passively allow things to happen.

Adler was such a compassionate man. He refused to use the term “depressed” saying rather that his patients were “discouraged.”

I have my copy of Adler’s book on my shelf. For years my habit has been to jot down important page numbers and keywords in the covers of books. I don’t know why I constantly forget certain words and phrases and have to remind myself. On pg. 72 Adler wrote “Every suicide is a reproach [of someone or something.]”

After one lecture in New York City, during a question period, one student said “Dr. Adler. What of God? What do you have to say about God?”

Adler replied, “If there is a God I would hope that he is please by how I have chosen to lead my life.”
That seems to me all that anyone can honestly say. Kant points to the so-called “antimonies” which can never be proven or dis-proven; one being the existence of some supreme Being.

One famous hospital offered to implement Adler’s methods if he would grant them exclusivity and Adler refused saying in so many words that his life work was for the benefit of all peoples for all time and in public domain (paraphrasing).

All these books that I have read over all these years are my “rag and bone shop of the heart.” I am a failure at life in many ways; a disappointment to many. My purse is trash yet at least my heart is full and filled with things of my own choosing.


Alex, relax. Chill out. It just words. Its just rambling conversation. I made a typo, “antimonies”, which lead me to search on “antinomies” which lead to a curious article by Zizek. I find Zizek curious and different. I am simply quoting excerpts from Zizek which I find interesting. We will all be dead soon enough anyway in a few score years, so I hardly think it matters a lot in the grand scheme of things what any of us think or feel. What does matter is that we express our thoughts and feelings freely so as to pass this burdensome time which oppresses us. Simply because I quote Zizek does not mean I agree with Zizek nor, for that matter, that I am even of the intellectual stature to comprehend Zizek (or Kant or Godel or any number of other giants) as an entire corpus and judge him (or them). Non sequitur is serendipitous.
The Torah tells me that the Jews stole Palestine. They were commanded to do so by the Almighty who designated a promised land for a chosen people. But Moses did send spies to scope out the land and those spies returned with wondrous tales of enormous bunches of grapes. It never occurred to me until just now that sending a spy was a sign of doubting God’s word that the promised land was a land of milk and honey. The wisest advice Viktor Frankl ever gave was to “safeguard to the past” what we value, for no one can rob us of the past.
I forget Frankl’s exact words. I am glad I am old and at the end. I don’t personally see any great hope or future for the country or the world, for the economy or the ecosystem, for education or cultures or governments. Perhaps I am wrong. I hope I am wrong. But either way, it wont affect me much or for long. That may sound selfish and callous but it is one of my few consolations. Alex, you worry too much about whether Kant can be redeemed in the face of relativity. You worry too much about things which only the future will decide, if indeed such things can be decided at all and if indeed there is a future in what Camus calls “that paltry eternity, posterity.”

“…..the opportunities to act properly, the potentialities to fulfill a meaning, are affected by the irreversibility of our lives. But also the potentialities alone are so affected. For as soon as we have used an opportunity and have actualized a potential meaning, we have done so once and for all. We have rescued it into the past, nothing is irretrievably lost, but rather, on the contrary, everything is irrevocably stored and treasured. To be sure, people tend to see only the stubble field of transitoriness but overlook and forget the full granaries of the past into which they brought the harvest of their lives: the deeds done, the loves loved, and last but not least, the sufferings they have gone through with courage and dignity.

“[T]here is no reason to pity old people. Instead, young people should envy them. It is true that the old have no opportunities, no possibilities in the future. But they have more than that. Instead of possibilities in the future they have realities in the… See More past — the potentialities they have actualized, the meanings they have fulfilled, the values they have realized — and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past.” (p. 151)

Laughing at the suffering of others

February 7, 2010

From a Facebook thread:

The article starts off starts off:

Even in 2010, growing up gay isn’t easy. Add in the complicating factors of being a mentally challenged, biracial guy who wants to wave around pom-poms in a small town, and you have a recipe for the most hellacious high school experience in Eastern Washington.

Benjamin Grundy is a student at Garfield-Palouse High School (local population: 1,100) who says the school is discriminating against his wishes to do what all the other cheerleaders are doing. Namely, dance, wave pom-poms, wear a proper uniform and not just stand like there like a statue moving his arms.

(end of excerpt)

I read some of the article, had some thoughts of a response, decided that I should respond privately because you might find my views interesting and useful, but realized that were I to respond publicly, it might seem like a rebuke (plus I guess you had second thoughts and deleted the link.)

My thoughts, oddly enough, have to do with an ancient Greek Orthodox legalistic book called “The Rudder” (Pedalion), which is a redaction of early century oral tradition and is not to be found in the Bible per se. I have a copy of “The Rudder” in English (about 1500 pages.) There is a passage which warns against the sin of laughing or mocking someone who is lame or cross-eyed, or in some other obvious fashion an easy target for ridicule because of some flaw in their constitution.

The Biblical passage which comes to mind is (paraphrased) “Anyone who calls his neighbor RACA (fool) shall be liable to hell-fire.” Now, it is curios that there is to the best of my recollection only one other passage where someone IS called fool (Raca), and it is God himself in a parable telling of the wealthy man who had all his silos and barns filled, and he said to himself “relax enjoy” and God says something like “Fool, you did not know that this very night your soul will be required of you (i.e. you shall die.)

Now the Bible NEVER says that there are not fools (raca) a-plenty in this world, but merely warns us that WE are not entitled to call someone a fool, even if they obviously are.

Each of us has our own weaknesses or temptations or compulsions which in our own live assume some paramount importance, while those around us might secretly shake their heads and says “why is THAT such a big deal to that person.”

People in the 1960s laughed at the life of the singer “Tiny Tim” who would sing “Tip Toe Through the Tulips” in falsetto no less; who married a young woman named Viki, and started a company which he called “Vik-Tim Records.” Johnny Carson had a laugh over that one.

We laugh at prominent figures like George W. Bush or Sara Palin or Martha Stewart or Bernie Madoff or Michael Jackson or Tiger Woods or Bill Clinton (with the cigar and Lewinsky) and we say HOW could these people get into such situations,… and essentially we call them RACA or fool and then we laugh.

There are no smiling icons among the Greek Orthodox. Orthodoxy is called that “gladdening sorrow.” There is an oral tradition that after Lazarus was raised from the dead, he lived many years and became a Bishop. He was so sobered by what he say beyond the grave that he only laughed once during the entire remainder of his life when he saw a thief stealing a clay pot and exclaimed “LOOK clay stealing clay.”

But in a way which we cannot fathom, if there is a God (and no one can prove that there is or there is not) then it is quite possible that such a God is not laughing and all of us fools (though indeed we are all fools in the eyes of some people), but rather resonates in compassion with the tragedy of our suffering.

Granite and Radon

January 18, 2010

I met an interesting person on Fulton Street today. We were both discussing the huge decorative rocks for the new park being constructed on Fulton between Cliff and Gold. I had assumed they are granite. We were discussing how and why radon is associated with granite. As fate and irony would have it, as soon as my new friend walked away, another fellow paused to look at the rocks who, it turns out is a geologist. He explained to me that granite often contains streaks of uranium and the decaying uranium is the source of the radon gas.