absurdity

absurdity


The Winter of Our Discontent

Shakespeare May 9th, 2020

“Now is the winter of our discontent,” Shakespeare wrote nearly 500 years ago. Talk about something standing the test of time! Indeed, there are many quotes from his prescient plays and striking sonnets that still aptly describe human beings today. As I write, it is nearly April, 2020, and the world is caught in convulsions of the chaos created by coronavirus. The pandemic, like something Shakespeare would have taken inspiration from, highlights both the good and the bad, the wise and the foolish, the wonderful and the absurd. It shows everything about human beings, the human condition, and humanity’s aspirations — and failings. It is through this lens that I write a bit about what is evident all around us now, in the winter of our discontent.

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“Good Friends We Had, Good Friends We Lost…

friendship May 3rd, 2020

…along the way.”

That, as you may recognize, is the unparalleled song No Woman, No Cry by Bob Marley and the Wailers. Contrary to what some figure, the title does not mean “If you don’t have a relationship with a woman, that’s great—your heart won’t get broken”; rather, it refers to a “government yard in Trenchtown”, Jamaica where the poor, huddled masses were trying to survive in what was obviously a horrible economy and conditions of stress and privation. The man (the narrator) is looking back on the time he decided he must go find work or some other opportunity, and when he was leaving, his wife or whomever was crestfallen and worried. His reassuring response was, “No woman; no cry!” which is basically a pidgin-type dialect of Caribbean English for “Please do not cry.” The reference to “good friends we had, and good friends we lost along the way” is part of Bob’s reminencence, with his woman, of all the good and bad things that have occurred to them in the refugee camp (or whatever kind of camp it is). It is shortly followed by the inimitable line: “Everything’s gonna be alright!” I picture him wiping her tear and then turning to head off to the “far, unlit unknown” (Rush’s phrasing in Subdivisions, a song that I consider a tear-jerker). No Woman, No Cry is a somber tale about the storm and stress a life tends to bring at one time or another, and the perceptive listener might just feel pangs of empathy and loss in their own memory, as I usually do.

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My Father Suffered Greatly in Retirement

my father April 26th, 2020

My father was a brilliant surgery resident at the famed Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA when he was oh, probably, 27 years old. He ended up specializing in and completing another residency in family practice (long story!) by the time he was 31, or thereabouts. Coming from relative poverty, a loveless and sometimes-physically-abusive home, and facing anti-Semitism growing up in the 1950s, I remember him telling me “I went off to college at age 18 with only a suit.” As in, no money, no furniture, no books, no nothing. My father busted his butt and was an admired and even loved physician in the rough part of L.A. when I was growing up. He was asked to be the head of four Kaiser Permanente when he was, oh, about 40. Instead, he opted to remain at Kaiser-Montebello and be the Physician-in-Charge at that clinic. Mort Merchey spoke Spanish with probably 50 percent of his patients—who always remembered him generously during the Christmas holidays. As if that weren’t enough, he also was a Captain in the Reserve Corps of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, a huge organization. My pop knew how to shoot his Magnum .357 as well as any uniformed deputy could. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that he did pretty darned well, considering where he came from. He makes me look like a slacker in comparison, that’s for sure! He was smart, good-looking, funny, amiable, and competent. Driven to school in his true-blue Mercedes convertible in the mornings, needless to say, I had the greatest respect for my dad’s professional and educational achievement.

This story does not, however, have a happy ending, exactly. My dad suffered greatly in retirement. This happens with many people, perhaps especially those who are like him.

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Trump Faces Demanding Test of Responsibility and Prudence

Trump February 28th, 2020

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 10% of its value this week, probably two or three trillion dollars of wealth evaporated. Now, I think that the stock market is a foolish “bet” but I do have all of my retirement income tied up in it (for some complicated reasons I shouldn’t get into). I feel this very keenly since I lost $100,000 in the time it took my orchid to put out a flower. However, now we know what is causing the global contraction and the loss of profit. Commentator Joe Scarborough talked of the market usually as being “like witchcraft” – capricious – but there is a clear cause for all this volatility and fear: Supply chains have been shattered. Conferences being cancelled. “This terrifies investors,” he said. It’s much about loss of profits and uncertainty – will this slow-moving and hard-to-contain disease last for longer than 6 or 9 months? Scarborough said, “the snowball is just starting to roll down the hill.” I think the major reason America is in jeopardy is that Donald Trump leading America during a major crisis. This is more or less the chickens coming home to roost when it comes to Republicans in power, though. At bottom, this crisis is both an opportunity and a danger, one in which Trump faces a demanding test of his responsibility and prudence. It is about wisdom and virtue and character. Don’t hold your breath. 

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Political Extremism: The Authoritarian Voter

February 21st, 2020

Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tend to be the poster children of political extremism if you ask a partisan from the Right. You hear this repeatedly on Fox News — these are their main bogeymen/women. These hard-working patriots will be called frauds, hypocrites, radicals, Socialists (of the Communistic stripe, that is), traitors, and so on. I don’t want to make a defense of those on the far end of the political Left in this country, but I will in this blog highlight a dangerous style of thinking that is the garden of political extremism when paired with political power or demagoguery: the authoritarian mindset. 

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Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Titanic

I feel like in much of my own life, and when I reflect on my country, what I and we seem to be doing is for naught; we are not changing course toward safer waters, we are merely rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic November 29th, 2019

Full disclosure: I am in one terrible mood. It is the day after Thanksgiving, and, ironically, I am feeling bereft of positivity. You see, my remaining family (father is deceased) is absolutley obsessed with vaccines. The sun rises and sets with what the State of California is or is not doing, what the Internet is abuzz about, what the crisis du jour is vis-a-vis mandated childhood vaccinations. This is horrible enough, especially in light of the fact that it reflects my childhood/family issues so hauntingly and uncannily precisely. However, it is just part of my angst. The backdrop for my family dysfunction, its anxiety, and its mental illness writ large is the fact that I fear that the ship of this Republic is steaming headlong toward an iceberg. Much of what I seem to do, think, or hope about, according to this metaphor, is akin to simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, as it were.

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The Wise Would Uniformly Call for Trump’s Ouster

"The wise" on Donald Trump October 7th, 2019

I am sick to DEATH of Donald Trump. I knew he was a disgrace to this country when he first threw his slimy hat in the ring (in 2015). And it has been virtually nothing but downhill since. There are a couple of things he has done that were “standard, prudent, proper, patriotic” but mostly it is throwing red meat to his base, defending his ego, and enriching himself and his friends. It’s really worse than predicted to be – which is saying a lot! There is no wisdom in continuing down this same path of obfuscation, autocratic maneuvering, dark political machinations, and utter abrogation of wholesome values. And yet, today, one of the most repugnant and ludicrous statements I have ever read (and I have read a lot!) came out of his Twitter-addicted thumbs: “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off-limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).” I have been studying wisdom for quite some time, and I can assure you, dear reader, this man possesses less wisdom than most adolescent males. My thesis is that the wise would uniformly call for Trump’s ouster. I can say this with absolute confidence, based on what I know of “the wise” (as esoteric and ethereal as that concept may be). By the wise I am referring to wisdom incarnate; those who are in possession of uncanny wisdom, if you will).

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Social Problems: Gun Control and Mass Shootings Analyzed

gun control August 12th, 2019

In this blog, I will aim to parse the gun violence issue. I thought to do so because I came across a compelling essay by Nicholas D. Kristof entitled “How to Win the Gun Control Argument.” I then went to go look it up by name in a Web search, and guess what popped up in the #2 slot? An article from the exact opposite perspective entitled “Winning the Gun Control Debate”. That is obviously enough to give one a headache. However, wisdom is the ideal guide to analyze the competing claims, complex issues, and difficult aspects of the gun control/gun violence social problem that currently plagues us. Next to the opioid epidemic, I would say that gun violence is a massive concern for American society – as it is for New Zealand, Norway, and every other country, practically. We live in difficult times, and at their worst, humans are basically clothed chimpanzees with semi-automatic rifles.

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What Happened to Truth?

truth June 20th, 2019

Humans greatly desire to feel that they are in possession of the truth (I should probably call it “capital-t-Truth”). We often think of “truth” as indicating something such as “Did they lie when you asked them where they were? Oh, they told you the truth?!” But it also has been one of the main philosophical phenomena (I think “value” or “virtue” kind of misses the mark a tad) since antiquity. The Bible talks about it. Scientists discuss it. Philosophers argue about what it is and whether we can actually apprehend it. Psychotherapists work with their clients to grasp it in the context of their childhood and their present, challenging relationships. Truth is a big, big deal. It has always been a challenge – think of the titanic struggle between capitalism and Communism, or Muslim Saracens vs. Christian crusaders.

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All Good People Must Stand and Be Counted

stand and be counted August 2nd, 2018

The more I read about Donald Trump and his band of merry idiots, the more I can’t keep quiet. It’s not generally advisable that a blogger take sides and speak ill of a whole philosophy or persuasion; it’s bad for business! But seriously, I can’t pull punches. I believe, like so many people with character, wisdom, and experience, that the GOP has run amok and is ruining our reputation, nation, and planet. I will add my voice to the chorus of individuals who call on the good people of the country to stand and be counted. We do not know for sure that we have time on our side, and we may not get a “do-over”. 

As Jason Kander said, “Patriotism isn’t about making everyone stand and salute the flag. Patriotism is about making this a country where everyone wants to.” 

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