Friday, December 28, 2012

The Sound of Insects!

I just watched a film you’ve never heard of, “The Sound of Insects: Record of a Mummy.”  It is available on NetFlix Streaming.

I recommend it – with caveats.  You might find it boring and insipid.  You might find it thought-provoking.  You might find it hard to take.  Agonizing.  Compelling.  Exasperating.  Or all of the above.

I was mesmerized by it.  Said to be a documentary, it is the diary of a man who chose to commit suicide by starving himself to death.  He goes deep into the woods, sets up a plastic tent and begins his dance with death.  The narration is the words written by this man over the 60+ days it took him to die.  There is some question about whether it really is a true story or a work of fiction written by Masahiko Shimada.  In the end it doesn’t matter.  Fact or not, it is a unique look at the process of dying as seen through the eyes of the one doing the dying.

Creatively and effectively combining images, sound and music with the voice over, the Swiss director, Peter Liechti, did an amazing job of keeping me interested.  And he forced me to confront that subject that intrigues and frightens us all – death.

Friday, December 21, 2012

So What Else is New?

If you are surprised that there is no agreement in place to avoid the “fiscal cliff” with only 11 days left before we go over the cliff, you aren’t paying attention.  Latest evidence: Yesterday’s debacle for John Boehner and the Republicans, who couldn’t even agree to pass his Plan B, which had the audacity to propose a tax increase for people making more than $1 million a year.

Any hope or expectation that the 2012 election, the Newtown slaughter and plain common sense for the good of the country would moderate obstructionism and gridlock in Washington is, not surprisingly, a pipedream.

But here’s the bright side: Going over the cliff is no big deal.  What will happen?  Tax rates will go back to where they were a few years ago.  Yes, that will hurt the middle class, many of whom are already struggling.  If it makes them angry, no problem.  Let’s just hope they are mad enough to take it out on the politicians who would rather stick to their ‘principles’ than help people and put the country first.

The cliff also involves spending less money, even on defense.  That is not a bad thing.  Yes, some worthy programs and initiatives will be hurt.  But maybe we need some really unpleasant medicine to help us get our priorities straight.  If we don’t get our house in order we deserve what we get.  If we finally take steps that are needed on both the revenue and spending side, that will be a good thing. 

Democrats need to accept the fact that entitlements need to be modified.  Republicans need to accept the fact that taxes are needed to pay for essential government programs.  The biggest mistake made in recent years was to ignore the Simpson-Bowles proposals.  What they suggested was not perfect, but it was based on common sense reality and challenged the cows held sacred on all sides.  It is past time to resurrect Simpson-Bowles.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Slaughter in the Classroom!

The shooting in the Newtown, CT school today, while only one in an ongoing series of mass slayings in this gun-loving country of ours, is more heartbreaking than most.  Apparently, all or most of the 20 children killed were kindergarten age.  We will never be able to spot and stop every person determined to commit mass murder.  Even if effective gun control laws are passed we will not be able to keep this from happening. 

However, a majority of Americans care more for their misguided Second Amendment rights than for common sense and humanity.  Our history is used to justify our attachment to this right.  That I can understand.  What is inexplicable is how far out of step we are with the rest of the world.  Do I think this latest carnage will lead to any change in our gun laws?  No way.  So we will continue to get what we ask for and deserve.  Shameful!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Great Courses!

For quite a while now Sandra and I been watching The Great Courses videos regularly.  Usually a course consists of 24 to 36 thirty-minute lectures.  On most weekends we watch two lectures, one on Saturday and one on Sunday.  Currently we’re watching “The Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World’s Great Intellectual Traditions.”  The lecturer is Prof. Jay L. Garfield. 

He has introduced me to many new (to me) ideas.  I was particularly impressed with yesterday’s lecture, which covered the philosophical teachings of the Roman, Marcus Aurelius.  I knew he had been an Emperor; I hadn’t known he was a philosopher who wrote about Stoic teachings in his famous tome, “Meditations.”  My main takeaway was a validation of one of my key beliefs: what we have in life is the present, not the past or the future.

Here’s a perspective to consider: We don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the billions of years that preceded our appearing on the scene.  So there is no point in worrying about the billions that will follow us when we leave the scene.  Death is just part of the process and need not be feared.  Fear takes over when we become attached to our identity, our ego, our self-styled important place in the cosmos.  And about God?  Who knows?  If God exists we have nothing to worry about.  If God does not exist we have nothing to worry about.  Right on, Marcus!

Thursday, December 06, 2012


Some of the books I’ve read this year that I recommend:

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga
Into the Silence by Wade Davis
Riot by Shashi Tharoor
The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer
Home by Toni Morrison
The Passage of Power by Robert Caro
The March by E.L. Doctorow
Truman by David McCullough
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
The Lower River by Paul Theroux
The Beauty & the Sorrow by Peter Englund
Double Cross by Ben Macintyre
Beautiful Thing by Sonia Faleiro
Mortality by Christopher Hitchens
Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Lost at Sea by Jon Ronson

Monday, December 03, 2012

Message #24 - Cynicism Doesn't Help!

It’s easy to be cynical.  Especially as you grow older.  You’ve had more time to see how the world works and doesn’t work.  You observe and you reach your conclusion.  Of course, you think, why would I expect it to be any other way?  It’s always been fucked. 

There’s only one problem with your conclusion, my friend.

Cynicism Doesn’t Help!

Yes, it’s an easy way to get off the hook.  You don’t have to be responsible.  After all, if it is inevitable that he or she or it or the system or something is so screwed up that no one, least of all you, can do anything about it, what’s the point of even trying?  But getting off the hook is the refuge of a coward.

Oh, oh.  Now I’ve gone and done it.  Now I’ve gone too far.  How dare I call you a coward?  I have no right to insult you.  And besides, we don’t even know each other, so how can I be sure I’m right?

Okay.  Good point.  I can’t be 100% sure.  I can only be 99% sure.  99% sure that if you are cynical your cynicism is a smoke screen behind which you can hide.

Cynicism is not an answer.
Cynicism is not a solution.
Cynicism is an avoidance mechanism.
Cynicism is for the lazy.
Cynicism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

You say a situation is hopeless.  And it turns out it is.  You’re right.  End of story.  You are now free to move on to the next hopeless situation.

Is there an antidote to cynicism?  Sure.  It’s staring you right in the face.  Take a look at how a child sees the world.  Too much innocence?  Maybe.  You can make that argument.  But you make it from where you’re standing.  You’re not looking through the eyes of that child.  The child has not been taught that everything is fucked, so she sees possibilities that you are blind to.  And is happier for it.  You’ve surrendered a world of possibility on the altar of tough-minded realism.

And what’s it gotten you?  Has it made you more alive?  More enthusiastic about getting out of bed in the morning?  More satisfied at work?  Happier at home?  A better citizen?

Don’t pit idealism against realism.  They are not enemies.  On the contrary, I say that idealism is a high state of realism.  And it’s not owned by the young.  Unless you say so.  Shame on you if you cede your birthright to any group, young or old.  It is your right to have ideals.  It is your right to stand up for them.  It is your right to not accept as inevitable the conclusion that everything is fucked.

Now – you aren’t required to fight for your rights.  I am inviting you to do so, but you don’t have to.  And remember:

Cynicism Doesn’t Help!