Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Let Us Try

The Army Corps of Engineers' motto is "Essayons!" a French phrase meaning “Let us try!” This Corps website tells us that "This isn’t a sympathetic, half-hearted try. It’s a statement of confidence as almost if to say, where others failed, we will succeed."

Lieutenant General Todd Semonite from the Army Corps of Engineers seems like the type of leader that people would want for these emerging construction and conversion projects

There are many patriotic heroic truck drivers, janitors, delivery people, warehouse workers, grocery store clerks, nurses, doctors, moms, dads,  and millions of everyday people showing the best of the human spirit in these trying times. May the good Lord bless you and keep you safe, lift your tired hearts and mend your broken hearts - you are our heroes. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Dittoheads Bring Their Private Hell to the Public

To some degree we make our own heaven or hell here on earth. I think being fearful and angry about made-up bogeymen is a form of hell. I get a taste of that hell when forcing myself to watch Fox news or listen to right wing hate radio, or listen to Papa Don, playing the role of an abusive father figure who accidentally became president - on national television and the twit machine. If you are into that sort of thing fine, live in your own private hell, it's a free country. The problem we are seeing is when your private hell starts to leak out into the real world and endanger other people's lives.

I could have made this timeline-of-shame much more detailed but this condensed version makes the point -

February 4, 2020 - Rush Limbaugh awarded "Presidential Medal of Freedom".

March 13, 2020 -  Rush Limbaugh tells his followers,"We're shutting our country down because of the cold virus."

March 27, 2020 - Rush Limbaugh tells his followers, "Health experts are part of the deep state and should not be trusted."

March 28, 2020 - CDC reports 103,319 cases of Covid-19 and 1668 deaths in the U.S. As of this evening the Washington Post is reporting over 2000 deaths in the U.S. and the CDC website has not been updated.


Rush Limbaugh may not be accurate but he is popular and profitable. He's the most listened to radio personality in the United States. Forbes reports that he was paid 84.5 million dollars in 2018. Hannity on the other hand was paid a paltry 36 million dollars in 2018, although the article does mention that since Sean plays co-president in the reality TV show Papa Don goes to Washington, he would be negotiating for a higher salary in 2019 (or words to that effect).

We'll find out whether the propaganda, the right-wing mediasphere promotes, is able to pacify the base going forward. The billionaires who have bought politicians, judges, think tanks and media companies to do their bidding have successfully fooled enough citizens for decades to keep the pitchforks in the shed. We'll see how that goes as we feel the full force of this pandemic and enter an economic depression.

If the base ever figures out that the "richest" country in the world lags behind every other economically developed nation in health care, income equality, child care, childhood poverty, housing, education and fair elections - not because of all the pretend boogeymen that Fox News scares gram and grandpa with but primarily because of the greed of the ultra-wealthy...well we couldn't have that.

If nothing else I hope that people learn, and don't forget, the damage caused by the  incompetence and dishonesty of Donald J. Trump and his bootlickers, in the GOP and the media - come November.

Friday, March 27, 2020

It's Friday Then - Let's Dance

Some other misc. things...

A virtual performance of 'Love Sweet Love' from quarantined Berklee College of Music students.

You could sign up for virtual dance church this Sunday.

Maybe think about how amazingly generous and kind people can be...


One of B's friends sent her this poem by Kitty O'Meara.

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.  
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal. 
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Don't Believe Everything You Hear

Particularly if you hear it from someone who has lied over 16,000 times in his first three years in office. The Washington Post reports that as of January he had made 16,241 false or misleading claims in his first three years. They haven't updated their fact check for total lies since January but they are tracking his false or misleading claims regarding the Covid-19 virus.

It's really something (depressing, frightening, confusing, maddening, as expected) to think that someone who wouldn't qualify to hold any position of trust is defended or even idolized by so many. 

It must be incredibly disorienting to think that all mainstream fact-based podcasts, radio shows, newspapers, magazines, books and television coverage can't be trusted when it comes to reporting on this president.

It's hard to imagine how frightening, not to mention degrading, it would be to live in a world where your truth, your facts, your reality - come from one human being. Of course people willing to do that are just doing what he told them to do when he made that Orwellian statement,  "just remember what you are seeing and what you are reading isn't what's happening." 

I suppose if you must live in a Fantasyland you gotta do what you gotta do. The only problem I have is when your fantasy starts to disrupt the real world and cause harm to other people.


I know I've made a mistake, well actually a bunch of mistakes in this and other blog posts. 

I mistakenly assume other people are like me, that they share my life experience - that they are curious, that they have the capacity, desire and time to try to find answers to difficult questions - that they like to think, to read, that they like to exercise their minds. For sure some percentage of people have those traits. I think I know some things but I'm sure I'm wrong about some or a lot of things. I'm not bragging about my oracle-like capabilities it's just that I have a lot of time, some brain cells left and I'm curious. So...I imagine with my vast knowledge ;-) I sound like a know it all, a scold, a pompous ass, a nut or a partisan to a fair number of people. All probably true to some degree. We are all lots of things.

In the real world people will do almost anything to avoid thinking - that is considering new facts, or facts that are contrary to what they believe they already know. People confuse having a mind full of thoughts with thinking. It's easy to have a mind full of thoughts - in fact it's very hard not to have a mind full of thoughts. Thinking independently, that is creating your own thoughts based on available data, is hard time consuming work. Some consider thinking and learning new things fun because they were trained by good teachers (shout out to good teachers!) but if I'm honest about it a world where everyone wants to think and learn is my Fantasyland.    

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

We Don't Need No Stinkin Government

The article Warnings Ignored: A Timeline of Trump's Covid-19 Response  on The Bulwark website provides a good summary of the mismanagement and incompetence of the Trump administration in dealing with the threat of a global pandemic.

The article Job Vacancies and Inexperience Mar Federal Response to the Corona Virus in the New York Times is quite disturbing for anyone who believes we need a functioning federal government.


If you are an ideological follower of Ronald Reagan, another celebrity turned president, then you agree with his statement that, "Government is not the solution to the problem, it is the problem". As the longtime GOP policymaker and influence peddler Grover Norquist said in 2001, "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."

I think a majority of people would agree on three things when it comes to government and taxes (1) they don't like government wasting their tax dollars (2) they would like everyone to pay their fair share of taxes and (3) they would like a government that represents the majority of people.

The last two items are not on the GOP agenda as evidenced by a tax act of 2017 (and decades of tax policy prior to that), widespread voter suppression, and statements from GOP figures like Reagan and Norquist.


The ancient Greeks recognized that a critical role of government is to organize people into a society. Neo-liberals, often incorrectly identified as conservatives, don't believe this. As Maggie Thatcher said, "There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families." You see how this works? There's no such thing as society so there's no need for a government to organize people into a society.

This Randian sort of ideology where the strong man/woman is king of the jungle is shown to be foolish human vanity when society is confronted with a global pandemic.

The wrongheadedness of the Thatcher/Reagan neo-liberal ideology is being exposed as this global pandemic shows that we actually are all in this together. Boris Johnson is now making it clear that there is such a thing as society while he is in quarantine due to being infected by the Covid-19 virus. Live and learn...


We foster good government to the extent we want a civilized society.

No one should be surprised that an anti-government, unregulated free-market, overly simplified view of the world, has led to the unraveling of our society. We've created a permanent underclass and lied to ourselves about a supposed meritocracy where children in schools that can't afford books are supposed to be able to compete. We've lied to ourselves that we can create a "knowledge" economy where everyone goes to college and works in an office. We are good at lying to ourselves.

We all have preconceived notions about things and then find evidence to support those preconceptions. Where we diverge is in the source of our evidence. Consider the source - the bible, the constitution, a national newspaper, a peer-reviewed journal, a conspiracy website, a partisan TV show - are of course all vastly different sources with differing degrees of fact, interpretability and relevance.

Political power is not obtained by convincing people of facts and historical lessons. Political power comes about by changing public "opinion". People are guided to "their" opinion by public relations experts in ways similar to how they are convinced to buy anything else. It's not a one for one since you can't sell Coke by making people hate Pepsi, but you can get a politician elected by blanketing the airwaves with negative ads targeting his or her opponent.

The psychological dynamics of influencing opinions to encourage a person to buy something or vote for someone are well studied and well known. Public opinion can be shaped by taking advantage of deep seated and primal impulses - fear, hate, anger, prejudice, greed, and sympathy. Public opinion (people) are moved by stories not facts. Mythologized stories of heroes and villains have been with us for thousands of years because they meet some deep human need.

The ideology that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher brought into government in the 1980's is the root cause of the hollowing out of the middle class in many countries. This abandonment of the middle class is the reason we see so many illiberal demagogues and political parties coming to power in various countries.

Years ago I used to marvel how Reagan was mythologized as the years passed and a rosy glow colored his time in office. I'm no longer surprised as I see the mythologizing of Donald Trump happening real time. Pundits, politicians and newspapers that warned us that he would be the most unqualified and worst president in history in 2015 and 2016, now tout him as a heroic embattled figure owning the libs, fighting fake news and standing up for the little man (as long as the little man is also a wealthy man).

One final thing...

Have you ever thought about how ridiculous the scare mongering those with money power use in their effort to maintain the status-quo actually is?

Take the example of that scary group Antifa. How much power do you think Antifa has? Or to put it another way - how much money do you think Antifa has? Do you think people with money power support Antifa? I'm not saying Antifa couldn't wield some power in a localized setting or in some unlikely future scenario form a nationwide movement. What I am saying is that Antifa is not about to invade Florida or wherever Grandma is watching Fox news from.

Contrast that with any group that is standing up for the status-quo. They have the support of big business, big money and big power. So what's the moral? I guess if you want to be afraid that the United States is going to lose it's democratic government it would be wise to fear, and hopefully stand-up to, those with money and power on their side.

If Fox News ever wants to change the "fair and balanced" slogan to something longer might I suggest...

"Convincing powerless people to fear other powerless people while genuflecting to the powerful people who take advantage of them."

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

What You'd Like a Leader to Say

I don't know anything about British politics but this speech by Boris Johnson is in stark contrast to what we've heard from the reality TV personality currently occupying the White House. I find Johnson's speech reassuring because it emphasizes the "we're all in this together" aspects while not downplaying the seriousness of the situation. In the U.S. we have precisely the opposite - a president that finds political advantage in dividing people, and tells us what he hopes or wishes or dreams might happen rather than listen to the doctors and scientists around him.

Postscript: I saw this opinion piece in the New York Times this morning, from someone who lives in London, that gives a more complete and less rosy perspective on how Boris Johnson has been performing. 

Monday, March 23, 2020

Five Years Ago Vs. Now

Bill Gates has been warning us for years that we were not prepared for a viral pandemic. There really isn't anything to say now other than to have compassion for those without the capacity to understand and faith in better days to come.

The more I think about it - I'm not sure that this post has much value. Earlier this year I'd been looking at what Bill Gates had been saying about future pandemics and found it very troubling given anti-science forces are in control of the federal government, some state's government and portions of the media. Sharing the pain of watching Bill Gates talk in 2015 and comparing that to Trump talk in 2020 seems quite unhelpful other than it reminds us what Socrates told us a couple of thousand years ago - knowledge is good and ignorance (lack of knowledge) is evil.

It's important to note that Socrates professed to be ignorant about many things (maybe every thing). This type of ignorance, recognized as such, is good since it leads the ignorant person to search for knowledge. The evil type of ignorance is sometimes called "double ignorance" referring to someone who thinks they know something they don't. An example of  double-ignorance would be some country club boor who thinks he is an expert on aircraft carrier catapult systems or anything else that would require reading, study, thoughtful consideration and consultation with experts.

I would still recommend compassion for those without the capability to understand how devastating this virus could be. Combining the exponential nature of the spread of the Covid-19 virus, which is estimated to have 3 times the transmissibility rate of the flu virus and  potentially 10 times the mortality rate compared to the seasonal flu, and things begin to look very challenging.

On a political level I have no compassion for a "leader" and his political and media minions who have failed their fellow citizens by lying, providing confusing messages and appealing to wishful thinking.

Nothing should surprise us.

That's a Stoic idea. If we prepare ourselves for the worst we won't be surprised when it happens and we may be pleasantly surprised if it doesn't.

It would not be unreasonable to assume the Covid-19 pandemic will get significantly worse over the coming months before things get better. Given the exponential nature of the spread and the haphazard containment efforts no one knows for sure what the timeline is, but saying things will get worse before they get better is a safe bet.

As we prepare ourselves for tough times we have the consolation that at some point in the future this too shall pass.


Postscript -  The article Why David Quammen Is Not Surprised describes the book he wrote in 2012 titled Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic.

An Atlantic article from June 2018 How Will Trump Lead During the Next Global Pandemic? with the subtitle “There is a real reason for us to be scared,” President Obama’s Ebola czar said.

We are finding the answer to the question of how Trump will lead now.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Varieties of Religious Experience - William James

I'm re-reading "Varieties of Religious Experience" by William James these days. I liked it the first time I read it 45 years ago and it still resonates with me today.

The book is comprised of a series of lectures that William James gave in 1901 and 1902 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. James is known as the father of modern psychology, an important American philosopher and one of the founders of the philosophical school known as Pragmatism.

Even though William James was writing over 100 years ago he is still very relevant to our times. This author has written a book titled "Sick Souls, Healthy Minds" with the sub-title "How William James Can Save Your Life" that was released this year.

James writing is atypical for a lot of academic writing in that it's written in a conversational tone with limited use of obscure terminology. In the "Varieties of Religious Experience" he focuses on individual relationships to the divine and how that relationship informs a persons actions throughout life. It's a really interesting book and William James was a really interesting person.

It's a look at religion from a pragmatic or practical point of view that emphasizes religion as a means to alleviate fear and maximize happiness. There is no theology, or debate about faith vs. reason in this book but rather example after example of faith in something divine informing people's lives in ways that make them healthier and happier human beings.


James coined the phrase "stream of consciousness" to describe how humans think. Rather than a mechanical ordered form of thinking of the sort, "I'm thirsty, I think I'll get a glass of water, I need to remove a glass from the cupboard, fill it with water, bring the glass to my lips, tilt it...etc. The actual way we think is more like "I'm thirsty, my nose itches, what was that sound I just heard, oh there's a bird and a squirrel on the fence, what was I thinking about?"

We deal with a lot of complexity in life by forming habits. Humans are very good at making a lot of things in life habitual - taking a drink, walking, brushing our teeth, tying our shoes. This is good because if we didn't have a way to control our stream of consciousness to some extent, and make some things habitual, we would be helpless and confused. On the other hand, it can also be detrimental to form habits that take the place of thinking - this could span from the simple act of eating a bag of chips or turning on the TV without thinking, to a complex act of habitually putting ourselves down because we're always eating chips and watching TV...or making it a habit to be grouchy..or you name it - we have lots of good and not so good habits.

The good news in James work is that humans are very malleable. We can form new habits. We can make it a habit to be happy. We can make it a habit to read good books, watch good shows and listen to good music. We can make it a habit to be kind. It's really unlimited - and very encouraging for those interested in making their best authentic self.

You can find some similar ideas in Buddhist thought referring to our "monkey mind". In that discipline we use meditation and concentrate on our breathing to stop paying attention to all the flotsam and jetsam flowing down the stream. Meditation is something of an end in itself, the goal being to relax, detach and reach a state of equanimity - not to "do" anything. James has some ideas about how we can train that monkey mind to make ourselves happier, healthier and more effective individuals.


You can read about William James at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy or the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Wes Cecil has a good podcast on William James focused on the psychological insights contained in James writing and lectures.

BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time has a podcast on William James and The Varieties of Religious Experience.

Since I'm promoting reading philosophy I'll include a link to this piece from a few years ago in The Guardian - Philosophy Can Teach Children What Google Can't.

In these times - it seems like we might be at a point where people would like to rethink (or think) about what constitutes a good life and how society might be shaped to provide the most good for the most people. Reading and discussing philosophy - listening to great thinkers, reading great books - including those from Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and Vedic thought, are all steps in that direction. Our end goal is bringing our theories into practice and to thrive at being the loving, unique, precious, beautiful, real person the Divine wanted us to be. That's all any God could ask for.


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Into The Mystic

Thinking about what an insignificant and wonderful collection of stardust we all are. The lightness of being that comes with living in our modern world can be grounded in faith - in some thing, some one, in a theology or a philosophy. We have to have meaning and some way to cope with the transitory nature of all things. The existential pain of believing that singular magnificent beautiful experiences fade into nothing never to be remembered never to be repeated - is too much for this puny human. I'll stick with my mystical magical beliefs and have another toke thank you very much.

I found some interesting reading to go along with the song..

Into the Mystic - Mushrooms, Priests and Poets


In this time of social distancing it may be helpful to think about the positive aspects of solitude.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Finding Value in a World of Fact

How do people learn what to value?

People can learn what to value from family, school, friends, advertisements, media, cultural cues, and to a lesser extent in our time - religion and philosophy.

Religion is a powerful tool for transmitting values. Some good some not so good.  One could argue that religion provides a simple means for training simple people to be good. One could also argue that religious wars and persecution resulted in a thousand year pause in human development (the dark or middle ages) and that some forms of religious dogmatism have resulted in negative consequences for individuals, segments of society and society as whole up to the current day.

Usually these negative consequences are not a result of what a particular religion believes, such as - handling snakes is a way to see God (may be so), speaking in tongues is a sign of possession by the holy spirit, women should not hold positions of authority in the Church - because the members of that sect have agreed to the rules. The negative consequences usually come about when, those who believe in a doctrine via faith try to force their religiously derived "beliefs" into government, businesses and public schools. It's a two-way street when some governments attempt to use religion to further the governments secular goals of staying in power to further the interests of whatever group controls the government.

As Christianity grew in it's early incarnations after the death of Jesus, western society abandoned the rational world of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle - and retreated to a mystical world of "pie in the sky when you die". Philosophy during this time was concerned not with the question the ancient Greek philosophers asked of how to live a good life - but rather other-worldly questions like how many angels could dance on the head of a pin?

Today is the anniversary of the death of Julius Caesar who was stabbed to death at a meeting of the senate on The Ides of March (March 15, 44 B.C.) . Four years later Octavian executed 300 senators and knights to avenge Caesar's assassination. Ancient Greece and Rome weren't quite as civilized as one might think from reading the ancient Greek philosophers. In addition to stabbing each other, they held slaves - justifying the practice by proposing that some people were born to be slaves, and reserved participation in the government to male citizens - so it wasn't quite the Shangri-La some of us may envision.

As the Renaissance unfolded humans began to jettison religion for the world of science and rationality.

With the advent of the Machine Age or Industrial Revolution humans saw the power of science to understand and shape nature. This tendency to favor the rationality of science over the mysticism of religious belief accelerated through the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries with the discovery of quantum physics, leading to the invention of solid state devices, the computer age and the technological marvels (or disasters depending on one's point of view) of today's world.

Untethered from simple rules taught by religion to guide conduct  humans were put into competition of all against all, each striving to obtain the highest wage allowing each individual to consume the most stuff. The new religions of science, technology, capitalism and free markets gradually replaced the old religions.

Finding little satisfaction in either, the baubles and trinkets of consumer society, or the idiocy of much popular media, and having lost touch with nature and the infinite - most (some) (all?) men live lives of quiet desperation which manifests in a myriad of ways including addiction, suicide or choosing a self-interested charlatan as their "leader".

A "leader" who forces us to recognize, as David Remnick writes, - "the fragility of precious things" has oddly enough done us a favor by making us think about what we hold dear. Honesty, courage, fidelity, and kindness are some precious things that we all strive for and expect to be demonstrated to some degree, rather than shattered by a "leader".

If you ever get tired of "the world" as it is and want to think about how  you might improve "your world" and maybe "the world" a bit - there's a wealth of philosophical studies on YouTube, podcasts and the web in general. You don't have to take any tests so you can absorb as much or little as you please. You may find some of it fairly useless, some too complex or obscure to understand, and some bits that really resonate with you. It's like a bazillion piece puzzle - you'll never get it put together but it's fun - challenging, interesting, and complicated to work on while you have a chance.

Some philosophers hold that the critical question of Philosophy in our time is how humans find value in a world of fact.

It's a good question.


Saturday, March 14, 2020

We Might as Well Dance

“We’re alive! As long as we’re alive, we have to keep moving.”
Quote from Marion Sheppard in the article "She Went Blind. Then She Danced."