Friday, March 16, 2018

David Mamet Gives Me Pause

Image result for david mamet

I listened to a WTF podcast episode this morning in which Marc Maron's guest was award-winning playwright, film director, screenwriter, and novelist David Mamet.

I haven't seen or heard much of Mamet himself over the years. But based on what I've seen of his films and plays and a smattering of him in the media, I expected him to be less cordial and talkative than he was with Maron. On that podcast, he wasn't the intensely terse man of his fictional creations but an outspoken, almost garrulous man of strong opinions.

And one of his opinions is that a play or film is worth nothing if it doesn't "entertain" the audience. It can be filled with lofty ideas, but if it doesn't entertain the audience, it's just a bunch of pretentious crap.

He cited the example of poetry in the New Yorker that wannabe intellectuals praise. He says when he asks them to recite a line or two from some poem they say they liked, they can't. He takes this to mean they want to like it because they think they're supposed to, and they pretend to like it because they believe it will make them appear or actually become smarter and more cultured than they are. But they don't really like it because it isn't any good and doesn't entertain the reader enough to like and remember it well enough to recite it the way, say, a great Shakespeare sonnet does.

As I listened to this, I thought of the kinds of books, articles, and blogposts I want to write and podcasts I want to produce about subjects such as free will, Christian counter-apologetics, integral Buddhist stoicism, integral health, and so forth, and I wonder how entertaining I can make any of it. And if I can't make it entertaining, who's going to read or listen to it? And why would they? To foolishly put on airs of effete intellectualism and learnedness? I lack the academic bonafides to lure paying customers to my work even for that empty purpose.

Yet, I feel compelled to produce written works and podcasts that offer the best I can concerning the subjects and issues that fascinate me come what may. And so I shall.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Can't Give Up

I feel desperate. Everything is coming to a head. I can't continue the way I have, and I'm afraid. I'm afraid for my marriage. I'm afraid of losing everything. I'm afraid of being left in the figurative if not literal cold.

I've had such a long time and so many opportunities to at least try to do better, and I've squandered them. I don't blame myself for this. I understand that when a man is convinced he's so intellectually weak and psychologically flawed that he has no chance of succeeding at anything he might try that's worth trying for, he's not going to make much of an effort. And that's how I've thought, felt, and lived most of my adolescent and adult life. Maybe I've had good reason to do this, and maybe I haven't. But here I am, and I don't think I'm being too dramatic when I say that I find myself peering into the darkness.

But here's the thing. Even if my best efforts from now on are doomed to fail, at least I can try while I still can draw breath, think coherent thoughts, and put my fingers to the keyboard. I can still read. I can still study. I can still write for my blogs. I can still compose and publish my book. I can still produce my podcast. I can still keep up my household duties. I can still be the best husband to my wife, caretaker to my cats, son to my mom, friend to my friends, and person to everybody that I can possibly be every remaining moment of my waking life.

That's worth something! Going out trying my best has to be better than the alternative, no matter what the result. I can't let myself give up. I have to try like I've never tried before until there's nothing left of me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Tillerson Out, Pompeo In

Rex Tillerson is out as Secretary of State. Mike Pompeo is in. Or soon will be.

Tillerson was a bust. I don't know what Pompeo will be. Can anyone do that job well under a president who doesn't seem to believe in it and doesn't appear to understand it?

With a rising China feeling its oats, a resurgent Russia boasting of unstoppable nuclear-tipped cruise missiles of unlimited range, a ruthless North Korean tyrant with the hydrogen bomb and a fleet of rockets growing in size and sophistication, European disunion beset with racist nativism, and a New World Order splintering into chaotic disorder, we need effective diplomacy as much as ever. Arguably more than ever.

But can we have it? Will we have it in time? Stay tuned.

Things I Need to Do

I know what my first book will be about, if I ever write it. I even know what its title will be.

I know what my first podcast will be about, if I ever produce it. I'll do the podcast to build an audience for my book. I think I know what its title will be.

Unfortunately, I don't know how to write, publish, and market a book. Nor do I know how to produce and disseminate a podcast. But can't I learn? I have all day after day.

I know I have almost zero confidence in myself. And I know publishing a book and producing a podcast aren't easy, especially the first time around. But can't I do both if I try hard enough and smart enough?

How motivated do I need to be to try hard enough? How smart do I need to be to try smart enough?

I'll soon see, because time is running out.

As My Birthday Approaches

I'll soon be having another milestone birthday, and I'm worried. Scared actually. I didn't think I'd live this long, but now that I have, I'm concerned about the future. I have good reason to be. I'm concerned about my health. I'm concerned about my finances. I'm concerned about my marriage. You name it, I'm concerned about it.

I've lived a very unconventional life. A wasted life. A life the world won't miss when it's over and would have been better off without. No wonder I never attend my high school reunions.

I don't feel depressed as I say these things. Sad, but not depressed. I know the difference.

Yet, I'm also hopeful there's a way for me to do more with the time I have left, no matter the circumstances, than I have yet. A way to accomplish something, with my few and modest gifts, that I haven't yet. I want to, I need to.

The clock is ticking.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Christian Conservatives Lionizing Trump

I posted this message to Facebook this morning:

"An evangelical Christian posted the meme below to a FB group, and this was my comment in response:
This is how my antipathy for conservative Christianity swells. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I assume that Elizabeth numbers among the ranks of Christian conservatives and that her obscenely fawning reverence for Trump is characteristic of her ilk. Now it's one thing to hold one's nose and vote for Trump and, with grave reservations, stand wobbly-legged by him because of some of his policies and appointments, as ill-advised and potentially catastrophic as they seem to me to be. But to literally LIONIZE a man who personifies the veritable antithesis of the genuine Christian character and spirit is pathetically beyond the pale.
Now, as Dirty Harry would say, "I know what you're thinking." You're thinking, "Who are YOU to pontificate on the exemplary character and spirit of genuine Christianity?" 
Well, I'm apparently far better suited to do it than any of you "Christians" who take issue with what I wrote above. ;-)

Friday, October 27, 2017

A Dearly Departed Rat

I just found a dead rat lying in my backyard. I don't know how long it had been there or what killed it. There are many cats in my neighborhood. Yet, the rat didn't show clear signs of trauma. But then I didn't look too closely. I've always been squeamish about handling animal corpses or scrutinizing their posthumous decomposition.

Yet, I've also felt a lifelong love for animals, even rats. Maybe I wouldn't love rats if my house were infested with them or their fleas were causing a plague epidemic. But I don't think it is, and there's no plague in my neck of the woods, even though rats undoubtedly roam my suburban neighborhood, drawn here by accessible food and shelter.

For many people, the only good rat may well be a dead rat. But the way I see it, rats are relatively intelligent, sentient beings who probably feel emotions not so unlike what we feel and who, like us, want to be happy or at least free from suffering, and to go on living. I understand that rats, at least the specially bred variety, can even make good pets. I regard them as my distant cousins and, in more "spiritual" terms, manifestations of the Divine.

So, when I see a dead rat lying in my backyard, I feel tender sadness for it and hope it didn't suffer much when it died and that if there's a heaven for rats, it is there, and, if there is no rat heaven, it resides in painless oblivion.

May all us humans be so fortunate when we die.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Requiem For a Thai King

My wife was born and raised in Thailand. For seventy years, the Thai people revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej as a veritable demigod. He died last October, and Thais have mourned his passing ever since. This includes those who live outside Thailand. My wife has lived in the U.S. since 2001, and she has mourned her king probably as much as most people inside or outside Thailand.

Today the late king's remains were cremated near Bangkok's Grand Palace. This marked the culmination of a spectacularly lavish funeral ceremony which drew hundreds of thousands to the ceremony itself and millions more throughout Thailand and the world to sites where they could gather to pay final respects to the king.

My wife accompanied several from her local Thai Buddhist temple and a thousand or more other people from the Bay Area and beyond to attend one such event last night outside San Francisco City Hall. Judging from her accounts and from photos and videos published on social media, it was a solemnly beautiful, candlelit affair brimming with emotion I can only begin to imagine, since I did not grow up under a king who served as the spiritual father and cultural glue of my own homeland.

However, I do feel some vicarious grief from the mourning of the Thai people for their king. And I take some poignant pleasure in being able to modestly share in their and my wife's powerful experience of loss. A vital part of being a human inhabiting this earth is feeling intense grief and tenderness toward those communally sharing our grief with us. Perhaps the closest thing in my own prior experience to partaking in this magnitude of communal grief came in the wake of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

This, at least for the time being, supersedes my reservations against venerating monarchs and against the fearsomely harsh laws in Thailand prohibiting even the faintest intimation of insult directed at the king or royal family. It also overshadows, for now, my concerns about the potential unrest if not worse that could consume Thailand after being held in abeyance for the past year by the official mourning period.

That period officially ended today. Who knows what tomorrow may bring? I'll worry about that "tomorrow," but not today.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Is Harvey Weinstein's Excuse a Sham? is so easy to assume that people who behave badly in one way or another can’t help themselves when it may only be the case that they don’t want to help themselves.” ~ Paul Appelebaum, Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University

Frank Bruni quoted the words above in his New York Times editorial, “The Sham of Harvey Weinstein’s Rehab,” yesterday. Weinstein is the Hollywood mogul who has made headlines and elicited widespread condemnation recently for reportedly using his wealth and power over several decades to sexually harass and abuse many women in or seeking to become part of the entertainment industry.

In a veritable flood of these accusations, Weinstein has been booted from his position as co-chairman of his own movie company and expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and is said to be undergoing therapy in an Arizona rehab facility for sexual addiction.

Frank Bruni seems very cynical about this. He writes of Weinstein’s “self-serving” email to agents and studio executives: “Three times he used the same three syllables — “therapy” — and thus cast himself as a patient at the mercy of an affliction. Perhaps. Or maybe he’s just a merciless tyrant and creep, and to dress him in clinical language is to let him off the hook.”

Bruni then proceeds to argue that there’s a growing trend for people like Weinstein and Anthony Weiner to blame their egregious conduct on the mental illness or disorder of sexual addiction, and for people to gullibly let them off the hook to some extent because of it. And he cites psychiatrists and a neuroscientist who decry using psychopathology as an excuse for exercising one’s free “agency” by acting inexcusably badly.

Bruni and those mental health “experts” he quotes seem to believe that when people act the way Weinstein apparently did, even if there were aspects of their psychology or biology that inclined them to mistreat women, they could have chosen not to follow through with those inclinations. As Professor Appelbaum said in the quote above, it may not be the case that they can’t help themselves but that they simply “don’t want” to help themselves. And Bruni argues that when we don’t recognize this, we end up with the false and unpalatable consequence that “Free will is removed. Responsibility is expunged. Guilt is assuaged. There are no bad characters, just bad conditions.”

Well, I don’t believe in free will. I believe that when we do bad, good, or morally neutral things, factors we don’t consciously choose cause us to make the conscious choices we do and that Weinstein reportedly did. So, I think “responsibility” for bad behavior IS “expunged.” Even if, as Professor Appelbaum suggests, people like Weinstein don’t “want” to help themselves, I think it’s because they CAN’T want to help themselves enough at the time to succeed in doing it.

I believe this so strongly that I wrote a comment to the New York times arguing this, and it got published in the growing thread of comments on Bruni’s column. Of course, the overwhelming majority of comments praise Bruni and his cited “experts” for refusing to accept Weinstein’s excuses.

And I agree with Bruni and others that some people may not feel contrite about what they’ve done or resolved to stop doing it but simply use the “sex addiction” or psychopathology excuse or psychotherapy ploy to adroitly manipulate people into letting them return to their positions of power. But if this is what Weinstein is doing, I think that too would reflect his psychopathology. And while he probably shouldn’t be readmitted to positions where he could exercise power to exploit or harass women sexually, he also shouldn’t be vilified, demonized, and condemned as a person for his psychological weakness.