Between awareness of climate change, an Internet filled with disturbing images, cultural shifts about identity, and extreme political division, things seem terribly complicated and difficult right now. It’s tempting for those of us born in the 1940s or 50s to feel that life was once simpler and more… Read the rest
A close friend of mine told me recently that he feels his life has no purpose. “I’ve done what I wanted to do; now it feels like I’m just going through the motions,” he said, matter-of-factly. His remark prompted a conversation about life, specifically, does it have a purpose?
So much about American life seems crazy right now, the gun fetish, the QAnon conspiracies, the rabid left and right, the science deniers. It seems like many people in this country have simply gone mad as an air of unreality has taken hold. What the hell is going on?
We live in a consumer society that underpins the world economy; money, it’s said, makes the world go ‘round. I could spend a entire column decrying this fact, how consumerism is gutting our planet, destroying habitat, driving species extinction and fueling climate change, but we all know that. Instead,… Read the rest
In statistics, ‘reversion to the mean’ is a term used to describe that observation of the extreme is followed by observation of the less extreme, or one might say, a more normal average. In other words, no matter how wild results may appear, over time they return closer to normal. The same may be said of … Read the rest
At the beginning of 20th century, coincident with the rise of high technology and the advancement of science – the telegraph, radio, personal automobiles, and the shift from agrarian to industrial culture – the way people related to each other and themselves began a major transition:… Read the rest
Remember “plug and play”? An obsolete term almost upon its introduction, it’s joined a host of other falsities of modern civilization. I put “plug and play” to the test a month ago when my wife and I bought a new HP all-in-one printer. I’m a follow-the-directions-kinda-guy, but it made no difference;… Read the rest
In her remarkable book, The Reproduction of Evil, psychologist Sue Grand highlights the role of the onlooker. Evil, she points out, is often the result of harm inflicted on a propagator, trauma and abuse endured by the propagator at the hands of others that gets passed on to new victims, some of whom go… Read the rest
This is what psychologist Sue Grand calls the type of psychological disturbance spreading across America and the world right now. It’s happened before, of course, and has been called by other names like “social hysteria,” and “group delirium.” However named, such episodes are examples of acute mass… Read the rest
There are so many ways we tell ourselves that everything is going to be just fine. “We’re America,” we’re told, “there’s nothing we can’t do when we work together.” Or, “We’re the greatest country the world has ever known.” Or “America is the world’s beacon of freedom and democracy.” When is optimism … Read the rest
My wife and I offered to drive our granddaughter to an appointment in Santa Rosa, and as we neared the destination, we passed an In & Out Burger. In-N-Out is a fast food joint, in case you don’t know, and apparently very popular. My wife and I had never eaten an In-N-Out Burger, but my granddaughter had;… Read the rest
We Americans look down upon so-called primitive cultures such as the Aztecs who overtly practiced human sacrifice in obedience to their deeply held beliefs. We see their sacred celebration of violence as savagely cruel and backwards and we condemn it. And yet, America regularly sacrifices its people… Read the rest
I grow intestinal polyps as well as the wine country grows grapes. Such polyps, benign growths when small and young, can become pre-cancerous if allowed to mature; accordingly, every three years I have a colonoscopy and any polyps are removed.
The worst part of having a colonoscopy is the prep the day… Read the rest
I found myself scurrying around this week trying to keep ahead of technology. Keeping ahead of technology, actually, was impossible. The fact is I was doing technology’s bidding in order to keep my life in order, a situation in which I, and most of us, find ourselves regularly.
While growing up I was instructed to refer to adults as Mr., Mrs. and Miss; to do otherwise was a sure path to being chastised. This rule of etiquette applied universally as a sign of proper respect. The basic premise was that using an adult’s first name without permission was a no-no, and this rule applied… Read the rest
I loved science fiction movies and books as a kid; I still do, although I don’t read much sci-fi these days. In 1958, at camp Androscoggin in Maine, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers was shown one movie night, and visions of a disabled saucer crashing into the Washington Monument stayed with me for years. The… Read the rest
From the smallest animal to the largest, hunger, the first and strongest drive to assert itself, underlies the substance of animal behavior. Sensory functions – smell, sight, touch, hearing and taste – all support the search for food, and their humble origins may well lie in that pursuit.… Read the rest
Truth can be elusive, so much so that the entirety of the scientific method may be seen as a systematic attempt to find it. Our scientific age, roughly 300 years old, was preceded by uncountable eons of magical thinking and mythology, variously employed to explain both natural phenomena and the course… Read the rest
The world is turned upside down; global warming, international relations, pandemic disease, and regional politics have all gone nuts. Appreciation of norms, the behavioral and social customs that preserve comity and decorum, is not in decline; it’s collapsed. Trump and his minions are not the cause… Read the rest
Homo sapiens are pattern-finders and base their behavior on anticipating patterns or pattern variance. Making prognostications on the future, using reason and thought to replace simple instinct, largely distinguishes humanity from other animals. A change of seasons, for example, triggers instinctual… Read the rest
At 75-million strong, Baby Boomers have had an outsized effect on our nation’s economy, culture of entertainment, technology, fashion industry, environment, real estate, and virtually everything else about contemporary life. In our passage from children to codgers, we’ve been like the bulge … Read the rest
Anyone who’s raised children knows that of three basic freedoms – to say “no,”, to relocate, to choose friends – the freedom to say “no” is the earliest to manifest. As an element of basic freedom, animal life has said “no” from its very beginnings.
Is the purpose of government to protect the common welfare or protect private property? This question is at the heart of American politics and encapsulates many of the differences between those on the right and those on the left.
Conservatives argue that individual liberty is at the core of American… Read the rest
I grew up in the suburbs of New York City where five of us lived in a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath single family home with our dog Bobo and an occasional cat. Behind our backyard was a wooded patch, a ramble of oak, maple, beech, and various shrubs; in the spring, skunk cabbage would pop up in its water-logged… Read the rest
Ideas propel human society, imagination providing an inexhaustible source of fuel. Boundless in reach, ideas cross borders and influence cultures through networks of communication. Originally networks of communication traveled at the speed of direct transmission, sensory experiences such… Read the rest
Our word “silly” is derived from Old English, and originally meant blessed or lucky. As so often happens, its meaning changed over time. By Shakespeare’s day, silly had come to mean thoughtless or foolhardy, and it retains that meaning plus another that encompasses amusing or playful behaviors, like… Read the rest
The daily news is generally terrible and if you pay attention to it, hopelessness and depression are often a reasonable response. Between armed conflict, starving refugees, climate change, political corruption, and rampant consumerism, human behavior provides more horror than anyone needs.… Read the rest
When EBay hit the internet in 1995, it provided people an easy way to sell their stuff and with it the modern distinction between commercial and non-commercial activity began to blur. Suddenly, that old toaster inherited from mom became “vintage” and saleable. From there it spread to possessions overall,… Read the rest
Every society is built upon a moral framework, a set of precepts about how to live together. These precepts generally align across cultures, and include prohibitions against murder and theft, except ironically, when murder and theft are committed against those deemed outsiders, intruders or scofflaws.… Read the rest
According to a new book, General Mark Milley, Chairman of America’s military Joint Chiefs of Staff, was so alarmed at Trump’s behavior leading up to the transition of power that he referred to the former President’s comments as sounding like Adolph Hitler. He conferred with other members of the military… Read the rest
While on my daily walk I happened upon a box of free books and sitting atop the stack was a paperback copy of George Orwell’s 1943 Animal Farm. I first read Animal Farm in the mid-sixties while in high school and remember it fondly. In the form of a fairytale, it tells a story about animals on a farm in England… Read the rest
The word “privileged” is used to connote something akin to an honor bestowed upon a person due to their status or accomplishments, but today “privileged” is deployed as an insult. Ethnicity, gender, economic success, even age are now suspect, relegating… Read the rest
My granddaughter is thirteen, a full-fledged teenager of the twenty-first century. Look Accordingly, as a devoted grandfather, I make an effort to understand her world so that we can compare notes; this means I’ve spent a fair amount of time exploring the world of TikTok.
In his observations of America during the latter part of the 20th century, social and media critic professor Marshall McLuhan observed a curious effect of electronic media, what he called the increasing “tribalization” of culture. In effect, the tribalization he noted was a re-tribalization –… Read the rest
Wearing badges and carrying guns on their hips does not entitle police officers to commit murder, yet this happens all across America. Despite training, use-of-force standards, and policies governing when a weapon should be used, case after case of shooting deaths appear on the news weekly. And in… Read the rest
When Sigmund Freud authored Civilization and Its Discontents
in 1929, the world was in the throes of social, economic and political
upheaval. The 1920s brought with it a post-WW1 era of explicit sexuality,
financial excess then collapse, and world politics riven by domination,
resistance and revolt.… Read the rest
We like to think of ourselves as rational beings, the animal that
thinks. However, the common characteristic of complex animal life is hunger, a
primal force so powerful that it alone provides sufficient explanation for the
development of human civilization.
The essence of animate life is movement, both interior and
exterior. The movement of animals exposes them to a range of objects and
prompts an intimate interaction with the physical world. Through this interaction,
each animal learns about its environment, making distinctions between what’s
favorable… Read the rest
Our planet’s major religion is a materialist ideology that’s
quickly bringing civilization to its ultimate crisis: consumerism. Having
transformed humankind into Homo economicus, consumerism has invaded and
replaced virtually all indigenous cultures, producing a homogeneous world
civilization… Read the rest
Andrew Cuomo is just the latest high-profile man to become
ensnared in the #me too movement. By today’s count four women have come forward
with complaints about his flirtatious sexual advances, and in my experience,
where there are four, there are forty. Men like Cuomo can’t stop; they suffer
from what… Read the rest
What in earlier times might be a minor dispute between folks explodes into full-out verbal warfare, shaming, and humiliation, attracting the attention of potentially thousands of strangers eager to get in on the action. Like a viral pandemic, outrage on the internet spreads from local neighborhoods… Read the rest
In the midst of America’s “red scare” of the 1950s, Hollywood
responded with films like The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the horror
flick that generated the meme of “pod people.” In the film, a psychiatrist is
visited by a growing number of people who claim their family members are not
the same as they… Read the rest
In describing Adolph Eichmann, a Nazi officer who dutifully
accounted for the genocide of nearly uncountable victims of Hitler’s Nazi
terror and extermination, author Hannah Arendt famously coined the phrase “the
banality of evil”. In Arendt’s evaluation, Eichmann was not an enthusiastic
Nazi… Read the rest
I was fascinated the other day, while watching interviews with a
few of the insurrectionists during the siege of the Capitol building on January
6th, at their inability to explain why they were there and what they hoped to
accomplish. One middle-aged gentleman, if I may be permitted to call him that,
… Read the rest
It’s worthwhile remembering that America has not always been a
“one person – one vote” democracy; our founders offered voting privileges to
white, male property owners only, and it remained that way for generations. It
was only until the 20th century that women secured the right to vote, along… Read the rest
The honest answer is “no.” What we’ve seen this past week is part
of who we are: complicated, confused, misinformed and violent. Of all of these,
by far the most significant is complicated; it’s not possible to reduce human thought
and behavior to a simple formula, particularly in a democracy.
When Alex Comfort’s book The Joy of Sex was released in 1972, America was in the throes of the sexual revolution, eager to throw off the remnants of Victorian boundaries and embrace ecstasy. Psychedelics, orgies, Be-ins and gatherings like Woodstock in 1969 had set the stage for… Read the rest
The recent events at the nation’s capital are receiving, deservedly, a great deal of attention. The role of the President is being widely discussed, as instigator, incendiary and inciter of the mob that broke into the Capitol Building, broke windows and ransacked the offices of The Speaker of the House.… Read the rest
When asked if he were a pessimist or an optimist, the brilliant Bucky Fuller – inventor of the geodesic dome, prefab dymaxion house, and coiner of the phrase ‘Spaceship Earth’ – replied, “Neither. I’m a realist.” His answer was predictably Zen, which is to say he saw being here as a process… Read the rest
In an essay I wrote in 2008, I discussed the vulnerability of computer network technology to hacking, calling it “the soft underbelly” of the Internet. I was referring to the “swinging door” operation of computer servers, that their “in/out” communication security depends upon a “lock and key” approach… Read the rest
People are social animals; our lives begin in dependency and
remain that way until the end of childhood. For lucky ones among us, childhood
is filled with love and nurturing, secure emotional attachments are formed and
a sense of safety builds. Although each of us must eventually individuate, our
ability… Read the rest
America’s fear of socialism has bred some pretty wild reactions, not the least of which was the McCarthy-inspired fear and sloganeering of the 1950s. “Better dead than red” strongly supported the idea that communism, seen as analogous to socialism by many at that time (and today as well), was a system… Read the rest
During my many years in local politics and as a community
activist, I’ve been subject to plenty of criticism, some of it in print and
some of it in person; it’s the price I pay for speaking out and taking action.
I’ve been called a “socialist,” “manipulator,” “chain store bigot,” and a
variety of other epithets… Read the rest
Cultural narratives, and every culture has them, contain doctrines of belief. These doctrines vary, just as the original languages of separated cultures vary, including vocabulary, word meanings, idioms, and implications. As each of us is born into a culture, so too are we indoctrinated, leading… Read the rest
Pundits and talking heads, particularly those of the left, seem confused about why it is so many American voters like Donald Trump. Trump is, they reason, crass, vulgar and wildly emotional, the most un-presidential President in recent history; what is there to like? Although their observations … Read the rest
When I try to imagine where America is going, what sort of
social, economic and political system will dominate its future, I find myself
thinking about feudalism, the system of hierarchy that dominated Europe until
the 14th century. If Donald Trump’s presidency represents anything, and he’s so
all-over-the-place… Read the rest
Buddhism advises we not spend our time pondering others, and that
if spare time for pondering is available, pondering self is more valuable. Such
advice, like most of its kind, is offered precisely because it speaks to how we
generally behave and what behaviors get us and others into repeated trouble.… Read the rest
Back in the days of Tim Leary, Bucky Fuller, Abbie Hoffman, and Jefferson Airplane, conversations veered into talk about consciousness, raised and otherwise. In the mind-expanding 60s and 70s it seemed as if humanity had finally woken up, had come to understand the precariousness and preciousness… Read the rest
The Covid-19 virus is an equal opportunity infector; neither wealth, social status, intelligence, nor stupidity affects it’s lethality. In a matter of weeks, a virus so small tens of millions can fit on the head of a pin has thrown global culture into paroxysms of fear and humbled global civilization.… Read the rest
America loves sitcoms, short for “situation comedy,” a
scripted series with recurring characters who find themselves in awkward and
unexpected circumstances. And, you gotta hand it to him; The Donald Trump Show
has the highest ratings in history. In the entertainment industry, ratings… Read the rest
The Senate hearing in consideration of the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court has focused in large part upon her self-description as an “originalist” and “textualist.” As to the… Read the rest
The announcement that Donald Trump has tested positive for
Covid-19 has a quality of inevitability. From the beginning of this pandemic,
Trump has minimized its health risks, downplayed its severity, boosted quack
treatment theories, ridiculed wearing a mask, argued with administration health… Read the rest
My late friend, scholar Kurt von Meier, had the opportunity to sit down with Hopi elders during the early 1970s and discuss the state of human affairs. The Hopi people have been living in the same place since before Columbus arrived, and are keen observers of the natural world.… Read the rest
Ego seeks to impose order; accordingly, people employ a variety of creation myths to establish an orderly narrative about existence and human life, such as imagining the universe atop the shell of a monumental turtle to immortal gods able to create life at the snap of their fingers. These myths are an… Read the rest
One of the toughest things about haters is hating them, finding
yourself wrapped up in fear and anger you so dislike seeing in others. This, of
course, is an experience haters never have; to be a hater requires setting
aside introspection and appreciation of complexity. Hate is simple, it’s love… Read the rest
Belief is a choice, and human belief systems vary widely.
Presently, belief in scientific rationalism is dominant in developed societies
but this choice is culturally determined and not universally accepted. History
and the imperatives of religious belief continue to challenge the materialism… Read the rest
We’ve recently celebrated another July 4th, America’s independence from Great Britain. To be honest, I’ve never been much of a fan of nationalism. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the various freedoms and opportunity that living here provides; I’m well aware… Read the rest
The way TV commercials tell it, being chronically ill is nothin’ but fun! Diabetes, COPD, Heart Failure, Atrial Fib, Plaque Psoriasis, Eczema, HIV…with the right pharmaceuticals every illness can be, well, wonderful.
Interestingly, all the people in these ads appear to be pretty well… Read the rest
The doorbell rings and outside the door is a well-dressed young
white man. How do you feel? Or, outside the door is a well-dressed young black
man. Do you feel differently? Or, in either case, the young men are poorly
dressed. How does that affect your feelings? Or, it’s a policeman dressed in
uniform… Read the rest
In describing the bureaucratic workings of Fascism, political theorist Hannah Arendt famously referred to “the banality of evil.” She was making reference to the workaday style of Adolph Hitler’s genocide machine, an apparatus of many ordinary parts employing ordinary people… Read the rest
I’m currently sharing the garden with a mated pair of California Towhees, which have taken up residence in one of my many hanging flower pots. Towhees are commonly found birds in coastal California; a nondescript brown color devoid of significant markings, these robin-sized birds happily … Read the rest
I’m a Jewish white boy who was raised in an
upper middle class suburb outside of New York City where almost no black people
lived. I say almost, because there was one black student by the name of Sam
Houston in my class in grammar school.
The Houston family lived at the north edge of
town on a road running… Read the rest
Our conceptions of joy, love, companionship, creativity,
aesthetics and the like are the stuff of human culture, highly meaningful to
people but of no particular consequence to nature. If we ruthlessly consider
the fundamental role of animal life on earth, we quickly arrive at one
inexorable conclusion:… Read the rest
Human impulse springs from two sources, one biological and the other
cultural. Biological impulse includes eating due to hunger, emptying ones
bladder and bowels due to internal pressures of digestion, sleeping when
fatigued, sexual drives, and other such hard-wired behaviors. Developmentally,… Read the rest
In the midst of this pandemic I’ve been reviewing household
expenses, including the various types of insurance we carry. Much of it is
standard stuff such as homeowner insurance for fire, theft and liability, and
auto coverage for our one car; also, some additional umbrella and personal
property… Read the rest
Should it be Joe & Amy 2020 or Joe and Gretchen? Biden-Warren
is uncomfortable on the tongue, too hard to say and both names end with the
same sound. Without doubt, the significant decision the democrats will have to
make this year is how things look and sound on a lawn sign.
The ideal of a stable society has preoccupied humankind for a long time, perhaps forever. In order to promulgate social stability, diverse methods have been attempted by various systems of governance and leadership ranging from autocratic to democratic, communal to sovereign, hard-fisted to liberal.… Read the rest
Most analyses of economic collapse focus on the effects of wealth
inequality, financial malfeasance, and inadequate government regulation.
Centuries of such analyses – by Hobbes, Locke, Marx, Polanyi, Friedman,
Krugman, Graeber, Picketty and many more – have extensively examined… Read the rest
Communication between people is a mix of words, gestures, facial
expressions and tonality; in many circumstances, how we communicate is what we
communicate; it’s a matter of nuance. Words delivered with a sneer are received
differently than those delivered with a smile. By observing the nuances… Read the rest
You’ve got to hand it to Madison Avenue; in response to the coronavirus pandemic American corporations have barely missed a beat in altering their commercial sales pitch, reassuring consumers that this unpleasant shopping hiatus will not last forever and that a return to fevered consumption… Read the rest
We humans like to believe we represent the pinnacle of evolution,
even going so far as to characterize ourselves as being in the image of God. It
is true, insofar as we can tell, that human beings are the only animals on
earth with self-consciousness and the ability to use written forms of
communication… Read the rest
Among the many effects of the Corona virus pandemic, one of the
most remarkable is the widespread use of facial masks. Initially such masks
were medical in style, the antiseptic-type nurses and health workers wear in
hospitals; but before long a cottage industry of mask-making blossomed across
America… Read the rest
Humor during a pandemic can be touchy; people are justifiably worried and lives have been turned upside down. Accordingly, a plan to place a set of April Fools’ advertisements I created for the Sonoma Valley Sun got scrapped in favor of other, more serious, content. But here we are on April Fools’… Read the rest
I find myself feeling grateful to have such a large library of
books. In these times of no toilet paper, I’ve got months of dual-purpose
reading material, and it’s comforting to know that if the toilet paper shortage
continues, we’ve got it covered.
When we speak of domesticating animals, we’re referring to a
guided transition from wild animal to one that tolerates, and even seeks out,
people. The word “domestication” shares linguistic roots with the word
“domicile,” meaning home. Thus domesticated animals… Read the rest
What’s to be done when those we love and care about become the potential agents of our own demise? This pandemic presently presents us with an entirely foreign situation in America, where we have been largely spared the horror and pathos of war and the intimate experience of death surrounding … Read the rest
I grew up watching television, and have had a TV in my home for
my entire life. My childhood was filled with cartoons, bloodless westerns and
Walter Cronkite soberly delivering the CBS Evening News. Everything about television
has changed, of course; today TV is a globalized content delivery system… Read the rest
We can peer into the farthest reaches of space and identify
objects and forces of such massive proportion that they’re virtually
inconceivable. In the other direction, we can dive into the quantum world, an
unfathomable, infinitesimal realm that contains the very building blocks of
matter. Science… Read the rest
Well, here you have it. This is how slowing consumerism and
seriously reducing greenhouse gas emissions looks and feels: empty terminals,
slowed shopping and quiet streets. It’s a lousy way to get there, but
ironically the world-wide pandemic is changing habits of consumption in ways a
purely… Read the rest
Abstract: Self-consciousness is the sustained delusion of
self and other, the capacity for objectifying both thoughts and objects as if
they exist in states of separation. While animals in general have the capacity
to identify features of and interact with their environment, it does not appear
that… Read the rest
As I see it, evil is the willful infliction of pain and suffering on others. It’s been with us for a very long time, and will continue to plague humanity into the future. Although people have wrestled with the problem of evil in various ways – mythologically, religiously, legalistically,… Read the rest
Sonoma County estimates 3,000 people are homeless in the county, and is struggling to respond to this human crisis. $11 million was recently allocated by the Board of Supervisors, this largely in response to a homeless camp now occupying the Joe Rodota trail in the West County, but the larger solutions… Read the rest
A recent article in The Atlantic about seabed mining points out that the metals targeted for collection include copper, manganese, nickel, and cobalt, all used in the production of batteries. The impetus for this sudden industrialization of the ocean bottom, in part, is carbon emissions,… Read the rest
History is written by the victor, and for the past 10,000 years that victor has been men. Accordingly, history (his story) concerns itself with power-based theories of patriarchal social order: styles of rulership, the role of warfare, and economic systems.
If you feel like you’re going crazy, you’re not alone. Many of us feel our ship of state is floundering and that its rudder’s fallen off. It’s not just the antics of our dishonest and quarrelsome President that’s troubling, but that America appears to have lost its way… Read the rest
It was recently announced that millennials now outnumber baby boomers in the United States, a milestone in the history of American demographics. For nearly all our roughly seventy-five years, baby boomers have dominated trends in fashion, economics, technology, science and environment, but this… Read the rest
As modern life progresses and introduces new cultural forms, our tendency leans to retrieving artifacts from the past. This process of retrieval softens the shock of obsolescence; through names, shapes or designs, outdated cultural artifacts lend their comfort and familiarity to newer, less familiar
Our pursuit of a machine that can think for itself — gather experience, learn and apply that learning to new situations — is long standing. The earliest computing machines, designed to calculate numbers, gave rise to fantasies of artificial intelligence through their faultless operation.… Read the rest
I’m not a dog owner. As I frequently quip when asked if I have a dog, “I don’t have a dog, I have grandchildren.” On my daily walk around town I do encounter many dog owners; in some cases, the dogs are so large and the owners so small that it appears the dogs are taking their owners… Read the rest
Despite the cultural arc of history of the past 500 years — the efforts toward emancipation and the relentless rise of science and technology — humanity appears terribly, one might even say, hopelessly, stuck. The habits and predispositions of our past — religious conflict, otherworldly… Read the rest
Whenever there is wealth and property, (and for the past 5,000 years when has there not been?), theft and corruption accompany it. Greek mythology prominently features Hermes’ theft of Apollo’s cattle, and virtually all major religions include prohibitions against theft. The Ten … Read the rest
Generally, we divide the history of human culture between the Paleolithic and Neolithic, “Paleolithic” meaning “Old Stone Age” and “Neolithic” meaning “New Stone Age.” The Old Stone Age included… Read the rest
The word “freedom” implies “no limits,” the presumption that free will alone constrains human action; but of course, we all know that with freedom comes limitations. Though English philosopher Thomas Hobbes built an entire belief system on the premise of the autonomous… Read the rest
I recall my high school biology teacher, Mr. Ricci, explaining the phrase “Ontology Recapitulates Phylogeny”, as much because his long, snagged teeth made saying it nearly impossible for him to say, an amusing moment for us sophomores, as for the sheer poetry of its sound. It’s… Read the rest
It’s come to this; shopping, food preparation and cooking are so burdensome that corporate America has concluded a smart profit’s to be made from a niche target market, namely, those adults who are unwilling to eat frozen dinners or have Grub Hub deliver restaurant take-out but are too… Read the rest
Much is being made at present about the effects of screen time, particularly on children. Screen time, of course, refers to the time spent engaged with one’s smart phone, iPad or laptop, which by all accounts has skyrocketed to epidemic proportions. Issues of attention deficits and addictive… Read the rest
With the discovery that micro-plastics have been found in human stool samples we can now confirm that the scourge of plastic has thoroughly permeated the world’s food chain. It’s unknown if the plastic discovered… Read the rest
Justice relies upon blame, and blame relies upon declaring effective cause. Effective cause is one of four types of causation, according to Plato, the others being material cause, formal cause and total cause. When to comes to matters of human affairs, effective cause is the type that draws a line between… Read the rest
Strangely, it seems as if the very forces that could bring us together are tearing us apart. Internationally, the ability to communicate globally and establish common ground is giving way to fragmentation and isolationist policies. Nationally, the values of liberty and equality are giving way to… Read the rest
Seeking ecstasy in everyday life fuels consumption of drugs, alcohol and food, prompts gambling, high-risk behavior, and sexual adventure. All these things excite and stimulate, prompting the release of endorphins, hormones which lessen pain and produce pleasurable sensations. Yet, even pain… Read the rest
Why do people seek ecstasy, those moments of “getting out” of ourselves–getting high? Biochemically, ecstasy can be explained; receptor sites on brain cells connect to natural and man-made substances which reduce pain, and produce sensations and feelings we … Read the rest
For as long as science can tell, humanity has always liked to get high. Between naturally occurring endorphins which stimulate pleasure centers in the brain and substances found in nature (and now chemistry) which act upon those same pleasure centers, getting high is inextricably… Read the rest
With a nod to the opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ 1859 novel “A Tale of Two Cities” I find myself contemplating the ways in which life has never been better and never been worse. It’s a matter of perspective, of course.
The defining youthful event of my generation was the war in Vietnam. For those of us who objected to that war, the horror of guns and bombs and pointless death became a cause celebré, a rallying point that captured the vitality of being eighteen and combined it with political activism and various forms… Read the rest
My sister recently visited from New York, and was excited to see what an outlet for recreational marijuana looked like. Finding ourselves in San Francisco, we decided to drop in at Harvest, a pot shop on Geary Street near 11th Avenue.
To be honest, I’ve never set foot in a dispensary or recreational… Read the rest
A modern, widely-held assumption is that human consciousness has evolved for the better. When we examine the past and find patterns of belief and behavior we call “primitive”, we feel self-satisfied and consider ourselves and our present culture as having progressed in comparison.… Read the rest
What-Has-Been opposes Things-to-Come, while at the same time What-Has-Been creates Things-to-Come. Things-to-Come makes What-Has-Been obsolete, yet Things-to-Come mirrors What-Has-Been. The relationship between What-Has-Been… Read the rest
Women have been putting up with piggish men for a long time; do you recall the cartoon showing a helpless woman being dragged by the hair while a caveman says to his friend, “I love these pre-holiday sales!”? For a very long time, the meme of gender relations has been: man is the boss and woman… Read the rest
Speculation and conspiracy theories naturally flow from horrific massacres such as occurred in Las Vegas: Steven Paddock was trying to sell guns, was killed to make it look like a suicide; he was a hit man with a specific target among… Read the rest
My wife and I moved to Sonoma in April of 1990 after purchasing a six-room bed and breakfast inn on West Spain Street. It was later in that year, in November, when we first encountered what we used to call “the slow season.” By December, reservations dramatically slowed down, and in January,… Read the rest
Documenting our lives through photographs went mainstream with the introduction of Kodak’s “Brownie” camera, introduced in 1900 at the price of $1; the “snapshot” was born, and with it arrived a new sense of self.
Things move so quickly in digital technology that yesterday’s fad is old hat before it’s even reached maturity. Such is the case with Virtual Reality (VR), the technology that promised us the god-like chance to step into worlds of our own making so exciting that taking off our visors would… Read the rest
The world has been in trouble before. Every century has had its share of discord, warfare, violence and mayhem, punctuated by periods of creative flowering, knowledge growth and cultural insight. That we find ourselves once again riven by conflict, feelings of instability and worries about the future… Read the rest
He looked at his legs, still outstretched and beginning to glisten in the daylight. It had been a cool night, and his body would take a few minutes to warm up enough to get up and walk. Taking a deep breath, he smelled the dew evaporating from the ground and as shadows… Read the rest
Men’s war on women did not begin with Donald Trump, far from it. Its roots are Biblical and mythological, bound up with creation stories tying women to the introduction of sin and evil into the world; so deeply embedded in our collective psyches… Read the rest
The earliest Greek myths recount the emergence of the cosmos through a violent act of separation. The unity of all things was broken when at the urging of his mother, Gaea, her son Kronos forever divided his parents by cutting off the generative organs of his smothering and possessive father, Ouranos.… Read the rest
One of the dilemmas of modern times is effectively coming to grips with morality. The word itself is derived from Latin, meaning “proper behavior” but has become loaded with other connotations, religious and social. Our humanitarian, modern sensibilities incline us to disfavor moral… Read the rest
Along with Sigmund Freud’s “Civilization and Its Discontents”, Carl Jung’s “Modern Man in Search of a Soul” formed the foundation for the new field of human psychology at the beginning of the 20th Century. All at once, the human mind itself was revealed to be… Read the rest
Your dreams are sending you information, and it’s all about you. Your mother might appear in dreams, but it’s not really her, it’s your imaginary her, or rather, the mother-archetype your mother represents. And you are in your … Read the rest
What we call communication – the words and symbols we employ both orally and in written form – strikes me as too primitive to be trusted. Our connections with each other one-on-one or in small groups can include physical contact, but once we get beyond that intimate level, we must rely upon… Read the rest
The Trump administration’s dissing of opponents reminds me of comments made by Richard Nixon’s Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, who criticizing the opposition, condemned the “effete corps of impudent snobs.” Agnew, forced to resign due to evidence of bribery and corruption,… Read the rest
The Statue of Liberty famously beckons “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, certainly one of the kindest welcoming messages any country has employed. And yet, I’ve been wondering why America can be so mean.
America’s political flirtation with a temperamental, impulsive, emotionally undeveloped political leader has blossomed into a full-blown crisis of faith in our systems of government and democracy itself, and comparisons between America in 2017 and George Orwell’s… Read the rest
Living with uncertainty is our natural human condition. Moment to moment we don’t really know what’s coming next. For many of us uncertainty causes worry. We compensate for this by establishing patterns and making “plans”… Read the rest
Like many, I find myself thinking about how best to resist the powerful emergence of reactionary, right-wing politics in America, and I’ve decided to go with the Our Gang School of Political Resistance. It’s an approach that worked wonders… Read the rest
I like quiet. I don’t mean the complete silence of no sound whatsoever, but the quiet of the natural world. I find the sound of leaves rustling in the wind comforting. The same is true of water running in a creek, or birdsong. My wife and I once stayed in a cabin on the shore of Tomales Bay and at night … Read the rest
The Industrial Revolution is often mistakenly cited as the cause of the loss of human labor, but to the contrary, the engine of global capitalism fueled by the Industrial Revolution would never have developed without the hands of human labor.
Efficient and highly productive machine technology required… Read the rest
Morphology, the study and comparison of form, is one method used by scientists and naturalists to classify plants and animals into Genus and Species. By determining physical structures as unique to a particular organism, one species of organism can be differentiated from other members of its family.… Read the rest
Much is being made of the angry white men of America, men who have lost jobs, lost wives, and have lost hope. That lost hope has been replaced with anger – anger at women, at minorities, at immigrants and politicians. It’s a troubling and complicated situation, and a dangerous one as well;… Read the rest
The Trump campaign unleashed a torrent of news stories about sexual harassment and abuse of women by men. As Rebecca Solnit points out in her book of essays on the topic, “Men Explain Things to Me,” male aggression against women is a long-standing feature of global culture, and in the United… Read the rest
Donald Trump recently justified his gutter-talk about women by calling it “locker-room” banter, and added that he’s heard much worse from Bill Clinton while playing golf. To his avid male supporters, Donnie’s potty-mouth probably sounds good; there are millions of men… Read the rest
For many people, there’s something about the present that’s just not good enough, the nagging feeling that what’s happening now needs to better, is in some way insufficient and unsatisfying. Out there, tomorrow, in the future, things will be better.
Remind me, Dear One, to Tell you the fable about the Atom that hungered to be a Molecule.
Most of us believe that what elevates a person in society is intelligence and talent, but this is not entirely true. Intelligence and talent are not insignificant; to the contrary, people with… Read the rest
There have always been competitive ones among us; from brute physical aggression to sophisticated strategic thinking, the ambitious make waves in the fabric of society. For much of human history, competition ended in death, and it ends in death sometimes even today. In… Read the rest
I know it sounds like the name of some aggressive law firm, but Mean and Hurtful is the way we sometimes treat each other. Exposure to the news is most often how I witness Mean and Hurtful, but the other evening I unexpectedly found myself on the direct receiving end of such behavior.
In the end, the skein of civilization turned out to be thinner and less substantial than most anyone had expected. Collapse of modern society took only a matter of weeks, not months. Once the electricity stopped the whole of industrial and mechanized society came crashing to a halt. Assumptions about… Read the rest
I recently read a Facebook post by a fellow who, just having had an RIFD chip implanted under his skin, described himself as “trans-human.” For those of you unaware exactly what an RIFD chip is, you’ll find one in the latest version of credit cards being issued by Banks. RIFD chips … Read the rest
I think that if we are going to alter human genetics, we should get going on it right away and concentrate on giving human beings the gift of photosynthesis. As you most likely know, through photosynthesis plants feed themselves with sunlight.
Much is being made of current research indicating that the Glyphosate in Monsanto’s herbicide RoundUp is a likely carcinogen. A laboratory-made, liquid life-killing poison that turns dandelions to brown, withered husks in a day; that it probably causes cancer should surprise no one.
For most of the past 5,000 years, the period of human history when monetary systems arose and spread across the globe, wealth has been measured by the accumulation of assets. Land, precious metal, slaves, tulip bulbs or any combinations thereof – all of which at one time or another have served … Read the rest
I’ve been looking for a kids’ book that’s about eating animals. There are plenty of books about eating vegetables and fruits, and books about why they are good for us, but I cannot find even one book for toddlers that explains the whys and wherefores, let alone positives, about raising… Read the rest
It was recently announced that a mega-wealthy, former bank CEO and his wife have donated $185 million to UCSF for the creation of a new institute of neuroscience, not surprisingly to be named after them. Their gift represents a new high for UCSF “philanthropy”, and follows on the… Read the rest
Of all pursuits, mathematics may be the most remarkable. I’m not talking about the simple mathematics of calculating the tip on a restaurant tab; that type of calculation is the simple arithmetic of utility. I’m talking about the mathematics of theoretical physics, a realm… Read the rest
My eight-year-old granddaughter and I stopped by Nathanson Creek at the Second Street East bridge yesterday to catch a look after the heavy rains. The water was rushing quickly, having filled the channel halfway up the height of the tunnel under the road.
The metaphors of battle, conflict and fighting are tightly woven into our American narrative, beginning with “Don’t Tread on Me” in 1776. This effectively defiant message was developed well before any modern forms of propaganda, and yet effectively framed colonist attitudes… Read the rest
Illness is one of life’s inevitable events; it happens to all of us eventually, unless sudden accidental death erases the possibility. Like most other complex living things, the human body is naturally resilient and capable of self-repair, but only up to a point. Nature, in her steadfast and… Read the rest
I honestly cannot recall a time in my 67-year-old life when America seemed more disjointed. Sure, the Vietnam era was one heckava mess, and the civil rights era was pretty messy too. But from the standpoint of governance, there was the presumption that politics was the art of compromise, and that the … Read the rest
We live in wondrous, terrible times. In every field of human endeavor we are exceeding ourselves, almost daily. Our tallest buildings are getting taller, our fastest computers are getting faster; gas-powered autos are giving way to electric vehicles, natural evolution is being supplanted by gene-editing.… Read the rest
Human experience is primarily regional. We are members of a family within a community located regionally first and foremost, and only secondarily are we members of a nation. The rise of nationalism as we know it today is a fairly recent social development, and truly came of age only during the last two… Read the rest
Alcohol causes more deaths than those caused by painkillers and heroin, combined. The Center’s for Disease Control reports that in 2014, 30,722 people died due to alcohol poisoning and cirrhosis of the liver, as compared with 28,647 deaths due to overdoses from opiates. If drunk driving, accidents… Read the rest
We praise democracy, but we don’t seem to like it very much. Voting rates in America are terrible, and voters seem to prefer established families or Reality TV stars to experienced politicians. Most people agree that our democratic electoral system has been corrupted by money, but there doesn’t… Read the rest
H.G. Wells’ classic “War of the Worlds” is a tale about how some of the smallest creatures on Earth ultimately destroyed Martian invaders wielding technology powerful enough to wipe out humanity. His idea was not entirely fanciful; as global warming lifts the average… Read the rest
The most uncomfortable truth of human experience is that life feeds on other life, and each of us depends upon the death of other living things for our continued existence. In early societies, this truth infused creation mythology and manifested in rituals during which life-from-death was reenacted… Read the rest
When I was growing up in the 50s, I loved the New Yorker cartoonist Chas Addams and his quirky but insightful brand of dark humor; at one point I had the wall next to my bed plastered with his cartoons, a mini-gallery of Chas Addams of my very own. One I particularly liked featured a smiling suburban couple… Read the rest
Living in fear is a terrible thing; it produces thoughts and feelings we would otherwise reject, but in fear, accept. Fear clouds judgment; it breeds suspicion and provides fertile ground for bigotry, intolerance, scapegoating and violence. Fear makes people more easily manipulated, more accepting… Read the rest
The world is embroiled in controversy over gender identity. Modern industrialized countries are slowly aligning laws and policies to reflect changing cultural attitudes; what once was hidden and forbidden is now openly visible and allowed. Traditional, less industrialized societies remain … Read the rest
Columbus was no tourist. Neither was Cortez or for that matter Admiral Perry. These world travelers were all about conquest, fame, riches and glory, and by-and-large, they achieved it. Before air travel and luxury ocean liners, expeditions to distant places were a risky and uncertain endeavor, often… Read the rest
Accumulating wealth and personal assets used to be a major cultural preoccupation. Savings accounts once were popular and dutifully depositing a portion of each week’s paycheck in the bank was a common practice. The power of compounding interest would over time, it was believed, provide… Read the rest
Anybody else struck by the symbolic convergence of bats and leaf blowers this October? Men swinging big sticks is nothing new, of course, but I find myself both embarrassed and amused by such displays of male aggression. Throw guns into the symbolic mix and the situation suddenly gets serious, deadly… Read the rest
I’m a confessed plant lover, what my late friend Keith Cahoon called a “Hortisexual.” This passion does not include sex, but has led to what I’ve called the infidelity of “Multiple Simultaneous Relationships with Plants.” Though I’ve never cheated… Read the rest
The CEO of Cambrian, a biotechnology company, wants to upgrade the human race. His plan to is to make genetic engineering available to everyday people in a process he calls “democratizing genetics.” In homage to his namesake, Austen Heinz of Cambrian might someday appear in 57 varieties!… Read the rest
Oliver Sacks, the best-selling author/neurologist, has died. In his inimitable style he wrote about his impending death from metastatic cancer in articles in the NY Times, and as it true of all his writing, his keen observation and fondness for humanity jumps right off the page.
I’m dreaming about my great-great-great granddaughter. “Shame,” she says, “How could you?” Of course she’s talking about the ruination of the world, and I know that. “What can I tell you,” I say gently, “The unnatural world moves too quickly.”… Read the rest
Airbnb has ignited a firestorm of opinion pro-and-con regarding its facilitation of rentals of residential property for commercial purposes, even when that property is zoned for residential use only. The overnight or short-term rental of virtually anything is a commercial activity; money changes… Read the rest
The State Water Resources Board has told the City of Sonoma to cut its use by 28%; the Valley of the Moon water District by 24%. Given the current drought, these target cutbacks make sense; there’s only so much water and it must be conserved. But here’s the rub: both the City of Sonoma Water … Read the rest
I was sitting around talking with two friends when one of them asked me this question. He was talking about the ridiculously low minimum wage, cost of housing, unavailability of rentals, wealth inequality, biased tax code, dissolving social safety net, billions spent on our war machine, and the general… Read the rest
We no longer sacrifice human beings in ritual killings for the sake of a good harvest, though given their effects on human health we could view the use of agricultural poisons and pesticides from that perspective. Capital punishment in America, however, which objectively is unnecessary to protect… Read the rest
My granddaughter, aged seven, and I were watching an animated movie about a curious fairy who is told by her Fairy Master not tamper with Pixie Dust. She does, of course, and an accident caused by one of her experiments wreaks havoc with the Fairy Village.
Part of being human is being categorical. This means putting ourselves and things into endless categories, assigning names and establishing hierarchies. Our penchant for fragmenting the nameless whole into named parts and then using these named parts to construct a newly-named whole is deceptively… Read the rest
By the time things get “trendy” they’ve become clichéd, and as we all know the hallmark of a cliché is its loss of authenticity and meaning. Having become a mere trope of its former self, a craze quickly wears itself out and fades away, destined to return at a future date in the sentimental… Read the rest
The largest single demographic generation in the history of America, the 75-million strong baby-boom population is now entering it’s final 20-year run. Avid consumers, boomers have fueled our economy at each stage of its varied history; as post-world-war-two children we prompted an elementary… Read the rest
Our fixed-city way-of-life has created a problematic situation: homelessness. Those who cannot afford to own or rent a home are left to wander the highways, alleys and shelters of our urban environments in search of safe spots in which to rest and sleep. The reasons for their poverty vary: personal … Read the rest
Certain memes – persistent thematic constructs which achieve near ubiquity – emerge from the noisy background of culture and assume prominence for a long while, decades or even centuries. Democracy is one such meme, and it’s been spreading through social contagion for several… Read the rest
The current discussions surrounding the topic of sustainability generally revolve around systems analysis and a scientific approach which evaluates resources, utilization rates, waste production, economies and other quantifiable and measurable elements. As far as this goes it’s useful… Read the rest
In spite of or possibly in reaction to California’s worst drought in 120 years, I suddenly find myself surrounded by neighbors building swimming pools. Five homes within 200 feet already have pools and two more even closer have completed the construction phase and have moved into pumps, pipes,… Read the rest
I’ve always wondered if it’s a matter of translation; namely did the the tablets brought down Mt. Sinai by Moses prohibit killing or murder? From what I can tell, most people think “Thou shalt not kill” fully covers the topic, generating reams of argument about – what… Read the rest
Before movies there were dreams, the experience of being simultaneously involved while impassively observing events and emotions displayed on mind’s internal “screen.” In many ancient cultures dreams played a pivotal role in individual and social life. For Australian Aboriginal… Read the rest
Although the human impulse towards religious experience is undeniable many people today do not consider themselves as religious or spiritual. Writer Richard Dawkins or television pundit Bill Maher take great pains to paint religious belief as nonsense – destructive mumbo-jumbo unsuited… Read the rest
Ok so it’s 2040 and I’m 92 years old – too old if you ask me, which of course you didn’t – but that’s not the point. The point is I’m pissed-off. Sure, you say, of course you’re pissed-off – you’re old – and being old and pissed-off… Read the rest
When I was growing up a fella named Charles Atlas adorned the back pages of cheap magazines, displaying a body we’d today call “buff” but back then “muscle-bound.” The proverbial answer to being a skinny wimp at the beach and having sand kicked-in-your-face… Read the rest
There is a decidedly anti-intellectual strain in contemporary American society, this despite a high rate of literacy and a historical legacy of higher education. Though books are still written, dissertations, doctorates and advanced degrees awarded, the present level of public discourse can … Read the rest
To uncivilized people the whims of nature surely seemed capricious; their search for meaning behind devastating winds or a great flood gave rise to tales of gods, magic and otherworldly realms beyond the powers of direct human observation. Seasonal cycles, animal migrations, phases of the moon, … Read the rest
Recent polls indicate that America’s favorite sport is now football instead of baseball. It’s not hard to see a connection between this trend and the changed nature of American life in the 21st century.
Baseball, of course, is a 19th century game, developed during slower times of less … Read the rest
I remember a childhood cartoon in which the main character – it could have been Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny – found himself in the middle of a struggle between a little devil and a little angel version of himself, each of which sat on one of his shoulders. The little devil tempted him to indulge … Read the rest
I’ve come to hold synchronicity in high regard. Coincidence is too light a word for the ways in which waves of information sometimes pass through human culture: signaling a simultaneous, penetrating and all-pervasive coming together of cause and effect that verges on clairvoyance.
An elderly man, feeling weak, enters the emergency room of a local hospital. After waiting, a doctor examines him and determines he is severely dehydrated. An IV is placed, and sterile saline solution (water and salt) soon help the man recover. He prepares to leave the hospital and is told to make sure… Read the rest
TV shows and Hollywood movies often portray elite government security teams as oafish incompetents around whom brilliantly evil criminals run rapid circles. The plots then center around a cat-and-mouse game played by the evil-doers and the one or two members of law enforcement who can see through… Read the rest
Sex Porn is a global multi-billion-dollar industry. Studies indicate that for many addicted to such material its sexual content is less significant than its feelings of overcoming powerlessness. The defining characteristic of porn is a sense of control through the objectification of self and other,… Read the rest
We place a great deal of faith in eyewitness testimony and its impact on criminal justice is enormous. Eyewitness accounts can vary widely, however, as has been the case in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by a young police officer. Declining to bring charges, the Grand Jury … Read the rest
A Californian for nearly 50 years I’ve infrequently traveled by train but I grew up in the suburbs of New York and took the train to Manhattan from time-to-time. My earliest memory of a long train trip was when I was eight years old and my family took an overnight train to Florida.
It would be nice, I suppose, to believe that everything is just fine: the motivations of people are well-intended, science and technology always solve every problem, freedom and democracy are humanity’s natural state, the world can accommodate an unlimited number of people, and infectious… Read the rest
Setting aside the purely commercial aspects of harvest decorations and TV commercials featuring cute turkeys and cartoon characters in Puritan outfits, Thanksgiving’s acknowledgment of earth’s bounty and the value of kindness towards others is a welcome departure from our customary… Read the rest
In the world’s economy there are only three types of money, fast, slow and no.
Fast money is just that, credit which moves so quickly it requires the use of automated computer algorithms. At its extreme, fast money is circulating the globe, staying in sync with the international dateline, executing… Read the rest
Try as we may to be blasé – making it the subject of horror movies, detective dramas, novels and so forth – the mystery of death remains humanity’s primary conscious and unconscious preoccupation. The heart of philosophy and religion, not to mention Hollywood, “the great… Read the rest
Every new artifact of human culture generates a set of effects. The most predictable of these relate directly to the operation or impact of the artifact; for example, the invention of the automobile made the horse and buggy obsolete. Less obvious… Read the rest
It’s interesting how medical terminology has been applied to the digital realm; after all, computers are just machines, right? Machines don’t get sick and that’s what we’ve always loved about them and why they’ve effectively replaced human beings as a labor force.… Read the rest
Back in the hippie-dippy days of the 20th century two things were a Big Deal: Hair and Astrology. Long-haired men faded as an issue when pattern baldness and changing fashion inevitably reduced their impact to statistically ordinary, and astrology – replaced by ecology – quietly slid… Read the rest
It was recently reported that the world’s oceans now contain three times as much methyl mercury as they did before the industrial revolution. Oceanic mercury becomes highly toxic methyl mercury due to the chemical action of sea water, and methyl mercury causes cognitive impairment, sometimes… Read the rest
Our society is so permeated by commerce that business metaphors are regularly applied to non-business situations. Thus we “profit by experience,” “calculate our losses,” and “take stock in the situation.” Another common phrase concerns “the business… Read the rest
America is exceptional in many ways, not all of them so good. One way which falls into this “not so good” category is an inordinate pride in speaking and teaching one language only, namely English. Pride is often a good indicator of self-righteousness in individuals, and so it is culturally… Read the rest
Beginning with painting on rocks and writing code for binary computers, the records of what we know have variously been kept. Between these two extremes are found language, hieroglyphics, cuneiform markings in clay, pictograms, alphabets, printing… Read the rest
An unoccupied mind is a dangerous thing. Organic brain’s powerful processing capacity combined with limitless symbolic creativity of mind gives rise to the need for pursuing purpose and meaning. Lacking these, people veer into forms of madness; hyperactive states of violence against others, self-injury,… Read the rest
The idea of labor as a commodity, the creation of a class of people subject to competitive rates who can be bought and sold on the open market is inherently dehumanizing, but we live in a capitalist world addicted to consumption, increased productivity and shareholder profit.
Human sensibilities are in part a matter of scale, which is to say that as we interact with the world we move from the particular to the general and vice versa, oscillating between conceptions of reality in order to find our comfortable place among events.
Like Jack ferrying a donkey to market, trading it for magical beans and then escaping the confines of conventional society in ‘Jack and The Beanstalk’, the giant he disturbs is analogous to the giant gray-market behemoth suddenly disrupting our economy, stomping on established forms of commerce … Read the rest
I’ve spent considerable time with my granddaughter watching Sponge Bob Square Pants, the kids’ cartoon show featuring an ensemble of recurring characters living in the undersea fantasy town of Bikini Bottom. It’s wacky, weird and colorful, but also presents a coherent vision of moral character … Read the rest
Richard Wagner, the German musical genius of dubious personal behavior, wrote and produced some of the most stunning and memorable operas ever performed. Among others, “The Flying Dutchman” and his “Ring Cycle” of four operas, running a combined total of over 20 hours, contain soaring musical passages… Read the rest
People love stories, particularly melodrama. Thus television programs like “Downton Abbey,” the mini-epic about changing manners and society set within a grand estate in the London countryside is less history than soap opera. Scriptwriters plot their dramas in terms of “narrative arc,” casting… Read the rest
We’re all familiar with verbal clichés; they’re a dime-a-dozen and no big deal. We use them all the time as shorthand for the commonplace, experiences so everyday as to resonate with nearly everyone. The path from metaphor to cliché is particularly fast in our information-centric 24-hour news cycle,… Read the rest
Yet again we are confronted by the limits of human engineering and the dangers of nuclear technology, this time in the disclosure of two leaks at a federal nuclear storage facility near Carlsbad, New Mexico.
Huge tunnels carved into 2,150 foot deep Permian salt deposits were intended to provide a long… Read the rest
There’s a lot in a name, and potentially, even more in a nickname. Given names often reveal seemingly mysterious connections to the meaning of each life; Cutters who are surgeons, Woods who are carpenters and so forth. Nicknames, on the other hand, are bestowed later in life, and associated with physical… Read the rest
Our culture is obsessed with content, the words and pictures that form the narrative of most thought, conversation and daily life. Argument, rhetoric, reports, articles, columns, news, blogs, tweets and posts are all part of our obsession with content, an endless stream of abstracted opinion with… Read the rest
Sentimentality ruled the night at this week’s City Council meeting. During an agenda item to consider regulating wine tasting rooms, wine makers were cast as “friends who went to Alta Mira” who “provide jobs” and represent nothing more than “farm to table.” In a display of the most naive side of small… Read the rest
Boys like things that go “boom!” but it’s a far cry from the fireworks of July 4th to the destructive force of America’s most popular battlefield weapon, the Hellfire missile. Launched by helicopter, ship-based platforms, land-based installations and fixed-wing aircraft, the Hellfire is a $50,000… Read the rest
Fine wine has always benefited from a goodly bit of snob appeal. The French certainly enjoyed being wine snobs and Americans, never to be outdone, have worked hard and long to catch up. Prestigious wine enjoys a particular cachet, equal parts snobbery, expense, rarity and point of origin. Long the target… Read the rest
What are we to make of our obsession with zombies? If one considers mass media as a window into our collective human consciousness, then the mass-media outbreak of zombies represents the expression of a symbolic neurosis emerging from modern society as whole.
Benjamin Braddock, the part played by Dustin Hoffman in director Mike Nichol’s acclaimed film “The Graduate,” is taken aside by a dinner guest at the graduation party thrown for him by his parents and quietly told the secret to his future success. “Plastics,” the guest sagely offers the non-plussed… Read the rest
Surveillance in the digital age is a universal reality at unprecedented scale, reaching into the intimate details of uncountable millions of individual lives. Now politely called “data-mining” to lessen it’s sense of violation, we used to call such activity espionage or spying and its “Peeping … Read the rest
For most of human existence a nomadic way of life was life itself. Moving with the seasons alongside migrating animals while establishing temporary lodging lasted hundreds of thousands of years. The simple non-industrial hunter-gatherer style of life produced no garbage; everything used was natural… Read the rest
I like getting the newspaper every day. I like the ritual of looking for it in the darkend driveway, and plopping it down on the kitchen table. I read the the “funnies” last, holding off what for me is the most revealing part of the daily paper. That sense of anticipation doesn’t last long, though; I read … Read the rest
I grew up with All-American images of clean-cut baseball heroes — Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and the like. Despite later revelations of alcohol problems, their images as wholesome, talented sportsmen resonated across the 1950s and contributed to the backdrop of conformist cultural… Read the rest
I recently refilled a prescription for a beta-blocker I’ve been taking daily for twenty-some odd years. The electrical system of my heart becomes unstable every once in a while, and Atenolol settles it down to a nice normal rhythm.
Atenolol was first produced by pharmaceutical maker AstraZeneca under… Read the rest
No, this is not the first line of a Henny Youngman joke (if you don’t know who he was, Google him, the King of the one-liners), it’s an honest question. You see my wife is descended on both sides of her family from Puritans, one of whom came on the Mayflower. She’s traveled even farther back in time, and viewed… Read the rest
One of the great things about baseball is the umpire. No ump and baseball would be a never-ending series of arguments and fist fights. As it is, the umpire is God, and his word and rule is absolute. To defy the ump is to risk being banned from the field. Even an eyebrow raised in his general direction is a challenge.… Read the rest
What would we do without statistics? Newspapers would actually have to report on events, sociologists would talk about feelings and baseball commentators would have almost nothing to say. Such is the state of the world.
Statistics are particularly appropriate to our digital age where every keystroke,… Read the rest
By all accounts, particularly his own, poet Charles Bukowski was a miserable wretch. I attended one of his readings in my youth, and from the mini-fridge next to his stool on stage, he extracted beer after beer; as the evening progressed he ended up falling-down drunk and unable to continue.
Like water circling the bathtub drain, our consumer society expends a lot of energy but ultimately spirals down a bottomless hole, and unless more water is continuously added, nothing but an empty tub remains.
Of late, the “water” being added is money printed by the Federal Reserve Bank, in the form … Read the rest
Males of many species mark their territorial boundaries. The other day my wife accused me of marking mine.
I will confess to feeling shocked by her comments at first. The shoes I leave under the coffee table in the living room, a pile of mail stacked on the dining table, my pants draped over the cedar chest… Read the rest
The subject of two articles in today’s newspaper have been conflated in the title of this column. Article one involved the prospect that as the world’s population reaches 8 billion people, the need for a protein-rich food source will create an international diet of bugs. Bugs, the article points out,… Read the rest
For the North Bay wine country, including Sonoma, tourism has been a mixed blessing. Just one-hour’s drive from five million people looking for a weekend escape, the boom in tourism has both irrevocably altered the rural landscape with wineries, hotels and backed-up traffic and simultaneously filled… Read the rest
Recent reports on the condition of the Fukushima nuclear power reactors in Japan indicate that highly radioactive water used in the makeshift reactor cooling system has been leaking from buried storage tanks damaged in a tsunami several… Read the rest
A recent report indicates that as many as one-in-five high-school-age boys have been diagnosed with ADHD and many of them are being treated with drugs like Adderall and Ritalin. Clearly, either there is a growing epidemic of ADHD of unknown causes, or diagnostic criteria and social standards… Read the rest
For nearly 10,000 years human beings have lived in a land of milk and honey. Milk and its derivatives are used ubiquitously as food, and the importance of cattle made them one of society’s first forms of money. Old African tribes like the Maasai still measure wealth by number of cattle and notably, the … Read the rest
All seemingly stable systems are subject to perturbations and disruptions; what we perceive as stability is only the temporary emergence of fixed patterns within a container of unfathomable complexity, or what we commonly call chaos. We begin to think we can control chaos by adapting ourselves to… Read the rest
In the insect world, drones are males suited for only two functions, mating and work. Actually, that sounds like many of the guys I know. Seriously though, male honey bees, ants and termites spend their entire lives working constantly at the behest of the queen of the hive, the matriarch who … Read the rest
Amid the debate about guns and violence little seems to be said about the true nature of guns. Some say “guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” and in some sense this is correct. People have killed each other for a long time, well before … Read the rest
It is told that very long before our current age, powerful gods ruled the world, feasted on its riches, brought forth their sons and daughters and showered them with gold, jewels and the instruments of domination. Only when the flush of Earth Mother Saha (“endurance”) filled the world with searing heat… Read the rest
The fermented fruit of the vine, grape juice, has been a big deal for a very long time – like 8,000 years long. This is true despite a lack of neolithic wine tasting rooms, and speaks to the role wine plays in human life. So strong is wine’s part in history that it’s inspired religious myth, tales of brilliance… Read the rest
Those with wealth and power are terribly confused. Having become Lords of Materialism, seduced by the lure of money and the influence it can buy, they naturally assume all others share their values. Accordingly, as the recent national election illustrates, advocates for the view that “the business… Read the rest
“I want the big half,” said Isabelle, flashing her joyful five-year-old grin. I was dividing an ice-cream sandwich to share. “Well,” I said, “both halves are the same size, but you can choose the one you want. Do you like to having the bigger piece?” “Yes,” she replied, choosing.
Popular culture seems to be satisfying a substantial public demand for violent, bloodthirsty immortals with large fangs seeking human victims. Strangely, it’s not like real life isn’t providing us with enough demons: the daily paper recounts shootings, stabbings, photos of suicide bombings, … Read the rest
Desire being the root of most human experience, finding ourselves attracted to things we see around us is entirely normal. Given widespread religious doctrines and legal prohibitions against theft, it would appear powerful temptations to satisfy desire are rather normal as well; those of us who’ve… Read the rest
If you’re wondering why modern life seems dominated by discussion of fiscal cliffs, taxes and money, look no further than the origins of Western civilization. For roughly 10,000 years, civilization … Read the rest
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” So reads the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights, one complete sentence expressing a complete thought. Despite grammar and punctuation which clearly… Read the rest
Because we are imaginative and creative, people naturally idealize situations, others and ideas. When we idealize, we elevate something and imbue it with a sense of perfection. When we idealize love, virtue, compassion, truth, beauty… Read the rest
Buddhists believe that within the circle of Samsara into which we are born there are six realms, one of which is the god realm. Classically, the god realm is one in which bodiless beings experience total satisfaction for 1,000 years, only then to run out of merit and find themselves… Read the rest
When a natural event like Superstorm Sandy wreaks havoc and destruction it provides an opportunity to reflect on our preoccupations and priorities and how out of whack they so often are. Disaster strikes and suddenly we realize what’s truly precious; it’s not American Idol, the latest iPad … Read the rest
As income inequality continues to grow in America, with millionaires and billionaires increasing their record-setting ownership of the nation’s wealth, the sharp divide between haves and have-nots played-out in the reelection of Barack Obama. Despite record-setting expenditures, the haves… Read the rest
Charles Darwin introduced the concept of natural selection to describe the mechanism of evolution and the ways in which life on earth reflects a continuum of time and change. His theory challenged generations of belief in an absolute, immutable order of existence, and in his own way,… Read the rest
Sitting in the hot tub watching the afternoon wind whip a flag flying atop a 40-foot bamboo pole in my garden, I thought about waves. Flags wave in the wind, a convergence of weight, length, wind speed, and air turbulence. If the right… Read the rest
Roughly 500 years ago, Johannes Gutenberg introduced moveable type and the modern book was born. Gutenberg hoped that his invention would make the Bible more available and help sustain and enlarge the Catholic faith, but ironically… Read the rest
Both Presidential candidates are convinced that getting people back to work is the most essential ingredient in improving the American economy. This is, of course, true; more people working means more money consumption, more taxes to be collected, and more profits to be earned. The folly in this, … Read the rest
While on vacation recently my wife and I were in no mood to search high and low for the best restaurant in Chicago and decided to eat as close to our hotel as possible. The day had been long and the temperature hot…one sign I read said 102 degrees. We’d spent the day visiting a 160-year-old farm that … Read the rest
Package labeling has become the art of deception, the intentional use of language to confuse and deceive the consumer. This is particularly obvious as food companies seek to exploit the organic food movement, currently the fastest-growing segment of the food industry, but the cosmetic and pharmaceutical… Read the rest
I remember sitting in our family living room as my father turned and folded pages, snapping and creasing the newsprint as he made his way through every section. Meanwhile, my mother would work across and down, completing the crossword puzzle with a pen. Growing up with … Read the rest
Among the channels proliferating via Dish Network I’ve recently taken to watching reruns of old network TV westerns. I watched many of these episodes when I was 10 or twelve years old, black and white westerns about good guys and bad guys and the women attracted to … Read the rest
This past month marks what looks like the confirmation of the Higgs Particle, or what has been called “The God Particle.” Like most things quantum, the Higgs Particle is simultaneously the Higgs Field, and its confirmation is a big deal.
The tragedy in Aurora, Colorado this past week reminds me of the killings by Charles Whitman in Texas during 1966. Whitman was the son of a middle class family, a former marine who climbed to the top of a tower at the University of Texas in Austin and shot 46 people with a high-powered rifle; fourteen people… Read the rest
When Orwell penned this slogan in his book “1984” he was addressing political theory, not neuroscience, yet from the perspective of current brain research, he was spot on. Our consciousness is but a sliver of the operation of mind, the rest hidden from our awareness. Turns out “free will” is less of a … Read the rest
If you read my column regularly, by now you know that I enjoy a cup of tea. My tastes in tea run to classic Chinese varieties like Oolong and Pu’er, and I can joyfully spend an hour or two exploring new varieties of fine tea.
Teapots, on the other hand, are a source of disappointment, specifically, the way … Read the rest
Human society today rests far less upon nature than upon the results of human imagination. Futurist and inventor Buckminster Fuller called it our “metaphysical” world, author Neil Postman calls it “technopoly,” and I call it our “cooked-up reality.” It was not always this way.
We live in an age of specialists and experts who identify themselves as at the top of their craft, experts like the financial wizards at JP Morgan Chase, who recently lost their company over $3 billion dollars. “Ooops,” they said. “We feel terribly stupid.” These are the same specialists who tanked the… Read the rest
That members of the Secret Service and U.S. Army shamelessly availed themselves of the services of Columbian prostitutes in advance of the arrival of President Obama is no surprise to me. For thousands of years, powerful men have blended their official power with their sexual urges. Such men often … Read the rest
What, exactly, are we looking for, and why is it everyone is always telling us what we need and what to do? Need a new car? Of course you do and BMW has the answer. For that matter, so do Ford, GM and Chrysler. Need new clothes? Foolish question; just ask Penney’s, Target, or Nordstroms, they know. Salvation… Read the rest
“But words will never hurt me,” says the childhood aphorism, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Try yelling “oatmeal!” in crowded theater and watch nothing happen but annoyed stares and admonitions to please be quiet. Yell “fire!” and watch chaos erupt.
Want a six-foot talking Terror Bird? How about a dwarf Stegosaurus? Miniature Wooly Mammoth, anyone? Get ready; genetic engineering is about to explode into the commercial marketplace, bringing us the strange excitement of all kinds of new and intriguing designer pets.
I’ve written about love before, and my words don’t really amount to much compared to how love feels. I’m not alone in writing about love, of course; it’s the stuff of rock and roll, Shakespeare, a thousand poets, romance novels, crime drama plots and notes passed back and forth in eighth-grade English… Read the rest
Sitting here in the “land of the free” while much of the world struggles with democracy and reorganizing society, I can’t help but contemplate the meaning of freedom. Tossed around liberally by conservatives, freedom as a word seems to have morphed into a convenient catch-all political platform.… Read the rest
“You win a while, and then it’s done, your little winning streak.” – Leonard Cohen
You may think you are a loser: full of self-criticism, disliking your looks and your body, eating badly, drinking and smoking, not sleeping enough, ignoring your kids, slacking off at work, treating friends like… Read the rest
Previous to the last 10,000 years during which farming, agriculture and establishing fixed cities emerged as dominant social structures, human beings lived by hunting and gathering, living in modestly sized groups, picking up camp and moving with seasonal food sources. All that changed when three… Read the rest
The downside of poor is fairly obvious; no money – no food comes to mind. But in America being poor seems to have fallen on particularly hard times of late; the end of welfare, denigration of food stamps, no health insurance, and a safety net very well-frayed around the edges. Let’s face,… Read the rest
There is no shortage of disagreement in the world. On topics petty to profound, human beings exhibit an infinite range of opinions in opposition to each other. The glass is half-full or half empty, the weather is too cool or too warm, a pierced nose is enchanting or disgusting, cilantro tastes great or… Read the rest
So here’s my prediction: during the next decade there will be a huge crackdown on marijuana users. Evolving technology for drug testing, criminal law and political opportunism will converge, creating the perfect conditions for a crack-down more severe than any before.
In the beginning, there was The Word, and not too long thereafter, The Book. The first books were all about The Word, and other genres remained well in the future. Books were simply books, and their content represented the wisdom of the world.
By the 15th century, the first novels were born, and with them… Read the rest
You get up, use the bathroom and find your robe and slippers in the dark while your wife sleeps. Closing the bedroom door behind, you make your way to the kitchen at the front of the house. You flip on the lights. You walk to the door leading outside and find your way to the driveway. A newspaper lies rolled-up… Read the rest
“Good morning Audré,” I murmur, slipping out from under the covers. “Good morning, Larry,” Audré replies, “Do you want me to begin preparing your tea?” “Not yet, thanks,” I mutter, walking to the bathroom. “Lights dimmer please, Audré.” I blink as the illumination drops a notch or two.
For the vast majority of us, the world is emblazoned in millions of colors, from intense solids to the most subtle shades and blends. While it is impossible to describe color to another person in absolute terms our color sense is consistent enough that to most of us stop signs look red and lines in the road… Read the rest
I know it’s inexplicable and defies understanding, but somehow I received an email from the distant future yesterday! From what I’m told, it’s traveled 36 light years (roughly 212 trillion miles) to reach my desktop, from the constellation Vega. As I said, it’s inexplicable. It’s from a young woman… Read the rest
Experts like to make economics sound complicated; after all, who needs experts for something simple? Macro, micro, Keynesian, free-market, leading indicators, blah, blah, blah…start talking about this stuff and eyes glaze over, minds drift and before too long another scoundrel has ripped… Read the rest
My wife and I recently returned from a long-delayed week’s vacation south of the border staying at what was the first “health and fitness” retreat, Rancho La Puerta, founded in 1940. The founders of the ranch were a Transylvanian professor named Edward Szekely and his young wife Deborah who believed… Read the rest
There was a time when paying bills was a private affair, as were auto loans or credit card charges. An invoice was received, a check or money order was sent as payment; sometimes one would visit a local business and pay an invoice in cash. These transactions were based on trust, and reinforced the mutual… Read the rest
Human beings have been managing many things for a long time; we manage piling rocks into a wall, corralling livestock, selling stocks and bonds and so forth. The “management of things” means things are used and applied to situations by human effort so that a reasonably predictable outcome is the result.… Read the rest
I’m reading a 1996 book entitled “Demonic Males” which endeavors to explore the roots of male violence by examining the history and habits of our closest animal relative, the chimpanzee. Genome comparisons show we share 99 percent of our genes with chimpanzees, but genes tell only part of the story.… Read the rest
Everyone hates taxes, or so it’s said, yet of the certain both death and taxes are included. The anti-tax crusaders bellow “no new taxes!” while the pro-tax crusaders sound apologetic. At best the pro-tax forces muster arguments about “fairness,” but this is not a terribly convincing message in a country… Read the rest
Lucky for us the framers of the U.S. Constitution put happiness right near the top of the list, just under life and liberty. Had that not been the case, most of us would be in dead-end jobs we hate, buried in debt, beholden to others, taking anti-depressants and complaining most of the time. OK, I’m being… Read the rest
Nearly two years ago I wrote in this paper that popular fantasies about an increase in consumer spending turning around the economy were a joke. At that time the worst of the housing and credit crisis was becoming manifest, and foreclosures were beginning to soar. The bailout funds had made their way … Read the rest
A recent report in the NY Times listed the 2010 CEO income from 200 of the largest corporations. The amount of compensation was stunning, of course, and ranged from a stratospheric $84 million for Phillip P. Dauman of Viacom, $70 million for Larry Ellison of Oracle, and $76 million for Ray R. Irani of Occidental… Read the rest
I’m bedeviled by “y’ know.” Everywhere where I go I hear “y’ know.” From a literal standpoint, I don’t know, and I must assume I will be told, that is, what I need to know. Out of politeness, I don’t say “No, I don’t know,” since that would be humiliating and embarrassing to others. But I often think it.
I must admit to feeling quite deflated by the recent Supreme Court decisions regarding the first amendment. To see liberal justices Ginsberg, Sotomayor and Kagen recently join Scalia and Roberts in deciding not to protect minors from videos filled with blood-spattering violence, torture and mayhem… Read the rest
As the world moves solidly into the 21st century, education in America appears to be headed to the 19th. Teachers and the country’s public school system have been targeted by political conservatives who seek to cut salaries and job security for unionized teachers while diverting taxpayer dollars … Read the rest
Bob Dylan sang that, “those not busy being born are busy dying” but from what I can tell most everyone is doing both at once. Each new moment is a moment of rebirth. What seems constant and solid is a renewal, one heartbeat, one breath at a time. And that’s how close we are to dying;… Read the rest
A recent excavation in Asia uncovered a small village near the birth place of Attila the Hun. Archeologists found a hand-written scroll from 445 A.D. tucked inside a sealed ceramic bottle. The scroll contains entries by a low-level government employee, much like a Twitter diary, covering a period … Read the rest
At last count there are at least 10 banks in the City of Sonoma and more coming: Bank of the West, Wells Fargo Bank, U.S. Bank, Exchange Bank, Sonoma Bank, WestAmerica Bank, Rabobank, Citibank, Union Bank and Bank of America. It seems like a new bank opens in a new location every few weeks. This leads me to… Read the rest
Most people I know don’t think about hell too often. I brought it up cheerfully at breakfast the other day but perhaps it was too early to talk about it; everyone just stared at me. Then again, I might have just been the only morning person at the table.
A media frenzy ensued recently when in London, England, an ice-cream shop began to advertise and sell ice-cream made with mother’s milk. “Baby Gaga,” flavored with vanilla and lemon zest, was advertised as a bit sweeter and not as thick as standard ice-cream. Almost immediately, the British authorities… Read the rest
Life as we know it is made up of proteins, amino acid structures of great variety allowing for the assembly of DNA, RNA the other solid structures of living things. At the scale of individual proteins, we are talking about structures that are micro-cellular; literally… Read the rest
There have been many articles written about abuse and exploitation of the world’s environment; over-fishing of the oceans, deforestation of the rain forests, and extinction of various species of birds, mammals and amphibians. What’s not covered as often is the depletion of the American wallet.… Read the rest
One of the strangest experiences while flying across the continental U.S. happens above Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas; soaring six miles above, one looks down upon networks of old missile silos.
From time to time I get a hand-written note or letter from older women about a column I’ve written. Rarely are such letter writers critical, and I enjoy knowing that my writing is appreciated. What’s always of interest to me, though, is the lovely and refined penmanship these notes so often display.
Since I launched my Kibble for People idea last year in this paper things have really moved along.
In case you missed that column, Kibble for People is my latest billion-dollar idea. Pibble, as it will now be called, is the fully-nutritional, out-of-the-bag, one-flavor-only food that replaces everything… Read the rest
In the movie Minority Report, while the hero (played by Tom Cruise) walks through a subway corridor his iris’ are scanned and advertising specifically geared to his interests appears on video billboards visible only to him. While this seems mildly futuristic, I want to emphasize the word “mildly” … Read the rest
“You are a very strange man.” My wife Norma is smiling at me and gently shaking her head. Her comment follows my latest effort at romance. “Inherent non-locality means that when we kiss the entire universe is involved,” is what I said. Admittedly, this does not have the poetic charm of Shakespeare’s sonnets.… Read the rest
I managed to catch a nasty chest cold circulating around town, found myself low on energy and sitting around for most of a week in no mood to work or even read, so I browsed Netflix and nostalgically began watching the first season of the Paladin saga, Have Gun – Will Travel.… Read the rest
A few months ago Wikileaks released hundreds of thousands of government documents about the Iraq war, some of which reveal that not only did the U.S. military look the other way as Iraqis tortured and murdered Iraqis, but actually turned Iraqis over to the Iraqi torture squads. The other revelations… Read the rest
Many of the most moving moments during the last weeks of my father’s life were experiences of hospice. In this age of modern medicine where every effort is used to successfully prolong life, hospice instead focuses patient comfort and dignity.
Prolonging life, even when it comes at the high cost of family… Read the rest
Cause and effect are so all-pervasive and unobstructed, most of the time we don’t notice it in operation. The world we enjoy (or not, as the case may be) reflects the continuity of cause and effect at work on everything, even hamburgers and ketchup.
If marijuana is legalized in California the commercial floodgates will open. This is less a matter of good or bad than a simple matter of fact. The marketplace and its investors will swoop in and create an advertising juggernaut to capture customers, and the pot genie will never go back into the lantern.… Read the rest
Of four basic human emotions – mad, glad, sad and scared – mad is the most problematic. It is from anger that people are hit, stabbed, choked, murdered, abused, hurt, punished, cursed, castigated, blamed, and objectified. To this list we may add “thrown out of office.”
Prior to 20th century physics, which established the dominance of Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity, the concept of an all-pervading invisible aether, the medium through which light, gravity and electromagnetism moved, was commonly accepted. Harkening back to ancient alchemy… Read the rest
9-11 is a special day for me because it is my birthday, but it’s not so pleasant for everyone else. The events of 9-11-2001 produced tremendous cultural trauma, and its powerful effects are still reverberating. Such trauma happens from time to time and it often engenders worldwide change. There are … Read the rest
In the 1974 book Lives of a Cell, author Lewis Thomas paints a disarmingly sweet portrait of a single cell that all but imparts a charming personality upon a living thing so small it’s microscopic. The life of a single cell, one of 40 trillion in each of our bodies,… Read the rest
The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that the distribution of films or videos depicting actual animal cruelty is a protected form of free speech. The case at issue was prompted in part by a video showing a sexy model wearing pointy high heeled shoes walking on live kittens and stabbing them with her heels.… Read the rest
Visible matter, the objects we can see and the sources of energy that emit radio waves, comprise but 5% of all the matter in the universe. There is so little visible matter, in fact, that astrophysicists explain that the gravity … Read the rest
I ended last week’s column with a question: “What is it about the feminine that so frightens patriarchy?” In this column I will provide some possible answers. To summarize the hypothesis: persistent patriarchal silencing and domination of the feminine is the product of fear. Fear is not limited to … Read the rest
Over the past 100 years gender equality in the western world has improved dramatically. This is not to say that complete parity exists between the sexes. There are still significant economic differences (women are paid less than men for comparable work), discrimination issues (sexism in the workplace… Read the rest
I have an orderly mind but a disorderly desk. In this, I think, I am not alone. There are those, to be sure, whose desks are neat and tidy, pens and pencils standing upright in a cup like good little soldiers, perhaps an in-box holding one or two pieces of paper. This, however, is not my desk. My desk has piles.… Read the rest
When a culture places the ideals of freedom and independence at the pinnacle of personal and societal attainment, any act of surrender is problematic. When independence is elevated to a virtue, surrender is diminished to a fault. The conflation of identity with freedom frequently binds self image… Read the rest
“Hello, this is Larry. Hi Mom, hold on, my other line is ringing.” “Hello, this is Larry. Hi Bill, hold on for a minute, my cell phone is ringing.” “ Hello, this is Larry. Oh hi, Amy, can you believe I’m talking on two other phone lines? Can I call you back? Oh, OK, then. I’m putting you on hold.”
The current spectacle of angry mobs fulminating against government by using degrading images and violent language to incite others has its echo in the past. Using the poor, disenfranchised and minorities as targets embedded in a protest… Read the rest
The financial demographic of America was displayed to me recently through the juxtaposition of two illuminated scrolling posters displayed on the side of a Plexiglas transit shelter on East 72nd Street in New York City.
One poster promoted Charles Schwab, the “Talk to Chuck” stock brokerage and investment… Read the rest
I never expected to feel upset about banks. Growing up, I was taught that banks were places where you put your money into a “savings account” and over time it would accumulate. The bank paid something called “interest” which added more money to the savings account. Mostly, I liked the little green bank… Read the rest
I received a letter in the mail the other day, a nondescript white envelope from my credit card company. It was the sort of envelope I’d usually toss into the recycling figuring it just contained special offers on merchandise purchasable for all the points my wife and I have accumulated by using the card… Read the rest
The health care debate has been an unseemly exercise in political positioning, special interest lobbying, horse-trading and near bribery. Health care is the fastest growing sector of the American economy, so discussions naturally stimulate anxiety, anger and confusion.
I recently returned from my annual silent retreat in Colorado. I continue to be fascinated by what happens when my mouth is shut. I have an active mind prone to playful ideas and deep inquiry, and when they surface, like many I am inclined to share them with others. Deprived of this option through the discipline… Read the rest
We tend to prefer points of view that reinforce our own. This is curious, of course, because we develop our own cherished points of view through our exposure to the points of views of others, such as our parents. In short, no points of view arise or exist in isolation; they are inextricably bound to prevailing… Read the rest
The world as we know it will end in 2012, or so says the Mayan calendar. Personally, I’ve not used the Mayan calendar for years; it’s too much trouble hauling around those massive stone structures aligned with cardinal points and keeping track of the shadows they cast. Moreover, I find human sacrifice… Read the rest
And so it was in 2009 that a brief hiatus, or rather a stalemate, befell the opposing sides. Despite the cascading billions of spam mail flooding the internet and swallowing vast terabytes of bandwidth – armies of drone zombie computers silently doing the bidding of distant masters scattered… Read the rest
As if the recent tragedy of the Maloney family – father, mother and two children killed by a speeding motorist as they headed home from vacation were not enough – we’ve now been subjected to the horror of two people burglarizing the Maloney’s vacant home.
I usually don’t stop at garage sales; I’ve accumulated too much already. Nonetheless, I still find myself attracted to signs that say “estate sale” and this past weekend I impulsively pulled over to the curb and strolled into a back yard filled with boxes of stuff.
A recent article in the New York Times Magazine highlights the work of two social scientists named Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, who have concluded that happiness is contagious. Unhappiness is contagious too, but 2% less contagious, it turns out.
I’ve been spending time lately watching live and recorded transmissions from the International Space Station. Unlike the videos and transmissions of the past with poor image fidelity and sound, the quality of the current transmissions is fantastic. The color is great, the image clarity and focus… Read the rest
Profiling has been a hot topic lately, and the arrest of Harvard Professor Gates certainly stimulated a fresh round of examination of the topic. The issue is not whether or not people quickly form opinions of others; it is abundantly clear… Read the rest
Nobody can argue this economic recession has not been painful; jobs have been lost, homes foreclosed, pensions and retirements diminished or eliminated. People are suffering and this despite the fact that most have worked hard and lived honest, decent lives.… Read the rest
Each year terribly well-educated and insightful people make predictions about the future. In some cases they are right but mostly they are wrong. Rarely, however, do we go back in time to review just how accurate our prognosticators have been. We are so caught up in “worrying about… Read the rest
Last year it was the Autonomous Region of Tibet; this year it is the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. China, it seems, is undergoing another round of its periodic socio-political upheavals. Chinese history is not customarily taught… Read the rest
My mother is a superb cook, an absolute natural in the kitchen with a talent for turning whatever is available into an elegant repast. She once visited me while I was young and penniless…all we had in the refrigerator were lemons, and I’ll be damned if she didn’t whip up the finest… Read the rest
Slowly but surely the “torture” debate inches closer to full disclosure and accountability. In what is most assuredly one of the darkest chapters in modern American history, our immoral use of torture to wrest “confessions and information” from “enemy combatants” and other suspects held in Guantanamo… Read the rest
As nuclear weapons technology has proliferated in non-western countries, Europe and the United States fulminate against authoritarian regimes viewed as a threat to peace and security. In some cases, like Pakistan, which is responsible for the spread of nuclear technology to the likes of North Korea,… Read the rest
According to Jigme Thinley, Prime Minister of Bhutan as quoted in the The New York Times, the cause of today’s economic crisis is “Greed, insatiable human greed.” I can’t think of a shorter and more concise analysis of our current condition that says it better.
The media’s attention has recently turned to pirates, those who steal from others and betray the customary conventions of territory and ownership. Populated with iconic Hollywood images of burly men with eye patches and peg legs, romantic characters and cruel villains like Blackbeard, the true … Read the rest
Something really big is about to happen when pigs sprout wings and fly – at least that’s what we’ve been told. The sudden world-wide pandemic of swine flu, in which a mix of pig and bird flu virus has spread to people and hitched a ride on the world’s fleet of AirBus jets and Boeing 757s comes as close to flying… Read the rest
A long time ago when things got too tough, I’d get a note from my mommy. I appreciated my mother’s understanding that I needed a break every once in a while, and that she was on my side. “Please excuse Larry from PE today. He has had a sore throat and needs to avoid getting overheated.” Tormented by my sadistic… Read the rest
In New York, where I grew up, the differences between the seasons were dramatic and obvious, each bringing sweeping changes in temperature and color. The whiteness of winter was broken by early spring crocus flowers poking yellow heads through the snow; verdant summer green yielded to fall’s palette… Read the rest
Possession, so they say, is nine-tenths of the law, and this law is well understood by dogs.
Pedro, my daughter’s gregarious two-year-old black lab retriever, is a full member of the family, but he’s 100 percent dog, which means not only does he claim his space, but also his possessions. As to possessions,… Read the rest
I find myself in a bit of an emotional quandary. I am one of the tens of thousands of heart patients walking around with an electronic pacemaker-defibrillator implanted in his chest, yet I can’t help feeling somewhat uneasy about where we Post-Darwinian… Read the rest
As the financial collapse continues – home prices falling and more job losses announced every day – attention has focused on stimulating the economy. The injection of trillions of dollars by the government into the banking sector and virtually every other segment of the American economy has been viewed… Read the rest
Wall Street brokers commonly refer to market theory, a high-sounding pseudo-scientific set of investment principles developed to explain and predict how markets work. Between themselves, the brokerage community refers to yet again another valued theory, but this one is called “the bigger fool”… Read the rest
It’s said that time is money, but until a recent discussion with an airline seatmate I’d not realized how far this idea has gone.
I’ve been flying back to NYC to visit with my parents fairly often this past year, and about 25 percent of the time, I chat with my seatmates. This last trip was particularly interesting;… Read the rest
In mapping brain function, specific areas of the brain have been found to be primarily responsible for particular functions, such as hearing, seeing, feeling, motor coordination, reasoning and so on. Despite this clustering of functional areas, the brain is nonetheless capable of fully integrating… Read the rest
In comparison to ancient stone-age cultures, we consider our modern culture an advanced civilization. In actuality, all that has really advanced is technology and information; our silly and superstitious emotional selves have not changed a bit, as so amply evidenced by “Reality TV.” An accurate… Read the rest
At one time people’s names were a reflection of their role within society and culture, not simply historical surnames passed on by tradition and birth. Accordingly, the Colliers were the makers of charcoal, the Coopers were the makers of barrels, the Smiths were the forgers of… Read the rest
Einstein’s general and special theories of relativity put an end to the notion of absolute time. His formulations and subsequent scientific experiments confirm the plasticity of time, and demonstrate that depending upon velocity, direction and position of the observer, time is not the same at every… Read the rest
Over a recent breakfast with the boys, discussion turned to economic depression – what each of us might do for a living if worse comes to worst. Some of the great strengths of human beings are resourcefulness and creativity, without which we would never have scrambled out of the savannah and invented … Read the rest
At his first post-election news conference, President-elect Barack Obama referred to himself as a “mutt.” Specifically, he said, “We have two criteria that have to be reconciled. One is that Malia is allergic, so it has to be hypoallergenic. There are a number of breeds that are hypoallergenic. On … Read the rest
Listening to today’s everyday commentary makes it sound as if the end is near. The climate is changing, the economy is faltering, our resources have been degraded and threatened, population continues to increase among the world’s poorest people, reefs are dying, fish populations are collapsing … Read the rest
The recent Broadway revival of the ‘60s musical “Hair,” along with my increasingly barren pate, prompts reflection on our contemporary obsession with matters hirsute. Americans spend billions of dollars each year to increase hair, and billions yet again on products to decrease it. We style it, shave… Read the rest
When water becomes hot and agitated enough, it becomes a gas. When solid iron is heated to 2,800 degrees, it becomes a liquid. These are examples of what physicists call a phase transition or shift, a radical restructuring of matter from one form into another.
Several months ago I predicted that rescuing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would entail a massive taxpayer bailout, and I was correct. Keep in mind that I am not a financial analyst or stock broker and have no degree in economics, unlike many of the pundits. I can, however, add up two plus two.
Every once in a while something meaningful appears on television, and at present it is a series on AMC called “Mad Men.” Taking place in the very early ‘60s and set in New York, the fictional series written by Mathew Weiner of HBO’s “The Sopranos” explores the period’s… Read the rest
A few months ago I wrote a column entitled “The Sutra of the Heart of Financial Knowledge” (5/08/08). It was a satire about the emptiness of money, but at its center was a serious message. Based on the famous Heart Sutra, I may have reached too deeply into… Read the rest
The recent decision of the California Supreme Court affirming the right of same sex couples to legally marry marks a welcome step forward in affirming virtues of compassion, legal equity and benevolence. Of greater significance, it brings law into line with justice, recognizing… Read the rest
In his far-reaching and prescient 1996 work,“The Network Society,” author Manuel Castells opined that society will increasingly form around electronically processed information networks. Society has always involved the formation of networks, but in the past these were generally personal and… Read the rest
I like the idea of a president who works tirelessly for the benefit of others, struggles to solve problems and strives to build a better tomorrow. I’ll tell you what I don’t want in a president: a fighter. The prospect of another fighter in the White House makes me want to crawl into a hole. And I don’t mean… Read the rest
A number of years ago I seriously considered creating an “Apocalyptic Film Festival” featuring a compendium of end-of-the world cinema, including such classics as the 1936 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ “Things to Come” and Fritz Lang’s 1927 “Metropolis.” It could today be updated with “When World’s … Read the rest
Literary critic and author Christopher Hitchens’ “God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” (2007) reached number one on the New York Times bestseller book list and biologist Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” (2006) has sold over 1.5 million copies and has been translated into 31 languages.… Read the rest
When the moon is full, I don’t sleep very well, and either I was dreaming, or cable TV has gotten awfully weird. Reclining on the couch with my feet draped across the coffee table, remote dangling from my right hand, my left cradling two ounces of Calvados, I doze and stumble across one program after another,… Read the rest
We live in an accelerated age, one in which each change hastens the next. It may seem like the world is moving faster, but it is really karma that is accelerating. Karma is simply the law of cause and effect, and as the causes… Read the rest
True understanding of the vast workings of the economy are reserved to those who have mastered the perfection of financial wisdom, bestowed upon them by the great masters of Wall Street. These masters have passed down their wisdom through endless transactions, mergers, acquisitions and accumulations,… Read the rest
When I first joined the Sierra Club in 1975, I fully understood that being labeled an “environmentalist” was not too far from being labeled an “anarchist.” This was, after all, in the era when “tree-hugger” was not a compliment, and many thought that recycling was about riding used bicycles. Despite… Read the rest
In his lengthy speech about race and politics, candidate Barack Obama made a point of distancing himself from the historical anger of racism, choosing instead to focus upon reconciliation and acceptance. He challenged us to shift our… Read the rest
When it comes to today’s marketing of products, there is no word more powerful and effective than “natural.” Natural evokes the primordial benevolence of nature and qualities of purity, freshness and beauty. It is used to promote food, deodorant, candles, clothing and cosmetics. Almost everything… Read the rest
Once upon a time, when people in America wanted to save money and build up a little nest egg for the future, or to pass on to the kids, they used to work hard and be thrifty. A dollar saved here, a dollar earned there, and over the years most people could set a little something aside for a rainy day.
When Watson and Crick revealed the structure of DNA to the world, science concluded that genes were destiny. At the time the double helix blueprint containing millions upon millions of individual coded genes seemed to be of such magnitude and complexity that it would forever be beyond the reach of science… Read the rest
Scratch deeply enough at the hide of any hero and you will find some dirt. Commonly, we refer to “feet of clay” when we find fault in those we first admire, but today the art of finding fault has reached new lows.
I recently noted the passing of Washoe, the 42-year-old chimpanzee that became a pioneer in human-chimpanzee communication. Washoe was taught to use human sign language and the manipulation of symbols to communicate, and researchers claim… Read the rest
It seems just like any other ordinary day, when Wham! My father suddenly ends up in the hospital – seriously anemic. As soon as he is doing better and things begin to feel normal again, Wham! My sister gets thrown while white-water rafting in Thailand, cracks her helmeted head into a rock and suffers serious… Read the rest
The excesses of the sub-prime mortgage lending industry are inevitably pointing to a huge bailout by the taxpayers, and potential collapse of housing prices overall. Due to the wide popularity of home equity loans, a housing price collapse will subject many millions of homeowners to the reality of… Read the rest
Happy New Year! 2029 raced by so fast it’s hard to believe it is already 2030. It has been an eventful year. Our Granddaughter Lani entered Columbia University Medical School last year, and expects to perform her first remote robotics surgery soon. Larry remembers when his older brother graduated from… Read the rest
When you think about it, private property, the ownership of the earth itself, is a rather ridiculous idea. An artifact of culture buttressed by social compacts, laws, and precedent, the idea of land ownership is a mere 10,000 years old. Paleolithic hunter-gatherer culture was supplanted by fixed … Read the rest
This is a heavy nut year. Last year was light, but this year the black walnut tree in my yard is dropping bushel’s full of nuts. They bounce off the roof at all hours of the day and night, and by morning the patio is littered in green and blackened two-inch balls. This is, of course, excellent news for the large… Read the rest
The night before I recently flew home from New York I dreamt that while flying on Virgin Airlines the captain announced we would be making an emergency landing due to a passenger’s medical condition. In my dream, of course, I was that passenger.
My wife and some of her friends recently decided to start a women’s book club, and within a week or two had eleven members, already reading their first book. Each member has the opportunity to choose any book for the group to read. From what I gather, they are all enjoying the club and the opportunity to explore… Read the rest
I must admit I was stunned when a commercial for One Touch Glucose Meters (used by diabetics to test their blood sugar level) featured sleek new “mini” versions sporting a choice of new designer colors: hot pink, lime green and lipstick red. The nature… Read the rest
When we examine human society and culture as a whole, we see systems. We are inherently social creatures, and naturally organize ourselves into hierarchies and relationships, both simple (like the marriage of two people) and complex (like the Internal Revenue Service). These structures of social… Read the rest
In the fairy tale about the Pied Piper, the townsfolk of Hamelin find themselves paying dearly for their lack of foresight. In case you don’t remember, in order to rid the town of rats, the townsfolk hastily enlist the services of the Piper, who, using a flute, entices the rats to the river, where they drown.… Read the rest
Sex in America is endlessly entertaining. Our television programs, movies, books, magazines, internet and corner gossip are filled with it. Sexiness sells cars, perfumes, hair care products, fashions, motorcycles, fitness equipment, food, wine and song. It is the stuff of … Read the rest
The communication revolution truly began with the introduction of universal telephone service in America. The telegraph had provided an international communication system, but it was slow, centralized in a few locations and depended upon messengers for the delivery… Read the rest
TAO of Las Vegas, according to the New York Times, is the highest grossing restaurant in America, with 2006 revenues exceeding $55 million. Featuring a restaurant, nightclub, and bar located within the Venetian casino, TAO, (generally translated as the “way”) also features an 18-foot-tall golden… Read the rest
A report recently released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has revealed that antidepressants are the most frequently prescribed drugs in America. Tripling in use between the periods of 1988-1994 and 1999-2000, such drug use increased 48 percent, and prescriptions last year numbered 118 … Read the rest
While it’s all too easy to become pessimistic about the world, during the past few weeks, I’ve had the exhilarating experience of interacting with some very remarkable young people whose confidence and vitality were positively infectious.
I’m the last person someone would describe as shy; I enjoy… Read the rest
The word “war” used to mean something; its invocation shook the heart, set us atremble, brought forth tears and darkened our vision. “WAR!” The word itself seemed enormous and foreboding; after all, death always prospers during war. Its declaration was the biggest news… Read the rest
Two taxonomically distinct chimp families, common chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (Pan paniscus) have been observed in both the wild and captivity. Superficially the two chimp families resemble each other, though bonobos are slightly smaller and less powerfully built and spend more… Read the rest
In a world as old as ours, patterns of natural sound generally fall within predictable and repeated frequencies. Extraordinary natural events do happen from time to time that produce sounds of great amplitude or frequency or both; volcanic… Read the rest