Catch-22

November.3. 2019

My fascination with the processes of life and with delving into its secrets stems from my youthful discovery that in everything, there’s an easy way and a hard way to do things.

Another way to think of it is, in everything there’s a crude way to get things done and a sophisticated way to do it.

For example, perhaps you want to get at the contents in a sealed jar.

The crude way is simply to smash the jar, the sophisticated way to unscrew the cap.

Or perhaps you want to achieve speed on the guitar.

The crude way is simply to try to get the fingers to move faster.

The sophisticated way to utilize the power in the hand to move the fingers for you in one quick action.

The problem, however, is in getting there.

How do you move from crudeness and simplistic solutions to sophistication?

More than 2000 years ago, the Old Master was already familiar with the problem.

In chapter 41 of his Book of Wisdom otherwise known as the Dao, he wrote:

“When a wise man hears of the Way,
he immediately begins to live it.
When an average man hears of the Way,
he half believes it, half doubts it.
When a fool hears of the Way,
he laughs out loud.”

(Laughing here is in the context of ridicule, as in laughing at something or someone.)

The path towards sophistication is a classic catch-22.

To get to a higher level, to one of sophistication, you’ll have to be convinced that it actually exists, but to know it exists, you’ll have to get there first.

So how do you break the cycle?

The answer lies in what might be called a life-changing moment, a moment of realization.

You might call it the breakthrough moment, when everything becomes clear to you and you know exactly what you need to do to get to where you want to go

Most of the time in life, the problem is in knowing what the destination is. Once you know where your destination is, the rest is easy.

To get to this moment of clarity, however, requires a catalyst.

A spark, something that ignites something in you and makes you see things in an entirely new light.

It could be a deep personal experience, or perhaps a chance encounter with a source of wisdom, or even a simple accident (what we might call the St Paul experience).

Whatever it is, the key is to have a receptive heart.

To open up your mind and understand that our limited universe is only a very small part of the reality that lies out there.

So that when that moment arrives, we’ll be ready for it.

All too often, however, our response is like the third man. When we see something new, we tend to laugh out loud and dismiss it immediately.

It’s something I must say I’ve been as guilty of doing as the next man.


France

August.16. 2019

There’s something about French art that attracts me.

Maybe it’s the impressionistic quality, a certain preference for the obscure rather than the clearly defined, the magical as opposed to the logical, the sensual as opposed to the mechanical.

French art, I find, is more about poetry rather than structure.

By art, of course, I mean all forms of art.

Writing as well as music and painting.

And so it was that in my youth, seemingly without any reason whatsoever, I found myself gravitating to Francoise Hardy, to Marguerite Duras, to Chopin (I see him as more French than Polish), to Leonard Cohen (Canadian French) and of course to all the impressionistic painters.

In my guitar playing, I find myself strangely influenced by Richard Clayderman. (I know he’s not considered ‘legit’ by ‘serious’ musicians, but listen to the phrasing in his solo performances and you will hear a rare sensitivity that you don’t hear in anyone else.)

This summer, I found myself finally making my way through France.

And the experience did not disappoint.

There’s an unreal quality about the country.

From Verdun, to Paris, to Pont-Aven, to Fougères, miles and miles of beautiful farmland, punctuated by small picture-book villages.

Even the speeding ticket I got in Rennes, after I returned from my trip, did nothing to mar the memory of that experience.

 

River Seine from Pont des Arts
River Seine from Pont des Arts

Pont-Aven
Pont-Aven


The Malboro Man back with a vengeance

June.4. 2019

Back in the day, the Marlboro Man was everywhere, on the big and silver screens.

He was the definition of the great macho man, the original hunk, the outdoorsman, the rugged cowboy—sitting by a stream or riding his horse.

All the while peddling to us his drug of choice, the cigarette.

Absent from view, of course, in all these great commercials—the emphysema machines, the black lungs, the wheezing.

If you watch TV these days, it would seem that the new drug peddlers of our time have learned a lesson or two from the Marlboro Man.

These days, if you have a new (and expensive) drug to peddle, you must always present that same idyllic existence.

In countless TV ads, beautiful people living the dream life, strolling on a sunlit beach, playing ball with their kids. having a BBQ in the backyard, casting a line into the big blue ocean.

All the while, peddling that drug of choice.

Absent from this idyllic existence, of course, the nefarious side effects, the equivalent emphysema machines, the equivalent black lungs…

It’s all part of the great American pharmaceutical life cycle.

First, the big rollout with much fanfare, many ads, (and many incentives for physicians to push the drug onto unsuspecting patients).

Second, the bumper crop of profits.

Third, stocks of the drug company go through the roof.

Fourth, negative side effects from the drug begin to manifest themselves among the populace.

Fifth, the independent studies.

Sixth, predatory lawyers get into the act.

Seventh, the TV ads with many 800 numbers to call if you think you are a victim (and you don’t have to pay unless you get a payout!)

Eighth, the drug company files for bankruptcy (while laughing all the way to the bank.)

Ninth, everyone lives happily ever after, except the poor victim who’s strapped to his emphysema machine (or equivalent).


The means to an end

May.21. 2019

In life, there’re many hard decisions to make, and one of the hardest is the choice between the means or the end.

Which one do you choose?

The means or the end?

For example, suppose you hold a principle close to your heart, suppose it is about killing the unborn.

And then along comes someone who knows you hold that principle close to your heart.

He knows you would give a lot to help the unborn.

And so he promises you he will deliver this end to you, provided you allow him unbridled access to power.

He, of course, has absolutely no scruples or morals, and the plight of the unborn is the last thing on his mind–his only principle in life being to fill his coffers with the green stuff.

Would you still give him access to that unlimited power?

There’s an old story about the guy who decided that the end is more important than the means and sold his soul to the devil for delivering the desired end to him.

Well, we all know how that story worked out.

Something perhaps current Republican politicians should take note of.


The problem

May.16. 2019

The problem with many of our preconceptions is that they’re based on the wrong premises, which means most of the time, they’re wrong.

For example, we tend to think and assume that other people think and operate like us.

That’s the basis for that old golden rule—do unto others.

But others are not us; they may not appreciate what we appreciate.

So in your good intentions, you might try to help someone, and in the end, you only make yourself look patronizing and overbearing to that person.

Assuming that everyone would think and act like us was my mistake too, when I voted for the current occupant of the White House.

I thought that he would consider things like leaving a good legacy behind, and that being so wealthy, he would not be in the business of using the office to further enrich himself.

And boy, was I wrong on both counts!

The old Christian ideal of offering the other cheek too is based on the premise that the other person would be moved.

Again, wrong assumption, especially when it comes to people who come from a totally different cultural environment, and operate on completely different principles!

Instead of being moved, they would see it as a sign of extreme gullibility and exploit you even further.

So does that mean we throw out all our good intentions and preconceptions?

No, it just means that we take the blinders off our eyes and understand that things are usually a bit more complex than we think, and that we live in a jungle where harmless and beautiful creatures coexist with scorpions and vipers.

Which brings us to another problem.

How do you know which is which?


Rationalization 2

May.15. 2019

Rationalization is a great tool and enabler. It gives you permission to do whatever your heart desires.

Years ago, it was common practice for many mothers in China to drown their female babies when they were born.

Girls were not as desirable as boys because 1, they couldn’t work in the fields when they grew up, and 2, when they got married, they left the family and took on their husband’s names, so a total waste of time—raising them to lose them to another family.

But how do you justify killing an innocent baby?

Easy, find a rationale.

And they found the perfect rationale in the placenta and the umbilical cord.

They postulated that as long as the cord is still attached to the baby, the baby is not considered a human being so they could be disposed of.

Fast forward to our super enlightened times.

These days, the pretext for killing innocent babies is not based on the relative worth of babies based on their gender.

But rather, on the byproduct of entertainment, or rather sex as entertainment.

The problem with sex as entertainment is that you get innocent babies being conceived as byproducts.

So what to do with these inconvenient byproducts?

You find a rationale to dispose of them.

So science stepped in to offer the perfect rationale—as long as they’re in the mothers’ wombs, they’re not considered human beings and could be disposed of.

You got to love these rationales!


A good day

May.6. 2019

As they say, only in America.

Two co-conspirators in crime. Today, one sits in the highest office of the land, while the other one sits in jail.

Justice–American style.


The party of the opposite of what they say

March.31. 2019

So I hear our esteemed president saying that his party will be known as “the party of health care.”

(If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that anything that comes out of his mouth is just hot air, quite indistinguishable from the hot air that comes out from his other orifice.)

“The party of health care,” and the first thing they will do is take away health care from 20 million citizens.

But this is really a clever ploy—say the opposite of what you really plan to do.

It’s worked before so why not this time?

For instance, there’s a religion that claims to be one of peace and how did they spread that message of peace?

Through invading other people’s lands.

I believe someone said that if you tell a lie enough times, people will actually believe it’s the truth.

And I say, if you want to do something dastardly to people, tell them the opposite of what you plan to do.

For example, if you want to invade a country, tell them you’re a religion of peace.

If you want to take health care away from people, tell them you’re the party of health care.

It’s worked before, why not this time.


The difference

March.29. 2019

This is the difference.

I heard 20,000 gathered in NZ today to honor the victims of the massacre. 20,000 good decent people.

I don’t recall hearing of 20,000 people gathering in Mecca after the twin towers fell, not 2,000, no, not even 2 people.

Instead, they were dancing in the streets in celebration.

Tell me which religion is the true one of peace.


The current debacle

March.15. 2019

The current debacle with the college admissions scandal and the Manafort saga has a strange intersection.

It underlines one fact.

There’re two kinds of rich people—those who get their riches through cheating and bribing and those earn it through hard work and talent.

And talent is what separates these two.

If you’re lacking in talent, get someone to sit your SAT for you, or bribe some greedy official, or do some lobbying for some foreign despot.

As a boy growing up in Asia (specifically Borneo), I had long been aware that rich people are more filthy than crazy.

They got their ill-begotten wealth mainly through cheating and bribing local officials, and in the case of Borneo, cutting down centuries-old virgin jungle by bribing the head of the government to get the concessions.

There’s no thought, no consideration for anything else.

Their only consideration is to line their pockets with that filthy money.

The college admissions and Manafort intersection underlines another important fact—and that’s rich people will do whatever it takes to get what they want.

This is positive thinking on steroids.

To them, nothing is impossible. Everything is doable.

So if you want to get that ostrich jacket, find a wealthy foreign patron, if you want your son to go to a good college, bribe the coach or pay someone to sit his SAT.

This modus op is what separates rich people from poor people.

Poor people tend to be negative. They’re always thinking about obstacles, that’s why they don’t get anywhere.

Rich people on the other hand, don’t take no for an answer. They will do whatever it takes to get what they want.

This is a good positive trait, until it gets entangled with legalities.

And that’s the problem.

When you’re fired up with this positive energy, and it gets you all the riches of the world, at some point, you start to think that you’re invincible and that you will get away with it all the time.

But, to paraphrase that famous saying by Abe.

‘You can cheat all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you can’t cheat all the people all the time.’

It is true; some people do get away with it.

However, a useful lesson—if your money is more filthy than crazy (or smart), don’t run for president.

Because you might win, and then the nation’s eyes will be on your ill-begotten wealth and soon you’ll be blessed with a special counsel to examine every one of your past business transactions.