Archive for the 'Good stuff' Category

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 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.

 

Another possible scenario

February.2. 2019

Now, there’s another possible scenario; possible, but not necessarily plausible.

The Gods of our ancestors are higher life forms from other parts of the universe. They are, in a sense, super beings because they have attained a high level of technological advancement but they’re not the supreme Super Being who created everything.

Rather, they’re creatures like us, created by the great Supreme Being.

Their mastery and knowledge of the inner workings and hidden forces of the universe have enabled them to manipulate space and time effortlessly.

It’s very possible they came to the third planet of our rather ordinary star, and seeing it was perfect from every standpoint, decided to create the garden and place in it the first two human beings.

This would explain the small-mindedness and the wrathful God of the early Biblical books.

This ‘god’ was just an ordinary being or beings like us, prone to anger and displaying an insecurity which constantly demands respect and obedience from his ‘creations.’

It’s even possible that this ‘God’ or ‘gods’ created the conditions that made life possible on this planet, and possible they created the planet itself. Their technological advances may have been that much superior to ours.

When you consider the number of stars in the known universe and the law of probability, this theory does not seem so far fetched.

It is very probable that there are many other intelligent life forms out there among the myriad stars, and considering the age of the universe, some of them probably light years ahead of us in terms of technology.

The theory also explains why the ancient ‘gods’ always had to descend and ascend from heaven.

Why would a Super Being who created everything in the universe have to physically descend and ascend from earth?

Surely he/she/it is beyond space/time and could just miraculously appear anywhere in the universe?

Unless, of course, if they are physical beings who exist in physical space.

All harmless conjectures.

As I mentioned earlier, our capabilities are indeed too limited to understand any of these deep questions.

All we can do is ponder and debate plausibility.

Knowing that at the end of the day, it’s all going to be a huge waste of time.

Because whatever conclusions we arrive at is sure to be as puerile and as implausible as what our ancestors had arrived at in their efforts to explain the world around them.

The bogeyman in the closet

February.2. 2019

Earlier, I had laid out the scenario for a universe consisting of a gazillion stars and the creator of this humongous universe deciding to also create a garden paradise on a small planet circling one of these stars.

It is true, anything is possible, and this scenario could be very possible too.

But is it plausible?

No one can fathom the mind/innerworkings of the creator/God/mechanism that created this universe so all we can do is debate plausibility.

The unspoken factor in all this is man’s incredible powers of imagination.

Man’s mind is infinite in its capacity to dream up all kinds of scenarios.

Sometimes, these scenarios are in the metaphorical category, sometimes there’re just way out wacky—things people make up to teach moral lessons, and sometimes they’re just pure fantasies.

Anything is possible.

It’s possible there’s a tooth fairy, or a bearded obese guy in a red suit on the North Pole.

But is it plausible?

My preference is for the theory of changing understanding/consciousness creating scenarios that reflect these changes in understanding/consciousness.

For instance, let’s say when you were young, you were told that there’s a bogeyman living in the closet at night.

So you were terrified.

But one day, you shine a light into the closet and you realize that there’s no bogeyman.

What do you do?

Do you still persist in believing in the bogeyman myth even though your light is telling you that there’s no bogeyman?

Think of science as the light and our fears, superstitions, and religions as the bogeyman that lives in our minds.

The usual response when science is brought in to debunk old myths is usually “a little knowledge is dangerous, or you’re getting too smart for your own good.”

To which I say, when I shine a light in the closet and there’s no bogeyman, what do I do? Do I continue to pretend that there’s a bogeyman in the closet?

A synopsis

December.1. 2018

Consider this plot for a blockbuster movie.

It’s a time before time and space.

Nothing but a Super Being alone in a deep void.

And then one day, the Super Being decides to create a universe and along with it gazillions of stars.

How many?

Just a wild estimate, but in our galaxy alone, the Milky Way, there’re over 250 billion stars, give or take 150 billion.

And that’s just one galaxy.

Now, imagine over 100 billion galaxies, each one of them filled with hundreds of billions of stars.

To put this in perspective, this is about:

250,000,000,000 x 100,000,000,000 stars

Truly a blockbuster setting.

Now imagine that in this humongous immensity, the Super Being decides it would be good to create a small garden, a paradise, on a small planet circling a small sun on the fringe of one of these billions of galaxies.

And in this paradise, he places two human beings.

A man-child and a woman-child whose only reason for existing is to do nothing but enjoy the paradise.

But every blockbuster needs a villain to create some conflict.

So an anti-hero enters the scene.

Well, you know how the story goes. He hoodwinks the woman (of course it has to be the woman, the story is obviously written by men) and the man-child and woman-child get thrown out of paradise.

But in the process, they gain something more precious—knowledge.

Now the story shifts to the main conflict of the plot—how do they get back into the garden, or rather, how do their progenies get back into the garden?

Well, for that to happen, a redeemer has to appear.

So the Super Being sends his son to help his poor creations regain their paradise.

Never mind that up to that point, there have been no mention of a son…

So the son comes and dwells among the creatures he had created before time existed, along with the trillions upon trillions of stars…

Long story short, he redeems the whole world by undergoing a gruesome death at the hands of his very creations.

You would think the plot would end there but no, that’s not all.

The real climax is yet to come.

He will come again and this time, he will establish an earthly kingdom and reign for 1000 years. (Why 1000 years? Because it sounds better than 10,000 years.)

And still that’s not all, to make sure that this is the blockbuster of all blockbusters, you have to throw in a period of seven years of rapture and tribulation before the earthly kingdom can happen.

So who wrote this story?

It’s a team effort culminating with a particularly imaginative writer who lived on a small island in the Mediterranean.

In another place and another time, the author would’ve made quite a name for himself as a fantasy author.

But in the first and second century, his writings captured the imagination of some bureaucrats at the time, and they decided to adopt it as part of a new religion.

Never mind that his wild and fantastical scenarios have more to do with his own wild imaginings and dreams than the ideas of the man whose name they co-opted for the new religion.

Like every blockbuster, every religion needs a bogeyman and some dastardly fearsome endings and the writings of this man fit the bill exactly.

That’s the total summary, the backdrop to the gift that keeps on giving.

The story has everything going for it.

Love, betrayal, villains, innocence, loss of innocence, gore, heartache and of course, redemption.

The perfect recipe to tug at the hearts of people who yearn for meaning and purpose in life.

And the perfect vehicle to perpetrate whatever evil deeds you may have in your heart on poor unsuspecting folk.