Sunday, January 3, 2010

My Father's Passing

My father died Oct. 18 2009. He was 97. In one sense, there is sadness in his passing, but for the most part my family, especially my sister and mother, were relieved of the burden of watching him suffer. He had a good life, a very good life. It was only in the last two years, and mostly in the three months leading to his death, that he lost his spirit to live and wasn't happy. I'm sure anyone would be more than satisfied with over 90 years of health and happiness.

I didn't fully appreciate my father until I was 45. At the time, he was 80. I remember the moment it hit me that I wasn't going to change his thinking and that I needed to accept him as he was. It was from then on that I began to see his positive qualities. There are those who would attribute his longevity to genetic factors. I'm sure that his biological machine did have an effect on his long life. But his emphasis on moderation in all things, watching his weight, daily exercise, positive thinking and most of all trying to improve himself each day were all influential on the quality and length of his life.

I had been preparing myself for the last six months to write this blog about the death of my father. My initial thoughts were that I would take the lead from Camus who started his novel, THE STRANGER: "my mother died today". However I have not written my blog for a number of months so this was not appropriate. Mostly though, the impetus for Camus' opening line and the point of view of his book was the expression of his existential philosophy. What Camus believed was that life had no ultimate meaning except for the enjoyment and awareness of the moment. Although, I cannot say that I know life's purpose I have not given up on the possibility that there is a bigger picture that I have not yet discovered.

There was a time in my life when my philosphical leanings were existential, when it seemed to me that life was basically absurd and that what was important was to make the best of it. Although my father was not a religious man and did not believe in God or in life after death he did have a spiritual side which sustained and nurtured him. It was his belief in the importance of self development and living each day with the goal of taking care of yourself and being kind to others, especially his wife and family that I believe was instrumental in creating the positive and productive life he lived.

There was meaning to my father's life. The existential philosophy would not apply to him. As his son, and as different as I have been in many of my thoughts and actions, I cannot deny the respect that he had from all those who came to know him and the success he had in navigating life's difficulties. This has impacted me greatly. It is really a gift I have been given. I want to thank my father for this gift. I would like to pass it down to my children, my family, my friends, and to any one else who is concerned about the dificult conditions we are facing in today's world.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Return of Michael Vick

The Eagles signed Michael Vick. Wow! The amount of controversy this has created is unbelievable. I have been listening to the radio to hear some of the thinking surrounding this issue. Quite a few callers are outraged: How can a man who has done such a cruel and inhumane thing be given another chance? Callers have threatened to never go to another Eagles game. Some have gone so far as say they will become New York Giants fans.

More than anything this is an interesting perspective on our culture. I question whether or not this subject deserves the amount of attention it is given. It seems that there are much more important matters to ponder than whether or not Michael Vick should be allowed to play football. I mean, the President of the United States lied about having sex with a young girl in the white house and was allowed to keep his job. Football is a violent sport. It does not require great sensitivity or intellectual strength. Football players are trained from a young age to focus their violence and anger on the opposition. It should not be surprising when they make poor decisions in real life.And, Michael Vick spent two years in jail paying for his mistake. He lost millions of dollars. There is no law against him going back to a job that requires a competitive and aggressive attitude.

I personally do not have a strong opinion about whether Michael Vick plays for the Eagles or not. If he can help them win, I favor his playing. What aggravates me is the degree of anger and outrage that people have towards this decision. I just can't understand how anyone can be so positive that this decision is anti-American, anti-life, anti-goodness, and represents everything that is wrong with our world. I mean, sure he did a bad thing, but how can you be sure that he doesn't deserve a second chance? How can you judge someone so harshly, even though he has paid a big price and appears to be repentant for his actions.

I love sports. On one level I know that it is not as important as I make it. But, in a confusing world it is one of the few areas where there are clear cut choices and decisions. One of its attractions is that it is a way to escape from the problems and struggles of ordinary life. I don't mind any arguments or discussions that concern the intricacies of strategies or the relative strengths and weaknesses of players and teams. I consider this fun. I'm not thrilled, though when people use sports as a platform for the promotion of other agendas and viewpoints. It seems like it takes the fun out of it. I'd love to see the Eagles win the Super Bowl and Michael Vick score the winning touchdown. I'm sure this will end all the controversy.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Passing of Cousin Marvin

My mother just called me to tell me that my cousin Marvin will be dead tonight. They had just pulled the plugs that were keeping him alive . Although he was still breathing, she said he would be dead before the night was over. This was not a surprise. He fell down a couple of days ago, hit his head, was rushed to the hospital, and had been in a coma with no chance of recovery since the accident. It was his wish that he not be kept alive if he could not live normally.

I loved and respected my cousin. He was an inspiration to me when I was young. He was idolized by my father who considered Marvin one of the smartest guys in America. The story in our family was that he had the fourth highest IQ of any soldier in World War II. He was a lawyer, a movie producer, and ultimately a college professor. He introduced me to Clarence Darrow, one his heroes who ultimately became one of mine. He seemed to know everything about history, politics, and literature, and was a great story teller with literally thousands of stories. He could talk, and usually did for hours, about his time in Japan after the War, his days as an entertainment lawyer, and what it was like growing up in my family during the depression in Newark New Jersey.

He told me about my Uncle Izzy who was a gambler and street person and was always surrounded by beautiful women until he died at age 100. He spoke of my Aunt Fanny who also lived to a 100 Marvin's mother, my Aunt Pauline died at 102. Marvin was only 85 when he died, but he was active until the last day of his life. One of his problems and one of his strengths was that he never complained no matter what was bothering him physically or emotionally. He fell because he did not take his walker with him to a restaurant he was going to with a friend. He felt he was OK and didn't need it. He was the youngest 85 year old person you could possibly know, mainly because he never accepted that he was old.

One of the things that interested me most about him was that he was an atheist who did not consider the existence of God as even possible. Yet he was constantly reading and studying books about Judaism and his best friends were a female congregational minister, and a Muslim women who followed the teachings of the Aga Khan. His second wife who died before him, was a religious Catholic from the Phillipines. For many years with his wife and later with his friends he attended Church on a regular basis. When I questioned him about it he said it was no big deal, although I suspected that he was a little more open than he admitted.

He was a true intellectual, a student and a teacher. Most of those who knew him marvelled at his wealth of knowledge and his unlimited stories. As smart as he was though, and he was really smart he seemed to lose all of his logic when it came to gambling. For the last twenty years of his life, what he primarily wanted to talk to me about were his gambling theories. For the past five years he had been working on a baseball betting system that he believed would make him and me rich. He would call me every few days with an update on his results. He bet every game every day. He spent a couple of days a week at OTB betting the ponies. He actually gave me a tip last year on a horse that won at 9-1. I shared it with my friend Marty who won $1500.00 on the race and was every grateful to Cousin Marvin.

For some reason, I'm not sad at his passing. He had a tough life in many ways but was able to deal with all kinds of problems and bounce back from many different setbacks. He was optimistic and seemed to enjoy himself up until his last days. I guess you can't ask for much more.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hitting the Bad Beat Jackpot

I've been playing poker on the internet approximately 20 hours per week for three years. I play an average of 100 hands per hours or 2000 per week. That's 104,000 hands per year or over 300,000 hands in three years. One of the reasons I play is to win the Bad Beat Jackpot. The jackpot is hit approximately once very 300,00 hands. The question is whether or not, because I have played over 300,000 hands, am I due to hit the jackpot.

This is a mathematical question regarding probability theory. The academic mathematical view would be that the fact I have not hit the Bad Beat in 300,000 hands does not affect the probability for future hands. In other words on every hand I am a 300,000-1 shot. Although I might be a little out of control in this area, I don't think I agree with this. It seems logical to me that if the laws of probability are going to hold up, they have to equalize the situation at some point. If you flip a coin and it lands on heads twenty times in a row, at some point in the future more tails are going to have to come up to make it 50-50 heads vs tails. Although it also might be true that more tails came up in the past and this is equalizing the 20 heads.

I got a letter from my insurance company stating that that there is a 26% chance that my house will be completely flooded one time in thirty years, the life of the mortgage. Does that mean that every year it doesn't flood there is a greater chance it will flood in the next year? If it doesn't flood for 25 years should I be concerned that there is a high probability it will flood in the next five years. Mathematically, the answer is no, unless weather patterns have changed.

One of the ways to look at reality is through mathematics. Every event that you can imagine has a probability of occurrence attached to it. There is a probability that you will find your soul mate in the next 30 days. There is a probability that you will find an attache case filled with hundred dollar bills. There is also a probability that you will be struck by lightning or get a parking ticket. There is a probability that you will be laid off or that you will find a new job. Every event that can possibly happen has a probability of happening.

Can you influence the probability of an occurrence with your mind? Can you increase its probability or liklihood through your thoughts? If you can than there is a reality that is higher than mathematics. It is this reality that is at the core of most spiritual and religious beliefs. It is this reality that we are just beginning to understand scientifically. It is this reality that I believe will enable me to hit the Bad Beat. I think I better get back to poker before I miss my chance.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Questionable Benefits of Chaos

My life has been a little hectic lately. Not that I mind. I thrive on chaos. I actually specialize in creating confusion and mayhem. I used to do it naturally without even thinking. This changed though when I became involved in the Fourth Way. This is a teaching whose basic principle is that we are very mechanical in our actions and thoughts. We need to break through the chains of our habits if we want to develop ourselves and become more conscious. When I started studying this philosophy I interpreted this to mean that any actions that create discomfort and change are good. Chaos was actually a preferred state. I embraced this wholeheartedly. My tendency to create upheaval was no longer a liability. I could now do it and rationalize that it was helping everyone around me.

Sometimes though it gets a little out of hand. I think this is what's going on in my life now. First of all we have had guests at our house nonstop. This is not necessarily bad. Matter of fact we bought our beach house so that people would want to come and visit us. We figured it would be a way that we could attract our kids and grandkids. The problem is that we did not realize how much effort it takes to constantly entertain We also did not expect the amount of people that would be coming and the length of time they would be staying.

My daughter has been down three times in the last six weeks. Each time she has called to tell me she would be coming down with a friend to relax. Each time she showed up with a minimum of four friends and each time within 24 hours at least 2-3 additional friends or their boy friends showed up. For the most part they behaved reasonably except they were up all night, usually getting to bed by 6 am and sleeping most of the day. Plus most of them smoke. I love my daughter and enjoy spending time with her and really don't want to limit her enjoyment and feeling that this is her house also.

My friend Marty visited us also a couple of weeks ago. He stayed eight days. I love being with him and arguing about politics and life but after a while it does wear me down. He smokes two packs a day, talks non-stop in an extremely loud voice, and is constantly critical of me. I still felt badly when he left.

My step-daughter in law and her sister showed up a few days ago, Both darling girls. They decided they wanted to go out at night and asked us if we would watch our grandson. They said he would be no problem. He had just been fed, diaper changed and was expected to sleep the night. They went out around 11:30. At 11:45 he was up and crying. He cried for over an hour straight. He then seemed to get a burst of energy and was crawling all over, getting into one dangerous situation after another. My wife and I were exhausted. It was 2:00 in the morning. Our normal bedtime is 10:00. This is what grandparents do, though. Plus our daughter-in-law doesn't have it easy and deserves a break whenever she can get it.

Although I am effected by all this activity, it is my wife who bears the brunt of it. She feels compelled to keep the house neat and make sure everyone is fed and enjoying themselves. Last night was the first night in a while there was no one here. She went to bed early to catch up on some much needed sleep. I stayed downstairs to catch up on episodes of Entourage and True Blood.

When I finally decided to go to bed I couldn't find the remote. I literally spent 45 minutes looking for it. Finally, since I did not know how to turn off the tv, I went upstairs to ask for my wife's help. I had to wake her up. Her first comment was, "your're a moron." I didn't take it personally. She did go downstairs and found the remote in some hidden, almost invisible part of the chair, although she probably would say it was more obviously visible.

My theory of the benefits of chaos is being tested now. I may have to moderate it somewhat.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Humility and Communication

It is very difficult to communicate ideas effectively. It is especially difficult to communicate to an audience that disagrees with you from the get-go. How can you communicate to a group of fundamentalist Christians the theory of evolution in a way that will be accepted? How can you communicate to a Pro-Choice group the evils of abortion in a way that will impact their attitudes. What about capital punishment? Is there a way to present to supporters of capital punishment a sound case for its elimination?

Communication in all cases is a challenge. When you are speaking to a hostile audience you need to be especially creative. First of all, you cannot rely only on facts. Facts are always suspect. The only time people will accept your facts without question is when they already agree with you. Secondly you need to recognize that whatever you believe to be true may not be true. How can you expect your opponents to have an open mind to a new way of seeing something when you yourself are fixed in your viewpoint? The acknowledgement, at least to yourself, that your viewpoint may not be entirely correct creates the possibility that your listener can at least begin to identify with your flexibility and willingness to see their viewpoint.

We are living in a difficult time. We are faced with major challenges in regard to potential nuclear war, economic globalization, environmental upheaval, and accelerating technological and scientific advancement. We will not be able to hold back the tide of change. We need to figure out how to move ahead and communicate with each other in a spirit of cooperation. We need to learn to accept views that are opposed to our own and communicate our views in a way that will not create resistance but will break down barriers.

In the political realm rhetoric and charisma need to be replaced by wisdom and humility. Socrates said, "The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing." This is a great starting point for any attempt to make real change in our world and deal with the multitude of challenges that face us today.

Theoretical physics is beginning to create a more detailed description of our world as one in which the reality that we see is not exactly what it seems to be and is mostly a creation of our consciousness. The theories and research of our scientists, the creative output of our poets, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and philosophers, have always led the way in our evolution as a species and the development of our society.

We need to be sensitive to the thinking of those who are not constrained by the past and who have the courage to express their vision of the future. As the Dalai Llama, the leader of a three thousand year old religion says, "If the theory of physics disproves the ideas of Buddhism, we need to change Buddhism." This is a good thought from a smart guy. We should listen and modify our communication to be more in tune with the realization that we might not be always right.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Thoughts on Creation

I was thinking about Creation today. I had recently read some material about Creation in a book about the Kaballah that seemed to make a lot of sense. I decided to Google creation myths and see what I could learn. There were only 1,920,000 entries. I read a few and then realized that if I read them all or even a small part of them I would have no time to do anything else. Let me recount some of the things that stood out.

1-There are an incredible amount of creation myths. Every tradition, every tribe in North America and Africa, every religion, every culture, and thousands of individuals have attempted to explain how we got here.

2-Those that are responsible for these myths do not believe they are myths. They believe they are sacred accounts or revealed wisdom that are accurate descriptions of the Creation. I'm sure that the originators of all these Creation stories did not believe they were literal. Some probably viewed them as the best possible way to explain a process that could not be explained by words alone, but needed to be contemplated or studied to get the deeper meaning.

3-There seems to be three general categories plus the scientific view. The first category views Creation as a process of something coming from nothing (ex nihilo if you are interested). This can be seen in the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic view of God creating the heavens and earth. There is no mention of who created God or where he came from.

The second category explains Creation as process through which God or some other supernatural being rearranged a substance like water or an animal or energy or formless matter into the world as we know it. This type of thought is usually found in the beliefs of the American Indian or African tribes. The Masai from Africa, for example, believe that humanity was fashioned from a single tree which split into three. The Iroquois and Cherokee believe that in the beginning on the earth there was just water. There were creatures in the sky though, who came down and settled the earth. There are many creation stories that describe beings or entities from the sky descending down to the earth to begin life on this planet.

The third category believes that there was no starting point. The universe is eternal, no beginning or end. The Mormons believe that there is no starting point, that all physical reality has always existed. This idea solves the problem of when did everything begin and what came before the creation but doesn't satisfactorily answer how did it happen or why did it happen.

The Kabbalistic view that interested me is that before the actual creation all that existed was pure energy or light. This light always existed. The light had a consciousness to it or you might say it was pure consciousness. The light wanted to share itself which in one sense does makes sense. If you were pure consciousness and by yourself you might want something else to share what you have or to keep you company. The light created a vessel that it could fill with its light.

The vessel could only receive the light. It could not return anything to the light. This seemed a little unfair to the vessel. The vessel wanted to share also. It had nothing to share with. The vessel decided that in order for it to share it had to restrict the light. It had to separate itself from the light. This act of restriction, according to Kaballah is what caused the creation of our universe. The vessel broke into two parts. Each part contained all female souls and all male souls.

Now that I have written this and read it back to myself it doesn't seem to make as much sense as it originally did. I think I like the views of the Buddha better. When asked how was the universe created the Buddha replied that this was not a good question. We don't know. We can't know and there are better ways to spend your time than thinking about this subject. This seems to make the most sense to me.