Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Creating a New Golden Age

There was a time and place (Spain in the middle ages) when Jews, Moslems, and Christians lived together in harmony. During this time the confluence of these three cultures produced tremendous advances in science, medicine, philosophy, art, agriculture, and mystical religious thought. Although the situation wasn't perfect, and ended in the Spanish Inquisition, in which the Catholics decided that anyone, especially Jews and Muslims, who didn't accept traditional Catholic thought should be killed, this "Golden Age" does offer a precedent for the possibility of peace.

The Muslims, even during this time of coexistence, believed that there were three categories of people. The first and highest were Muslims who accepted Mohammed as the one true god. The second were "people of the book", Christians and Jews, who, although they had gotten off the track still were guided by god's words in the old and new testament. Then there were the pagans who had no hope and were considered worthless. This view though, was the mainstream view fostered by the politicians and religious leaders. It was not the view of the deeper thinkers who saw the similarities and values in all religious thought.

One of the more important outcomes of this co-mingling of philosophical thought was the development and refinement of the mystical side of these three religions. The Kaballah, Sufism, and Christian mysticism began to see religion not just as a question of faith but as an opportunity to experience God directly. Dogmatic religious belief was replaced by each individuals' ability to experience the reality of a higher power and an expanded universe through meditation, prayer, dance, and the entering of ecstatic states.

From the experiences and discussions regarding these states arose an awareness of the oneness of all mankind and our connection to each other. What became apparent to these mystical philosophers was that our present rational views of the world were limited in their ability to understand the meaning and purpose of life. What was required was a higher consciousness that was not available to the ordinary man through ordinary thought. This realization that there was a higher consciousness and that it is only through this higher state that we can understand our world and learn to live together is, in my opinion, critical to solving the problems of today's world.

What this means to me is that the battle the world is facing is not between Islam and the other religions, or between different countries, or between capitalism and communism or socialism but between a way of thinking that promotes separatism and competition versus a way of thinking that sees us as all connected and created from the same source. Although we may appear differently or think differently, we need to learn see our differences as opportunities to learn and grow and expand our understanding of how our planet really functions.

Out of this can come another "Golden Age" in which the results of cooperation and mutual support can enable us to live happier, longer, and more exciting lives. This is not a pipe dream or an idealistic viewpoint. Just as there were in medieval Spain, there are thousands, even millions of people who are working along these lines, who see the possibility of creating a new world by recognizing that truth does not exist in one philosophy or ideology but in an open-minded striving to expand our awareness.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Talent, Inherent or Acquired

My brother-in-law is a poet. He's a good one. Although he didn't win, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in poetry. In addition to being a poet, he's a teacher of poetry.

I met my brother-in-law when he was thirteen. He didn't look like a poet to me. I didn't even see in him the seeds of a future poet. I also met Lew Alcindor, later Kareem Abdul Jabaar, when he was thirteen. He looked like a basketball player. Plus he was great even at that age. Beethoven and Mozart were both great musicians before the age of five. Tiger Woods showed signs of superstardom at age four.

On the other hand Einstein wasn't very good at math. Marilyn Monroe, from what I hear, (I can't remember where I heard it) was a gawky teenager. Michael Jordan didn't show great ability until he got to college. What is the source of greatness?

It seems that talent is inherent but in order for it to blossom it needs to be cultivated. This requires hard work and good training. What about business? Is there a business gene that you are born with? I don't think so. I think anyone can learn to be successful at business. (Read Fortune Magazines Secret of Greatness) What's difficult is to develop the motivation to deal with the ridiculousness that's required. This ability probably takes a gene in itself.

It has always seemed unfair to me that the abilities that were required to be successful in business were often opposed to those that were required to be truly creative or talented in a special way. I guess that's where agents come in.

It is the existence of true talent that gives me hope for the world. We will not be saved by stock brokers or insurance agents or even advertising moguls. If you have any question about the existence of true talent check this video out.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Levels of Truth

While surfing the internet yesterday I made a good discovery. U.G Krishnamurti. For many years I have searched for real teachers and sources of knowledge to gain some insight into the meaning and purpose of life. (MAPOL). I have travelled long distances to hear or meet someone who was recommended to me. I have attended seminars, workshops, and classes on a wide range of esoteric subjects from "Opening your Heart" to "Gnosticism and Psychedelics." I have spent thousands of dollars on books and tapes Most of the so called gurus and teachers I have uncovered are either whacked out, low level, or redundant.

It is hard to find quality information or high level thoughts. It is especially hard to find either new ideas or creative ways of expressing old ideas. In the past five years, for example, I have spent thousands of hours reading, studying, and searching and have come across only two thinkers who have impacted me.

The first was Boris Mouravieff whose three volume work "Gnosis, Studies and Commentary on the Esoteric Tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy" provided an excellent perspective on the Fourth Way tradition. I was especially impacted by his idea that humanity is divided into two distinct groups. One group has no interest in consciousness and is very satisfied with living an ordinary life. The other group has the potential for consciousness, although this potential is usually not realized. The future of the world is dependent on whether or not enough individuals within this second group become conscious. This will cause a real change in the conditions of the world especially in our ability to avoid a global war.

The other teacher was David Hawkins who developed a unique theory on measuring the level of consciousness of everything that exists in the world and how to tell truth from falsehood. His basic premise is that all life and everything that has been created has a specific energy or vibration associated with it. This energy can be assigned a number from 0-1000. Anything below 200 is false and everything above 200 is true. The higher the number the more evolved or truthful. He assigns a number to almost anything you can imagine including books, movies, songs, countries, religions, historical figures, politicians, philosophical and political theories, government agencies, scientific theories, and even T.V. shows. (His highest rated show is National Geographic at 450.)

Although anything above 200 is true and has had a positive influence on history, only those things rated above 500 are considered to be conscious. The distinctive quality of consciousness is that it is non-linear and represents a level of truth that is not based on logic but on a more direct connection with reality. What impresses me most about this line of thinking is the perspective that it creates about valuing everything we deal with in life. I do not agree with all that Hawkins says, especially how he arrives at his valuations, but I do agree that there are definitely levels of truth and falsity in everything we perceive. The idea of different levels of truth makes it much easier to explore the world in an objective way.

I have developed a certain sensitivity and intuition about what is true and what is BS. Yesterday I accidentally stumbled on the teaching of UG Khrishnamurti. I began reading his ideas thinking they were the idea of J Khrishnamurti, another teacher I admire. After a while I realized that UG was not J, although he was influenced by J. I was impressed by the clarity of his thinking and by his rejection of all existing belief systems.

His basic idea is that in order to deal with our fears and weaknesses we create religions and philosophies that enable us to feel better. The only path to truth, lies in learning to experience our lives as fully as possible without trying to analyze or understand what is beyond our ability to comprehend. There may be a time in the future where we will expand our understanding through scientific discovery, but until this time, we should give up our imaginings and accept what is. It would seem that if you accept this there is no point in searching. All that matters is living each day as best you can. I wonder what level of truth that last thought represents.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Truth, Reading, and TV

When we got off the plane in Philadelphia we followed the signs to baggage claim. No problem finding it. In baggage claim we saw ten conveyor belts with luggage on them. We looked for the one with our flight number and waited for our baggage to come up the chute onto the belt and around to where we were standing. After a while of checking a number of pieces that looked like ours, I decided, on an instinct, to go to another belt to see If I could find our luggage. My wife thought I was crazy since we were standing at the one that listed our flight number. Sure enough, four belts down, I found a black Samsonite bag with our name circling the belt. How could it be there when our flight was listed on another belt? You can't believe everything you read.

A friend of mine was telling me a story today about her writing. She said that she had written down her two main issues in life. They happened to be getting older and learning to be single. She felt that the act of writing them down had given her greater clarity into herself and her life situation. It was as if before she had written them down they were not as real. We give tremendous credibility to something when it is written.

Whenever my father wanted to make a point to me he quoted a book or article he read. Matter of fact I was just reading one of the Wellness letters he sends me every month. Did you know that "chewing gum after intestinal surgery reduces the time it takes for normal bowel function to return." Normal bowel function has always been an important subject to my father. It seems though after ninety-six years he should be an expert on the subject without having to read about it.

Much of what we believe about life comes from thoughts, ideas, remembrances, and stories that are written down. When something is reduced to paper and ink it assumes almost a magical quality. The same can be said about television. Many people believe that if something is shown on television it is true, especially if it supports what they already believe.

I am not trying to say that we should not read or watch television. I am trying to say that we need to be aware of how we have formulated our opinions and beliefs. I think it is important to recognize that not everything that is written or stated on TV can be given the same level of credibility. We need to be able to discriminate between higher and lower level sources of information and reporting. What is written down or observed can be the result of the observations, opinions, and conclusions of someone who is objective and motivated by a quest for accuracy or by someone who has an agenda to promote.

In addition there are those who have developed a higher level of consciousness or awareness. Their opinions and viewpoints carry more weight than someone with an average level of consciousness. If we are committed to understanding life and its meaning and purpose we should not rely solely on what we read or are told. I believe that a serious spiritual seeker will benefit from developing an ability to 1- take in all information without judgement, 2- search out written materials from higher level sources, and 3- work on developing their own consciousness. The consequences of doing these things on an ongoing basis is valuable to improving the quality of one's life and increases the possibility for success and happiness.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Question of Appearance

I was a good basketball player. I did not appear athletic though and was usually underestimated by my opponents. This increased my effectiveness. Matter of fact in many areas of my life I have seemed to be worse than I really am. There are those who believe you should put your best foot forward. I have always thought it was better to hold back a little and not reveal the level of your ability or strength until it was absolutely necessary.

How we present ourselves to the world and how we judge others are important to our happiness and success. We are constantly dealing with decisions that surround this issue. Would you rather go out with a women who appears beautiful because of knowledge of makeup and style or one that hides her beauty revealing it only in the most intimate moments? Would you rather be friends with someone who appears smart but is actually stupid or someone who appears stupid but is actually smart? Would you rather eat a meal that looks great but tastes terrible or a meal that looks plain but tastes great? Would you rather drive a car that is safe, reliable, comfortable, and economical or one that is cute, sexy, or flashy?

We are living in a society in which appearances have become more important than reality. What is important in America today is image. Billions of dollars are spent and counless time and energy are expended on creating the illusion of success, of wealth, of knowledge, of expertise, of competence, and of quality. We are constantly being bombarded by images created to convince us that a product, service, or idea is more than it actually is. Many of our lives are controlled by the desire to acquire the biggest, the best, the fastest, the most beautiful, the sleekest, the newest, the most advanced, or the hippest, when in fact the cost of acquisition of many of these things leaves us no time to enjoy them.

This is a serious matter. Our economy is strongly dependent on our continuing to desire products and services that are primarily geared to improving our appearance or image rather than enhancing our lives. If we were to wake up to the truth about what really makes us happy the consequences to many of the businesses that depend on marketing the sizzle rather than the steak would be dire.

It seems to me that we need to start making choices and reassess our priorities. There is a great freedom in not being dependent on appearance but striving for substance, humility, and sincerity. The starting point for gaining this freedom is not to be concerned about our own appearances but be more concerned about the quality of our lives and doing what really makes us happy.

We can free ourselves from the necessity to being liked or being accepted by not feeling pressured to always present ourselves in the most favorable light. We can hold back a little in showing others, especially those who we first meet, how smart or talented or successful we are. This requires real confidence and some consciousness. The consequences of this will change the world and make our lives much easier. I believe that if we don't do it willfully we will be forced to do it anyway.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

"Dr. Ira, Business Psychic"

I walked into the Psychic Eye Bookstore on Ventura Blvd in Studio City to check out the vibes. It was a little crowded. I asked the hippyish, hippyesque clerk, "Hows business?" She said that during difficult times more people were interested in psychic readings so business was up. The store was well set up to maximize their diverse psychic, psychedelic, and esoteric offferings.

One wall was devoted to spiritual, religious, philosophical, and psychologial books. The selection was focused on what I consider the more "far out" segment of esoteric subjects that includes reincarnation and past lifes, witchcraft and paganism, channeling and mediumship, UFO's and planetary visitations, and tarot card and astrological studies.

The central area was devoted to crystal balls, magic wands, incense, wicca supplies, love potions, herbal concoctions, medieval clothing, statues of Buddha and other god, goddesses and mythological beings and animals, and a full range of products to construct home altars for meditation and prayer.

The other wall consisted of maybe 15 small rooms, each closed by a curtain. These rooms were being used by psychics to give private readings. It reminded me a little of a brothel I had frequented as a teenager in college that had a number of small rooms along one wall each occupied by a women waiting to pleasure you for ten dollars. To be fair, The Psychic Eye was on a higher level.

Their were flyers posted on each curtain advertising the specialt gifts of each practictioner. There was something for everybody. If you were so inclined you could hire for $60.00 per hour a clairvoyant, clairsentient, clairaudient, Reiki Master, master astrologer, intuitive evolutionary astrologer, fourth generation metaphysical practitioner, angelic guide, past life reader, dream analyst, or just a plain vanilla spiritual guide.

If you were looking for more exotic services there were custom candles and herb magick, pendulum work, crystal and gem healing, astro dice (this intrigued me), dowsing, spellcraft and spell advising, communing with those in spirit, animal communication and pet readings, and oracle of the triad astrology (whatever that is).

The truth is. I felt right at home. Matter of fact I inquired about the possiblity of setting up my own room for life counseling and spiritual guidance. In order to gain immediate confidence and credibility I would start each of my sessions with the same statement. "I can see that you have something on your mind."

I actually was trained in fortune telling by a gypsy women when I was four years old living in Brooklyn. Even at this young age I gravitated towards what I considered the magical and supernatural. The gypsy women told me that the key to telling fortunes was to say whatever came into your mind about the person. Don't block or censor your thoughts. Go with your first impressions and don't be afraid of being wrong. I have practiced this over the years and actually have become quite good at it.

I'm not sure if it makes sense to move to California now and start a new career as a psychic. Maybe I could do it in Atlantic City. I would have to get a new wardrobe. I would need to change my image. Maybe not. I sometimes think this is what I am already doing. I could call myself, 'Dr. Ira, Business Psychic and Financial Channel."
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Friday, June 19, 2009

"You too, Norman"

There aren't many couples in old age homes. I hope this changes in the future, but right now most of the people are single and the large majority are women. I'm not sure whether this means that women are stronger or that life takes a greater toll on men. It's probably a combination of both. I have been observing life in the slow lane at my parents' retirement hotel for the last few days. It truly is another world--one, if we're lucky, we'll experience, too.

In one sense growing old is the great equalizer. No matter what you have accomplished in your life, or how much money you have, when you can't take care of yourself, or get around without help, we are all the same. As we lose our physical abilities life is less about the material world, and more about what is going on inside our head.

Actually this is the way it always is, but it takes growing older before we can fully appreciate this fact. This is the great secret of life. Most of us never truly recognize that the reality of our lives is not outside of ourselves but within our minds, and hopefully, our consciousness. We create the reality of our lives by our thoughts. The quicker we uncover this secret the easier and more productive our lives can become.

There are advantages to being young. No question about this. There are also advantages to being old. Less is expected of you. There is nothing to prove. This enables you to be more honest with yourself and others. There is a freedom when you're only requirement is to get through the day. You don't have to wait until you are old to get these advantages. I think this is the meaning of the statement "youth is wasted on the young."

My sister and I have been discussing how to reduce my parents monthly expenses. One of the options is to move them to another retirement facility. My mother is constantly complaining about the one they are in, so moving them might be reasonable. I asked them if they have any friends. It seems they have one couple whom they consider friends.

I asked them, "How much time do you spend with this couple?"

My mother replied, "We eat with them every day. We've been doing this for over a year. I enjoy speaking to the woman. She is a Zionist and believes that Obama is bad for the Jews. Sometimes she gets on my nerves."

I then turned to my father and asked him, "Do you like her husband?"

"Oh, yes, he is very smart, also."

"What do you talk about?"

"We have the same exact conversation every day. It hasn't changed the whole time we've been together. Mommy and his wife do all the talking."

I then asked, "Do you eat with them three meals a day?"

My father answered, "Yes, although mommy and the wife don't get down to breakfast. It's just me and Norman. We spend an hour together."

I wondered what this conversation could be like. "And what do you guys talk about?"

My father said, "It's the same every day. He says to me after breakfast, 'Have a good day, Maury.' That's it."

"And what do you say?"

"You too, Norman."

I said, "That's it, Dad? That's all you have said to each other for over a year. How do you know he's smart?"

He said, "Yep, that's it. I say only three words. He says five."

That's their friendship, the same eight words each day. I keep thinking about that. I'm not sure what to make of it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Day with my Parents

I am laying in bed now in Sherman Oaks California in a motel next door to my parents' assisted living facility. I spent the day looking for a new place for them to live. The fundamental problem is that they are running out of money. They presently have $45,000.00. This is the remainder of the money they got for selling their house four years ago.

They bought this house when my father was 81 years old. It was the first house they ever owned. The only reason they bought it was because the apartment they were living in was destroyed by the Northridge earthquake. They had never considered buying a house but the government gave earthquake victims the opportunity to buy homes with no money down and 2% interest. They paid $156,000.00 for the home and sold it for $420,000,00.

They have an income of $7000.00 per month.

Their monthly expenses are $10,000.00. $5600.00 of this is for their room and board. $4400.00 is for the full time care my father needs in order to get through the day. They are eating into their savings at a rate of $3000.00 per month. They have 15 months more before they will be broke. My father will be 97 in August. my mother 90 in November. My sister and I have been discussing this situation, trying to figure out what to do.

My parents have been married for 67 years, The secret to their success is that my father has devoted his life to making my mother happy. I am not recommending this as the key to marital success; just stating what has worked for them. The truth is that my father really does not care where they live. His only concern, even now, is what my mother wants.

My mother is not sure what she wants. She complains about their present living conditions. She feels it is being run by a large corporation that doesn't care about the residents. They never get the food right and are constantly nickle and diming them with extra fees and charges. She wasn't happy with any of the other places we looked at. The elevator was too far from their room. There was no sink in the kitchen to wash dishes, although she doesn't wash dishes. The atmosphere was not quite right. My father couldn't care less about any of this.

I don't want my mother to sound like the bad guy here; it is only because of her that my father chooses to live. I have been watching him carefully for the last two days. It seems that the only thing that is keeping him alive is his desire to please my mother. The whole thing is a little sad.

It does make me wonder about the meaning and purpose of life. What's interesting though is that my father doesn't wonder about it at all. He just tries his best each day to do the right things. He seems to care very little about his own personal situation. He is thrilled to see me, though. When I kissed him goodby tonight his face lit up. That was a special moment. It made me happy. Maybe that's all there is.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Turning Over the Reins

I went to my friends sons' graduation from Drexel University yesterday. Graduations are usually long boring affairs, although there are moments of inspiration especially when you see someone you care about achieve something for which they have worked hard. I tried to see what I could learn from watching this group of kids entering a new phase of their life. It's easy to imagine stuff or romanticize or read more into these emotionally charged events than is actually there. I tried to be more objective in my observations.

First of all, what stood out was the diversity of nationalities represented. There were Indians, Asians, Middle Easterners, Africans, Spanish, and Europeans representing more than sixty different countries. I would guess that less than 25% of the class were white Americans. This is not surprising since Drexel is an engineering school located in the inner city. My initial thought about this was that America is a great country in which opportunities are available to all people regardless of their race color, religion or country of origin.

After a few hours though of observing the kids smile while they received their diplomas, the pride on their parents' faces, and the comraderie that they shared ,I began to notice their differences less and their similarities more. What I originally perceived as diversity was a superficial way of seeing. What was more real was that this was a group of smart kids who shared common interests and aspirations no matter where their parents or grandparents were born . These were kids who were more connected to their computers, i-pods, facebook, you tube, rap and hip hop then they were to most of the racial, religious, and nationalistic concerns that may have preoccupied their parents.

I know that this graduating class is entering into adulthood and its usual responsibilities at a difficult time. They, however, can take comfort that it is not their fault. They did not create our problems. And it seemed to me that they are going to be more than equipped to deal with these problems. They are scientists, engineers, technicians and in general problem solvers who have been brought up in a different world than any other generation, as all generations are. The evolutionary impulse continues to create the level of consciousness and thinking that is necessary to enable humans to survive and prosper.

The old ways of thinking are no longer working and need to be replaced.Those that are in power now take themselves very seriously and assume that they know what is best. I don't think so. The world and its problems have bypassed them It is going to take this new generation to bring a new energy and viewpoint, one that is greatly needed. It will take time, maybe 10-30 years, maybe less, for this class and the ones slightly ahead of them and behind them to begin to impact our lives. If things get really bad they will have to accelerate their pace. I think they will.

It is hard for us to admit that we are dinosaurs, that much of our thinking is no longer valid or capable of solving our problems. We waste too much time discussing matters that are really inconsequential or that have no definitive answers., including abortion, homosexual marriage, Gitmo, capitalism vs. socialism, global warming, bailing out failing companies, and mostly everything that we see every day on the news. We need to spend more time producing products and services that make our lives easier and more enjoyable, that reduce the barriers that separate us, that enable us to live longer and healthier, and that set the stage for our travelling throughtout the universe. I was encouraged by what I saw at Drexel this weekend. I am more encouraged when I see my three grandkids.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Moroccan Dream

I almost converted to Islam. I had to to make a choice between sex or baseball. I chose baseball. Let me explain. It all started at a Super Bowl party. I was introduced to Latifa. She was from Morocco. I was from Brooklyn. She was 35. I was 42. She had three kids. I had three kids. She was recently divorced. She had decided to leave her husband after he took a fourth wife. She was okay with three; the fourth was too much. I was recently divorced; my reasons were more complicated.

She had come to America to find a husband. She was staying with her cousin in Philadelphia. Her cousin and I had a mutual friend who had invited all of us to the Super Bowl party. She was very pretty. We immediately hit it off. There were a few obstacles. She spoke no English. She spoke French and Arabic. I spoke a little French, no Arabic. After the party her cousin gave me her number and told me to call Latifa to set a date to come to her house where we could get to know each other better.

I called and went to visit Latifa at her cousin's' house. We saw each other nearly every day for the next three weeks. Her cousin chaperoned our time together and served as translator. We got two French-English dictionaries and used them to communicate in simple terms. As we got to know each other our relationship deepened. We slept together for a few of the nights without any sex. It was very romantic.

Finally, she told me that she had to go home and get back to her kids. Our last night together we ended up making out very heavily. Before too long we were nude. We were both a little out of control. At least I was. She started saying some stuff that I couldn't understand. I just nodded my head.

I drove her to the airport. We agreed to keep in touch by phone. During the next six months I spoke to her at least once per week. My French was improving and we were able to communicate. During this time we agreed that I would come to Morocco for a few weeks to meet her family. If they accepted me, we would become engaged for two years. During this time I would live in Morocco for six months each year and she would live with me in America for six months. If after two years we decided we wanted to spend our lives together we would get married. It made sense to me.

As the time approached for me to go to Morocco I decided to call my parents and tell them about my plans. My mother answered. I told her that I had met a women and was considering getting engaged. I also said there were a few problems. She asked me what they were.

"She lives in Morocco."

"We'll, she'll have to move here."

"She doesn't speak English."

"As long as you're happy together that's all I care about."

"She's Muslim."

"Maury, get on the phone and speak to your son."

After calming them down, promising I would not do anything rash I continued with my plans. As the day of departure for Morocco approached my fantasies were escalating. I could not think of anything but making love to this beautiful Moroccan princess. She had managed to communicate to me in our phone conversations that Islamic women were the most highly sexed women in the world and had perfected the art of lovemaking to bring men to ecstatic heights. At least that's what I thought she had said.

I arrived in Casablanca. Latifa picked me up at the airport with her son. We drove two and a half hours to her home in Rabat. I was in a dream world. Her home was about eight rooms and was incredibly furnished. She introduced me to her three person house staff. I walked into her bedroom with my suitcase and laid it down.

She said, "Before I agree to let you sleep in my bedroom we need to talk."


She reminded me that I had agreed to become a Muslim during our last night together in Philadelphia. I didn't remember this, although I knew that I had agreed to something during the heat of our passion. She then told me that on her recent pilgrimage to Mecca she had renewed her connection with Islam. She would not sleep with me unless I again agreed to convert to Islam.

I asked her, "What exactly is required to become a Muslim?"

"You must do five things. First you must read the Koran."

"OK, that's no problem, I enjoy books about religion. What else?"

"You must agree to fast during Ramadan."

I had actually just completed a lemonade fast. I said, "Fine, next."

"You must agree to contribute 10% of your income to the mosque."

I didn't think money would be a problem for us. I said, "Yes."

I don't remember the fourth requirement. I agreed to it though. I do remember the fifth requirement. I needed to accept Allah as the one true god with all my mind and all my heart and I could not fake it.

Now, I would have agreed to anything to sleep with Latifa that night. But when this fifth requirement was stated I began to realize that this was a serious matter. For some reason what came into my head was the movie "Field of Dreams". I don't understand why but this movie reminded me what I loved about America. I could not go through with this conversion. I told Latifa that I couldn't do it. She was very calm about it. She said I would have to leave tomorrow. I could sleep on the sofa that night.

The next day I left her house and spent the next two weeks travelling through Morocco by myself. It was an experience which helped me heal from the pain of my divorce. I have never had any regrets.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Palestinian Dilemma

I hear a lot of discussion about the Palestinian situation. Although I am Jewish and root for the Jews I never paid much attention to what was really going on. I decided to do a little research. I googled "the truth about Palestine" and turned up 4,500,000 references. It seemed that there was some duplication so I guess there is no more than 2,000,000 separate opinions about what the truth is. I must admit that I did not read 2,000,000 articles. I just spent a little time surfing through a number of viewpoints to try to see if I could zero in on some facts or analysis that seemed objective.

One of the consistent points of every article was that you should not believe any facts or statements from the other articles because they are not trustworthy. Each point of view believes the other side is bending the truth. So no matter what you read, it may or may not be true. Now there are those who would say that this is true, you can't believe what you read or what is being stated as truth, but there are certain statements that can be proved as true. However, these statements that can be proved as true are based on other statements which may or may not be true. If this sounds complicated or circuitous to you then I think you might be heading in the right direction.

Another thing I noticed was that there is an incredible amount of information available about this situation. The information is detailed and documented and much of it probably is true . There are quotes from Golda Meir and the PLO stating that the Palestinian people do not exist. There are numerous examples of cruelty by both sides towards each other. There are historical, legal, and religious facts that make very strong cases for many different and conflicting points of view.

If you came here from another planet without any knowledge or prejudice about the situation and spent a lifetime in research to determine what to do and whose claims were legitimate I don't think you could come up with an answer that would favor the Arabs or the Jews. They both have valid points and historical, legal, and religious data to support their positions.

This is not a situation that is ruled by logic or reason. It is very emotional. I don't think we can look to the past for answers. We need to develop a solution that reflects the reality of the present. The reality that I see consists of these observations.

1-The Arabs and Jews are not getting along.

2-They both believe they are right.

3-There are fanatics on both sides.

4-This conflict is creating pressure in the region and throughout the world.

5-There is a potential for this pressure to erupt into a serious problem that might cause many people to die.

6 The Arabs don't want the Jews in Israel.

7-Whether it takes one year, or five years, or twenty years, or fifty years, the Arabs will develop nuclear weapons.

8-At some point in the future they will use these weapons against Israel.

9-Living in Israel is like living in a small neighborhood in a big city where everyone around you wants to kill you.

10-Although I might admire their courage, conviction, and accomplishments, I would not want my kids living under these conditions.

11- I would ask my kids to come home where it is safe. I would tell them that maybe in the future if things change, or consciousness evolves, or some other unforeseen occurrence creates more favorable circustances they might be able to move back.

Based on these observations, as much as I hate to say it, I think we should give the Jews the state of Montana or Wyoming and let them move there and live in peace. I'm serious about this.
We can't continue to use the Israelis as our first line of defense against Islamic fanaticism. We need to break the chain of violence by removing the targets.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Thoughts on Violence and War

I always hated the Yankees. I hated Mickey Mantle. Yankee Stadium, Ballantine Beer (their sponsor), Mel Allen (their announcer), even the Bronx. I know it's a little irrational, but I couldn't help it. The Yankees were the enemy. I never once, though, considered strapping dynamite to my body and blowing myself up in their dugout. It never crossed my mind to hijack a plane and crash it into their stadium. Maybe I was a little soft in those days, but for some reason these ideas never even occurred to me. Should I be proud of this? Not really, this should be normal. But for some mysterious reason we are continually looking for ways to hurt and even destroy our enemies.

Of all the problems that exist in the world, violence is numero uno. It seems to me that one thing we should avoid is: killing each other. Now you might say: "what if we're being attacked." Of course we should defend ourselves. This is not even worth discussing. What is critical though is to reduce the probability that we will destroy ourselves through an unspeakably horrible nuclear war. Every other concern, of all the worlds politicians, especially the leaders of the major powers, needs to be secondary to this one possibility. This is one point there must be agreement. There are no circumstances that I can think of in which destroying the world is acceptable.

This might sound obvious. However, it cannot be emphasized enough. The question then is how to best prevent this. This is where it gets tricky. There are two basic lines of thought and numerous variations on each line. The first view is that in order to avoid violence against us, we should kill our enemies before they kill us. This is sometimes called the"preemptive" strategy. The second view is that we should "turn the other cheek." If someone hits us we should not respond but let them hit us again.

Neither point seems realistic. The first strategy advocates the very thing you are trying to avoid. It assumes that man is naturally and uncontrollable warlike and aggressive. Logically, belief in this strategy will result in consistent killing and destruction, until only one nation or one religion or one political system or even only one family remains. Plus, how do you determine when your enemy is threatening enough that they must be killed? Who makes this decision?

The second view has a much greater chance of preventing violence but the risk in today's world is a little too high. There are too many wackos who view non violence or passive resistance as weakness and will take advantage if they see an opportunity. It doesn't seem that this strategy would work against someone like Hitler, or Charles Manson, or Genghis Khan.

So what is the solution? In the past the consequences of war were horrible. Today, they're catastrophic. We need to find some middle ground that balances the necessity to present a strong image with the moderation to act prudently, to prevent situations from escalating past the point of no return. I believe we cannot assume that there is no hope and that there is no way to compromise. Here are some thoughts from some I consider smarter than me.

If you want to make friends you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.
Moshe Dayan

You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.
Albert Einstein

An eye for an eye will make the whole world go blind.
Mahatma Gandhi

If I am brutal and you use brutal methods to overcome me you become brutal just like me.

True power comes from when we have every reason to kill and we don't.
Oscar Schindler

War does not determine who is right, only who is left.
Bertrand Russell

Someday they'll give a war and nobody will come.
Carl Sandburg

It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.

The way to win an atomic war is to make sure it never starts.
Omar Bradley (General)

Either war is obsolete or men are.
Buckminster Fuller.

Although there is no simple answer as to what strategy will be most effective, the necessity for finding an answer is escalating. Necessity has been known to be the mother of invention. President Obama seems to me to be on the right track in admitting weakness and trying to establish a dialogue amongst all sides. I think we should support his efforts. I am hopeful.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Talkin Baseball

One of the few things in life that ever made real sense to me is baseball. You could discuss religion or politics all day and night and never come to a conclusion. With baseball you at least get short term decisions. My friend Marty is a lifetime Yankees fan. No matter what's going on in his life if the Yankees are winning he's happy. He's leaving for New Hampshire tonight, a six hour drive. Normally he would not be looking forward to it. But the Yankees are playing the Red Sox; half the trip will be spent listening to the game, unless it's rained out.

I was originally a Dodgers fan. Later, I, amazingly, evolved into a Phillies fan. You can't control who you root for. I noticed about fifteen years ago that when the Phillies were playing the Dodgers I wanted the Phillies to win. I didn't choose to change loyalties. It just happened. Although I presently like the Phillies my level of fanaticism is not close to what it was for the Dodgers. There were times when I was younger that I would make deals with God. If he would let the Dodgers win I would agree to go to shule for one day, or do some other task that I thought he would like.

Marty and I have argued about baseball for over forty-five years. I remember, like it was yesterday, watching the 1963 World Series in his house. This was their first clash since 1956. The Dodgers had won the Series in 1955 for the first time ever. This was one of the greatest moments of my childhood, Brooklyn's finest hour. They closed the schools for two days. In 1956 the Yankees won back the championship, catapulted by Don Larsen's perfect game.

We were sixteen, mature enough to have a discussion based on reason, not on pure emotion. The Dodgers had had a great year, led by Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale's brilliant pitching. The Yankees had Whitey Ford (24-7 that year) and a powerful lineup, including Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris, Bill Skowron, and Bobby Richardson. I was a nervous wreck. The Dodgers had to beat the Yankees. Marty was confident. There was no way Frank Howard could touch Whitey Ford, Marty argued.

Koufax struck out the first five Yankees including Bobby Richardson. He struck out Richardson three times that day. Bobby had struck out only eleven times the whole year. Truly brilliant. In the bottom of the first, Frank Howard hit a mammoth 450 foot drive over Mantle's head for a double. The Dodgers scored first and ended up beating the Yankees 5-2, although Mantle did hit a late inning homer off Koufax which I must admit did impress me. The Dodgers ended up beating the Yankees four straight. I tormented Marty about this for years.

There are many great things about baseball. My favorite movies (including "A Field of Dreams") are about baseball. One of my favorite books, "The Boys of Summer," is about the 1955 Dodgers. "Talkin Baseball," the song, makes me cry every time I hear it. In a world of fear and confusion, where my mind is occupied by tons of practical daily problems and unsolveable philosophical issues, I still look at the box scores every day. I know I'm not alone in this.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

How did The Greatest Generation Survive

I am planning on visiting my parents next week. They are presently living in an assisted living facility in California. I mentioned this to a friend who coincidentally has an idea to present a comedy routine to old age homes in Florida. His basic premise is that this generation, called the "Greatest Generation" born between World War I and 1930, got the biggest shaft of any generation in history.

First of all in their earliest years they were in the greatest depression in the history of the world. No opportunity, no hope, no expectation of a bright future. Survival was the only thing that mattered. There were Okies who left the dust bowl because they couldn't grow food, soup lines where thousands lined up for a bowl of soup, hobos who lived in camps and did nothing but ride the trains looking for work that did not exist. People would work all day for a lump of coal that they would bring home to keep their family warm. This was not a good time to be a teenager.

So what happened next to this generation. WWII. Where every fit man, including anybody and everybody was either enlisted or drafted into a war where their lives were in mortal danger and the strategy of the war was to win by attrition. Whoever remained standing was the winner. The "greatest generation" did win the war and came home from war with hope for the future.

What happened to that hope? After years of no hope in the depression, no choice in the army, they came home and devoted the rest of their lives to their families and children. They kept jobs they did not like and stayed in relationships they despised for their children who immediately upon reaching their sixteenth birthday felt that every value that their parents had was bad. They were raping the environment, they were too materialistic, they were close-minded, they were sexist, racist, homophobes, and in general had "no clue" to what was really important. The mantra of the "greatest generation's" children became" don't trust anyone over thirty."

In spite of these tought times what is interesting and even amazing about this generation is that they survived at all. They did everything wrong that we consider today life threatening. Not only did they smoke, but every public place they went, including elevators and baseball dugouts they were exposed to second hand smoke. Every double play and home run was rewarded by cigarettes being send to the local veterans hospital.

There was lead in the paint and in the gasoline. You could not avoid lead. Now, if there is a trace of lead in a toy there is an embargo against the product. Previously, we would be exposed to lead everywhere we went, Chinese food was loaded with MSG, People ate lard, fat, schmaltz,
gribbinis (the fattiest innards of the cow). There was no exercise, no gyms, no bottled water, and no safety equipment or warning signs. No one told people not to put plastic bags over their childrens heads or not to light matches near gas stations. There were no news alerts that told us to stay inside and drink water when it was 120 degrees outside.

Healthcare used to be that someone would come to your house with a bag and cure your whole family for three dollars. There were no urologists, endocrinologists, neurologists, or dermatologists. People went to doctors or dentists, no specialists. There was no ADD or ADHD.

How did this generation survive without cellphones, blackberries, ipods, google, and cable tv. You could not break or change an appointment. If you needed to meet someone at a designated place at a specific time you had to be there because you could not call or cancel. Plus you could not buy anything if you did not have the money.

There definitely is a comedy routine buried in the comparisons between the "greatest generation" and the generations that came after. But in that comedy, there is an interesting truth about how we look at life and the necessity to be understanding and tolerant of our parents, our children, and anyone who may see life differently than we do.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Relationship Angst

I was talking to my sister yesterday about relationships. She has been a therapist in Hollywood for thirty years specializing in relationship counseling. She has some interesting stories. No wonder since most of her clients are in the entertainment industry. Unfortunately, she can't disclose any specifics but I will say when it comes to sex, dating, marriage, and relationships there is no shortage of weird stuff. Everyone struggles with these issues and no matter how vivid your imagination you still can't imagine all the different stuff that goes on with relationships.

My sister believes that you can't predict whether or not a relationship will be successful. In her opinion there is a lot of luck involved. The luck is primarily in whether or not you can find someone who you even have a chance of being with for the long term. And you can't really know unless your're together for the short term. The only thing that you can do is learn to accept whatever happens and not blame yourself if a relationship doesn't work out. The thrust of her practice is not about trying to patch up failing relationships. It is about helping her clients feel better about themselves and learning from their experiences.

Interestingly I had three other conversations yesterday about relationships. The first was with my ex-girl friend. We are good friends and very close. She was commenting to me how difficult it is to date and that unless someone just showed up in her life she could not put any effort in seeking out a partner. I could see her point. Dating, especially as you get older, is more work than fun

On the other hand I also spoke with a long term male friend whose view on sex and women would probably be considered dysfunctional by 95% of women and at least 50% of men. He has no desire for a long term committed relationship. He is interested in having sex with as many women as possible and telling them whatever he has to to get them into bed. He has no interest in getting to know any of the women he dates. He is brilliant though in getting women to like him and sleep with him.

When I say brilliant, I mean he is the Michael Jordan of seducing women. On more than one ocassion we have been out for dinner when I have made a comment on the attractiveness of the waitress. I was looking at her as completely unattainable and as an object of beauty to be respected and appreciated. He immediately bet me that he could get her back to his hotel room before the evening was out. I thought it was impossible but he was able to do it. This was shocking to me.

I have always put women on a pedestal. He sees them primarily as sex objects and conquests. I never could understand why so many women, and very pretty and intelligent ones, could be so easily seduced by him.

The other conversation was with a women I just recently met. I was at a meeting with her and her business partner earlier this week. I had noticed the tension between them and had correctly surmised to both their surprise that they had been a couple.(Actually it was pretty obvious). She called me to talk about their relationship. They had been engaged, and had worked together on a number of projects. They are both very powerful individuals. They were very compatible in their personalities, likes, and dislikes. However, they could not manage to find a way to get along. She had been hurt and disappointed by their breakup and was interested in my observations.

I really did not know what to tell her except that she was a quality person and would find someone. The truth is that the whole subject is very confusing to me. It seems that on one hand there is nothing more important than relationships and that on the other the less you care the better off you are.

I do know two things about this subject. First of all we have to learn to get along with each other. Secondly, I feel a lot more confident talking about money, and this subject is also perplexing to me. I wish I had more answers.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Stupidity vs. Nobility

We should never underestimate the degree of stupidity that exists in the world. The understanding and application of this idea can greatly simplify and reduce the amount of pain and frustration in our lives. It does not mean everyone is stupid, or that everything done is done stupidly. What it does mean is that we should not be surprised when things get screwed up, or upset when people disappoint us. Matter of fact, we should be appreciative when things go smoothly and people act in the right way. Everything changes when you recognize this one basic point.

What prompted me to write this blog was two separate conversations I just heard on the radio while driving home from shopping at Sam's Club. (I bought one of their cooked chickens, one of the better deals on the market today.) The conversations were focused on Obama's speech to the Muslim world. Both talk show hosts, Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs, were criticizing Obama for denigrating the United States to the Arab world. They were berating him for not being more critical of Muslims, for not pointing out how horrible Islam has been. They were also outraged that he would admit that the United States was not perfect. They were shocked that he did not tell them all the great things we have done for the world in general, and Arabs in particular.

Why was Obama speaking in this way? I can think of four possible reasons. #1-He believes that taking the humble, apologetic tact will in the long run be to our biggest advantage. #2-He actually believes what he is saying and is committed to the truth as a way to govern. #3-He has a neurotic need to be liked and says whatever he has to in the moment to get his audience to like him. #4-He hates the United States, loves the Muslins, and is trying to help them defeat us.

The talk show hosts did not consider the possibility that #1 and #2 might be his motivation. They were convinced that it was either #3 or #4. Callers were expressing their outrage that Obama could be so anti-American and not espouse our virtues.

Barack Obama is the President of the United States of America. He was elected by popular and electoral vote. It could be that his strategy about how to handle foreign affairs and create world peace is unrealistic, idealistic, or just wrong. But to think that his primary motivation is to be liked, or to harm America, is ridiculous. To constantly criticize your leadership for being anti-American is anti-American. It doesn't strength our image or generate confidence in America. But millions of people are absolutely convinced that they are right in this matter.

The world is filled with people who believe their viewpoint is correct and that anyone who disagrees is either wrong or crazy. This way of thinking prevents change and compromise, two ingredients of progress. A great definition of stupidity is "a poor ability to understand or profit from experience." To anyone who has paid close attention to life it should become obvious that things are never exactly the way they seem to be, it is very hard to predict the future, and that no matter how sure you are about anything there is always the possibility that you might be wrong.

If we want to make any headway against stupidity we need to start with ourselves and constantly keep in mind that anything and everything we believe may not be right. We need to develop a nimbleness, a flexibility, and an ability to readjust our thinking to more accurately reflect the conditions that exist in the moment. It is this ability to be in the moment, to think in the moment, and to act in the moment, that offers hope of creating a better world. Only if we do this can we can begin to shift our expectations, to live from the view that we should never underestimate the nobility of man.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Reservations and the Internet

I just finished a two hour ordeal making plane, hotel, and car reservation for a trip to California I will take in a couple of weeks. My sister had called me and said my father was getting weaker, that I should come visit as soon as possible. I must admit: It might have been easier if money had been no object. However, I was trying to save money. I complicated the process because I wanted to use American Express points to pay for the airline ticket.

I generally do not shop for anything on the Internet. I have bought a few books from Amazon, but other than travel I can't think of any other purchases I've made. I am not an enthusiastic shopper. I've noticed there are people who love to shop, who get a real high from spending money. Not me. I look at shopping as a chore; I try to complete it as quickly as possible.

What was especially annoying about this process was a little glitch I did not consider before I started making my reservations. I logged on to the American Express website, entered my arrival and departure airport, and times, and then waited for all the best choices and costs to appear. My first attempt I screwed up because I forgot to enter 2 adults. I had to start over.

The second attempt went a little smoother. I entered everything correctly; then, when asked to pay, I clicked Pay By Points and was directed to another page. I completed all the information on that page (which it seemed to me they should have already had) and then clicked "complete transaction." An error message appeared saying that the transaction could not be completed.

I was starting to feel a little irritated, but I was determined to get this done. I went back and did the entire process again and received the same error message. I called American Express to find out the problem. I explained to the women what had happened; she said I might not have enough credit on my card. I told her I was paying by points, so it shouldn't matter. She said she doesn't handle the "Rewards Program," so she would transfer me to the right department.

I then explained to the women in the "Rewards" department what had happened. Here I found the glitch. It seems that the reservation you book is only available for a short period of time. If you don't finalize the deal within a certain period it may no longer be available. The process of using your points takes a longer than the usual time. It is not surprising that I could not process the reservation. From the time I originally chose the flight until the time I was ready to pay the flight was no longer available.

She said this was not a "Rewards" problem and she would transfer me back to the travel department. I was starting to sweat. I could feel my blood pressure increasing (another problem I have been concerned about lately, although I don't want to get into it.)

I then spoke to another women in the travel department. I explained the situation to her. I asked , "How can you use your points when it requires completing so much information,
that you should already have? And, if you don't do it quickly enough, you lose the reservation?"

She said, "I'll help you.

I said, "Great, can you book the reservation for me?"

She said, "That will be another $50.00 per ticket if I book it."

I said, "Then how will you help me."

She said she'll stay on the line with me while I go through the process on the Internet.

I said, "But that will take longer than actually booking the ticket yourself."

She said, "Company policy."

The sweat was poring off me, literally.

Finally, she went through the process with me. It took at least ten minutes of what felt like constant torment. Once again when I tried to pay, the reservation could not be completed. She then asked me to hold and said she wanted to talk to her manager. After waiting for a couple of minutes I pressed the "complete transaction" on the open window that had previously rejected the reservation. This time, for some reason, it worked, and the reservation was finalized. When she came back I told her this. I told her that the reservation was made and that I had received a confirmation. She said she couldn't understand this. This began another process of further conversation and torture to determine whether the reservation was real.

I will spare you the details of the next fifteen minutes. Finally, it all worked out. It took a lot out of me. After a while I was beginning to relax until I read on the Internet that a plane had mysteriously disappeared over the Atlantic.

There is a positive ending to this story. When I called my parents to tell them we were coming, they were thrilled. My mother said, "This is the best news I've had all year." It made me feel good.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Types and Consciousness

The study of types is often used to help understand human nature. There are many different systems that classify individuals. There are systems that focus on physical qualities. One of these systems characterizes people based on their physique. This system popularized by William Shelton classifies individuals into three categories, ectomorphs (thin, angular, little body fat), endomorphs (chubby, rounded, high body fat) and mesomorph (muscular, wide shoulders, narrow waist).

There is another system expressed in an interesting book, "Body Types" by Robert Friedlander that identifies seven body types each associated with a planetary body. These types, lunar, solar, mercurial, saturnine, jovial. martial, and venusian have very distinct temperaments, and strengths and weaknesses. Each type has one type that they are especially attracted to and another that repels them.

Jung classified individuals into thinking, feeling, and sensing types based upon their primary method of relating to the world. The ancient greeks and modern psychologists like Erich Fromm favored dividing people based upon four temperments, sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic. Then there are the twelve astrological types, and Chinese typology, right-brained and left-brained and on and on.

Many people find the study of types very interesting. I myself, have spent time checking out these various typologies to try to determine their value. (If you are interested in learning more there is tons of material that can be googled on the multitudes of systems.) All the systems and tests that tell you your type can be amusing and it is easy to find some truth in all of them.

What is misleading is that there are definitely different types but so what. There are tall and short, fat and thin, shy and outgoing, smart and dumb, aggressive and passive, social and hermetic, religious and atheistic, and verbal and mathematical. There are unlimited ways to classify people and there are millions of people who fall into each category.

All these systems and methods for typing people assume your type will determine your behavior, your inclinations, your tastes, and your abilities. This may be true to some extent and it may be useful in helping you observe yourself to try and determine your type based on one or more of these systems. But looking at the world in this way tends to create more separation and even worse can justify weaknesses or negative behavior. It is very easy to excuse yourself by assuming that there was nothing you could do about your negative behavior or thoughts because you were acting within the realm of your typology.

I believe that there is only one distinction that matters. This is the degree to which you are conscious or not. When you are working on yourself and trying to gain real freedom you are not subject to the limitations of type. You can overcome any inclinations or programming and choose your behavior. Without consciousness there is no freedom, there is no choice. For most people this idea of consciousness is a mystery. The most important thing you can do to improve your life is to begin the journey of understanding what it means to be more conscious. The starting point for this journey is to realize the degree of your unconsciousness.