I Got Your Message

The person who I am writing about is a “friend” for about 20 years. I expected that she would be a friend till I died. For some reason, she has not responded to my e-mails or my invitation to have lunch. I’m stunned. She was so helpful to me at different turbulent periods in my life, notably when Chris had breast cancer. Not the first time I have experienced this where I feel frozen out.

******

Geez, it sure has been awhile since we last spoke
So I called your cell phone hoping to catch up.
No answer.
So I left you a short message asking you to call back when you had the time.
No response.

I figured you missed my phone message so I texted you.
I know you are busy but I was counting on you seeing my text
So I drafted a short message asking you contact me when you had the time hoping to catch up.
No response.

We always remembered each other’s birthday so I e-mailed a funny card
I figured you were busy but I was sure this would brighten your day and spark a reply
I included a short message with the card asking you contact me when you had the time.
No response.

No response to my phone message, text and e-mail, so I wrote a personal letter
I figured that even if you were busy, you would take the time to read of my confusion and disappointment on your non-response when you had downtime.
I ended the letter asking you to contact me
No response.

A few months later, I had lunch with another mutual friend
Aware of my numerous efforts to contact you, I was asked,
”Did you ever receive a response from all the texts and messages you sent?
“Sadly I did,” I replied.

Resonance

Words, phrases, ideas and thoughts of resonance…

“Moving on, after all, is the favorite American activity. And technology has exacerbated our twitchy consciousness and sensationalist culture. We now live in a world of nothing but distractions, with a blizzard of stimuli.”
Kim and Pete, or Vladimir and Volodymyr? NYT Maureen Dowd 4/10/22

“Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson today became the first Black woman to be confirmed to the Supreme Court, in case you’re wondering why the flag over the Fox News building is at half-staff.” — SETH MEYERS

“Today’s today’s housing market has become a game of musical chairs due mostly to the significant inventory shortage,” said Ken H Johnson a real estate economist at Florida Atlantic university. “No one wants to be holding equity, but the trade-offs, moving to a lower cost part of the country, overpaying to own or over paying to rent, are not very attractive.”

“For years, exercise scientists tried to quantify the ideal “dose” of exercise for most people. They finally reached a broad consensus in 2008 with the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which were updated in 2018 after an extensive review of the available science about movement, sitting and health. In both versions, the guidelines advised anyone who was physically able to accumulate 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week, and half as much if it is intense.”

Is 30 Minutes of Exercise a Day Enough? NYT Gretchen Reynolds 4/6/22

“Liberalism’s most important selling point remains the pragmatic one that has existed for centuries: its ability to manage diversity in pluralistic societies. Yet there is a limit to the kinds of diversity that liberal societies can handle. If enough people reject liberal principles themselves and seek to restrict the fundamental rights of others, or if citizens resort to violence to get their way, then liberalism alone cannot maintain political order. And if diverse societies move away from liberal principles and try to base their national identities on race, ethnicity, religion, or some other, different substantive vision of the good life, they invite a return to potentially bloody conflict. A world full of such countries will invariably be more fractious, more tumultuous, and more violent.”

A Country of Their Own:Liberalism Needs the Nation Foreign Affairs Francis Fukuyama

It’s Your Friends Who Break Your Heart

It’s Your Friends Who Break Your Heart by Jennifer Senior in The Atlantic is a timely article for me. The subtitle of the article suggests that “The older we get, the more we need our friends—and the harder it is to keep them.” I can’t agree more! I might add that it’s not only friends who can break your heart but family too. The pain is indistinguishable.

It is a long article but worth reading. I have listed points of the article that I agree with and are worth sharing…

“You lose friends to marriage, to parenthood, to politics—even when you share the same politics.”

“The unhappy truth of the matter is that it is normal for friendships to fade, even under the best of circumstances. The real aberration is keeping them.”

“You lose friends to success, to failure, to flukish strokes of good or ill luck. One could argue that modern life conspires against friendship, even as it requires the bonds of friendship all the more.”

“Most of withered friendships can be chalked up to this terrible tendency …not to reach out.”

“This is, mind you, how most friendships die, according to the social psychologist Beverley Fehr: not in pyrotechnics, but a quiet, gray dissolve. It’s not that anything happens to either of you; it’s just that things stop happening between you.”

Waxing Nostalgic II

“The Greek word for “return” is nostos. Algos means “suffering.” So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.” 

― Milan Kundera, Ignorance

The Andy Griffith Show, Hogan’s Heroes, Match Game 75, Barney Miller…these are all 1960 and 1970 television shows enjoying a revival. Many viewers, generally in the Medicare and Social Security eligible categories, are eschewing current produced media fare for TV shows of their younger years.

Why? The reasons may vary but for many it’s a portal to a simpler time with less stress and drama. People need a break from Covid 19, Trump rants, smarmy Fox commentators and an endless stream of violence, disasters and deaths on their TVs and computer screens.

Photo by Andre Moura Pixels

I too pine for simpler times and have compiled a short list of memories, places and people that take me back to a simpler time.

  1. Cherry Hill Mall food court with Nathans, Arthur Teachers and Bassetts Turkey
  2. Drive-In movies
  3. Emma Peel
  4. Local minor league hockey (Jersey Devils, Ramblers)
  5. Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings and Chet Huntley
  6. Extensive coverage of college and high school sports by local papers
  7. Fish’s (Abe Vigoda) asides on Barney Miller
  8. Summer League Basketball at Wood and Memorial Parks (Cinnaminson NJ)
  9. “Missed by that much”
  10. Pat Paulsen running for President
  11. Gladys Ormphby and Tyrone on Laugh In
  12. Barbi Benton
  13. U.S. Pro Indoor Tournament at Spectrum
  14. Chief Jay Strongbow
  15. Lindsey Nelson and Ray Scott announcing college and professional football games
  16. Old Republican party (Everett Dirksen, Hugh Scott, Gerald Ford)
  17. Apologies
  18. Soupy Sales
  19. By Saam and Richie Ashburn broadcasting Phillies games
  20. Petula Clark
  21. Diving horse at Steel Pier
  22. Sparklers
  23. Tinsel
  24. Hill Street Blues
  25. John Larroquette’s (Dan Fielding) leers on Night Court
  26. Mike Wallace interviews on 60 Minutes
  27. Playboy interviews
  28. Sport magazine
  29. Archie Bunker
  30. Phyllis George
  31. The Grassroots

Reader, how many from this list do you remember and know?

Finish Line

In my younger days, I ran 5K and 10K races. When I was able to see the finish line from a distance, I needed to make a decision. Do I finish the race strong with a last minute spurt or do I comfortably finish at a relaxed pace? My decision was not based on winning any medals or prizes as I was a “back in the pack” runner. My decision was personal, primarily based on how much energy I had left in my legs and what I wanted to accomplish in terms of my own goals. I mostly competed with myself and was interested in seeking improved race times.

As one gets older in life, there are a number of finish lines that need to be crossed. Generally, the first finish line is the end of your career or business. For many, the decision on how we finish that race is not made by them. Some don’t get the opportunity to finish but are pulled aside and told their race is over. The lucky get to finish the race on their own terms and with the plaudits and appreciation of their fellow employees and partners. They leave with a sense of satisfaction of a race well run.

Young people are not concerned with finish lines. They are at the beginning or mid-way point of their race. Time is on their side – – they have the energy, ability and opportunity to run more laps and circle the field if they are so inclined. They are in the early stages of a life marathon with many miles to go.

As I have gotten older, I appreciate that a final finish line may be looming. I don’t know its distance but I sense its presence. There are no mile markers in the final finish line. I still have the ability to decide if I want to walk or jog in my last miles or finish with a burst of speed and vigor. There won’t be spectators to cheer me on. How I finish that race will largely be my decision. There are no medals to win. But there is one more chance to make a difference in my life and maybe someone else’s. One more opportunity to overcome a challenge or make a contribution. One more opportunity to achieve a life well run…

Lost Religion and Other Beliefs

All religions promise a reward for excellence is of the will or heart, but none for excellences of the head or understanding.

Schopenhauer

Interesting article titled “Can the Meritocracy Find God” in the April 10 edition of The New York Times by Ross Douthat, a Christian journalist who is trying to imagine a scenario where “not just would-be intellectuals but the wider elite-university-educated population, the meritocrats or “knowledge workers,” the “professional-managerial class” would convert or turn to religion.

He cites considerable obstacles, including that the “American educated class is deeply committed to a moral vision that regards emancipated, self-directed choice as essential to human freedom and the good life” and the meritocracy’s reliance on science, “which regards strong religious belief as fundamentally anti-rational, miracles as superstition, the idea of a personal God as so much wishful thinking.”

Douthat expresses a concern about the “deep secularization of the meritocracy.” He is disappointed that people who could have pursued religious careers as priests, ministers and rabbis have turned to secular positions as social workers, professors and psychologists. Instead of running religious missions, these secularists have started and invested in their own foundations.

The essay sparked an interesting online debate from readers and I have posted selected comments below. I will complete this post by adding my thoughts at the end. Comments by New York Times readers are in italics:

We’ve come too far to believe in the mean-spirited garbage spewed by self-serving individual sects. When God is the God of every human being, bar none, then people will flock to houses of worship.

****

All religions rely on blind faith and magical beliefs where as non believers rely on science and facts.

After years and years of of seeing the damage caused by religion to humans throughout history is it any wonder that people are finding that they do not need religion to be Good people or do good for their fellow humans which is progress we should all be happy about.

****

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” – Seneca

This couldn’t be more blatantly true than in today’s politics.

****

Raised Catholic, the teachings of Jesus are engrained in the fiber of who I am and how I live my life and treat others. It is the basis of my morality. But, I think Jesus was a Jewish social justice reformer, not the son of a supernatural creator.   It’s the very conscience I developed as a Catholic that forced me to leave the Church.I just can’t participate in the hypocrisy, sexism and homophobia of the leaders and the institution.

****

The Christian church was instrumental in colonialism. The Christian church led the way to anti-Semitism. The Bible belt in the US led the way to slavery, Jim Crow, and white supremacy. The world-wide Roman Catholic church issues pieties while continuing to downplay sexual abuse of children by priests. Why would anyone look to the church for moral guidance? For spiritual guidance?

****

The churches have only themselves to blame for the decline of church membership: Pedophile priests and cover up of them in the Catholic Church; evangelicals supporting the anti-Christian values of Trump and Republican party. The “prosperity gospel”?  It’s an oxymoron.

No, the secularization of America won’t reverse until the institutions of Christianity and their leaders start talking and acting like Christ. The present hypocrisy is too blatant. The lack of humility is too off-putting. 

****

If more people were actually educated in scriptural studies, there probably would be many fewer adherents to the claim that the bible is the inerrant “word of God.”

Example:  King Solomon is only a fictional character. There is no record of this so-called great and powerful monarch in the considerable historical documents of the period in which he would have lived and reigned.

Furthermore,  in Israel, perhaps the most excavated region on the planet, archaeologists have not uncovered a single bit of evidence of the vast temple he supposedly built. Apparently, the temple existed only in the minds of those who wrote the books of Chronicles and Kings and described the edifice in great detail. 

****

I was raised a Catholic and a Christian as was Mr. Douthat.  At some point I determined that, while I deeply admired the teaching and example of Jesus, I did not think he was god and I did not think he believed he was god so I am not religious any longer. 

As my life has progressed I am amazed at how much Jesus’ teachings have stuck with me and at how little Jesus’ teachings have stuck with Christian believers.

****

The problem, Brother Douthat, is that the atheists and secularists in this country generally act a lot more ‘Christian’ than the ‘Christians’ in the pews.

****

What I still can’t fathom about Ross–and the many others that lament the decline of organized religion, Christianity or otherwise–is the presumption that the possession of an organized religious epistemology and creed is prerequisite for a moral outlook.

****

But I still practiced my religious beliefs until religious leaders backed the former president 4 years ago and then last year. Even against all he did, including his horrendous handling of Covid in the name of economics. Some of these religious leaders even went along with his anti-mask rhetoric and mass gatherings.

The former president was not religious, he is a womanizer, he is rude and obnoxious to everyone. Yet many religious leaders still backed him. 

Religious leaders chose to back a non-religious leader over a religious leader.

To me that says cult.

Religious leaders need to support candidates that represent who will help the people.

Until that happens more people will become disenfranchised as I have.

****

As a science PhD, there is a very simple reason why I don’t “get God”. It is because I prefer an evidence-based worldview. And, by evidence, I mean something that is verifiable and falsifiable, and does not just consist of murky warm feelings, vague philosophical arguments, or references in ancient writings.

****

My Thoughts: I was baptized and raised as a Catholic. I attended Catholic grade schools and high school. Despite all the sermons and religion classes, I rejected Catholicism when I was 16. I did not accept that Catholicism was the one true religion and that those who were not Catholics were destined to limbo instead of heaven after they died.

I did not buy into papal infallibility and the church’s positions on birth control, divorce, pre-marital sex, abortion and women’s role in the clergy. The parish and diocese I belonged to were hotbeds of child abuse cases committed by priests. People were aware that these incidents were occurring and nothing happened until much later. The monsignor at my parish was more interested in soliciting contributions than saving souls and protecting children from his demented priests. The more I read into the church’s history, the more disillusioned I became.

I looked into other religions and found them wanting. I realized that the bible was part history, part fable, part mythology, part propaganda but certainly not credibly God’s word. I had not yet rejected God’s existence but I grew doubtful. I was uncertain and continued to read, study and ruminate about God as I got older.

Many of the people who I find devoutly religious experienced a momentous, sometimes catastrophic personal event or strong feeling that convinced them that God exists. I never had the feeling or maybe I ignored or misinterpreted it. I don’t have a God gene. I find an empty church more of a religious experience than a full one. I think the practice of meditation is more useful than prayer.

As I read religious history and literature further, I was more impressed with the arguments of Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Steven Hawking and other agnostics/atheists/scientists that there is/was no God.

All that being said, I would not criticize anyone for their belief in God alone. I will criticize certain unwise or irrational actions, beliefs and deeds based on contorted religious thinking. I find support by evangelicals for Donald Trump and many of his policies reprehensible. 

Last point, I try to live by the tenets of the prayer of St Francis Assisi. One does not need to belong to a religion to perform good acts. One just needs to be a caring and moral human being.

Modern Day Icarus

But who names a starship the Icarus? What kind of man possess that much hubris, that he dares it to fall?” 

― Amie Kaufman

The fortunes of men do not move in a straight line. There are dips of fortune and misfortune that follow like a timeline graph of the S&P market performance. What and who goes up, inevitably fall, at least temporarily. For public figures, in particular, falls and misfortunes are amplified as they are publicized, criticized and posterized.

Failures and misfortunes proceeded by hype, hubris and arrogance are replete from the past. Politics is a veritable quicksand of past victims of questionable judgement and behavior including Richard Nixon, John Edwards, Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer,  and Oliver North. Sports and media icons of fallen fortunes include Pete Rose, O.J. Simpson, Tiger Woods, Matt Lauer, Bill O’Reilly, Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby and Lori Laughlin.

Comeuppance often is self inflicted. Poor judgment by words or actions or can often alter the flight of one’s career or legacy.  The sun melted the wings of Icarus when he flew too close to the sun. Legacies and reputations crash when their victims flew too far from truth, probity, decency and humility.

Five current examples of contemporary Icarus like behavior:

Jacob Peter Gowy‘s The Flight of Icarus
  1. Donald Trump: His pride was so damaged that he decided to lie and obfuscate about the results of his re-election defeat. Worse, Trump was able to dupe sycophants and crazed zealots to an attempted overthrow of the government, rejection of election results and the assassinations of Congressional political leaders.
  2. Lou Dobbs: Never met a crazy conspiracy theory or theorist he did not like or have on his show. More intimate with Trump than Melania. Confirmation of H.L. Mencken adage: “The older I grow, the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.” 
  3. Lindsay Graham: More flip-flops than a boardwalk in the summer. Once respected for his bipartisanship, he once rose on the wings of a John McCain friendship and principles; today, Graham’s descent coincides with his support of those elements, policies and people that McCain despised.
  4. Curt Schilling: What you say has consequences. A Hall of Famer based on his Major League Baseball performance. Off the field, his comments on same sex marriage and Muslims project him as a minor leaguer bust in the fields of politics and culture.
  5. Carson Wentz: Once the Franchise, now soon to be one of the great disappointments in Philadelphia sports history like Markelle Fultz, Shawn Bradley, Mike Mamula and Kevin Allen.

Perfect Moments

Years ago, I read Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life by Eugene O’Kelly. O’Kelly was the CEO at KPMG who was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died within three and a half months of the announcement. The book was primarily about the art of dying though O’Kelly did offer some advice about how to live. O’Kelly described his goal of pursuing Perfect Moments and Perfect Days. For example, he described having a four hour dinner, good wine and conversation with friends as a perfect moment.

So it got me to thinking, what are my “perfect moments?”

Here are a few of my perfect moments:

Unhurried dinner or lunch with friends in a quiet setting conversing lightly and laughing about the “old days”, memories, anecdotes, people, sports, politics etc.

Sitting by the ocean just watching the waves roll in, enjoying the sun and not allowing a care in the world to ruin the moment.

Sitting on my porch engrossed in a great book or story and losing track of time.

Listening to my music of my youth and allowing experiences, feelings and people to flow back into memory.

Any time with my wife.

The Old Man and the Read

A mark of an educated man or woman is to employ an expanded vocabulary in their speech or conversation. A mark of a very educated man or woman is to know the appropriate times to employ the expanded vocabulary to a particular audience.

***

I always thought that I had a book within me that I could write and publish. But after recently reading My Mistake: A Memoir by David Menacker, a book about the author’s experiences in various roles in the publishing world, I am now disimbued of that ambition.

***

I am also reminded of an adage from the great Christopher Hitchens about people who want to write a book: “Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.”

***

I am a huge fan of good journalism. And despite all the outcries of “fake news,“ there is a lot of good investigative journalism of political, business, health and culture topics reflecting strong research, responsible sourcing, effective writing and editing. Magazines of exceptional writing and reporting include The New Yorker, Atlantic, Vanity Fair, and The Nation. What’s frustrating to me is the reliance of so many people on blogs and memes, particularly as it relates to politics and the coronavirus.

***

A great financial and mental investment is the online Sunday New York Times for $.99. Excellent ideas, essays, news coverage and articles on politics, business, culture, entertainment and people. I am biased but I think Maureen Dowd is one of the best essayists and commentators of the political and current events scenes.

***

Authors continue to write “self help“ books as it is a huge market within book publishing. However the greatest ideas for self-help were written in ancient times by Socrates, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Confucius, Lao-tzu and Epicurus. Much of what is written today as self help is just a regurgitation of their ideas.

***

One of the greatest literary influences on my perspectives regarding life, death and religion is found in the first chapter of a book by Alan Watts titled The Wisdom of Insecurity. The chapter begins, “By all outward appearances, our life is a spark of light between one eternal darkness and another.” I have underlined just about all of the first chapter in my copy of the book. A great deal of wisdom in 15 pages.

***

In high school, we were assigned summer reading. The three books I remember and enjoyed were (1) Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee (2) All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque and (3) The Bridges at Toko-Ri. I struggled with the following summer books: (1) The Spy by James Fenimore Cooper, (2) Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert and (3) The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. I found the writing in those books tedious and boring.

***

The best and most memorable short story I have read is The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. Written in 1948, it is still an appropriate theme for our times. I remember my shock at the ending of the story.

***

Currently reading Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife by Bart D. Ehrman. Just finished How Did We Get Here? From Theodore Roosevelt to Donald Trump by historian Robert Dallek.

***

A very funny read is Make Russia Great Again by Christopher Buckley. It is a satirical novel about a former Jewish food manager of one of Trump’s Golf Clubs who reluctantly becomes Trump’s seventh Chief of Staff. He becomes embroiled in a number of crazy White House scandals and deals with Fox commentators running the government and his boss’s bizarre ideas (e.g. Ivanka as VP to garner women’s vote.) Strangely enough I’m not sure this satire is as farcical as the real time events of the Trump presidency.

Old Man and the Read

Metrics

lots-of-numbers-1314543

Photo by Black Ices from Pexels

Many of us fixate on numbers. We are concerned about our weight, net worth, credit card balance, retirement income, sales goals, cost of tuition, departure time for a plane etc. 

Listed below are some personal metrics that don’t merit any national or scholarly attention but amuses me:

43: Number of years that my wife and I have been married. It certainly has been an accomplishment to have been married this long. It is reported that 50% of all U.S. marriages end in a divorce or separation. To those who ask about the secrets to marital longevity, my only answer is to choose the right partner and I certainly did. She deserves 99.5% of the credit as she has had to endure my many moods and temperaments as I navigated the rapids of life.

46: This number represents my resting heart rate. It is a relatively low heart rate especially for someone of my age. However, I have always had a low heart rate. I have been test periodically to ensure that there are no issues. I can attribute much of my low heart rate to being active, particularly when I was younger when I played a lot of basketball and jogged.

1: This is the number of times that I have played golf on an 18 hole course. I did this when I was in my early 30s. I don’t remember what my score was. I do remember trying to hit onto a green that had a water hazard in front of it.

12: This was the approximate number of golf balls that I lost in the water hazard trying to hit onto the green.

1: This represents the number of times that I may have been impaired or even drunk from alcohol. This happened in 1994 when my wife and I were vacationing at a resort in Saint Thomas. I remember playing tennis for a little over an hour with the club pro on a very hot and sunny afternoon. ( I remember the tennis pro had gone to Penn and thought I was crazy to play at 3:00 p.m.) After playing tennis, my wife and I headed over to the resort bar. I was very thirsty…

4+: The number of pina coladas that I drank at the resort bar that may have slightly impaired my balance. Good thing that I did not have to drive. The drinks and the order of poppers (the food, not the drug) made me very mellow.

0: The number of times that I have dunked a basketball on a regulation 10 foot high basket. Besides being handicapped with an inability to jump very high, I also could not palm a basketball. This was a desired athletic fantasy that I was unable to complete.

13: The number of states that I have lived in, drove through or visited. With the exception of Tennessee which I may have been driving through for a half hour on the way to Asheville N.C., all states were on the East coast.

10/0 Ten represents the number of companies and small businesses that I worked for as an employee. Zero represents the number of companies that are still in existence. Now my involvement did not kill off these companies, There were one or two that I tried desperately to save. All died from either obsolescence, poor management or as a victim of a natural business cycle.