Monday, June 30, 2008

#16 In Praise of the Ordinary

To pick up on the earlier "vacation" post, we too often take for granted the joys of the Ordinary. The word has pejorated a bit (as many do) from its initial borrowing, L. ordinarius, " regular, put in order." But it still has even divinical overtones in an ecclesiastical context. And for those Roman Stoics like Marcus Aurelius, there was scarcely a higher virtue than living one's life in an orderly fashion, reflecting the natural/rational order of the cosmos. We see it in the Tao, too. But not wanting to get too deeply philosophical about it, isn't it GREAT to get up to a cup of coffee (or whatever your "fix") EVERY MORNING. There's Ordinary for you.

But it's also representative of what I call the Sublime Mundane--those little trivial events in life, whether planned or not, that take on a kind of transcendence. E.g. the mail arriving on time, the spare roll of toilet paper, the right amount of change not to break a twenty, the reliable smile of a co-worker. You can easily come up with some more. Well, we cherish them, whether we know it or not. Consider the alternatives, like living in Baghdad or Mogadishu--they would KILL to be Ordinary...and they do. Or to be jobless, or homeless, or, indeed, lifeless.

But seriously folks, let comedy have a chance: Mary Richards (MTM) was complaining to Ted Baxter (the late, great Ted Knight), in one of my favorite episodes, about HER all-too Ordinary existence, and its depressing effects of late. She says something like, Ted, it just seems to be the same thing day in and day out, over and over.... Ted interrupts and seems to agree by going through a typical day. Yeah, I know, Mary. You get up, have a cup of coffee, go to work, see the same familiar people, do your job, go back home, get in bed, go to sleep, and then do it all again the next day. (Or words to that effect) But then in a conflation of canny script-writing and tour-de-force acting, Ted repeats exactly the same word and phrase, but with a POSITIVE tonal emphasis, infusing the hum-drum with wonder and excitement-- you get UP! have a cup of COFFEE!...WORK!... FAMILIAR PEOPLE!...BED!...SLEEP!...DO IT ALL AGAIN! Does this cheer Mary up? You bet. It's all in the "spin." She feels almost PRIVILEGED now to settle into her everyday routine. Surely some variety (and vacation) is the spice of life, but it needs to set off a well-prepared main dish. The Ordinary. Tasty.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

#15 Sunday Sundries

Worst of the Week
  • The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club Championships (True title. Wimbledon is just a pretty little rich suburb that I used to pass by on British Rail, first stop going west from London. The tournament is simply held there. But we don't call the US Open "the Flushing Meadows Championship," now do we? OK, it's a handy toponymic. End of peeve)--the UPSETS! The beauty (male-superficiality alert) is gone. Sharapova and Ivanovich suffered early burial under fabled turf. Upsets happen, but to two of the best-looking blondes and brunettes ever to grace the courts? And both about equally favored to win? What a synaesthetic treat such a final would have been.
  • Supreme Court's decision (5-4) against restrictive gun laws. They can't be restrictive ENOUGH--short of banning minimal ownership to certifiably law-abiding and certifiably non-mental-case citizens. I'm a Libertarian. And a pretty strict-constructionist where the Constitution is concerned (especially the non-establishment of religion clause). But, really, there are just too many handguns and assault rifles floating around out there for a healthy society. And highly restrictive LICENSED ownership of certain private property (motor vehicles come first to mind) has plenty of legal and constitutional precedent. I owned guns once. Pawned 'em.
Best of the Week
  • Wimbledon--the UPSETS! Aside from the Slav-sisters above, they were great fun. Roddick and Blake out: always unpleasant to watch. Boring. No style or grace. Roddick= only the big serve. Blake= sullen, surly, and plodding. Djokovich out: a brat in the McEnroe mold. Also, his ouster assures a Federer/Nadal rematch. With the former a bit down, and the latter at the height of his game, it should be one of the most competitive and entertaining matches since the Borg/McEnroe years. And there are still a lot of pretty Russians left (and I don't mean Marat Safin).
  • The beach getaway.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

#14 Vacation-Shmacation

Just returned from a couple of days at the beach. Had an unqualified great time. Couldn't wait to get back home the minute I got there. How do we account for--be honest; you've had them--these seemingly contradictory yet equally satisfying emotions? It's a strange kind of love-love ambivalence. Even when you're thinking of EXTENDING YOUR STAY a little longer, you're thinking of how nice homecoming will be. Here's one answer: GUILT, or at least the expiation thereof. You never really wanted to leave your cozy confines in the first place, but there is a kind of socially- induced pressure to WANT to "take a little time off," shake off the quotidian, get free of the hum-drum work-a-day, home-a-day world of the ordinary, in order to be perceived as a good and normal person. You'd have to be a little bit off-center not to want to "get away" for at least a liittle while from all that stuff.

But wait--I LOVE all that stuff! That's where the good living is, in the Sublime Mundane. (More about that and Ted Baxter in a later post.) Not to mention the violent inconveniences inherent (fill in the blanks) in the vacation adventure--nonetheless you feel good after fulfilling your obligation, and can now go home. Here's a little real-life manifestation in actual dialogue of this syndrome, involving my Significant Other: Me--"Well, you DID get a bit sun-burned, in spite of the Panama Jack." She--"Yeah, that's the point. I wanted them to SEE that I'd been here." Q.E.D.

But let me go off tangentially here: Why couldn't the techno-inventor boys come up with the concept of "skim-boarding" when I was kid-enough to enjoy it? All it involves is a 2-foot-flat- wooden oblong and a less-than-a-hundred-pound person. And what homemade fun it is! I asked the kid, "Kid, whaddya call that (hand-body gestures)"? "Skim-boarding--and you can get one at Wings for 15 dollars." "Son, you're a sports hero in the making." Here's how the little 10-year-old virtuoso did his thing: he waits gull-eyed for for just the right wave to come up and STOP, just before it ebbs down the shingle (this is, of course, the perfect opposite of surf-boarding). Then he throws the board down and outward onto the 2-3 inch deep receding surf, catches up to the board (a-skimming already), jumps on, and glides laterally down the beach 30 to 50 feet ending in a glorious sand-scrunching dismount (for a variation, his sister would glide perpendicularly TOWARD the NEXT wave, affording her a little slalom-jump effect when she got to it). Now, I could have USED that thing on the shores of Lake Michigan, a bike-ride from where I grew up (after transplantation from the South)--the wave-action being just right for this sort of kiddie-thrill-sport. Alas, too late. Another youthful opportunity missed. But not the only one.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

#13 Bill Gates as God

"Constantly think of the Universe as one living creature, embracing one being and one soul [logos]; how all is absorbed into one consciousness of this living creature; how it compasses all things with a single purpose, and how all things work together [ethos] to cause all things to come to pass, and their wonderful web and texture"--Marcus Aurelius, Meditations IV 40, c. 170C.E.

Though Stoicism is often mistakenly thought to be a pessimistic world-view, its most famous adherent was decidedly not. Foremost--and you can hear it in his last words--he found the world profoundly INTERESTING. Do I harp too much on this? (Of course for the Stoic if you found the world of not much interest anymore, then simply... check out. Cf. Zsa Zsa ex-husband and actor George Sanders' suicide note: "I'm bored.") Despite all his problems--see Gladiator movie for quick reference--Marcus literally soldiered on, writing this optimistic stuff in his tent under siege or besieging. No personal god for him, however: his "religion" was pure materialistic pantheism--long before Spinoza, Einstein, or the Gaia movement. (I taught, by the the way, a non-credit course in Spinoza for the hippy-dippy Free University of Nashville [F.U.N.!] while at Vandy in the late '60's--a true sign of the times.) I see Marcus's world-soul as what some have called the "oosphere" (umlaut oh-oh), that thought-layer of ideas circling the globe about cranium-height, metaphorically, best actualized/instrumentalized/tapped-into it seems to me via today's INTERNET. I'll just take Marcus's words as amazingly prophetic, thank you, his "wonderful WEB and texture...." I'm a cockeyed Darwinian optimist, anyway; we'll all be linked together very soon, if only for the sake of survival.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

#12 Web/Blog Sites To Know and Love

But first of all, myriad readers, let me recommend the newly upgraded Mozilla Firefox 3.0 (it's opensource/free) as your browser. Better, faster, more secure than MSExplorer. Bookmark toolbar, tab browsing and other very cool features have got the latter beat. I've used FF now for several years after MSExp tended moreover to CRASH whenever it wanted. Give it a try.
Here are some sites that I go to regularly(you can google these to get the right dot-thing): Drudge, Huff, Slate, Salon, TabloidColumn, Politico, Alternet, LiveScience, DailyKos, CrooksAndLiars, Reason, Edge, Fark, Onion, RottenTomatoes, Cracked, AskMen, BoingBoing, MentalFloss, Seed, BadIdea, CafePhilos,BadAstronomy, and LifeHacker (for true geekdom). Give any one of them a try. These are the most interesting on the Web, and represent the definitive psychological profile of a crazed blogman.

Monday, June 23, 2008

#11 Sunday Sundries*

Worst of the Week: George Carlin dies at 71. Watched him and laughed since his Ed Sullivan days as the Hippy-Dippy Weatherman and faux newscaster: "Mathematicians have just discovered a new number between 4 and 5; it will be called bleen." In later, edgier, stand-up form he hosted the very first SatNiteLive in 1975, a program shared by soon-to-be legendary Andy Kaufman miming to Mighty Mouse's "HERE I come to save the DAY." (Past-bedtime eldest son and I took a chance on this first show, in what easily became a family tradition.)

Carlin, based on his last HBO gig, was only getting better, edgier, and darkerer in his dotage. A great loss in that respect. By contrast, Kaufman left us his early-death legacy (sangfroid alert) at just about the right time. Unlike Carlin's more subversive-funny assault on conventional sensibilities, Kaufman's was simply and insanely EXPLOSIVE--just had to burn itself out, as it did latterly in the Latke character in Taxi and the "wrestlemania" thing mania. Good news, though: Carlin can be retrieved almost anytime, and the late-night week-end resource for a little happy laughter that he kicked off is still alive after 30plus years!

Best of the Week
: the Obama Bump and six brand-new pairs of premium Gold Toe socks.
(*A day late? Hey, I don't know how YOU interpret the masthead of this daily rag, but it means simply that I produce copy during daylight hours only. Which reminds me of another "edgy" comic, Steven Wright, who drove into a 24-hour convenience store and found it closed: "So the owner pulls up. I ask him, 'The sign says, OPEN 24 HOURS.' He says, 'But not in a ROW'!"

Saturday, June 21, 2008

#10 Daily Mosteller "BUMP" for Obama

It's now become clear that great unsung and untold numbers of people are reading the Daily Mosteller. Only a day or two after its bold endorsement of Barrack Obama, the polls shot up wildly in his favor. In May, Newsweek had Obama and McCain locked in a tie at 46%. Today, the magazine's latest poll has it at 51%-31%, and on the rise. Coincidence? I think not. This turn of events is all the more surprising in that the only reason I endorsed the Democratic candidate in the first place is that he bears a vague multi-racial resemblance to my fourth son. Coincidence...?

Friday, June 20, 2008

#9 A step on the five-fold path

"When you cultivate to the utmost the principles of your NATURE and exercise them on the principle of RECIPROCITY, you are not far from the path. What you do not like done unto yourself, do not do to others"--Kung Fu Tzu, Golden Mean 500 B.C. In this version of the "golden rule"--all civilized societies eventually came up with it-- Confucius adds the qualifier "liking" (which I like) to the usual do-unto-others paradigm. Very civilized, indeed. Morality EVOLVES! More on this and Umberto Eco in a later post.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

#8 Secret of Optimism

Maybe one of 'em, anyway. Two-and-a-half words: "That's interesting." If you don't find yourself saying/thinking that TO yourself every day or two, your gray matter is in danger of terminal decrepitation and brain-eating zombies. Alternative phraseology: Well whuduya know; I should know THAT--all connote much the same. Intellectual surprise. Mental epiphany. I hit upon the "That's-interesting" idea a couple of weeks ago and I thought (you guessed it), "That's interesting." Wonderfully self-referential.

It happened when I was pondering why advertising logos were so abstract as to become meaningless, while actually looking at one--I think the Nike "swoosh"--WHEN ALL OF A SUDDEN a Saturn automobile ad came on. I had noticed one or two of these emblems in person in our parking lot but dismissed it visually as pretty curves and circles but symbolically null. When viewed more consciously on the TV screen, however, there it was: THE PLANET SATURN--jazzed up, elided, and stylized ... but Saturn. And I thought ... you know. Paying closer attention would have given me that little intellectual reward much earlier, of course, and I know you are aware of even better examples of what I'm talking about.

Anyway, a couple of things are going on here: our neurons delight in the mind-JOLT, keeping them healthy and long-lived, but also important is a happy mind-SET--a willingness to be continuously SURPRISED by the world. Its complexity and plenitude. And that's interesting.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

#7 Mad Blogger Endorses Obama

Well, why not.... I've voted in only two national elections. Both were anti-war votes--against the SAME WAR: Vietnam. In 1964 I hated LBJ, for JFK's sake, and I thought as a strict Libertarian (at the time) that Barry Goldwater would get us out of these goofy "foreign entanglements" (Bay of Pigs was a year earlier) plaguing us. For sure McGovern would have ended Vietnam in 1972, before Nixon killed another 20,000+ Americans. (How's that for voting both ends of the political spectrum?!) Both my candidates lost, and I haven't voted for President since.***

We've got another Vietnam to get out of, and with the Democrats in control of Congress, Obama could do it, if he's true to his word. If he can fix health care too, I'm fine with that. But get us the hell out of the bloody, benighted, putrefied, tribal, god-besotted, frozen-in-1400A.D Arab Middle East, which is not worth one more soldier dying for, a fortiori the 5000+ who already have.

(***In one to vote for. The Chicago convention ruined Humphrey, already sullied by five years of Johnson, and Nixon appeared to me to be the sociopathic bottom-feeder he became. So I stayed home election day '68, and sadly watched Al Gore Sr. come a cropper in Tennessee, too.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

#6 Gore endorses Obama

Lets all vote for Al Gore again! Or at least his stand-in. Common knowledge that he was robbed in 2000 by a well-meaning (at that time) Ralph Nader and a neo-con scheming Antonin Scalia. Strangely reminiscent of events in Tennessee in 1968, where his father Senator Albert Gore Sr, one of the ablest, most progressive statesman ever to sit in Congress--he was one of the brave few against the Vietnam war--was swept aside by Nixon's coattails and the "southern stategy" (read: racist). And we all know Nixon's legacy. Call him Bush Sr.

Gore Jr. may not have solved all of the problems he purported to in a spot-on satirical SatNiteLive sketch he did AS IF President over these not-so-funny Bush years, but hey, fill in the blanks. And it does get kinda personal: we worked (fitfully, I have to say) for Gore Sr. in 1968 when I was grad-schooling at Vanderbilt* (both Gores' law school)--only blue bumper sticker in our trailer park. Feared vandalism. To no avail: the Nixon southern mudslide elevated right-wing-nut idiot Bill Brock (of the candy fortune) to the senate seat. His legacy, like Bush's, shameful. Dustbin of history.

Eventually, Gore Jr. in a fine irony took his father's seat back. And we know the rest. (*A further coincidence: not only are we fellow Vandy grad-school alumni, but I was in the Harvard dorms for 10 weeks for a post-doc NEH seminar--dorms since made famous by roommates Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones. Ergo: I have to cast my vote for Obama!)

Monday, June 16, 2008

#5 Fathers and Sons and Fathers

Post: post-fathers-day notes to mourn the passing of Tim Russert, father and son (and connected thematically in broad terms to next-to-last post--written before learning of event). A son losing father; father losing son. Death in sort of the middle of things? Not to mention the irony of the "holiday" weekend, the whole thing seems positively...unnatural. At least in this day and age. (For Luke, the son, though, his father died a bit too soon, about the same age as my father.) We're inured to the necrology of fathers and mothers (less so the latter), but not sons and daughters. Used to be the other way around, of course, in the days not too long ago of rampant infant/child mortality. We take for granted our kid's longevity, unless cut short by usually rare illness or accident (as happened to a child of a dear friend of mine). But these things always happen to somebody else's kid, don't they, or in a third-world country or unjust war. To be preachy, this all testifies to the eternal importance of Lady Siduri's admonition to "cherish the little child that holds your hand."

Apparently "Big Russ" did, and it was mutual. They collaborated on a best-selling eponymous book about their relationship. Sad to outlive the son, but Big is 83 and has had many years of cherishing behind him. I mourn because of MY relationship with Meet the Press, and because I had to learn to like the Russert era. I started watching from founder Lawrence Spivak times up through the likable Garrick Utley, Russert's predecessor. Unconventional looks--bubble/bobble head, ictus grin--funny voice and body language, nonetheless T.R. proved to be the best of them. Behind his Iago smile were sharp teeth (and mind) that could shred smug and pompous notables with e.g. "Senator, you are aware that last April you said..." He has set the standard. Along with Luke and Big Russ, I'll miss him.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

#4 Happiness and the "Five-Fold Path"

"Since all knowledge and moral choice grasps at Good of some kind or another, what is the highest of all the goods which are the objects of action? So far as the name goes, there is pretty general agreement: Happiness [Gk. eudaemia]"--Aristotle, Ethics Book I. c. 300B.C.
"How do we achieve Aristotle's eudaemia (literally "good-spirit") or Happiness on this planet? Dedication to Life, Love, Freedom, Truth, and Justice."--Dr. J.D. 2008. Actually, Siduri the wine-maker defined these grandiose terms pretty concretely in the last post, and I will do so later at length, but I hope that this blog will travel that "five-fold path" through all of its postings. It's good to get some general principles out of the way early on.

Friday, June 13, 2008

#3 Beyond Carpe Diem

I'll get to the purposes of this preposterous blogundertaking in a future "daily," but to descant a bit on Mistress Siduri's carpe diem exhortation to REJOICE!...even amidst perplexity/adversity: better advice never earlier or better spoken. Later versions--Homer, The Preacher (who in Ecclesiastes like other exilic Hebrew authors borrowed heavily from Mesopotamian forebears--cf. Utnapishtim/Noah flood story verbatim), Kung Fu Tzu, Cicero, Marvell, et. al.--all footnotes.

She means literally a RE-joy-ing of oneself: revisiting/reviving our deciduous happiness in those important things that the gods haven't reserved for themselves (Ha). And especially in a nod to Fathers Day, how about renewing the joy in "the little child [young or old] who holds your hand [near or far]." Delight in your progeny, even in their separation from you for that is a form of successful parenting too (hold dear their distinct lives as they do), and be glad that those who are alive have been born, and are not...un-alive. A simple wonderment. No matter if the kid is thriving or striving, snuggling or struggling with the world--that's life. Pain, after all, is an infallible sign of it. Ah, Gilgamesh, we are all heroes in our own little epic poem. What fun!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

#2 In Vino Veritas

Gilgamesh, where are you hurrying to? You will never find that life [eternal] for which you are looking. When the gods created man they allotted him death, but life they retained in their own keeping . As for you, Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things ; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let you clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man.

--Siduri, wise wine-maker maiden and a Mosteller in her work (O.H.G. moest-teller=fermented-grape-juice manufacturer) and character. Epic of Gilgamesh, c. 2500B.C.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

#1 De Juventute et de Senectute

"The problem is not YOU getting OLD, but OLD getting YOU"--Dr. J.D. Jun 2008