Daily Crisis in today’s world

Left phone at home!

Yes, you left your phone plugged into the charger on the counter. On the other hand, your phone is now fully charged.

Great lot of good that does me!! Will call later about when leaving and to arrange pick up but no way to notify if I have any problems.  Not good.

You are going through withdrawal. Your thumbs will twitch and your forehead will break out in sweat as generalized anxiety from the absence of digital stimuli sets in. Use medication and attempt human interaction to fill this acute void.

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In Season

When I updated my climate change website and added pointers on approaches to purchasing food stuffs, one of my “friends” who may not receive another invitation to my table for awhile pointed out that my menu did not practice what I had preached. The first point was to buy in season.  This is November and there are plenty of winter squash recipes but few green vegetable recipes, such as Brussels sprouts. I will forgive but the public fault finding did send back into the kitchen. For the late fall in North America:

Fall Roasted Salad

1 small red onion

1lb Brussel sprouts

3 small beets

3TBS olive oil

Red wine vinegar

½ cup fresh parsley chopped

1tsp kosher salt

Salt/pepper

 

8 hours (or more) before serving: peel onion and slice thin. Shove slices in smallest mason jar possible. Add 1tsp of salt. Add red wine vinegar to top of jar. Seal with lid, shake, and store in refrigerator up to three weeks.

One and 0ne-half hours before serving: Preheat oven to 400o . Wash beets and either put them in pie tin and cover with foil or just wrap them in foil. Cut off stems of the Brussel sprouts and half them vertically. Roll them in 2TBS of olive oil and lay them out on a baking tray. Sprinkle with salt. Small beets cook approximately 45 minutes and medium sized ones about 1 hour. Brussel sprouts cook ½ hour.

Pull out the vegetables after roasting and let them cool a bit. Peel the beets and cut off the tops. Dice the beets and add to bowl. Slide Brussel sprouts into bowl. Add last TBS of olive oil and fresh parsley. Add pickled red onion to desired taste. Adjust seasoning by adding salt and pepper.

Can serve warm or cold, but serve warm anyway.

A Lesson in the Demise of Senator Skelos

Former New York State Senator Dean Skelos is going to jail for steering government contracts to his son as well as constructing quid pro quo arrangements for his son. The man was president of the State Senate and now he is convicted felon. At a newsy level his story is just another corrupt politician in a state with a long history of government corruption; however, the Skelos drama was almost an immitigable tragedy for the environmental health of the state.

One of the contracts Senator Skelos was trying to steer to his son was a consultant’s post for a fracking consortium. The deal was contingent on the state legislature passing a bill allowing fracking and Governor Cuomo signing off on the bill. The bill passed, regulatory agencies waffled, and only at the last minute did the governor refuse fracking in the state.

In one of the depositions, Skelos stated something to the effect that nobody wanted fracking in the state anyway. For a sum of a few hundred thousand dollars, the senator was willing to ruin the groundwater across numerous counties affecting thousands of residents and to accelerate climate change with the release that much more carbon into the atmosphere. The greed is bad enough but there is more to consider.

The consequences of fracking cannot be remediated. There are no courses of action that can purge the contamination of aquifers due to fracking. Further, there is no method to recall and seal away the millions of tons of carbon that are released into the atmosphere by fracking. Fracking is destroying areas of the country for lifetimes to come at the least and accelerating possibly irreversible climate change, which is our worst fear. Skelos was willing to do this for $400,000.

At every stage of this fracking debate in New York State, citizens and environmental organizations fought hard, bring to bear the science, the community concerns, and the moral imperative to keep fracking out of the state. Skelos did not give a scintilla of a thought to the science though he did not dismiss it. Worse, he ignored it. He had no moral compass, meaning that all of those impassioned arguments against fracking were trivialized as well. He heard all of the rancor and discord, dismissing it all in a narrow quest for the money.

Those of us who fight for legislation based on climate science are a serious lot, taking upon ourselves this burden as a life or death issue. It is. Former Senator Skelos and his ilk repudiate our fight as if it is just another political skirmish, another opportunity for scoring political points or securing personal financial gain. Their approach is morally reprehensible. Humanists and God believers alike are repulsed for the same reason of short-sighted moral bankruptcy.

The lesson of Senator Skelos is that we cannot relent on the pressure we bring to bear. Dean Skelos was never going to listen but Governor Cuomo did. In any given legislative or regulatory push, we may never know where our voice of reason and merit will overcome the obstacles. So we push; we push everywhere. To friends and foes alike, let all take note that we will not stop until our planet is pulled back from the brink.

Reasonableness

Reasonably one can argue that the death of old ideas leads to new ones but there is a process akin to mourning when a cherished belief is killed off. Learning new ideas also includes learning how to discard old knowledge that is no longer relevant or just plain wrong; in fact, this sort of learning is a necessary skill set. Knowledge changes and evolves as human beings mature and gain life experience. The ideas of a five-year-old are not relevant to the ideas of an eighteen-year-old, nor should they be. Our decades as adults are also dynamic and ideas will continue to drop and add through the years. Saying goodbye to immature ideas is part of the human process of growth.

Ideas actually have parts to them. They begin with assumptions that are taken as true simply because they exist. From the assumptions come the arguments, the justifications of the idea. The last part is the conclusions, the idea itself that appears solid because the assumptions are true and the arguments are sound. When most people talk about ideas, they take the assumptions and arguments for granted and speak only of the conclusions. However, when the soundness of an idea is in question, it is the assumptions and the arguments that are reviewed.

The idea of God is subject to the same rules of assumptions and arguments. In the Jewish, Christian and Islamic worlds, the arguments for the belief in God have been disproved over and over again. Sometimes the weakness is the argument; however, the fatal flaw in all of the ideas about God is the assumptions. (See the work of Immanuel Kant.)

When the assumption is wrong, everything that follows from it is also wrong. A loss of a belief of this depth requires a fundamental reshaping of how a person approaches and operates in the world. The old responses are now empty and hollow because they no longer make sense. While the philosopher can hide in intellectualism and scientist can stand behind rationalism, most of us adhere to the principle of reasonableness, which includes the non-intellectual components of human thought such as emotions. For reasonable people, losing a cherished idea such as a God who is personal and personally involved, is also painful, something that may require mourning.

Ideas are not purely rational or utterly intellectual, contrary to the rigid strictures of the day. There is an interiority* to our search for ideas that resound. They have to also satisfy some need in our interior life or at least offer balm to the questions of why? and why not? of our deepest thoughts. That an idea would satisfy our cravings for answers about the meaning of life or the meaning of our existence is . . . reasonable.

Reasonable as a criterion is much more personal, more personally painful than purely logical arguments. They are also much more satisfying too.

*Philosophy term indicating inner dialogue and reflective thinking of human beings.

Adelphi invocation

We begin this commemoration with a small admission of truth. Every human being in this amphitheater has known failure, has known defeat and experienced moments of humiliation. The truth is that no one achieves even the slightest measure of success without slogging through the morass of insecurity, uncertainty, panic, and self-doubt. This is how human beings are built; this is how great human beings are built.

The joy of this moment was years in the making. The academic success each of you celebrates is all-the-more sweet when you reflect just how hard you had to strive, how far you had to traverse, how much you had to sacrifice. You are surrounded by family and friends who stood by you, encouraged and helped you, and even got out of your way when you hit your stride.

May the Divine Reality, called upon by many names:

The Great Spirit,

The Father in Heaven,

The Holy One Blessed Be He,

Allah,

Buddha,

The Dao,

One All Pervading Spirit,

and Brahmah,

Lead us from ignorance to Knowledge
and from darkness to light;
Move us from the fear of failure to the celebration of life.
To our Adelphi Graduates from all of the faculty and administration who have gathered here for your commencement:
May the ideals you have come to believe become the truths you live.
May kindness, justice and mercy be your friends.
And with your new knowledge and your new degrees, may you bring blessing to this world.

Amen.

 

My TEDx Talk

“God in the Public Square” has been posted here. This seventeen minute talk examines non-theist God beliefs, a huge part of our culture today that few even acknowledge exists. For non-theists, God is a “What” rather than a “Who”. Non-theists have been central to the conversation in the Public Square since the founding of the United States and are still in the middle of the great debate.

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TEDx Adelphi University | AU PAC | April 5th 2016. Copyright Chris Bergmann Photography

God for the rest of us #2

When I encounter a politician making a statement that includes God, there is a jolt of discomfort. The worst visceral reaction is when the politician declares with all the passion of an entranced believer, “God bless America!” My wincing is not a matter of patriotism or of affirming my citizenship but a matter of God belief. “God bless America” is a statement explicitly announcing to the audience that God is a self-conscious deity who intervenes in human history and takes action for those God favors. The cringe is the experience of absurdity, of a clash between reality as I understand it and a God belief that I do not accept.

If just the absurdity of a God belief I do not hold and reality as I understand it was the only issue, my complaint would be a minor affair. However, when a politician declares “God bless America!”, my denial of that statement leaves me open to a much graver accusation, an indictment that I am a poor citizen, lacking pride and respect for my country. “God bless America” is not just about God, but about me, and you, and you too.

The logic works like this: because I do not believe in the all-conscious God who intervenes (I call this God “The Parent God”), I may not believe in my country either. In reality patriotism and God belief are not connected, one does not inform the other. However, some promote that God and country go hand-in-hand. For the politician seeking a thunderous applause of affirmation, the accusation is subtle and pernicious – clap or you are a bad citizen.

Hence, the finch of absurdity and the desire to avoid all politicians on the campaign trail.

God for the Rest of Us #1

Many of us are seeking a God we can believe in without discarding all of the amazing knowledge that we use in this unprecedented age of human advancement. Evolution is a fact and the Big Bang Theory is a fact. Computers, quantum physics and genocide are all facts of life. With all of this information and the rush of new ideas and concepts that we rely upon daily, what is a God for the rest of us?

#1 God of the Bible

Torah presents God as the Parent God, intervening in history, granting favor to the obedient, and lending a miracle or two to His children, the Israelites. This God has to present principles by which people can live without resorting to violence and mayhem first. This God sets down laws that are derived from the principles. He rewards good behavior and he punishes bad behavior. Like any parent, God of the Torah loses his patience with His children quite a number of times.

In the middle part of the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Hosea presents the image of God as the husband and Israel as His unfaithful, whoring wife. The prophet preaches that the relationship between God and Israel is not father and child but instead, husband and wife. This is not an equal relationship though because women were still property in significant ways and the husband was the final authority. Song of Songs softens the “authority and property” model with the erotic love poetry of two lovers. Rabbi Akiba, in his argument on why Song of Songs should be in the Bible, suggests we read Song of Songs as God the groom and Israel the bride.

The Book of Esther, in which God makes no appearance, presents the greatest challenge to those who want to believe in God. God is not in the story and He is not even in the wings. Through their own courage and tenacity, Esther and Mordechai save themselves. The Silent God, the God who does not answer, will haunt every person who finds themselves in harm’s way throughout the millennia. They will pray for rescue and salvation, and there will be no divine intervention.

The God who answers this dilemma of silence in the Book of Job offers no comfort. “You know not what I do. Even if you did know, you could never understand,” explains God in the whirlwind in a long piece of poetic prose in the last chapters.

The Bible gives us four major images: God the parent, God the husband, God the Silent and God who cannot be known. Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Muslims embrace God the Parent and at times, God the husband. Atheists point to God the Silent and God who cannot be known and respond, “What’s the point then?”

If you are not Orthodox or Atheist, the search for a God for the rest of us must continue to look elsewhere.

12 Books About Spiritual Sustenance

Many webzines put out lists of must-read or you-should-have-read books that will enlighten you, expand you, or help you attain spiritual greatness. These sorts of throwaway articles, which editors often toss off to freelancers, read as if written by excellent MFA graduates who have learned an appreciation for good literature. Good literature is a wonderful, continuing wellspring that illumines our culture except that a good many readers stop tackling the more difficult reads after they leave school. In general we are not reading them.

Moreover, there are excellent books of spiritual sustenance that are non-fiction, even hard science. These texts are not on MFA syllabi because there is only so much one can cover in fifteen weeks a semester for tens of thousands of dollars plus the cost of books. Other voices have added their lists to the conversation as well to fill the gaps. While each discipline offers unique books, the lists are typically skewed to the boundaries of their studies. An enervating list of books that provides spiritual sustenance requires more than a lit. major or a spiritual leader or a doctor of psychology.

What follows is a different sort of list of books. Spiritual sustenance can take all sorts of forms depending on age, education, career, gender, and family life. Beware, lists engender an authoritarian urge to give the reader “the truth” of the matter – these are the ones that matter. Hopefully this collected list does not fall into the trap of giving answers when there are only directions to suggest.

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. One of the rules for writing fiction is “don’t tell me, show me.” Hesse’s novel is an excellent example that walks a reader through the search for a life of the spirit. You do not need to be a Buddhist to appreciate the novel.
Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne. Disney productions of the book need to be dismissed although the great blooper classic title from Disney press, Cooking with Pooh, is worth a mention. Milne’s classic of the imagination of a young boy and his stuffed animals is sublime. There is a reason why parents continue to read the stories to their children over and over.
Ecclesiastes by Kohelet. Yes, a book of the Bible (Old Testament), actually from the back of the Bible. The Bible is three libraries of books and all of the texts are over 2000 years old. Kohelet was included in the canon but a pious editor was so disturbed by the doubt and skepticism woven into the text that he wrote an additional chapter, Chapter 12, to mitigate the potential impiety of the first eleven chapters. Kohelet identifies the absurdities between belief in God and reality as we experience it. Nonetheless, he believes and that is the challenge of the book. Use the JPS or NRSV translations.
How We Die by Sherwin Nuland, a National Book Award winner. The last chapter is worth the cost of the entire book. The surgeon examines the science of how the human body expires with appreciation and fascination for the complexity of the process. The last chapter though. . .
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. He is a survivor of the Holocaust but refuses to be a victim. He dedicated his academic life to teaching students how he reclaimed his sanity and his sanctity for life after he emerged from the death camps.
The Blessing of the Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel. How did we stray from the elements of common sense when it comes to raising children? This book is as much about the art of life as its application with parenting.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. Cursed be those philosophy majors who have to think everything through. The novel is a journey that forces the protagonist to even question what questions he should be answering. The enduring strength of the text is that it teaches how to think about the vexing problems that confound us.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. The children’s book that really is not a children’s book. What is selflessness and selfishness? Is there ever such a thing as giving too much?
Soul Mountain by Gao Xinjian, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. This book is meant to be read slowly as the landscapes are painted in lush, exacting detail. If you find yourself wanting to rush through the text, put it down and come back when the urge has passed.
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. Margaret learns the lessons and humanity of growing up. The text addresses coming to terms with our bodies and our fears.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery. What is truly important in life and why do the answers often bring as much pain as pleasure? Another beautiful novel that shows rather than tells us the insights and lessons.
Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges. A collection of short stories from the one-time librarian of the Argentinian National Library. This is a book for readers by a reader. Boundaries disappear, profundities multiply and slip away. When you look up from the text, you will never look at the world the same way again. The imagery is overwhelming.

Entitlement

The wretched word of the week is ENTITLEMENT. Two gross examples of entitlement on parade this week from a pool of possibilities are the ongoing primary race of Donald Trump and the shooting massacre of eight people, two adults and six children thirteen and under, in Houston. The elements of character that have driven the candidate and the murderer to act are sadly much the same.

The Donald is entertaining is follow, like watching videos of car crashes in Russia where wary people keep dash cams running while driving. This was a man who declared part of his success in the 1990’s was business advice from his father never to sign contracts, letting someone else take the fall. He showed himself rapacious and repugnant, and proud of it. Many new and interesting business ventures later, Donald Trump is purchasing a slot in the Republican primary by running for president on his own dime. He is entitled to do so and only someone with a heavy dose of entitlement would. If he has to spend $50 per actor to fill the lobby when he makes his announcement that he was running, then that is how a businessman should market himself. It worked, did it not? A few thousand dollars got him the first slot at the first primary debate.

His behavior at the debate was outrageous. Among his accusations during and following the broadcast are these three: 1) Fox News is a propaganda machine. 2) The Republican Party apparatus is an elite national political mafia. 3) The other candidates are empty suits pandering to obtuse elements of the reactionary far-right of the political spectrum. He called out everyone involved with these accusations in one form or another. He did so with grand gestures of self-earned indignation and mega-millions infused entitlement.

In the same vein of self-earned indignation but without the money, David Conley took a gun and shot  to death his ex-wife, her new husband, Conley’s son, and his ex-wife’s other five children, filling some of the bodies with multiple gunshots. This woman had embarrassed him by walking away and divorcing him. He was entitled to anything and everything that he wanted. When that woman who he owned by the vow of marriage repudiated his ownership, he killed her and his poisoned progeny who acquiesced to her way of thinking.

Mr. Conley was entitled to do with them as he chose because he owned them. They were his property no matter what the law or another man said. His lack and loss gave him permission to act with the most extreme violence, which he justified as his right and due. He was not a man who acted out impulsively or in the heat of the moment either. This act was the culmination of a steadily stoked, well-tended indignation blown out of all proportion. Keep in mind, Mr. Conley acted with due deliberation.

In literature, the villain is easily identifiable by an overarching trait of entitlement, a form of hubris. The difference between literature and real life is that in literature we find satisfaction when the villain is forced to capitulate and exit stage right. Unlike reality, authors, composers, and playwrights tidy up the ending or at least close it with finality, a fairytale we can all appreciate.

The aftermath of someone acting out their sense of entitlement is messy, inarticulate, and usually not resolved in any satisfying manner. Some people in Houston are going to walk through the excruciating exercise of burying an entire family. The news channels will be filled with bloviating bad hair and overheated repartee. Entitlement is one of the most destructive elements of the human character and as an element, appears to have risen to heightened precedence in American culture of late.

A little humility and self-responsibility would be a nice antidote. However, these sorts of headlines do not appear typically in the newspaper or among the aspiring presidential candidates at the debates. In the end we must re-impose the lesson that a good name can only be earned, it cannot be purchased or taken by force.