No Regrets


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What do I really enjoy doing? Writing and Acting. Why don’t I do more of it? Because it’s hard and nobody’s paying me to do it.

How much time do I have left in this lifetime? Dunno, maybe fifteen or twenty years. Why don’t I spend that time writing and acting? Because it’s hard and nobody’s paying me to do it.

How absurd. People who work in hospice say that just before death, almost everyone tells whoever is within earshot (and it may just be a whisper) that they wish they had done what they really wanted to do with their life rather than what other people expected them to do. It’s a continual lament by concert pianists who ended up working in offices, oil painters who worked in department stores, poets who taught school.

I guess if ever there was a time to do the things I really want to do, it’s today.

“Waking up to who you are involves letting go of who you imagine yourself to be.” – Alan Watts

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Vegetarian Rip Off


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The street outside is swarming with people, locals, backpackers, privileged youth who are drifting around the world on their parents’ dime, and none of them realize at this moment that I’m the most important person out here. Sure, they think they are, but that’s merely delusion. It’s me.

This is Khao San road, the Haight Street of Southeast Asia. I thought I had seen a dense population of massage and tattoo parlors in other cities, but nothing comes close to this. Within a kilometer of my hotel there may be two hundred of each. They’re open twelve to fourteen hours a day. Probably two thousand people, mostly women, make their living here in this way.

I stopped into the first vegetarian restaurant I found as I left the small alley that connects my hotel to the main street. We have plenty of vegetarian restaurants in my home city of Chiang Mai, and they’re always very inexpensive. I didn’t even bother to look at the prices when I sat down and ordered.

Fortunately, I had enough cash in my wallet to cover a Thai iced tea and a quesadilla. Almost nine dollars. This is about nine times more expensive than it would have been in Chiang Mai. Looking around the room at the other diners, mostly European young people, I could tell I was the only one who noticed.

Everything in Bangkok is a little bit more expensive than in other cities, but this won the extortion prize.

Inconvenient Truth Meets Manufactured Consent.


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Nobody wants to hear about who killed Kennedy or who did 9/11. Not current, not sexy. Tin foil hat stuff.

Surely no one believes the official narrative, right? I know I don’t. Even so, nobody wants to hear about it anymore.

My attempts to encourage debate on social media end up getting nowhere. No new evidence means no debate, simply people in entrenched positions calling each other names.

The only points I can score with anyone who disagrees with me are that the Invasion of Iraq was contrived and misguided. People will grant you that. Beyond that point, all debate ends because there isn’t a common ground of agreement from which to proceed. It would be like trying to get an atheist to debate the proposition, “are we saved by grace or works?”

It seems that we aren’t simply bored by the questions but afraid of what the answers might obligate us to do. We might have to change everything. We might have to hold trials of rich and powerful people who are still alive and active. These might make waiting for Trump’s impeachment seem quick and easy in comparison.

Mark Twain said “it’s easier to fool people than to convince them they’ve been fooled.” He lost a fortune investing in a complicated pants-pressing machine, and had money problems until the day he died. A lot of his public speaking tours late in life were by necessity rather than choice. So he knew what he was talking about.

How does a nation come to grips with its past? Stalin is still popular with some elderly Russians, members of cult religions that are convinced the world is ending keep their faith even after the fateful day passes. Women stand by men who beat them and molest their children. It’s hard to admit you made a wrong turn a long while ago and you’re simply going to have to retrace your steps and start over.

But what’s the alternative? To live a lie is to court perpetual disquiet. It gets worse over time, never better.

Nations and people need to have a certain degree of integrity in order to avoid cruelty. Deception leads to violence because the lie must be defended at all costs. If our country is allowed to keep its secret lies, then for decades, maybe centuries, it will have to defend those lies. It will become neurotic, then psychotic, and not know why.

We are the stewards of our democracy. There’s nobody else who can take the job. We the people. If we’re afraid to face the truth, then we will be complicit in our descent into the hell that awaits those who are afraid to get and stay real. We will act out in all sorts of ways, none of which will seem to be connected to our self-deception.

Keep Your Head Down


Endure and thrive

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What will the future hold for most of us? Decline, usually slow but sometimes rapid. Anger, blame, disillusionment. At least that’s the way it feels for most Americans and Brits. But does everybody feel this way? Do people in the third world feel as gloomy about their prospects as do we Facebook-addicted first-worlders?

If you don’t have much to begin with, you don’t have much to lose. If you’ve never enjoyed even the semblance of benign governance, then anything that doesn’t involve outright extortion and oppression feels like business as usual.

Banana republics and tinpot dictatorships keep most of their citizens dirt poor and allow a very few to get away with fiscal murder. Since there was never any semblance of a level playing field, the poor and uneducated don’t assume there’s a chance they can improve their lot. Hard work will simply exhaust you. If you do manage to…

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Save Your Nostalgia


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There’s a Facebook meme out there about Walter Cronkite, reminding people that there used to be programs on TV where a grandfatherly character (white, non-Jewish) read news you could believe in. This is nostalgia for a time when roles were clearly defined. Yes, Walter was a professional journalist. He was paid a salary to do his job. He had a support staff.

Today we get the news from each other. It’s a vast rumor mill that shares and likes memes, photos, and fragments of text. There are a very few “content providers” who actually write their own material. Most of us simply share, copy and paste. Some link to legitimate news sources, but most of us would rather argue with each other than cough up a subscription to the Times.

Remember, the same people who gave us the Vietnam war and the Invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan were complicit with the networks. I never saw Walter Cronkite interview Noam Chomsky. It was a square world back then, and we brought democracy to the rest of the world one bomb and a time. We dropped so many bombs on Laos over ten years that it surpassed the total explosives used in World War II. It averaged out to one B-52 planeload of bombs every 8 minutes. I don’t remember CBS news reporting that when it was happening.

Today, even though I live on the other side of the globe, I subscribe to the New Yorker. They send me my magazines, albeit a week or two late. It’s a lot smaller than I remember it, as it’s continually shrunk over the fifty years I’ve subscribed. Now I have to use reading glasses and sometimes a magnifying glass to read the small type font. I have to use a bright reading lamp. Still, it takes me four hours to read an entire magazine. There’s real substance there. And no, it doesn’t make me want to return to the States.

RULES FOR THIS GROUP


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ABILITIES YOU MUST HAVE IN ORDER TO JOIN THIS GROUP

You must be able to swim ten meters underwater on one breath.

You must be able to derive square roots without the aid of a calculator.

You must know which of these three words is not a word: irregardless, irrespective, immaterial.

Explain in fewer than 100 words why most harmonicas are sold in the key of C but most blues songs are written in B flat or E.

You must be able to whistle.

You must be able to recall the seven cardinal virtues and the six deadly sins.

You must be able to find on the map Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

You must not be Vitamin B deficient.

You must be able to discern the difference between the Elmore James songs “Look on Yonder Wall” and “The Sky is Crying”

You must be immunized against Mad Cow disease and Epstein-Barre syndrome.

You must speak at least three languages besides your native tongue.

You must have spent at least a week in Albania.

You must believe that Artie Shaw’s band was at least the equal of Benny Goodman’s.

You must certify that the concept of spending your retirement years “kicking back in some beach community” sounds stultifying.

You must attest that you lost “that Christmas spirit” years ago and find most holiday promotions tiresome at best.

You must wake up in the middle of the night at least twice a month convinced that your body is riddled with cancer and it’s too late to do anything about it.

You must miss the character actors one used to frequently see in movies and on television fifty years ago more than the “stars” who got top billing and most of the attention.

You must admit to yourself and to others that you find the act of yodeling unmusical and watching old men in lederhosen perform it, distasteful.

You must refuse to accept the notion that all religions have some value, and are at least partially good.

You must get down on your knees and beg God for mercy.

You must admit the fact that you are hopelessly addicted to social media, and that its impact on your life has been almost wholly negative, except for providing a way to stay in touch with old friends, but the more you see or hear about them the more you realize there’s a reason you lost touch with them in the first place, and the only reason you log on so frequently is because you have absolutely nothing else going on in your life to fill the seemingly bottomless void that social media attempts to address.

ACTIONS YOU MUST TAKE IN ORDER TO LEAVE THIS GROUP

You must obtain written permission to do so from a group administrator. If you don’t know one, you must ask around.

If you can’t contact a group administrator, you must petition the National Security Agency for a Release From Page Membership (form 1099A-EX) or hire counsel to do the same.

If you are under the age of sixteen, or over the age of sixty-five, you must also ask that prayers be said for you at the Vatican, preferably on Holy Tuesday, a slow day during Holy Week, which as everyone knows, culminates with Easter Sunday.

If you are Vitamin B deficient, or suffer from restless leg syndrome or a transient certainty that nothing matters anymore, then there is no point in trying to leave this group, for we shall never let you go!

If your name is, or used to be, “Barnabas” then you have already automatically been kicked out of this group.

If you have ever attended a Bing Crosby Road Movie Film Festival and found Dorothy Lamour to be more interesting than either Bing or Bob, then write that in block lettering on a four by six inch card and mail it first class to PO Box 35446, Radio City Music Hall, New York, New York 10045. Allow six to eight weeks for processing, and your name will be expunged from this group.

Euphoric Recall


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Euphoric Recall is the nostalgic version of Wishful Thinking. Only remembering the good parts is an understandable survival mechanism, but it doesn’t lend itself well to realistic decision making. It does a better job setting goals, but tends to minimize the difficulty in reaching them. It’s a great way to motivate a crowd, but a bad way to get through hard times, because the person who was once so enraptured now tends to fall prey to disillusion.

Who wants to grovel in world full of tedious reality checks when one could skip among the clouds? When Coleridge was having his opium dream about Kubla Kahn it took someone knocking on the door in order to convey a mundane message to spoil the whole fantastic vision. I’d rather be damned for being an enthusiast than praised for being a pragmatist.

The first explorers took to the seas with a minimum of technological support and a lot of wishful thinking. It’s hard to navigate when your map contains fanciful drawings of imaginary beasts and the text “here lie monsters.” They left port anyway, and even though half the crew often perished before the ship found its way home, everybody was in high spirits on the day they took off for parts unknown.

We are all doing this every day we’re alive, but we don’t realize it or admit it to ourselves, because it would be too upsetting.

I’m living in Thailand, a country with the highest motorcycle road fatality rate in the world, and yet the only vehicles I own are motorcycles. I like to think I’m well aware of the risk I take every time I leave home, but I’m not really, for habituation makes me drift into denial. “Sure, maybe it will happen someday, but not today,” I tell myself, or better yet, I simply don’t think about the possibility of dying at all.

I’m like Captain Cook heading toward Tahiti with a crew of drunks and enough provisions to last a few weeks.

In fact, no matter how much insurance we think we have to guide our actions, we’re all just flying blind. As Helen Keller said “The reason no one experiences security is because it doesn’t exist. Life is either an exciting adventure or it is nothing.” If a woman born deaf, dumb and blind can say that, I suppose I can, too.