Posts Tagged ‘love’

A lot of folks tell me about how important it is to keep a “gratitude journal”. I used to do that but I haven’t for a long, long time. With everything so strange because of COVID and the recent election insanity it’s easy to think that the world sucks. So this Thanksgiving I thought I’d share how easy it is to find gratitude if you just look around.

I can be jealous of people who have more money, bigger houses, cooler cars, etc. I can think I’m not as lucky or not as talented as some. But the fact it, like all of you, I’m blessed. You just need to look around.

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement”¬†

– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

For example, here are a few things I’m grateful for…

  • Patt. My wife and life partner of 31 years who was in my Christmas stocking on Christmas Eve 32 years ago and who put’s up with all my unique traits ūüôā
  • A brother and sister who still love each other even after 50+ years.
  • My friends from Cafe Marzocca who have made a year of COVID-19 bearable even while standing outside in the rain 6 feet apart and wearing masks. And, who, by the way, share with us cookies and scones from their kids, home made masks, invitations to their fundraisers, lively political discussions, and especially the kindness of lending an ear when I talk too much about myself and my little problems.
  • Eric, the best barista in the world.
  • Johnnie Walker Blue Label – and the fantastic attorney who so graciously gave it to me for my 60th birthday.
  • A Torah Study Group that shows up for class even when thy know I’m teaching instead of clergy.
  • Rabbis that honor me by asking me to lead Torah Study in their absence.
  • My old friends from CalArts who keep me in touch with a past so different from today and so important in my life.
  • SMPTE leadership who gave me the huge honor of asking me to edit 2 issues of the Motion Imaging Journal this year, got me a byline in TVB Europe, and asked me to host a session at the 2020 conference.
  • The old leadership at BlueVolt who gave me a chance to work with them when I needed it.
  • The new leadership at BlueVolt who gave me the chance to continue on and to learn so many new things.
  • My Weight Watchers group who supports me even though I’ve been at my goal weight for, like, 2 years.
  • Doctors Kubicky and Jaboin from OHSU who have become trigeminal schwannoma gurus
  • My guru (speaking of Gurus) whose instructions on meditation I rarely pay enough attention to but who I know won’t ever give up on me and my karma.
  • My dear friend Traci, who is my Oregon sister and always will be.
  • My financial planner who keeps telling me that I may someday retire.
  • The tens of millions of people who agreed with me about the need for a fundamental shift toward empathy and compassion and away from vitriol and voted to change our nation’s leadership.
  • The few Republicans, Libertarians, Objectivists, Evangelical Christians, and others who’s views differ from mine who are willing to discuss issues and philosophies without anger, meanness, or insults. I wish there were more of us on both sides. But, I’m deeply grateful for those I can still speak to, rationally.
  • That I was able to turn our dog Zimrah from a PTSD rescue dog who destroys venetian blinds when not on Prozac into the best canine friend I’ve had since Sydney died.
  • That Bluebell has lived for 17 years.
  • The memory of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Lewis, and C.T. Vivian among the many awesome people who left us this year.
  • The memory of my mom, who I miss every day.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Not only do I not despair but I’m a very blessed guy. Here are a few examples of why:

  • Cindy and Tom and Laura and Adam let me be wing-man to the true chick magnet, Cooper.
  • My sister’s daughter Jessica has just moved to Oregon and I now have a next-gen family member to hang with.
  • My cousin Cheryl’s kid Rachel and her wife share their awesome sons with me.
  • My friend Traci has allowed me to be part of her son’s lives ever since I’ve known her and, in the wake of the tragic early passing of her husband has opened their lives to me daily.
  • My niece, Denise, allowed me to help her when she was young until now when she has a clan of her own. From the days when I could buy her her high school class ring through her wedding day, and into married life, she is among the brightest lights ever.
  • In fact, Denise’s brothers and parents have been among the coolest family of all time.
  • As president of my Synagogue I was given the great privilege of being allows to feel as a parent to dozens of kids.

These are just a few wonderful things I think of every day. These are people who open their lives to me and give me the joy of participating with their children. These are some of the reasons that I feel no despair. I feel shared love.

So… wanna hear my philosophy of life as a dude without kids? It’s this:

  1. You don’t always get what you want. You get dealt cards and you play the hand you are dealt with as much joy, skill, and competence as you can.
  2. You get chances every day to make decisions. You can like or dislike them in retrospect but you must take responsibility for them without looking back.
  3. People have intrinsic value. Children are people. Therefore, children have value.
  4. Being the best human you can be has the highest value. Children are in a process of emerging as fully developed humans. Therefore, raising great children has the highest value.
  5. Sometimes the universe intends for you do do something you did not expect. I don’t have kids but, had I, I might¬†not have been their for Denise when she wanted her class ring, I might not have been able to drop everything to help Traci with the boys when she was dealing with a loss, I might not have been able to serve the kids of my synagogue. Etc. Etc. Etc. So, perhaps my path in life was to help other kids. How could that be anything but a blessing!
  6. Live in the moment. Take the kindness and generosity of others and embrace it with love.
  7. Don’t feel bad about one thing when you can feel good about the million others that surround you.
  8. Ignore any religious doctrine that makes you feel lesser for not being “fruitful and multiplying”. It’s silliness and it just screws with your mind. Remember how shallow the gene pool would be if everyone followed the ancients.
  9. If you want kid-joy then take responsibility for finding kids who need the joy you want to share. Help other’s children grow and take ever second you have to do that as a sacred gift.
  10. Live not for what isn’t; just live for what is.

What all of that means to me is this:

Some people don’t want kids. I did. Things are different than I’d planned. That’s no reason to go crazy. It’s totally cool to have periods of melancholy; I am, after all, human. But, there is no value in looking backward when, living in the moment, I can find someone whose children need exactly what I can share at every turn.

So, to sum it all up…

Yup. I sometimes feel sad when I see other people who have the kids and grandchildren I’d once envisioned. But, that is a normal thing and there are millions of moments when things are just fine. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a few down moments compared to millions of up ones. Every day I look forward and, if my path in life is to help other people’s kids then fine by me, the most important thing is to use the blessings that surround you to keep repairing the sorely damaged world.

Whoever’s kids inhabit that world in the future, if I can make it better for them and make a few of them better for it then I’m a happy guy!

 

We’ve established that the word “despair” blows me away and that you don’t need to feel sorry for me. So, why should you give a shit about me and my lack of grandkids, at all?

The first answer is easy:

Love is not binary. Feelings are not binary. Emotions are not binary. In fact, love, feelings, and emotions are not even discreet. These elements of our life are¬†continuous functions. So, just because I’m not suicidal does not mean you shouldn’t care. I want your love and support.

The second answer is more complex:

To me, a part of examining one’s life in an open forum is to help others learn by sharing experiences. I share many things here and on Facebook and Twitter that are really no one’s business but my own. I choose to share my shit, not so you will feel sorry for me, but so that we can learn from each other.

  • I guarantee you hate some of my posts.
  • I guarantee you smile at at least a few.
  • I guarantee you don’t know why the hell I share some things I do.
  • I guarantee I piss you off.
  • I guarantee that, at least on occasion, you think about the value of compassion, the need for personal responsibility, and the value of integrity. Those are the 3 pillars that support me and…
  • I guarantee it helps ME to get shit out of my system and to embrace your feedback.

As Socrates reminds us, “The unexamined life is not worth living“. I embrace that in a public way both for me and for anyone who cares. So, it’s good for us all if you care.

The fact is that caring about other people, while holding myself accountable for my own actions, is the foundation of my life.

I used to think I was an Objectivist. Then I found how much joy I got from helping other people succeed. I gave up the Objectivist path because if lacked a notion of benevolence. Then my friend Nathaniel Branden (of blessed memory) started speaking of benevolence at Objectivism conferences. I’ll still never be an Objectivist because it conflicts with some of my Reform Jewish values. But, from it, I learned to take responsibility for myself and to recognize that making one’s self the best one can be DOES help others succeed! it does so because one may stand as a role model and because there is nothing wrong with bringing others along for the ride. So, when I paired that with my Jewish notion of benevolence I came up with a value system that works for me.

That is why you should care about me and my desire for children. Because my hope is that taking you along for the ride will make us all better people. Helping all of us to become better people is why I see those of you who share your children with me as an extraordinary blessing. It provides both the giver and the receiver the opportunity to help others through responsible action.

More on that is coming soon…

I read a post on Facebook the other day that I found nearly too poignant to bear. It was the final post before leaving this world, by someone who I do not know.

It is a post by a woman whose way of communicating with her family and friends, before succumbing to a cancer that lay in remission for nearly 2 decades before metastasizing with a vengeance, demonstrates strength, bravery, and a commitment to loved  ones that I deeply admire.

I will not tell you who the writer is. She passed away this week and it is not for me to say whether she would allow it. Her sister, who is a friend of mine, said it was fine to post the message here. So I’ll share it with minor¬†redaction¬†to¬†preserve privacy. I hope, if I am ever in the¬†position of the woman who posted this, that I will handle my last hours with 1/100 of the dignity with which she did.

What follows are not my words. I share them in the hope that you will find their grace inspiring.


“I don‚Äôt know where to start. Normally, these updates would start out with some light humor, as I always try to look on the bright side of a situation. At least, the view from the 14th floor of <…>¬†is fabulous. I get to look out over the city every day, as the fog lifts, and see the breeze swaying through the eucalyptus trees.

As you know, this cancer was under control for so long (18 years), but started to mutate and get out of control in just a matter of a few months. The treatments that I’ve tried since January have all failed. I have decided to go into hospice care now. I’ve received hundreds of well wishes, light, love and energy and that is invaluable to me. I will never be able to thank you all personally, but know that from the bottom of my heart, I do love each and every one of you dearly. There is no predicting when this will happen, and as I require more pain and comfort meds, it will be harder for me to communicate with you all.

The year 2016 has been an utter shit show, and the worst in my memory. Friends’ parents dying, my husband’s father dying, pets dying, violence in the world we know (the violence that is acknowledged and the violence that no one talks about). It saddens me.

I will be sad to miss <…>¬†and bowling (although it is the company more than the activity itself I will miss). I will miss sitting in repose in my beautiful house that <…>¬†and I worked so hard for, or on the back deck taking in the beauty of the backyard, which we transformed into an oasis. I will miss the beautiful evolution that has been happening since <…>¬†and I moved to Vallejo and for which we‚Äôve been a huge part of since moving there.

I feel I have lived my life as fully as possible, with as much joy, and filled with many places visited, and much scenery enjoyed. It is fitting that I am looking out over the city that I love, the city that drew <…>¬†and I to the West Coast.

I am an unabashed feminist, and I must admit that there have been many women in my life who have given me inspiration and courage. I won’t be able to acknowledge them all, but I wanted to give a special acknowledgement to three of them:

<…>

The idea of community has always been an integral part of who I am. Communities that have formed me, as much as I hoped I have had an influence on them:
<…>

I hope that I have been able to support them as much as they have supported me through good times and bad.

If you want to do something nice for me, please honor me by doing something nice for someone else, or a cause that is important to me. Here are two that I have thought a lot about and are causes I care about: Planned Parenthood and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

If I had any final wishes, or thoughts, it would be this. Seeing the sameness in each other. We need to be easier on ourselves and easier on this world we live in. I feel like we are all just atoms, passing through space and time and we are trading them with each other all the time. So when I leave this body behind, we already share these things, so you will never be without me.”


To you guys, who know who you are, and who are experiencing this time of grief: thanks for letting me share these words. Please know that I do so with love for you and gratitude for our continuing friendship.

“Seeing the sameness in each other. We need to be easier on ourselves and easier on this world we live in.”¬†Damn,¬†I wish I’d said that.

Today I have every reason to be thankful for a wide array of wonderful doctors, technologies, friends, and, of course the blessing of being married to Patt Bilow.

If you are¬†one of the regular readers of my blog then you know that I am among the least intellectually consistent people you will find. Although I don’t take the Bible literally, I am very active in my synagogue. Although I tend to be skeptical about most things spiritual, I spent many years as a disciple of Paramshansa Yogananda and the Self Realization Fellowship. Although I am really bad at it, I tend to be as much of a rationalist as my love for Judaism, my love of Kriya Yoga, and my love of all of the amazingly wonderful religious friends that I have in my life allows.

The whole point of writing this blog is that I do struggle with my rationalism in relationship to my interest in, and openness to accepting, other people’s viewpoints. This blog is all about my struggle and my skepticism. It’s intended to allow me to share my wavering thinking with all of you, in the hope that if even one of my posts helps someone else I will have done a good thing. So, once again, as I struggle with rationalism and religiosity, I wanted to talk about Thanksgiving and the ability to build a life of gratitude whether or not one is religious.

This year, I want to do this by sharing my personal set of gratitudes.

One of the most interesting things I’m grateful for is that someone invented a medical technology called MRI. What kind of guy would even think about hitting a human body with a magnetic pulse to get all your atoms to line up and then to image that body by measuring how long it takes them to go back to the way they were! The guy must be a genius. What completely blew me away though was to realize that the genius who invented this technique has almost diametrically opposite beliefs to¬†mine.

You have seen me write here, several times before, that I typically don’t care much for beliefs in creationism or those who deny evolution. What blew me away was to find that Dr. Raymond Damadian the ‚Äúfather of MRI‚ÄĚ converted to Born Again Christianity with Billy Graham in the 1950s. Now, if you think I have conflicting thoughts and feelings and views, this guy makes mine look like nothing.

I really don’t understand how a guy with this level of brilliance could be an advocate for creationism; even having written about it in his book. That said, he is clearly a genius, has done more for the medical profession than almost anyone, and has now done more for me than most other people in the world have done for me because, only through his invention, were they able to find my tumor.

One would expect that I would be a fan of a guy who started his college career as a violinist at Juilliard and ended it as one of the most important inventors of a medical device ever. But you certainly wouldn’t expect me to be that much of a fan of a creationist. So the first thing that I want to say is that I am thankful for this guy, and the second thing I have to say is that my respect for him shows once again that I should not make value judgments about a person because of their religious beliefs. I am thankful that I’ve had another opportunity to come to realize this. Dr. Damadian has given me two new things for my collection of gratitude.

  • One, I am grateful for MRI.
  • Two, I am grateful for yet another lesson in religious tolerance.

I’m also indebted to the guys who invented Stereotactic Radiosurgery. Swedish neurosurgeon Lars Leksell first described it in a seminal paper in 1951. His work led to the Gamma Knife. But Dr. Barcia-Salorio in Madrid is the first guy to use something similar to what I just had done. He used a fixed cobalt device rotating around the patient’s head, not for tumors but for blood system malformations. Then Osvaldo Betti in Buenos Aires developed a machine, where you sit in a rotating chair and a linear accelerator (linac) moves in non-coplanar coronal arcs around the isocenter, which is the math wiz way of saying “the thingy ya wanna hit“. I layed on a flat bed which I think came from Federico Colombo in Vincenza who described a multiple non-coplanar arc concept that moved the linac around a couch in 1984. So, gratitude comes again. This time for:

  • Three, I’m grateful for the noble, honorable, ethical, life-affirming uses of radiation that stand in opposition to all the negative results of nuclear science.

But these folks are all people of the past. The present is full of blessings as well. My Neurosurgeon Dr. Burchiel, my Radiation Oncologist Dr. Kubicky, and their entire staffs are medical blessings of the present. The dosimitrist and medical physicist are mathematical blessings of the present. Even my overly expensive American medical insurance system is a blessing in its own way. These are gratitudes 4, 5, and 6

  • Four: I’m grateful that I live in a city where I can drive for 20 minutes to OHSU, a world-class teaching hospital with great doctors and a budget that allows them to own world-class instruments.
  • Five: I’m grateful that mathematics, medical science, and physics have merged in ways that can save, rather than destroy, lives.
  • Six: I’m grateful that I get to work for a company that gives me acceptable medical coverage, despite the costs.

But, clearly, the present has many more blessings than the doctors and scientists. More important than anything else is the people who I call friends and colleagues who have been so supportive:

  • Seven: I’m grateful for the myriad friends of the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Mormon, Unitarian Universalist, ¬†and other traditions, who offered their prayers for me.
  • Eight: I’m grateful for my Objectivist, athiest, and other non-religious friends who offered such encouragement over the past few months.
  • Nine: I’m grateful to live in a community, here in Portland, that offers me the extraordinary friendships of people like Traci, Cindy and Tom, LeeAnn, Jon and Mair, Julie, Ann and Robin, Peter and Yukiko, Michele and David, Mike, and many, many more.
  • Ten: I’m grateful for WordPress, Facebook, and Twitter which have given me connections to my family, friends, and colleagues near and far; and which have allowed me to reconnect with my past in a profound way.
  • Eleven: I’m grateful for my own psychological makeup which gave me a sense of humor, the strength to be powerfully brave in the face of fear, the willingness to work through my feelings publicly, the ability to remain lighthearted amidst darkness, and the ability to turn everything into humor.
  • Twelve: More than anything, I’m grateful to have Patt Bilow by my side, no matter what.

These twelve gratitudes certainly have a spiritual component. Arguably, they may have a religious one. But, I think it’s fair to say that it is not necessary to have a specific view of God in order to maintain these 12 senses of gratitude. Certainly it does not require one to be Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu, or atheist, or anything else. It doesn’t require one to meditate. It doesn’t require one to pray. It doesn’t require one to forsake anything. It doesn’t require one to embrace anything. At least, in all of those cases, it doesn’t require any particular religion or belief system.

All it really requires is to look around, to seek blessings in everything around you, to embrace yourself for who you are, to refuse to give into negativity  (which I am too oft prone to do), and to appreciate your life for what it is, what you can accomplish, and who is surrounding you to support you along the journey.

So this Thanksgiving I want to once again remind us that it is not necessary to have a specific Godhead in order to feel thanks. If you are religious, that is great. ¬†But please don’t think that your religion, or any religion, or any individual believe system is the only path to grace. You don’t need anything supernatural or mystical to feel a sense of gratefulness and thanksgiving, you need only look around and appreciate.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I’ll make this relatively brief because all I really have to say is that I’m crazy-excited about today’s landmark SCOTUS decision insuring legal gay marriage throughout our land! I am one happy straight guy today. I emphasize that I’m straight because I want to make it clear that I’m not happy because this benefits me personally.

  • I’m happy because this benefits everyone.
  • I’m happy because this applies the 14th amendment to¬†everyone.¬†As¬†JamesObergefell, the lead plaintiff, said this morning:
    • Today’s ruling from the Supreme Court affirms what millions across this country already know to be true in our hearts – our love is equal; that the four words etched onto the front of the Supreme Court – equal justice under law – apply to us, too.”
  • I’m happy because this furthers the cause of applying the concept¬†that “all men are created equal” to an ever-widening notion of “ALL”.
  • I’m happy because this demonstrates that, in a country founded on liberty, LOVE between rational human beings can still trump religious dogma.
  • More than anything, I’m happy because now, throughout the United States, the sanctity of monogamous marital commitment can now be celebrated equally for all who wish to dedicate themselves to loving each other and creating traditional family units.

I’m always surprised when I see the most conservative people arguing against gay marriage. Conservatives, above all, should want two things that legal gay marriage provides:

  1. The need to keep the government out of our personal lives
  2. The want of people – regardless of sexual identity or gender orientation – to have traditional monogamous relationships

THEY should be the ones who WANT gay marriage!

Unfortunately…. the true¬†small-government, traditional family conservatives have been completely overrun by the dogmatic, Bible-thumping, evangelical Conservatives. That piece¬†of the Republican party has every right to their religious beliefs. It’s their desire¬†that Christian religious views should have control over¬†American jurisprudence¬†that’s the problem. This is not even an issue of Conservatism. It’s an issue of religion. And religion must be separate from law in a country that celebrates diversity. That’s the ONLY way to avoid the “tyranny of the majority”.

I am a fan of traditional monogamous families and I’m especially a fan of those families who dedicate themselves to rearing well-adjusted children. To that point, Justice Kennedy nailed it when he wrote:

“Without the recognition, stability and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser,”¬†

I want to give you my answer (as a non-lawyer) to the two things that Republicans say against this decision:

  1. They say that this is a “states rights” issue. -> WRONG. If we left marriage law purely up to the states, there would still be states where whites and blacks could not intermarry. In this particular case, democracy at the state level would, through the “tyranny of the majority” enshrine discrimination.
  2. They say that the court has “redefined an institution that has been in place for millennia” -> TRUE. But that’s NOT a bad thing. Slavery goes back as far as the Romans, the Hebrews, and the ancient Sumarians. It was in place for millennia too. Then, human culture evolved.¬†Change¬†is GOOD when it is in favor of respect, dignity, and cultural evolution!. The same people who (rightly!)¬†call¬†Sharia law medieval say we should not change an institution just because it’s thousands of years old. Not only is that hypocritical, it’s not even intellectually consistent. Institutions must adapt to evolving cultures. That’s my opinion.

So, in summary:¬†Today I’m happy that families, kids, monogamy, and love have trumped dogma!

image1

In a world daily ripped apart by violence, hatred, and pain; a world where religious zealotry and irrational dogma routinely takes precedence over love and respect; a world where individual achievement is routinely sacrificed on the altar of conformity; Newberry and his art shine like a spotlight on the all too often ignored values of individual human existence and the power of striving for personal greatness.

Every day, I live in the presence of an array of pastels, prints, and paintings that help me remember how beautiful and noble it is to strive to be one’s best. These are “Our Newberrys”. These are our inspiration.

I remember how touched Patt and I were when, as a show of compassion and concern following Patt’s breast cancer surgeries, Michael called to tell Patt he was naming one of his female nudes in her honor. That was not about money or publicity or the “trader principle” of his Objectivist ethics. ¬†That was simply an expression of love from one individual human soul to another. We remember that to this very day.

I love the non-representational works, the Judaica, the sculpture, and, really, every piece in my collection. I even love my own glasswork and photographs. But, only Newberry reminds me, every day, that my individual human life has intrinsic value. For that I will always cherish his art and his friendship!

All of the agility photos are the wonderful work of Joe Camp, here in the Portland area. The first Image is a poster I created in memory of Sydney. But, other than that, if it’s agility, it’s Joe Camp not I. Enjoy these memories of my best friend next to Patt.

In Memory of Sydney - Jumping Poster The Girls with Richard Serra Sculpture 025 IMG_0057   Sydney - NADAC - Novice Vet Jumpers - Feb 2010 Syd Agility June 07 008 Sydney Bilow - March 2009 CAT NADAC Trial  Shot By Joe Camp and edited by Steve Bilow

IMG_2861 - Cropped to 4x6

Sydney - NADAC - Novice Chances - Feb08 - 2

SydSnow07-1

I write this Thanksgiving after several very difficult years in the death department. I’ve been reflecting on the unfairness of the universe and the tragedy of early death. Those thoughts give me no comfort so I think it’s also necessary to reflect upon friendship and the gratitude I feel for those friendships. Specifically, I mourn the 2013 loss of my father-in-law,¬†Harrel Crabb;¬†the greatest percussion teacher in the known universe,¬†John Bergamo;¬†my amazing friend and social justice mentor,¬†Emily Gottfried;¬†a man who seems to have been the guy who turned me on to almost everything that has profoundly influenced me, Dick Williams; and a friend who I wish I’d spent more time with over the last quarter century or so, John McClintic. This post is dedicated to these wonderful friends and others whose love and support I have cherished, including:

  • John Bergamo
  • Thelma Crabb
  • Harrel Crabb
  • Bob Crabb
  • Nick England
  • Pablo Esteve
  • Emily Gottfried
  • Andy Hamon
  • Karen Holmes
  • Art Jarvanin
  • John McClintic
  • Bruce McPherran
  • Rusty Mills
  • Lucky Mosko
  • Pandit Taranath Rao
  • Austin Sergeev
  • Dorothy Stone
  • John Waddell
  • Dick Williams
On Loss

When a 42-year-old man has a massive heart attack and leaves behind a beautiful family, a person who does more for her society than most of her friends combined dies in a hospital room, or a guy everyone loves shoots himself (sadly, the above list includes more than one of those), it is not only possible but inevitable to feel a deep sense of loss. I feel that loss every day and it sucks. But, that sense of loss just proves we have empathy and it reminds us of fragility. When I feel loss I recognize this fragility and I’m grateful to be reminded of just how precious it is.

On Memory

The fact that life is fragile makes it all the more important to keep memory alive. You’d think that after over 30 years people would be tired of hearing my stories of drinking beer in Nick England’s office with Morton Feldman and Mel Powell. Maybe they do, but I loved Mel and Morty so, too bad, I’ll keep those memories alive even if you are tired of hearing them. As will I keep alive the memories of Emily Gottfried and the “Save Darfur” rally, Taranath Rao and the Chevas Regal Tabla lessons, Lucky Mosko and the day he told me my flute piece showed the maturity of my music, Dick Williams and his daily happy hour, Pablo Esteve and our annual purchases of Anchor Steam Christmas Beer, and the golf clubs that John McClintic sold me without the 8 iron (because he’d slammed it against a tree) but with the shaft if I wanted it. We owe it to our friends to keep their memory alive. That’s why we Jews always say “May their memory be a blessing“. Remember.

God?

Is it God’s will that at least 3 or 4 of my old friends have shot themselves? Is it God’s will that Pablo had a heart attack? Is it God’s will that Karen Holmes died in a horrific bicycle accident at Cycle Oregon while her husband looked on? I will not argue with anyone’s belief system. If yours differs from mine, frankly, I hope you are right. As for me, all I can say for myself is “bullshit”. ¬†My God neither condones, nor brings about, nor embraces sorrow. Just my opinion.

Does the Universe Give a Shit?

So the real question to me is this: “Why do horrible people often live to ripe old ages while some of the greatest contributors die far too young and violently?”. This may not give as much comfort to people as to say things are “God’s will” and that we don’t understand “the divine plan”, ¬†but when it comes to deaths like these, I don’t think it’s because of a divine plan, I don’t even believe it’s “karma”. I think that we live in a chaotic universe of ever-increasing entropy. Irrespective of religious beliefs, I basically think the universe doesn’t really give a shit. Horrible things happen but they are not necessarily any more explainable than to say that they are random events in a massively entropic universe. That’s it.

On Being Thankful for Friends

When you realize that life is precious and fragile, that “God” is not the cause of bad things, that the universe has no top-secret plan, and that memory is the most important thing after a life has ended, where does that leave you?

In my mind it leaves you with the ability to have any religious belief you want and any eschatological viewpoint that comforts you in thinking about death. But if you put those differing viewpoints aside, it also leaves you with some very clear common ground.

  1. Be thankful for your friends – respect then, cherish them, cultivate them.
  2. Remember that it is impossible to say “I love you” too much – Fragility and entropy combine in such a way that you never know what will happen or what irrevocable decision you might make. It sounds “campy” but I try my best to make saying “I love you” to my wife the last thing I do before walking out the door; any door . Say it to your family and say it to your friends because any nanosecond could be your last opportunity.
  3. Remember the good times and the bad times. Just remember. Don’t let the mirror of memory become clouded. You owe it to yourself and your friends to remember.
  4. Don’t take anyone for granted. You can’t set the clock back. “I was just thinking about him/her!” is not what you want to say when you find you’ve missed your chance.

I fully realize that this is not my record-setting “most upbeat” post. But it’s important to me to remind my friends, and family, and followers, that you don’t get second chances with life. So when you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, remember the great blessing you have in friendship.¬†From my perspective, the thing I’m most thankful for is that true friendship.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am a strong advocate of “States Rights” and a limited federal government that operates according to enumerated constitutional rights. But there is one “States Rights”¬†argument¬†that I believe is being misused for the specific purpose of undermining the separation between church and state. I’d like to tell you why.

The ability for the states to make decisions appropriate to their populations, which may not be universally appropriate to the nation is a foundational concept. The vibrancy of America comes from our many levels of diversity. That diversity is expressed regionally, state-wise, and even locally. It is critical that the electorates at all of those levels have the ability to democratically construct the societies most appropriate to their demographics and cultural desires.

But democracy is dangerous. America is a republic not a democracy for a reason. Pure democracy puts all minorities at a disadvantage. The glory of America is exactly the fact that it oversees local democracy with a (limited) federal structure that insures the fundamental rights to property ownership, contracts and agreements, privacy, and other “nationwide” values are protected and enforced. Left on its own ¬†local, state, and regional “democracy” would insure the loss of human and civil rights. Consider these examples:

1. If you ask the “majority” of Americans whether the US should be a “Christian nation”, MOST would likely say “yes”. This would build¬†discrimination¬†against, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Shinto, Native Americans, ¬†Agnostics, “New Age” believers, Atheists, and many others right into the fabric of our society. American¬†government¬†is built to¬†explicitly¬†prohibit this.

2.¬†If you ask the “majority” of Americans whether the US should be able to take private property, compensate the owner, and use that property for a “higher purpose” that benefits a local economy, they may well agree. That would build very dangerous problems into private property rights.

3. The “majority” of Americans believe that the wealthiest Americans should pay higher taxes because they can “afford” it. Do you know why? Because the majority of Americans are not it that category. Conversely, those with all the money wield enormous power that far offsets the “democracy” of the “little people”. We have to be able to balance democracy and corporate domination and that requires some amount of national oversight.

4. The¬†antebellum south speaks for itself in demonstrating the¬†disastrous¬†consequences of¬†indiscriminate¬†democracy. Slave owners viewed slaves as “assets” and, where they were owned, they could VOTE to keep others captive. Only a national system of civil rights could finally overcome this.

This brings me to the reason that I believe “State’s Rights” is a¬†fallacious political position with respect to California’s proposition 8.

In MOST states with fundamentalist Christian religious majorities, if you ask the “majority” of residents whether their state should allow “Gay Marriage”, they would answer “no”.¬†This would build¬†discrimination¬†against the entire LGBT community right into the fabric of state laws and, as a whole, OUR society. ¬†(This is NOT just a Christian issue; it would be equally true were their US states dominated by Orthodox Jews, conservative Muslims, or other “conservative” religions; only because those groups are minorities does it appear that this is a Christian problem; so, I’m not pointing at Christians, I am pointing and any dogmatic, closed-minded believer).The FEDERALISM that so many of those conservative states claim to so cherish is built to (again) explicitly¬†prohibit this. In other words, where states have to ability to EXCLUDE citizens, the federal¬†government¬†is compelled to oversee the law in such a way as to disallow it. Therefore, the states CAN’T be allowed to VOTE on gay marriage. It is NOT a “states rights” issue. It is PURELY a “human rights” issue and that is not for the states to decide.

That takes care of California. But what about the bigger issue of DOMA?

The “defense of marriage act” (DOMA) is an even more straightforward issue. You can’t construct laws based on religious doctrine. That is why we try to hard to separate church and state. EVERY church – EVERY religious institution – MUST be free to practice their religions without¬†interference¬†from the government. So long as those institutions don’t do anything that is unconstitutional, they can do whatever they want. For better or worse, doing anything else is a very slippery slope. That’s why we are stuck with appalling groups like the Westboro Baptist Church, Neo-Nazi groups, and preachers who want to burn Korans. We can’t stop them from¬†practicing¬†their belief systems. We CANNOT force any religious group to accept gay marriage. But….

…We can also not enact laws whose ONLY foundation is in religious doctrine. There are NO other viable arguments that support DOMA. Therefore it MUST be overturned on constitutional grounds.

Today, as we Jews celebrate the first day of Passover, and we remember the blessings of freedom, I am reminded of the person who taught me to advocate for unequivocally equal human rights. I’m reminded of the Passover Seder I once spent with the Gottfried family. With that image in my mind, in memory of Emily Gottfried, I urge the US Supreme Court to overturn both DOMA and California Prop 8. Love is love and sometimes it seems so rare that we humans need to respect, cherish, and praise it wherever we see it.

Hag Pesach Someach.