30 March 2013

The Monk and The Physicist

This is a parable about a monk and a physicist.
Moai bar stools

If you asked a monk if light was a particle or a wave, he'd say both. A physicist doesn't have the luxury of certainty without some burden of proof.

Part of me wants to be both monk and physicist. Or perhaps someone who writes about their encounter in a bar.
A monk and a physicist walk into a bar. Barkeeper says, "Free drinks if you can tell me if light is a particle or a wave." The monks says, "Both!" The physicist ponders this question for quite some time. Finally he asks, "Whatever happened to the Priest and the Rabbi?"
There are few easy questions and even fewer satisfying answers.

17 March 2013

Social Graces & Other Enigmas

I'm socially inept.

I can write pretty, but you plop me into a crowded room full of interesting people and I seize up like a 72 Gremlin with no synchromesh.

I'm pretty sure I am afflicted with a high, but tragically one-sided Social IQ. I pick up and process ass-loads of incoming data. On the other hand, should I try to contribute my fair share to the conversation, my words either won't be heard or I will sound like an inconsequential nincompoop.
I'm like what your internet experience would be if regulations prohibited your provider from marketing bold-faced lies about download rate.
If you see me paralyzed on a padded footstool at a social gathering, you can bet your over-hopped beer my mental computer is processing petrabytes of visual, auditory, sensory, and olfactory input. I know what you're thinking before you say it. I could probably mime what you're about to say so that you'd feel like your brain was running on a two-second delay.

I know you think that I've gained weight. I know you've speculated that my faux-hipster beard masks a double chin. I know you can't remember just what it is I do for a living. I know you think I'm an armchair liberal who hasn't lifted a finger to help the human condition. And, so on and so forth.

Rest assured if you ever deigned to talk to me...that is, if you surveyed the entire room to find everyone else animated and engaged and then had to settle on the likes of me as the last possible option beyond the dog, I would regale you with incomprehensible sentences on a topic you couldn't give two shits about.

Praise the gods of humility for Pablo Neruda.
"When everything seems to be set to show me off as a man of intelligence, the fool I keep concealed on my person takes over my talk and occupies my mouth."
Pablo Neruda

Mazel Tov, Incense & Burning Sage

Mazel tov!
Years ago I was a guest at a wedding at Temple Israel in Minneapolis. I saw the groom crush a glass with his right foot, and then I heard myself join the other guests shouting "Mazel tov!" It was a moving expression of humanity.

I remember the mysterious sweetness of burning incense from Sunday mornings as a boy attending mass at Our Lady of Peace in New Providence. I recall being mesmerized by the wafts of smoke emanating from a thurible swung around the altar. It was high theater meant to acknowledge the mystery.

In Boulder this past winter I joined the lighting of a bundle of sage as my family members gathered around a backyard fire pit flame that engulfed the boxes that once contained the remains of beloved ancestors. We talked about the Japanese ritual of passing around the disintegrated bones of the deceased with chopsticks. We invented our ceremony. The burning of the bundle of sage was extemporaneous. Our actions were heartfelt and as grounded as a sod house on the prairie. It never struck me that others might find it odd.

Burning sage.
Religiously speaking, I am filled with wonder. I am baffled by the endless mysteries. I revel in considering the questions, but have no answers.

I find dogma in all religions to be toxic. But I understand that religion is born from deep yearning - the same deep yearning I share with the rest of humanity.

I appreciate the beauty of ritual. I acknowledge the capacity of ritual to connect us with our humanness. But I denounce the small-minded tendency to presume my rituals, the ones I practice, are more meaningful, or less absurd, than the next person's rituals.
No more meaningful. No more absurd.
Listening to friends at a social gathering deride the rituals of an unconventional wedding was disappointing. I know little of the rituals of this particular religion, but as they were described, it struck me that what others felt comfortable snickering about, I would have likely experienced as heart-felt, joyful, or profound.

Open-mindedness is a discipline that requires practice. The catty snickering over someone else’s marital rites reminded me that to practice open-mindedness is not unlike the discipline of daily exercise. It reminded me to support people making connections through the sometimes awkward practice of ritual. And it reminded me to approach the rituals enjoyed by others with beginner's mind.

16 March 2013

Enfeebled SS GOP

Bruno Gianelli from
The West Wing
I saw The West Wing episode where it was revealed that the sleazy Democratic political operative Bruno Gianelli had gone over to the dark side. We learn that Bruno is scheming and spinning for the Republican presidential candidate.

Bruno's challenge is considerably tempered by the fact that his candidate is a moderate. Yes, a moderate Republican - the kind of Republican that progressives like me pine for. Yes once upon a time there were electable moderates in the Republican Party.

The moderate Republican in Bruno's case despises the one-issue religious right who have hijacked reason and compromise from conservative discourse and have limited the flexibility of Republican members of Congress to negotiate and cut deals with their Democratic colleagues.

The tone of this year's Conservative Political Action Conference seems to be a re-run of the small-minded, hate-spewing dogma that dominated the Republican side of the 2012 Presidential election. Nothing has changed in dark and empty void that is the Republican brain trust. Both leaders and followers are inexplicably disconnected from reality. Party leaders are compelled to continually pander the basest of their base - The Hate Wing.

Costa Concordia. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
I liken today's Republican Party to a enfeebled luxury cruise liner taking on water. It is a luxury liner because it is an an extraordinarily well-funded vessel.

Some of the best minds on the right rely on the same tired bromides. I don't see shop-warn, extreme right-wing talking points as a winning formula for the GOP in the years to come.

How do Republican strategists fix this? How does a political party turn anti-people policy positions into something people can warm up to enough to support?

I would like to see a savvy political operative, someone like Bruno's character, in charge of the RNC, rather than a sniveling, incompetent lightweight like Reince Priebus. I don't see how the SS GOP luxury liner doesn't list and sink. On every issue of the day, Republicans have forced themselves to champion the unpopular position. How is this sustainable?

Part of me revels in watching Republicans do and say all the wrong things at every turn. However as a pragmatic problem solver, I'm very curious about The Fix.