Wednesday, December 27, 2017

I Should Be Doing Something

I spend far too much time thinking about things I should be doing. This is a fruitless and often painful activity, but I continue to indulge in it. Why?

Well. My thought processes are not uniform. A whole committee of voices participates in my decision-making, and they pull in opposing directions. For example, I have a childish member who really enjoys thumbing her nose at the others, saying "Nyah, nyah. You can't make me. So there." An older committee member protests that my status as retired means that I don't have to do anything I don't want to.

But many members of the committee feel lazy, guilty, ashamed, and unworthy to live when I'm choosing to read or play games on my devices instead of creating something, taking care of business, reaching out to friends, stretching, or just getting out of the house. Shouldn't feeling that bad outweigh the pleasures of doing my own thing?

Then I look more closely into the members who advocate for inaction, and find one who is shy, another who is slightly agoraphobic, and a third who is convinced that keeping still and silent keeps me from the attention of some great, malign force. That's pretty powerful stuff.

On the third hand, the other committee members feel competent, capable, and energized by getting stuff done. But even they are undercut by the knowledge that most of the stuff will have to be done again not too long from now.

I have confronted the problem of "shoulding" on myself many times in the past, and come up with two ways of coping. One, which rose to the status of a resolution one year, is to view each "should" as having only two possible responses: either do or not do (and let myself off the hook for not doing); there is no leaving it undone while beating myself up for not doing it. The second approach is advice I formulated for myself as a retiree: do as much fun stuff as my body and emotions can handle, and as much good as I need to do to preserve my self-esteem.

The first, Yoda-like, approach calls for moment-by-moment mindfulness. The second calls for planning future activities to balance pleasure and productivity, and then to carry out those plans.

Perfectionism sometimes gets in the way of making plans. Many of my committee members strive so heartily for perfection that they cannot decide what to eat or watch on TV without obsessing. The saner members of my committee frequently have to remind them that at every point in life there are many good enough choices, and no single perfect one. Moreover, any particular choice that seems to be working out badly can usually be abandoned and a different choice made. Very few choices are carved in stone. Each new moment I can do something different. This is not an affirmation or aspiration, but a statement of fact. Being alive and human means having the ability to make different choices. Choices are what living consists of. Every moment is an ocean of possibilities, a sea of opportunities limited only by my imagination.

And maybe that's my problem -- a failure of imagination. My whole career and avocation have been in non-fiction writing. I haven't created characters, worlds, or plots. On the other hand, every now and then I imagine an invention that might be useful, but don't do anything with the idea. Maybe there's an inventors' suggestion box somewhere where I could pass these ideas on to someone who could either realize them or tell me who has already done it.

Then I start to wonder if I should be doing warm-up exercises for my imagination. Or would that just be another way to "should" on myself?

Computer Woes

Watching my computer twiddle its little electronic thumbs is the new "watching paint dry," but worse. At least you have a painted wall after watching paint dry. A watched computer, however, may never boil. If it does stop twiddling, the odds of it having completed the assigned task are about even.

Computers are so frustrating. When they're good, they're very very good--and fast--so that our expectations are set very very high. On the other hand, when seconds and then minutes pass while it twiddles, it feels like hours, seems like days, and creates despair.

At the moment, I've just optimized one disk drive that needed it. The other drive that needed it wouldn't even let me try to optimize it. So I figured that a restart might help. Well, it might help, if the machine were to let me restart it. But no, it's stuck on the "welcome" screen where I've typed in my password, and now, five minutes later, the little twiddling animation has frozen in its tracks. Which is a really bad sign. I feel a 'control-alt-delete' coming on. Cross fingers. Nope. Now what?!

So I held down the power switch until the machine shut off, then turned it back on. Now we're back to the twiddling welcome screen--take two. And now it's frozen again. Bummer.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Liberal Values



I have some thoughts about an interview with Jonathan Haidt on the moral values of liberals and conservatives. His episode of the podcast On Being was entitled “The Psychology of Self-Righteousness.” See onbeing.org (10/19/17 podcast).

He and other researchers used a standardized test to separate liberals from conservatives. Then they asked liberal people to take the test as if they were conservative, and vice versa. What grabbed my attention was that conservatives are a whole lot better than liberals at putting themselves in the other side’s shoes. As a card-carrying liberal, I was shocked and offended. Aren’t we at least as smart as conservatives?

Haidt said in the podcast that people who study the bases of morality generally recognize five major values: kindness, fairness, loyalty, authority, and sanctity or purity.

All five values are recognized in most human societies that have been studied. The prevailing theory is that they evolved along with humans because they give us the ability to form stable groups involving more than a single family, groups whose members cooperate with each other to feed, shelter, and defend themselves. These abilities meant that more of us survived, so natural selection promoted people using these values.

As time passed, some of these values lost their allure to some people. In cultures that are western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic, the rights of individuals are held at least as strongly as values that support group identity. In particular, while kindness and fairness remain valued among liberals and conservatives alike, liberals do not join conservatives in placing equal value on loyalty, authority, and sanctity.

One theory about this difference is that liberals hold a sixth value – liberty or freedom. As a result, we abhor oppression by anyone. While conservatives value loyalty against betrayal, authority against subversion, and sanctity against degradation, liberals fear these values as the basis of racism, misogyny, and authoritarianism.

It seems to me that conservatives place limited value on liberty. As far as I can tell, they value liberty only in the sense that they don’t want the government to keep them from getting as rich as possible or from oppressing others. For example, conservatives resist regulations to bar banks from making risky bets with depositors’ money. Also, some Christians argue that their religious liberty gives them the right to discriminate against LGBT people, and to impose their own rules about abortion and contraception on all women, whether Christian or not. I think that most liberals recognize the right of groups to set standards for their own adherents, but not to impose them on outsiders.

To return to the original question, I think we liberals are bad at putting ourselves in the mindset of conservatives because we don’t share their respect for the values of authority, loyalty, and sanctity. We don’t just fail to understand these other values, we actively reject them as leading to oppression.

Perhaps we liberals can appreciate the values of authority, loyalty, and sanctity (or at least understand them enough to hold civil conversations with conservatives) if we temper them with the principles of liberty and freedom.

Placing final authority in a single human leader strikes us liberals as opening the door to tyranny.  We believe that the checks and balances created in our Constitution are necessary defenses against authoritarianism. Perhaps we can recognize that we value authority in the rule of law, even if we reject rule by a single infallible leader.

Loyalty to America First can lead us to ignore our duties as human beings to people of other nations who have come to make their lives in America. We are a nation of immigrants; even the First Nations migrated here from other lands. Fear of immigrants comes from viewing our country as a lifeboat that will capsize if too many board. But America is more like a potluck supper. The more people come, the more food they bring, and the more varied foods there are for us all. Perhaps we liberals can appreciate loyalty to our country until it tramples on the rights of real or suspected immigrants.

Those who value sanctity often pass laws to impose rules derived from a particular view of God. Such laws infringe the First Amendment rights of all of us to worship in our own way. Most religions encourage their adherents to behave with kindness and fairness. Perhaps we liberals can recognize the value in all religions without letting any one of them run roughshod over the rights of those who subscribe to a different religion or to none.

Anyway, that’s what I hope. If more liberals can recognize that the values held by conservatives go beyond self-serving hypocrisy, we can hold civil conversations with them, and perhaps even accomplish some of what we can agree that our country needs.



Friday, September 1, 2017

My Mysterious Watch

Some 20 years ago, I bought a Seiko quartz watch at Costco. It kept better time than the Timexes and Bulovas that preceded it. And I've worn it every day since. I have worn it so thoroughly that I needed to take it at least twice to a jeweler to have scratches sanded off the crystal.

About a week ago, I was shocked to realize that it was running 10 minutes behind the actual time. When the battery has run down in the past, the watch slows down and stops over the course of a day or so. That was a bit weird, but I dutifully went out and bought it a new battery.

A few days later, I discovered that it was 40 minutes behind. So it wasn't the battery. I decided that two decades of service may have been all that the watch had to give, and ordered a new watch online. I ordered another Seiko quartz, but one with more contrast between the colors of the face and hands, And, I happened to notice after choosing it, it runs on solar power.

About three weeks ago, I bought a bracelet of iridescent hematite beads. I rarely wear jewelry, but the beads so mesmerized me that I wore the bracelet every day - mostly on my right wrist. However, for a couple of hours most days, I wear a brace on that wrist, and have been moving the bracelet to my left wrist after I noticed how uncomfortable it was under the brace, and so I could still see the bracelet.

This morning I picked up the bracelet and it brought a political button up with it. I hadn't realized that the beads were magnetic. Had the magnets slowed my watch while I was wearing the bracelet on the same wrist? And if so, did this damage the watch permanently? I hit the Google, and the answers seem to be 'yes' and 'no,' respectively. So I took the bracelet off and put the watch back on. So far, so good. But I don't plan to return the new watch when it arrives. Improved readability and no need for batteries are worth the investment.

We Ran Them Out of Town and Had A Party

Last Saturday the Patriot Prayer people had planned to put on a right-wing rally in San Francisco, at Chrissy Field. Despite the violence at the previous marches in Charlottesville, the Federal government granted them a permit. So it was up to the SF government to prevent violence. They fenced in the field and announced that helmets, shields, and sticks that could be used as weapons would not be allowed in. Meanwhile, SF dog owners were planning to 'decorate' the field with dog poo to make it uninviting.

I joined the Jewish Bar Association's Adopt a Nazi campaign, by donating money to the Southern Poverty Law Center (which studies and counters hate groups) on behalf of each of the 300 anticipated rally-goers. The campaign raised more than $160,000.

At the last minute, the Patriots cancelled the rally and announced a press conference to be held in Alamo Square Park. Since that is City property, SF simply closed the park. As it turned out, only counter-demonstrators showed up, and the police escorted them as they marched to join other counter-demonstrators in the Castro and Mission neighborhoods, and in front of City Hall, where speeches and signs gave way to yoga classes and dancing.

Meanwhile, two friends and I joined hundreds of other counter-protestors making our own statement against hate and discrimination, by forming a heart-shaped human banner at Ocean Beach.


The Patriots finally announced that they would hold a press conference later that day in Pacifica, a small town down the coast from SF. In short, we showed those right-wing instigators of violence that we had no room for their kind in San Francisco. We ran them clear out of town without a single injury or drop of blood!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Freedoms are Fragile

Freedoms are fragile.
Slavery ends and voting rights are enacted,
but people of color are subjected to
voter suppression, mass incarceration,
and shootings by police.

Freedoms are fragile.
Women win the vote,
become judges, governors, Senators,
but cannot win the White House.

Freedoms are fragile.
Homosexual celebrities and
transsexuals come out,
but gays and transwomen
are tortured and killed,
here and abroad.

Freedoms are fragile.
Marriage equality becomes
the law of the land.
But court clerks and business people
claim their faith gives them 
the right to discriminate against us.

Let's get real.
Fragile freedoms must be won
again and again.

Marching Out of the Closet

In the early years of Congregation Sha'ar Zahav, marching in the Gay Freedom Day parade was a serious commitment. If we were seen marching with a gay group in public, we could lose friends, family, or our job. Most of us were in the closet then, because no laws kept us from being beaten up, fired, institutionalized, or thrown onto the streets for the crime/sin/sickness of being gay.

But three gay men had founded Sha'ar Zahav in 1977, so we could have a safe place to meet with one another -- where we could be who we were as sexual and spiritual beings, and find family who accept us as we are. Even then, some members had so much to lose that we knew them only under pseudonyms. Our circle of safety did not extend beyond our doors.