Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Futility of It All

In the beginning, there was only a word.  But there was nobody to hear the word.  So the word reverberated in empty space.

The word was followed by other words.  Soon, the entire spacetime continuum was filled with words.  But alas, there were only particles.

Words in a vacuum are useless.

Yet somehow, those words still persevered.

The particles begat bigger particles.  And they begat atoms.  The atoms begat other atoms.  Those atoms begat molecules.  And those molecules continued to grow and proliferate.

Until finally, the Universe was bigger than fathomable even to the most omniscient of beings.

But the words were still null and void.

For billions and billions of years, there was no one to hear words.  Hell, I'm not even sure who was speaking those words.  But I do have faith that those words were there.  To the best of my recollection, words have always existed.

And with those words, my world has been circumscribed.

In the end, there are too many words.

And 99.9% of those words still are uttered in vain.

If silence is the canvas and perception is my easel,
my masterpiece is a cacophonous Jackson Pollock turgid philippic
about the futility of it all.

Monday, January 16, 2017

American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson Mid-season Analysis

I started watching American Crime Story this weekend.  

It was toward the end of my 8th grade year when the whole thing with OJ Simpson started.  I am too young to remember OJ's heyday as #32.  From what I'm told, he was to football in his day what Michael Jordan was to basketball in my day.  And so, it was quite the big deal when OJ became prime suspect in the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her boyfriend Ronald Goldman.

I never really did follow the trial.  I knew the basics.  He tried to escape.  There was a highly publicized car chase.  One of the NBA finals games was interrupted just to show this chase, and many fans were offended.  

I knew that OJ hired a "Dream Team" of lawyers.  I knew that they were calling the trial a media circus.  My father once said that if he was Judge Lance Ito, he would have put each and every one of those lawyers in contempt.  

In the end, OJ was acquitted.  However, there was later a civil trial where OJ was found liable for the murders of Brown and Goldman.  Many people I was raised around considered OJ to be clearly guilty as sin.

But one thing was clear.  In the end, this trial was not just about OJ and whether or not he committed double-homicide.  It wasn't about Nicole Brown or Ronald Goldman either.  And it especially wasn't about the showboating.  It was about the racial tensions in LA, especially with the police and the court system; it was about celebrity culture; it became much bigger than even OJ could fathom.


American Crime Story tries to show the story from the perspective of the multiple parties involved.  It's not just about OJ, who is adeptly played by Cuba Gooding, Jr.  I always pictured OJ as being more stoic and laconic than the way Cuba portrays him.  I guess I'm basing this on the Naked Gun movies but also the footage of the trials that I had seen.  Generally, OJ appeared to be strong and steadfast.  But this show portrays him as being very emotionally delicate.  He is seen having serious mood swings, crying a lot, being quite indecisive, but then going back to being strong and egotistical.  He is shown to have a scary side to him (one that pleaded Nolo to battery of the same woman he was accused of murdering).  He is also shown to have written a suicide note, attempting suicide (or feigning it...), and generally being at the whim of the many lawyers who were trying to help him.

On the other side, we have Marcia Clark.  She is a hard-working competent ADA whose hubris is that she thinks this case is a slam dunk for her.  When the case becomes the circus that it does, she is clearly overwhelmed, but she still rolls with the punches.  Even when it is pointed out to her point blank that her public approval ratings are quite low, that she’s commonly seen as a bitch with bad hair who needs to soften up her image, she hardly cracks.  Marcia is willing to do anything to get her win, even against a plethora of celebrity lawyers and with a media that is bipolar about whether they’re with her or against her.

At first, OJ has a lawyer named Howard Weizmann, who is clearly too small time for this case.  So per the advice of family friend Robert Kardashian (played by David Schwimmer), OJ hires Robert Shapiro (played by John Travolta).  It’s hard to divorce Schwimmer and Travolta from their previous roles.  Schwimmer, in particular, still has some semblance of Ross Gellar.  But soon, it is clear that Kardashian (who was also small-time) and Shapiro would not be enough.  One of Shapiro’s main Achilles’ Heals is that he is a negotiator who usually takes a plea bargain for his clients.  Though he has successfully defended many celebrities, it appears that OJ has too much to lose by accepting a plea bargain.

And so, it comes to a point where the team consists of some of the biggest names, but also the biggest egos, in the legal field.  I’m told that Alan Dershowitz is not fond of Evan Handler’s portrayal of him.  Indeed, Dersh is made out to be a snooty Ivy League intellectual who can’t go 15 words without mentioning something about Harvard.  But there are some things this show definitely got right about Dersh.  For one, Dersh has a reputation as being a whore, a man who has no scruples about whom he will defend, and how he will defend them at all costs.  Plenty of people I know castigate Dersh freely for the fervor he has defended alleged rapists, and the way he comes down on the alleged victims, trying to invalidate their testimonies—they say Dersh is the embodiment of “rape culture”.  On one hand, everyone does deserve legal representation, and Dersh is consistent about that.  On the other hand, people do consider a lot of his methods underhanded. 

And then we have Johnny Cochran.  Yes, he was famous before the trial, but OJ made him a superstar.  I had a Hebrew teacher in high school who used to call him “Johnny Cockroach.”  He had a reputation for playing the “race card”, for making Mark Fuhrman out to be racist, for rhyming “if it don’t fit you must acquit.”  But this show gives him some dimension.  Like at first, he didn’t want to accept the trial; but he was outspokenly on OJ’s side.  Eventually, Kardashian and F. Lee Bailey convinced him to join.  And once Cochran was on board, they finally had a solid litigator—one who could potentially make OJ a winner.

And so, we do see plenty of “clash of the egos.”  Marcia Clark did predict that it would happen.  And so it did.  It came to a head when Shapiro (as predicted) suggested they plea for a charge of manslaughter.  This pissed Cochran off to no end, and he in a very backhanded way got Shapiro removed as lead council (with Bailey and Kardashian talking OJ into following suit).  We see that OJ never wanted it to be that way.  He wanted it to be like back in his days playing football, when he could put his differences with his teammates behind him every Sunday when playing the game.  He didn’t originally want a guy like Cochran to play the race card.  He just wanted to go home and be with his family.

But then, when Cochran was point blank accused of playing the race card, he delivered a very powerful monologue about how history has been one big racial tension, and that if his pointing that out means playing the race card, then so be it.  It does amaze me that here, Cochran is seen as a man of principle—manipulative, but still principled.

To be continued when I finish the series.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What Does It All Mean?

Another night.  Another White Russian.  Lost count of how many I’ve had tonight.
          Lost count of how many random conversations I’ve had tonight.
          She left me hours ago.  She was sick and tired of my bullshit.  Hey, she’s the one who invited me out to this watering hole in the first place. 
          Somewhere in Bushwick.  Or is it Bed-Stuy?  Or is it some extension of Williamsburg?  Who cares.  It’s all gentrified North Brooklyn to me.  One thing I’ve learned about asking directions in Brooklyn—don’t do it.  Even the locals can’t give you a straight answer for “excuse me, how do I get from point A to point B?” 
          I forget the name of the dive.  All I know is that someone’s got Tom Waits on heavy rotation tonight.  I’m too shitfaced to make out the lyrics.  But I recognize that voice anywhere.  Sounds like Cookie Monster on Ketamine. 
          She gave me a handjob under the table.  Lucky me, I can keep a straight face, because damn that felt gooood.  But I was more interested in my Jack Daniels Sour than I was in the conversation we were having.
          How will I get home?  Honey, I’ve found my way home on larger quantities of alcohol and with a further commute.  A short L-train (assuming it’s functioning tonight) to 8th St. and then an A-train to Hamilton Heights—been there, smoked that.  Don’t worry about me, I’m alright.
          No, seriously.  You don’t need to call me a cab.  I got this monthly Metrocard, and I plan on squeezing every nickel out of it.  I’m good, I promise.
          I mean seriously.  Other than the fact that she flashed me her tits, what does she have going for her anyway?  Not a whole lot.  But it’s not like I have much going for me either.  I look like shit tonight; I look like I just crawled out of bed (which I did); and I pretty much couldn’t get laid in a brothel with a suitcase full of money.  So yeah, if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with; I have no one I love, so this is as close as I will get.
Act 10:30pm (mezzo piano)
          “What does it all mean?”
          I don’t know where he came from.  I don’t remember him sidling up to me.  If I could choose any random bar patron to sit down next to me, he’d probably be one of my last choices. 
          He had a heavy pink face, like one of them old portrayals of Paul Bunyan from those picture books I used to love when I was a kid.  His hair was some grizzly mahogany that clashed with his orangish beard.  And for fuck’s sake, he was wearing coveralls and a red flannel shirt.  Who dresses him in the morning?
          What does it all mean?  He asked.  So I answered the only way I knew how to answer.
          “What does what all mean?”
          “You know, it!  What does it all mean?”
          Oh shit, there’s only one thing worse than a sentimental philosopher; and that is a sentimental philosopher on alcohol.   And he just had to plop himself next to me, a simple man who doesn’t even know what he’s doing in one hour, let in this incarnation.
          So I gave him the most honest answer I could provide given the circumstances:  “Nothing,” I spat as I took another swig of my Moscow Mule.
          Unflinchingly, he took a swig of whatever that bright red thing in a highball glass was.  I’m afraid to even ask what he ordered.
          “You never wondered why you are here?”
          “Nope.”  And that was the truth.  Truth be told, I couldn’t even tell you why I got out of bed this morning. 
          “What if I told you I know the secret: life, the universe, and the meaning of it all?”
          “Will it help me pay my rent this month?”  I asked
          “Rent?  What I’m going to tell you will last longer than your rent money and make you feel more fulfilled than you ever have in your life!”
          “Do me a favor and please tell my landlord how frivolous my rent money is.  If he doesn’t evict me for that, I’ll buy you another round of whatever that shit you’re drinking is.”
          “Cosmo on the rocks.  But that’s not important.  What I’m about to sell you will change your life forever.”
          Um, no.  I’m not taking advice from a man whose choice in potent potables comes from the Carrie Bradshaw School of Being an Insufferable Bourgeoisie Nag.
            I just twitched and said “well, I’ve already lived three different lives in 37 years.  So I’m pretty sure there’s almost nothing you can say to change my life forever.”
          He took another quick sip of his Cosmo. 
          “But I already have changed your life.  Look behind you.”
          The interior had changed.
          I was no longer in the dusty dive bar.
          Maybe he slipped something in my drink.  Or maybe the room was more colorful than I remembered it being.
          And who replaced Tom Waits’ voice with Enrico Macias? 

To be continued.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Very Uncomfortable Post for Comfortable Americans

Whose lives matter? 
This day in age, one cannot answer that question without making a political statement.  If I were to give an honest answer, I would surely be cashing in on my “liberal stripes.”  Surely, as a liberal, I must adhere to #blacklivesmatter.  And I do. 
Clearly, no matter how hard I try, I will never truly understand the struggle of being a person of color in America.  I have worked several jobs where I was the only Caucasian in the room.  I have as good as immersed myself in non-White America as one who was raised an upper-middle class Jewish American can. 
And yet, as the saying goes, When in Rome, no matter how much pasta I eat, I will only be a second-class citizen at best. 
But does that mean I shouldn’t try?  Does that mean I shouldn’t align myself with #BLM?  Absolutely not.
There are a few uncomfortable truths I would like to air out in this post.
1)     Yes, white privilege exists.  Anyone who disagrees is lying or in denial.  I have more than once experienced this.
How many times have I been in a group of black people, and people thought I was “the boss”, in charge, or some figure of authority thereof?  And in none of those situations did I explicitly state that I was any of the above.  People merely assumed that the white guy with the stiff posture who walks with a gusto must be the man.  Body language, sometimes unintentional, can be damning. 
I’ve been accused many times of being racist.  Sometimes it was “race baiting.”  A customer didn’t like the way I looked at her, so she assumed I must have a problem with black people.  It happens.  But most of the time, it was what we call microaggressions.  Little things that weren’t intended to be harmful, but still made me look like I was not comfortable being around black people.  For example, seeing a group of black teenagers conversing loudly and vibrantly, quickly walking the other way.  I wasn’t doing it to be racist, but it was obviously perceived as such.  Those who know me would know that wasn’t my intention; but those who didn’t would think I’m being like George Zimmerman. 
Yes, white privilege exists.  And it is the duty of all white people who aspire to have meaningful coexistence with black people to be aware of this. 
2)     White Guilt.  What is wrong with #AllLivesMatter, #BlueLivesMatter, or anything else like that?

It’s that many people who espouse views like that have traditionally been using it for racist purposes.
What’s wrong with being proud to be white?  Nothing.  But bear in mind that if one searches for “White Pride” on Google, they will find plenty of websites supporting KKK, Neo-Nazis, et al. 
Some would suggest taking back whiteness.
I would say the climate is not ripe for that.  After all, it would be perceived as being an affront to #BLM.  It wouldn’t add to the conversation.  It would only further drive a wedge. 

I may not agree with absolutely everything that every member of #BLM says.  But I agree with the message at large.  That black people have been unfairly targeted for long enough.  Even in our day when slavery has been abolished, Jim Crow laws are mostly banned, even in our day when segregation is no longer de jure, it still happens on a de facto basis; and it needs to stop!

So now is not the time for white people to speak.  That would be akin to when Kanye stole the mike from Taylor Swift.  Sit down, listen, you’ll have your time, this isn’t it. 

3)     On the acceptability of casual racism. 

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, it’s that for many Americans, bigotry is okay as long as it’s not against your own group. 

I am astounded at how many Americans can turn the other way at Donald Trump’s many infractions.  And his campaign too.  There are too many to list right now, but anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave for the past year knows what I’m talking about.

I speak especially to my Jewish brethren.  Once upon a time, there were Americans who used the same rhetoric against the Jews that Trump uses against Mexicans, Muslims, Chinese, et al.  There was a time that plenty of Americans associated Jews with communists, anarchists, Elders of Zion, and other pernicious stereotypes hellbent on unpending society as we know it.  Yes, there was a time that Jews were barred from the highest jobs in the country.  I’ve heard many stories about those days from my grandparents (and people their age).  Some of them still maintain a general mistrust of non-Jews because of those days. 

Don’t Do Unto Others….. not just a Christian concept.  Many world religions have a concept similar to this adage by Hillel.  There is a simple litmus test proposed by Abraham Foxman, founder of the ADL:  If you want to know if a statement is racist, make it about the Jews; if it now offends you, it is racist. 

Let’s try one on for size:  “We are going to deport every undocumented Jewish immigrant from this country.”  Or “When Israel sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bring crime. They’re rapists… And some, I assume, are good people.”

Catch my drift?

America has a long way to go before it fully embraces the dictum it was founded on, the dictum Jefferson said was self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator [whomever that may be] with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. 
Meanwhile, one cannot turn on the news without hearing of more atrocities being committed against peaceful protesters.  I cannot log onto my Facebook newsfeed without echoing the words of Ecclesiastes, all is vain. 
I cannot accept a world where people assume that because I am white, and because I sometimes slip up, that means I am on the wrong side of history.  And I have worked hard to eliminate my childhood biases from my system.  But I must accept that no matter how hard I try, I will never be fully accepted—not by either side of the spectrum.
I choose to stand with #blacklivesmatter.  I choose to stand with them because many people of color in America still have a very raw deal; and it needs to end. 

Uncomfortable as it is for me to state this, it must be said.  

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

In Memory of Gertrude "Gittel" Feuereisen Chanis

          Assorted memories.
          Her picture sits on my desk in my classroom.  If not for her, I would never have become a teacher.  Or, I would have racked up so much debt in grad school, it wouldn’t be worth it.  Either way, I keep her in plain sight at all times when I’m on the job.
          She was known for her keep fashion sense.  To an outsider, she may have looked like a typical balabusta walking down the streets of Borough Park.  But to those who knew her, she was so much more. 
          First, there was her hat collection.  Oh, her hats.  The more colorful, the better.  It’s an old stereotype of Hungarians, they like things that are colorful.  But even by Hungarian standards, her fashion sense was ostentatious.  My mother tells me it embarrassed the dickens out of her late husband, my Zeide.  He was a quiet, simple man.  He typically wore the same white shirt, black pants, red suspenders, big black yarmulke, and white tzitzit every day.  There was not a lot of variety in the way he dressed.  Every year, his yeshiva had a weekend getaway for alumni.  Zeide would go.  He would beg Savta to please wear a tichel, like most of his cohorts’ wives.  She would never sully her head with such an ugly hair wrap.  But he would beg and beg and beg.  Savta would give in (or pretend to).  She would then go to the store, buy herself a new hat, and make sure it was as flashy as she could muster.  Sequins.  Rhinestones.  Feathers.  Oh yeah, she would get creative.  And poor Zeide always looked so embarrassed. 
          She never acted her age.  When I was a child, if I ever asked Savta how old she was, she would say “100.”  She nearly lived to 100.  But she did not look or act 100.  And she didn’t want anyone to think that she was almost 100.  She would not take a cane or a walker.  She had one of those foldable shopping carts; that was her walker.  To an outsider, she would look like she was just going shopping.   She would not get a home help aide.  Whenever the social workers at the hospital asked how she can live alone at her age, she would get very sassy with them.  No matter how much they told her that she should not be doing all her housework by herself, she still didn’t care.  She hated the way home help aides did housework.  As far as she was concerned, all they were good for was passing her a towel when she was in the shower.  And with a wave of her hand, she harshly said “I can get my own towel, thank you very much.”
          Nobody could drive you crazy the way Savta did.  Oh yeah, she was one of those people who could give Sophia from the Golden Girls a run for her money.  One time, she got in fight with her sister Yudit because Yudit suggested that Savta had cancer.  Of course, Savta gave her an unequivocal “leave me alone, I don’t have cancer!”  Yudit then had one of her sons print out some literature from the internet about how to fight cancer.  She slipped it under Savta’s door.  Savta was livid.  Then later, she found out that Yudit’s son, who is the sexton at a synagogue in Queens, recited a prayer for the sick for Savta.  That was all she could take.  For the next few years, Yudit was dead to her.  It was funny, but it wasn’t funny; that was Savta for you.
          One of my favorite stories was when three of Savta’s sisters decided to visit their father’s grave in Lakewood, NJ—and they didn’t invite Savta.  Before Yom Kippur, it is customary to get a blessing from your father; and if your father is not alive, you are supposed to visit his grave.  My father always drove to Staten Island to visit his father’s grave before Yom Kippur; I usually went with him.  So Savta’s sisters went to their father’s grave, and they didn’t invite Savta.  So Savta got pissed off at all three of them.  But here’s the funny part: even if they did invite her, she would have said NO!  She thinks this custom of visiting your father’s grave is stupid.  Knowing her, she was more upset that she wasn’t given the opportunity to chide her sisters.  They probably heard it from Savta so many times, that they decided just to go without telling her.  But Savta wanted them to hear her complain about how they shouldn’t visit his grave...
          Savta had many quirks.  And they made her the kind of person who was not always easy to get along with.  But I still took the time to visit her.  I wasn’t sure how much time she had.  So I learned how to not let her drive me too crazy.  And I’m glad that during those last years, I got to know her.  There was so much I wanted to ask her.  There was so much she wouldn’t tell me.  She told me a lot about her childhood in Hungary.  But her father was a topic she would never discuss.  She loved talking about her travels.  But her own experience in the Holocaust was mostly off limits.
 She had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Holocaust.  And she loved to argue about it.  One time, she randomly called me to ask how many people survived Bergen-Belsen.  She always heard that there were no survivors.  All her books (she had plenty) said the camp was completely liquidated.  I went on Google and looked it up.  Yes, the camp was completely liquidated.  But before that, there were prison transfers.  So there were a handful of survivors; but they were lucky enough to have been sent to other camps before Bergen-Belsen was completely liquidated. 
At her age, she had an amazing memory.  But sometimes, it was spotty to a fault.  One time, she called me about Sheldon Silver.  She wanted to know where Sheldon Silver was born.  I looked it up.  He was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  “But I thought he was a Holocaust survivor!”  I scoured Google trying to find anything about Sheldon Silver and the Holocaust.  He would have been a little child when the Holocaust occurred—living on the Lower East Side.  Nope, Savta still insisted he was a Holocaust survivor.  I threw the question out the Facebook.  Everyone who replied agreed that Silver was a LES native.  Some friends said she was maybe confusing him with someone else. What amazed me was how impossible it was to get her to back down.
Perhaps the funniest Savta story of all happened at a Passover seder when I was younger.  Her sister Edith survived Auschwitz.  We were taking a little break from the seder before the meal.  Savta asked Edith what stops the train made on the way to Auschwitz.  Edith had no idea.  Savta wouldn’t let it go and continued to badger her.  Edith yelled at her “WHAT STOPS DO YOU THINK THE TRAIN MADE?  DO YOU THINK WE TOOK THE A-TRAIN TO AUSCHWITZ, THE B-TRAIN TO BUCHENWALD, AND THE D-TRAIN TO DACHAU?”  To be fair, Savta had a bit of survivor guilt: she and her father were able to escape Hungary.  But the rest of the family was stuck in Europe after Pearl Harbor, when America closed its borders.  I’m still not clear on why that happened.  But Savta, who missed out on the travesty, was forever curious about what it was like.  So the funny thing about the story is that it takes someone like Savta to ask such a question; and it takes someone like Edith to answer the question like that (another post).
I could fill pages and pages with stories about Savta.  The most important lesson I’ve learned from her is to never take anyone’s word for anything.  Always question everything.  She took it to the extreme.  But in her world, nothing was ever de facto true. 
She will be missed.

May her memories forever bring a smile to all who knew her. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Throwing Out the Baby with the Bathwater

There are many questions I get asked when I reveal that I'm a heathen.  The most common one is possibly "what happened?"  There are many posts in this blog that already address this question.  Of course, I am more than happy to answer those who ask out of genuine curiosity and not to be patronizing.  So it goes without saying, those who come to wish me a "refu'ah sheleimah" (speedy recovery), you know where to find the exit.

The question I would like to address today is "what do you believe in?"  Rest assured, I am not eating dead babies and pouring their blood as a libation to Molokh.  But mainly, when I deny God, they want to know if I don't believe at all.  This discussion is one that's long and involved (and may require more than one post).  Since I am on a library computer, and I am working within a time limit,

I inevitably will have to cut this post short.  So bear with me while I put the pieces together.

On Science.

Yeah science!  Almost all of us card-carrying skeptics first turn to science to find the answers that religion has not satisfactorily answered.

Of course, science cannot answer everything either.  Some of those questions are better left toward metaphysics.  And many times, the answers provided there are no more satisfying than the ones furnished by religion.

The best baseline I've found for science are the ones set by Karl Popper.  For a question to be scientific, it has to be a) testable, and b) falsifiable.  A question like "is there a God?" is not scientifically testable.  There are no tests that can be set up using the scientific method and reproduced in a lab with (nearly) identical results.  It is not falsifiable either.  Ask most religious people if there's any way you can get them to stop believing, they will say no.  There is no way to empirically prove/disprove that God exists.  Therefore, it is not in the scope of science to answer that question.

Next, one can glimpse into the realm of logic.  Sure, there are plenty of logical proofs that assert God exists.  But in my experience, those proofs do not hold water when scrutinized.  One could use similar logic to prove "black is really white" (cf. Douglas Adams).  I may devote later posts to this.

 But using logic, one can most certainly prove that belief in God is valid, but not that it's sound.

In order for those arguments to be sound, we enter the realm of faith.  And this is where it all becomes murky....

In essence, trying to prove the existence of God is as fruitless as the “Babel Fish Argument” from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.  In the end, proof denies faith, and without faith, God is nothing (hyperbole intended, you fools!)

Which brings me to the question, what is my take on science?

There are many blogs better devoted to an in-depth scientific view on the universe.  I am no expert on science.  I love science.  I love reading about it.  But my knowledge of mathematical axioms and scientific realities are unfortunately very limited.  As such, I cannot parse the intricacies of General (or Special) Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Thermodynamics, or even Epigenetics, Macroevolution, the Biochemistry behind the Krebs Cycle, Photosynthesis, or even something as simple as “how do birds fly?” 

But does that mean I cannot put my faith in science?  Absolutely not.  Everyone puts their faith in something sometimes.  How many readers here have ever driven a car?  Now, how many of us actually can explain how a car works?   One doesn’t have to understand how a car works to drive it.  I don’t have to be able to explain how the combustion of fuel drives the various pistons and components of the motor.  I can use GPS without knowing the physics of it.  This internet connection I’m using right now, I only  have a rudimentary understanding of how the Internet works; and yet I am an avid Information Superhighway Surfer. 

Why put my faith in science but not God?
I propose the following solution:

Constant Conjunction.

This is not a very strong argument.  But it is the simplest one I can think of on the spot.  And thus, I will use it for now.

For those unfamiliar, constant conjunction is a term used by David Hume to describe how we can empirically know that causality exists.  For example, How do I know that next time I drop a pencil, it will fall to the ground?  Maybe next time, the laws of gravity will defy themselves.  In my living memory, every time I’ve dropped a pencil, it has fallen.  Constant conjunction.  And then, we have Newton et al explaining how this gravity behaves. 

And now, to apply it to science vs god.

Science is not perfect.  It is a work in progress.  Scientists are always updating their views.  A biology textbook from 10 years ago might have some of the same basics as one printed today.  But if one were studying more advanced biology, there would be differences.  A physics textbook  printed before 1915 would not have any mention of General Relativity.  But after 1915 (I’m not sure how soon after), once General Relativity made a splash, it would soon be ubiquitous. 

Theology, in its nature, is more static than science.  The scientific method is one that is set up such that any one datum can raise questions to even established knowledge, and once said datum is scrutinized, reviewed, and further tested, a new theory can be made to supersede our old theory.  Yes, a scientist should not live his life thinking arrogantly that his way is the only way. 

Theology, on the other hand, relies more on dogma.  Even when it does use logic, the logic of the theologian tends to be much more pedantic.  How many clergymen have seriously scrutinized their own beliefs?  I’m not going to say zero; I know for a fact that many have gone through periods where they questioned everything.  But by and large, when talking to a person about faith, they do not utilize the same level of scrutiny to their faith as they would to a scientific principle.  Yes, I’m talking about educated people too. 

Back to Popper’s Laws:  Many religious claims are not testable or falsifiable.  Therefore, I am more partial to science than I am to religion.  Religion, to me, is like asking which hand it is better to masturbate with.  We can argue about that until the cows come home, but I would think that most of us have better things to do with our time.  That’s the same way I feel about religious claims in general.

Is there a higher power?  Maybe.  But why waste my time worrying about it?

 So, what do you believe in?

If I may be coy for a second, I believe in me.  As John Lennon (quoted by Ferris Beuller) said, "I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me..."

But unlike your standard run-of-the-mill narcissist, I also believe in others.  I do not know what makes my mind separate from others.  I cannot tell you where my mind ends and where others' begin.  I especially cannot tell you what makes me conscious, everyone around me conscious, but I am only personally aware of my own consciousness.  I believe in me.  I believe in others.  But I can't understand what mechanism separates me from others.

In my formative years, I might have believed in an eternal mind.  Perhaps, like Atman, there is a collective consciousness.  Sometimes, when deep in the throes of an orgasm, I feel a slight out of body/mind experience ephemerally.   If there is a higher intelligence, why is it so hard for us to reach it?  Or is it all in my head?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Dear Faigy Mayer

Dear Faigy,

Today, April 20, 2016 would have been your 30th birthday. You would have been celebrating your entry in your thirties with a nice big jamboree. You would have picked a very nice restaurant. You would have been surrounded by friends. You would be all smiles, that large infectious smile of yours. And you would have made some awkward comments about your birthday being the perfect day to be a stoner, even though you're not a toker. Today would have been a very happy day.

I remember the time I visited you up in Columbia Presbyterian Psych Ward up in White Plains. Your first words to me were "is this your first time in a looney bin?"  Your life was on the rocks. Your relationship with your parents sucked. Your dad had you committed. You had no idea where you would go after you were discharged. But during the time I visited you, you were all smiles. You were very hospitable. I made you smile, you returned the favor.

But my fondest memory of you will always be the last time I saw you.

It was the day of my Savta's funeral. I wish you could have met Savta. You would have loved her. I know, she would have made things awkward. She would have badgered me about why I am bringing such a pretty girl to her apartment but we don't get married. She might even have hunted down your parents and called them trying to make a shidduch. That would have been very awkward. I wouldn't mind. But you might. And so would my parents.

Savta's funeral was in Borough Park at Shomrei Emunim, the same place yours would be two months later. Savta was very special to me. Thanks to her, I'm a teacher. She had a funny way of showing it, but she loved me. I loved her too. I loved her enough to go into Borough Park on a regular basis to visit. I loved her enough to spend a few days of Pesach with her. I hate Pesach. I hate being around frum people for long periods. But I love Savta enough to spend that time with her.

After the funeral ended, I was distraught. I was beyond shaken. I took a long walk to the 55th St train station. It was about a mile. I didn't care. I needed to clear my head. Long walks are therapeutic.

I got on the D train. I got on the phone while I was sti overground to tell my after-school students I wouldn't be coming. At around the  Ft Hamilton stop you got on the train. I heard you calling my name. I looked up, and there you were with a big smile on your face. I grimaced back, but indicated that I would be with you in a minute.

Boy was I glad to see you. I was still shaken. If anyone could cheer me up, it was you.

I got off the phone at around 36th St. You were already seated next to me. Your life was falling apart. But you still were happy to see me.

I told you that Savta died. You say there and listened to me as I ranted and raged about how much I miss her. You were a good listener. Every so often, you chimed in with an awkward comment or two. But today, I was so glad to hear them. Someone else might have been offended. I wasn't. You were like an angel, sent by a god I no longer believe in, sent to console me. And you did.

You were headed to 34th St for something work related. I wish I took the time to discuss your situation. I didn't. I should have been a better friend to you. Hindsight is 20/20.

When you got off the train, I hugged you goodbye. I couldn't have known it would be the last time we ever hugged. It would be the last time I ever saw you.

Thank you Faigy. As I write this I am tearing up on a city bus. You were like an angel. Like your name, you flew into my life, and you were no more.

May your memory continue to bring smiles and inspire all who knew you.