Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Baseball a kind of play on life.

If you like baseball, you know what it’s like. Baseball players stand alert and astutely ready in every inning of the game. No player knows in advance what’s going to happen. Every player from batter to pitcher to the infielders and outfielders can expect only the unexpected. Players on defense tense their muscles and focus their minds to properly react to the trajectory of the ball in play. The batter trains his eye to smash that hit. The infield and outfield players poise themselves to deny it. In the game of baseball, as in the game of life, competition breeds tension between teams desiring to win. People in real life tauten for the unexpected too, because life, like baseball, guarantees the unexpected turn of events.

If you know about baseball, you notice a baseball coach trains his team to win. He practices his team. His ball players gain proficiency and expertise with repeated practice. The spirit of the team escalates the more it realizes improvement due to practice. The practice instills confidence. When the ball game starts, the players act instinctively to do what the twist of the situation requires---the main benefit of repeated practice.  In the game of life, training and practice serve us well to improve too. We learn how to work a trade by working the trade. We learn how to behave by practicing behaviors and comparing results. We learn how to think by practicing logic. The repetitions of practice in baseball as in life eventually spawn wins and recognition.

If you know about the game of baseball, you know an umpire calls the plays by a set of rules. They apply to every player. They order the game. They set boundaries within which the game is played. If a batted ball goes over the foul line it’s out of play. If a player catches a fly ball the batter is out. If a batter swings and misses a pitch outside the strike zone, it’s a strike and not a ball. Four balls put a batter on first base.  In life the rules of law fix the boundaries of the game. Burglarize a house and you’re out of bounds. Assault somebody and you’ve broken the rules. Without laws and penalties in life, as in baseball, the game couldn’t be played. It would have no regulations within which to play. Some baseball rules reflect life in great actuality. In life if a man steals but doesn't get caught, he’s safe.  In baseball, if a runner on first base sprints for second and reaches it without getting tagged, he’s safe too--- he’s still in the game and he stole a base.

If you enjoy baseball, you know that even for those of us who like the game the most, it can be mundane. Players do at times exhibit extraordinarily adept catches, for instance, but that’s rare. Baseball fans focus on the intricacies of the game to maintain interest. They count the balls and strikes. Life gets boring too. Car accidents don’t happen every day. We could easily bore ourselves by not staying current with matters that maintain interest in life.       

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Progress depends on the degree of acceptance.

Since fingerprints identify with 100% accuracy, they spell on your flesh the mark of you. That you are who you are and not like any other.

Yet we have not been formed in a vacuum. We have not only within us traits and predispositions inherited from the past in genetic sense, but also the peculiar customization of time and place that wrought in formative years to create an indelible sense of being.

Much of the family, religious and cultural influences that had molded me by the time I entered young adulthood were part of a self-structure I tried to dislodge. These influences felt like clamps bolting me in an intolerable juxtaposition. Their pressures did not contain me in a temperate way, it seemed; rather, they stifled me in a way that punished my individuality.

I revolted and attempted, so to speak, to break out of jail, not only in personal sense but in public sense. Drugs smashed the gates of inhibition which denied pleasure the fullness of its enjoyment. I lived on little and learned the lifestyle of the poor. I joined in protest which seethed against war in Vietnam.

Did I go too far? Did I attempt to ordain a new self without that which had been given by cultural influence? These inhabited my character. How could I dispense of them as if they were not an indissoluble part of me? We must work with what we have been given. We cannot strip ourselves of all that we are save the biologic and genetic. However, with mallet, chisel and stain--- we can carve and color the fusion of inside and outside materials into a work of our choosing.   

The Greatest Generation deserves respect, but much less so for finding no fault in the system their children eschewed so universally, so markedly. The civil rights and counter culture movements generated the modern era push to replace hallow ideals of equality with realities of liberty protected by law. People today have been released from social stigmas in ways unheard of 50 years ago. Does not the boomer generation deserve credits of respect for this? I think it does; but less so for its all-embracing and singular contempt at the time for the Establishment; i.e. heaping scorn on the war with scant differentiation between soldier and policy. A signal of the fracas of conflicting hot emotion, few realize long-hairs were also at times arrested on no ground except the length of their hair.

As ought an individual to accept and modify, to work on the genetic and nurtured parts of his makeup to shape himself for the better, so ought society. Congress abolished slavery and re-united the country only after the bloody work of the Civil War. The Civil Rights Act was enacted only after the works of march, protest and politics garnered support for its passage by most of the public. 

Let the United States accept its constituencies. They represent aspects of our nationhood that appeared in the cultural and historical matrix of generations extending far into the past. These aspects represent what we have and need to work on to improve our society.   

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Books can make readers of us all.

If you don’t read books, you’re missing out on one of the richest enjoyments in life. I would say this is true to the extent that for those who have never made a practice of reading books---train to read. If you strive to overcome natural disinclination, you’ll likely discover the reward worth the payment of time and energy. Everybody has interests. Reading a book on a particular subject of interest is not only a way to learn---it feeds an innate human drive to know.

If you have relapsed; if you at previous times read books as a matter of course but don’t anymore, start reading again. You’ll likely find that without realizing, you wholeheartedly miss the trapeze like awes of reading an outstanding book.

For a time I myself experienced book reading relapse. I attribute part of this due to years of working tiresome graveyard shift hours---part to being enamored of digital chat rooms---and part to the internet in general. Binge watching a popular Netflix TV series grabs plenty of time and interferes with the book reading mode. To learn how to navigate computers and accomplish your own definition of computer feat---these can easily slice off hours of time needed even for sleep.

So yes, this had been my case for a time---until several years back when a friend gifted a novel by Patricia Cornwell to me. I realized what I had been missing by not reading books; that intriguing book of suspenseful fiction resuscitated my love of reading. Its importance stood higher than before. When I finish a book now, I immediately start another. I’ve erected castle walls to protect my disposition to read books; these walls deflect what I see as the siege of the internet age threatening to rid me of time alone with books that move my spirit in no other way possible.

Books offer much of value. By making time to read books, we can transport ourselves a thousand years back and discover a fantastic world of medieval belief, practice and stunning turns of history. As we read our minds display images we ourselves imagine. Books invite us to feel sympathies and antipathies for characters whose strength or weakness we may find reflected in ourselves or others. Sometimes as we read a book we’re gratified at how it draws us into a world where we’ve always yearned to really live. Reading books sometimes composes us with a message of hope. At other times it agitates us to take action for a particular cause. History for instance credits the 1962 book “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson as being the spring board of the environmental movement.

Let’s take a look here at statistics on reading in America. Surveys by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) have in the past charted alarming drops in the percentage of Americans who read books. A 2004 NEA report cited the rise of more than 17 million people, between 1992 and 2002, who didn’t read books. The report pointed at three factors as probable causes: the internet, movies and television.

A more recent NEA report however spotted a startling upward trend that happened in 2008---an increase of 16.6 million Americans describing themselves as book readers.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

No one can ever take away your victories.

Sometimes people get in a mood. It’s a feeling of defeatism. It can be dispiriting when you count your defeats and conclude by your own estimate you’ve lost the battles too many times. You feel hamstrung by what you think is a malediction. You back away from a challenge for fear of repeated defeat. Maybe you think the term “lazy” applies to all of you when it’s simply part of many aspects to your character.

I’ve recently been feeling these kinds of ways; but not now. I’m focusing on writing a post and whenever I do that it feeds the sense there are winning ways about me.

Counting your victories balances the scale between defeat and victory. That’s why it’s a good thing to do. Many small victories add up too. Maybe you finished reading a book about the Middle Ages. Maybe you had a front end alignment completed on your car. Maybe you’ve maintained a worthwhile relationship with a friend or sibling for many years.

The point is we live with both our defeats and victories; they amalgamate into shades so that none of us can claim an absolute sterling record or a total series of unmitigated failure.

Someone may have failed in a business after three years of operation. But during those years he discovered a confidence and ability he never before had. Another may have failed in marriage but won a loyal friend in his ex-wife.  Still another may have quit smoking for a year, only to take it up again last week. All of these demonstrate how victory and defeat intermingle and coalesce into progress.

It’s tricky when people judge us according to our accomplishments---our step on the ladder of status.  Since the background and extenuating circumstances of a life reside on the inside, those are rarely taken into account by those doing the judging. What appears of no account may often in fact exist as a tremendous personal victory.

Achieving a sense of contentment with one’s lot in life is no small accomplishment itself. The forces of random events can play havoc with one’s dreams or expectations. So much of life is outside our control. You’ve heard it said no doubt that mastery over oneself is the greatest victory obtainable. This means learning to control the emotions. Without that control emotions spur us into action. The mind and its reasoning ought to be in charge so that we live on a higher plane. And defeat is often the child of unharnessed emotion.

If we learn from a defeat, that lesson can guide us to victory in another time and place. It’s like there really is no junk. It’s all good. The refuse picked up once a week pays the garbage man his salary. What’s learned in a scientific failure suffices to utilize for a successful scientific venture.

Limitations of character ought to be accepted as part of oneself. How can effort apply to improving a character if its limitations are not acknowledged?  And don’t forget from time to time to bask in the sun of your treasured accomplishments.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Helping smooth the flow of traffic.

How often we communicate with other drivers. It’s mostly a good thing too. We signal intent; honk different honks and ask and give directions at a stop light---offer courtesies. For example, you’re entering traffic from a Starbucks, but the street is crowded and packed with cars and trucks. Then a driver lets you know with a nod of the head or hand signal---get in ahead of me! Who hasn't felt appreciative when that happened?

I like to drive, and it fascinates me how drivers act sometimes. I remember at night at a red light in the North Beach section of San Francisco. Somebody honked and I honked--- the other driver honked again and back and forth we honked messing around for fun.

Let’s say you nod at a red light and don’t go when it turns green. A slight honk of reminder would nudge you back to the business. But if the driver behind honks with a loud blast---that’s rude! There are intermittent honks, blaring honks and those notification honks when you see somebody you know driving and want to attract their attention.

Headlights signal too.  If you see a car behind with its headlights going off and on it means to get out the way. You’re going slowly, to that driver, even though your speed may be a far cry from slow to you.

Just looking at another driver signals awareness. I see that when a driver is on ramp to a freeway, and she or he is approaching what feels like too close for comfort. It's been my experience both of us look at each other at the same time. It's a signal of understanding we won't allow for any collision.  

Anger does not go well with driving.  I got angry and flipped the bird at somebody in a truck for some forgotten reason, and the guy did a U-turn and chased me for a spell. He abandoned his chase and talk about relief!  

Other types of actions drivers sometimes take go beyond courtesy.

I was driving south on 101 Freeway in Marin County, and watched a car slam this other car into the concrete divider. The offending vehicle sped off while the victim vehicle stalled on the freeway. I got out and ran to the woman driver. She was in a daze and I guided her to the curb. Then people got out of their cars and stopped the traffic, and others pushed her car off the freeway. We were communicating how we cared for a fellow driver.

Another time I was driving through Caldecott Tunnel headed east in the East Bay region. It was hot and I was on an incline---the radiator cap burst and my car stalled in the tunnel---steam swirling around. I was almost at the end of the tunnel---but cars were heading towards me at freeway speed. An old truck driven by what looked like a Mexican farm worker shoved my car out the tunnel and off to the side out of harm's way. That guy signaled me in no uncertain terms he cared about helping avoid a collision. 

It’s always good to keep the ideal of courtesy in mind while driving, as well as going out of your way to help when it’s needed most.

If you have a story about when somebody helped you on the roadway, why don't you share it in the comments? 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

When eating too much Isn't enough.

Food has always been an attractant to me, but as something more than a means of sustenance. Sweet foods especially have been this way. I was practically raised on sugar. In some form or another---I ate candy bars, donuts, pastry, pancakes; and sugar bread---sugar bread was a substitute to having to go out and buy sweets at a store. Either with butter on the bread or not, smooth sugar over the bread and eat. I could devour a loaf of bread that way in one sitting.

A daily habit I had when in high school was to buy a cinnamon roll and eat it before the first class. It didn’t take that long to discover that by doing such eating, I could sooth myself. Sweets produced a kind of high in me that felt like amelioration. I could depend on the feeling if I ate sweets. And always, the pleasure of eating sweet tasting food itself was a primary factor in a simple quest to feel better.

I was never overweight until I reached my thirties. When I got a job as a newspaper reporter, especially, I found the pressures of interviewing, reporting and writing under a deadline hard to handle. I’d eat huge lunches at McDonald’s on a daily basis. I may have seemed ravenous on account of hunger, but this eating was not a response to hunger. It was eating to cope with the stress of the job. Soon my stomach grew into what’s called a pot belly.

What emerged in my life with food began to trouble me. I didn’t want to be fat, but simultaneously, I wanted to eat without restriction. I could lose the weight. I went to Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Herbal life; and I always lost weight. The catch for me was I never kept it off. I couldn’t maintain the weight loss over the long term. I began to feel discouraged and said to myself, “Well buddy, get over it, you’re just going to have to be a fat man.”

So I ate for years in the clutches of what I call an eating disease. It’s an addiction like the other addictions we often hear about---alcohol, drug, gambling and sex addictions. But this is food addiction and it causes food binges---eating for the sake of eating.

Today I still struggle with eating. But I’ve found a solution that I don’t always apply. Still, the solution is always there for me. It’s to associate with people like me who have the same condition. It’s a program developed by people with the condition to arrest it with the use of spiritual aids. It works to achieve long term, lasting weight loss. It’s also a journey into the self to determine and fix the root causes of the illness.

I’m not going to disclose the name of the program in which I’m involved. However, if you feel troubled by the way you eat, I encourage you to google something like “ways to solve eating problems.” Do some browsing about the matter---this is a thankfully a problem with solutions.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

About the existence of Israel.

Heh! I'm glad about it---doesn't mean I agree with every policy enacted by Israel; or that it’s of no concern when Jewish settlers occupy disputed territory.  I realize it's important for the Palestinians to have an independent state---as much as it is for the Jews to have an independent state. Statehood for Palestinians is an answer to many troubles with violence in that region, but it must be a state that recognizes the right of Israel to exist.

Let’s explore what it has meant to be Jewish in history. It has meant being hated. It has meant being vulnerable and without rights---banished and subject to pogroms throughout medieval history. Throughout Russia and Eastern Europe well into the modern age, being Jewish has meant being regarded as almost illigitimate. The Holocaust was an eruption of anti-Jewish hatred without parallel. Despite this, the Jewish people in Israel and all over the world have secured and maintain a vibrant and lively culture--- of intellectual pursuit and study. In their books of religious literature, including the Talmud, the Jewish people have offered age old wisdom to all on how to live.

Since the establishment of Israel, Jews from throughout the world have had a place where they can go to escape penalty for being Jewish. That’s why I support Israel. It’s a democratic country with a free press. It’s a modern secular state. It has fought wars to defend itself, sure. It has captured Arab land. This captured land is a sticking point in peace negotiations and does contribute to violence. It is also a carrot stick Israel holds in its hands for peace.

Israeli leaders say they would return land in exchange for a settled peace with a Palestinian state. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry does say progress is being made in current peace negotiations.    

Frankly, I doubt most Arabs in the Middle East are now prepared to accept Israel’s right to exist. I've read so much about venom against Jews and Israel by prominent Arab and Muslim leaders. The roots of animosity between Arab and Jew go so far back into the history of that region. According to Genesis God gave the land of Canaan to the descendants of Abraham, the Jews. That's like--- at the beginning of recorded history! I surmise that's basically the pot where modern Jewish/Arab animosity kindled first.

But King David and King Solomon ruled a Jewish kingdom in that region. Rome centuries later made Judea a province. The Jewish claim to Israel can no more be rightfully rejected than the Palestinian claim to land in the region.

There are instances of the search for mutual accord between Jews and Palestinians. But from what I’ve read, these instances are often hampered by inequality. It is after all the Jews who have a state. And---“Putting oneself in the other person’s shoes” is another all too human stumbling block in the quest for understanding. But contact between Jewish and Palestinian individuals---collaborations which do occur in educational conferences and mutual business or environmental projects---these are bound to alleviate tension.
Why don't you weigh in with your perspective of the issue in the comments? I'm a layman on the matter. It would be great to get feedback on this post!