Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What if basketball games weren't won or lost?

We're going to a Tar Heels men's basketball game tonight. I know, for those of you aware of my attitude toward spectator sports, it isn't possible that I'm going. Nevertheless, my wife and I are going; we want to spend as much time with our daughter and son-in-law as possible and they told us before they came to visit that they would like to go if I could get tickets.
    But since I don't go to basketball games, I've been thinking about this outing quite a bit. I've realized that not only don't I care who wins or loses, I don't even care that someone wins. I mean, what difference does it make, really? I'm not talking about alumni spirit or bragging rights. I mean, what difference does it really make?
    Right, it doesn't make any. If we could look past the winning and losing, we might be able to appreciate a sporting event in terms of physical prowess, grace, coordinated effort, etc. Fanaticism about who scores the more points spoils it.

How could winning and losing be neutralized? I don't suppose that they could stop keeping track of scores...Maybe if a game just ended arbitrarily at some point determined by chance? How might that affect spectation and everything else connected with the enterprise?
    It's possible that something like the following could happen:
  1. Attendance would plummet immediately, until spectators overcame the fear that the game might end after, say, only five minutes and they wouldn't get their money's worth. Longer games and shorter games would even out according to the laws of probability. People would adjust to post-game plans' necessarily being tentative.
  2. And bookmaking would take some initial hits, with a number of smaller shops going under because of having failed to understand the mathematics of the new odds. Was the "winner" the team that was ahead a greater amount of time, or the team that was ahead when the game abruptly ended? Or was it the team whose average points-ahead to time-ahead ratio was greater? Or did it even matter anymore who was ahead? Was there anything to bet on anymore?
  3. Injuries would unfortunately increase a bit at first owing to players' losing sleep over their coaches' new strategies for approaching the game. Were they supposed to get a lead and sit on it or try to build the lead? What was that about the points-ahead to time-ahead ratio? Or had it become about something other than being ahead?
  4. Most teams would lose at least one player, with many losing two or three or more, owing to the players' deciding to concentrate on academics, which had come to seem less daunting by comparison. Did it even matter anymore who "came out on top"? What did that mean anyway? Most of the former players would declare philosophy as their major.
  5. When everything settled down, the fans who would be fans regardless would accommodate themselves to the change and carry on as usual. As would the gamblers; they have to bet on something. And the alumni, many of whom rarely give their alma mater a thought but for the rituals of winning and losing athletic contests. They'd all figure out what constituted "winning." Someone has to. They demand it.
Basketball games would not come to mirror life. They'd still not be for simply enjoying along the way (until they died), but would continue to be all about one of the teams' being positioned in such a way at the end that it could be said to have "won" or "lost."
    Basketball would continue to be more like religion than life.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Costco photo

The Costco package my son-in-law forwarded from California arrived yesterday, containing my photo printed 18" x 24" on canvas:


I took the photo on May 23, from a tall ladder. Nikon D60 SLR. The red background is the clay in which we're trying to maintain a lawn and garden.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

"Sherlock Holmes": Not

I hate to have to give the UBOO rating to a film that I didn't literally walk out on. But I went to see Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes" this afternoon with my wife and daughter and son-in-law, so couldn't just leave. If I'd taken the car home I'd have had to come back to get them, etc. Bummer.
    Where does one start in panning this film? Too loud, too much CGI, adolescent "action," contrived and arbitrary plot, exploitive of Conan Doyle's character, etc., etc. What a waste of talent by the many supremely talented individuals who created this travesty.
    On the way home (I wasn't driving), I called my friend Jim Rix, who had a lot to say about Sherlock Holmes in his excellent true crime book, Jingle Jangle: The Perfect Crime Turned Inside Out. He had told me earlier in the week that he planned to go to the movie with his own daughter on Christmas Day. I got his leave-a message, so I did:
You didn't go to see "Sherlock Holmes" yesterday after all, did you? How do I know? Elementary, Mr. dear Watson. If you had gone, you'd have called to warn me. But you didn't. QED.
    It took me a few hours to recover from that smug assault on my senses and intelligence, but I was able by evening to join everyone in watching "The Thomas Crown Affair" (the 1999 version with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, directed by John McTiernan). VG. (With an EO for that see-through black dress Rene wears on her dancing night out with Pierce.)

Friday, December 25, 2009

No sanity clause

Could Paul Krugman have produced Christmas's best pun, not only for its pertinence to our politics but also to Christmas itself? In his opinion piece, "Tidings of Comfort," in today's New York Times, he's explaining why so many people are complaining about "the legislation that passed the Senate on Thursday and will probably, in a slightly modified version, soon become law [and] make America a much better country":
There are three main groups of critics.
    First, there’s the crazy right, the tea party and death panel people — a lunatic fringe that is no longer a fringe but has moved into the heart of the Republican Party. In the past, there was a general understanding, a sort of implicit clause in the rules of American politics, that major parties would at least pretend to distance themselves from irrational extremists. But those rules are no longer operative. No, Virginia, at this point there is no sanity clause.
"But," Krugman continues, "given the way the Senate rules work, it takes 60 votes to do almost anything. And that fact, combined with total Republican opposition, has placed sharp limits on what can be enacted.
    "If progressives want more, they’ll have to make changing those Senate rules a priority...."
    Krugman's opinion piece on Monday ("A Dangerous Dysfunction") focused on the need for that change. May it happen.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Little Johnny on Santa Claus

Christmas opens the colder eye not only of Moristotle, but also of eight-year-old Johnny, who replied to our question, What do you want for Christmas?
    "I want all the false-bearded, fat-padded old pedophiles to stop molesting me and my sister. We get enough of that already at the Church and from our uncle Bob."
    But your parents made a special trip to the mall—
    "Yeah, you'd think they actually believe that rot about Santa Claus."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Silent night, empty night

It behooves me, I think, to try to explain why the Christmas holidays compound life's sadness, as I said the other day they do.
    It's actually pretty simple. The sadness of life lies in loss. We are born (if we haven't lost already in the womb) and immediately start losing things, at last our life itself. The holidays are symbolic of our once-upon-a-time hope that loss is an illusion:
Nature doesn't really die during this time of dark and ice, but renews with the coming of spring. We don't really die, for someone born many years ago did something to ensure that we might live forever. Our families may have split apart, but during this time we can get together again as though nothing has changed.
    Yes, Nature for a few more seasons will be renewed, but not forever and ever. Our planet is undergoing changes and, even if Nature wins the fight to survive, it survives only for a while, until the death of the sun.
    Yes, someone died, but nothing he did or could do is going to change anything about our death. The millions who believe that that is not just a myth show remarkable powers of self-deception. Christmas reminds the thoughtful that it just isn't so, and that may be the deepest sadness of Christmas.
    Yes, some families have enough survivors left to mount a gathering, but it is not the same as remembered. It isn't even remembered accurately, as forgotten animosities resurface, especially when people drink too much or fall back into roles everyone thought they'd outgrown. Or someone dies on the road to Grandma's house, or spends Christmas in an airport. A statistically significant increase in suicides can be reliably predicted.
    The Christmas holidays (including New Year's Day) are sad for reminding us of particular losses. Our parents are dead, some of our siblings, a number of friends. We can't quite get back into the child's belief in Santa Claus—however much authors like Tomie dePaola, in his season's sensational book, Christmas Remembered, like to try to pretend otherwise (I heard Dick Gordon's program today on NPR).

True, many can get into Christmas, don't see anything amiss. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" continues to amuse them. They make out in the gift-exchange, they genuinely enjoy lighting up another's face with a thoughtful present. They save even more at the Christmas sales than they figured they would, even if it means spending more than they planned to. Or, if they're in retail, their store loses less than predicted. They get runner-up for best-decorated house in the neighborhood.
    For them, the loss comes later. The guests are gone, the house is cold again, the lights to take down. Wrapping materials to discard. Tree to chop up. Unwanted gifts to take back for exchange or refund. The pain of the contrast between a day or two or heightened liveliness and the empty let-down of the day-after.
    Loss compounded.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's not easy being a Costco Photo Center supervisor

Costco Photo Center wrote:
Thank you for contacting Costco Photo Center Support.
    We apologize for the inconvenience. As per your request we have submitted a supervisor callback. A supervisor will contact you within 24 hours.
    Thank you,
    Costco Photo Center Support

Dear Costco Online Photo Center Support:
Thanks. I got the callback last night. I apologize for raising my voice to the supervisor. In my frustration and anger at hearing once again that "nothing can be done," I was unable to speak in a normal voice when I told her that she had "at last succeeded in shutting me up."
    And my sarcastic "Congratulations!" was of course unnecessary and discourteous. I am sorry.
    And I apologize, too, for hanging up on her.
    I hope that she has a nice day. It's not easy being a Costco Photo Center supervisor.

Previous Correspondence

Costco Photo Center wrote:
Thank you for contacting Costco Photo Center Support.
    When an order is placed, the order can only be sent to one address. If items need to be sent to more than one address, more than one order needs to be placed. Unfortunately, we are unable to refund for any additional shipping charges after the order has been delivered.
    Thank you,
    Costco Photo Center Support

Dear Costco Online Photo Center Support:
Then I have to tell you that your Photo Center person I spoke with during my placing the order did not tell me this. He should have advised me to re-do the order, but he did not do that. As a result, I did not get the outcome I wanted (and which he understood I wanted), plus I am out additional money to redirect one of the canvases to the correct destination. It seems to me that for Costco to refuse to provide the $20 refund that I requested of the woman I spoke with about one hour ago (which she said she would put in for) is not fair and not in keeping with Costco's policy of customer service and satisfaction.
    I am very dissatisfied. This does not speak well for Costco. It does not reflect the Costco that I have come to love and give my allegiance to. I spend over a hundred dollars (and sometimes several hundred dollars) at Costco virtually every week of the year, and have done so for several years.
    Please reconsider and approve the $20 refund. It's the right thing to do. If you can't bring yourself to do it, then please tell me who your supervisor is and provide contact information.

Costco Photo Center wrote:
Thank you for contacting Costco Photo Center Support.
    Unfortunately, we are unable to refund shipping for orders that are to go to 2 different addresses. For future reference, for any order needing to go to 2 different addresses, you will need to order 2 different orders. We apologize for the inconvenience.
    Thank you,
    Costco Photo Center Support

Dear Costco Online Photo Center Support:
While it is nice to hear from you again, you aren't telling me what I think I deserve to hear, that you are at least reimbursing me for the expense of getting one of the two canvas prints redirected (from California by my daughter) to me (in North Carolina). As I pointed out two days ago, I'm not objecting to your rules and procedures, but to the misleading customer support I received on the phone when I placed the order. That is, the service person I spoke with led me to believe that the order could be split out into two, rather than to advise me (correctly, according to your rules) that he would have to cancel the order and have me do it over as two orders. I don't think I should be penalized for being misled by Costco (if you admit that you permit your employees to represent your company). Don't you see that?
    If you truly do not see that or cannot see it, then I cannot help you. But I will ask you again: please tell me how to contact your supervisor. (Or I will figure it out myself, I guess.)
    Also, the service person I talked with a couple of days ago told me, "I will issue you a twenty-dollar refund." Does she not have the authority to follow through on her assurance? What's going on there?

Costco Photo Center wrote:
Thank you for contacting Costco Photo Center Support.
    You have been scheduled for a supervisor callback. As soon as a supervisor is available, you will be contacted. Callbacks typically take place within 24 hours of initiation. We apologize for any inconvenience you may have experienced.
    Thank you,
    Costco Photo Center Support

Dear Costco Online Photo Center Support:
Thanks to Mr. D for his cordial voice message on my office phone, which I heard this morning (I was away from my office Friday and the weekend). I appreciate the supervisor callback.
    However, I have the same problem with his message that I've had with the two previous emails. That is, Mr. D says "nothing we can do," "no way we can do," "there is no way," "this is policy," "policy," and (again) "nothing we can do." Please convey to Mr. D this message:
As they say, "Give me a break." Of course, there is something you can do. You can authorize my reimbursement for the cost of redirecting one of the two canvases from my daughter's in California to me in North Carolina! The real issue is not what your policy may or may not be, but rather the inadequate (because misleading) way that I was "handled" by two of the Photo Center's phone support staff. I don't feel like repeating what I've already told you, so may I ask you, Mr. D, to please read the previous correspondence? Thanks.
Thanks for conveying that to Mr. D. I appreciate it very much.
    If you should get the idea that Mr. D intends to continue to hide behind "company policy" and protestations of being powerless to do the right thing, then would you be so kind as to schedule an over-supervisor callback? Ask the over-supervisor to please call me at home, since I will not be back in the office until January 4. Thanks!
    Still looking for someone at Costco who is willing to take the managerial authority to step up and do the right thing....

Saturday, December 19, 2009

"Merry Christmas" / "Happy Holidays" / etc.

Life is already sad enough without its sadness's being compounded by "the holiday season." But the season is so entrenched as a traditional practice of wallowing in religiosity, nostalgia, and/or shopping, it isn't going to go away anytime soon.
    On Thursday at the holiday party where I work, a colleague greeted me with a hearty "Merry Christmas!" and I responded perversely with a less robust "Happy Holidays." We then proceeded to have a longer conversation than I would have expected, not because we got into a discussion about the discrepancy, but I think because the discrepancy made us ill at ease and created a need for us to demonstrate that we could still be friendly, despite it.
    At least, it made me ill at ease, since I was the perverse one. I kept thinking about why I'd not just replied in kind and avoided the contretemps, and wondered what she might be thinking about it. (I guess the only way to find out will be to ask her one day—perhaps by sending her a link to this post.)
    And I've kept thinking about it, and discovered an irony in the way holiday greetings are done. "Merry Christmas" is uttered (or said in greeting cards) by people who "believe in Christmas" (or not) and intend to celebrate it themselves (whether or not they believe in it), regardless of the beliefs or practices of those to whom they utter it.
    I replied "Happy Holidays" as a way—ineffective perhaps—of registering that I don't "believe in Christmas" and don't like to celebrate it. But it would actually have been more appropriate for me to tell her "Merry Christmas," since she presumably will celebrate it and would like it to be merry.
    And, following that logic, she might better have said "Happy Holidays" to me (assuming that she was aware of my attitude toward Christmas).
    Except that I don't even like "the holidays," whether religious or commercial, or just sentimental or an excuse to party. Calendar-occasioned conviviality seems false somehow, other-directed1.

Earlier yesterday, I had concluded a response to an email distribution list with:
Merry Christmas if you celebrate it, Happy New Year's (if you celebrate that).
    Good on you in any case.
An if-it-applies qualification might not catch on for party exchanges, but it does suggest a marketing opportunity for greeting card manufacturers.
    I wonder whether writing that email before going to the party set me up to respond the way I did to my colleague's greeting. I had, after all, if unconsciously, already begun to think about these seasonal greetings and their appropriateness/inappropriateness—if not enough yet to realize that the conversation with my colleague might have gone better something like this:
She opens with, "Merry Christmas!"
    "Merry Christmas! But I'm not into Christmas, actually."
    "Oh, sorry. Happy Holidays!"
    "Thanks, that's better. But I'm not really into the holidays either...."
    "Oh, I see. Well, no problem. Hello!"
    "Thanks, that'll do."
    She reflects, then adds, "They are hectic, though, aren't they? The holidays, Christmas, Hanukkah, Eid, Kwanzaa, Yuletide, New Year's...."
    "Indeed, what a drag. I'd rather skip the whole month of December."
    "I know what you mean."
_______________
  1. Wikipedia's paragraph on sociologist David Riesman's 1950 book, The Lonely Crowd:
    ...a sociological study of modern conformity, which postulates the existence of the "inner-directed" and "other-directed" personalities. Riesman argues that the character of post WWII American society impels individuals to "other-directedness", the preeminent example being modern suburbia, where individuals seek their neighbors' approval and fear being outcast from their community. This lifestyle has a coercive effect, which compels people to abandon "inner-direction" of their lives, and induces them to take on the goals, ideology, likes, and dislikes of their community. Ironically, this creates a tightly grouped crowd of people that is yet incapable of truly fulfilling each other's desire for companionship. The book is considered a landmark study of American character.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Three “little Siegfrieds”

Karen, who sold us our beloved Siegfried back in March, has announced the availability of three more “beautiful Cream/White puppies”:
My daughter said, "Aw, don't you want another? Just ask DeAnn how much more fun it is with two! I copied her so she could see the photos. She sent a picture of their two [Wolfie and Beauregard] in her Christmas card."
    I replied, "They are sooooo cute, and we love the 60-pound version also, but two, big Siegfrieds? You've got to be kidding!"
    Then DeAnn suggested that we purchase one of the little Siegfrieds and name him Roy.
    That wasn't the first time that my wife and I had heard that one. She decided she had to set the record straight:
Siegfried is a reference to Wagner, not to Las Vegas. We'd have to name the dog Wotan or Siegmund; for a female, Brünnhilde or Sieglinde.
She even got out her set of DVDs of "Der Ring des Nibelungen," to check the spellings.
    This might be a good time of year to watch that....

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Death, too, is what happens....

Death, too, is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.

In memoriam Professor Stephen Gardner

Yesterday I asked a professional colleague whether she were looking forward to our association's next annual meeting. "Have you talked with Stephen yet whether he'll accompany you again?" And she replied:
Stephen died November 10th. He had a fall at home while he was alone and it caused a brain bleed that was left unchecked until I got home at 6 p.m. He never regained consciousness. Although he received brain surgery, his brain stem was damaged. Brain stems cannot be repaired. We removed life support and he moved on to the next phase of existence at 2 a.m.
    I still find it unbelievable. I’m spending Christmas with his mother, who is 95 years old and devastated to lose her only son. He was 61.
    You can see his obit (I guess you still can) at shellhousefuneralhome.com. [Yes, you still can: go there and search obituaries on "gardner."]
    So, I’m not really looking forward to much or anything right now.
    But, I’ll be there.
I, too, am planning to be there.

In memoriam Professor John E. Smith

A few minutes later yesterday I received an email from the assistant to the Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Yale University:
Hi Morris,
    Just thought you should know the sad news that John Smith passed away on December 7. He was 88, visiting his daughter in Washington, and it happened very quickly. We are planning a small funeral tomorrow [i.e., today] with a burial in the Grove Street Cemetery, but a large memorial service probably in March. Sorry to be the bearer of this news.
    Love from both to both,
    Pat
Pat became John Smith's secretary during my junior year at Yale, while I was his bursary student in the department. The first "both" refers to her and her husband Alan, who were very kind to me, sort of my big siblings away from my childhood home in California, the second "both" to me and my wife, who took Pat and Alan to lunch in New Haven in the summer of 1976.
    The last time I saw her or Professor Smith was at another lunch in New Haven, in June 1989, when I bought meals for them and a classmate (another of John Smith's bursary students), on the occasion of our 25th Yale Class Reunion.
    As I recorded on November 1, my last correspondence with Dr. Smith was to bear to him the news (unwittingly) of the death of his good friend, Professor Errol E. Harris.
    Professor Smith's obituary appears in The New York Times. I have walked by the Grove Street Cemetery many times.
    John Edwin Smith may have been making other plans when he died. I had certainly been making other plans, considering whether to ask him about something I was reading in Yalom's novel, The Schopenhauer Cure:
JES, do you agree with the opinion that Schopenhauer was a greater philosopher than Fichte and Hegel?

In memoriam a young person

And yesterday, too, as reported in The Durham Herald-Sun this morning:
Chapel Hill—...a UNC Chapel Hill freshman hospitalized at UNC Hospitals since November 20 with swine flu, has died.
    Hospital spokesman..., contacted late Wednesday night, could provide no further details, except to confirm the death.
    [The] 18-year-old dramatic arts major from Rhode Island had been on life support before she died, apparently from complications of the H1N1 virus.
    [Her] illness had garnered national attention, and thousands of well wishers had been following her ordeal on a Facebook page titled "Prayers for Lillian."
Who's busier making other plans than a college freshman?

Missing the bus stop....

But it was this morning that this codicil to Lennon came to me. It came to me on my quarter-mile walk back from getting off the bus to the stop that I'd missed because I'd been...busy making other plans.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

...while you're busy making other plans

Was John Lennon quoting Schopenhauer when he said:
Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans1.
According to the character Philip, a "philosophical therapist" in Irvin D. Yalom's novel, The Schopenhauer Cure, quite a few others have "quoted" Schopenhauer:
And not only Thomas Mann but many other great minds acknowledged their debt to Arthur Schopenhauer. Tolstoy called Schopenhauer the "genius par excellence among men." To Richard Wagner he was a "gift from Heaven." Nietzsche said his life was never the same after purchasing a tattered volume of Schopenhauer in a used-book store in Leipzig and, as he put it, "letting the dynamic, dismal genius work on my mind." Schopenhauer forever changed the intellectual map of the Western World, and without him we would have had a very different and weaker Freud, Nietzsche, Hardy, Wittgenstein, Beckett, Ibsen, Conrad. [p. 50]
The Schopenhauer quotation [on p. 91 of The Schopenhauer Cure] that reminded me of John Lennon's famous statement was:
When, at the end of their lives, most men look back they will find that they have lived throughout ad interim [for the intervening time, temporarily]. They will be surprised to see that the very thing they allowed to slip by unappreciated and unenjoyed was just their life. And so a man, having been duped by hope, dances into the arms of death.
    Lennon's is easier to take and more memorable, isn't it? Without that final sentence.

But we need that sentence, to be reminded not to let our lives just slip by unappreciated while we're busy making other plans.
_______________
  1. He might have said this in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine about 1970. At any rate, a citation in a Google hit list included both the part of the quotation I searched on and a reference to Rolling Stone.

Monday, December 14, 2009

God, The Main True Thing

As I stepped off the bus this morning to walk to my office, I had what felt like an epiphany, an answer to a conundrum: The God Conundrum.
    I think it was provoked by the memory of an interchange I had over a period of months a few years ago with a devout Muslim named Maliha. For the last minute on the bus I had been regretting that I seemed to have cut myself off from Maliha by virtue of my having vigorously denied the truth of Islam.
    And I was likely thinking of being cut off because of just having read in Irvin D. Yalom's The Schopenhauer Cure how psychotherapy group member Philip has explicitly followed Schopenhauer in willing (like a porcupine) to cut himself off from others, but has been unsettled by recent interchanges into wondering whether he is right to follow Schopenhauer in this.
    Maliha had usually ended her emails by saying, "Take care of you." This reminded me that I care about Maliha too, as she seemed to care about me. She'd also a few times said that we were each of us on our own path to God, we had that in common. As I stepped off the bus, I must have been asking myself what was "God" that both a devout Muslim and an atheist could be on the path to it?

The answer came back at me so quickly and easily, it had that well-oiled feeling characteristic of epiphanies, the feeling that it's so clear and easy it has to be right. I'll try to express it, so you can judge for yourself.
    It came to me that God is The Main True Thing. Like Paul Tillich's "ultimate concern," which everyone has, "the main true thing" too is common to everyone; that is, to all "bipeds" (as Schopenhauer usually referred disdainfully to humans), to everyone with a human brain. We all want to (must) settle on what we regard as the main true thing.
    Many children just adopt as the main true thing whatever their parents have laid on them by virtue of the First Amendment, whether explicitly granted (as to U.S. citizens) or just assumed by cultural default (as in the Near East, if not in most countries). Others go on a quest for it, like Maliha and me; we're on a path, we don't think we're at the destination yet, we're still wending our way.

But there are two main branches of this path. Maliha has taken one, I the other. Her branch is roughly that there is a supernatural order that is more real (infinitely more real) than the natural order that we experience here on Earth during our eye-blink of a corporeal lifetime. And we can get in touch with this order, or at least align ourselves with it through moral and meditative practice. I understand that Maliha's path is to discipline herself in those practices.
    The other branch of The One True Thing path, the one that I have taken, is that there is no supernatural order, nothing "out there" or "above here" to get in touch with. Our eye-blink of a lifetime is all there is for each of us. Death is final. As Schopenhauer put it (from Epicurus apparently, according to Yalom in Staring at the Sun), "After our death we will be what we were before our birth." [quoted on p. 210 in Yalom's The Schopenhauer Cure]

Take care of you too, Maliha, on your path to The One True Thing. We are on it together, in our divergent senses of what The One True Thing is.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Auld lang sein

A supreme value of life is old friendships that don't die. One such that I treasure is that with Bill and Ishrut, who lived next-door to us when we moved into our house in Stoneridge, in Chapel Hill, on August 21, 1983. I still remember the date we moved to North Carolina, too: Bloomsday that same year1. Our new house wasn't ready yet, so we lived in the Carolina Inn for one week, then the rest of the summer in a house in Falconbridge.
    Ishrut was my wife's best friend. Bill was about the most urbane, sociable man I'd ever met. His company was eminently enjoyable. Both of them were world-traveled and cosmopolitan (and still are). They'd met in Tehran and, I believe, gotten married there. Bill was there on assignment for the international company he worked for. I think his next assignment was in France, before they moved to Chapel Hill. And it was his next assignment, to São Paulo, Brazil, that took them away again, in 1986 or 87.
    As I recall, their return to the U.S. was to Connecticut, somewhere near Milford. I remember because that's where they moored their boat, and have continued to moor it the fifteen or more years they've lived in Princeton.
    After their annual seasonal letter arrived last year, with its news of their sailing, my daughter told me that her memory from our first years in North Carolina of Bill and Ishrut's being sailors had inspired her twenty years later to take up sailing. This year's letter arrived this week, and I replied with our news, including our daughter's plan to participate with her husband in the Pacific Cup Race to Hawaii next summer, aboard a 42-ft J-type craft. Bill wrote back:
With a J42 they are certainly racing the right boat. With a good set of sails (mostly spinnaker work—and it is down wind (sleigh ride) to the Islands from San Fran, well, actually from Los Angeles). A very serious racing sailor friend of mine participated in this race and was a member of the on-deck night crew—and commented that he pushed the boat very hard during the night—and groused that the day guys were more conservative with shortened sail etc.—which was the principal reason, of course, as to why they did not win the race, etc., etc. Lots of stories.
    I shared this with my daughter, who wrote to Bill and Ishrut:
My husband and some guys sailed a Catalina 42 in the Pac Cup last year with an asymmetrical spinnaker and they moaned quite a bit about how slow it was and that it would not sail dead downwind or even particularly deep. We don't have that problem with the J42! It came with a carbon fiber pole and an asymmetrical spinnaker and our boat partner (the money in the partnership) has bought a new main, two new jibs, two symmetrical spinnakers, all new running rigging, etc. and we are yet to take the thing to another rigger for some more tweaks on the set up. The boat is currently at the yard and just got a new bottom, rudder repair (looks like we hit that shoal pretty hard back in the summer, LOL), etc. and the guys are taking it from there to another yard tomorrow to have the forward head made legal (holding tank installed). For the Pac Cup we will be running it as hard and fast as we can, considering it is set up for cruising (we will take out the microwave and leave the dinghy at home but we still have a huge stainless radar arch and dinghy davits integrated into the lifeline set up). I am the weakest driver of the six or seven going, but hopefully I will get in enough downwind (and night) practice it the next six months that I will not be completely petrified. <smile> I don't see us shortening sail or taking down the kite unless things get really hairy. We are hoping for wind and not the awful calm of my husband's aborted trip in 2000 where they had to turn around and come back due to running low on food and water!
    Ha ha, it is fun to write that to someone who can understand it! It certainly sounds like you are enjoying your lovely boat!
I of course don't understand all of this but am delighted that my daughter speaks sailor so fluently!

A special gift of this friendship is what Bill told me today about visiting this blog:
I truly admire and am a fan of your web site. Its content runs deep, but I do manage to glean “stuff”—just the prodigious nature of it amazes me. Anyway, the site resides in my favorites and periodically I call it up to see what’s new!
<blush>
_______________
  1. June 16, 1904, the day that James Joyce met Nora Barnacle. It is commemorated by Joyce as the day the events in his 1922 novel, Ulysses, take place. By the way, I didn't choose Bloomsday to leave California because it was Bloomsday; it was just the first day I could leave—the day after my last obligation to IBM's Santa Teresa Laboratory ended.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A sad irony of the First Amendment

Irvin D. Yalom is one of my favorite authors. Not only have two of his collections of "tales of psychotherapy" richly rewarded my reading1, but also two and now a recently started third of his three novels2, The Schopenhauer Cure, with dozens of quotations from the works of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) sprinkled throughout.
    The theme of the book might be phrased, "how to face death," same as Yalom's most recent non-fiction book, which I read a few weeks ago: Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death. In The Schopenhauer Cure, Yalom fictionalizes himself as of course also having to face death. Sounds grim? Well, know this: it's a compelling read for discriminating readers.

Anyway, what's this about the First Amendment? And just what is the First Amendment?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof [emphasis mine]; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
    In both of Yalom's books cited above, religion is acknowledged as having a use for people in facing death—even though Yalom will have nothing to do with it personally. So, on the first page of Chapter 8, Yalom places this quotation from Schopenhauer:
Religion has everything on its side: revelation, prophecies, government protection [emphasis mine], the highest dignity and eminence...and more than this, the invaluable prerogative of being allowed to imprint its doctrines on the mind at a tender age of childhood, whereby they become almost innate ideas. [p. 55]
Therein lies the irony, that the United States Constitution, in protecting "religious freedom," practically denies religious freedom (including the ability to say "no" to religion) to children!
_______________
  1. I have read these collections: Love's Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy (1989) and Momma and the Meaning of Life: Tales of Psychotherapy (1999).
  2. His other novels are: When Nietzsche Wept (1992) and Lying on the Couch (1996). The first has been made into a movie (2007), with Armand Assante in the title role.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

All in a name

This morning at the office we had bagels and coffee for a colleague's eightieth birthday. It was a happy hour of reminiscing for us all. The celebrant told the story of a woman named Sexauer at the UNC campus he'd come to General Administration from. "It's a true story," he said.
Someone called the campus and asked for the dean.
    "He isn't available right now."
    "Could I speak to the associate dean, then?"
    "I'm afraid he's not available either."
    "Well, this is urgent. Isn't there anyone there I can talk to? Who is this?"
    "No, there's not. This is Sexauer."

S5/#12, an EO episode of "Grey's Anatomy"

Episode Twelve of Season Five of Shonda Rhimes's "Grey's Anatomy" was so good that I have to review it. I of course love the show anyway (more than my wife, who has come to think of it as a soap opera, but who did happen to watch Episode Twelve with me). When I say "was," I'm referring to night before last, when we watched it on DVD borrowed from our local branch of the Alamance County Libraries.
    Like many a fine story, there's lots going on in any episode of "Grey's Anatomy." In this episode, for example, a 5'-5" guy ends up in Seattle Grace Hospital with severe infections in both legs owing to having had surgery in Thailand to lengthen his legs by two inches. His main complaint seems to have been that he could never get a second date from any girl he dated. Being short just sucked. Unfortunately, in Seattle he lost not only the two inches gained in Thailand but also another quarter-inch due to the surgeon's having to shave the ends of the reconnected bones. The guy is even more dejected now. His brother, there to offer moral support, but quite exasperated by now, asks, "Five-three, five-five, what's the difference anyway?" His brother acknowledges, "Not much, but at least you can actually say you're five-five; anything shorter than that, you can't."
    This wasn't just a nice joke. In the course of the conversation of which the "joke" was a part, the guy's brother has let him know how much his obsession with being short has disrupted the brother's life. In paraphrase, the brother says, "I'm five-ten, but I didn't play basketball because you'd moan about being too short to play. Girls didn't not want to date you because you're short, but because you're always complaining about being short." The beauty of the scene, for me, was the sense (from the brilliant writing, acting, and directing) that the guy got it and might now be able to move on.

But the story line in Episode Twelve that figuratively made me jump up and shout bravo was the one with guest actor Eric Stoltz in the role of a PDR (prisoner on death row) who is brought in to Seattle Grace to have multiple stab wounds tended to. An X-ray reveals that there's a sharp object about three inches long sticking through one of his vertebrae. (It's a broken-off toothbrush handle that was filed down and sharpened for use as a shiv.)
    The PDR's presence in the hospital surfaces significant differences in moral response from the doctors....
    I just realized that it could take more words than I think a post (even one of mine) should have to clearly recount the plot lines of Episode Twelve. I'm thinking of Dr. Mark Sloan in the previous episode's having gone to bed with "Little Grey" even though he'd promised "Big Grey's" boyfriend (and his long-time friend), Dr. Derek Shepherd, that he wouldn't; so what's going to happen with this? And Derek's mother (who was practically a mother to Mark too) is coming to visit and meet "Big Grey," who is being coached by Dr. Izzy Stevens how to impress a potential mother-in-law. Derek's father (we learn in this episode) was murdered in a store robbery, so Derek has no sympathy for the PDR, and his mother might be expected to have none either. And there's a little boy in the hospital, at death's door and desperately needing a new intestine and liver, whose blood type and antibodies just happen to be matched by the corresponding organs in the PDR....
    Indeed, in the hands of a lesser writer than Shonda Rhimes and her staff, of a lesser director and lesser actors, this could be soap opera of a laughable kind. But the writing and all are so perfect (I might mention the editing too) that it's just ExtraOrdinary!
    I recommend that you see it for yourself, and not just this episode, but the preceding eleven episodes of the season, if not the preceding however many episodes of four seasons! Nearly a hundred, I guess. Do I need to get a life, or what?

Monday, December 7, 2009

The "right spouse"?

A sentence from Ian McEwan's short story about Michael Beard's courtship of Maisie Farmer deflates both the romance of that "poetic" courtship and the romantic assumption of Friday's post on how we know we chose "the right spouse":
He [Michael] was to count that misty, sunny November afternoon, along the Cherwell river by the Rainbow Bridge, as the point at which the first of his marriages began. [Emphasis mine] [from "The Use of Poetry," in today's issue of The New Yorker]
    E. B. White might have married someone other than Katherine Angell and, with luck, have found as good an indicator that that was the right one as "tooth twine" had been that it was Katherine. And I....
    And you.

McEwan's story of Michael Beard's first courtship is too good to be Beard's whole story. One hopes that "The Use of Poetry" is the opening chapter of "his novel Solar," which The New Yorker's notes on contributors promise "is due out in the spring."
    A clue that it might be is that the Michael Beard character is interested in photons (a basic unit of light) and decades later will win the Nobel Prize in Physics. Just the sort of delicious story that Ian McEwan has been setting before us for three decades.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Enhancement to my movie listing

Today I decided to include with my movie ratings a link to the movie's Internet Movie Database entry. I usually consult the IMDb anyway for director's name or release year.
    The first movie for which I provide the link is "Laurel Canyon," which we viewed last night. Directed by Lisa Cholodenko, released in 2002, starring Frances McDormand, Christian Bale, Kate Beckinsale, Natascha McElhone, and Alessandro Nivola. All of that information and much more can be found at imdb.com.
    What a fine atmosphere of danger Cholodenko manages—real-life danger, not Hollywood-manufactured for the movies. I know which of the two women I hope the Christian Bale character goes to....

I am grateful to my neighbors Bill and Pamela, for lending us "Laurel Canyon" from their vast personal library of movies. About the only thing from my own scant library that I was able to lend them was "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover." Incredibly, Bill and Pamela had never even heard of Peter Greenaway. And Bill and I have read so many of the same books! For example, Uncommon Therapy (about the psychiatrist Milton Erickson) by Jay Haley and The Structure of Magic and other books about neuro-linquistic programming by psychologist Richard Bandler and linguist John Grinder. (We got to talking about NLP yesterday because Bill, who's NLP-certified, commented that the way I phrased something sounded as though I was familiar with NLP myself.)

To find my movie listing, first click on "[SIDEBAR TABLE OF CONTENTS]," in the masthead, then click on "Movies," in the right column.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

About those dead cats

It's cold and dreary in Mebane. There's even a possibility of snow (our always-reliable and hardly-ever-wrong weather forecasters tell us). What better sort of day for reading Gail Collins, who is even more reliable and right than our weather forecasters? I recommend her op-ed piece, "The Lost Weekend," in today's New York Times. Excerpts:
The Senate is going to be in session all weekend, debating the big health care bill and arguing about which direction the cost-curve is heading. This is a positive development on two counts. It keeps senators off the streets while providing much-needed employment in the chart-making sector of our economy.
    ...
    Is that perfectly clear? Good. Now we will return to our regularly scheduled conversation. Did you see that hot reality show “Hoarders” on A&E the other night? What about that lady who hoarded her dead cats? If “Hoarders” gets superpopular, do you think lots of people will start putting dead cats in their living room just so they can get on TV and be famous? Maybe somebody will try to bring dead cats to a state dinner at the White House! Does the Secret Service have a plan to avert this?
    Sorry. I’ll behave. Back to the health care bill.
    ...
    In fact, G.O.P. senators appear to have amendments aimed at wiping out virtually all the cost-cutting the Democrats have put in the bill, including productivity adjustments and incentives for innovation in health care delivery.
    If they can’t kill the bill completely, Republicans who are not from Maine seem intent on raising its price tag....
    There is no sane explanation for all this other than crass political calculation....
    Now, about those dead cats.
Enjoy today's weather.
    Or, as my friend Fred says:
McCain's not crazy. He's just performing stunts that he thinks will help him get re-elected. Unfortunately, there are no end of people (they're called politicians) who are quite willing to screw up the country as long as they can continue to enjoy the spotlight and perks of public office.

Friday, December 4, 2009

How you know you chose the right spouse

In Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White's The Elements of Style, I learned this morning how E. B. White (1899-1985) knew he had chosen the right woman to marry:
White married Katharine Angell in 1929 after what he later described as a "stormy" romance (when they first met, she was in a failing marriage and had two children). White later wrote, "I soon realized I had made no mistake in my choice of a wife. I was helping her pack an overnight bag one afternoon when she said, 'Put in some tooth twine.' I knew then that a girl who called dental floss tooth twine was the girl for me." [p. 32]

How did I choose?

Well, it wasn't hard. My wife of almost forty-four years was good-looking and intellectual. How could I resist someone who appeared in our very first conversation to be enthusiastically interested in what I was telling her about a book I was then reading [Gestalt Psychology, by Wolfgang Köhler (1887-1967)]? We were wed six weeks later.
    My wife is the only person I know who has read the whole of Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, and while I may be the one of us interested in modernism and the modern Irish writers (I have read most of literary critic Hugh Kenner's books and Ellmann's biography of James Joyce), she's the one of us who has actually finished reading Ulysses.
    Mention of my wife reminds me of one of her memorable observations. It was a speculation about why someone we know had chosen his wife. "It couldn't have been her face, but it might have been her fetching rear end."

How did you choose?

Please tell us in a comment how you know you chose the right one....

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Remembering our evening at Ernie's

Looking forward to some possibly fine dining on New Year's Eve (and our daughter's fortieth birthday), I had occasion today to remember that forty-one years ago my wife and I dined at one of San Francisco's (and the world's) most elegant restaurants, Ernie's, which I believe closed in 1995. We chose Ernie's on the advice of Dr. Patrick McClung, a colleague at IBM's joint Total Operations Processing System (TOPS) Project with the Southern Pacific Railroad. Pat was well-known on the project for his savoir-faire and cosmopolitanism.
    The occasion was to celebrate my winning a TOPS dinner-for-two award. Pat recommended that I send one of the secretaries over to pick up a menu for me to study beforehand. "And she should say it's for Doctor Dean and his wife," he advised. "That'll set a better tone for your arrival."
    I suppose that Pat could send one of our secretaries over (and yes, they were all female), but I wasn't about to impose. I walked to Ernie's myself and asked to borrow a menu—leather-bound, I was pleasantly surprised to learn. (I don't think I knew until that moment just what class of restaurant Pat was sending us to.)
    My wife and I looked everything up in Larousse Gastronomique, and we knew before we entered Ernie's just what we were going to have. I can even remember what we ate and what the waiter who served us looked like ("a Russian hussar," as I said in my memo the following Monday to the project manager, subject "Gourmandizing at Ernie's"). It's understandable, if somewhat incredible, that I still remember, we made such a to-do about it.
    Pat made some particular recommendations for the evening. "While you're waiting in the bar to be seated, order a glass of Pedro Domecq La Ina sherry." We did, and, wow!, I imagine that I can still remember how fine it was.
    Pat suggested a bottle of Puligny-Montrachet to drink with our aperitifs, and a bottle of Hospices de Beaune with our entrées. We did, and (as incredible as anything else about the occasion) we drank both bottles and still managed to get home in one piece to dismiss the baby-sitter, whose fee was also covered by the dinner-for-two award.
    While I can't claim to be utterly certain at this point, I think that these are the items we had:
Aperitifs: Turtle soup, caviar, pâté de foie gras.
Salads: Kentucky limestone lettuce for my wife, hearts of palm for me.
Entrées: Lamb chops for my wife, medallions of beef for me.
Desserts: I had to consult my wife, who remembers that we both had chocolate mousse.
By the way, we really, really blew the budget the project manager had set aside for the award, and future recipients were limited to a specified reimbursable amount (one of my fondest IBM memories). But in 1968, the restaurant bill for all of the above mentioned was only about $100 for the both of us.

Moral consequence of Descartes' error

Antonio R. Damasio, in his 1994 book, Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, identifies the error of René Descartes [1596-1650] as occurring a few lines after his famous statement, "I think, therefore I am." Says Damasio:
Here Descartes was after a logical foundation for his philosophy...But just a few lines below, Descartes clarifies the statement unequivocally:
From that I knew that I was a substance, the whole essence or nature of which is to think, and that for its existence there is no need of any place, nor does it depend on any material thing; so that this "me," that is to say, the soul by which I am what I am, is entirely distinct from body, and is even more easy to know than is the latter; and even if body were not, the soul would not cease to be what it is. [p. 249]
We don't need Damasio to tell us that "from [I think, therefore I am]" Descartes can know no such thing. But here's how Damasio puts it:
This is Descarte's error: the abyssal separation between body and mind, between the sizable, dimensioned, mechanically operated, infinitely divisible body stuff, on the one hand, and the unsizable, undimensioned, un-pushpullable, nondivisible mind stuff; the suggestion that reasoning, and moral judgment, and the suffering that comes from physical pain or emotional upheaval might exist separately from the body. Specifically: the separation of the most refined operations of mind from the structure and operation of a biological organism. [pp. 249-250]
None of this should be new to us, but of course to many people it is, and they reject it. They persist in Descartes' error, and perhaps even in a moral failure that derives from it:
Versions of Descartes' error obscure the roots of the human mind in a biologically complex but fragile, finite, and unique organism; they obscure the tragedy implicit in the knowledge of that fragility, finiteness, and uniqueness. And where humans fail to see the inherent tragedy of conscious existence, they feel far less called upon to do something about minimizing it, and may have less respect for the value of life. [p. 251]
I like to think that Jesus Christ's philosophy of compassion was rooted in his appreciation of this inherent tragedy. He came to be known as "The Man of Sorrows," suffering for mankind (if not also for "lesser" animals on the food chain, like my dog Siegfried and the birds whose still bodies he finds in our back yard). I would like to think that Jesus felt sorrowful for them too. My mother did, and I do.
    Alas, "The Man of Sorrows" tradition seems to refer to Jesus's personal suffering because of being required by God to "bear our griefs and carry our sorrows," being "smitten of God, and afflicted," "wounded for our transgressions," "bruised for our iniquities," and having laid on him "the iniquity of us all." And all that. Nothing to do with our actual human tragedy.
    But we know not of the actual human being, Jesus of Nazareth. We know only the fabulous creature whose life and teachings were variously described by a number of people, including quite a few who had no personal acquaintance of him, having been born after he died. As I said, I like to think that his compassion rose out of a sense of the fragility, finiteness, and uniqueness of conscious existence.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

They saved a place for me

Four of my dear old IBM California buddies had lunch together yesterday and kindly had a place set for me. And the old friend taking the picture even ate the food ordered for me rather than let it go to waste (he knows how much I hate to leave anything on my plate).
    Sorry, fellas, that I couldn't get out to join you.

But why do the three shown all look so much older than I?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tragic mistake

The mounting news over the past weeks has come to a head, and President Obama is expected to announce this evening: America will send a few more tens of thousands of military personnel to Afghanistan. Over these weeks, I have felt myself becoming sadder and sadder, more and more disappointed in our President, who I had hoped would have the sense and the courage to disengage militarily. Bob Herbert, in his op-ed column, "A Tragic Mistake," in today's New York Times, expresses my opinion better than I could:
It would have been much more difficult for Mr. Obama to look this troubled nation in the eye and explain why it is in our best interest to begin winding down the permanent state of warfare left to us by the Bush and Cheney regime. It would have taken real courage for the commander in chief to stop feeding our young troops into the relentless meat grinder of Afghanistan....
    More soldiers committed suicide this year than in any year for which we have complete records. But the military is now able to meet its recruitment goals because the young men and women who are signing up can’t find jobs in civilian life. The United States is broken—school systems are deteriorating, the economy is in shambles, homelessness and poverty rates are expanding—yet we’re nation-building in Afghanistan, sending economically distressed young people over there by the tens of thousands at an annual cost of a million dollars each.
    I keep hearing that Americans are concerned about gargantuan budget deficits. Well, the idea that you can control mounting deficits while engaged in two wars that you refuse to raise taxes to pay for is a patent absurdity. Small children might believe something along those lines. Rational adults should not.
    ...The tougher choice for the president would have been to tell the public that the U.S. is a nation faced with terrible troubles here at home and that it is time to begin winding down a war that veered wildly off track years ago. But that would have taken great political courage. It would have left Mr. Obama vulnerable to the charge of being weak, of cutting and running, of betraying the troops who have already served. The Republicans would have a field day with that scenario.
    ...We still haven’t learned to recognize real strength, which is why it so often seems that the easier choice for a president is to keep the troops marching off to war.
Mr. Herbert states flatly that this "will prove to be a tragic mistake." I am afraid that he is right.

See others' opinions

On The Caucus, The New York Times's blog of politics and government, find today, under "Full Circle for the Commander in Chief," other readers' responses to the questions:
What would you like to hear from the president tonight? Will his supporters be open to persuasion? How can he best convince you that he is proceeding on the right path in Afghanistan?
    You're invited to share your thoughts there, too, if you can manage to do so before comments are closed.

I myself was able to register a comment on the Caucus blog. I didn't read all of the comments (there were hundreds), nor did I literally count the pros and cons, but I got a sense that there were five or more comments against sending more troops than comments in support of doing so.
    I think that all of the high-level military and political planning (summarized by President Obama on Tuesday evening) dwells in Fantasyland. When it comes to those ancient tribal cultures, we are utterly foolish to think we can establish in them any lasting structures to our liking (without far, far more dedicated resources than we remotely begin to have or could remotely hope to find support for).
    Don't say it, for I know: I shouldn't take all of this so seriously.

Message from Jehovah

Handwritten note left under my door by Jevonda in September:
This is Jevonda!
    Believe it or not....
Email to Jevonda:
Dear Jevonda! I would so like to have been here yesterday!
    When I first saw your note, I read it as saying
This is Jehovah!
    Believe it or not....

and half expected the next words to be: "God exists!" and to discover that someone here was funning me. How relieved I was to make out instead, "I came to see Karrie and dropped by to see you too"!
Email from Jevonda yesterday:
I'm so embarrassed that I am just now responding to you! I forwarded your message from my work account to my personal account back in September and then totally forgot that I needed to respond. Please forgive.
    It's funny how you interpreted my note to you. Perhaps God really is trying to send you a message!
Email to Jevonda:
Well, Jevonda, if you are embarrassed, I was afraid that my Jehovah misreading might have offended you. I'm relieved that apparently not. Thanks for your nice reply that "Perhaps God really is trying to send you a message!" Indeed, I agree to the extent that if "God" existed and did such things, then it might indeed have been such a message.
    I've been reading around the edges of Karen Armstrong's new book, The Case for God: What Religion Really Means, and I was surprised to learn that her first few books (she says in the Introduction) were fairly "Dawkinsesque" (disbelieving; that's a reference to the currently perhaps best-known atheist, biologist Richard Dawkins). But she still denies the existence of God in the various primitive guises by which he is known through the Abrahamaic scriptures, thinking of "God," apparently, as literally "Nothing" in the sense that "God is not a thing."
    I'm curiously prompted by what she writes to ask myself whether there is a role in my life for this sort of "God"? For religion? I suspect that "this sort of God" is just a tautological wisp from some such Paul Tillichian pronouncement as "God is whatever our ultimate concern is." That is, if I have an "ultimate concern"—which anyone would seem to have to have—then that is my "God." (I was fortunate to hear Tillich lecture at Yale, by the way, and also Reinhold Niebuhr; how exciting that was for this questing philosophy major!)
    I'm not sure that acknowledging that I therefore "have God in my life" is going to make that much difference. At least, it might make me a little less of a burr under the saddles of others and render me more socially acceptable to the religious.