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35 Days. . .(and counting)

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President-elect Donald Trump likes present himself as a wildly successful businessman; someone in possession of uncanny abilities, and possessing such rare insights as to be able to best the brightest and most accomplished competitors at the negotiating table.

Mr. Trump also likes to emphasize the magnitude of his intellect by repeatedly exclaiming, he “has the best words” and that he “knows more about ISIS than the generals.” He attributes these amazing faculties to the fact that he’s “like, a smart person” with a degree of disingenuousness that is simply stunning.

All that being said, one could be pardoned for thinking Mr. Trump’s vocabulary lacks depth or breadth, owing to the fact that during and after his campaign his language was more appropriate to an elementary school playground than anything resembling an adult conversation. Those “best words” he alleges to possess must be some words because he is loathe to use them (at least in public) for fear of alienating his worshipful followers. Besides, “The Donald” loves “the in-(under)-educated”; stands to reason he would use language better suited to their limited intellects.

As for Mr. Trump’s much vaunted (by his own account) knowledge of ISIS, the source of this intelligence remains a mystery. Perhaps his varied business dealings in the Middle East have provided rare insights into the inner workings of the ISLAMIC STATE. Could ISIS be controlling the construction industry in Dubai? It’s known they control the flow of oil from their captured territories. Could ISIS be using the sanitation industry as a front for their nefarious schemes. Both the construction and sanitation industries are heavily involved in the real estate business; something Donald Trump knows a great deal about; that and “branding”. Perhaps he has sources in these industries feeding him inside information. Or maybe he just sat through a couple of screenings of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (although that’s highly unlikely, Mr. Trump isn’t known for a long attention span). One can only hazard a guess as to where Mr. Trump’s information originates. One thing’s certain, though, it isn’t coming from his own government’s intelligence sources.

And speaking of intelligence sources, how could someone as supposedly brilliant as Donald Trump fail to recognize the danger in inviting a foreign government — one that admittedly does not have the best interests of this country at heart — to spy on his competition?  If the last of the three pigs opened the door for the wolf, the wolf would be an idiot to insist on huffing and puffing instead of simply walking in. Does Donald Trump believe Vladimir Putin is an idiot? I think not. Mr. Trump sees Mr. Putin as a friend. (A friend, by the way, who spent his entire adult life in the espionage services of his country on his way to absolute power). After all, Mr. Putin complimented “The Donald”, calling him “an amazing fellow” (in Russian, the same way you or I would say, “Isn’t that squirrel on a surfboard amazing?!” or “Isn’t that bear on a unicycle amazing?!”) I’m sure Mr. Trump is of the opinion a friend wouldn’t do something as crass and underhanded as spy on the opposing candidate and swing the election in his favor. What would he have to gain? What indeed.

During the Cold War, anyone who openly promoted reductions in nuclear weapons or the expansion of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) was labelled “a dupe of the Kremlin”. In the run-up to the first Gulf War, anyone who advocated for continued diplomatic efforts to avert the war was labelled “a dupe of Saddam” and accused of “giving aid and comfort” to the enemy. I think, in the present circumstances, that label can (and should) be assigned to Donald Trump, a man who invited an adversary to spy, denied do so and, when faced with the fact that spying took place, said, “It could’ve been anybody. It could’ve been China. It could’ve been Korea. It could’ve been a 400 pound fat guy in his bed in New Jersey.”(Chris Christie?)

Come on, Donald! You know you’ve been punked. Admit it.

It’s the smart thing to do.

Here’s To The Crazy Ones . . .

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“There was never a great genius without a touch of madness”

–Ben Jonson

According to the results of  a study published in the journal, Nature Neuroscience on Monday, Ben Jonson actually was correct.  According to the study, scientists in Iceland (of all places) report that “genetic factors that raise the risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are found more often in people in creative professions.  Painters, musicians, writers and dancers were, on average, 25% more likely to carry the gene variant than professions . . .judged to be less creative, i.e. farmers, manual laborers and salespeople.” (Wonder why they didn’t include accountants?)

Kari Stefansson, founder and CEO of deCODE, a genetics company based in Reykjavik, said the findings point to a common biology of some mental disorders and creativity.  He told the GUARDIAN, “To be creative, you have to think differently. And when we are different, we have a tendency to be labelled strange, crazy and even insane.” Stefansson’s comment seems (to me at least) to contradict the validity of the study’s findings, saying creative people are viewed as mentally ill more as a result of operating outside of established societal or cultural norms than because of any biological (or genetic) abnormality. And I’m not the only one who’s skeptical of the study’s findings.

Albert Rothenberg, professor of psychiatry at HARVARD UNIVERSITY, is not convinced. “It’s the romantic notion of the 19th century, that the artist is the struggler, aberrant from society, and wrestling with inner demons,” he said. In 2014, Rothenberg published, “Flight of Wonder; an investigation of scientific creativity”. He interviewed 45 science Nobel laureates and found no evidence of mental illness in any of them. He suspects such studies pick up on a different phenomenon.

“The problem is that the criteria for being creative is never anything very creative,” Rothenberg said. “Belonging to an artistic society, or working in art or literature (two of the criteria used in the Iceland study, as well as the results of a questionnaire in which subjects self-identified as “creative”; and who doesn’t want to be considered “creative”, in this day and age?) does not prove a person is creative. But the fact is that many people with mental illness do try to work in jobs that have to do with art and literature, not because they are good at it, but because they’re attracted to it. And that can skew the data.”

It’s easy to see the results of this study are going to be debated, hashed and re-hashed for some time to come. The discussion’s been ongoing for millenia, with no sign of letting up. So, take heart all my fellow “creatives”, especially all you writers out there, staring at your computer screens, thinking, “I must be crazy to think I could do this.” You’re not, then again . . .

And the Answer is . . .

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          Curiosity is a key element of the creative process. 

          Knowledge and experience are also essential components.

          Combining these elements will help to enhance the creative effort by aiding in the formulation of question.

          Questions demand answers which, in turn, generate more questions. 

          But asking questions isn’t enough. 

          You have to ask the right questions.

          Knowledge and experience will lead you in the right direction.

          How will you know when you’ve asked the “right” question?

          It’s the one nobody ever thought to ask.

Written by stevewthomas

June 24, 2014 at 12:38 pm

True Believer pt3 . . .(it could have happened this way)

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          Pilate’s summons was not unexpected.  For the past week the city had been rife with rumors of the arrest of the Baptist.  The outcry prompted by the rumors had thrown Jerusalem into a state of near chaos; leaders of the various factions within the city had flooded the Temple with pleas for the High Priest to intervene on the Baptist’s behalf.  For his part, Caiaphas could not believe Herod was act so rashly as to arrest as popular as the Baptist, one whom many considered a holy man.  The summons from Pilate could only mean the rumors were true, which put Caiaphas in a precarious position. 

          While he did not agree with the Baptist’s teachings, he could not deny the preacher’s right to interpret Scripture as he chose, regardless of the official interpretation.  The Baptist’s sermons were a powerful attraction for the masses who flocked to hear him speak.  Many saw him as the Messiah, or as Elijah reborn.  This, combined with his recent vocal criticism of King Herod, a less-than-revered monarch,  proved irresistible; many deserted the Temple when the Baptist preached.  Herod’s arrest of the charismatic preacher had only served to increase the Baptist’s standing.  Caiaphas had to admit one thing, though; with the Baptist’s arrest money would, once more, flow into the Temple coffers now that the troublesome preacher was no longer distracting worshippers.

          The civil unrest created by Herod’s actions was, undoubtedly, the reason for the Procurator’s summons.  Pontius Pilate took a dim view of any action which disturbed the status quo, and the arrest of the Baptist had done precisely that.  Caiaphas knew there was no love lost between the Procurator and the Galilean tetrarch.  If the High Priest could find a way to ingratiate himself with Pilate, perhaps offering his services as a mediator, he could garner some much needed political capital and improve his own rather tenuous standing with Procurator.  As his caravan, with its heavily armed escort, sped through the countryside toward Cesarea, Caiaphas pondered how best to accomplish his goal.

          When the High Priest arrived at Pilate’s seaside residence, the Procurator was storming about, ranting about the “asinine, inbred fool who supposedly ruled in Galilee.”  A guard stood nervously at attention outside the door to Pilate’s suite, unwilling to risk his commander’s ire by announcing the visitor.  Seeing the guard’s hesitation, Caiaphas  announced himself.

          “I see the Procurator has taken the news of the Baptist’s arrest with his usual good grace,” he said.  The High Priest’s sarcasm, under different circumstances an unwise move, had the desired effect.   Pilate stopped in mid-rant and turned to face the High Priest.  The expression on his face showed a marked lack of appreciation for Caiaphas’ sense of humor.

          “Good grace be damned!” he snarled.  “If not for the fact Herod enjoys the Emperor’s favor, I’d have one less troublesome Jew to deal with in Galilee.”  Pilate strode to his writing desk, riffled through the documents scattered there, produced a parchment and handed it to the High Priest.  “Herod’s spies have convinced him this Baptist person is responsible for the attack on Sepphoris.”

          “I take it your Excellency doesn’t agree,” Caiaphas said and dropped the parchment onto the table.

          “My own sources tell me this Baptist is a preacher.  Oh, he draws crowds, sometimes several hundred, but he never preached violence, never incited the people to rebel against the king.”

          “But Herod thinks otherwise?”

          “It appears the king has thin skin when it comes to having his relationships criticized.” Pilate responded.  “It seems the Baptist took exception to king marrying the wife of his half-brother; something about its being against his god’s law.”  Pilate had been pacing about the room but with this last statement he turned to face the High Priest, an unasked question in his expression.

          “The Baptist was not the only one to question the wisdom of Herod’s divorce and remarriage,” Caiaphas said.  “Many of the more conservative among the Sanhedrin refuse to accept the king’s marriage to his brother’s wife while his brother lives.  Of course, it doesn’t help that she is a gentile, a non-believer.  The Baptist and a number of Pharisees believe the king should dissolve this marriage; a union they see as an abomination before God.  The Baptist, of course, was the most outspoken of the king’s critics.”

          “So you think this has nothing to do with the attack on Sepphoris?”  It was clear Pilate wanted to steer clear of becoming embroiled in a religious dispute.  He had no understanding, nor appreciation of Jewish law and no desire to acquire any.  If this matter of the Baptist was, in fact, a religious quarrel, he would leave its resolution to the Jews.

          “I believe the king is using Sepphoris as an excuse to censure his critics,” Caiaphas replied.  “It would appear he is having little success in tracking down those responsible for the attack and is using this as means of retaliation.”

          “Leave it to that fool to try to douse a fire with oil.”  Although he was angry with Herod, Pilate was more disturbed by the distraction the incident with the Baptist was creating in dealing with the Zealots.  His spies in Galilee had been unable to identify any of those responsible for the attack on Sepphoris.  These criminals disappear into the wilderness like ghosts and the people refuse to help ferret them out.  They fear the Zealots more than they fear the Romans, and with good cause.  Those who give aid to the authorities, Roman of Jew, against the Zealots are killed without exception.  “It’s hard enough dealing with rebels without something like this happening,” Pilate complained as he lowered himself into a chair, his brow furled in concentration.  “You seem well-informed in this matter, Caiaphas,” he said.  “Perhaps you could use what influence you have with Herod to resolve this problem.”

          The High Priest smiled.  This was the opportunity he had been waiting for.  If he could remove the burden of dealing with what was, in effect, a religious dispute, the Procurator would be in his debt.  It was a rare opportunity and one Caiaphas was quick to exploit.  “I have already dispatched a delegation to Macherus, where the Baptist is being held, Excellency,” he responded.  In fact, Caiaphas had done no such thing, but would see to it upon his return to Jerusalem.

          “Very good.  That will allow me more time to deal with rebels instead of preachers,” Pilate said, pushing out of his chair.  “My spies suggest the Zealots have camps here, in Judea.  I’m sending troops into the wilderness to hunt them down.  If Herod’s mercenaries can’t find these rabble, perhaps my legionnaires can.”

Written by stevewthomas

April 21, 2014 at 1:45 pm

And now for something a little different. . .

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A few years ago, I decided I wanted to write a book about Jesus.  I was somewhat inspired by a quote by Oscar Wilde to the effect that all beginning writers start out writing about Jesus Christ or themselves.  Since my life doesn’t lend itself to “thrilling narrative”, I thought the subject of Jesus a worthy one to investigate.  Besides, I carried with me an ill-defined “anger” against God and thought writing such a book would, in some equally ill-defined way, serve to mitigate that anger.  But a curious thing happened during my research and writing.  I discovered I wasn’t so much angry with God as I was angry with those who purported to “serve God’s interests” on earth; specifically the Roman Catholic Church. 

Strangely enough, as my anger dissipated so did my desire to continue the book.  I’d only ever showed the pages I’d written to one other person, (my brother, Mike), whose opinion I valued (and still value) above all others.  His comments were “encouraging” and allowed me to believe the project was worthy of completion.  However, my own lack of self-confidence, as well as any credentials that would lend support to any conclusions I may, or may not, have reached in the book, dissuaded me from finishing the work.  I put the hundred or so finished pages in a box and promptly forgot about them . . . almost entirely.

The other night I was watching a tape of “Jesus Christ Superstar”, the Andrew Lloyd Weber/Tim Rice rock opera, when I began thinking of my long-forgotten book about Jesus.  I’ve always enjoyed the album and the film, finding Andrew Lloyd Weber’s lyrics slightly “subversive” (but only slightly) and tending to support my feelings regarding organized religion (which are more than “slightly” subversive).  I came to the realization my book, should I ever decide to finish it, was every bit as valid an interpretation of the Gospel “facts” as anyone else’s.  Granted, I’m what you would call an “intuitive” writer, willing to write what I “know” based on historical evidence (of which there is none), rather than reiterating the established dogma of previous writers.  In any event, the material presented in the Gospels is so contradictory, so removed from the events they supposedly recount, what difference would it make to add one more retelling?  And besides, it’s entirely possible my posting of these pages could provide the impetus to complete the tale I started so long ago.

Enough “back story”.  Without further ado, I give you . . .

Chief Justice Roberts, et al. . .(if it walks like a duck. . .)

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In the matter of the recent Supreme Court decision regarding campaign financing, McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission, I’d like to pass along a few thoughts.  First among them is the fact this particular decision should come as no surprise to anyone, especially those who follow the workings of the Court.  What did surprise me was how blatant and heavy-handed were the means used.

Conservatives have long endeavored to rescind some (or all) the government’s restrictions in the area of campaign financing, and with the enthusiastic assistance of Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito they have succeeded admirably. 

In 2009, in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, these same justices held that corporations, independent of the people employed therein (and in complete contradiction to the very idea of “personhood”),  are “persons” and as such entitled to First Amendment rights of free speech; which, in this instance, means corporations are free to dispense trainloads of money in elections.

Now, in McCutcheon, the Court not only removed the most important restrictions on campaign financing, the aggregate amounts, the Court also admonished the government for instituting the restrictions in the first place.  As Chief Justice Roberts, (writing for the majority) states:  “The Court has identified only one legitimate governmental interest for restricting campaign finances: preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption . . . Moreover, the only type of corruption Congress can target is quid pro quo corruption.”  (For those among you who don’t “do” Latin, allow me to translate.  Quid pro quo can be (loosely) as, “You stuff my pockets; I’ll stuff yours”).

Chief Justice Roberts continues:  “Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but NOT in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to quid pro quo corruption”.  (Will someone please explain for me, “Why would anyone, other than the candidate, spend “large sums of money” on an election?”)  “Nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums garner “influence over or access to” elected officials or political parties”.  So, according to Roberts & Co.,  if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck . . .it’s probably a rhinoceros.

Rainy Days . . .a love/hate relationship

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I suppose many people feel pretty much the same way I do when it comes to rainy days; we don’t like them.  They’re dreary, depressing and confining.  The last thing you want to do is leave the comfort of your home except in cases of “dire emergency”, like when the beer, snacks, cigarettes are running low and you absolutely have to venture out and replenish your supplies.  Other than those times, there’s little to do except sit around and wait for the rain to subside.  All that having been said (or whined), I enjoy rainy days for the opportunities they provide for taking pictures.  As a “budding” (actually, at my age, “late-blooming” would be a more apt adjective) photographer with a penchant for taking “contemplative” pictures, rainy days provide excellent opportunities to practice my craft.  There may be no better time to take “contemplative” pictures.  Given the drastic change of mood brought on by such days, I wonder if any enterprising psychologist has experimented with the effects of barometric pressure(s) on the fluids in the human brain?  I mean if you could conduct such an experiment (without having to kill the subject(s), of course), it could result in a finding of something other than “lack of natural sunlight” as a cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  But I digress. . .

Of all the things that could be done on a rainy day, I prefer to take pictures.  I could, of course, do other things.  I could read a book or watch TV (I do more than enough of that already!).  Or I could take a cue from my cats and find a comfy spot and take a nap DSCF2485  Or I could stare out the window, contemplating all the things I could be doing if it wasn’t raining 012  Or I could just hide from the world and wish it would all just “Go Away” DSCF2402  Of course, I don’t do any of these things.  What I do is, I grab my camera and start taking pictures.DSCN0931  I took this one standing in the open doorway of my garage.  The water pouring from the slightly crumpled spouting over the garage afforded me an opportunity to capture water in motion.  I don’t like to go outside to take pictures when its raining (at least not all the way outside).  The necessity of donning poncho, toting an umbrella (more to protect the camera than myself) and old sneakers and slosh around looking for suitable subject matter is not what I would call an “enjoyable” activity.  There are alternatives, though.  The large tree at the end of the driveway offered enough protection from the steady drizzle to allow me to snap a picture of water running in the gutter under it.DSCN0937  After a brief dash from tree to house, I upload my pictures to the computer and select a couple (the only ones that actually turned out well) for inclusion into this post.  After an hour or so of “scribbling” I glance at my watch and reach for a cigarette to relax and enjoy the results of my day’s efforts.  Alas, the pack is empty.  Looks like a “dire emergency” has arisen, forcing my brave the inclement weather and replenish my supplies.  BTW, what do you, my few devoted readers, do to pass the time on a rainy day?  I’d like to know.

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