Peace on Earth

2001

Stay Away from the Light

It has been slightly over three years now since I returned from a coffee date with the Grim Reaper.  While hooked up a ventilator fighting a full septic shut down of all my organs, I had a proverbial “come to Jesus moment.”  My medical records documented I was on some serious hallucinogenic pain meds, so I don’t doubt that those drugs triggered some of the religious words, symbols, and stories I was born and raised in. I did not literally see a skinny robed man with blue eyes, chiseled features, dirty blonde long hair and beard, wearing a halo with old wounds on both wrists.  I heard a doctor say that I will likely die once they take me off the ventilator (which my wife confirmed was an actual event).  Then I heard an inner voice. Not verbal at all, more of a peaceful feeling of “everything will be OK.”  The only word that apparently came to my mind in this experience was “Jesus,” which makes a lot of sense because I spent my first 18 years going to Roman Catholic weddings, baptisms (including my own), and Sunday Masses.  And I also long dabbled with the many forms of Evangelical Christianity after my short college experiment with atheism.  But then middle age cynicism set in. I learned that I didn’t and couldn’t know much and started to care even less.

Jonah and the Whale

Childhood “fairy tales” are more true than given credit.   I recall another ICU dream I had of being a sperm whale diving deep in the Monterey Bay canyon.  My medical records actually noted that, when I awoke and was asked by doctors if I knew where I was and why, I said that I was in the ICU due to the bends from diving deep in the ocean. I vividly thought I washed up on a Carmel beach and morphed from a whale to a man.  The doctors reminded that I was in Kaiser Walnut Creek due to severe pancreatitis and resulting infection.  “Oh yeah, that’s right”.  I shared this story with my mom, and, her response was read the Book of Jonah, Chapter 2.  “Oh yeah, Jonah ran away from his mission from God and was spit out from the belly of a whale.”  Hopefully every kid who went to Sunday school was taught the underlying message of this story.  And I also hope but doubt, it’s not to proselytize.  “I was on the wrong path I was meant to be!”  The message was loud and clear even if it was from drugs, God, the universe, Karma, or a combination of everything.  It did not matter.  Our days are limited and each day is a gift to live fully!  But how and what is it like to live fully?  At its very core, this question is about meaning.  The how seems not very difficult once we understand the “what”.  I was on a one-year disability leave from my law practice to recover and eventually detox from oxycontin addiction.  That, plus getting back to the demands of a law practice, took time and energy away from answering the obvious questions.  I am only staring to make sense of it all this last year.

Perfect Timing

If I am beginning to sound like the wisdom literature of the Bible Ecclesiastes, Psalms, Proverbs), it’s either because I was ingrained with it or they are timeless human wisdom written down.  It’s likely a combination of both.  Sometimes I remember what I read.  Others, I am amazed to find something that I had already concluded from experience like Psalm 90:12.  “Teach us to number our days to gain wisdom”.  I  thought that before I found it.  Another one is that everything in life has its own perfect time.  Experience and observation teaches us that and this idea is expressed so poetically in Ecclesiastes.  So I think this Christmas eve is a perfect time to share some of what I have been thinking the last two years.

The Message

If you are reading this, then you are a consumer of easily recordable and transmittable audio/visual media.  I came of age in the era of such media, specifically TV and the Blockbuster Movie; thus, I am not surprised  that TV shows and movies are the most compelling and informative medium to me.   I think of movies and TV shows come to my mind first when I think of life in general.  Marshall McLuhan, a very insightful critic of media stated that the “medium is the message.”  Like Shrek, and wisdom in general, this statement has many layers.  From a negative standpoint, this makes sense with social media.  That media (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc) is inherently quick and short (and necessarily shallow); thus, that medium’s message is shallowness and lack of nuance.  I would also argue (as someone who plays with meanings of words for a living) that spoken and written words are been abused and misused in the past (and even more so today) that they lose meaning to adequately create constructive ties between humans and society.  I guess I am cynical enough or just experienced with the “real business world” to know that people make a very good living by studying this phenomenon and exploiting it.  I am a trademark attorney and know that companies pay and make a lot of money to market and brand ideas.  So as a reader (assuming you get this far), you are probably thinking “what the hell is he talking about?” or “get to the point” or “please explain more.”  I will get try to get to the point to not lose you but also invite much further discussions on any of the topics on or not in this post.  All that to say, those insightful monks of Monty Python came to mind when I finally got it back – what is “The Meaning of Life?”  What I remember most about that movie is there really is no meaning and if there is it is absurd!   So true!  But yet we still all seek meaning; hence, I think is the reason why we celebrate  “high holidays” such as Christmas.  I only use December 25 because that is the symbolic date for the Western Christian tradition I happen to be born in.  Christmas eve is particularly celebratory for me and my brothers because we were allowed to open presents after midnight Christmas eve mass.  For my wife (born and raised in the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Semi-Orthodox Russia), it is New Years’ Eve.  Regardless of the different dates and traditions, I know we share the same common spirit that words are inadequate to define.  It’s sad to hear attempts in the various media to define Christmas as meaningless (“war on Christmas”…”pagan holiday”) or purely materialistic.  I prefer the term Advent since it is a season that encompasses all the convoluted dates of celebration in my (Filipino Catholic) and my wife’s (Russian Orthodox) traditions.

The Point

So what is the point of this post’s photo and title?  Actually, the picture and the movie it comes from is the whole point.  The picture and the move it comes from symbolizes and retells Christmas (to me Advent) to this Gen-Xer better and richer than any medium I have seen, whether it be the various stories written in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, Christmas Masses, or secular and religious movies and songs.  That is a picture of the Star Child, who evolved from Modern Man.  And Modern Man, in the movie, evolved from Ape Man.  And that is the Earth.  And that picture is hope for peace on Earth.  When I first saw 2001 I did not get it…probably like most people.  But I guess after experiencing days, if not months, in a semi-conscious but altered experiential state, I just got used to letting go of linear thinking and learned the limits of media, especially the fragile and many times inadequate written word.  I could probably write an extremely long essay on 2001 and actually researched Kubrick.  Upon doing so, Kubrick himself shared a very short insight just as brilliant as his film was to me.
When asked of 2001’s message, Kubrick answered:
It’s not a message that I ever intend to convey in words. 2001 is a nonverbal experience; out of two hours and 19 minutes of film, there are only a little less than 40 minutes of dialog. I tried to create a visual experience, one that bypasses verbalized pigeonholing and directly penetrates the subconscious with an emotional and philosophic content. To convolute McLuhan, in 2001, the message is the medium. I intended the film to be an intensely subjective experience that reaches the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does; to “explain” a Beethoven symphony would be to emasculate it by erecting an artificial barrier between conception and appreciation. You’re free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film— and such speculation is one indication that it has succeeded in gripping the audience at a deep level— but I don’t want to spell out a verbal road map for 2001 that every viewer will feel obligated to pursue or else fear he’s missed the point…
Kubrick, Stanley. Stanley Kubrick: The Playboy Interview (50 Years of the Playboy Interview).
After reading that, I have really nothing else to say since Kubrick seems to have said it all that words could express.  The rest is the movie.  All can I say to all my friends, family, and colleagues is that however you celebrate or remember this Advent season and whatever movie, show, music, mass, or service you participate in, that peace, joy, beauty, truth, love, and hope be more real and deep in your lives (“the point”) than mere words can communicate.

An Unexamined Life

It is been a long time since I have written on this blog, as I have been attempting to organize my thoughts on “an examined life” offline in the Scrivener writing app.  I am likely waiting in vain for the right time to actually write.  However, the recent San Bernardino mass shooting (Dec. 4, 2015) has generated much buzz on the web and social networks clamoring for “gun control.”  The NYTimes even had a hysterical front page editorial claiming to be morally outraged.  All just seems hysterical to me because: (1) I have thought long and hard on the topic; and (2) all the material I see are offensive to my academic training in the Socratic method.

I just started an enlightening book that covers Socrates and his method.  “People must interrogate their most fundamental prejudices or they would live superficial, expedient lives. As he explained to the court that condemned him to death: ‘It is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue every day and those other things about which you hear me conversing and testing myself and others, for the unexamined life is not worth living.'” Armstrong, Karen (2009-09-11). The Case for God (p. 62). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (citing Plato, Apology 38a)(emphasis added).   The Socratic method is essentially a civilized discourse (many times with myself) on all the different sides of a topic.  Not merely parroting common arguments but deconstructing every argument until a few compelling conclusions are left.  That, I submit, is the beginning of wisdom.

I have thought about human nature and politics since my childhood.  I am sure my immigrant experience raised issues of power and its abuse in my young mind.  My parents moved our family in 1979 to the United States from the Philippines under the Marcos dictatorship.  American history, Political Science, and later Jurisprudence and Constitutional law were compelling subjects that helped motivate me through the rigors of college, law school, the bar exam, and law practice.  I was also fortunate to experience some of these disciplines in “laboratory” settings in internships with the U.S. Senate, federal trial courts, and federal agencies.  My points are nothing original. They are just my internal dialog from my lifetime experiences, academic training, and consideration of compelling compelling insights of others.

I think we can all agree that constructive political discourse ought to be based on honestly defined presuppositions, reasoning, and logic instead of unchecked biases and emotions.  Ignorance is not an acceptable basis of important matters.  Are you aware of and have you challenged your presuppositions of humanity, law, and politics?  Have you examined your logic?

In the quote “power tends to corrupt, power corrupts absolutely”, I found a short statement that described my observations about society in general and political power specifically.  Here is the statement in a wider context: “If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which the negation of Catholicism and the negation of Liberalism meet and keep high festival, and the end learns to justify the means.”   Letter of Lord Acton (1877), http://history.hanover.edu/courses/excerpts/165acton.html

My deductive reasoning from this presupposition is as follows:

1. Power Tends to Corrupt, and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.  Lord Acton’s view appears to be an obvious product of Renaissance, Enlightenment, and modern political/jurisprudential discourse such as Hobbes, Machiavelli, Montesquieu, Kant, Mill, Paine, Hume, Rousseau, Bentham, Rawls, Hart, and Dworkin.  

2. If corruption is undesirable, then absolute power is undesirable

3. A legal system (as defined by the U.S. Constitution) that checks and balances power between federal branches, federal versus state, and state versus individuals are desirable because they minimize absolute power and therefore corruption.  These are based on John Locke’s theories that influenced early American political thinking.

4. The U.S. Constitution must be interpreted to accomplish its general purpose, namely to minimize power from being concentrated into one group over another and a person over another.  Thus, the Constitution cannot be changed expressly with a mere democratic majority.

5. Firearms are the basic projection of power (see Hobbes and Machiavelli’s observations); therefore, arms must not be concentrated in or monopolized any party or institution.  Otherwise, abuse of power ,and therefore corruption, becomes more endemic in a society.  I agree with Locke’s prescription of a divided government over Hobbes’ argument for a monarchy.  Some small, homogenous societies may be more ethically advanced where this does not apply, but I am yet to see a large, diverse society that can be trusted with concentrated power.

Supporters of gun control generally do not address these deeper political theories.  Rather, they rely on the inductive reasoning – more restrictions of firearms probably reduces gun-related deaths.  All this is based on statistics that are inherently subject to confirmation bias with disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities (e.g.: societal problems particular to a country).  And such arguments generally presume that government and people will meet their assigned responsibilities under the social contract.  This seems to be a very naive view of human nature and institutions.  I also take issue with judges, politicians, and journalists who have never fired, used, or trained with the weapons they want to ban.  Have you tried to actually defend yourself in a certified training course using live ammunition?

Good Friday

Today is “Good Friday” for Christians of every stripes – nominal, literal, liberal, Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Orthodox.  I knew early on as a child growing up the Catholic faith that this day is to remember the brutal torture and execution of Jesus of Nazareth.  Thus, the obvious question, which I did not get then and still wrestle with to this day, is why is it “Good”?  In my early teens, I got the simple “born again” answer, “because Jesus saved you with his death.”  What?  Why did I need to be saved?  How?  Just like the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament.  Huh?

Much has been written from each and every theological and rational angle on these questions, and I have read much and forgotten even more.  The essence of my childhood faith (the crucification and following resurrection) is still a mystery to me.  But one question has been answered, I think, with a common tool lawyers use called “Incorporation by Reference“.

If Jesus was the Son of God and was God, perfect in always, complete trust in God the Father, why did he cry out “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?”  With incorporation of Psalm 22 by reference, it finally made sense:

22 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Vanity of Vanities

vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does a man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.

The Truth Lies Underneath

“I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg.  There is seven-eighths of it under water for every part that shows.  Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg.  It is the part that doesn’t show.”  –  Ernest Hemingway 1958

A few weeks ago, I met with a group of fathers, one of who pointed out that we seem to learn more from our children than what we think they learn from us.  This weekend was a prime example.  I was helping my daughter with her Honor’s English essay on Ernest Hemingway’s “Iceberg” writing style.

I have been wrestling with the true purpose and definition of “myths”.  Of course, there is that common definition that a “myth” is a story that is not true.  I have always intuited that this is an incorrect shallow definition.  Joseph Campbell is famous for his works on myths.  While his work has been insightful, it has not provided me with any clarity.  Since I was first conscious enough to understand what I was reading, my intuition has told me that underneath myths and fairly tales lies the truth.  Hemingway, known for his simplicity and minimalism, has given me the simple explanation for questions I have asked my entire life.

Do You Speak “Starbucks”

Image

I was at my neighborhood Starbucks meeting for the first time a fellow academic from my local church to explore possibilities of forming a “small group”, “book club”, or whatever they are called these days on topics I raise in this blog.  As I have posted in the past, I am interested in studying people’s daily use of words. Lo and behold, ordering my favorite drink “grande single shot blended with whip mocha”.  Now I have learned this term from a San Francisco Starbucks almost 20 years ago, apparently this is the correct terminology from the original Seattle Pike Place Starbucks.  I have used my terminology in Seattle and it worked.  But I guess the barrista this morning either has not learned the mother Starbucks tongue and maybe there is a local Starbucks dialect developing in the outskirts of the Bay Area.  I got a puzzled “HUH”?  “Mocha frapuccino?” OK, I had to quickly shift my brain to everyday Northern Californian English to translate mother Starbucks as I learned it: “I want a large HOT mocha, with a 50/50 mix of full fat and non fat milk, only one shot of espresso instead of the default two, and whipped cream”.  Suffice to say, this was a perfect segue to discuss words, meaning, language, and how we know what we know.

Image

In my first attempt at blogging, I focused on my professional focus on “marketing and communications law”, specifically trademarks and copyrights. I guess it was just a matter of time that I posted on a brand (Disclaimer: the above famous mark is owned by Starbucks and nothing in this blog is meant to imply any association between me and the Starbucks organization).  This is a perfect opportunity to post a photo I took at The Met.  “Hey, I wonder if this is where Starbucks got its logo?”   My fair use of the logo above is meant solely to comment on my visit today and compare with a sculpture that looks like the logo.

The Art of True or False

French Impressionist Edgar Degas is attributed to have said,

In art truth is suggested by false means.

I finished all 5 seasons of Breaking Bad last week.  By Degas’ definition, Breaking Bad and my other favorite TV series, The Sopranos, is ART.  There is much to say about these two series, and I did not intend to mention these except that tonight is the second time this week I read a reference to the poem Ozmandias (first, after watching Breaking Bad’s eponymous episode last week).  Whether running into this poem twice in a week is by Providence or by an increased probability of running into this poem by watching or reading truth seeking works, I am encouraged to share it:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said—“ Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that the sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

—Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ozymandias

In the Beginning…

Since I started this blog quoting the Gospel of John, I might as well segue into this inquiry with the beginning of John:

In the beginning was the Word… John 1:1 (ESV)

I quote this not for its philosophical or theological meanings at this time but instead for the common Merriam-Webster American English dictionary meaning of “word”, namely, “a sound or combination of sounds that has a meaning and is spoken or written.”  See M-W.com.  Yes, I understand the original verse was most likely written in Koine Greek, and the original Koine Greek word for “Word”, Logos, means much more than common “words.”  However, I like the verse’s apparent implication that “words” are important bases to begin.  I am aiming for as much clarity as I can muster in this inquiry; thus, for the sake of clarity, I will begin, like many of the statutory laws and contracts I read everyday, by defining the meanings of words most material to this inquiry.  For the sake of a cohesive inquiry, I will primarily rely on the online version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (“M-W.com”) because it is easily accessible from all my electronic devices, it is ubiquitous, and I relied on its earlier hard copy versions to learn American English since grammar school.  I am sure the substantive reasons for choosing M-W.com or another dictionary are broad and interesting subjects of inquiry, but I will save those for someone else or for a later date.

Let’s begin my defining “definition” with a painting I viewed last month at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

def-i-ni-tion

What is truth?

This is my second attempt at blogging.  I had a professional blog on legal issues, particularly trademark and copyrights, before social networking became ubiquitous.  I am back to blogging because I admittedly cannot keep my comments brief.  Once I start posting on a point, I always ask the question whether I am conveying what I mean to convey correctly.  I guess social networking sites like Facebook (“FB”) or Twitter, by their very nature, are probably not a good venue for me.

So I will continue my previous rants on FB here.  On November 1, 2013, I posted on FB:

“Feeling Philosophical this Friday: We use language to understand and communicate truth. Language evolves, morphs, and is extremely personal; therefore, by its nature, it is relative and imperfect. But this does not mean that the underlying truth it seeks to describe is imperfect, changeable, or relative.”

Why did I write this?  It comes partially out of my frustration from the sloppy misuse and outright abuse of language in old and new media and even in day to day conversations.  Granted, I know that there are people who are very skilled at manipulating language to convince others that what is false is true.  Maybe I have not completely succumb to cynicism?  I generally believe most people want to speak and hear the truth.  In rereading my November post, I realized that I assumed all my FB friends know and agree on the meaning of truth.  But is that really true?  OK, I am getting circular, but I do not know of anyway to avoid that here.  Somewhere in my memory, I recall a question by a famous historical figure: “What is truth?”   While I can certainly pretend to be well versed on the scriptures of my professed faith, I have to admit I relied on Google and found this:

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”   John 18 (ESV)

But I can rely on memory who said “the truth shall set you free”!  (Also in the Gospel According to John).

John 18:33-18 is an apt passage to begin this inquiry in many levels.  It appears to be a classic use of the Socratic Method, which is the primary method of my professional training.  I also appreciate the symbolism of a secular Greco-Roman authority (Pilate) meets transcendent Hebrew God-man (Jesus).  It’s also a cross-road (pun intended) where Western European thought and culture began.