Drew T. Noll © 2023, all rights reserved

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Obamatrix, Buzzword-Bingo, and the Joseph-Effect

A lot of stuff has been going on in the world, but since it hasn’t been much of a pretty-picture (to-say-the-least), I have an unrelated and extremely trivial question for you. Do you know where the word ‘blog’ came from? Well, I didn’t, but I looked it up and it turns out to be a squished version of ‘web log,’ becoming ‘blog.’ You know, I think I learned that once, a long time ago, but I guess I just forgot it. That, my friends, was my segue into this week’s subject: Why is the buzz in buzzwords light-years away from reality anyways? The problem, it seems, is that some of these ‘buzzwords’ out there now-a-days take on a meaning-of-their-own and then, regardless of whether we know what they mean or not, we use them until we are blue-in-the-face; um... maybe just to sound like we’ve been-around-the-block once-or-twice.
Honestly, it reminds me of the clicky school-yard, where you had to be part of the ‘in-crowd’ or you were ‘a-nobody.’ I remember, back-in-the-day, that I tried everything to try and be part of this group or that one; but, in-the-end, I remained a-nobody to them. It didn’t matter that I surfed, made art, goofed around in the hardest classes, or did various other self-destructive, attention-getting types of things. All that mattered, at-the-time, was that I was not part of the in-crowd, the too-cool-for-school crowd; I wasn’t even part of a chick-click, sick-shtick, fickle-pickle, or a closed-circle-quad-triangle crowd. I wasn’t a sosh (short for socialite), a prep, a dead-ender, a surf-rat, a brainiac, a river-rat, a disco-dog, a dead-head, a drama-goon, a frat-fallout, an art-geek, or even a misfit. Today, I can say, quite happily as a matter of fact, that I felt like a-nobody when it came to groups and crowds, in-or-out...
Speaking of clicks, tracks, and dead-endo’s, I once asked the sales guys-and-girls at the office to supply me with ‘industry-buzzwords’ in order to apply more usable keywords, niche-words, and keyword-phrases for the company’s website. I never heard back; so, I had to invent them myself. You would think that this wouldn’t work so well, since I am a desk-jockey now, not talking-the-talk and walking-the-walk around the world anymore, but I came up with a plan that ‘did’ seem to work. I ‘invented’ the words and the phrases myself! “Wait,” you are all saying... “That doesn’t work, does it? If you invent the words, then you are the only one using them, right?” Ha Ha! That-is-the-ticket, that-is-the-trick; you see, somebody has to invent the words in the first place! So, what do you think happened? Yes, while checking the stats and analyzing the analytics for the website, I noticed that the major players in the industry, from-around-the-world, started to adapt the words that ‘I invented’ as their keywords on their websites, presumably in order to use the-most-up-to-date, industry-standard-buzzwords!
As you can imagine, there is a lot of whining-and-crying about ‘just’ this kind of situation. I mean, how many times have you heard the word, “solution” attached to some kind of technophileac-market-speak-rambling? What has ended up happening is that, starting from way back in the 1990s, we have created lists of industry-standard buzzwords and buzzword-phrases that the regular people, the ones that are just nodding their heads in agreement right now (me included), are completely ignorant of the original meanings; words like: affluenza, agflation, amakudari, and arbitrageur; word phrases like: alligator-spread, accounting-noise, alphabet-broker, aunt-Millie, automatic-execution, and asset-stripper... and those are just some of the ‘A’ words and phrases. I could go on for hundreds of pages with buzzwords and phrases like: bagel-land, beating-the-gun, big-uglies, Bo-Dereks, bracket-creep, bone-yarding, and boomernomics... yes, they all mean something very specific and that was only some of the ‘B’s to-boot!
I’m not even going to get started on the ‘C’s (yet), but speaking-of-which, in this week’s parsha, Masay (Numbers 33-36), we learn about another buzzword phrase: “the-C-word.” What is the actual ‘C’ word? Well, of course the parsha doesn’t use the actual ‘C’ word, since ‘C’ is not a Hebrew letter, (it uses a ‘נ’ [nun – (sounds like ‘nuin’) word])... oh, you know what I mean. The Hebrew word is ‘nader’ and it means the same as the dreaded ‘C’ word, which is ‘commitment...’ and that is why we don’t actually spell-it-out — it is common-knowledge that it would be really bad-karma to do so... I mean, heaven-forbid if we were really pinned-down-on-something, with little-to-no-wiggle-room! We would find ourselves between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place in-no-time-flat! In Hebrew we often say, “bli-nader,” which means, “without-commitment.” I guess the idea is that commitments are not taken-with-a-grain-of-salt and if one were to be made, it should be kept or cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die, stick-a-needle-in-your-eye... It’s a pretty important lesson-in-life and, come-to-think-of-it, can mean-the-difference in a marriage, with children, and anything relating at all to social, financial, and spiritual values, on-high-and-down-low.
OK, just-for-fun, let’s get-the-lead-out and throw-caution-to-the-wind with a few more good buzzwords and phrases like: camouflage-compensation, cash-for-caulkers, category-killer, caveat-emptor, chameleon-option, channel-stuffing, chastity-bond, cheap-jack, clean-sheeting, clean-your-skirts, cloud-computing, cockroach-theory, corporate-kleptocracy, crack-spread, cram-down, creative-destruction, crowd-sourcing, and the-CNN-effect (which is the temporary-shifting of consumer-spending that occurs as a result of gripping-news… and I might add the reason that we can’t trust, farther-than-we-can-throw-it, any major news source...)
And for the ‘D’s, ‘E’s, and ‘F’s: dead-cat-bounce, dead-hand-provision, debtonation, deceased-alert, diluted-founders, dim-sum-bond, dirty-float, dry-hole, eat-well-sleep-well, eat-your-own-dog-food, elevator-pitch, Enroned, fallen-angel, farm-team, fat-finger-error, feather-bedding, first-in-still-here (fish), flash-crash, flip-in-poison-pill, foam-the-runway, fool-in-the-shower, free-lunch, functional-obsolescence, funemployment, and footsie (slang for the FTSE 100 index, which represents about 8-toes-out-of-10 of the market capitalization of the whole London Stock Exchange).
‘G,’ ‘H,’ ‘I,’ and ‘J’s: garbatrage, gazump, gazunder, glocalization, golden-coffin, green-washing, grinder, guanxi, gun-jumping, herd-instinct, hot-waitress-economic-index (referring to measuring of the number of attractive people working as waiters / waitresses – the idea being, ‘the higher the number, the weaker the current job market’), iceberg-order, ideation, infectious-greed, intaxification, inventrepreneur, investotainment, Jekyll-and-Hyde, jitney, and J-Lo (slang technical analysis term referring to a ‘rounding-bottom’ in a stock's price pattern).
Now we have ‘K’s, ‘L’s, ‘M’s, and ‘O’s: killer-bees, kremlinomics, Lady-Godiva-accounting-principles (theoretical set of accounting principles under which corporations would have to fully disclose all information), Lady-Macbeth-strategy, leading-lipstick-indicator, least-preferred-coworker-scale, lemming-limitations, leprechaun-leader, lobster-trap, losing-your-shirt, low-hanging-fruit, Marlboro-Friday, mcmansion, mini-Madoff, moofer (mobile-out-of-office-worker), moral-hazard, mutilated-security, nervous-Nellie, no-dealing-desk, old-lady, opinion-shopping, the-Oprah-effect, osborning, ovoboby, and Obamatrix (referring to the significant number of highly intelligent people around-the-world that blissfully-swallow the ‘blue-pill’ when it-comes-to-anything ‘Obama’).
And ‘P’ to ‘Z’: pac-man & pac-man-defense, painting-the-tape, parking-violation, party-wall, paycation, perp-walk, phishing, pig, pip-squeak-pop, plunge-team, poop (slang describing inside information or people with it), puke (slang for selling a losing position, even at a substantial loss), pump-and-dump, pyrrhic-victory, rent-a-crowd, repurposing, ring-fence, rio-hedge, rumortrage, rump, rust-bowl, samurai-market, scripophily, sheep, shotgun-clause, siliconaires, sleeping-beauty, smishing (the use of SMS technology to phish for individuals’ sensitive-personal-information), soccer-mom-indicator, spoo, staycation, streetable, stripper (slang for a homeowner who, through mortgage refinancing, strips-out-the-equity from a house), style-drift, sucker-rally, sudden-wealth-syndrome, suicide-pill, sushi-bond, swissie, synthetic-lease, teenie, tenbagger, tequila-effect, tip-from-a-dip, topless-meeting (meeting with no-laptops-allowed), toxic-assets, transumerism, vis-major (Latin term meaning ‘act-of-God’), voodoo-accounting, vulture-capitalist, wall-flower, war-babies, weak-sister, white-shoe-firm, whoops (slang for the Washington public power supply system, which made the largest municipal bond default in history), winner's-curse, woody (slang for strong-and-quick upward stock growth), yup-cap, and finally, zombie-bank… Aaarrghh-cha’ching!
I think, for now, we have topped-off our friendly-little-game of buzzword-bingo. My blog exit-strategy is really going to be a fallout-spiral here, going all-the-way back-through-time, via-the-Torah, and all-the-way to the ‘Joseph-effect,’ (quantified by the ‘Hurst component’ and the Hirsch-commentary of course), which is the idea that: “movements in a time series tend to be part of larger trends and cycles more often than they (appear-to-be) completely random.” What does that mean, you may ask? It means that whether we’re UV-specter-nightclubbing or blind-barfly-backstroking (whether we understand it or not), there is a greater-purpose, a hidden-pattern, and an underlying-knowledge to everything-in-the-Universe; bli-nader...
P.S., Thank-you Investopedia for all the good-buzz.
P.S.S., From a tiny country in the center of the Middle East, many blessings go out to the massive amount of traumatized people from the senseless hatred that has recently afflicted the Norwegian People and people around the world...
Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Rocks, Ripples, and Management Skills

Life seems, sometimes, to be manifesting a friggin war... on so many levels. Analogously, it’s getting to the point that skipping rocks in the sea of life is close to impossible. I mean, to skip a rock the ‘right’ way, you need to have perfect glass conditions. Nowadays, the sea of life looks like the surface of Venus, having been green-housed into highly pressurized toxic methane heat storms, swarming across the surface of our collective consciousness. Think about it; when you throw a rock, intending it to glide and, hence, skip across the surface of the sea, it makes all kinds of little calamitous catastrophes every time it contacts the water. The ripples from the rock expand out and the more skips, the more ripples there are. The more ripples, the less glass. The less glass, the more confused we all get, and the more desperate we all get for a breath of fresh air, without all the hot methane ineptitude of our perceived realities!

As a kid, when I would paddle out on my custom shaped yellow pinstripe gun of a surfboard at my local’s only spot, Rock Pile in Laguna Beach, California, the best days were the ones with off-shore winds — Santa Ana conditions... These winds would shoot across the surface of the water, flattening the ripples and hollowing out the waves as they broke in peeling, long swells that would jack up over the sharp volcanic rock reefs. As the wind would hug the surface of the water and shoot off the top of the wave’s crest, it would carry a fine, sharp salty mist with it, spraying the sky with an impending cacophonous silence. In that moment, when the spray would strike your face, like a hydro powered rock saw, you were one with the sea. You knew that the next moment was going to be a thrilling ride of adrenaline and connection to the Universe... or a crushing defeat, as the water pounded your being into jellyfish soup on the rocks and sand, under the waves at the bottom of the sea — but it was worth it — it was real life.

This is where we live, in a constant state of flux between the serene glass and its metamorphosis into intersecting ripples, great and small. We know from last week’s blog (sorry it was so….. long!) that Eastern philosophy aspires to living in a world made of smooth glass, but this means that we cannot skip a rock or even drop in, sliding down the surface of a perfect wave. We can never take a chance that we might not make it or that we might stir the glass into a sea of ripples. Where ‘we’ live is a place that requires action in the world. Each and every one of us needs to make choices, whether to make a personally inspired ripple, whether to wait it out for that perfect glass, or whether to collectively work together, all of humanity, and try to control the direction, size, and duration of those elusively contrived waves and ripples, mastering our world.

This week we mourned the beginning of the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem. On the 17th of the month of Tammuz (Monday night to Tuesday night this week), great tragedies have befallen the world, causing waves of suffering to wash up onto the shores of existence. The Israelites lost the first tablets, the ones that were formed from solid sapphire by God, because they made the Golden Calf. The daily sacrifice stopped on this day as well, due to the difficulty of obtaining animals in the (at the time) besieged city of Jerusalem. The Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem on the 17th of Tammuz. A Torah was burnt by a Roman captain named Apustmus. And an idol was placed inside the Holy Temple on this same day...

All of these things seem like they have nothing to do with the world, just the Jewish people, but these are the events that left craters regurgitating across all of humanities skipping pond. These are the events that launched the Diaspora, ultimately sending the Jews into exile around the planet. This was one giant wipe-out that buried the world under miles of hardened ash and refuse, pummeling us ‘all’ further into the jagged rocks. You see, it all started because we refused to work together, each and every one of us. It all started because we wanted to do it our own way. It all started, you see, because we pulled back from God as an entire species, beginning with each individual, spreading to the separate races amongst Humanity, and driving a wedge between ‘us’ and the Creator. We didn’t even see it coming. We didn’t see that we had made the same calamitous mistake many times before, even once upon a time… in the Garden.

Reading a commentary (http://www.aish.com/tp/i/btl/48960096.html) on this week’s parsha, Matot (Numbers 30:2-32:42), I learned a really simple analogy that explains what we keep doing to ourselves. It explained that a rabbi by the name of Elchanan Wasserman stated that there is an obvious reason that some of the world's greatest thinkers and philosophers have been unable to acknowledge the existence of God: “Just as a home testifies to a builder, so does the world, which is far more complex and sophisticated, testify to a Creator. Nevertheless, many great minds have not recognized this self-evident argument, for the simple reason that accepting it would require them to change their lifestyle. Belief in a sophisticated God, who imposes guidelines for proper conduct, prevents people from living according to their desires. Therefore, in order to carry out the heart's desires, people can conjure up outrageous philosophies to justify that lifestyle.”

OK, a little too Jewish for you? Well, I found this list of common management misconceptions and surprises for new managers in my weekly Mind Tools email that could help. These guys at Mind Tools use theories in group dynamics, combined with business models to create easy to follow guidelines for things like managing people and career excellence. This particular list, if translated properly, also solves the world’s problems. It goes like this:

1. You can't run everything in detail = step back and take a look at the big picture once in a while.

2. Giving orders is costly = telling someone to do something is as good as trading them for something else, you just don’t know what or when.

3. It's hard to know what's really going on = we have a limited perception in every case and actually seeing the big picture is, basically, impossible, but try anyways.

4. You're always sending a message = everything you say and do, whether you are alone or not, is being recorded for playback in this life and in the next...

5. You aren't the boss = if you think you are the boss, regardless of your ‘position,’ you are starting at the very bottom of the corporate ladder of ‘your’ life.

6. Pleasing shareholders is not always the goal = ‘much’ better is to give it away, rather than to try and take it with you.

7. You're still only human = always know that this statement is saying a lot and just about nothing at all, at exactly the same time.

Essentially, as the Human Race, we are all ‘one’ species. A step further in: we are all ‘one’ individual, each completely different. A step further out from the Human Race, we are all ‘One’ with Hashem. On a spiritual level, we each have a role to play individually, collectively as a member of the Human Race, and ultimately in ‘the big picture’ with Hashem as the collective ‘One.’ Anything we do in life is going to create ripples, but we can manage those ripples and send them in the right directions — if we work together. Any way we break it out, in the end, with regards to our conduct in this life, we are responsible for these three things: one’s self, one’s community, and while dropping in, down the glassy face of that set-wave of life, seeking to be ‘One’ with the Universe and reaching out to the Creator...

Cowabunga baby!

Oh yeah, ‘one’ more thing...


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Peace on the Inside and Infinite Reality

I have been having some trouble sleeping at night. It seems that every time I dose-off, for multiple nights in a row now, something wakes me up, whether it’s the dogs barking at a potential intruder or a random shocking thought that rolls through my subconscious mind. There is a lot going on in my life now, in terms of relationships with people that are close to me, so maybe that’s what it is. Things like my eldest son going into the army this week and my youngest son having been away at technology camp for (going on) two weeks now (I miss him a lot). Things, as well, like, having to take my eldest son to the hospital to check out some kind of stomach pain and a swollen something-or-other to be ultra-sounded and things like my mom, who lives on the other side of the planet and has been battling cancer, collapsing and going back into the hospital. This later complexity really seems to mess up my Zen; or let’s just call it, for lack of completeness to the whole eastern philosophy thing (as you may find out if you read on), my inner peace…

We read a lot about ‘inner peace’ from many varied sources around the world. Most of these sources (in the popular mentality) seem to be from the ‘East,’ but some come from our western traditions as well. I looked it up in Google, just to get a peppering of a pseudo-understanding about how to arrive at this oh-so-elusive inner peace, and found that most of what I read was, as expected, pure drivel. I mean, Google isn’t the best way to find an inner peace plan, but the short-sightedness of what I did find caused me to walk away from my search for enlightenment-by-Google feeling quite flat, two dimensional… really.

So, instead, I looked up the parsha of the week (Pinchas: Numbers 25:10-30:1), and lo-and-behold, it was connected to my midnight disturbances. The parsha is about acquiring peace by making and preparing for war... Yeah, that sounds weird, I know, but even George Washington said something similar when planting the seed of the United States of America. He said: “If we desire to avoid insult, we must be able to repel it; if we desire to secure peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising prosperity, it must be known, that we are at all times ready for war.”

Rewind a few thousand years, back to the parsha of Pinchas, and we begin with this: "God spoke to Moses saying, 'Pinchas, the son of Elazar the son of Aaron the priest, has turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for My sake and as a result I did not consume the children of Israel... Therefore I give him My covenant of peace."

Essentially, out of war came peace on a fundamental level. But, I’ll have to come back to this idea later, I guess. Let’s move forward in time, a couple hundred years or so beyond George Washington, to when I was in high school. I have a vivid memory of my dad and I having a conversation while sitting in the den, kind of a room that served as library-office-TV room. This conversation has, to a large extent, defined who I am today. We were speaking of spirituality and religion in the world and what it all seems to mean, you know, one of those deep philosophical conversations that don’t have a real answer, ...but the answer that inevitably pops out is ground shaking in its implications and impact on a person’s world view.

You see, my dad, being a hunter / fisherman / backpacker / landscape architect / city planner / and more, was an avid outdoorsman. He saw the world from a distance that seemed to allow him to just see the strings that pull on it. We once went backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and walked for a few days on the John Muir Trail. We were going to meet a friend of his, in order to give us supplies for the following week, and, since I was all of 13 or 14 years old, I thought we were actually going to meet John Muir!

My dad was really Superman to me; you know, he would swoop in and save the day, only to recede again into his impermeable fortress of ice. I ran across this quote by John Muir in my Google search for inner peace that my dad would have appreciated. It went something like this: "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn." Maybe this is a good way to acquire inner peace, to breathe deeply in the vastness of nature... um, no. That’s not going to work, even though it is a good start.

So, when my dad and I were sitting in the den, my dad said to me that he didn’t really believe in God, per se, but that he believed in a Creative Force that brought the world into existence, a kind of First Being, that was still deeply and intricately involved in all things, spiritual and physical. I perceived at the time that he must have been recoiling, to some extent, from what his perception of what the world had done to God with all of its metamorphisms to suit its’ own agendas over the millennia. You know, when we expand our sense of self, our sense of ‘humanity’ until it can barely support itself anymore? This idea, looking at it now, seems to be where the ‘East’ has high-jacked inner peace in the contemporary mindset.

Let me explain: This way of seeing the world, becoming centered to the point that you only exist in a heightened sense of enlightened solitude, living within nature and within humanity, but only enough to quiet your mind, is a very eastern way of thinking, but this is only part of the picture. There is a story in Genesis about the six sons of Keturah, Abraham’s Concubine, mentioning how the sons were sent east with all the knowledge of the world. Some say that they ended up in Arabia, but many say that they went far beyond that, into the Far East — with all the ‘knowledge of the world...’ Um, for clarification’s sake, that means this world, not the next...

It seems that by plugging into this ‘eastern’ philosophy thing, we are essentially plugging into an eternal truth that exists for us all; maybe it’s even like plugging into the Infinite, but, I have to say, without the fruit punch... For instance, here is a quote from an American Indian named Black Elk about peace that I did happen to find in my Google search: "The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us." This quote really struck me, since it is essentially classic Jewish Philosophy 101… You don’t suppose that Native Americans are one of the lost tribes, do you? Oy, I will have to leave that for next time.

So, having heard this, supposedly ‘eastern’ sounding, philosophy from my dad at such a tender age in life, as you can imagine, I have since spent much of my life searching for the truth. Believe it or not, my searches began with the homeless philosophers and drunks that frequented my local surfing beaches. After that, I quickly moved to the local Hare Krishna Temple (much to the chagrin of my mom at the time). I never shaved my head, but I did read the Bhagavad Gita once or twice, looking for that essence, for that ‘peace within’ kind of feeling.

Looking back on it, a quote comes to mind about peace (Don’t believe it; I had to look it up again… - Bhagavad Gita, 12:12): "Better indeed is knowledge than mechanical practice. Better than knowledge is meditation. But better still is surrender of attachment to results, because there follows immediate peace.” I agree with the ‘surrender of attachment leading to peace’ part of the idea here, but what is weird about the whole idea is that “knowledge” is under “meditation” on the scale. I mean, what is knowledge anyways? In Hinduism, there are many gods, not One First Being that created everything. So, are we talking about knowledge of Shiva, Krishna, Brahma, or some other god in the Hindu Pantheon? Are we supposed to meditate in order to quite our minds, getting those internal demons and demigods out of our heads, separating them and dissipating them, or are we supposed to identify with one over the others, making our peace that much more fragmented? What are we talking about, anyways?

If we follow Black Elk’s advice, knowledge can only be about one thing: knowing the Great Spirit, the One True God. Even the first of the 10 Commandments says “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me,” which essentially means remember who God is or in other, other words, before you start anything in life, know who God is by using your rational powers to acquire ‘knowledge’ and seek out that reality.

A nice little story I read recently about the Baal Shem Tov explains it in a different way. I’ll shorten it a bit for the sake of brevity, since we all have lots of other things to do today:

A chassid (pious person) went to the Baal Shem Tov and said, “Rebbe, I want to see Elijah the Prophet.”

“It’s simple,” said the Baal Shem Tov. “Get two boxes and fill one with food and the other with children’s clothes. Then, before Rosh Hashanah, travel to Minsk. On the outskirts of town is a dilapidated house. Don’t knock on the door immediately; stand there for a while and listen. Then, shortly before candle-lighting time at sunset, knock on the door and ask for hospitality.”

So, the chassid went and did as the Baal Shem Tov told him. He arrived at the dilapidated house shortly before evening and stood in front of the door, listening. Inside, he heard children crying, “Mommy, we’re hungry and it’s Yom Tov! We don’t even have any nice clothes to wear!”

He heard the mother answer, “Now children, trust in God. He’ll send Elijah the Prophet to bring you everything you need!” The chassid then knocked on the door. When the woman opened it, he asked if he could stay with them for the holiday. “How can I welcome you when I don’t have any food in the house?” she said.
“Don’t worry,” said the chassid, “I have enough food for all of us.” He stayed there for two days, waiting to see Elijah the Prophet; but, he saw no one.


Speaking of “no one,” returning to the subject of the Dalai Lama, this guy seems so happy when I see pictures of him. Yeah, he has had it tough: They took his country away, killed his people, banished him, and he is now watching as his entire culture gets washed away by Chinese invaders… His ‘peace’ quote was as follows:

"I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction. Yet true happiness comes from a sense of peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved through the cultivation of altruism, of love and compassion, and elimination of ignorance, selfishness, and greed."

I like it. The problem that I see with it, however, is that I also found ‘this’ quote by the Dalai Lama:

“My advice is that if you must be selfish, be wisely selfish. Wise people serve others sincerely, putting the needs of others above their own. Ultimately you will be happier. The kind of selfishness that provokes fighting, killing, stealing, and using harsh words; forgetting other people’s welfare will only result in your own loss.”

He seems to be hedging a bit, backing down, maybe, from his first statement. Think about it, if you had to build a railroad track through the desert, making sure it was straight and perfect, with every tie perfectly placed, but you forgot that the whole point is for a train to travel on the tracks, sort of forgetting the big-picture and focusing on the details or losing sight of the forest through the trees, could you truly be happy? Would you recognize that there was a higher, more pure level of truth in the world?

Let’s get back to our chassid…


So, the chassid returned to the Baal Shem Tov and said, “Master, I did not see Elijah the Prophet!”

“Did you do everything I told you?” asked the Baal Shem Tov.
“I did!” he said.

“Then you’ll have to return for Yom Kippur,” said the Baal Shem Tov. “Go back before Yom Kippur, with a box of food, to the same house. Again, be sure to arrive an hour before the sun sets, and don’t knock immediately. Wait for a while and just stand in front of the door, listening.” So the chassid went back to Minsk before Yom Kippur and stood in front of the door, listening.

Inside he heard children crying, “Mommy, we’re hungry! We haven’t eaten the whole day! How can we fast for Yom Kippur?”

“Children!” said their mother. “Do you remember you were crying before Rosh Hashanah that you had no food or clothes? And then I told you, ‘Trust God! He’ll send Elijah the Prophet, who’ll bring you food and clothing and everything else you need!’ Wasn’t I right? Didn’t Elijah come and bring you food and clothing? He stayed with us for two days! Now you’re crying again that you’re hungry. Elijah will come now, too, and bring you food!” Then the chassid, who was listening outside the door, understood what the Baal Shem Tov had meant. And... he knocked on the door.

So, wasn’t that a nice story? Did you get it? Did you get that what the chassid understood was that for each and every one of us, God is a personal knowledge and only a knowledge that we can each know for ourselves. For the poor kids, Elijah the Prophet did come, sent by God to comfort them. For their mother, God was obviously working in the world, strengthening her faith. God is inside each and every one of us, in the most personal and unique way possible. We all have our struggles, but the point is that in order to quite the mind, we need to wage war on our outer-selves, our egos. Our egos are the reason that we separate from God, which is the reason that we have irrational violence and conflict in both ourselves and the world around us.

Coming back to the smiling Dalai Lama... here is a quote by Thich Naht Hanh that may explain it a little better: "If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work."

Then again, Sun Tzu, in the Art of War, put it nicely when he said, “In peace prepare for war; in war prepare for peace.”

Or, maybe Mother Teresa said it best: “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family."

Or even better yet, the Buddha says, “Better than a thousand hollow words is one word that brings peace." (This is pure Judaism – forget the Bu-Jew stuff…)

And, in Avot, 1:12, Hillel is reported to have said, “Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures and bringing them close to Torah.”

Really, it all seems to be about finding that inner peace, like the Dalai Lama seems to have, but then to use it to connect the Creator of the Universe. Maybe that is why we have ‘Eastern Philosophy and ‘Western Ideals and Concepts,’ to unite the whole lot and catch the fast train straight to reality, straight to God.

Ba’atzlacha (success) to my son and a really big Refu’ah Shlemah (complete healing) to you Ema…

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Flotilla the Pun and Da’Ass Boat

I tried to explain to some of my work colleagues, the German Christian Zionists, the other day, how it is that God could have created both the ‘good’ in the world as well as the ‘bad’ in the world. I know you are all enlightened and don’t need such a simple explanation, but for the sake of the title of this blog alone, I feel I need to elaborate. I used the simple analogy of God holding his hand in front of a light bulb, causing shadows to fall on a wall, where we, simple two dimensional ignoranimuses, happen to live. It was a difficult analogy for these folks to catch, since they believe that there is a kind of duality in the world between a malevolently black evil and a brilliantly white good and they tend to discard completely the grays and sloppy moss covered joinery connecting the two. At the end of a somewhat exasperating conversation, they seemed to comprehend, but the next day I found myself beleaguered with questions... and unremittingly so. I think that ultimately, I seemed to communicate to them, but I really can’t know for certain, which is precisely my point. We are all playing in the gray matter between luminosity and murkiness at any given moment. The problem is that sometimes, we tend to fall into an ill prepared for supercilious ambush. In our two dimensional world, it is easy to presuppose that the illumination and obscurity that dances on the wall around us ‘is’ the omnipotent, supernal being, God and we are caught in the middle, mere pawns in an unbeknownst to us illegitimate reality.

How can we resolve this conundrum? This is the real difficulty... Really, in order to accomplish a task such as this, we will need to reverse our insatiable desire to classify every friggin thing into a vast array of categories and recognize that the light and shadow business on the wall is simply, ‘the writing on the wall,’ just the end result, the manifestation of God’s dealings with the world, the mark left behind, or the skid marks that God left on the asphalt of our consciousnesses as He attempted to abruptly slow His pace out of his pure love for us, in an apparent attempt to accommodate for our imbecilic natures. It seems that ultimately, in order to even ‘seek’ truth in the world, we need to suspend our desire to label everything and catalog it into specific, comprehensible file boxes stacked painstakingly on a shelf. We need to open our mind enough so that we can see the light and dark within the gray and be OK with it. We need to know that God made evil because he loves us.

Take for instance the flotilla that is just starting to break free of the quagmire of international hoopla that has plagued it for weeks now. Its intension is to sail towards Gaza, attempting to make some more supa-dupa-stupa-hoopla and maybe kill some Jews along the way. The organizers have made it very clear that the ‘Freedom Flotilla,’ as they are calling it, is intended to set right a wrong that has been committed in the world. I heard the other day a quote, I think from Netanyahu, calling it the ‘Provocation Flotilla.’ Both of these flotilla names are categorically true, but each based solely on the particular facts that we are willing to incorporate into our world views. For the Freedom Flotilla organizers, the facts have been weeded down to what fits their particular political agendas, things like, um… I really don’t have any idea why they want to break the legal maritime blockade of the violent, mega-maniacally run, terrorist state… a lack of building supplies, medical supplies, and food stuffs? Not likely, considering that International statistics indicate that Gazans have a higher standard of living than people in nearly all of Africa, including South Africa, as well as parts of Asia, and in the Middle East. Actually, Gaza faces a surplus of goods, not a shortage of goods, according to recent press reports.

I don’t know where they are getting their ‘facts’ from, but the facts that they don’t seem to see are things like the new Gaza shopping malls that have been freshly built, the stunning beaches that are filled with a burgeoning middle class population, and the grocery stores that are brimming with brilliantly colored produce, consumer products, and sweets. All of this is not accessible to western reporters and the photographs of these realities on the ground have had to be smuggled out of Gaza, because of their counter productive nature; after all, their economy is fueled by a vast majority from international donations and good will. They don’t have any export, industry, or even any educational system, accept maybe the hate that is peddled towards the Jews, the Christians, and the Infidels everywhere...

I guess what ends up happening, though, is that the world only sees what they want to see, just like my workmates that just couldn’t get past their own world views to see the truth, even if it was wearing a shoe for a hat... It seems that about half of the world wants to believe that Israel is an oppressor operating to sever the supply lines of democracy, peace, and normalcy for their own political gain and in the process, starving old people and small children. This half of the population even tend to look the other way and, maybe not say, but think, ‘They had it coming’ when missiles are launched at kindergartens and school buses, killing, maiming, and really freaking out the local Israeli populations.

The only thing that can explain this totally irrational mindset is what I am going to call the ‘Da’Ass is Talking Syndrome.’ In general, we don’t identify with being donkeys unless it is a cartoon, like the donkey from Shrek or something. Remember that talking donkey with the voice of Eddie Murphy? Where do you think they got that idea from, anyways? Yup, they got it from this week’s parsha, Balak (Numbers 22:2 – 25:9), in which Bilam is considered the prophet of the non-Jews and apparently (by some commentators) as great as the greatest Jewish prophet, Moses! Yup, we know that Bilam was no schlepper... and yet, he didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary when his donkey, the same one that he had raised and lain with since he was young, wouldn’t move forward upon Bilam’s insistence. Even when his bosom barn buddy spoke to him, with lips quivering and everything, Bilam still didn’t discern a thing that was atypical, unusual, abnormal, or even extraordinary! It was only after Hashem had to forcibly lift the vale from Bilam’s eyes-wide-shut that he was able to see the ferocious sword wielding angel blocking the path of Bilam’s ass, causing the awe-un-inspiring prophet, Bilam, to fall flat on his face...

This whole episode reminds me of another story from Midrash Rabbah, Vayikra 4:6. It begins with a tale of a group of people that were all traveling in a boat. As they got further out to sea, one of the passengers removed a hand drill from his luggage and started drilling a hole beneath his seat. The other passengers, noticing what the man was doing, asked him, “Why are you doing that?”

The man with the drill replied, “What do you care? I purchased passage on this boat and this is my seat, not yours!”

The others replied, “But, but, but... you’ll flood the whole boat and submerge us all beneath the waves!”

This is exactly what Bilam was doing. He was so focused on his mission to curse the Jews that he was blinded by the reality in front of him. Bilam was a prophet, but he was blind as a bat ignoring its’ own radar when it came to something that went against his world view. We can all learn from this man’s ass and from the man himself... We ‘do’ tend to cut our grooves deeper and deeper, as we move through life and eventually, many of us may have what we might even call a ‘midlife crisis.’ We can call it whatever we want to, but in the end, this can only be our spirit, psyche, heart, essence, or soul, trying to redirect our lives before it is too late.

Just like the other day... when I was perusing the hearsay on the news and noticed first and foremost, on the same exact front page, a story about the discovery of a 16th-century temple in Sree Padmanabhaswamy Trivandrum, India of a 22 billion dollar treasure trove of gold and jewels. Then I moved to a story about Israel's cabinet decision that approved extending daylight saving time in 2012. Then, and only then, did I notice the first story on the page about an Israeli Air Force strike on a trio of Palestinian terrorists in Gaza who were preparing to launch a 'projectile' into Israel, which killed two of the terrorists and injured a third. We just seem to block out the stuff that we don’t want to hear about or are just too inundated with, plowing our groove a little deeper, scratching into that old broken record just a little more, and ignoring what doesn’t fit precisely within our current disposition or worse, our world view.

Don’t you wish sometimes that the world would have an immediate impact on us when we refuse to listen, when the ass is insisting that we pay attention and we pretend that we didn’t hear a thing? But, of course, we are entirely too occupied within our own egotistical engorgement to take note... If there was only some mechanism to correct our path midstream, before we see the bubbling squirt of the sea through the bottom of the boat, to find it necessary to endure a midlife crisis, before we fall on our faces like Bilam did. It could be... maybe, something simple, something like our toes curl or our eyes flutter. It could be something like a buzzing that goes off inside our heads, like a warped siren singing the blues, warning us of impending doom while skipping down a mistaken path to nowhere, arm-in-arm with a drunken piano.

It could be like Pinocchio, whose erectile proboscis grew when he lied; come to think of it, didn’t he disregard the obvious woody growth popping out in front of him, right between his eyes, even while everyone else bashfully noticed that something was up? Oh yeah… in the end he turned into an ass as well, blowing off the Blue Fairy and shipping out to a fairytale far off land… Well, maybe that means we already have a way of knowing when we are bearing down erroneously toward a hot flatulent brain bath. Maybe we are just not paying attention to it; maybe we have a kind of sixth sense! Maybe our intuition is telling us in every moment which direction to travel in. Maybe we already know which roads to avoid like the clapping of a thunderous woodsman’s axe as it descends onto our panic-stricken gaseous craniums. I know it has to be more complicated than that, seeing as the world hasn’t figured it out yet. I just hope that when the guy drilling under his seat starts hearing the rest of us tell him that he could go blind as a bat and to discontinue his impetuous desire to merely blow smoke up his own ego, he will see, once and for all, that he is on a ship of fools sailing to a far off fairytale Gaza-land, while trying to constrict the world’s collective vision by amplifying the scope and breadth of its blind spots…

Shabbat Shalom!