Korea: Another Manufactured Crisis

The System’s administrators love to distract people with manufactured crises and Donald Trump is a master distractor. His “fire and fury” threat to North Korea is the latest example. The FBI’s remarkable pre-dawn raid of Paul Manafort’s house is a far greater threat to Trump.

North Korea is not going to initiate a military attack on South Korea, Guam, or the United States. Their primary concern is their own survival. Any such attack would be suicidal. They are bizarre, but they are not irrational. They would not have lasted more than 60 years if they were.

Under President Clinton, they negotiated the Agreed Framework. Under the terms of that  agreement, they stopped plutonium production in exchange for economic benefits. Then President Bush terminated further talks, over the objection of Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Then the U.S. learned that North Korea was violating the agreement by producing enriched uranium. Rather than negotiate a new agreement, the Bush Administration blew up the Agreed Framework, the Obama Administration avoided the issue, and here we are.

Despite his ambiguous, irresponsible rhetoric and the urging of people like Senator Lindsay Graham, Trump’s not going to launch a preemptive attack on North Korea. Not even Steve Bannon wants that. Hundreds of thousands of South Koreans and many Americans would die, and the United States would become a pariah on the world stage. There’s even some risk China would send troops to North Korea.

Hopefully all the talk of forcing North Korea to totally relinquish its nuclear capacity is a negotiating tactic. A more likely goal is to get them to stop testing, in exchange for a Korean War armistice and multiple economic benefits

In the meantime, cable news will sell more advertising and Trump will continue to divert attention away from the “witch hunt.”

101 Gratitudes

Earlier today, Dan Brook told Mike Larsen and me about “100 Blessings,” a Jewish tradition. The idea is to acknowledge at least 100 blessings each day. It seems like a good exercise. That comment prompted me to jot down the first 100 gratitudes that came to mind. I stopped at 101.  With apologies to those individuals who did not emerge this time, here they are:

No nerve pain for many days
Good health
My home
Getting into a routine
Free Senior Center meals
Free Muni
Tues. Food Bank bags
Malick movies
Bob Dylan
My doctor
The exercise room
Laundry in-home
The resistance to Trump
My clean apartment
San Francisco
Northern California
I enjoy writing
The book, Bob Dylan and Philosophy
The Book of Joy
Bonnie inviting me to tea
Thrive East Bay
My new tea pot
My new tea kettle
My large screen TV
My sound system
Glide Church
Fellowship Church
The moon
The Holy Spirit
Bertrand Russell
My sunflowers
My recliner
Getting good sleep lately
My new mattress
Peace and quiet here
The view from my window
Kale salad for lunch
Rob’s invite to the Summer of Love event
My Western Park neighbors
The painting in front of me
The Dylan poster
The Ghandi mosaic
My mother’s guidance
My hair
Economic security
Cascade Falls
Mt. Tam
Jeff’s invitation
My curiosity
My wisdom
My compassion
SF restaurants
Music at the Saloon
Mother Nature
The Earth Community
Physical contact
Emotional intimacy
Negative ions
The ocean
The Arboretum
Land’s End
Mary Chapin
The New York Times
The New York Review of Books
Anderson Cooper
Rachel Maddow
Google News
Google search engine
Dick Price
Richard Koogle
Steve Sears
Gil Lopez

A Higher Love

Sam Shephard’s death prompted me to think about Terrence Malick, who directed Days of Heaven, which featured Shephard. I had not heard of any films by Malick since his The Tree of Life (2011), which I loved, as I have all of his films. That thought led me to imdb.com, where I discovered that Malick has recently made To the Wonder (2012), Knight of Cups (2015), and Song to Song (2017), all of which received fairly weak reviews. Roger Ebert, however, in the last movie review he ever filed, gave it more than three out of four stars. I agree with Ebert.

The film, which is pure Malick with its hypnotic cinematography and music, reminded me of the book Bob Dylan and Philosophy: It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Thinking), which my sister gave me for my birthday. Edited by Peter Vernezze and Carl J. Porter, the book consists of sixteen essays by various philosophers. The lead essay is “Planet Waves: Dylan’s Symposium” by Doug Anderson.

Anderson posits that Bob Dylan’s Planet Waves, as did Plato’s dialog “Symposium,” explores

what love means, [with] each song manifesting a different possibility…. The Symposium’s story of love [also] develops from basic descriptions of human physical attraction to accounts of more spiritual and intellectual attraction…. Dylan sings of a similar sort of ascension….

As do Plato and Socrates, Dylan must abandon other relationships when they interfere with his one true love. This sounds callous to the champions of agape and traditional marriage, who want to portray the commitment to poetic creation as selfish. That strikes me as “sour grapes” at best. Notice that we seem willing to accept the celibacy of those who “marry” God, but we want to denigrate those who are wedded to realizing beauty and truth….

Music, poetry, and philosophy are not the useless practices that guidance counselors tell us they are; they are the divine gifts of those who love in the highest way possible….

Malick’s film, which features a priest who struggles with his faith, addresses the same issue: the quest for a higher love. Lord knows I’ve fallen short, but I share that pursuit. That’s why in “Reflections On My 73rd Birthday,” I said “humanity is my family” and “my true love is truth, justice, and beauty,” which “will always be my my side.”

So I plan to watch Malick’s two more recent films as well, even though they received even weaker reviews. I sense he’s a soul mate who will in-trance and inspire me once again.

Mind and Body

Collage by Eric Edelman

The New Testament scholar, John Dominic Crossan, argues that spirit is necessarily enfleshed and flesh is necessarily enspirited. This perspective affirms the human body unequivocally, and, it seems to me, implies that after death, no soul migrates to Heaven, nor does the mind reincarnate — though our legacy lives on, as does Life.

Making Memories,” by Israel Rosenfield and Edward Ziff, a review of Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich in the August 17, 2017 issue of the New York Review of Books, considers recent neurological studies that seem to support Crossan’s view — though the review does not address Crossan’s point directly.

The review reports:

Essential to the brain’s creation of memories is that all of our memories are subjective—they are created from the point of view of the individual who is remembering. We have a sense of self because we have a preexisting sense of our body that contains that self. The basis of our subjectivity is our “body image,” a coherent, highly dynamic (it is constantly changing with our movements), three-dimensional representation of the body in the brain. This body image is an abstraction the brain creates from our movements and from the sensory responses elicited by those movements….

Since our subjectivity depends on our body image, if our body image is altered for neurological reasons, so too are our recollections…. Memories are altered every time the brain recalls them. This alteration of an existing memory is called reconsolidation. Because the memory trace changes, you can never remember the same thing twice in exactly the same way…. The way the memory is represented at the synaptic junction is altered.

Those studies also conclude:

Memory is the establishment by the hippocampus of complex relations among a variety of sensory stimuli from the point of view of the individual who is remembering…. Memory depend[s] on the ability of the hippocampus to establish relations between an individual and his or her surroundings…. The hippocampus receives and integrates many other varieties of information to create multisensory relations, which is what memory is all about…. All recollections depend on a setting that the individual may or may not be aware of.

These conclusions, which affirm a holistic attitude, strike me as relevant to daily life today for numerous reasons.

Crossan argues that prior to the spread of Greek philosophy, the Jewish faith was holistic. But the Greeks tried to split the mind and body. That dualism has persisted in Western thought and has contributed to a denigration of the body, especially sexuality. In America, Ralph Waldo Emerson reinforced that Idealism. Confusion on the issue is reflected in many spiritual circles today. The holistic perspective leads to a more fulsome and wholesome embrace of the human body.

Another benefit from seeing the mind and body as being necessarily integrated is a more honest acceptance of death, which contrasts to the American tendency to try to deny its reality.

In addition, it seems to me, those neurological studies suggest that we can intentionally alter the brain in a beneficial manner through mental activity, such as making the effort to recall events for which we are grateful, as well as meditation.

The review also highlights the risk that’s involved with altering the brain neurologically. The history of psychiatry is littered with examples of devastating brain damage that resulted from arrogant or indifferent attempts to alleviate suffering with neurological tools. The brain is a fantastically complicated mechanism that has been tweaked by eons of evolution. Any attempt to mess with Nature’s miracle should be undertaken with great care.

Moreover, “Making Memories” substantiates that individuals are not isolated, but rather are profoundly interconnected with their environment, including other individuals. Even our memories depend on placing the memory in a “setting,” even if we don’t remember the setting!

And lastly, I was struck by the account of how abstractions, or generalizations, emerge from specific events. As one who is wary of ideology, that description confirms the legitimacy of certain abstractions. The danger arises when abstractions become detached from concrete realities, and ideologues try to force reality to conform to their desires. Dreams of a better world can be helpful. But those dreams are best grounded in reality. Pragmatic idealism seems to be the wisest course.