PROVOCATIVE QUESTION 2 REDUX: WISDOM V. INTELLIGENCE – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #2


Is there a difference between these two things? Isn’t wisdom an elderly version of intelligence, fired by time and hard knocks? I read a bunch of definitions of the difference between intelligence and wisdom and basically, it boiled down to intelligence is using wisdom intelligently or alternatively, wisdom is a wise use of intelligence. They are bound together.

You can’t be wise until you turn 70. Certainly not before 60.

Can a child be wise? A child can say something that we interpret as wise, but wisdom from children isn’t wise because it isn’t intelligently thought out and it comes without any experience that makes it real. We can act like it’s wise, but the kid didn’t think it was wise and probably doesn’t understand the concept of wisdom.

I don’t think anyone is wiser than his or her years. You can be very smart for your age, but wisdom — the real deal — requires experience. You have to live a little to get your first hint of wisdom. Being old doesn’t guarantee wisdom. There are plenty of dumb old people.

No matter how smart that kid is, he isn’t wise. He may be a very quick thinker, he may have, within his limits, a better understanding of what wisdom might be, but wisdom itself is connected with time and real-life experiences.


This reminds me of a movie, Peter Sellers in “Being There.” He’s actually simple-minded, but everyone is convinced he’s very wise. They misinterpret everything he says and they are, by the end of the movie, ready to elect him president. If you haven’t seen the movie, see it. It’s eerily relevant and not in a good way.

I am not wise, but I’ve got a very smart ass. I think it’s possible Garry is wise. I’ll have to ask him when the next commercial break comes on.

THE FIRES OF HELL ON EARTH – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #56


This week’s question is taken from Melanie’s “Share Your World” for the week. And my answer is an expansion of what I wrote on that post.

The world is on fire and we will all burn. No need to wait for hell to engulf us. We merely need to wait for the overcooked earth to dry up and burn. I read a post today from NASA and another couple of agencies whose logos I’ve forgotten. It was beyond dismal.

Basically, it said that we have failed to do anything about climate change for far too long and now, only very drastic action will accomplish anything. 2019 was the hottest year on record. Ever. Two entire countries — Switzerland and Khazakstan — have both exceeded the 2-degree-Celsius danger point. Fires swept through much of America’s west and last year was truly terrible, but almost nothing compared to the horror of what has occurred in Australia. Only two entire countries have exceeded the 2-degree-Celsius danger point, but most American cities have reached or exceeded it as have their suburbs.

The ice is melting faster than anyone expected and the sea is rising. The burning of the Amazon rain forest is a manmade tragedy that will help climate change develop faster. The entire world is hotter and where it hasn’t flooded, there are droughts. Flowers are blooming in Switzerland in January and last Friday, it was 74 degrees Fahrenheit. Today it is 50, which is a kind of weather we normally get in late spring. Certainly not in January.

Oh, sure, we might get snow, but we got almost none last year and there has been very little this season. We are getting tick warnings from our local government. I had to put collars on the dogs because ticks and fleas are out there having a great time, bouncing around, injecting diseases in humans and animals.

Forty years ago, I was the English-language editor at the University of Jerusalem’s Environmental Health Laboratory. I worked there for almost five years during which we addressed issues of wastewater, air and soil management. The country was still quite small. I think we had fewer than 7 million people then.

The scientific staff traveled from kibbutz to kibbutz, then to any other area that was under cultivation. The goal was trying to explain why it was so critical we stop using nitrogen-enriched fertilizer and start managing wastewater and figure out safe ways to use it. No one listened. My boss predicted we’d lose our aquifer by 1985. He was wrong. It was dead by 1983.

Flames from the Valley Fire cover a hillside along Highway 29 in Lower Lake, California September 13, 2015. The swiftly spreading wildfire destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands of residents to flee as it roared unchecked through the northern California village of Middletown and nearby communities, REUTERS/Noah Berger

The point is not that I knew something important about our climate before most people were up to speed. It is that we have known about the danger to our environment for 100 years and for at least the past 50 have had top-quality scientists warning us again and again while we just went ahead, worrying about whether to buy the bigger SUV or maybe go for something smaller.

Since the 1970s when we officially declared “Earth Day,” many of us have tried to “do the right thing,” when we could figure out what that was. Most of us recycle, even when we know they aren’t doing anything with the trash, just moving it around. We lowered car emissions. We closed down coal-fired plants. We did something, but it wasn’t enough and it wasn’t done everywhere it needed to be done. Many countries have done absolutely nothing, either because they are too poor or in denial. Australia was one of the countries that did nothing much, not because people didn’t want change, but because the government wouldn’t budge.

Nor was enough done anywhere else on earth. The worst part? Even in places where they have been extremely careful, their neighbors are killing them. Like Switzerland.

To expect the nations of the world to get together and repair the planet so our children and grandchildren can live here is one of those great ideas in which I don’t believe. Humans don’t work together. We can’t get a Congress that agrees on anything, much less a planet. We fight, we kill, we destroy collectively, but repair things? Make things better? When has that ever occurred?

The smoke from 1500 miles (2000 km) away turns the skies in New Zealand orange.

We improved car emissions. We knocked out the smog in some major cities. We cleaned up some polluted rivers. Some of us did our best to manage recyclables. Some places did better than others. We didn’t build enough plants to deal with the plastic and paper and we charged extra for products made from recycled materials — which was not what people expected. Reality notwithstanding, we didn’t expect to be charged a premium for recycled goods. A lot of places — like where we live — do not have any recycling plants and we know they just take the recycling and dump it in landfills. Or worse.

WE DID NOT DO ENOUGH.

We are not doing enough now, then, nor are there plans to do what needs doing. We have no firm plans to do much of anything going forward. It’s a lack of interest. It’s a lack of solid plans killing us. We talk about it, but long before Trump got into office and has been doing his utmost to make a dire situation direr, we were busy making minor changes with vague plans for the future. We’ve been permanently at the discussion stage and never at the implementation stage.

Meanwhile, our planet is burning. If the fire hasn’t come to you yet, wait a while. It will come. First the heat, then the drought, then the fire.

The world’s population has grown exponentially everywhere. For every little green area we plow so we can build a condo or mall we don’t need, birds and other small animals die, often forever. In poor countries, you can’t blame them for trying to create farms to feed their people. Large mammals — like elephants — are antithetical to local farming.

LAKE TABOURIE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 04: Residents look on as flames burn through bush on January 04, 2020 in Lake Tabourie, Australia. A state of emergency has been declared across NSW with dangerous fire conditions forecast for Saturday, as more than 140 bushfires continue to burn. There have been eight confirmed deaths in NSW since Monday 30 December. 1365 homes have been lost, while 3.6 million hectares have been burnt this fire season. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

I spent five years surrounded by nothing but environmental scientists. I edited their material, sent it to magazines for publication. I read the papers. I understood how important it was. For all of that, I couldn’t imagine it could happen here. That my reality would change. That my birds would die and insects would arrive bringing diseases to kill us. Meanwhile, our way of stopping the insects — which are the direct result of the climate change we’ve been ignoring — is poisoning everything else. We seem to be helping the disaster, not stopping it.

For all I know, we are beyond help. Maybe we can ameliorate the process. Maybe we can stop building on every piece of ground we find. Maybe we can do something to create food for more people with less destruction to the earth. I don’t have answers.

Meanwhile, I have nightmares of the fires and the death of all the things I love.

If this doesn’t terrify you, what does? I too worry about freedom in this country, healthcare, and all that stuff — but if we can’t breathe, have no water, and the air is full of smoke while the sea rises and sea life dies — how much will freedom matter?

MUSIC AND LANGUAGE, PROVOCATIVE QUESTION #53 – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #53


I need to begin this by saying that I don’t think music IS a language. I agree that it is universal. It crosses over national and cultural borders.

But it’s music, not a language. There are some songs that are language, but it’s the words that makes them a language, not the music.

I love music. I was a musical child, spent 18 years studying piano and was a music major in college. Music can be transcendental. It can make you happy when you are sad. In its own way, it speaks to your heart and emotions

Nonetheless, it isn’t a language, not in the sense that we have typically used the word language. Specific information is not part of music nor should it be. Sure there are songs that were meant to be more about the words than the music. That’s a different story.

A lot of folk music was written to support a specific political movement is more about words than music, but it doesn’t turn music into a language. Words imposed over the music isn’t a language. It’s a song. Maybe a great song, but still — a song.

Music is beautiful. I love every kind of music, minus rap and I’m not wild about hip-hop. That’s age-related. I get that. Music to me is designed to be enjoyed, felt, loved, remembered. Let’s not turn it into something else.

Let’s enjoy music for what it is.

LIVING THE GOOD LIFE. SLOWLY. Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #52

The question?

Given the realities of who we are and what we need, I think this is a pretty good life. I might wish for gentler weather and a bit more money, but overall? I’m glad to be here. I’m glad to live in a place where most people are on the same side I am on. Where getting around (unless there’s a lot of snow) is pretty easy. No traffic jams. No parking meters.

Life is simple, peaceful, and sometimes, joyous.

Short of suddenly becoming physically young (that would be quite a trick!), this is “the good life.” For us. Maybe it wouldn’t be for you, but it works for us. We live “the good life,” but slowly.

PROVOCATIVE QUESTION #50: REDOING LIFE? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #50

So this week’s question is:

My answer is exceedingly simple.

Hell, no.

I’ve enjoyed my life. Even the bad stuff was interesting. One of the things Garry and I love about getting old together is that we don’t feel like we missed anything. We did everything we could as often as we could. We didn’t get to every city or every historic site, but we did a lot and it was tons of fun.

It wasn’t great for our longterm financial future, but damn, we have wonderful memories. And because we’ve known each other so long, many of those memories are together — before we were married.

There are pieces of my life I wish I could fix, but life, as a whole, has been fascinating — good, bad, and in between!

MEDICARE FOR ALL: WAY TO GO AMERICA! – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #48

Personally, we both are on Medicare because we are at an age where we deserve it. Lord knows we paid enough money over the years for the privilege of having doctors when we got old.

Medicare is a pretty good system and it is getting even better. The people who run it are competent, ready and willing to talk to you any time of the day or night. They are incredibly patient, which really helps because a lot of people on Medicare are not entirely “all there” anymore.

Medicare’s way of distributing drugs was deeply flawed and still leaves a lot to be desired, though it is better than it was. Their unwillingness to deal with — until this year — seeing, hearing, chewing, and breathing was cruel.

I don’t know if the changes we are seeing this year are local Massachusetts changes or national, but this year we are actually going to get enough money to buy a pair of eyeglasses, get our teeth cleaned and x-rayed and if Garry still needed them, hearing aids. Too bad they are available now because a few years ago, Garry really needed them.

We just changed from BlueCross to Harvard-Pilgrim. It will save us about $170/month and we can keep all our doctors (I checked). Also, since we’d use the same hospital where they already have all our records, I wouldn’t have to get a new institution “up to speed.” I honestly didn’t think I could cope with swapping all my doctors again and records again.

Do you believe the government of a country has a responsibility to provide universal, affordable (if not “free”) healthcare for its citizens?

Yes. Absolutely.

If you live in the United States, would you favor Medicare for all/single-payer health plan?

Having lived in Israel where medical care is free if you are poor, but if you aren’t quite that poor, you can buy into any one of a number insurance plans that give you other options, like private doctors rather than clinics, or one of the groups that offer more options for natural care. But all medical care uses the same hospitals and surgeons are not your choice but are based on your problem(s) and who they think can best solve it.

You got incredibly good medical care, probably because there are more doctors per capita in Israel than anywhere else in the world. Well, you know. Jewish doctors are a “thing.” Half the doctors were American or British, too. All the top surgeons were American — but of course, that was the 1980s and things have probably changed.

The thing is, you had a choice of how you wanted the services delivered, but one way or the other, you were entitled to the services. Everyone had medical care, free or paid. Whether you were a citizen or tourist, you could go to the nearest health clinic and they would take care of you. No identification needed.

Medicine was free. For everyone.

It was such a good system that I think that’s what we should have here. You can use the government “free for all” system or spend a bit more money and get extra services. But regardless, everyone gets medication at no cost. No one is left out of the system.

If you live outside of the U.S., does your government provide universal healthcare? If so, how do you feel about it? If not, what kind of healthcare coverage do you have?

See my answer above. Having lived in two countries with two very different medical systems, Israel’s was really great. I think Switzerland has a very similar system too.

THE ARRIVAL AND IMMINENT DEPARTURE OF A SINGULARITY – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #47

A provocative question today that I think currently means very little. It probably meant something 200-years ago, but now? I doubt it.

Here’s the question:

Technological singularity?

Personally? I think we reached it years ago — probably at least 50 years ago — and we are already in the throes of it. It did not need to become a net negative, but because of other issues — politics being the obvious one but also human greed, corporate greed, and a refusal to believe that the world was not made to accommodate us and when we push its boundaries hard enough, it will, in its own way, push back.

We have a dying world. We have a horribly over-inflated belief in humanity’s place in this world. And it will come to pass — is already coming to pass — that we shall discover how unimportant we really are. We are mosquitoes sitting on the back of a world that is getting ready to take a dip in waters lethal to our kind.

We shall be cleaned out and slowly but surely vanish. The planet will survive and recover in its own way. Whether or not that recovery leaves room for our kind? I’m not overly optimistic about it. While we are making enormous progress on one level, we are destroying what needs to be saved at the same time. It won’t do us any good to create a green world when we have already destroyed the greenery.

We can try, but we’d better start trying a whole lot harder than we currently are. Because I don’t think we can call a time out on the changes we have created and the desolation it is likely to bring.

Sorry for not sounding more chipper and cheery. If someone has something chipper and cheery to add that is based on science and not a personal opinion, shout it out.

ARE WE GOING TO “RUN OUT” OF CREATIVITY? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #45

From Fandango:

“Some smart people claim there is nothing new under the sun. I’m not normally one to reference the Bible, but in the Book of Ecclesiastes, the author complains frequently about the meaninglessness and monotony of life. One entire passage reads, “That which has been is what will be. That which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”

Which brings up the question:

Question de jour

To me, “merely rearranging concepts and building on previous ideas” doesn’t sound like a “merely.” Have you got a recent invention up your sleeve? Then maybe the ability to take concepts and build on ideas to create a new “thing” is the nature of creativity. I’m sorry the guy in Ecclesiastes sounded so dreary, but the world was having a hard time. Unlike now when things are so easy! Poor guy, he didn’t even have a computer or television to make it easier.

Everything is part of a context. To invent the telephone, you needed people who could talk. The telephone’s inventors — Antonio Meucci and Alexander Graham Bell — let people talk at a distance, but they didn’t have to create language, just another way to use language.

Everything new evolves from a construct of what we saw, then imagined what it might do for us. These days, a modern mobile phone does everything except work telephone calls.

I don’t think there’s a limit to what we can create, although to create something that no one can imagine seems implausible and unlikely.

I do think there are limits to what people want, need, or are willing to pay for. That has happened with all kinds of electronics, from color televisions, computers, telephones to many other things. At some point, people don’t want them that much or feel they’ve got enough (and spent enough) on whatever it is.

Which means creativity will need to find a new direction. No doubt it will. Creative ways to make money are even more nonstop than mere invention. It would still have to be something humans can imagine owning and believe would make their lives easier, more fun, and maybe more exciting.

HUMAN ACHIEVEMENT? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #44

From Fandango:

“You’re probably familiar with this quote from philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist, George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.“ In a 1948 speech to the House of Commons, Winston Churchill changed the quote slightly when he said, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.“

Or my favorite version of this particular saying:

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ” ― Michael Crichton

So, speaking about what you remember about the past or have learned from history, how would you answer this question:”

Achievement? By the human race?

Right now, I’m having a lot of trouble crediting the human species with any significant event. I suppose it depends on what you think is significant. Would it be something that makes a life for people better? Or for a specific part of the human species better? Even if that “advancement” decimates or destroys other important aspects of the world in which we live? Like, for example, when we learned to plow and created the Sahara desert? And eventually killed ever last living mastodon? Was that an improvement?

Or how about when we broke the sod in the west and created the Dust Bowl? You know all those westerns where the sodbusters are the Good Guys and the ranchers are the Bad Guys? You know — the ranchers were right. We destroyed the prairies.

How about the invention of the government? After the Black Plague, the central government that was created produced giant grain silos and thus managed to feed the starving people after the plague wiped out the serfs — aka, farmers.

So the central government enabled people to rebuild after the worst (known) 100 years of human life or at least the worst time we still know about. But the deep plowing of the soil essentially was the beginning of what we are now experiencing: the ending of the world as we know it.

Will we take from that lesson that few have understood and somehow avoid total annihilation? Shall we yet come up with a world in which we can all live? Not just the human race, but all creatures?

Was the world better when we foraged for food and hunted our meat? I suspect it was. Were humankind’s invention of the railroad, automobile, and the airplane an improvement or was it the beginning of our end?

Do I live with any substantial hope that we will find a way out of this disaster we are in and rebuild a world in which we can live at peace as a part of nature and not its murderer?

I don’t know. Do you know?

We aren’t going to live long enough to see the end result of this madness and I’m not sorry about that. I love this world with its birds and bunnies and squirrels and eagles. With its tigers and lions and the elephants that crush the crops — but they were here before me and they have the right to live, even when it makes our lives more complicated.

Doesn’t every living thing deserve the right to survive? And our grandchildren — do they deserve the right to survive too?

We came out of our caves as killers and so we have remained.

And here’s my answer:

The most significant thing we ever invented were weapons. Significant isn’t, after all, the same as “good.” Or positive. 

IS HONESTY YOUR BEST POLICY – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #38

Do you really want to tell your wife she looks fat in those jeans? No? Do you need to tell her you slept with her best friend, even if it was before you got married? Or for that matter, with anyone besides her since you got married?

If you tell her any of these things, are they going to improve or ruin your relationship?


Do you believe that honesty is always the best policy? Is there is ever a time or circumstance when dishonesty (lying) is justifiable? Please elaborate.

We lie to each other all the time. Usually little lies. Like how much you paid for those sneakers … or for that matter, how much you paid for your wife’s birthday present (she warned you to NOT spend a lot of money). Or maybe shearing $100 of the price of that camera lens or telephone or computer.

We lie to our kids all the time. Some of them are huge, life-changing lies like: “You can do anything you set your mind to.”

No, you can’t. If you don’t have the talent, you can’t become a great writer or musician or mathematician or engineer. You need tenacity, but you also need talent. When we don’t mention the whole “talent” issue, it’s a lie and it can ruin a kid’s life, too.

I’m in favor of telling the truth when not telling the truth will cause harm to anyone, will destroy a good relationship, or simply make someone unhappy when they don’t need to be. I am also strongly in favor of honest conversations so that people don’t waste years believing something they partially heard while eavesdropping. AND I strongly, passionately believe in NEVER EVER EAVESDROPPING.

Whenever I watch a movie and someone has cheated and the cheater feels a compelling need to confess, I always wonder “why”? If his/her spouse never heard about the cheating, they would be okay. So the only reason you are confessing is to make ourself feel better. It isn’t going to make your relationship better or make your spouse happier. If you need to confess, find a priest. Get a shrink. Confess to your seatmate on the bus across town.

Leave your spouse alone. They didn’t do anything wrong and don’t deserve to be punished. If you have the kind of spouse who is going to eviscerate you for failing to “tell the truth,” they need to have a brain adjustment too.

ARE WE READY FOR A GAY PRESIDENT? – Marilyn Armstrong

This is a reblog from a Fandango “Provocative President” post some months back. As we get closer to the election, Pete Buttigieg has moved to the forefront as a potential candidate. Thus I’m running this again and I think it deserves to be run again. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg?


From Fandango:

“For those of you who may not follow American politics, let me introduce to you Pete Buttigieg. “Mayor Pete,” as he is known, is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for President of the United States. He is a graduate of Harvard University, a Rhodes Scholar, a Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan. He is currently the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana. And as a bonus — he’s white and Christian. The perfect candidate, right?

He’s ranking third or fourth (out of 20) in the early political polls and is getting a lot of attention and positive press.

He’s also gay and married to his husband, Chasten. Wait! What?”

So here is the question:


“Do you think America is ready for an openly gay person to be elected to the office of President of the United States? Explain your opinion.”


I first would like to point out that “gay” used to mean happy and carefree … and America is 100% ready for that! I can’t think of anything we need more than a spirit of joy and freedom.

As for the more modern meaning of “gay,” my answer is a solid “I don’t know.”

I would, given the negative ionization of the air over America for the past two and something years, would be inclined to say no. Except that I would also have been sure we would not have a black president — twice — and we could never have such a current lowlife elected to the presidency, either.

Each was impossible and both were elected.

Pete Buttigieg – Photo: ABC News

So I don’t know. Our political pendulum swings wildly from side to side, kind of “The Pit and the Pendulum” of American politics. It isn’t unusual for us to go from very liberal to very conservative presidents and we’ve done it any number of times. Can we do it this time?

I really don’t know. There’s a lot of “playing out” of our political spider web still to be done. It’s not impossible and it also isn’t likely. Which is to say it’s neither probable nor outlandish.

I would hope the qualities of the man will be the point on which judgments are made, not to whom he is married. Hey, at least he is married and not a serial philanderer. Or a sociopathic liar. Or a self-promoting moron.

But who knows? Maybe America is not ready for a sane president yet. Maybe we need to roll around in the sty with the pigs for another term of office before we get our fill of this particular nightmare.

And maybe the world will never be the way it was after this presidency. There are too many questions without answers, so, in my opinion, it is also too early to gauge for whom we might vote.

We have miles to go in that snowy woods. What I do know is that the Democrats have yet to even make it clear for what they stand. Until they get their heads wrapped around their position, you can’t know where the voters stand.

FANDANGO’S PROVOCATIVE QUESTION #33

Fandango’s Provocative Question #33

It’s hard to talk about this stuff without sounding pious or self-righteous. Personally, I always wonder if I have a price too and it’s merely that no one has offered to pay it that I have managed to stay true to my fundamental beliefs. When you’ve never been tempted or at least not tempted enough, it is hard to know what your own boundaries truly are.

This question was plucked from my post, so to a large degree, I’ve answered it already. Still, it’s a valid question with many possible answers and even more questions that lie along its borders.

The question of whether morality is part of “God’s personal patch” versus being a basic human issue is old. It’s a question that goes to the heart of every religion and dogma — as well every set of personal beliefs. It’s older than our literature and for all I know, they were pondering some version of this in cave dwellings.

For at least most of my life, as a child, adolescent, and adult, I have believed that we are all born with a fundamental knowledge of good and evil, of right and wrong. It isn’t something we need to be taught. We know it. Actually, Genesis essentially says more or less the same thing.

In our bones, in our brains, in that strange space we have that is neither physical or “brain matter,” but rather a special place where we preserve our personal beliefs.

That we all know what is right and wrong from our earliest youth through all of life does not mean that we always adhere to it. We have all done the wrong thing, whether it was big and bad, or little but nonetheless, wrong.

The cynical saying that “Everyone has a price” means no matter what you believe — or why you believe it — if you are offered a good enough deal, you’ll fold and do the wrong thing. It insinuates that greed is ultimately the most powerful emotion of which man is capable.

I want to believe that this is untrue and some of us cannot be bought. But do I know that? Or have many of us never been offered a high enough price? After all, the payment doesn’t have to be money. It can be power: legal power or religious power. It can make us godlike or rich beyond the ability of our calculator to count.

Greed can be the lust for knowledge, power, drugs, or land, though somehow money seems to squeeze into the equation somehow.


To quote Gordon Gekko, “Greed is good.”


Do you agree that greed is good? Or only that greed is good within limits, to a certain extent, but not beyond? That it’s okay to be greedy as long as you don’t get excessive about it?

What is excessive?

Does it mean only if you aren’t killing or crushing other people to reach your greed level, it’s okay? Or are there other issues?

I don’t believe that greed is good. The concept that greed is good offends me. I understand why greed feels good, though. I understand everyone wants to be safe from hardship and live life in comfort and dignity. I don’t consider that greedy. More like survival with benefits.

I certainly don’t think survival is greedy until you have to murder other people to achieve it. At which point you need to put down the gun and think about it.

It’s the excessiveness of greed that’s the problem. Because once you’ve broken through the comfort barrier and moved into luxury, when is enough, enough? What amount of whatever is sufficient?

When everything the eye can see, a man desires and comfort has long been surpassed, at what point do you stop? Do you ever stop? Can you stop? When you have the greedy bit clamped between your teeth, is there an end to your run?


ALEXANDER LEARNS VIRTUE

Gold coins of Alexander of Macedon

When Alexander had flown on the back of an eagle to the gates of Heaven itself, he bangs on the door until finally, a wise man answers. Because he is a great and powerful leader, he demands the right to ask questions of the wise men. These are his questions:

“Who is wise?” asks Alexander.

“He who can foresee the future,” answers the wise man.

“Who is a hero?” asks Alexander.

“He who conquers himself,” replies another wise man.

“Who is rich?” asks Alexander.

“He who rests content with what he has,” the wise men respond.

Alexander depicted on an ancient synagogue wall

Following this question, there is a story Talmudic legend about Alexander (who was a Jewish hero — a story too long to explain here), a balance scale, and a human eye.

The eye is placed on one side of the scale. On the other side, are piled mountains of gold, gems, and all other riches. Yet the human eye is heavier, no matter how many riches are put on the other balance. Finally, one of the wise men sprinkles a bit of dust over the eye. From that moment, even a feather is heavier than the eye.

Until a man is dead and covered in earth, he will always desire more. Only death can end his greed.

“By what means does man preserve his life?” asks Alexander.

“When he kills himself.” (Talmudist notes: By this, the wise men meant when a man destroys within himself all passion.)

“By what means does a man bring about his own death?” asks Alexander, referring back to the previous question.

“When he clings to life.” (Talmudist notes: When a man holds onto his passions and belongs to them.)

“What should a man do who wants to win friends?” asks Alexander. This is his final question.

“He should flee from glory and despise dominion and kingship,” the wise men conclude.

At the end of the Judaization process, Alexander is a humbled dictator. Although the lesson does not make him a wise man, the Talmudic dialectics bring Alexander the Great down a notch or two, make him a better person and a more benevolent leader.


If anyone assured me that one can be moral and hold a strong belief system without a formal belief system, my mother did that. She believed in virtue — goodness for its own sake. She believed in dignity, kindness, fairness, and equality. She was not a racist although she was positive that education made you a better person. If there was a break in her “system,” education was it.

She loved beautiful things for their beauty, yet before she died, she gave away or sold all her jewelry and art.


In the end, I do not believe anyone of any faith is incorruptible. We all have a weak spot. Something about which we feel so passionate, we would give or do anything to achieve it.

Incorruptibility is a choice. To find out if you are incorruptible, you’d need to be tempted by whatever it is that means the most to you. You would have to make painful choices and would forever wonder if you were a fool for choosing virtue over greed, especially if you urgently needed what you refused.

If you do not have a God about whom you can say, “His laws made me do it,” you will probably feel even sillier than the religious man who at least believes he is following the route God laid out for him.

A non-believer has only his self by which to gauge the rights and wrongs of life. Standing alone is hard. A good life is a hard life.

And no one ever promised it would be easy.

WITH GOD ON MY SIDE – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #32

For this week’s provocative question, I am going to do something I haven’t before done in my provocative question prompt. I’m going to post something a fellow blogger wrote. In this case, the blogger is Judy Dykstra-Brown, and in one of her recent posts she wrote:



WORDS

Oh my name it ain’t nothin’
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I was taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side
Oh, the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh, the country was young
With God on its side
The Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War, too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
I was made to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side
The First World War, boys
It came and it went
The reason for fighting
I never did get
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don’t count the dead
When God’s on your side
The Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And then we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now, too
Have God on their side
I’ve learned to hate the Russians
All through my whole life
If another war comes
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side
But now we got weapons
Of chemical dust
If fire them, we’re forced to
Then fire, them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side
Through many a dark hour
I’ve been thinkin’ about this
That Jesus Christ was
Betrayed by a kiss
But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.
So now as I’m leavin’
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
That if God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war

I thought I’d let Bob Dylan answer this one for me. Written in the early 1960s, it hasn’t gotten old. If anything, it’s more relevant now than it was then.

War never gets old and it seems we never tire of it. We never run out of reasons to fight. In every war throughout human history, God is on every side. Everyone claims him and is sure that all the horrors they perpetrate are “in God’s name.”

Since God has never made any comment on this, my best guess — should there be a god:

The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
That if God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war

PEAK PROVOCATIVE QUESTION #31 – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #31

Thirty-one is one of my “lucky numbers.” I’ve lived in houses numbered 31 twice, won prizes for number 31 (a TV and a long weekend in New York city including a visit to the (then) brand new Yankee Stadium) and more.

I don’t have a follow-up to this comment. That’s the whole story.

Recently we’ve been watching that 15-year-old tennis whiz kid. I got to thinking: “What if you are the biggest and best at whatever you do when you are 14 or 15? When you are the best tennis player ever especially if you are merely 15, or you are the best baton twirler on earth at 14? Where do you go after that? Is it all downhill?”

This question first occurred to me when I watched the baton twirler on television maybe ten years ago and I was thinking “This is her peak moment and it’s all downhill from here.”

I suspect this may be part of the problem with child stars. They grow up. Their best years are behind them and a lot of them don’t work much after they complete their teen years.

I don’t think I’ve had a peak year yet. Maybe I never will. I’ve had great moments. I’ve had joyful moments, little thrilling times. I’ve had a couple of really great years, breathtaking visual and emotional moments … but nothing I would call “the peak.”

I’m not sure there will be a peak. Good years, bad years, terrific years, historic years … but peak? Life is a series of peaks and valleys, dips and mountains.

That’s fine with me.

FACTS AND TRUTH #FPQ – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #30

From Fandango:

Comedian Stephen Colbert coined the word “truthiness” a dozen or so years ago. Truthiness, Colbert explains, is the quality of seeming to be true based upon one’s intuition, opinion, or perception without regard to logic or factual evidence. It’s similar to when Comedian Bill Maher says, “I don’t know it for a fact; I just know it’s true.” These describe a situation when someone feels, believes, or wishes that something is true even when it is not supported by the facts.

American novelist William Faulkner said, “Facts and truth really don’t have much to do with each other.”

So, to today’s question:

First of all both truth and facts matter and if they don’t, then I’m not sure anything matters.

Searching for truth is not identical to searching for facts. Facts are information while Truth is more about “meaning.” Sometimes they are the same and sometimes, they are a bit different. It depends on what you are seeking. But facts are certainly a component of Truth.

I had a brief conversation with a woman with whom I was once friends and she told me that everyone in the media lies. I pointed out that in all my years of living with Garry, never had he leaped out of bed in the middle of the night to stand up in front of a camera and lie to the people.

It doesn’t mean that reporters don’t sometimes get it wrong. They are human. Shit happens. But they make (discounting Fox and friends) their best efforts to get it right and apologize and make corrections when they are wrong. People in media TODAY still get fired for lying. Apparently, lying is okay if you are the president, but not if you’re a reporter.

After I said my piece, she paused a while and then she said: “Does it matter?”


If honesty, facts, and truth don’t matter, then what exactly
does matter?

Above and beyond survival, without truth, facts, evidence, and science, then our last few thousands of years of human development are meaningless.

What you want to be true, what you “feel” is true can have great emotional impact to you, personally, but if you don’t vaccinate your kids and think smallpox was a myth, it matters. When thousands of kids get sick because you and others decided what you erroneously believed was more important than the health of the elderly, the “too young to be vaccinated,” and the immunity-compromised, it matters. Especially to those who die by your choice.

I think everyone is obligated to look for facts, evidence, and the truth of things. Finally, I think one’s intentions to be honest matter even though intentions can go awry.

When William Faulkner said, “Facts and truth really don’t have much to do with each other,” I’m pretty sure he was being ironic.

FAITH, FAITHFUL OR UNCONVINVCED? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #29

For a guy who doesn’t believe in a god or gods, Mr. Fandango seems a bit obsessed with the issue of god or gods.

His weekly question, based on a statement by Thomas Jefferson, is:



I have always thought it doesn’t matter a bit what you believe in as long as you aren’t beating me over the head to believe it too. I resent dedicated atheists exactly as much as I resent dedicated evangelists. I want you — whatever you believe — to leave me out of it. Believe what you want. There is absolutely NO PROOF OF ANY KIND whether there is or is not a god or gods nor any proof of an afterlife.

What you believe is what you believe. What is more, I don’t have to agree with you, no matter what you believe. If I want to believe we are all reborn as fairies living under toadstools, who are you to argue the point? Do you know something I don’t know? If so, please enter your arguments for and against in the comments which follow this piece.

Why should you believe? Why should I? Because we — you or I — like the idea. We (do or do not) have faith in the idea. We (do or don’t) prefer the concept of heaven to the concept of permanent darkness.

Would it interest you to know that Judaism has nothing to say — at all — about the afterlife? There is nothing in the Torah about the afterlife. Nothing good, nothing negative, nothing at all. You can believe in Heaven and Hell, Reincarnation, total blackness until God calls everyone up for an accounting — or nothing. Actually, to be a Jew, you don’t (technically) even need to believe in God. You just need to follow the rules and your belief doesn’t matter.

If you convert to Judaism, no one will ask about your beliefs. They will ask if you agree to follow the laws, but not what or who or even if you believe in God, gods, or not.

Unlike Fandango, I know I am fascinated with the concept of God/no God/many Gods and faith/no faith/leap of faith. I’ve had a variety of very close encounters and if anyone has reason to believe, I should. I absolutely should. A pastor of my acquaintance asked me if I was waiting for a picture ID before I could accept faith and I thought about it for a while.

“Yes,” I said. “I think so.”

Part of it is having been raised by an atheist mother, a father who only believed if he thought he was going to die (soon) … and the rest of the time, it held no interest for him at all. I studied the subject in school, read mountains of books and still concluded that it’s a matter of faith and I seem to be a bit lacking in the faith department. I don’t disallow the possibility of a god or gods, but I am unsure. Unconvinced.

But definitely interested and particularly interested by the ideas of those who do believe. I want to know why they believe, what made them take that “leap” of faith? I get to the edge  — regularly — but I never jump. Or if I do, it’s temporary. I don’t stay jumped. I always go back to the other side.

I guess I need the picture ID.