Monday, September 30, 2013

Homeland II

photo of Jean Bethke Elshtain: Kevin W. Weinstein/ Associated Press
    “Jean Bethke Elshtain, a Guiding Light For Policy Makers After 9/11, Dies at 72,” was the headline of a recent obit (NYT, 8/15/13). Elshtain was Laura Spellman Rockfeller professor of social and political ethics at the University of Chicago. In Paul Vitello’s post-mortem she’s quoted as saying “an image that crowds out many others in my mind is that of tens of thousands fleeing New York City by foot. As I watched and wept, I recalled something I had said many times in my classes on war: ‘Americans don’t have living memories of what it means to flee a  city in flames. Americans have not been horrified by refugees fleeing burning cities.’ No more. Now we know.” There was a Battle of Britain. There was D-Day. There was the bombing of Dresden. Atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but as a world power, with the exception of the 9/11 and the earlier World Trade Center bombing (and discounting, of course, the Revolutionary and Civil Wars), modern day Americans, who are not in the military, have remained curiously immune from the wars they have fought. But Elshtain’s quote is prescient. Are we on the precipice of a whole new era in which average Americans will be personally affected by world events? Will there be new forms of cyber terror that will wreak havoc with the juggernaut of American prosperity? Perhaps weather events like Sandy, that paralyzed the Northeast last fall, shutting down major cities and leaving a massive path of destruction in their wake, presage the kinds of Armageddon, Europeans and others have experienced in the great wars and which we will no longer be able to excape.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Choice Theory

Photo of Dr. William Glasser: Brother Bulldog
The Times ran the obit of William Glasser (“William Glasser, 88, Doctor Who Said One Could Choose Happiness, Is Dead,” NYT, 9/4/13). Syntactically it’s an odd headline when you think of it, placing the words “choose” and “dead” so oxymoronically close. One of Glasser’s books Reality Therapy: A New Appraoch to Psychiatry, “sold 1.5 million copies” according to the Times. He also wrote a book called Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom. The obit went on to elaborate on some of Glasser’s ideas. One of them is “That to meet the most profound human need—‘to love and be loved,’ as Dr. Glasser put it—people must repair strained relations with their family, friends and co-workers by adjusting the one variable within their control: their own behavior.” Where Glasser went wrong was in the choice idea alluded to in the obit’s headline. He seemed to believe in the notion of free will, ie that someone can desire to have better relationships and simply achieve such goals by realizing say another of the precepts iterated in the obit: “That the only person one controls in the world is oneself.” What Glasser was proposing was actually a watered down existentialism based on the premise that existence precedes essence, with the ancillary notion that the importance of unconscious drives could be discounted. But what if a person profoundly doesn’t wish to repair their relationships? What if his or her objective is to act in such a way that they push those around them away? What if the objective of the patient is to be a perpetual victim who can blame the world for all his or her problems? And what if he or she doesn’t even realize that this is what they are trying to do when they complain bitterly about the deck of cards they’ve been dealt? Freud used the term Fehlliestung or "faulty achievement” to refer to slips of tongue and other mistakes that reveal intent. Freud’s notion would seem to explain a good deal of the maladaptive behavior that characterizes human endeavor on both an individual and mass scale.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Stiff Drink May Get You Stiffed

A stiff is a corpse and as an adjective can also refer to an arthritic person, a bore, or someone who refuses to tip and whose increased rigidity may be a barometer of which way his or her life is going, though stiff can also refer to potency when employed to reference the male erection. Used in the intransitive as a passive verb, stiff can refer to someone who gets “stiffed” or taken advantage of and when you get stiff, you have one too many stiff or overly strong drinks. People who get stiff run a good chance getting stiffed and the fact that someone gets stiff in the first place and runs the chance of getting stiffed derives from rigidity which is also one of the synonyms of the adjective. A person who has too much to drink is someone who probably requires lubrication because of inhibitions which make him rigid; the self-same rigidity is at work even in his or her inebriated state since he or she are suffering from the same delusion which made him or her take to drink to begin with. Thus a stiff or drunk is often described as being tight. “Alcoholism is a disease of perception,” is one of many things that’s said about addictive drinking and the person who gets stiff and ends up being stiffed is someone who has still not changed his ways of thinking, despite his or her pipedreams. A stiff is thus someone whose rigidity has become eternal. It’s not surprising that Bergson, in his Laughter-An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, saw rigidity as one of the basic mechanisms of comedy particularly since most comedy is full of bores, drunks, uxorious men and corpses.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Have You Made Your Arrangements II?

Grant’s Tomb
The mourning process is constantly changing. Just as attitudes towards sex have evolved over the years, so too has mourning. Once an activity associated with sadness and remembrance most mourning today is about real estate, with a good deal of remembrance being handled in The Cloud. When people think of mausoleums they are often frightened away by images of Grant’s Tomb, but today the mausoleum is fast becoming the burial vessel of choice since it offers space for the kind of amenities that are guaranteed to attract loved ones. Even though most mausoleums can’t travel,  many can be like RV’s to the extent that the most modern ones come equipped with kitchens, bedrooms, showers, televisions and even small gyms (which allow visitors to remain aerobic while they are paying their respects). Moore’s law predicts that microprocessors will double their capacity every twenty four months, resulting in the fact that increasingly large amounts of data can be stored on smaller and smaller chips. This means that most computers can handle memorializing on a greater scale than ever before. You don’t have to worry about remembering or being remembered when you know there's a computer taking care of the whole process for you. Moore’s law can also be metaphorically applied to the question of remains, for those who are not interested in being interred in either a mausoleum, crypt or grave. Modern methods of cremation have allowed for human ashes to be reduced to increasingly smaller units. In one recent case a young woman carried the remains of her recently departed aunt in her pierced navel.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Have You Made Your Arrangements?

At a certain point you’re going to plan that gathering which you won’t be able to attend. You’re going to make your final arrangements. How will you be laid to rest? Will you be buried in casket? A coffin is tantamount to a casket but according to the Nosek- McCreery Funeral, Cremation and Green Services on-line infomercial, coffins, which have six sides, are no longer in; “Coffins are what you have seen in old movies,” the site explains. Will you have a casket cover and how much are you willing to have your estate, already hit hard by taxes, shell out? Will you go for the kind of simple pine box that can be found on Potter’s Field or do you want a stately mahogany affair representing you on the bier? Dying intestate means there's no will, but if you don’t declare in your will what will be done with your remains then the responsibility will remain with someone else. If you decide not to be buried in a casket, you may be cremated for considerably less money. According to NBC (“Cremation is the Hottest Trend in the Funeral Industry,” 1/22/13), cremation is about one third the $6500 to be buried in a casket. If you’re someone who enjoys getting in the last word, you may want to write your own good-bye or have it said by someone you think is going to get it right. By the time you’re ready to die, your going to have been to a number of funerals and you’ll have a good idea of your likes and dislikes when it comes to eulogies. Generally funeral services have to end early enough so that the entourage can get to the cemetery before it closes. You’ve always hated those funerals which start at 9 A.M., which means you have to get up early to get to the gym by 6:30. But what’s even worse is the guilt inducing succession of activities which mourners are asked to attend--though some would say guilt goes with the territory. For instance the burial might be at 2, but the family won’t be accepting visits from friends of the deceased until 6 so there is gong to be time to kill. Here is your big chance to right the wrongs of the past. You don’t want to find yourself people pleasing from the grave, but you can make your send off memorable by caring for the needs of the living. Once you’re dead you’re dead and there’s no need to hammer a nail into the casket by insisting that those who are living have to suffer through an overly drawn out send-off. And while making your arrangements you may want to pick up The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford and The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh--essential reading for anyone planning to die.