Monday, December 11, 2017

My Take On The American Dream

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to our country this year, trying to understand why a man like Trump could appeal to so many Americans. I keep coming back to what people want out of life, what the American Dream looks like in 2017.

In my year of reflection and study and talking to people, I’m sorry to say no blinding insights materialized. If anything, I was wowed by how modest people’s hopes seem to be. And although it is impossible for me—a reasonably affluent, gay, white man—to understand the challenges of other races, sexual orientations, and income groups, I’ve developed a strong opinion that these modest hopes hold constant across race, region, religion, sexual orientations, and income groups.

What I’ve come to believe is that it involves to six critical areas:

1) Economics: The idea that anyone willing to work should be able to hold a job that pays a living wage.

2) Health insurance: The notion that nobody should have to file bankruptcy simply because they, or someone in their family, got into an ancient or became seriously ill.

3) Education: Every parent wants their child to have access to a good education, and that means they should be able to attend college even if their parents are not rich. And in these days of dizzying technological change, adults also need access to colleges so they can remain competitive in the marketplace.

4) Safety: People want their families to walk streets free from criminals and terrorists. To go to church or a concert without needing to worry about some psychopath with an assault rifle.

5) Environment: People are rightly concerned about the world we are passing on to our kids. We all want clean air, clean water, and poison-free food. And we want to protect wildlife environments.

6) Quality time: Time to enjoy life with your family, and in old age, to retire with dignity and respect.

Yes, I know that if you ask people what they want, off the top of their heads they mostly want to be millionaires, drive Teslas, own a big house with an indoor swimming pool, and fly first class to the best destinations in the world. But when it comes down to real hopes, I believe they would be happy with the list above.

It’s not much to ask. And it seems to me that these basic hopes are not just the American Dream, but what families the world over hope for. I like to think that most people understand the government can’t solve all their problems, but the flip side of that coin is that government shouldn’t stand in the way of people helping themselves to achieve everything on that list. And although government can’t do everything, they can, and should, help every American achieve these goals.

My $0.02

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Just For Fun During the Holidays: Group Photos

Group Photos

Ho, Ho, Ho ...  

                     PEACE BE WITH YOU

Monday, December 4, 2017

Life is the Sum of Its Actions.

Life is a mathematical problem of which the last result is the sum of its actions. 

If you want that end result to be of value to yourself and the rest of humanity, then it’s best to heed the following advice: Be sincere and honest with yourself. Ask yourself if everything you do, if every hour of the day contributes to the happy formation of your destiny. If not, find out how to give the right direction to your efforts. Try to discover your faults and eliminate them. Keep always awake in your thoughts the thirst and restless search for beauty and knowledge.

Friday, December 1, 2017

My Villain

I recently read that Steven Spielberg, in a commencement speech, told the Harvard University graduating class to “Find a villain to vanquish.”

I found that advice interesting, because I identified my villain over thirty years ago, and I’ve been fighting him ever since. I’ve tried numerous methods to vanquish this foe, but he keeps coming back, hounding me, making my life miserable. It does no good to simply wound him. I know now I have to kill him in order to be forever free.

That villain? My nemesis? It’s the voice in my head—the ego self-identified as Alan Chin. 

And why is he so hard to defeat? Because he often masquerades as a compassionate soul. He more often than not convinces me that he is me, and to hurt him means hurting myself. It’s not true of course. He is a devious creation, and I’ve learned through experience that it is the source of all my anxiety and unhappiness.

Unhappiness? How you ask: because my ego compares and contrasts my life and accomplishments with others, which turns into judgments about them and about me, and I so often come up short and find fault with others in order to defend myself. My ego creates a prison from the expectations of others, and makes me condemn myself and belittle my accomplishments because they don’t measure up to those expectations.

I’m convinced that in all religious myths, including Christianity and Islam, that speak of God vs. Satan and Heaven vs. Hell, these mythical beings and places represent the following: Satan represents the ego; God (or Christ) represents the mind without ego; Heaven is the state of mind without ego dominating thought; and hell is identifying the self as the ego, rather than the true self.

In other words, what’s known as Heaven or Enlightenment or a State of Grace is living in the here and now without ego. I’m not there yet, but each day I know my foe better and better, and I keep fighting the important battle.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Holiday Present From My Publisher

I received the first round of edits from my publisher yesterday, and started the editing process today. The following is taken from the general comments by the publisher's chief editor:

The first and most important comment I can make is that this is a monumental achievement. It’s impressive what you’ve managed to create—and what you’ve pulled off. The story manages to be so many things at once: a sci fi story with an intriguing premise, an international political thriller, a family drama, and a portrait of vengeance and psychopathy that is quite chilling. Most of all, it’s a moving coming-of-age story, and Matt Reece finding his strength—and all that comes with it—is just so poignant. He is forged by fire. And beneath everything are those deep existential questions.
Given the complexity of so many aspects of this novel, like the science, the politics, the large cast of characters (many of whom have motives that are not readily discernible) and a very intricate plot, it manages to stay clear and concise. While I have a few suggestions to avoid confusion, they’re very minor. The story, while meandering, is not hard to follow. The prose itself is beautiful, and many of the descriptions are vivid and arresting.
A gorgeous book, and a memorable experience for the reader, all around. I’m glad I got to experience it, and I’m sure others will feel the same. This is a book that is going to stick with readers.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Book Review: Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

We are introduced to Jim (later, Lord Jim) at a time when he was working as a water-clerk for a ship-chandler firm in the Far East. It was menial work, but Jim seemed fairly happy, and everyone liked him. They knew him simply as "Jim." Yet, as the plot unfolds, with Conrad's skillful analysis of Jim's character, we gradually realize that Jim was not "merely" Jim; he was "one of us."  Indeed, the author make a point of letting the reader know that what Jim does in his moment of weakness, could happen to any of us. The question, is how many of us have the strength and courage to fight for redemption?

Later, after Jim earned the rank of Ship’s Mate, on a dark night in the Arabian Sea, Jim’s ship ran over some floating wreckage and was badly damaged. Jim discovered the damage and saw that the sea was pressing in on a bulkhead, which walled in the hold, where several hundred Asian passengers were asleep. The bulkhead bulged. It could not possibly withstand the pressure. Jim was convinced that within minutes the sea would rush in and the passengers would all be killed. With too few lifeboats and no time, there was no possible salvation for everybody on board.

The captain and crew abandoned the ship, leaving the passengers to drown. In a moment of confusion, Jim leaps into the lifeboat to save his own life, rather than stay to help the passengers. That one act of cowardliness begins a journey of shame and redemption, and also a story of true friendship with the one person in the world who believes in Jim’s character, Marlow, the story’s narrator.

One of the more interesting aspects of this classic, is that it’s not only Jim’s shame and redemption we are reading about, but also the shame of the white race for how they mistreated Asians, and the feeble attempts at redemption by some.

The story has a slow tempo and an overly descriptive, in-depth narration that is more often beautiful than tedious, but the story line ultimately delivers in the end.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Relating to Others Compassionately

When meeting people for the first time, I try to approach them from a standpoint of the most basic things we have in common. We each have a physical structure, a mind, and emotions. We are all born the same way, and we all die. All of us strive for happiness and try to avoid suffering. We all want respect, and to be treated fairly. We are all driven by the environments we live in, and we all strive for a better future. 

Seeing others from this standpoint rather than emphasizing secondary differences such as race, sex, nationality, religion, political viewpoints, or financial status helps me to feel that I’m meeting someone who’s the same as me, no better and no worse. I like to think that all humans have 98% in common, and only 2% differences. I find that relating to others on this level makes it easier to communicate with them compassionately, and respect their place in the world.