11.05.18 | The Immigration Challenge

It's the very picture of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. That Central American caravan, making its way toward the promised land more than a thousand miles to the north, overwhelmed the tiny bridge which served as the border control between Guatemala and Mexico as if it were a mere speed bump.

Now zoom in. That's no caravan. That's more like an exodus -- simply thousands of individual souls just like the Joad family and the other Oakies who swarmed west trying to escape the Great Depression dust-bowl of the 30s. In fact, the Oakies had it relatively easy i.e. at least they weren't the victims of criminal gang activity and the language of their destination was their own. One can only imagine how bad conditions must be such that the hardship, uncertainty, and the misery that powered this irresistible force make the journey look better by comparison.

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Steve SmithComment
10.29.18 | It's About Time

The world did not, in fact, come to an end on December 21, 2012. The Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, which tracks various Mayan cycles, simply hit the equivalent of six straight zeros on the odometer and started over. It was largely the westerners' interpretation of all this through the lens of a linear time mindset that drove them into the bunkers.

That's what can happen with seemingly mutually-incomprehensible traditions. Our Member Monday (10/29/18) article (About time: why western philosophy can only teach us so much ) is about one philosopher's quest to better understand the human condition, not through the comfort of his own thirty-year study of western philosophy but through the philosophical renderings of others, most of which originated more or less contemporaneously with his own ancient Greek-based field of study.

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Steve SmithComment
10.22.18 | You're Only Old Once

A farmer got so old that he couldn't work the fields anymore. So he would spend the day just sitting on the porch. His son, still working the farm, would look up from time to time and see his father sitting there. "He's of no use any more," the son thought to himself, "he doesn't do anything!" One day the son got so frustrated by this, that he built a wooden coffin, dragged it over to the porch, and told his father to get in. Without saying anything, the father climbed inside.

After closing the lid, the son dragged the coffin to the edge of the farm where there was a high cliff. As he approached the drop, he heard a light tapping on the lid from inside the coffin. He opened it up. Still lying there peacefully, the father looked up at his son. "I know you are going to throw me over the cliff, but before you do, may I suggest something?" "What is it?" replied the son. "Throw me over the cliff, if you like," said the father, "but save this good wooden coffin. Your children might need to use it."

Wooden Coffin (Zen Buddhist story)

One reacts with a mixture of bemusement, disbelief, and righteous indignation upon receiving this missive from the universe via the postal service: your personal 50th birthday invitation to join AARP. Congratulations, you have just graduated from the old age of youth to the youth of old age.

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Steve SmithComment
10.15.18 | The Midlife Unraveling

The Midlife Unraveling | Brené Brown. Whether you smile knowingly or wince, you will relate. In fact, in the unlikely event you are unable to catch a glimpse of what she's talking about in you, your partner, your parents, your children, or a good friend, consider yourself my guest for lunch. Here in her own words:

"To call what happens at mid-life a ‘crisis’ is bullshit. A crisis is an intense, short-lived, acute, easily identifiable and defining event that can be controlled and managed. Mid-life is not a crisis. Mid-life is an unraveling. The mid-life unraveling is a series of painful nudges strung together by low-grade anxiety and depression, quiet desperation, and an insidious loss of control. It’s enough to make you crazy, but seldom enough for people on the outside to validate the struggle or offer you help and respite. It’s the dangerous kind of suffering — the kind that allows you to pretend that everything is OK” 

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Steve SmithComment
10.08.18 | Climate Change Reckoning

Well, here it comes. On September 10, 2015 a group of twenty-five youths filed a landmark climate lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Oregon alleging the federal government has violated the constitutional rights of the youngest generation to life, liberty, and property through its promotion of fossil fuels. Juliana v. U.S. is winding its way through the courts, having survived a number of challenges by the fossil fuel industry and others, with trial scheduled to finally begin later this (October) month. Plaintiffs seek a national plan to address carbon dioxide levels…

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Steve SmithComment
10.01.18 | David Hume

Maybe there's just too much motion these days. We're all getting a little seasick. We could use a timeout. Eighteenth century Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume might just be what we now need (link: Hume is the amiable, modest, generous philosopher we need ... - Aeon). He reminds us of a more solid and real three-dimensional world.  

Hume saw human beings as creatures of flesh and blood and, stripped of philosophical pretensions, guided primarily by custom and habit. Yet, at the same time, he would have enjoyed our Get Over Thyself discussion (MM, 8/27/18) with his view of the "self" as but a collection of perceptions in perpetual flux, the "I" little more than a transitory thought. We're simply animals with a neocortex, plain and simple, not immortal souls temporarily encased in flesh.

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Steve SmithComment
09.24.18 | Mourning In America

A therapist looks at America through the collective lens of all those fifty-minute intimate (monetized) psychodramas and issues his pronouncement about the country: It's unhappy. Profoundly unhappy. He theorizes why we're all so sad. 

America and Its Discontents | Gary Greenberg - The Baffler

We're sad because we're grieving over something. But that's not the real issue. The problem is we don't actually know the something we're grieving over. Were there a recognized grief object --  say the loss of a loved one -- the standard talk-therapy might be of help. The grief becomes pathological when it goes so far that its object can no longer be identified. Honest therapists, he maintains, realize that they are not only incapable of doing much about the suffering they are witnessing but that they are actually part of the problem.

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Steve SmithComment
09.17.18 | Artificial Intelligence / Tyranny of the Drones

Those of a certain age will undoubtedly recall a particular Super Bowl commercial of January 24, 1984. This iconic ad introduced the Macintosh computer by way of an Orwellian scene showing a giant screen depicting Big Brother addressing a mass of seated dead-eye grey proletariat drones in the flat, ominous tones of we-shall-prevail propaganda-talk when in bursts a vision of youth and color, the very embodiment of beautiful feminine energy itself, to execute the perfect hammer-throw that literally shatters the old guard. The tagline: And you shall see why 1984 won't be like "1984". (link: Apple 1984 Super Bowl Commercial Introducing Macintosh Computer ...).The Proles were set free. 

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Steve SmithComment
09.10.18 | Animal Kingdom

What does it mean to be human? That sounds narcissistic. Perhaps the "Get Over Thyself" dictum (MM, 8/27/18) should apply, not just to the individual, but to an entire species. How about what does it mean to be a dolphin? What does it mean to be any animal, for that matter? Is the difference simply one of consciousness? Recent auto-television research techniques have established that self-awareness perception in dolphins begins around the age of one and a half years, just like in humans…

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Steve SmithComment
08.27.18 | Get Over Thyself

A sign over the doorway to the club library entrance features the well-known Socratic dictum: "Know Thyself." Our next Member Monday (8/27) session is dedicated to the proposition: "Get Over Thyself." Maybe a corresponding sign to that effect will someday be posted over the library exit…

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Dustin SimantobComment
08.20.18 | Religion as Philosophy

Talk about your high stakes. In the back corner of the club's music room, propped up by the lamp, is The Divine Comedy, by Dante. Open it to the "Gates of Hell" (p.5, line 4 - "Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here" ) and then to ix-x for an index to the Circles of Hell from The Inferno. In order: Unbaptized; Carnal Sinners; Gluttonous; Misers and Prodigals; Wrathful and Sullen. Cross now the River of Styx and you will land in the Sixth Circle, dedicated to The Heretics. This is where you -- you non-believers -- will be sent. Believe it…

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Dustin SimantobComment
08.13.18 | Applied Philosophy

You may never have heard of the philosopher Diogenes Laertius. Some of the heavies e.g. Hegel and Nietzsche dismissed this third century wanna-be as a lightweight (or worse) when it came to philosophical reasoning. Yet by some quirk of fate, his "Lives of Eminent Philosophers," newly translated from the original Greek (see Lovers Of Wisdom), serves as the remaining link to a great portion of Greek and Hellenic philosophy now that much of the primary source material has been lost to antiquity…

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Dustin SimantobComment
08.06.18 | Have We Forgotten How To Die?

Garrett Matthias had it all figured out. The five-year-old boy from Iowa co-authored his own obituary just before he died of a rare cancer a few weeks ago. He wanted "to be burned and made into a tree so I can live in it when I'm a gorilla." Lest you think he was some soft sentimentalist, the piece ended with his own brand of existentialist machismo, "See ya later, suckas!" You go, Garrett. You were dealt a bad hand but you checked out on your own terms.

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Dustin SimantobComment
07.30.18 | The Fate of Empires

Invest even a modest amount of time and effort in this remarkable twenty-four page essay (Click here to read “The Fate of Empires and the Search For Survival,” by Sir John Glubb) and you will be rewarded with a renewed appreciation of history, presented not as discrete and disconnected segments but as the sweeping, interconnected story of the dynamics powering the rise and fall of empires over the last four thousand years. This wide-angle lens captures ten such representative empires -- Assyria, Persia, Greece, Roman (pre- and post-Augustus), Arab, Mameluke (Egypt, Syria), Ottoman, Spain, Romanov Russia, Britain -- each served up not so much for individual analysis but as exemplars of the organic flow characterizing human development.

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Dustin SimantobComment
07.23.18 | Could It Happen Here? Pt. 2

Our Member Monday (7/16) topic is a look at probably the most dramatic transformation of the twentieth century from the perspective of the people who experienced it. Our focus article (It Can Happen Here) is a tight synopsis of three highly credible works that depict Germany's rise into an authoritarian state through the lens of its citizens. A follow-on Member Monday (7/23) session will apply the lessons learned from that earlier era to pose the question: Could it happen here? The spirit of that question is that its very asking might help us to maintain our own guard.

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Dustin SimantobComment
07.09.18 | Finding Killers From the Couch

Eight years ago I received a phone call from my son saying two detectives were at his fraternity house seeking a cheek swab. As neither of us had any idea what this could have been about I suggested he politely decline the opportunity and maybe we'd look forward if necessary to a follow-on chat with the authorities about the meaning of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches. Well, that was that, until we discovered a number of my son's kindergarten classmates similarly had been approached even after all those ensuing years. Another classmate happened to have been JonBenet Ramsey…

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06.25.18 | Primary Eve, The Making Of a Congressman

Joining us again for this third and last installment of "the making of a Congressman" series is Mark Williams, one of two lead candidates on the literal eve of the Democratic Party primary for the (Boulder) Second Congressional District. The other lead candidate, Joe Neguse, who participated as Charlotte Sorenson's guest in this past Member Monday session on education, was invited to join us for this next one as well but declined due to another commitment…

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Dustin SimantobComment
06.18.18 | Don't Need No "Education"

The broadside indictment by Bryan Caplan in his recent book "The Case Against Education" is the equivalent of an academic calling in an air strike on his own position. Yet it's the response to his work that will frame our discussion. Rather than dismissing Caplan's thesis as challenging his own profession, the reviewer, a fellow academic, largely endorses it as based upon a) common sense and b) the data. And, one might add, personal experience. The Case Against Education

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Dustin SimantobComment
06.11.18 |Tragedy Of the Commons

The dilemma known as the tragedy of the commons is so straightforward as to be almost self-evident i.e. the exploitation of any limited resource by individual parties in furtherance of maximizing their own self-interest  which collectively serves to deplete or even exhaust said resource to the ultimate detriment of all. What is the tragedy of the commons? - Nicholas Amendolare - YouTube. That resource could be anything that represents a finite limit, from fish in a pond (the simple YouTube example), agricultural land, building acreage, neighborhood park, access to education, roads/parking, or even pollution/climate warming at the global (yet still finite) level…

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Dustin SimantobComment