Category Archives: Uncategorized

Unsolicited Advice: A Manifesto

  1. If someone asks for your opinion or for advice, give it thoughtfully, but avoid giving unsolicited advice.
  2. No matter how right you think you are, you may be wrong. Admitting the possibility now may avoid a great deal of trouble in the future.
  3. Honey is better than vinegar, but sometimes only vinegar will do the trick.
  4. Consensus is preferable, but majority rules.
  5. Use your words. Don’t expect other people to read your mind about what you want. Ask other people to use their words. Don’t guess about what they want: ask them.
  6. Be kind. Be considerate. Be helpful. Smile at people you don’t know and say, “Good morning.”
  7. Have a sense of humor about the absurdity of life and especially about yourself, but don’t make fun of other people in a mean-spirited way and don’t mock them for things they have no control over.
  8. If you are someone who doesn’t express feelings very often, regularly ask yourself, “What am I feeling?”
  9. If you are someone who is constantly thinking about yourself, regularly ask yourself, “What are the people I care about feeling?” and “What are the people around me feeling?”
  10. Be assertive about exercising your rights and getting what you need without being aggressive or mean-spirited.
  11. Anger is not one of the seven deadly sins. Anger is real and happens to everyone and pretending you don’t feel it will slowly kill you and destroy your relationships with others. Learn how to acknowledge your anger – even when it seems irrational – and communicate it to others in appropriate ways. If you tend to express your anger through abuse, demeaning language and violence, ask for help.
  12. Pretty much everyone had a dysfunctional childhood and so pretty much everyone needs help from someone (I recommend trained mental health professionals) to process what that dysfunctional childhood has done to them. If not, the unhealed childhood traumas will regularly be triggered by incidents and people in your current life and you will have no idea whether you are reacting to what is happening now or what happened way back when. Not being able to distinguish between the two will wreak havoc on your mental health, your ability to achieve your goals and your personal relationships.
  13. Stop living in the past and the future. Be here now in the present moment. This moment is the only time we are actually alive.
  14. Curmudgeons, complainers, sourballs and Debbie Downers: feel free to express yourselves, but be aware that blending a little humor into your negativity will make your opinions easier to swallow and lose you fewer friends.
  15. Mental health is not separate from physical health; mental health is a type of physical health.   This is because the mind and the body are not two separate entities, the mind is part of (or a manifestation of) the body. The two things are inseparable.
  16. Color your hair, don’t color your hair.   Doesn’t matter to me.
  17. When you think about money, first realize that (according to one study) a US resident who earns more than $32,400 a year is wealthier than 99% of the world’s population.
  18. When you worry about how you can survive on your income, remember that the median household income for American families in 2015 was $54,462, which means that half of all households made less than that.
  19. Evolution by means of natural selection is the foundation of all biology. Analysis of DNA proves that Darwin was correct when he hypothesized that every living thing is descended from the same single-celled creature. This means we are all family.
  20. Representative democracy, with all its flaws (and there are many), along with a robust Bill of Rights, is still the best way to run a country.
  21. Despite all the complaining about how bad politicians and government bureaucrats are, remember that despite the many obstacles to change, this is still our government, not theirs. They work for us, the people, not the other way around.
  22. Representative government is the best solution to the problem that there are certain goals we want to achieve that can’t be achieved by the effort of individuals acting alone but only by the combined efforts of all of us working together. In a society as big as ours, this solution includes identifying the best people to work on these goals full time so that the rest of us can do what we need to do and collecting contributions from all of us who can afford it to pay for all the things we need to do but can’t do by ourselves.
  23. The USA and I are both engaged in a lifelong struggle between two competing sets of values: individualism and communitarianism. Individualism allows us to say “I can do it myself” and to assert our rights and get what we need, but it can also lead to “I don’t need anyone”, “I won’t ask for help”, “I’m better than you” and “Every man for himself.”   Communitarianism can lead to cooperation and loving kindness and a recognition that some tasks require us all to sacrifice for the common good, but it can also lead to martyrdom, self-abnegation and loss of self-identity through lack of assertiveness and squelching of our individuality.
  24. If we all started on a level playing field and were given the same access to resources and opportunities, I might be a libertarian. But we didn’t, and I’m not.
  25. When deciding what public policies are best, put yourself in the “original position”, where you imagine that you are making decisions without knowing where you rank in society – at the top, at the bottom, or somewhere in the middle – but you acknowledge that some of us start with advantages and others start with disadvantages. Most everyone in the original position would agree that, no matter who else it benefits, every policy we adopt should also benefit the people in society who started out with the most disadvantages. (Thanks, John Rawls.)
  26. All I know is that I know nothing. (Thanks, Socrates.)   Knowledge in the truest sense is beyond our capabilities except in mathematics (2 + 2 = 4, at least in certain universes, is knowable). On the other hand, we must act as if we know things because otherwise we couldn’t make decisions. (Thanks, David Hume.)
  27. Everyone is an asshole some of the time; some people are assholes most of the time; but no one is an asshole all of the time.
  28. Being physically attracted to other people is a natural biological phenomenon that helps to keep our species going. Advertisers and pop culture know that being physically attracted to someone else releases dopamine in your brain, which acts like a drug. The release of the drug will make you want to do things, like spend money, in order to keep the dopamine flowing. Be aware of this and do your best to act according to your best interests and the advice herein, not the dictates of your addictive brain.
  29. Don’t treat people you are attracted to like they are sexual objects first and human beings second.   If they are not interested in your attentions, take the hint and stop it. Again: use your words, ask for permission, and if you don’t get an affirmative “Yes”, stop it.
  30. Never treat people as a means to an end, but only as ends in themselves. (Thank you, Immanuel Kant.)
  31. Mean people suck.   (Bumper sticker.)
  32. Believe in yourself, but remember to leave a little room for some healthy self-doubt.   Self-righteousness and low self-esteem are both pernicious qualities.
  33. You should not be able to exercise an individual right to the extent that it will cause harm to someone else or impinge on someone else’s rights.
  34. Being tolerant of different points of view does not require me to tolerate intolerance.
  35. Even though I’ve rarely met a rank-and-file union member who likes his/her union, I believe that most employees would be better off in a union. Unions are the most effective restraint on the excesses of rampant capitalism.
  36. Celebrate difference, don’t be afraid of it.
  37. Keep learning forever.
  38. Be curious but not nosy.
  39. Engage; don’t isolate.
  40. Ask for help.
  41. For those of us who sometimes think too much, it is amazing how easy it is sometimes to ‘just do it.’
  42. When you make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up – we all make mistakes, but accept responsibility for your actions and omissions, make amends if necessary and move on.
  43. Don’t be afraid of contradictions. Embrace the ambiguities.   See if you can get to a place where “Life sucks, then you die” and “Live. Laugh. Love.” can coexist in peace. Each of us contains multitudes. (Thanks, Walt Whitman.)
  44. Don’t worry about complaining – it is a form of expressing your anger and may be necessary for your mental health. On the other hand, be aware that some people cannot endure the sound of someone else complaining, and accept the consequences of your actions.
  45. People pleasers and conflict avoiders: If you continually deny your true self in order to avoid conflict and give others what they want, you will slowly die inside and ultimately be unable to please anyone. Let your true self blossom even if it means a little conflict – the people you deal with may not get everything they want from you anymore, but they will have more respect for you, as you will for yourself.
  46. Only connect. (Thanks, E.M. Forster.)
  47. Take time to appreciate nature and art.
  48. Create. Anything.
  49. Sing whenever possible.
  50. Conserve fossil fuel based energy – there are thousands of ways to do it. Recycle. Reuse whatever you can. Compost if feasible.
  51. Reduce your exposure to advertising. Learn to critically engage with the advertising you are exposed to so that you can make rational decisions about spending your money.
  52. Listen to music. Read books.   Watch movies.
  53. Tell stories.
  54. Don’t plant invasive exotic plant species.
  55. Don’t keep wild animals as pets.
  56. Bike paths are like streets: travel on the right, pass on the left. You, your spouse, your kids, your double-wide stroller and your labradoodle need to move over now before someone gets hurt.
  57. Pedestrians: never enter an intersection on a “Don’t Walk” signal if you can see a car moving towards you. This is not a game of chicken; in a physical confrontation between a human and a car, the human will always lose.
  58. Automobiles: (a) Never enter an intersection if you are not 99% sure you will make it all the way across before the light turns red. Ignore the people behind you honking their horns. (b) If the light turns yellow before you enter the intersection and you are going slowly enough to stop, stop. Only enter an intersection on a yellow light if stopping would be dangerous (high risk of being rear ended) or impossible (going too fast).
  59. When you want to say something difficult to someone else, ask yourself three questions: (1) Is this something that should be said? (2) Is this something that should be said by me? (3) Is this something that should be said by me right now?
  60. If you are doing something that you can’t seem to control and your life is becoming unmanageable as a result, you may have an addiction. Ask for help.
  61. For the depressed: Depression is not the flu – staying at home and sleeping all day will make it worse, not better. Take one tiny step, then another, then another. Brush your teeth and dress yourself neatly. Get out of the house – even if just to the front steps. Go to work if you possibly can. And ask for help.
  62. Pathological individualists: Sit down and be honest with yourself for just a minute about how you got where you are today. Make a list with three columns. In the first column put all the benefits you received before you were old enough to make your own decisions: your parents, your genes, where you were born, when you were born, your early nutrition and education. In the second column, list all the benefits provided by others after you became an adult. Include contributions by your family, friends, governments, businesses and other entities. This may include emotional and financial support, an environment free of deprivation or constant violence, the maintenance of infrastructure such as roads, bridges and transportation systems, quality educational institutions, and businesses (and the economy supporting them) with jobs to offer you.   In the third column, list all the accomplishments you have achieved. Still think you did it all by yourself?
  63. I doubt that good and evil exist as some kind of counterposed Manichean forces, but I do know that sometimes people do evil things and other people suffer because of it. Many such acts are committed by people beset by the scourges of discrimination, poverty, trauma and addiction who feel they have no choice. I believe such people are capable of becoming “productive members of society” if we provide the necessary support, training, counseling and resources. On the other hand, there may be people who are so irreparably damaged that they have no conscience, guilt or moral compass and there may not be any way to restore them to their communities intact. But I hope I’m wrong.
  64. Support locally-owned independent businesses. Except tanning salons and vape-cigarettes.
  65. Eat locally-grown food in season whenever possible. Eat organic if you can afford to. The best reason to eat organically grown food is not to avoid eating trace amounts of pesticide and herbicide but to reduce the huge amount of greenhouse gases released into our atmosphere by traditional farming techniques.
  66. Do your part to reduce noise pollution – don’t operate cars or motorcycles in a way that deliberately creates more noise than necessary. Using rakes and shovels instead of leaf blowers and snow blowers (if feasible) will reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as noise.
  67. Make sure you complete your living will and your wishes in case of a catastrophic accident or illness.   Try to have these difficult conversations with your parents or other elderly relatives. Death with dignity means avoiding unnecessary medical treatment at end of life. Remember, modern medical technology has not enabled us to live longer, but only to die slower.
  68. Take steps to make green burials legal in your state, if they aren’t already. The current options – traditional burial and cremation – are costly, wasteful, energy-hogs, although cremation is better than traditional burial if those are the only two choices.
  69. Whenever you are in a conversation, confrontation, negotiation or commercial transaction with someone – from your spouse to your boss/co-worker to the phone company or the waiter at a restaurant – always try to be aware of what you are feeling and what your goals/hopes and fears are. Then try to imagine what it would be like to be in the other person’s position.   What are they feeling? What are their goals? Their fears? What common ground do we have?
  70. Charities are a necessary evil. The better solution would have elected governments tax us fairly and use the money to solve all the problems of society and promote arts and culture. If that happened, charities would be unnecessary and the decisions about what problems should be solved, how much money we need to spend on them and what methods we should use to accomplish our goals would be handled democratically by governments that must be responsive to citizens instead of unelected, undemocratic organizations whose agendas are set by the elite and which are much less accountable to the people than elected governments. On the other hand, charities are essential to the system as it currently exists, since the people do not want their governments to tax us sufficiently to accomplish the work now done by charities.
  71. Corporations are not people.   They should not have the rights of individual people, certainly not the right to contribute money to political campaigns. As long as campaign finance laws permit what is essentially a system of legalized bribery, the best candidates will be discouraged from running for office, and those who do will have their hands tied by the inevitable quid pro quos they make with large contributors.
  72. Just as businesses cannot discriminate against employees on certain grounds, they should also not be able to engage in behaviors that have other negative consequences to society, the environment and the overall economy without being held accountable financially for the damage they create. In making decisions, shareholders of corporations should be required to take into account workplace safety, employee compensation and benefits, environmental issues and other collateral consequences of their decisions, and not just maximization of profits.
  73. We need to stop judging people based on their personal appearance, particularly with regard to aspects of physical appearance over which they have little or no control.   Being attractive does not make you a better person, just as being unattractive doesn’t make you a worse person. We should always be asking ourselves if a person’s physical appearance is leading us to treat them differently and try to surface this tendency and counteract it.
  74. If you go to another country where English is not the primary language, make an effort to learn something of the language of the other country, if only a few common phrases.  This shows respect and contradicts the ‘ugly American’ stereotype, plus you’ll enjoy your trip even more.
  75. Slow down, you move too fast. You’ve got to make the morning last. (Thanks, Paul Simon.)
  76. If you like something that someone is wearing, let them know, politely.
  77. Adults having consensual sex: go right ahead, but be responsible. Use birth control and protect against STDs. And before you do it, ask yourself, “Is this what I really want?” and “Is this going to hurt anyone’s feelings?”
  78. Every once in a while, notice something about your environment. Look closely at a bee on a flower, or an architectural detail on a building you pass every day. Listen to a song you’ve heard a hundred times as if you are hearing it for the first time. Take a moment to explore the features on the face of someone you love the way you’d explore a newly-discovered country.
  79. Be open to discovering what makes you laugh out loud and make sure to return to those things regularly. Laughter is the best medicine. (Thanks, Reader’s Digest.)
  80. When you find a movie, book or other work of art “depressing”, remember that: (1) this artist took a “depressing” topic and created art from it, which is really kind of inspiring, and (2) unless you suffer from clinical depression, your “depressing” is pretty mild stuff and you’ll get over it. Maybe you’re not really “depressed” but actually sad and maybe there are some things we need to feel sad about in order to be fully human.
  81. Talk to animals whenever the opportunity arises. It will bring out the best in you.
  82. Parenting tips: Don’t raise your child to fulfill your unrealized dreams. Don’t depend on your children to give your life meaning and purpose. Don’t treat children like they are adults. Don’t ask your children to fulfill your unmet emotional needs.   Encourage their enthusiasms and give them freedoms commensurate with their age and maturity. Create structure and establish limits; set reasonable expectations. Respect them and cherish them and hug them often. Don’t shame them for showing their feelings, especially their fears. Don’t expect them to learn from your words if they contradict your actions.
  83. Anxiety is contagious; so is goodwill.
  84. Move your body around in any way that feels good, preferably rhythmically to music or on paths in natural places, as often as possible. Straight men who won’t dance: get over yourselves. Your dance partners will be forever grateful.
  85. Instead of cocooning yourself in the culture you were raised in, learn about and expose yourself to the cultures of your parents’ and children’s generations. Don’t get stuck in the “back in my day” or “kids these days” ruts, or the cultural amnesia that is fixated only on what’s happened since you were a kid. There are songs and movies and books from every era that you may find appealing – and the old and young alike will appreciate you for reaching out of your comfort zone to share something they are familiar with.
  86. Learn about history of your family, of your nationality/ethnicity, your country, your religion, your world. We can’t go forward if we don’t have knowledge of what came before.
  87. Discrimination is not a two-way street. If you are a man, you are sexist, whether consciously or not. If you are white, you are racist. If you are straight, you are homophobic/anti-gay. The world is divided into the historical oppressors and the historically oppressed. Those of us in the oppressor categories (straight white males in particular) need to recognize and take steps to acknowledge and neutralize the oppressors inside us and work to destroy the institutional sexism, racism and homophobia that are embedded in our culture, our economy and our educational and government institutions through centuries of organized oppression.
  88. Recognizing the history of oppression embedded in a person’s history does not make that person a victim or deprive that person of active agency in his or her life, just as helping to understand how trauma and physical and mental illness affect people does not make those sufferers into victims.
  89. The largest minority group in the US is Hispanics/Latinos, who make up 16 percent of the population.   Blacks/African-Americans are the second largest, with 12 percent of the population. (Note: Some African-Americans also identify as Hispanic/Latino.) While I applaud the effort to bring more black actors, directors and stories to Hollywood movies, where is the outcry about the lack of Hispanic/Latino actors, directors and stories? And shouldn’t we all be learning to speak Spanish, so we can communicate with each other?
  90. The most basic human instinct is the instinct for self-preservation and the most basic human fear is the fear of death. Second to death is the fear of pain.  So much of what we do to avoid feeling emotional pain – including numbing ourselves with addictive substances – only leads to more pain later.  Feel the pain now – get it over with.  If it seems like too much, ask for help.
  91. The most powerful human motivation is self-interest, but self-interest can be defined in many ways.   Self-interest may be narrow or broad, enlightened or unenlightened. Some people define their self-interest in purely materialistic terms – more possessions, more financial security, more comfort, more luxury, better health, longer life – while others define it in terms of happiness: the love of family and friends, lack of conflict, lack of suffering, peace, enjoyment of the world around me. Some find that making the world a better place is in our self interest. That preserving the rainforests, reducing the raising of large animals for meat, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, alleviating hunger, poverty and disease all over the world, increasing tolerance and compassion and finding ways to resolve conflicts without violence are all in our self interest.
  92. It is OK to have faith in religion or in a set of spiritual or religious beliefs, as long as you have tolerance for those who do not share your faith. And please do not proselytize.  If I am curious about your beliefs, I will ask you about them.
  93. I have faith in science.   While I recognize that science has not answered every question about the nature of humans and the universe we live in, I have faith that it will and that the tools and methods of science are the best way to answer those questions. On the other hand, I recognize that science (and academia in general) consists of the efforts of flawed humans and is itself an imperfect process.
  94. I believe that the universe (at least since the Big Bang) follows the laws of physics, chemistry and biology. I don’t believe in supernatural beings or spirits or energies; I don’t believe in ghosts or auras or immortal souls. I believe that our minds and spirits are manifestations of our physical brains and that when our brains die, we die.
  95. Include these phrases in your daily interactions with others: “Please”, “Thank you”, “You’re Welcome”, “Can I help you?” and “I’m sorry.”
  96. Feeling feelings is an all-or-nothing proposition. If you don’t allow yourself to feel pain, you won’t be able to feel joy. If the pain hurts too much to feel it, ask for help.
  97. If you love someone, tell him/her frequently.
  98. Be as honest as you can with others without causing them undue pain. Remember that when you do something hurtful, lying about it to the person you hurt (including lies of omission) will ultimately cause more pain than telling the truth.
  99. Love is not a feeling; it is something you do. You may feel happiness, infatuation, lust, compassion, tenderness, attraction, sympathy or empathy and call it “love” but love is actually a series of decisions that you make every day. We really do make love, not only in the sexual sense (though that is something to celebrate), but through our actions and our words. Love not only means saying you’re sorry (and thank you) as often as necessary, but making restitution, making sacrifices and sometimes doing things you don’t feel like doing (or not doing things you feel like doing) because it is the loving thing to do. Love can be an emotional rollercoaster and sometimes the work is too hard, the sacrifices are too many and the trust is irreparably broken, and the relationship must end. But don’t mistake a temporary change in your feelings or the need to do hard work as a sign that you’ve made a mistake or that you are no longer “in love.” You have little or no control over whom you are attracted to and who is attracted to you, but everything after that is a matter of choice.
  100. If someone breaks Rule No. 1 and offers you unsolicited advice and you have time to hear it, listen politely and say thanks.   Then take anything you find useful and leave the rest.

JMB 12/28/16

The Best of 2016 Has Been Compiled and Meta-Listed for Your Convenience

Oops, I did it again – I trolled through the Interwebs and found dozens of “Best of 2016” lists of movies, music and books and compiled them all into three incredibly useful meta-lists. Now, instead of wondering what the critics’ consensus was, you can find it right here at Make Lists, Not War.  Then you can use this information to make choices about gifts to buy for yourself or others.  Or just stow away the knowledge to amuse your friends and confuse your enemies.

Looking for a sneak peek?  Here are the most-listed items on the three meta-lists:

BOOKS: The Underground Railroad. By Colson Whitehead.
MUSIC: David BowieBlackstar
MOVIES: Moonlight (US, Barry Jenkins)

To find out the whole story, click on these links:

Best Books of 2016
Best Music of 2016
Best Films of 2016

 

Those Who Do Not Read the History Lists Are Doomed To Repeat Them

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
— George Santayana

I’ve got news for Mr. Santayana: we’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive.”
— Kurt Vonnegut

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
— William Faulkner (in Requiem for a Nun)

Those of you who follow Make Lists, Not War may remember the four-part Timeline of Human History that I published a while back.  In recognition that many of us are so busy that we don’t have time to go through the hundreds of events that make up the Timeline, I have created an abridged version of sorts.  The new, shorter list is called The 55 Most Important Events in Human History and it was created by compiling a number of “Most Important Events in Human History” and “Events that Changed the World” lists that I have collected. It begins in Mesopotamia in 4500 BCE and ends in New York City on September 11, 2001.  In between are: the birth of nations; the rise and fall of vast empires; the founding of religions; the winning of battles and the losing of wars; the invention of new technologies; and the discovery of new scientific laws and theories, among other things.  I hope you enjoy it.

If the brevity of the new history list does not satisfy your hunger for history, you can return to the Timeline of Human History: Part I (Prehistory-1499) ; Part II (1500-1799) ; Part III (1800-1899) ; Part IV (1900-Present) .  If you want to see history through the lens of individual world historical figures (pace G.W.F. Hegel), take a look at The Most Influential People of All Time.

This Magic Moment: Introducing the Best of 2015 Lists

It is mid-December and as always, the book, film and music critics of various publications have issued their best of the year lists.  And, as always, I have collected those lists and consolidated them for your convenience. It’s just that simple.  You will find the 2015 meta-lists below. One note: I have added the phrase “the critics’ picks” to the list titles in an attempt to dispel the common misconception that these lists contain my personal opinions about the best books, movies and music of the year.  Absolutely not! The rationale for making these lists is that, while a film, book or recording favored by a single critic may not thrill me, something recommended by multiple critics is much more likely to interest me.  Also, because critics listen, watch and read for a living, they can sample a much wider variety of items than I ever could, and they can direct me to books, films and music I may never have heard of.  This prevents me from getting stuck in the rut of my own tastes and those of my friends or overly persuaded by the advertisers and marketers who create ads, previews, book jackets and other forms of capitalistic brainwashing.

Best Films of 2015 – The Critics’ Picks
Best Music of 2015 – The Critics’ Picks
Best Books of 2015 – The Critics’ Picks

Just in Time: A History of The Visual Arts in Two Lists.

My preoccupation with the visual arts continues. I have produced a chronological history of painting and sculpture using the meta-list I created from 15 separate ‘best works of art’ lists: my own personal Art History 101. Unlike my list Best Works of Art of All Time – The Critics’ Picks, which includes works on three or more of the 15 original lists, this new configuration includes works on two or more of the lists, which added nearly 300 works of art to the total list. For convenience, I’ve divided the chronological list in two – the first starts with the Paleolithic era, 30,000 BCE or so, and ends in 1599 when the Renaissance was ending. The second list takes art from 1600 to the present. I’ve tried to include public domain images for all the works that are not already included on the “Best Works of Art of All Time” list.

Why chronological? It is not necessarily because I believe that art has improved or become better over time, although some eras and regions seem to have had more technically skilled artists than others – perhaps because of superior art education and training opportunities – but I don’t think art evolved from worse to better (or from better to worse, for that matter). I do see evolution in the non-teleological sense: one discovery led to another, a style influenced some to imitate it, others to rebel against it. Exposure to art of other cultures invigorated some artists to break barriers, and changes in socioeconomic conditions and technology (particularly the invention of photography) influenced both subject matter and style. So while other organizing principles (alphabetical by artist name; geographic location of art work) might produce some fascinating and unexpected juxtapositions (stay tuned), for now I’m sticking with chronological order. Here are the links:

Art History 101 – Part One: 30,000 BCE – 1599
Art History 101 – Part Two: 1600 – Present

sister_wendy_

Art For Our Sake: Announcing a New List

Many years ago, I attended a poetry reading given by a friend of a friend.  The poet made his entrance accompanied by a cadre of followers, all carrying signs and chanting in unison, “I don’t know much about art, but dammit I know what I like.”  Like much of modern artistic expression, what made the procession interesting was the questions it raised:  Were they affirming this anti-elitist sentiment or mocking it?

I admit that I don’t know a lot about art, specifically the arts of painting and sculpture (I know even less about architecture).  We had a pretty good survey course in high school, but since then I have just gleaned bits and pieces of information from conversations with artists and art history majors, Sister Wendy’s BBC series, Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word and lots of museum-going.  I like pretty pictures, art that tells a story or generates an emotional response and art that shows off the artist’s dazzling technique, but I also appreciate art that challenges me and makes me ask the questions, What is Art? and Is this thing I’m looking at an example of it?  (As a solution to this perennial quandary, an artist friend in college had an “It’s Art” stamp made up.  Now it was very easy to tell what was art and what wasn’t – just look for the stamp.)

Humans have been making art for over 30,000 years, and in that time there have been numerous technological advances (like the science of perspective, or the guy who invented tubes that allowed oil painters like Van Gogh to paint outside).  There have also been shifts in the philosophy of art, changes in the answers to the question, Why make art?  To improve our chances of catching a bison?  To worship our deity?  To kowtow to the rich and famous?  To make a political statement? To explore the effects of one color on another?  To show the world that there is art everywhere we look?  To stimulate the beholder to ask the questions, Is this Art? Is so, why?  If not, why not?  This last is what Tom Wolfe hates about modern art – that the explanation of the work can be more interesting than the work itself, that the work is meaningless without the explanation.  But the response is, all artists expect the viewer to bring something to the table – it’s just that with pre-modern art, much of what we bring is emotional and feels instinctive; now we often need to bring our cognitive faculties, and that can feel like work.

The old saw is that photography killed representational art, and artists had to come up with another reason to exist, so they created forms of art that were successively more and more removed from photographic realism.  Even as a novice, I recognize that this theory has more holes than it takes to fill the Albert Hall.  For one thing, anyone who has done any photography will tell you that “photographic realism” is a rarely-achieved ideal.  For a famous example, think of the one picture of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  Shutter speeds were so long back then, and the speech was so short, that Lincoln is just a blur.  It actually reminds me a little of a modern art painting (I forget by whom) in which the painter paints a portrait and then, before the paint is dry, smudges the subject’s face with his finger (or at least that’s what it looks like).

All of which brings me to my latest list.  I scoured the Internet and library shelves (oversized, mostly) to find collections of the best ever paintings and sculptures that the world’s artists have ever created.  I found 15 such lists and combined them into one giant list, then put every work of art that made it onto at least three of the lists and put them here:  Best Works of Art of All Time – The Critics’ Picks.  In the process, I learned quite a bit about art and art history.  Some examples:
(1) Paleolithic cave painters used the deepest most inaccessible parts of their caves to paint, meaning they weren’t making decorations to be admired by their peers but religious/magical images that only their deities could see.
(2) What we know of Greek sculpture we have mostly learned from Roman copies of Greek works.  The bronze statues made by the Greeks were later melted down for other uses, while the mostly marble copies made by the Romans have survived.
(3) Some of the most magnificent 14th, 15th and 16th Century works of art are contained on altarpieces, which were wooden contraptions with panels and hinges that stood in front of or behind the altar in a Catholic church and contained painted or sculpted religious scenes.
(4) In representational painting, it’s all about the light.
(5) There are only so many 16th Century Dutch landscapes that I can look at in a row before feeling restless.
(6) Maybe your kid could paint that, but it would never occur to him/her to do it.

valerie bertinelli

The Facebook Jokes

I have always had goals.  When I was six, I wanted to be a paleontologist (a fact my parents loved to share with friends: “Ask him what he wants to be when he grows up”).  When I was in sixth grade, I wanted to be a naturalist, like Charles Darwin.  In high school, I wanted to write The Great American Novel.  But as I approached adulthood, and ever since, I have spent most of my efforts on achieving three overarching goals: (1) to find true love; (2) to know everything; and (3) to make the world a better place.  “The Facebook Jokes” fits into my somewhat twisted interpretation of the third goal, but first I need to say a few things about the other two.

First comes love.  This is not a relationship advice blog, and I certainly don’t have any credentials for giving relationship advice, except perhaps 24 years of marriage to the same endlessly intriguing (and wise and kind and patient) person and a fair number of practice relationships before that.  I guess my main piece of advice is grammatical: ‘love’ is an active, not a passive verb.  We initially pair off because of feelings like attraction, infatuation and lust (and, occasionally, a feeling best described as “last call”).  Despite our culture’s romanticizing of these emotions, they are just evolution’s way of ensuring that our species continues to propagate.  (At least, this is how I rationalize my high school crush on Valerie Bertinelli.)  Once attraction brings two of us together (I’m not even going to mention three-ways – oops, just did), the complicated part begins.  In order to stay together, it’s not enough to feel something (a dirty little secret: some days, you may feel nothing at all – this is the point at which all Hollywood couples split up), you need to do something.  For him.  For her.  For yourself (self-awareness is always good; improving communication skills – listening, guys? – is even better).  For the both of you.

I’m very lucky and grateful that I have had many opportunities to become part of a pair over the years – I’ve laughed with and learned something from every one – but my life partner of the last 27 years (24 with the gold bands on) –  that’s another story.  With her, I’ve achieved goals I didn’t even know I had.  But that’s not what this blog is about, remember?  It’s about jokes.  But before we get to that, we have to deal with my omniscience obsession.

Goal Number Two.  First, let’s get this out of the way: I loved school.  Being forced to spend hours of each day learning was like someone telling me, “We’re going to make you eat cake and pie and ice cream every day, like it or not.”  I loved science, math, social studies, languages, art, and music, but the best part of all was that they made us read books, and write and talk about them.  (I remember a very early quasi-list was a bookmark that I used for several years – patched up with tape as it fell apart – on which I placed a hatch-mark for each book I read, like a gunfighter notching his kills.)  They also let us write stories, and essays, and occasionally read them out loud.  To me, this was heaven.  Plus, except for my four-years at an all-boys Jesuit high school, there were girls!  Right there at the desk next to me, the cutest girl I had ever seen.  More on that later.

Here’s what I learned about learning.  Every time I found out about another topic, I wanted to know all about it: dinosaurs, insects, oceanography, rocketry, Mesopotamia, the Acadians, the human brain, nuclear physics, trees, Prince Henry the Navigator, Jeffersonian Democracy, the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, The Beatles, punk rock, sentence diagramming, algebra, Venn diagrams, weather, birds, chemical bonding, the Big Bang, Nazi Germany, Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Bob Dylan, democratic socialism, stream of consciousness, post-modernism, film noir, cinema verite, the auteur theory, assisted reproductive technologies, feminism, homosexuality, imitative polyphony, serialism, folk, jazz, blues, Cartesian dualism, dada, surrealism, vegetarianism, logical positivism, Portugal.  Even now, in my Medieval, or middle-aged, period, I come across a new topic at least once a month and find myself scouring the Interwebs to find out more.

But here’s the other thing I learned: I don’t have enough time or energy to know everything.  Also, even though I was pretty smart, I wasn’t quite smart enough to understand all the information I was ingesting.  (And, even worse, as I get older, I’m forgetting a lot of what I learned before.)  I’ve adopted two different approaches to these problems.  The first approach is to eliminate certain topics from my to-learn list.  It is very hard to give up on any potential subjects, so right now I only have two: (1) engineering and (2) dance (although I am intrigued by Nijinsky, especially in connection with The Rite of Spring, and Isadora Duncan, but mostly for her fateful choice of scarves).  I sometimes add economics to the list, but since I deal with labor and workforce issues in my chosen profession, that’s probably not a good idea.  The second, and probably more fruitful approach, is to pick a few topics to focus on more intensely.  Naturally, my choice of topics is somewhat broad, thus giving me more leeway.  Right now, my list would probably include: (1) literature; (2) film; (3) music; (4) natural history (especially native plants and birds); (5) history; (6) philosophy; (7) foreign cultures/travel; (8) U.S. politics; (9) the U.S. labor movement; (10) comedy and humor; (11) family history/genealogy; and (12) photography.  Note that this list could also form the core of a ‘things I like to do’ list: (a) read; (b) write; (c) watch movies; (d) listen to music; (e) write & perform music; (f) explore natural areas; (g) travel; (h) follow politics and support progressive candidates and causes; (i) support workers and unions; (j) watch and listen to funny stuff; make people laugh; (k) take pictures; (l) spend time with friends, family and loved ones; (m) engage in stimulating conversations with other humans – and the occasional dog or cat.  (Edit:  Interesting that I didn’t mention making lists or blogging.  Hmmm…)

Which brings me  to my third goal, and the reason for this post in the first place.  Like so many people, I want to leave the world a better place than when I found it.  But I lack the confidence of so many others.  For example, I’m not convinced that most other people will agree with what I think of as “a better world.”  In fact, I might not even agree with my own definition a week, a month or a year from now.  So there’s that.  Then there’s the law of unintended consequences – even if we all agree that some change would help, it might end up making things much, much worse.  This happens all the time.  So what to do?  At a certain point, I suppose, I have to take a leap of faith and pick a couple of things that I think might really help, based on my knowledge, experience and, of course, The Magic 8 Ball.  So here’s what I picked:  (1) help employees by providing legal assistance to them and their unions to improve their wages and working conditions and the fairness and justice of their workplaces; (2) without compromising my principles or harming my physical or mental health, (a) try to be a loving and caring husband, son, brother, uncle, and friend and (b) try to be kind, considerate and fair to everyone else; and (3) tell jokes that make people laugh or, in the case of certain puns, groan and roll their eyes.

The last point brings us, finally, to the point of the blog: Facebook.  For a long time, I didn’t know what to do with Facebook.  I ‘liked’ things that make me laugh or that I agreed with.  I announced big events.  I posted some photos.  But I didn’t have anything to say on a regular basis.  I had no interest in sharing my day-to-day activities with my Facebook friends (as fascinating as I found theirs to be).  Then it suddenly hit me:  jokes!  Facebook, it turns out, is the perfect forum for trying out new material.  And although several people over the years have referred to me (affectionately, I have to assume) as “a wise ass”, I have no ambitions to become a comedian of any sort (audible sighs of relief from various corners), it is lots of fun to come up with things I think are funny and use them to answer that eternal question, “What’s on your mind?”  If other people laugh, that is great – they get a healthy smile on their face and I get the satisfaction of putting it there.  If not, no problem, it will be gone the next time you log on, down into the Facebook basement (or is it a dungeon?) where old posts go to sit in the dampness and reminisce about the days “we were on the wall.”  So here are a few Facebook jokes from the past couple of years – do with them what you will.

The Facebook Jokes

I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Amnesty International, the National Wildlife Federation, the Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy for all the free return address labels.

While cleaning the spice rack, I knocked over some herbs and ended up with a lot of thyme on my hands.

My doctor told me I have a non-productive cough. So apparently my cough sits around all day DOING ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

A partner at work is missing two of his chickens. He suspects a coyote is the culprit. The tip-off: all those empty Acme boxes behind the barn.

Just “liked” Elizabeth Warren. Should I worry that she’ll think I “like her” like her?

I was thinking of selecting the very best poems by Walt Whitman and publishing them in a book. I was going to call it “A Whitman Sampler.”  Although I am a little worried that people may just read a little bit of each poem until they find one they like.

Q. Why did Gandhi throw his bread against the wall? A. Because he believed in naan violence.

On being a lawyer:

        As I sit here in the office on a Saturday night, having procrastinated too long on
        my brief, and now pulling a marathon writing session to get it done on time, I realized –
        Hey, things haven’t changed that much since college.

        Just filed a motion for enlargement of time. Now I’m worried that the judge won’t be
able to grant it until there’s a quantum fluctuation in the fabric of the cosmos.

Whenever someone says, “Let me be totally honest with you…”, I always want to ask, “What were you doing before?”

On the BP oil spill:

           Reminder: Change batteries on my blowout preventer.

Just thinking about that old joke where Rene Descartes walks into a bar and orders a drink. When he’s done, the bartender asks if he wants another and Rene says, “I think not” and disappears.

Movie Reviews:

       Finally saw 127 Hours. I give it one thumb up.

       After sitting through all nine and a half hours of Les Miserables, here’s what I learned:
       (1) In 19th Century France, everyone sang instead of talked (2) in perfect English! and
       (3) little Cockney boys roamed the streets of Paris.

As we walked out of Amour, I thought, They don’t make romantic comedies the way they
used to.

Neighbors skeptical about attempt to create a new holiday tradition of door-to-door St. Patrick’s Day caroling.

One of the worst things about getting older is slowly losing my hearing. Like the other day, my wife asked me to bring home a bag of lemons, and I misheard her and brought home a bag of lemmings. Cute little critters, but try to squeeze one over your swordfish and it gets nasty!

I was thinking that ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ should not apply to masochists.

Spit on the sidewalk = lowered expectorations?

Just found out there is an interstate highway in Hawaii. Hmm.

Ate three apples yesterday. My question is: Will it keep three doctors away for one day or one doctor away for three days?

My latest band name idea: The Maynard G. Krebs Cycle

Keep meaning to get to one of those Procrastinators Anonymous meetings…

Ohio: Birthplace of Aviation. North Carolina: First In Flight. Who’s got the Wright stuff?

Classical concert promoters, astonished at sell-out crowd, later discover typo in announcement for Beethoven’s “Erotica” Symphony.

I was surprised to hear Stephen Hawking’s voice coming out of the ticket machine in my local parking garage. Doesn’t he have enough work with all the physics stuff?

I was sorry to see that Don Cornelius, of Soul Train, passed away last week. My thoughts go out to his distant cousin, Yukon.

Why did the woman in the produce section slap me? All I said was, “Nice pear.”

And who (in our age cohort) can forget that rousing call to action: “Do a little dance. Make a little love. Get down tonight. Get down tonight.”

Making lists: it’s not just my passion, it’s also a desperate cry for help.

If your childhood was anything like mine, you spend the rest of your life in fear of having to say the words, “Where should I put this?”

As I was getting ready for work this morning, I was reminded of that classic blues song, “If it wasn’t for stained dress shirts, I wouldn’t have no dress shirts at all.”

If you’re like me, when you think, “21st Century Innovations that Have Improved Our Quality of Life”, one thing immediately comes to mind: Gas Station Television.

Whenever I hear the Republicans accusing the Democrats of planning to redistribute the wealth, I always think the same thing: I wish.

Since the election, Obama has stopped sending me e-mails every day. Are we no longer friends?

I hear Courtney Love is making a comeback – she’s hosting a cooking show, where she’ll teach viewers how to make brownies, cookies, etc. It will be called, “Someday You Will Bake Like I Bake.”

Reading an interesting book about a nobleman stuck in an ancient prison who escapes by greasing a crack in the stones with vegetable oil and slipping out. It’s called The Count of Monte-Crisco.

Not sure why, but like the rest of Massachusetts, we’re going on a milk-and-bread-only diet for the blizzard.

Just realized that, from the outside, “Too busy to clean the house” and “Too lazy to clean the house” look exactly the same.

On my way out of the office one winter morning, a man on his way in said, “Watch out for the black ice” and for just a second I thought, What a racist!

Since the meteor fell in Russia, I haven’t seen a single dinosaur. Coincidence?

Just downloaded Michelle Shocked’s two new songs, “When I Grow Up, I Want to Be An Old Bigot” and “Anchored Down in Crazy Town.”

Lawyer’s Dictionary: “clearly” (adv.) = I don’t have a real argument. I’m just hoping you’ll think this is obvious.

The verdict is in: the spider in the bathroom is guilty of being big and scary. Jury still divided (1-1) on whether to impose the death penalty.

At my nephew’s high school graduation, everyone was peppering him with baseball questions – he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the game. I waited for him to finish an answer, and then I asked my question, “What does it feel like when, every time you get up to bat in Little League, the whole infield and outfield moves in much closer to home?” He looked at me for a second, and then I said, “Actually I do know how that feels.”