How to be a Guru / What the Guru Says


Several years ago, indie filmmaker Vikram Gandhi (no relation to the Mahatma) made a true story about a fake guru.  As the American-born child of Indian immigrants, Vikram had grown up in the Hindu religion, and was “bemused” by Westerners jumping whole hog into an Eastern religion.  So he set out to make a movie about it all.

Along the way, he realized that, to understand the psychology involved, he had to go underground, and therefore became a fake guru named Kumaré.


When I first saw the film I became interested in Gandhi’s technique.   On several later viewings, he seemed to be an expert on how to present himself as a fake guru.  Several lessons stood out immediately.

How to be A Guru

  • Smile always  — Sugar versus vinegar principle. Humans are disarmed by a smile.  It makes us want to smile back.  And since our mind follows what our body is doing, we want to be friendly with whoever we are smiling at.
  • Laugh — a lot.  – Ditto the above.  How can anyone laughing all the time be sinister?  Well, there’s the Joker, but… Laughter is infectious.  Why else do they put laugh tracks into comedy TV shows?
  • Look people in their eyes.  –If you don’t, people think of you as being “shifty-eyed”, and therefore unreliable. And it is the most natural thing for a person’s eyes to be roaming, checking out the environment.  Looking people in their eyes helps you focus, and they think you are really listening to them.
  • Be with people. —  How often do you see people being dorks by starting into their smartphones instead of attending to those around them.   And that is merely the most obvious of rude behavior.   Humans don’t like being treated like chopped liver. (Even though we do it to others all the time.)
  • Accept everything people tell you. – It is very human to be constantly and instantly judgmental.  It is hard-wired into our survival genes, so to speak.  Rare is the person who can simply listen to another person without immediately offering correction, condemnation, or at the least, well-intentioned advice.  Don’t do that, just listen, and you will be regarded as a sparkling conversationalist.
  • Say “OK” a lot. – Humans like to be affirmed.   Validated.  So much in life is negative, and seldom is heard the encouraging word, “You’re OK.”  When someone says “OK” to another person’s tale, it boosts them up.  It accepts them.  It elevates them.
  • Ask, “Why do you think that?”  — Both for clarification, in that your interlocutor hasn’t, perhaps, fully thought out what they are saying.  (Grandma used to say, “Some people talk just to hear their heads rattle.”)  And because it gives the other person an opportunity to talk some more, about the thing that interests them the most, their own thoughts.
  • Tell people, “I like your story.” —  Everyone has a story, you know.  It is what drives us, as a species.  Almost of our motivating ideas are based on myths, legends, narratives.  The “story” we all carry around inside us is most particular to the individual, no matter how much of it is common to everyone in their home group.  When you declare that you like their story, you are again confirming and affirming them as a special human being.


Vikram Gandhi did these things, and more which I probably did not see, and gained the trust of a motley collection of seekers.  But really, what are these, manipulative methods only?  Or how we should all treat each other every day?  Why would they work so well unless we all were desperate to have them in our lives?

And then, I wondered about what he was actually telling people.  He told them the truth, that they saw in him what they wanted him to be.  The substance of his “teaching” was seldom explicitly stated, but I could almost (!?!) hear him thinking stuff when people were treating him like The Real Thing..


The Guru Sez

  • Accept responsibility for your own life, do not try to pass responsibility off to a “parent” figure. – Whether guru, preacher, priest, monk, philosopher, pundit, politician, or even Mom and Dad.
  • Trust yourself, trust your experiences, trust what works. – In the end, all the well-meaning advice in the world, and that not so well-meaning, is only an opinion.  What worked well for someone else may easily be a disaster for you.  It is your life.  You have to choose.
  • Gather wisdom and knowledge from wherever you find it – books, teachers, friends, life. —  Besides experience, and with the full caveat of blindly swallowing another person’s prescription, it is wise to look around and see how others have done things.  You do not want to discover that arsenic is poisonous by ingesting some.  You have to learn to be wise.
  • Avoid being manipulated, exploited, or abused. —  The sheer number of people in this world who willingly submit to abuse and exploitation is amazing.  They think they derive some benefit from doing so, even if it is punishment for their “sins”.  And it is terribly easy to fall into being manipulated by a ruthless, or even a kindly person.  All that is needed is to appeal to some quirk of your nature, and the manipulators are very good at sizing up other people’s weaknesses.  But all confidence games are powered by larcenous greed, it is terribly hard to cheat an honest man.
  • Face your own illusions, delusions, and lies. —   Please, no, anything but that!  Or so many folks react.   Psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists — and gurus — make a decent living off of those who would rather hide from themselves than face the person they are.
  • Be present where you are. – Once when I went into our local mon-n-pop pizza place to pick up an order, I observed a couple, out on a date, sitting in a booth near the door.  Both of them were gazing rapturously into their smart phones.  I so much wanted to yell at them, “Hey!  Pay attention to each other, not to your self!”  That would have been rude.  But people were doing that sort of thing long before Steve Jobs had a brainstorm.
  • Do what you have to do without complaint; want what you have to do. —   All of us have unpleasant necessities in our lives, from getting up for work in the morning, to being nice to crazy Uncle Bob as he spouts malicious nonsense at the Thanksgiving family gathering.  If you grudgingly trail into these tasks, you will not do your best.  Indeed, you cannot.  This reluctance to engage with what must be done demeans and lessens the entire world.  It certainly reduces your personal world.
  • Take care of yourself, don’t go cruising for failure. —  Like the person who got married and divorced five times, all to hopeless drunks, some of us seem to go out of our way to find ways to screw up.  Back in the self-help craze a few decades ago, it was called being “codependent”.   Don’t do that, anymore.
  • If it sounds wrong or crazy, it probably is wrong or crazy. —  Convincing yourself, “it will be all right”, or “this time will be different”, invariably ends in unhappiness.  As Kris Kristofferson once said, “Never sleep with anyone crazier than yourself.”
  • You already know what to do, all you lack is will-to-do. —  People seem to want the Guru to tell them what to do, in detail, in their lives.  And when he does, they will nod in agreement, and say, “I thought so.”  Seriously, do you need another person to tell you to do what you already know?  You want a motivator?  OK. Tell yourself what to do!
  • You see what you want to see, you hear what you want to hear. – This was Kumaré’s greatest lesson.  People saw in him what they wanted to see.  But he wasn’t real.  Not in the sense they wanted him to be real.  Human beings are capable of enormous amounts of self-delusion, of hope, and of doing it again when their illusion fails, again.
  • Know what you really want. – This is harder than it seems.  We are full of other people’s expectations, admonitions, cultural demands, and the like, that we often go through life never really knowing what we really want.  All too often, we will mask what we really want as being “unworthy”, but the seepage will come through anyway.  Some folks talk a good game about desiring peace, love, and justice in the world, when what they really want is to get even.
  • The only real magic is your desire to believe in magic. – Along with seeing what you want to see, this one is part of our want for results.  We think we can’t get something unless a miracle occurs.  But, if it is possible at all, we must have the necessary resources within to make it so.  Ain’t no fairy godmother going to come along and give you a fancy dress, a gold carriage, and an invitation to the Palace Ball.
  • Your true self is not really hidden, you are just ignoring it. – In parts of the Hindu religion, it speaks of a “true self”, which is who you are behind the mask.  In the West, we can relate to that.  A lot of us put on a false face to greet the world, often a different mask for every group or situation we encounter.  But underneath it is who we really are.  Some of us don’t think who we are is good enough, or nice enough, or pretty enough, to deal with other people.  Maybe we are dirty rotten scoundrels.  More often, we are simply afraid.  Out “true self” is our best self, the self we wish we were.  Again, there is nothing preventing us from causing that ideal to become actual.  But, like all of the good things, it will take some work to achieve.
  • Breathe. Smile. Eat. Love. Drink. Exercise. Live. –  Everyday.  To the fullest.


I understand why people are put off by religion.  Sometimes, the guru is not a merry prankster like Vikram Gandhi, but a terrible person who uses others for his own benefit.  Sometimes the adherents are a collection of rampant hypocrites.  Sometimes, the required beliefs simply beggar the imagination.  But look at us humans.  It seems as if we are hard-wired for religion (not necessarily spiritual, to be sure) and we have a need for something in  our lives that is neither cold hard secularist snobbery or what is so petty it is unable to get us to aspire beyond ourselves.

The danger for the “non-religious”, is that they will be more susceptible to fall into something terribly exploitative.  As Eric Davis, an American baseball player said, “If you don’t believe in something, you’ll fall for anything.” 

Which is why I fall back on Shepherd Book’s last words, “I don’t care what you believe, just believe it.”

Man in the Mirror: Reflections on an Enlightening Prankster


ABC News Report from 2012

It was nice when I found this TED Talk, he confirmed much of what I had presupposed (Yay Me!)

Posted in Culture, Movies, Religion, Self-Improvement | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy First Contact Day

April 5, 2063.

Only a few years to go.

Damn, I wish I could be there.

(Yes, yes, I know it’s just a science fiction movie. But — DAMN!

No, getting Out There certainly will not solve all our problems.  We are, in truth, a stiff-necked people, we humans. But in spite of our failings, we must never forget the last thing to come out of Pandora’s Box was — Hope!)

Posted in Culture, Movies, Star Trek | Tagged , , | Leave a comment


Now there is a five dollar word, if ever there was one.  It is Greek and one English translation is “flourish”.  Not any flourishing, but human flourishing.

According to Captain Jean-Luc Picard, in the future, money will not be a motivator, but self-improvement.

No feelthy capitaliss?

(I think the writers of ST:TNG went too far in decrying “money”, since it is a nice convenient medium of exchange.  But, I digress.)  How is this played out in the series?  We see the officers of the enterprise reading classic books, playing musical instruments, exercising – usually some martial art – engaging in cosplay on the holodeck, playing poker (dealer’s choice), and drinking prune juice, a warrior’s drink.  Here is plenty of evidence for what Aristotle and the other Greeks meant, but what exactly the 24th Century may mean by it is a tad less certain, other than that they don’t know what TeeVee was.

So, not looking with nostalgia at the future, let us ponder what it would mean for today.

The human person may be divided into three components, the Body, the Mind, and the Soul or Spirit.

With the Body, the obvious thing to do is to make or keep it healthy, the Strengthen it.

With the Mind, to improve it, to fill it with the tools and material to do what it was designed for – think.

With the soul, or Spirit, again, the direction is obvious, to enrich it.


Of course, the hairy question is, how do you do all those things, especially, how do you do them at once?


In Star Trek, especially TNG, we are not often shown what life is really like back on earth, or among the lower ranking crewmen of the Enterprise.  Only once or twice do we see Picard on his family farm, and learn that for all the lack of cash, people still grow grapes and make wine.  “Best Vintner in Picardy”.  Perhaps everyone else but the few, the proud, the Star Fleet, sits back in their overstuffed recliners, grossly overweight, keeping fat, drunk, and indulging in holo-porn all their days.  But I don’t think so.  A future which defeated Kahn and Colonel Green wouldn’t be a layabout culture.

The goad for status and reputation as an improved social unit can be as driving as any financial greed ever was. St. Paul remarks that athletes work hard and deprive themselves in order to win a silly wreath of leaves.  How much more the more important things of life.


But, one might say, what are the elements of this Utopian fantasy?  How do you get from generalized platitudes to this shining city on a hill you tout?

To be perfectly honest, there may be many paths to get there.  Here, I will sketch out one possibility.

To Strengthen the Body

Exercise.  Walk, at least a mile a day.

Play a sport (Do not just watch!)

Eat the right things (potato chips and marshmallows are not really all that good, now are they?)

Have proper hygiene, bathe, take care of your teeth, etc.

Have some vin ordinaire from time to time, for your stomach’s sake (but not too much, damnit!)

Follow the admonitions of Theodore Roosevelt for a strenuous life.  Teddy, suffered from a number of ailments in his childhood, asthma being not the least of which, and he overcame his weaknesses by hard effort, in a time before inhalers and steroids.  (To be sure, he died relatively young, but the doctor’s  predictions were that he wouldn’t get past his 21st birthday so he did all right.

To Improve the Mind

Read.  Good books.  Especially, Great Books.   I suggest, a minimum starter diet, would begin with the Iliad, then the Odyssey.  On to Plato’s Republic, Symposium, and Death of Socrates trilogy.  After that Aristotle’s Nicomachaean Ethics and Politics, with his Poetics and Rhetoric.  (Much of Aristotle is dated, you will notice at once, but it serves the purpose of getting you to THINK!)  After that, works of Virgil, Cicero, Seneca, Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare.  If for nothing else, read the King James Bible for its construction – it was designed to be read aloud, and no greater rolling thunder has ever been in the English language saving only Shakespeare.  More modern works should be easy picks after one has waded through these.

There are endless lists of books which people will tell you what you ought to read.  Some of them are even good lists.

The venerable How to Read a Book, by Mortimer Adler, the founder of the Great Books of the Western World is not bad.

Better is The Lifetime Reading Plan by Clifton Fadiman.  This one shows you how books are related, as the Aeneid looks back to both Iliad and Odyssey and forward to The Divine Comedy.

And there is (fairly recently) The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Bauer.

Play some mind-challenging game, like Chess or Go. (Not Angry Birds!)

Learn another language, Latin and/or Ancient Greek.  Spanish, Mandarin, Farsi, whatever.  Each language capsules a map of reality, and each language you know gives the ability to look at the world a little bit differently.

To Enrich the Soul

Music for the soul, primarily. My own taste is eclectic, from Beatles to Bach to Berlioz (with a pause at Bizet) to Bluegrass, and from The Doors to Daughter of the Regiment.  Some music causes your spirit to soar.  Go with that, not the sort that rattles your brain.  Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Rachmaninov’s 18th Variation on a Theme by Paganini (you will recognize it), even the opening theme to the first Superman movie.  Uplift, not downgrade.

Visit an art gallery.  Visit a museum.  Visit a botanical garden.  (Visit a park, take off your shoes, and dance on the grass.  Just be careful you don’t get arrested.)

Drama, storytelling, has been a staple of humanity since the tribal elder would relate tales of the Great Hunt or other myths.  This evolved into the stage play, and to the movie.  This cuts across to improving the mind (as with Shakespeare), but it is here because the act of entering into a drama along with the protagonists will elevate or depress your spirit.  Choose wisely.)

About religion.  Some cultured people despise religion, not least because of certain of its practitioners.  But that is a faulty prejudice.  It is in the nature of humans to be religious.  We are genetically hard-wired that way, and if we do not move in a more traditional world, we will find something, from science-ism to sex, as a substitute.  It is better to be a grim-faced Pilgrim than a sad-faced debauchee.  But don’t, by any means, “shop around”, or go transferring allegiances every year or so, as the mood strikes.  Pick one, even rationally, knowing its flaws, and abide by it.  In the long run, especially when in older age, you will be amazed how it will have helped you along the way.  (Not the least of which helps will be the tendency to make you less awful than you would ordinarily have been.)  As Shepherd Book told Captain Reynolds, “I don’t care what you believe, just believe it.”

Keep a journal or diary, so you can keep track of how you are doing.  It further helps to write down (in longhand, need it be said) your thoughts on various subjects, as a means of clarifying them for yourself.

And if you have no near relations, or even if you do, taking care of a dog or a cat will also help your soul.  This is so ingrained in humans, that it need not be elaborated upon.


One may have noticed my preference for Western canon.  This is not to disparage that of the East, but to indicate that I am a product of Western Civ, and am more familiar with it.  If anything from the East speaks to your mind or soul, by all means, take advantage of your knowledge.

There are many other ways of living a flourishing life.

A couple named Gerald and Sara Murphy found one.

Living Well Is The Best Revenge

It helped for the lifestyle they lived, that the Murphy’s had money. But that is not a prerequisite.  And their idyll had a tragic end.  None of which matters.


To return where we began, to Star trek, Captain Kirk once remarked, “Our species can only survive if we have obstacles to overcome…Without them to strengthen us, we will weaken and die.”  And what greater challenge can  human beings have than to better themselves?

Posted in Books, Culture, Religion, Self-Improvement | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Praise of Good Manners

An essay in support of good manners — which modern society has lost along with modesty, morality, and meaningfulness.  (“Good Manners” are so far from public view that it is almost a relief to see any sort of manners in public.  Almost.)

By modesty, I refer not merely to keeping one’s clothes on in public, but to the keeping of one’s life as private as possible.  Inquiring minds may want to know, but those minds are conditioned by sleaze.  Nor has the public a right to know – anything which is unrelated to matters of criminality, and perhaps not even then.

Several television shows are devoted to this disrobing of personal affairs, as I misfortunately discovered one day in a medical office waiting room.  For some reason, the TV was tuned to a station which was showing what I found was a highly popular “tell-all” show.  It was talking of things which a criminal in a dive would not let pass lips.  There were small children in the waiting room.   I wondered if the medical staff thought, since the show was from a broadcast network, and not even cable, if it was perfectly OK.  When sleaze has become normative, it is nearly impossible to talk to people about the subject in any serious way. Had I my way, Jerry Springer, and all his clones would be placed in the stocks on Boston Common for sins against decency.

By morality, one assumes “sexual” as a prefix, however, morality covers far more ground, from business ethics to gossip.

It refers, actually, to the “mores” of society. To the rules of conduct which govern any society.  Business ethics, honor code, courtesy, manners, all fall under the heading of morality.  Businessmen who squeeze their employees fall into the dim vestibule of a bad morality, as do those who say, “let us play the (immoral) game, else we will lose what we have.”

Yet, there is another thing, when the mores of a society are corrupt.  For extreme example, in a nation not so long ago, it was considered “moral” to enslave certain other human beings, on the basis of an abundance, or lack, of melanin in the skin. In another nation of more recent vintage, it was considered moral to murder anyone with a physical or mental defect, and many more who were considered “vermin” by the ruling powers.  Yet, these mores were wrong.

The only universal rule which seems to be common to all societies and peoples is the one known to Christians as “Golden”.  Do to others as you would have them do unto you. (And do not do to others what you do not want to have done to yourself.)

As for meaningfulness, is there any doubt the modern ennui and apathy is a direct result of boredom, of a void in the psyche, of a lack of knowing that one’s life already has meaning?

The French existentialists are famous for pondering the Meaning of Life, and also for coming up with short – and wrong — answers.  But it is a question everyone asks, notable middle-aged men who realize their youthful ambition has gone about as far as it is going to. And despair.  The mid-life crisis.  Meh.

Yet every human life is imbued with a marvelous meaning, a wonderful significance.  Some look at the scale of the Universe and feel lost.  Others look at the Universe and marvel humans can comprehend as much as we do about it.  The meaning of life is Living.  The meaning of the Universe is Existence.  It really matters little how long or short a human life is, 12 seconds or 120 years.  We all live the same amount of time, because we all live in NOW.  Not Back Then or Up There, but Right Now.  Now is the point of contact we have with Eternity and every Now is Eternal, and preserved inviolate in Eternity.  If THAT has no meaning, I suggest one’s nerves are severed from reality.

Lastly we come to manners, which lubricate the mechanism of society.  Sadly eroded by the Com Box Warriors on the Internet, political animals, “journalists”, and unrebuked punks laving profanity in the Malls of America, simple civility and gracious behavior has so far fled the modern parlor most children have never known it.

It is possible, although there may be others. FaceBook is the most nefarious and pernicious monstrosity concocted by humankind.  Ostensibly for the digital meeting of friends, it seems it has degenerated into squabbling tribes of strangers, each of whom has 1453 “friends”, and each of whom wants to post something “provocative” and “edgy”.  The sad sight of 60 and 70 year old Boomers thinking they are still the vanguard of society is pathetic at best, and irritating as usually the case.  Everyone seems compelled to make a statement about their theological, political, social, economic, and cultural weirdness.  Which is offensive to everyone else.

(Speaking of “offensiveness”, we seem to be in the middle of another wave of national insanity, wherein the delicate little flowers, the snowflakes of society, want to be insulated against hearing or seeing anything they do not want to hear or see.  This is an ailment common to Left Moralizers and Right Ground-standers. They say whosoever “offends” them is an unhuman monster who ought be purged from the world.  Hello?  Shades of the religious mania of Old New England, the political correctness of Red China, the  tetchiness of certain Islamic adherents.  All of whom felt that to “offend” was a capital offence.)

It is good manners to keep your hands in your own pockets, and not to use them to pick one’s nose in public.  It is good manners to listen politely to someone whose stark raving lunacy is clear, and to walk quietly away without calling this to their attention.  It is good manners to respect your neighbor’s spouse, property, and beliefs.  It is good manners to…  but, perhaps we have gone so far into the dirt, no one really comprehends good manners.

Or any other sort?


Posted in Culture, Ethics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Power of the Notebook

I have carried some sort of writing implement, and some kind of medium on my person ever since the Seventh Grade.  At least since then, memory being spotty at best.  Because of that same dappled recollection, I need to constantly write things down.  Keeping notes of ideas, lists of things, a journal of events.

I have toted everything from 3X5 cards and a pencil in my shirt pocket to a small bound journal with fountain pen. (One can always transfer to more permanent storage at the end of the day.)

It has not always been consistent, and there are several holes in my records.  However, one time, my habit saved me from a rather gratuitous butt-chewing from a supervisor who thought to inquest regarding something which had happened a month earlier.  (It was his method of harassing his workers into submission.)  I consulted my log, and gave full details, including work order number, calibration specs, and results.  He came in breathing fire, and left with a wimpy “Oh.  OK then.”

Over the years, I can observe a refinement of sentiment spread across a dozed notebooks of different size and composition from “composition books”, to loose-leaf to bound journals (very cheap these days).  In them I can trace the origin and progress  of my thoughts for good or bad.  In them, I can trace the outline of my life (save for the non-recorded spots).  In them, I can see the rise and fall of fortune, of friendship, of faith.

This leaves behind for my kids (if they don’t just chuck them in the furnace) a key to Dad.  Parents often do not understand their children, I am told, but children more often do not comprehend their parents.  In this age of the throwaway culture—throwaway artifacts, throwaway people, throwaway emotions and ideas and throwaway heritage – it is, for me, a means of fighting back against the ephemeral, the transitory, and the worthless.


There was a good article several years ago about the notebooks of famous people.

The Pocket Notebooks of 20 Famous Men

(Of course, it may be that men are not the only persons to have spotty memories, and the need to record things.  My good wife has a compact spiral notebook in her purse at all times.)


Posted in Culture | Tagged | Leave a comment

Which Side Are You On?


In America, the Conservative says, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”  The American Liberal says, “Give the baby a bath.” Both Liberals and Conservatives agree on the fundamentals of history, economics, and government. They differ on the interpretations, but do not dispute the facts. Each knows The Other to be an essential part of society. Differences are mainly of orientation and degree, as both want to keep the best of the past while reforming the worst.

Their Radical cousins of Right and Left are of a different nature, perhaps of another order entirely. Radicals have no regard for the past or the present, and only seek to demolish what IS for the sake of some ethereal abstraction, a fantasy, an unanchored ideal.  On the ashes of society (and their fellow citizens), they seek to erect some shiny steel edifice. They agree neither on foundation nor facts. They have their own facts, often fabricated instantaneously to support their beliefs. Humans, rather than being creatures of infinite dignity, are so many fungible assets, disposable according to the whim of the Vanguard, easily liquidated when inconvenient. So many Bricks In The Wall.




Radicals are in thrall to, are hypnotized by, the esoteric claims of pseudo-religious and poorly fabricated Ideology. They claim rigid consistency, but the hodge-podge accumulation of tenents (to attract a winnable coalition) belies that foolish claim. Neither Liberals nor Conservatives are that concerned with consistency, but tending toward pragmatism or tradition respectively. Less abstract, and more programmatic, they look down to earth, at this situation, this particular, and less to the sky. Their question is “What works here?”

Ideologists are infatuated with consistency and unity, however strained. Since most ideologies are cobbled together, this is an unsurprising obsession. Making a temporary alliance in order to attain power (before unhorsing their allies) is not unusual. They will gladly employ tactics of public ridicule and contempt, shaming, and humiliation to enforce their boundaries of belief.

Sectarians tend to be ideologists on steroids. Less concerned with mass appeal, they are content to lounge in their beer cellars and underground covens, plotting the day when they will “grasp the levers of power”. Their preoccupations are less with coalitions than with expelling from their ranks every hint of insufficient purity and fervor.

Conservatives and Liberals are the Centrists, occupying the common ground which facilitates social norms and permits folks to earn a living and raise a family. Radicals, ideologists and Sectarians appear as you go from the schwerpunkt to the lunatic fringes, where (on each side) we find the tinfoil-hat brigades (they who dwell in Outer Darkness).

Which brings us to … where do you think you are in this 3-D Cloud? (It isn’t a straight-line spectrum.)

Do you think you are one thing, when the reality is you are another altogether? Or is your self-assessment accurate?

Here is some help. Five of the better political surveys out there. Each has flaws (the I Stand With is comprehensive, but seems to swerve on a few questions), but taken together, can be a useful tool, provided you do not mistake the assignment of a survey for reality.

But if you find yourself inconsistent, will you panic and wish to realign with what you thought you were? Or will you stop and think some more (or for the first time?)

Here are the quizzes.

I Stand With

Political Survey

Political Typology Quiz

Fun Political Survey

Political Compass

Which Side Are You On?

Posted in Civics, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Old Time Civics Videos

There are a lot of videos here, but if you were pressed for time, why are you reading my ramblings?

Used to be, we took Civics seriously in this land.  It was pure, unadorned propaganda, designed to mold children’s ideas and attitudes into something resembling those of a solid Citizen.

Today, of course, the opposite seems to be ongoing, trying to teach the next generation how loathsome their native land is, and how despicable they are to be living in such a country.  Not all, but enough to make formerly cringeworthy statements commonplace.

So, for proper edification, I am including some of the bad old propaganda videos here.  Are they dated?  You bet.  And, that is not necessarily a bad thing.

There’s the ones that tout Our Way Of Life.


There’s the ones that explain how the system works.

There’s the ones which let you know how bad the other side is.


Oh, here’s a propaganda piece about — propaganda.


There are even attempts to embrace full citizenship.


Remarkable… everyone working together and not like primitive rival tribes squabbling over crumbs.

With a little drop of Mister Dooley

(Why anyone thinks a “business” bureaucrat is more honest and has the Public benefit in mind more than a “government” bureaucrat is beyond me.)

(Aye, those who came before me are a gang of snobs and drones, and those who come after are thugs and brutes.  Begorah!)

And for disillusionment, George Carlin





Posted in Civics, Culture, Politics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Acting is Just a Job, Like Any Other


As You Like It

By William Shakespeare

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;

And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,

Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,

In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,

With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,

Full of wise saws and modern instances;

And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts

Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;

His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide

For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,

Turning again toward childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion;

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.


Rules for Actors (and Others)

  1. Do Show up on time.
  2. Do know your lines.
  3. Do what the Director says.
  4. Don’t trip over the furniture.
  5. Don’t upstage other members of the troupe.
  6. Don’t insult the audience
  7. Don’t overstay your welcome


My original exposure to stagecraft was due to a deep shyness which plagued me up to my Sophomore year in High School. I figured that if I could stand in front of a crowd with memorized things to say and do, it would help with keeping me from being a fool in public.   At the time, I didn’t understand acting was addictive. Perhaps it’s not the acting per se, but the applause that gets you.

In high school and college dramatics, I learned these five rules the hard way. That I did not pursue it as a career was happenstance and life getting in the way while I was making other plans. But it has always fascinated me, because I am a bit of an over-the top fan of Hollywood’s Golden Age, and watching the old contract players in action is good for learning how things are done.

I found also there are those pretentious egomaniacs (you know who they are) who construe themselves as artistes.   They want to emote, to employ The Method, to send Messages, to Elevae the Consciusness of the Masses. They lack craftsmanship, and use these hoary proverbs as cover. As Frank Capra said, “If you want to send a message, try Western Union.”

Most of the audience used to be working class folks, who already know Life is a Bitch and the Boss Is a Sunnuva…

Sullivan’s Travels is a good rebuttal to the Message mantra.

It is said that anyone can act. This is true. Following the rules takes one a long way toward success in the business. It is always wise to recall that there are other such in life. Anyone can cook, but few are chefs. Anyone can carpenter, but some are master craftsmen. Still, even the Masters follow the basics, know their craft, their trade, and being masters, know when and how to break the rules. Unless one is a Master, it is inadvisable to begin as a maverick. Torn tee-shirts or not.

Online one can find many admonitions for would-be actors, including some of those who regularly get paid for the work. Of all these, they range from the Three Rules to the 33 Tips, but in essence, they all come down to these five, whether for stage, screen, or TV (or YouTube?)

The kicker is, they are not specific trade secrets. These rules are much the same as for any profession, for any job a person wants to do well.

Number One: Show up on time. For rehearsals, or for the production, BE THERE when you are supposed to be. In a factory, there are timekeepers, in any job, those who notice if one is late, or if one is present only in body. It is rude to allow others to be there and you not to be there. And it will get you fired if you indulge too often (more than once.)

Number Two: Know your lines. Obviously, even for the “Improvisational Genius”, of which the world has really very few, it is just plain wrong to not know your job. An actor needs to know what s/he is supposed to say to give some other person their cue. A carpenter needs to know how to saw, to hammer, to sand. An actor needs to memorize the script and be ready to go to work, having arrived on time.

Number Three: Obey the Director. Unless you have a very, very, very good reason, like a cobra wrapped around your ankle, DO WHAT THE DIRECTOR SAYS TO DO!!! Follow the boss’ orders. He is supposed to have a better idea of the overall campaign than you do, and if you know more, YOU should be the director. For a play, the Director has a vision of how all the parts fit together. He is trying for an effect which may be only a glimmering ghost in the back of his consciousness. Give it a chance to be born. If it doesn’t work,. Then he might be amenable to a tactful suggestion. But see what he has in mind before throwing a Prima Dona fit.

Number Four: Don’t trip over the furniture. It is placed where it is for a reason. Know where it is, and skillfully avoid making a damned fool of yourself. Unless it is in the script for you to fall over it.

Number Five: Don’t cross up the other members of the troupe. A play, or a film, or a half-hour sitcom, is an ensemble piece. It is made by a team, most of whom never appear in public. If you go around acting big headed, like you are the sole Star, the Lead, the Big Cheese, be advised, you will stink. Even a neurotic line-counter like Steve McQueen couldn’t get away with being a jerk without consequence. And how many of Bill Shatner’s old cast mates think fondly of the Captain of the USS Enterprise? Take heed.

Number Six:  (Added since I first posted this ) Don’t insult the audience.  Neither by offering a piece of utter crap to the paying customers, nor by acting like a big shot diva, nor by trying to “educate the masses”.  The people came for a show, a good show, to be entertained, to relax and enjoy themselves.  They don’t need you to be a jerk who thinks you are better than the “peasants”.

Number Seven: (Added since I first posted this )  Don’t overstay your welcome.  The ham who can’t get off stage, the egomaniac who comes back for just one more round of applause, the aging “juvenile” who tries to be sexy when the grey hairs are sprouting.  (Think Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.)All the players have their entrances and their exits.  Know how — and when –to make a good one.


Even so, it helps to recall: there are no small parts, only small people; a bad play can be well done (and vice versa); and the higher your nose is in the air, the less likely one is to avoid a pratfall.


Acting Is Just A Job, Like Any Other.

That’s it.

There are, of course, other opinions.

One is Double Star, Robert Heinlein’s wonderful book on acting and politics and… (Hint, it is a very old plot.)

Two quotes from Double Star, where the narrator Larry Smith is ruminating on his craft.

(Oh yeah. The other reason I got into drama is that as I grew up, Heinlein was my surrogate adviser, via his books, and Double Star was still is one of my favorites. )

From chapter two:

“The show must go on” is the oldest tenet of show business. Perhaps it has no philosophical verity, but the things men live by are rarely subject to logical proof. My father had believed it – I had seen him play two acts with a burst appendix and then take his bows before he let them rush him to a hospital.

Sixty pages later is this:

“The show must go on.” I had always believed that and lived by it. But why must the show go on? –seeing that some shows are pretty terrible. Well, because you agreed to do it, because there is an audience out there; they have paid and each of them is entitled to the best you can give. You owe it to them. You owe it also to stagehands and manager and producer and other members of the company – and to those who taught you your trade, and to others stretching back in history to open-air theaters and stone seats and even to storytellers squatting in a market place. Nobleese oblige.

I decided that the notion could be generalized into any occupation. “Value for value.” Building “on the square and on the level.” The Hippocratic Oath. Don’t let the team down. Honest work for honest pay. Such things did not have to be proved; they were an essential part of life – true throughout eternity, true in the farthest reaches of the Galaxy.


And then there’s Harry Dean Stanton. (You go, Harry!)


Posted in Culture, Ethics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On Doing The Right Thing

[EDIT: I noticed the links were broken, they have been restored.]

I am no philosopher, so what follows is sure to be disputable and full of logical inconsistencies, but it is what I think.

Some folks are driven by what they conceive to be their DUTY, of doing what is The Right Thing.

Others are motivated by Utility, or what is best at the time, either for themselves, or for the greatest number of fellow citizens (as they conceive “good”)

Still others are driven by the “seek pleasure, avoid pain” dichotomy.

Yet others by “necessity”.

My argument is for Duty, as I conceive it.


I have mentioned, have I not(?) my fondness for Captain America. But perhaps I should say why.

Cap is driven by DUTY, for the desire to Do The Right Thing. He does not want to Kill Nazis, he just doesn’t like bullies, and feels they ought to be stopped. Not my any means necessary, for that is the cry of the pragmatist, the “realist”, who inhabits a world of fear and guilt, and believes there are others who want to do in him and his kind, and whatever it takes to stop, or destroy his “enemies”, is a Good Thing.

Not so, Cap. He has rules, even if they are somewhat fuzzy (like Shepherd Book on the subject of kneecaps. — You do know Firefly, do you not?)

Duty is a form of idealism.

Duty is an obligation to —  something.   But why is obligatory?

Duty is simply “doing the right thing”, as opposed to Utility, Pleasure, Pragmatism (“realism”), or the perversion of Idealism, “The Cause” – ideology.

The ancients formulated DUTY as involved with the Four Cardinal Virtues: Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice. They were right.

I am not, again, NOT!!! a philosopher, and not able to encompass or comprehend what often seems jargonish word salad. By the sale sign in the sky, in hoc signo vinces, I cannot cede credence to any other who claims to understand and wallow in the aforementioned salad.

Of all writers on Duty is more famous than Immanuel Kant, even if his “irresistible” argument is debatable. Bur for eloquence, we must go to Cicero’s On Moral Duties  , and for practical admonitions, to Epictetus’ Enchiridion and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, which have probably had more impact on the everyday lives of people in the West, for a much longer period. (Kant’s abstractions and formulations are interesting, but do not seem to have made much headway outside the philosophical laboratory.)

Kant, among the turgid Teutonic thinkers with Hegel and Marx, was particularly obscure, at least in English translation, perhaps on-purpose, by employing normal words in a special way, different from the accepted norm. “By THAT, I mean THIS.” Then, for the love of all that is sane, why not say THIS instead of THAT?

From another of my favorite entertainments, one may find a possible clue.

In Star Trek (TOS), Spock is led by “Logic”, or a rational utilitarianism (note that rational is not the same as “reason”).   Kirk is driven by Duty, and McCoy by Compassion.

Between logic and compassion

This is shown most clearly and dearly in the movies, the pair of The Wrath of Khan and Search for Spock. In Wrath of Khan, Spock sacrifices himself for the good of others, but (we discover) first places his katra (whatever that is) in McCoy, his second best friend. The sacrifice is the epitome of Utilitarianism, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.”

However, in Search for Spock, Kirk, driven to Do The Right Thing by his friend, “The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the few”, proceeds to sacrifice all – as do the rest of the bridge crew – to save Spock.

(And why is the katra in McCoy and not Kirk, as Sarak wondered? Because a hagridden Kirk could not save Spock, and a free McCoy certainly could not, but this way it was possible, however chancy.)

What is common here, in each case, it was not a choice imposed, but chosen. In each case the sacrifice and the decision came by the free consent of the one involved. Had the choice been forced by an outside agency, it would not have worked, for it would not have been a true sacrifice. (Any similarity with what you will hear on Easter Sunday is not coincidental.)

The famous trolley dilemma is therefore exposed as a false choice scenario (a Kobayashi Maru?) where one is given a choice to do nothing and lt five people die, or throw one innocent on the tracks to save them. There is of course, a Third Alternative which the nattering nabobs of philosophical confusion refuse to state. If a person has the power to throw an innocent on the tracks, he has the power to throw himself on the tracks first. There is no ethical dilemma with sacrificing one’s own self for the benefit of others, the problem evaporates.

Of course, self-sacrifice is a foreign , perhaps incomprehensible, subject to today’s Modern bien pensants and cognoscenti.

In each case above, it was a choice made by those involved, a choice made freely, in full awareness of the consequences, and one gladly made, without regret.

It was a choice. It was not forced on any “for the common good”, or “for reasons of State”, or for any other broken shibboleth.

These ideas, when acted on as the free choice of individuals, are admirable. When they are the excuses made by those in power, they become abominable.

The Nazis abuse the first, the needs of the many, when they murdered the Jews of Europe. They imagined the needs of the many (the German people) outweighed the needs of the few (the Jews.) Of course, they turned around and did the opposite without batting an eyelash. They posited the needs of the one (Hitler) outweighed the needs of the many (all of Eurasia.)

In the days of the Roman Empire, or of the Old South, the Right Thing meant you returned an escaped slave to his lawful owner – which entailed the presumption humans were property. And, who knows, in the absence of Christian influence in the West, those days may return.

Doing the Right Thing depends on knowing what the Right Thing IS. It requires a moral authority. Not necessarily God, but whatever a person acknowledges as morally superior More than mere knuckling under to bullying.)

Knowing The Right Thing! is one problem, Why Do It? is the other. We have clues from religion, from antiquity, from societal norms, but ultimately, both the knowing and the doing must come from within. The key concept here is the difference between a voluntary choice, and the use of force to compel a choice.

As some have noted, it is easier to restrain evil than to compel good. But, they miss a key concept herein. One cannot compel good, but one can educate for good. That is what a liberal education is all about.

DUTY is not something which fits well in a narcissistic, hedonistic culture. It summons uncomfortable thoughts to the awareness of people benumbed by social media and/or outrage pornography (for the ones for whom real pornography is too tame.) It is, however, one of the things (along with Honor and Country) which are vital for the continued existence of the USA.

It is what military cadets hear at West Point, and with good cause.

West Point Motto

Speaking to which point: Doug MacArthur may not have been the best of generals, he may have been an egomaniacal fraud, but he could make a good speech.


Hardcopy here at American Rhetoric.


So, here I am. driven by a desire to Do The Right Thing, by DUTY.

It is often confusing, as a clear-cut moral choice may well be suspect as bowing to prejudice or elf-interest.  But — to be very honest — I think it better, far better, than the mumblings of either the Utilitarians or the Hedonists, or (especially) of the Ideologues.


Posted in Civics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Believe In Captain America

I was born in 1948, three years after WW2 ended. My schoolteachers were veterans of that war. One, in particular, I remember was a navigator on a B-17 dropping bombs on Nazi Germany. Another fellow was a vet too, was in on D-Day, was shell-shocked, lost his family, and ended as the town drunk. I learned from him what even the “survivors” have to sacrifice.

I was bred in the 50s, a time when patriotism was not sneered at by the cognoscenti (Those Who KNOW). It was a time when the rabid right has not moved into center stage. And the lunatic left was muted. The libertarian fanatics who think only of the next dollar they plan on stealing were a bad dream, and the nattering negativists of the Progressive Movement were yet to be hatched.

From the very first issue, Cap was there to defend American values.  (After all, he did give ole Adolf a sock on the jaw!)

There are those flag-waving crooks who give love of country a bad name. I have even seen “Proud Americans” who want to shoot children at our borders, and approve of the Red Chinese executing people they call “terrorists”. (Whether they are terrorists or not, depends on whether you believe the Red Chinese – who also say the Tibetan Buddhists deserve to die.) Amazingly, they always need money – your money – to combat the evil Menace To America, but never seem to win. Or be crushed. (If The Enemy were that evil, these rubbish-spewing clowns would be the first to go.)

The sophisticated and elite culture snobs sneer at corny patriotism, and damn America for all its faults. To these, the USA has no virtues whatsoever. Condescension towards the “fools” who enlist in the military is the closest they get to compassion for their fellow citizenry. They condemn the Right-radical nihilists for their hate of the poor, and yet never stop to give a quarter to a homeless person holding up a cardboard sign by the side to the road.

Truth, Justice and The American Way – That’s what Superman fought for. But Superman was a Strange Being From Another World, not native.

Captain America is nobody special, just a kid from Brooklyn, an experimental lab rat who worked out OK. He is quietly a man of Faith, but not a fanatic (he knows the difference between the One God and an imposter). He thinks all Americans are equal, and deserve an equal break. He’s been powerless, and knows how that feels, and wants to use his strength to help others upward. He doesn’t want to kill anyone, but he doesn’t allow bullies to go unchallenged.

With the advent of the MCU movies (and Chris Evans is a perfect Captain America),  various philosophers and pundits have got into the over-analysis trip.  Nonetheless, it’s an interesting series of reads.  Here,  Here,  Here, and Here. Needless to say, there are others, as well as a small cottage industry of serious books devoted to Cap and his ethics.

I believe in Captain America. I believe in a patriotism that grows misty eyed when the Star Spangled Banner is sung, when the Old Vets parade on the Fourth, or Memorial; day, when a preacher gives a benediction at a school graduation ( they still do such, don’t they?).

I believe in Our Town and Good Morning Miss Dove and George Washington and Abe Lincoln and FDR and Martin Luther King and apple pie (and tacos and pizza). I believe in Christmas pageants and Midnight Mass at Easter and Labor Day Picnics.


Most especially, I believe in the Fourth of July with the parades and fireworks and Sousa music blasting from every radio speaker. It is corny and old-fashioned, and very black-and-white in an age of shades of dirty grey.

We need some of that corny again.

I Believe In Captain America!

Posted in Books, Civics, Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment