Another calendar year is fast approaching last rites; soon horns will be blaring and a large, shiny globe will make its slow, annual descent on Times Square.

Despite many commendable advances in the fields of medical science and technology, resulting in the reduction of suffering and the extension of life, global conflict and consequent suffering continue unabated. Some “fixes” have in fact, been attempted, the (failed) League of Nations, its successor, the United Nations, as well as innumerable International treaties and alliances; but all such attempts to achieve peaceful resolution of world conflict, however sincere and well intentioned, have met with limited success

Among the variety of great thinkers, there have been celebrated philosophers like Hobbes, who thought that man was a “beast”, and others like Bentham and Mill, who believed, more positively, in mankind and “the greatest good for the greatest number.”

We now live in an age when instantaneous communication with any point on the planet is easily accomplished; catastrophes such as earthquakes, typhoons and tsunamis are immediately detected and internationally reported. Similarly, news of positive events such as the awarding of the Nobel Prize or the elimination of a disease are disseminated immediately by the modern media.

Inarguably, desirable as well as undesirable features of life are experienced in common by all humanity, wherever located, from Belgium to Belize, British Columbia to Borneo. Every human denizen of our planet, treasures peace, acknowledges the immeasurable value of family and children, requires sustenance, adequate shelter, and society; he despises war, disease, want and natural disaster. Yet history has demonstrated that untold misery and countless loss of life are the proximate result of man-made national and ethnic strife in every part of the world, regardless of the respective stage of technical and industrial development.

So, undaunted, and in keeping with much pre-holiday cheer (also with a glass of l’eau de la vie in our left hand) we entertain the following rich dream, whose pleasure in contemplation and its expression is not tempered, to any degree, by the predictable expressions of pessimistic pragmatism in response.

And so, to my dream. Let us imagine that a “world citizenship” status could be created and granted to all humanity and that such concept could be universally taught in primary schools and places of public assembly. The cost of such a social change would be voluntarily borne by those, financially capable, who value peace and friendship over constant discord and repetitive human tragedy. The universally shared and equalizing status would lead to confident and enlightened identification with others, tolerance and perhaps sincere admiration for other peoples and ethnicities’ own nuanced patterns of belief.

As a part of this “dreamy” proposal, the world citizen would have the additional option to continue his (peaceful) ethnic traditions. We do not favor nor espouse uniformity, only justice, amity, and equality.

We might even have another try at an additional world language, like Esperanto.

A Happy New Year!



It is not within the purview of this writing to explore the dynamics, chemical and organic, of the phenomenon of memory; the latter is the proper subject and discipline of neuroscientists and biologists who have the requisite credentials. We intend only to make some observations concerning the empirical, everyday operation of memory in our life’ experience.

Memory is a tricky phenomenon but one that is essential to our maintenance of a stable self-image and identifiable existence within the mainstream of society. This is my residence, my spouse and family, my signature, my dog, my job.

We have observed, recorded and have readily available, the context of our life setting and as well, our routine perceptions of it. We have stored away general understandings, beliefs, regular opinions, stereotypes and even have pre-prepared responses to popularly debated issues at the ready. We have a specific list of recalled experiences, good and bad; for example, a reminder to avoid habanero chilies.

Memory is tricky because, immediately following the instant when a sense experience is identified by the brain, the information is re-interpreted by means of our individual perception. We see with our eyes and hear with our ears but all is absorbed through the subjective filter of our perception. Previous experience, aspirations, and general inclination, including biases, play significant roles in our individualized process of “taking in” experience.

Moreover, there is ever -present the unscientific twin phenomena of selective recollection and the painstaking editing of the same, to insure consistent support for one’s established beliefs. inclinations and tactically perceived position. Recollected statements made during a previous heated spousal row, will, without a doubt, significantly vary as recalled by the individual spouse.

An illustration of selective recollection, and in further demonstration that is motivated by matters unrelated to the subject event or statement, is the inclination to, constantly, and audibly, recall a misstatement of a relative, contrasted with that of a non-relative which is often easily forgiven and long forgotten.

Personal memories of successful accomplishments are readily accessible and may even be enhanced in the retelling, while one’s unsuccessful exploits, are recalled, defensively, with scarce detail. We are advised that memories are even manufactured (possibly a combination of wishful- thinking, previously existing prejudice and the smallest scintilla of fact.) Such inaccurate and manufactured assertions of reality, by their frequent repetition tend to bolster their verisimilitude and add to our perennial misconceptions.

Emotions, such as fear and excitement, experienced as a witness to a catastrophic event, predictably and understandably, affect the accuracy of our recollection of the event. Microscopes and telescopes are inanimate objects and thus are capable of objective visual properties; our emotions and thoughts, by contrast, are suggestive distractions which tend to, in varying degrees, distort reality.

Additionally, in our adult lifetimes, especially relating to longtime events, have we not all had the experience of questioning whether something in our life really occurred or was just a dream? We tend, subjectively enough, to compliment others as having a good memory whose recollection matches ours. We must learn to tolerate recollections of events which differ from our own.









The astounding commercial success of a simple, mundane item of apparel is revelatory of two separate phenomena: (i) That Darwinian evolution applies even in the garment center, and (ii) that the neurotic need for conformity and perceived social acceptance, can exceed all foreseeable bounds.

Our American saga begins in its mid-nineteenth century with the celebrated gold rush, a non-martial replication of the lustful and lethal preoccupations of medieval Spain and Portugal.

Here, the inspiration, largely based on exaggerated reports of gold’s discovery, on myth and perhaps, an unhappy private life, hordes of American hopefuls set out to California in an historic search for riches. Sad to say, the extent to which this “American gold rush” was successful, seems to have been by far exceeded by the profits obtained by merchants, selling to the prospectors needed tools and equipment, including personal items for the venture. There was a universal need for all manner of goods, from shovels to pots and pans; suitable clothing and good boots were especially needed for the groundbreaking (and backbreaking) labor.

It was a Bavarian immigrant to the United States, one, Levi Strauss, a practical thinking entrepreneur, who pioneered the production of durable fabric for trousers for these men who worked in forbidding topography. He was inspired to create and manufacture reliably durable work pants, initially employing tent cloth, and thereafter, following the French development of a strong, dark blue fabric, “serge de mine” (“denim”), switching to the new fabric and added metal buttons for reinforcement at strategic places. His newly developed work trousers were a big success.

Before too long, others began to emulate the manufacture of this practical and durable innovation which was widely utilitarian, in agriculture, factories, and work settings everywhere. To describe the future development of the item in pure Darwinian parlance, it successfully survived because it was the fittest solution to a naturally presenting problem.

As is eternally true in all Darwinian evolution, the subject species of apparel mutated into commercially viable variants of its original progenitor. Originally called “dungarees” later, “blue jeans” then (and now) “jeans,” in step with the development of design changes which effected a remarkable transition from the practical and mundane to the highly fashionable.

This development, or evolution, of the product was in large part the successful result of the well-known American aptitude for advertising and marketing. As an illustration, slick and glossy magazine photos of top models sporting jeans together with accessories consisting of high priced and dazzling jewelry were disseminated to the public. Thereafter, with increasing demand, prices soared for this new and fashionable item of “haute couture,” which bore faint comparison to the Levi Strauss predecessor.

We are impressed with the development and great success of the product, still regularly undergoing significant and creative variations in cut and tailoring, fabric, color, and stitching. American ingenuity, creativity and marketing acumen are, certainly to be lauded.

We do, however, have a critical comment concerning a relatively new trend, apparently in vogue, consisting of the preferred wearing of torn and distressed jeans. It is difficult to believe that such stylishly damaged goods can command such high prices based upon this aberrant style.

In all fairness, we can comprehend (up to a certain point) the desire to “fit in” and to conform to the latest societal fashions; it is certainly pragmatic to desire acceptance and to do so by means of reasonable social conformity. There are times however, where such desire becomes neurotic and no less than “lemming-like” behavior; slavishly keeping up, indiscriminately with the latest nuances in fashion can exceed any measure of reason and become action comparable to that in the childhood tale of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” (See Blog#32)

If Mr. Levi Strauss were to return to Earth, only to discover the shameful travesty committed against his unique creative accomplishments (dungarees that resist damage) he would be shocked and chagrined. He would as a predictable reaction, in his next life, probably go into the bagel business where holes are, in fact, acceptable.







Blog # 109 poesie BLACK CAROUSEL (“Wuka-Wuka”)

Suffer no fear for tropical storms,
They do relent, rebalance, reset.
Have no fear in the long, black night
It’s only day without the day.
But do dread the awful sound of wuka-wuka!

Do not fear the mighty blow,
All wind dies down before too long.
There is no fear for heat and cold,
It all just moderates in time.
But beware the wuka- wuka sound!

You mustn’t fear black smoke too much,
Firemen are surely on the way.
Nor panic from excessive speed,
Reduce will follow shortly on.
But so much fear in wuka-wuka! wuka wuka !

Never fear a try at love,
Yet another may do the trick.
Do not fear to fail at goals,
New starts will show before too long.
Only wuka-wuka sounds are dire!

Do not fear the surgeon’s knife,
The goal’s to free you from disease.
Never fear the longest road,
The end’s in sight before too long.
But you must escape the wuka sound!

You must avoid the black carousel,
Grim wheel that turns, just gyres and turns
No music here, all wooden gears,
That speak in fearsome wuka sounds.
Do fear those clacking wuka sounds.

Foul beasts are seen to stand and glare
From on the platform of that wheel.
With vicious smile and carnal teeth,
I could stretch to see but few.
Of this wuka-wuka menagerie
Better hope it will pass by.
The wuka-wuka at your face.
All would be lost, all good be gone,
Your fate: to see the beasts up close.
Wuka-wuka, wuka!

The first beast is called the “Trail of Tears”
One,” Armenian Deadly March”
A white one bears the name,”Jim Crow”
“Dresden” is the German beast
“Appomattox,” another horse
Next to a black one, called “Babi Yar”
A Yak who answers to “My Lai.”
Behind an ancient hound, “pogrom”
“Nagasaki” is the reddish beast, before
Twin ogres, “Isabella and Ferdinand”
“Hutu-Tutsi” both on the side
And to the right of one, “Nanking”
Wuka-wuka, and then wuka wuka, ever it clacks.

To the smiling skull atop the pole,
Above the center of the wheel
I screamed: ”Please, please answer me!”
“When will it stop?”
The faint reply was wuka- wuka, wuka-wuka

-p, {Leonard N. Shapiro 11/16/16}


Blog #108 LAMENTATIONS (“From Bad to Worse”)

As if matters were not challenging enough for American democracy, the recent election results portend a virtual race to the bottom.

The establishment of the American architecture of government was the brilliant, erudite and wise creation of our founders. With their collective eye on the disastrous history of Europe, featuring tyranny, revolution and hardship, they set about to create a unique, secular and egalitarian form of government (most especially, including the Bill of Rights) responsibly conceived and responsible to its citizens.

They created an entity with three independent branches, Executive, to execute the law, legislative, Congress, to enact into law the people’s will, and a Judicial branch, to assure ultimate justice. Each branch, legally, had the function, when needed, to control the excesses of the other, a separation of powers a/k/a “checks and balances.” All other influences were excluded, including, importantly, the Church. Let us briefly examine the present state of health of this utopian creation.

The Supreme Court of the United States was constituted as the one final arbiter of legal issues. Of course, with jurisdiction over all courts, its capacity to function would be rendered as a practical matter, impossible without some limitation placed on the number of cases acceptable for adjudication by it. A procedure, “The Writ of Certiorari” was established as the first and prerequisite hurdle, which, wisely excluded from acceptance any cases with political issues or political overtones, including those that could have any political impact, purposely guarding the separation of powers, a foundational principle of our republic. This “black letter” law and admonition, was an historical precedent applied with relentless consistency.

Gore v. Bush, a case unprecedently accepted by SCOTUS, was more than “suggestive” of a random political issue, it was, in fact, a decision as to who would serve as the President of the United States. Worse, if possible, the later Citizen’s United case held that a corporation was a (real) person with the right to free speech, which includes the right to donate (unlimited) sums of money to an election.  Unfortunately, our legislators spend major time raising money for their re- election and so are easily influenced by business or political groups willing to donate needed cash, thus overriding the interest of their constituents as their legislative and moral responsibility. Not only did SCOTUS severely damage our democracy by the Citizen’s United case, but the legal basis was confusing and almost laughable, were it not so devastating in impact. Every law school freshman has already been taught that a corporation is a fictional person, created solely for use in commerce, to limit the liability of entrepreneurs; so, a corporation can be a contracting party, and a party to a lawsuit. Every law school freshman knows that a corporation is not a real person (with rights) and it must follow that the justices of that august court know it as well. (See: Blog#5)

This disappointing and disgraceful performance by our Judiciary and Legislative branches, was made almost bearable by the commendable, responsible and truly excellent performance of our Executive Branch, in the person of Barack Obama. Despite a “bought legislature” and the unprecedented and incomprehensible performance of the judiciary branch of government, he successfully endeavored to carry out the moral responsibilities of a head of state. It is highly commendable that he, in fact, did, despite these encumbrances, manage to effect very many good results in healthcare, immigration and governmental policy, domestic and international. As difficult as the task was, under the circumstances, this was done with dignity, intellect and professionalism throughout his eight- year term of office.

Thomas Jefferson famously said, for a democratic government to work, what is needed is an informed and literate citizenry. The philosophical theory of Jefferson (also Bentham and Mill) was that freedom of speech and the exchange of various ideas would lead to the ultimate, rational resolution of problems. He certainly was correct in theory but it seems, lately, most idealistic in his expectations.

It may be that our national inventory of “informed and sufficiently literate citizenry” is lower than anticipated. The shocking result of the current election evinced the selection of an individual, singularly unfit for presidential office; an incompetent television dude, selected to fill the office of the most potent and influential leader of the entire world. This person, a dangerous, ill tempered, incompetent was elected, presumably, by the flat-earth, climate change deniers, the ill- informed reductionists, which pliny calls, the “troglodytes” of society, unhappy with their life and too ignorant and unaware to discern the true reason.

This President-Elect, moreover, has shown himself to be a semi-literate, ill-tempered, bigot and an egotistical, and arrogant person with limited intelligence and a surfeit of bravado. These traits spell disaster, domestically and, internationally and are no less than frightening.

Pliny recommends the reading, or re-reading of Sinclair Lewis’s novel, “It Can’t Happen Here.”





Our legal and inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, would merely be theoretical assertions of entitlement without the implementing factor of “free will.”

Free will principally encompasses the ability to, at our own discretion, elect from available alternatives. It also means the freedom to act and express ourselves without fear of official sanction. The exercise of our freedoms virtually has no limit, provided their exercise causes no injury. In short, my right to throw a punch stops just at the tip of your nose.

A puzzling question may be posed as to what liberty, or free will, can possibly signify to a believer in pre-determinism (“determinism”).

The ability to choose among alternatives is the most useful and impactful exercise of free will. Yet it must be borne in mind that every choice ineluctably implies relevant constraints, a price, upon our liberty consistent with the selected undertaking.

Conformity to traditionally approved behavior, customs and practices of a society or social group, to satisfy a felt need to “fit in” and be a regular member of that society or group, necessarily excludes behavior inconsistent with those traditions and practices.

The choice to marry and raise a family, mandates a strict code of social behavior as well as the usual obligations of financial and emotional support for that family. These latter obligations necessarily result in material constraint on personal liberties. Charlie is not going to play golf with the boys this Saturday because little Susie is performing in a school play; Katie will not purchase the fur coat because money is needed for a new living room carpet.

Even the choice of residential environment is accompanied by its consequential impact on liberty.  Living in northern Michigan mandates the use of heavy outerwear and boots which may not be one’s preferred attire. The choice of domicile was made by someone and may at some point in the future be changed by relocation; it is probable, however, that the new location would present its own nuanced  limitations on dress and lifestyle.

Religious affiliation, which requires relative uniformity of belief and the practice of established traditions, constitutes another constraint on freedom of belief and behavior. Despite the immutable fact that the specific religion was acquired by the random accident of birth (See: Blog#3) there does exist the possibility, at some point, of a change in belief system.

Thus, it seems to be the case that the exercise of free will is predictably accompanied by a certain measure of applicable, but foreseeable, restriction on liberty presumably, and hopefully, the result of intentional and calculated choice.

As a slight departure from theme, and as an addendum to its subject, we would observe that in the modern era, advancements have taken place in the field of neuroscience, which have cast new light on the phenomenon of choice. New and revolutionary understandings of the brain and its function, particularly in studies in brain chemistry, have led to revelations concerning the etiology of human behavior and choice. These investigations have included consideration of the possible presence of organic brain disease and more commonly, an imbalance of brain chemistry regarding mood disorders and aberrant behavior.

Psychiatrists, and most especially psycho- pharmacologists, engaged in the amelioration of mental and emotional disorders, have been assisted by such advancements in the understanding of brain function and brain chemistry. In fact, there are many such practitioners who would earnestly maintain that it is manifestly unjust and cruel to deal with such challenged people by way of the normal criminal gristmill, applicable to the ordinary miscreant.

Such an approach is certainly commendable from the standpoint of empathy and newly enlightened understanding. However, practical experience seems to demonstrate that society cannot successfully function and exist simultaneously with aberrant behavior. A challenged individual whose illness has obliged him to engage in “acting out” his affected perceptions (as opposed to merely thinking them) imposes an obligation, in the interest of society, to act. On such occasions, it is sincerely urged that such action be suitably consistent with enlightenment and understanding.




Inhabitants of those planetary zones where the change of seasons (as allocated by the yearly calendar) portends actual alterations in weather nature and the length of daily sunlight, have had the expected, regular happening of such quadrennial phenomena “baked in” to their understanding of the normal order of things; indeed, many consider themselves more fortunate than others whose residential geography lacks such variety. These changes provide the context for a myriad of life style experiences, from holiday and cultural observances to the enjoyment of traditionally appropriate sports.

Tramping through multicolored fallen leaves in the fall, celebrating Christmas and Chanukah and building snowmen in winter; in the spring, Easter and Passover and the start of the baseball season, sunbathing and swimming in summer are all popularly anticipated and experienced.

Food and beverages are selected and enjoyed as part of the traditional recognition of the presenting season:  hot chocolate, mulled cider and fire-toasted marshmallows (winter), iced beverages, gazpacho soup and cold watermelon (summer) to cite a few, albeit representative, examples.

There is no dearth of music, of every genre and period, whose title and thematic music are related to the seasons, Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” (baroque), “Summertime” by George Gershwin (modern opera), “Summer in the City” (rock) and Berlin’s “White Christmas” (pop) to cite a few of very many examples.

Industry and commerce, of necessity, key their products and services to the relevant (seasonal) demand; in the swim suit season those manufacturers who limit their production to woolen coats are obliged to go into summer hibernation (probably, Miami).

While it is true that the specific day and date, as allocated on the yearly calendar, may vary somewhat from the precise date of the change of season, history and long experience have shown that the seasons do manifest themselves at or about the designated time. The eternal regularity and consistency of these predictable, fixed phenomena create in us an assurance of normalcy and existential security, concerning our planet and its secure rotational venue in the greater solar system.

However, and most disturbingly, recent times have seen marked and obvious changes in weather and atmospheric conditions manifestly at variance with these previously experienced in these quadrennial periods.   We have been experiencing unpredictable and disparate weather conditions generally inconsistent with long established seasonal assumptions. This is confusing and most upsetting. The least of our concerns is that we are obliged to dress as called for by the individual day as opposed to the season, as previously. A far more disturbing concern is that such changed phenomena may have its roots in the general over-all problem of global, man- made pollution and a consequent degradation of our planet and its atmosphere (blog#16).

While the scientific cause of the present (hopefully, ephemeral) anomaly seems not to be presently known, one would, in any event, be obliged to suggest that we all concentrate on cleaning up our act.