I assume I’m not in a unique position, but it feels like it.

On any given day, either directly or indirectly, I get one or both of two kinds of inputs regarding serious topics; an anecdote about something bad, stupid, or illegal said or done by someone on the left and a corresponding anecdote about something bad, stupid, or illegal said or done by someone on the right.

I might chance upon something shared by my Facebook contacts, read a comment on a blog (or a whole blog post), get forwarded an email, or I’m outright asked about said utterances or actions.

What’s frustrating about that?

I’ll tell you . . .

Just a few things and a few thoughts I want to share.

First, THIS link about happiness and mental-well-being. The site is the Happiness Lab and it currently features short episodes on coping with coronavirus Social Distancing and isolation. You can also listen to Season 1 and Season 2 begins on the 27th.

Even more interesting is THIS link . . . it takes you to Yale’s most popular course (over 2M people currently enrolled for the course) which begins today, April 18th.

You can join the course for free — as I did — or pay the $49 entry fee if you want to earn a certificate to add to your resume. I entered for free; just provided my name and email address, and I was registered. There are ten weeks and it looks like there’s about 2-3 hours worth of material per week (just a cursory look, I had, so don’t hold me responsible if that’s not true).

Here’s the bio on the professor (including the links above):

Laurie Santos is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Yale University. She hosts the popular podcast The Happiness Lab and she teaches the most popular course offered at Yale to date, titled The Science of Well-Being. Laurie is also the director of the Comparative Cognition Laboratory and the Canine Cognition Center at Yale. She received her A.B. in Psychology and Biology from Harvard University in 1997 and her Ph.D. in Psychology from Harvard in 2003.

That blurb is from the Sam Harris interview with the lady, featured on his Waking Up app (a meditation app).

Some of what I see (looking at the titles) covers ground I’m already familiar with through reading various articles about cognitive studies and listening to podcasts, and I’ve already incorporated some of what I learned into how I live my life and how I cope with life.

Still, I’m always interested in learning more about how my brain works and controlling it to my benefit.

The class begins today, as I said, and I don’t know if it’s also the last day to register. Keep that in mind if interested in it.

Right, let’s proceed . . .

So, as the pandemic continues, I cross paths with more things that annoy me . . . no, that’s too mild. It’s things that piss me off.

Look, I spend a fair amount of time gently — and sometimes not-so-gently — pointing out to people that being “for” one political party or the other is, frankly, dumb. As is one religious belief over another, or any single ideology over another.

I cannot think of any religious, political, social, ethnic, or racial group that is completely right or completely wrong about things they believe and act on. Typically, they all have some things they get right, some things they get wrong, and some things that make them sound like they are bat-shit crazy. The proportions might change, but there’s always a spectrum.

Hence, it’s difficult for me to respect anyone who completely and totally buys into everything “their” group says. And it’s not just losing respect. 

If you are one of them people who are steeped into the culture of either the Far Right or Far Left, in short order you will cease to exist for me. I mean, I used to give a nod and a wink and let some things slide, but as I get older — and especially now — I have far less patience than I had even last month.

Truthfully, they too will likely lose their patience with me . . . and I can live with that, but then, stay out of my orbit.

What does this have to do with COVID-19, you ask? Good question; let me answer it after this photo.

Yet another grass photo as it came out of the D7500.

I’ve been doing something I rarely do. I’ve been sending out group emails.

“About what?” you ask.

What else? . . . COVID-19.

I wrote some stuff about the virus in Part One, but that was a while ago and the situation is about as dynamic as they come.  Now, I say “a while ago” and these days — the two weeks between the last post about COVID-19 and today’s offering — seem more like two months, if not years.

If you have a copy of the Hitchhiker Guide (the actual guide, not the novel) you would be reassured by the words “Don’t Panic” in bold letters on its cover.

These days, that’s difficult to do. From moral, to political, to existential, we’re constantly pushed toward panicking. Even when you have the resolve to follow a steady course, it’s difficult doing so when everyone around you is running the opposite way screaming in fear.

So, easier said than done. But not impossible.

Yes, I’m referring to . . . COVID-19.

It might be evident to some that I’ve consciously retreated from commenting on current affairs. Well, mostly. I’ll throw the odd jab here and there, but I don’t address specific topics, not even when those topics dominate the news and/or are of supreme importance to humanity in general.

But don’t be fooled. Inside, I have plenty of opinions and, increasingly, my concern for the future of this country (and the world) leads me to pessimistic estimates about the path we’re traveling.

For instance, I believe both Republicans and Democrats systematically — and for different end-goals — weaken the Constitution and the rule of law as they engage in an ideological power struggle where the public and the public interest are but pawns to be played and sacrificed.

A few years ago, it would have seemed impossible, but I believe we’re watching the dismantling of our system of government. I don’t know what will replace it, but I’m certain a large percentage of the population won’t like it . . . and it will be too late to do anything about it.  

At this point, someone might say I’m overreacting and that we’ve faced this and worse in the past. Yes, we’ve faced similar threats in the past and we — in each instance — recovered and came out of them arguably the better for it.

I’m retired, so I have a lot on my plate. Still, I occasionally take time out to think; to reflect on what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and whether I should continue doing it.

Everyone can benefit from stepping back, surveying the landscape, and charting their path forward; making sure they’re on the path they want to follow.

Sounds ominous, don’t it? I mean, it sounds as if something has gone wrong and needs fixing.

Nah! Well, maybe a little, but nothing of great consequence.

For them who don’t know, writing stuff down is a good way for me to focus my thoughts. It also makes it easier to catch flaws in my thinking once I read back what I wrote. It’s because when I read something, I’m focused on what it means, any implications of it, where it might offer either something useful or, conversely, lead me astray. Most of all, reading my thoughts affords me the luxury of checking if they make any sense. 

I also do that with the spoken word. What I hear goes through the same multi-layer analysis. I suggest the same practice to anyone wanting to catch errors in their thinking; write down what you think and then read it back — aloud, if need be — and check if it still makes as much sense as it did while still in your head.

Words — spoken or written — matter. 

That’s a warning the following is written off the cuff and not previously thought out in detail.

But, let’s begin with photography . . .

The New Moon – October 11, 2018 (click for larger version)

I mentioned in two previous posts (HERE and HERE)  about my struggles regarding going forward. By that, I mean what equipment I should use.

“Don’t be a dick” was the topic of Phil Plait’s speech at TAM 8. You can watch the video but, basically, Plait argued for moderation in discussions. He was addressing skeptics and atheists and specifically their interaction with the religious and believers in “woo”.

As might be expected, the response was mixed. Some people accused him of being an accommodationist and others applauded his call for measured and civil interactions.  

At the time — eight years or so ago — my reaction was . . . well, defensive. 

Mind you, I found a lot of counterarguments and rebuttals in support of my defensiveness but the reality was inescapable: I had to examine why I was so defensive. 

I reviewed my past discussions and interactions with people and examined how I approached discussions about religion and magic and UFOs and any topic I considered anchored in ignorance and willful disregard of science and reason. 

The conclusion was uncomfortable to admit . . . not a majority of the time but enough times to be significant, I was a dick. Needlessly confrontational and prone to badgering would be another way to say I was a dick.

Believe it or not, this is by request. Also, lots of words (3,135 of them). Also, it’s my opinion . . . which means I meander in thought. I put this together rather quickly so if you find fault with it . . . well, I won’t be surprised.

Anyway, coming from a friend, the request carried weight.

I was asked to answer this question:
How do you get purpose and meaning without God?

Mind you, he already has answers but was curious to read what I had to say. Well, now, you know I won’t offer up the answer without many words leading up to it.

A number of my previous posts address this question either directly or indirectly, but I thought I would revisit the issue. In this piece, I’ll speak primarily about Christians. Other religions might be more or less descriptive in such matters but if there’s a god involved, that’s who believers say gives their lives meaning and purpose.

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