Monday, August 30, 2021
Monday, August 23, 2021
It has been a very difficult few weeks. I spent Sunday catching up on the latest commentary From Afghanistan and Iran as I decided to headline the predicament in Iran with what has been done to Iran. It was just hard.
Earlier tonight, I released two clips I chose on the horror developments in Afghanistan & Iran that is in Farsi about how everything seems to be forgotten. I nearly broke down as I listened to the Mother of Poya Bakhtiari, one of the victims of the 2019 uprising in Iran as she was having an interview, and thereafter Islamic Republic Agents led them away.
As I was thinking about our World, all I could take comfort in was this: #WeShallOvercome.
Monday, August 16, 2021
Where did Marcus learn to be Marcus? Ernest Renan writes that Marcus was very much a product of his training and his tutors. But more than his teachers and even his own parents, “Marcus had a single master whom he revered above them all, and that was Antoninus.”
All his adult life, Marcus strived to be a disciple of his adopted step-father, to whom he say, according to Renan, as the “the most beautiful model of a perfect life.” It’s a beautiful and inspiring example for all to take heart in, because while Antoninus is largely forgotten by history, the lessons and values he passed on to his son, have echoed through eternity. You are here, reading this email, because of time and care that man took as a parent. And that’s something worth thinking about today—on Father’s Day—whether you’re a mom, a dad, a son or a daughter.
We know what Marcus earned from Antoninus because at the end of his life, Marcus sat down and wrote about it. In fact, almost no one is referenced or spoken of more in Meditations than Antoninus, and we’d be foolish not to take that endorsement seriously. Better yet, we should use it as a call to greatness for ourselves, for our own children and for a better future.
1: To Love Philosophy
Antoninus “honoured those who were true philosophers, and he did not reproach those who pretended to be philosophers, nor yet was he easily led by them.”
Marcus had a pretty important day job, a job that would have been enough to consume an ordinary person’s entire day—even, possibly, their entire life. After all, millions of lives depended on how well he performed at work and whether he managed his responsibilities properly.
So it’s interesting that Marcus took pains to remind himself that, as important as his job was, philosophy needed to be the priority. We get a good sense of how he thought about his priorities with this line in Book 6 of Meditations:
"Philosophy: Keep returning to it, to rest in its embrace. It’s all that makes the court—and you—endurable."
Treat philosophy like the people who birth you and raised you, he says, keep returning home, like you do to your father or step-father, your mother or step-mother.
Yes, we’re busy. Yes, we (hopefully) love our jobs, and we need what those jobs provide, both in terms of financial security and fulfillment. But it would be a grave mistake to leave philosophy only our scraps, only the leftover time we have when the workday is through. Philosophy is not a frivolous hobby—it’s the key to everything we’re trying to do. It’s a compass, a guiding light, it’s what we owe our ultimate love and devotion.
2: To Read Deeply
Antoninus believed an emperor-in-waiting needed to read widely. Marcus tells us that “he never let things go before he was sure he had examined them thoroughly, understood them perfectly.”
Marcus wrote about how he was one with his weapon—like a boxer, more than a swordsman. A boxer just clenches their fist. A fencer has to pick something up.
Reading isn’t about “getting the gist of it,” as Marcus derided. It’s about making the material a part of your life and your mind. It’s about lingering and digesting until it takes firm hold, never to be dislodged. It’s about, as Marcus learned from his father, examining them thoroughly.
3: To Be Decisive
Antoninus had a remarkable “unwavering adherence to decisions,” Marcus tells us. “Once he’d reach them,” there was no hesitation, only resolute action. A leader, a father, a human being must be able to decide.
4: To Be Humble
On the emperor Hadrian’s deathbed, he summoned Antoninus. It was time to hand over the crown. Antoninus pushed back. With this “indifference to superficial honors,” we’re told, Hadrian was certain he made the right decision in making Antoninus his heir.
Marcus said he revered “His restrictions on acclamations—and all attempts to flatter him.” When the Senate, for instance, proposed to change the month of September to his name and October to his wife’s, Antoninus refused.
We again see Marcus putting this lesson into practice throughout Meditations. He liked to remind himself that his imperial “purple robes are sheep wool dyed with shellfish blood”—they are not special. He said to avoid “becoming Caesarified”...just as his father had avoided it, and never let himself be fooled into thinking he was better or more important than other people.
5: To Keep An Open Mind
Marcus liked Antoninus’ “tolerance of people who openly questioned his views and his delight at seeing his ideas improved on.”
Marcus would later talk about being happy to have been proven wrong. “If anyone can refute me,” he wrote, or “show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective—I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.” This was a well-formed lesson from his stepfather.
6: To Work Hard
“Take Antoninus as your model, always,” Marcus wrote. “How hard he worked, how much he put up with...his ability work straight through till dusk—because of his simple diet (he didn’t even need to relieve himself, except at set times).”
Marcus would later talk about rising early, working hard and doing what his nature and job required. That work ethic wasn’t inborn—it was developed. He learned it from example.
7: To Take Care of His Health
Antoninus worked hard, but he also made sure “to take adequate care of himself,” Marcus says. “He hardly ever needed medical attention, or drugs or any sort of salve or ointment.”
While Marcus practiced the art of memento mori—and knew that death was something that could randomly visit anyone, at any time—he still took pains to maintain his health. His doctor was Galen, one of the most famous physicians of antiquity, and presumably Marcus didn’t keep him around to shorten his life. No, he wanted to survive and be as healthy and strong as possible while he was alive.
Health is wealth. Taking care of yourself is important. What good can you do in this world if you feel like shit all the time? Or if you lack the physical and moral strength to be of good to anyone?
We are on this planet for a short amount of time. But if we practice bad habits, if we let our urges run wild, we will surely shorten that time. That’s not Stoic, that’s stupid.
8: To Serve The Common Good
We learn from the Historia Augusta that one of the reasons Hadrian adopted Antoninus was he had this kind of instinct to serve others. Just after Aelius Verus—Hadrian’s original choice to succeed him—died, a meeting was called at the senate. Antoninus helped his father-in-law, Annius Verus, walk to the senate house. “For this act,” we read in the Historia Augusta, “Hadrian adopted him.”
When he became emperor, when he was given absolute power and unlimited wealth, the first thing he did was set up a res privata—a small team in his court to manage his private financial account and keep it distinctly separate from the imperial treasury. When his wife scolded him for his penny-pinching within the household, Antoninus replied, “now that we have gained an empire, we have lost even what we had before.” Meaning their wealth was no longer there, now it was meant to be shared, particularly with the less fortunate. Accordingly, Antoninus gifted money to the less fortunate, he cancelled debts, he lent his own money at interests below market rates, he paid out-of-pocket to distribute food in times of famine.
And Marcus would learn to do the same. “The fruit of this life is a good character,” he wrote, “and acts for the common good.”
9: To Be Self-reliant
Antoninus showed Marcus that fortune was fickle. We mentioned above that spartan attitude to money. Marcus would have observed Antoninus “taking frugal meals and reducing the pomp on state occasions to republican simplicity.” Frugality and industry was the only way to guarantee financial security. Marcus said, “Self-reliance, always”—what a lesson for a father to teach a son.
10: To Look To Experts
“This, in particular,” Marcus said he learned from Antoninus: the “willingness to yield the floor to experts—in oratory, law, psychology, whatever—and to support them energetically, so that each of them could fulfill his potential.”
When the Antonine plague hit Rome in 165 CE, Marcus knew what to do. He immediately assembled his team of Rome’s most brilliant minds. As McLynn explains, his “shrewd and careful personnel selection” is worthy of study by any person in any position of leadership. He searched for and brought in the best. He broke the mold and filled his staff with talent, not aristocrats or cronies. He actually listened to advice. He empowered people to make decisions. He hired Galen, the most famous physician and polymath of antiquity, to lead medical lectures and anatomy demonstrations, wanting to elevate “the intellectual tone” of his court. It was Galen who he empowered to lead the efforts to combat the plague, the smartest medical mind of his time.
11: To Lead From The Center
Hadrian was known for his globe trotting and a tendency to seek some peace and quiet abroad when Rome was particularly chaotic. Other emperors retreated to pleasure palaces or blamed enemies for issues during their reign.
In pointed disapproval of these other rulers, Marcus praised Antoninus “particularly for staying in Rome and running the empire from the centre.” He marvelled at his “constant devotion to the empire’s needs. His stewardship of the treasury. His willingness to take responsibility—and blame—for both.”
No one would have faulted Marcus if he had fled Rome when the Antonine plague broke out. Most people of means did. Instead, Marcus stayed, at enormous personal cost. He braved the deadliest plague of Rome’s 900-year history, never showing fear, reassuring his people by his very presence. He locked down his citizens, but he did not lock them out. His doors were always open. He summoned priests of every sect and doctors of every specialty and toured the empire in an attempt to purge it of the plague, using every purifying technique yet known. He attended funerals. He gave speeches. He showed up for his people, assuring them that he did not value his safety more than his responsibility.
12: To Not Lose Your Temper
Antoninus had what all truly great leaders have—he was cool under pressure:
“He never exhibited rudeness, lost control of himself, or turned violent. No one ever saw him sweat. Everything was to be approached logically and with due consideration, in a calm and orderly fashion but decisively, with no loose ends.”
It’s what Marcus was constantly reminding himself (and what inspired our Daily Stoic Taming Your Temper course). “When you start to lose your temper,” Marcus wrote, “remember: there’s nothing manly about rage.” He saw Antoninus as a real man...who didn’t need to unload on other people.
13: To Be Self-Controlled
“He knew how to enjoy and abstain from things that most people find it hard to abstain from and all too easy to enjoy. Strength, perseverance, self-control in both areas: the mark of a soul in readiness—indomitable.”
These were all lessons Marcus carried with him his whole life. They guided the most powerful man on the planet through many trying times. So much so that he recounted them in his private journal late in life. And we’re still recounting them close to 2,000 years later.
Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well.
Life is a question and how we live it is our answer.
I also had the following notations I had on the challenges of the past 3 months--it is even worst now in light of over 26,000,000 people in Iran under the official line of poverty --these notations sent shivers down my spin:
- Conversation with Reza Khandan (Be Yad Yar) about the imprisonment of Nasrin Soutodeh & the reflections by Shirin Ebadi--the courage of Reza Khandan and the maturity of the children in spite of all the challenges
- The Iranian economy is at a StandStill
- 15 Thousand Miliard Tomans in Digital Currency (According to Navid Jamshidi at Arya)
- 40 to 200 percent inflation rate due to the wrong policies
- Remembering political prisoners (( Yashar Tabrizi was sentenced for being a civil activist who documented the plight of the grave sleepers; Ali Keradgerai who spoke out against Khameini
- About 64% of villagers are migrating to cities as Iran dries up
- How the Iranian regime swindled people out of billions
- Joined a Club House with 8,000 attendees on the realities of Iran as Elections Loom
- Iran International conducted a survey on the very cold state of Elections from the "GOMAN Organization"
- A Sense of the realities in Iran Right now: 1) Bread price went up 50%; 2) Cooking Oil went up 35%; 3) 64 Percent of village residents were driven away from their homes due to the lack of water as Iran faces a major drought; 4) Hunger continues along with people under the official line of povertry; 4) People chanted: We're Hungry & Poor--Hamas has missiles in Gaza
Monday, August 9, 2021
Sunday, August 1, 2021
By Marc Cooper
July 30, 2021
Our two pandemics – COVID 19 and the massive Trumplican mis/disinformation campaign-- have now merged into one deadly plague that is ripping through the land.
Some 90 million eligible Americans are still avoiding vaccination a full six months after the jabs have become available, leading to a quintupling of infections over the last three weeks, a resurgent death toll and new rounds of mask impositions, partial shutdowns and a clamor for mandates to be instituted.
Look at one of the myriad infection cluster maps now and find that ALL of the concentrated outbreaks, some of horrific proportions (see Missouri), track absolutely perfectly with areas that voted in 2020 for Donald Trump.
More than 80% of Democratic adults are vaccinated. Only about 50% of Republicans. And that’s an average.
In some southern states, the epicenter of Trump Country, vaccination rates run as low as 30% or less and that’s where the hospitals are once again overflowing with those being mowed down by Delta. Joe Biden has called this mounting fourth wave “the pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
More precisely, this is a wholly man-made, wholly manufactured, wholly preventable deadly wave that owes directly to the refusal to vaccinate, aided and abetted by nearly 18 months of propaganda downplaying the virus, undermining the vaccine, mocking public health measures, equating masks with Nazi yellow stars, calling for the jailing of Dr. Fauci, pushing hare-brained theories that the vax carries microchips or magnets and that this whole pandemic was somehow staged or capitalized upon so that a hidden elite can better control the masses.
In other words, this is The MAGA Pandemic. This is where the Big Lie folds neatly into Deadly Anti-Vax Conspiracy Theories and the result are projections that we will soon be up again to a 1000 deaths per day, that national steps backward could go on into the winter, and that in the most backward parts of America, and I use that word deliberately, defined as centers of rural, conservative and evangelical concentration, the pandemic could linger for several more years.
No sane politician – except maybe the Governor of Alabama whose mental state I cannot attest to-- would ever publicly blame the voters for anything. That is prima facia politically suicidal.
Well, I am not a politician.
Still, I am not going to trash the voters or, more specifically, that portion of the voters who refuse to vaccinate.
But if I did speak up and if I did say what I really think, this is more or less what bubbles up:
Ok. Remember, this is what I would say only if asked what I really think.
Emotion, even informed emotion, is not a good basis for public policy. I am sure that a whole lot of people in government have the same view I outlined above, but politically, I’m not sure it is...um...a viable option.
That said, while I think Biden’s speech pleading with people on Thursday morn was a good one he is still being too deferential to these imbeciles. I understand his panic and his desperation. But asking states to reward these scoffs with $100 per shot is the wrong route. And the wrong moral message.
Positive reinforcement has not worked and will not work going forward. The $100 will make no difference, especially among the MAGATS. Even the sudden turn of Republicans like McConnell, Scalise and Sean Hannity now encouraging the vax will fall on deaf ears. The MAGATS have shown tremendous discipline in breaking with, shouting down and shunning any Republican who departs from the official line of sedition and denialism and the calls to vaccinate will be met with the same defiance – no matter their source.
Biden needs to move more forcefully toward negative incentives. Hey, Macron did it with one stroke of the pen. There were protests afterward, but so what?
The MAGATS have been protesting against anti-COVID measures since the initial lockdown. Who gives a damn if they protest any action Biden might now take? But the president himself, true to character, seems somewhat limited by fear of becoming too ham-handed.
Why such a slow process to get to where we know this is going with the US military? Just order the mandate today.
The same with final approval of the vaccines by the FDA. Yeah, yeah, Biden has vowed to not interfere with independent agencies. Biden, please interfere with the FDA so we can remove from the tab;e the bogus MAGA claim of the vaccines being “experimental.”
Biden must also urge if not mandate that school districts “require” not only masks, but vaccines for those over 12. And a twin mandate for those under 12 when their vaccine will be approved, probably in September or October.
I am rather conflicted as to what sort of mandate, or “vaccine requirement” Biden might be able to impose nationwide. He’s probably right to leave it to the private sector who is looking to be quite aggressive in imposing vax mandates on both employees and customers. The administration, however, should be readily prepared to act with decrees if the private sector push stalls or fails.
No question the MAGAT refuseniks have triggered quite a negative response in public opinion as the Fourth Wave continues to mount. You can bet that the reluctant turnaround among elected Republicans now supporting vaccination owes more to alarming private polling than it does to any attack of conscience. It’s hardly just me that’s sick of this crap. So are a great majority of Americans.
Note to readers:
I want to once again stress that the big issue here is not the person of Donald Trump.. Trump is as much a construction of his followers as he is their oracle. Same with the Republican Party. It is following the MAGATS, not leading them. Trump was merely clever enough to take stock of the regrets, complaints, suspicions, superstitions, disorientation and despair that had been building among millions of Americans for decades and spin it to his benefit. If not him, it would have eventually been someone else, as it still might be the case in the near future.
The political ground for Trump was well-tilled and wonderfully prepared long before him by Reagan and Bush who popularized greed and arrogance and was further assisted by a line of Democratic presidents who studiously avoided serving the true the interest of their most fervent voters in order to curry favor with a new powerful technological and global financial network.
What we face today is the culmination of that 50-year process that has produced a massive anti-democratic, non-rational, semi-insurgent movement on our doorstep. Trumpism was a startingly effective accelerant for this movement and if we do not take it seriously, if we let complacency reign, if we do not oppose it with effective counter-politics (which we have not to date), we run the risk of being consumed by it.
I leave you with these strikingly prescient words from the late Carl Sagan who penned this almost 30 years ago as a reminder of just how endemic this Know-nothing force has become:
“I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time -- when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness... The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.”― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
If Sagan only knew how prophetic his words would become. ++