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False Modesty


People from the West are not as familiar with this phenomenon as people from the East, so I am surprised Scott Adams knew it, but maybe he runs into a lot of Harvard people at Comicons.Or ran into them, back when you could still hold a convention. In any case, I have been entertaining people for years with a version of this, quoting someone saying "I went to school in Cambridge," and suggesting they took the mandatory class, false modesty 101, since the only people who say "I went to school in Cambridge" are Harvard graduates. It especially tickles MIT people, since MIT is also in Cambridge, Mass. We have a saying at MIT; "Hell is Up The River," which refers to Harvard's inferior position along the Charles River.

Astoundingly, when I looked for it on Google just now, "Hell is up the river" wasn't there. In a few days, it will be.

There is an MIT version: "I went to a little technical school in Cambridge." Ironically, in 1904, 12 years before MIT moved to Cambridge from Boston, there was consideration of it becoming Harvard's school of engineering. Since I neither went to a prep school, nor had a father and grandfather who went to Harvard, I'm lucky that didn't work out.

This and That


I have always been proud of my alma mater, but never more than now. Check out this letter to the editor of The Tech: Use technology to allow students back on campus. And then there is this proposal, from fellow The Tech staffer Steve Kirsch:
What top CEOs could do today to stop the virus (instead of fretting)

I’ve plugged it before, but let me plug it again: Angels’ Daily Message, run by an MIT classmate of mine. One especially apt message this week: “If you can laugh at your own human foibles and dramas, then you can more easily forgive yourself, and truly believe that God has not stopped loving you during your errors.  In fact, God never saw your errors at all, and has always and will always keep Seeing and supporting the Idea of Love that you really are. As you let go of more and more of the shallow aspects of the human dream, you will be able to laugh and Love freely, all the while letting the Good of you shine through those errors until they can be seen for the illusions they were.”


Here’s a treat for my New York and ex-New York readers. Marjorie Wolfe, a long-time contributor to this column, sent along this walk down memory lane: a recent talk she gave at the Glen Cove Senior Center.

The Three B’s: Brooklyn, The Bronx, & The Bungalows of Rockaway Beach.

It was described thusly: Memories are one of the secret weapons of happiness. Reminisce with Marge Gottlieb Wolfe about the Brighton Beach Baths, Mrs. Stahl’s knishes, the Brooklyn Bridge, a Charlotte Ruse, Little Odessa, the Bronx Botanical Gardens, Pitkin Avenue and the bungalows of Rockaway Beach. Special thanks to the SAGE foundation for this wonderful program.

From Untamed by Glennon Doyle: “All of our suffering comes when we try to get our resurrection without allowing ourselves to be crucified first.”

Love, Medicine and Miracles

Love, Medicine and Miracles
By Bernie Siegel, M.D.

Subtitle: Lessons Learned about Self-Healing from a Surgeon's Experience with Exceptional Patients.

Although it was first published in 1984, I just read this book. It should be handed out by any oncologist to any patient whose diagnosis is cancer.

I had an amazing experience of synchronicity while reading this book. I got an email from a college classmate, explaining that he beat cancer by being an exceptional patient. I mentioned the book; he said people gave it to him after he was diagnosed. So I ordered four copies to have on hand for any friends who need it in the future.

Especial thanks to the cherished friend who turned me on to this book as a result of some of my recent experience of mind/body interaction.

I realize that representing a complicated book with a series of context-free quotes tends to reduce a complex and nuanced book to reduction ad absurdum, but these are the things that leapt out at me:

Doctors should “offer people a friendship they can feel just when they need it most.”

Doctors have higher rates of drug use, alcoholism and suicide. “Would you take your car to a mechanic who couldn’t get his own car to run?”

“True healing teaches patients how to live.”

He cites a case where shots of water cured a patient’s cancer, because the patient believed they would.

Increase your odds of survival? “Independence, optimism, faith and trust in your doctor.” He asks patients to share their drawings and dreams.

William Calederone had AIDS. “He achieved peace of mind by forgiving people he felt had hurt him.” His AIDS literally disappeared. This one strikes home because I have just been through the exercise of forgiveness, and found it stunning. My blood chemistry this week is the best it’s been in 20 years, and I know why: forgiveness.

“Telling a person their day of death has no place in medical practice,” no matter how much they beg you for an estimate.

A doctor who simply calmed a patient’s anxieties was rewarded with a tumor that shrank by half without ANY other treatment.

People who meditate regularly have a lower physiological age than those who do not, Siegel noted. So a big thank you to the whole string of people, going back to 1976, who set me on a path of regular meditation.

Letter From Less Great Britain

With enormous pleasure, I relaunch an ancient feature from before I moved my blog to Typepad. It used to be called Letters from Europe, but since Britain foolishly decided to exit the EU, I feel the new title is more apt. A friend recently forwarded this link,  a typically British stream of invective about Trump: Letter: How Our English Relatives See Today’s America.

I wrote to Larry King, my “Letters from (formerly) Europe” contributor: "Does this sound about right? I mean, buffoon that he is, Boris doesn’t compare, right? I have always been under the impression that even the most stupid and venal British politician is several notches above the average American politician."

His response:

I've seen this before and find it fairly accurate, except for the usual self-congratulation by a Brit writing about an American. He finds that "irony, complexity, nuance or depth" are qualities Trump lacks, .. and of course Trump does lack all those, and much else.

But he seems to suggest they're commonplace among Brits, which will come as a surprise to those of us who have been trapped in a room with the braying twits who make up the bulk of the British political classes.

 More important, the Brit ignores the fact the current and two previous British prime ministers have been at least as incompetent as Trump and, in the case of Boris Johnson, as dishonest.

And, no, the average British politician is not several notches above the average American politico in any meaningful respect. He's more articulate and polished, because those qualities are beat into him at an early age. But they're simply skills that can be learned; they are not evidence of moral or intellectual superiority.

Trump will be condemned by history for the damage he's done to American civil life; the Tory government will do at least as much damage to Britain through Brexit, but history won't condemn the Tories as vehemently, simply because what happens to America matters to the rest of the world, and what happens to Britain no longer does.

I have missed Larry’s sharp/biting take on the British and the Europeans, and am pleased to have him back.

Mussolini for Dummies

This was brought to my attention: Tuesday's online NY Times includes the weekly dialogue of columnists Gail Collins and Bret Stephens.  Commenting on Trump and the combat-clad federal force invading Portland, Oregon, Stephens says of the President: "It’s like he bought a copy of 'Mussolini for Dummies’ but never made it past the first chapter.”

Poetry for Breakfast

Early this year, I mentioned to Vicki that I had written 25 million words of journalism, memoir, fiction and radio scripts, but never a word of poetry.

“Perhaps you weren’t inspired,” was her simple response.

Since then, I have written 70 poems, about a third of them love poems to her. Who knew it was as easy as being inspired. My wife woke up my muse.

My wife is my primary audience, but I do not wish to overwhelm her. So, three days a week I leave a poem on her breakfast plate, alternating between originals by me and poems by her favorite poet, Rumi (although I still think “I’d like to do to you what spring does to cherry trees,” by Pablo Neruda, is the best love poem ever written. Kind of like the best short story ever: “For sale, one pair of baby shoes, never used.”)

I am not trying to brag, or even humble brag. I am suggesting you give this a try. Start putting out love poetry for your significant other, especially if it says things you feel but lack the words to say yourself. Like the effect I hope my love songs had on you and your mate. It doesn’t hurt to sing to them on occasion too (as I do), even if you “can’t sing.”

I am running out of Rumi and of new means to express and describe my Love. I may go into reruns.

A dear friend of long standing responded when I said that:

“I trust you will never run out of means...your heart is boundless for your Beloved ... & beautiful love poetry throughout the ages could never grow old .. .& can be summoned with a magic wand...”

One other note. If you look at the top of the right hand column of this blog, you will see you two love songs. I paid a man to put my love poetry to music.

 It reminded my daughter Rae of a scene in Jane Austen‘s Emma, in which Mr. Martin has the shepherd’s son sing to Miss  Harriet Smith. My wife noted I am acting in the same tradition as mariachi bands, whom you pay to sing to your lover, except I write the lyrics.

New Pair of Glasses: The Universe is the Book

As you will see in an item below, I leave poetry on the breakfast table for my wife three days a week. This week, I left her a short Rumi poem:

“Love is the religion and the universe is the book.”

I won’t bore you with the seismic personal changes I have experienced this year, except to say that they make the 1906San Francisco earthquake  look like a tea party. If you look through the recent posts on this blog, especially the loving kindness edition, you’ll get a vague idea of what I am talking about.

As Vicki read the Rumi poem, it came to me: what I’ve been through is like getting a new pair of glasses. It is much easier for me to read the book now.

Know your memes



Oops This is even better an example of the phenomenon--check your facts, don't rely on memes-- than I realized. Thank you Bruce Murdock, for noting that this is NOT a picture of William A. Mitchell. It comes from this page which features a story about Mitchell, as well as a picture of Oswald Theodore Avery, pictured above.

"Avery was a Canadian-American physician and molecular biologist. Together with Colin MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty, they discovered that genetic information in genes and chromosomes is made up of DNA." Since he died in 1955, he probably did not attend a 2012 meeting with Biden.

Every Woman I Have Ever Loved

I just want to say again something I have said before; I have been blessed in this life, with the loving support and gentle correction of a number of amazing women. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, “Everything I am or ever hope to be I owe to the women in my life, the engineer, the therapist and the nun.” (paraphrasing Martin Mull)

Since literally every woman I have ever loved (going back to the woman I took to the senior prom) reads this column with the exception of my departed mother and a crush who died way too young, I feel obliged to say that you should feel free to take credit for the parts of me you see that you like without feeling any responsibility for the ways I turned out that disappoint you.

What does it mean that all these women are still, in a way, in my life? I hope it is a glint of my ability to share Loving Kindness. Your presence here leads me to suspect I have, in a way, led a good life.

I am suggesting that loving kindness to those who have affected you is a good thing. I acknowledge that several of you were cheated on horribly; I don’t expect you ever to get over that or even want to get over it. Men are dogs, except me mostly.

But just because you were wrong for each other at the moment your relationship ended doesn’t mean you were bad for each other. Just wrong for each other at that moment.

I know people who’ve done better with loving kindness towards their former lovers than me. I recently had lunch with a man who invited his ex-lover to his wedding, despite the abrupt and difficult way they ended. He was pleased when she came, and enjoyed the fact she shared the moment when his decades-long marriage began.

I say why not? I didn’t invite any ex-lovers to my wedding because it was a small, mostly family, affair. Also, 40 years ago I had not evolved to get past the guilt of the relationship I broke up, or my hate for those who broke up with me. Also it was a bit harder to keep up with people in that pre-Internet era.

What am I suggesting? Why bring this up? You may be pleasantly surprised at the results if you clear out a load of crap from your heart and reopen the box you find underneath. The one with their name on it that contains the embers of a once white-hot love. I have found the warmth of the embers to be comforting without being threatening to the life I now live. Celebrate those who have affected you, since it was likely mostly for the better. At the very least, you probably learned something. There are no dumb decisions, just learning opportunities. Alas, while some people live and learn, some people just live. I choose the former, and I’m sure you do too.

Let me say, I thank God I have always preferred women who are both brilliant and have high emotional IQs as well. The two women who needed to tell me "Thanks for the unconditional love; this won't work" did so in the nicest way they could, and saw the futility of our relationship long before I did. Then there's the female friend of years standing who declined my request a half-century ago to "take it up a notch," by saying, "Paul, we can have a shitty six-month affair, or be friends for the rest of our lives." She was probably right about the first part, she was absolutely right about the second.