From Tulips to Cryptocurrency

There always seem to be another mania. 


From the Tulips Mania in 1637, when a tulip went for more than 10x what a skilled workman earned in an entire year!


To Cryptocurrency in 2018, which is down about 80% from its $20,000 peak losing $700,000,000,000. 


In between, we had the gold rush, the great depression, the tech/dot-com bubble, and the housing/mortgage crisis, and many more I am sure. 


There seems to always be something for people to get excited about in an “irrational exuberance” type of way, as former Federal Reserve Chair, Alan Greenspan put it.


Is it boredom, big dreams, unadulterated greed, the desire to “get rich quick” and easy, the belief that you’ve discovered the Holy Grail or is it just people being stupid. 


Either way, we have a way of getting ourselves in trouble, some “losing their shirts.”


Not sure who said it, but there isn’t an easy fix to your life. 


There are small and big problems, and then there is you trying to fix them (with G-d’s help). 


As to bitcoins and tulips, they ain’t worth what you think they are. 😉


(Source Graphic: Andy Blumenthal with photos from Pixabay). 

Bored Meetings

So it’s been raining so much here in the DC area lately.


The result is that the hot Summer July temperatures are down in the cool 70’s and the rain is flooding everywhere. 


When I got in the elevator this morning, someone goes to me:


“Did you see the leak in the hallway?  They are watering the tree with it.”


And sure enough, there it was!


When all this rain finally stops, there is going to be a lot of cleanup and repairs to do. 


The other thing was yesterday, we were on the way to a board meeting in our synagogue. 


In the elevator, are two other people–a man and women–carrying binders.


They say to us:


“Are you going to the board meeting?”


Surprised, because I didn’t recognize them from our synagogue, I respond affirmatively and ask to clarify:


“Oh, you’re going to the board meeting too?  I don’t recall seeing you there before.”


Then the elevator stops and they start to get off–but it’s to a different board meeting for the building.


When they see that we’re going to a different floor, they start laughing:


“I guess we’re going to different board meetings!”


I say:


“Yeah that’s right, different board meetings, but we’ll all probably be bored!


Another laugh by everyone, and we we’re all off to the races. 😉


(Source Photo:  Andy Blumenthal)

Can You Just Stop And Think?

Think

So oddly, one thing that many people these days find really hard to do is STOP AND THINK.


What do I mean?


Be alone, do nothing, and just take the time to be with yourself and think.


–without your smartphone, television, music, game, or even a book. 


Just you, the four walls, and your brain…thinking, thinking, thinking.


Feeling a little jittery, scared yet. 


Why are people afraid to stop and think? 


Is it because within the thinking is some craziness, fear, anxiety, and even remorse?


Are there overwhelming feelings and thoughts about issues, events, people, and places that are unresolved and painful. 


Also, by ourselves and in our thoughts, we can realize how weak, vulnerable, and mortal we are. 


If we are here in our own heads, maybe no one will even notice we are gone or maybe no one will even miss us–maybe they’ll replace us?


We’re so easily ditched, replaceable, just another character in a long cast of characters.


When we stop and think, do we worry about all the other things we’re not doing or getting done…perhaps, we don’t have the time to think, because we need to be doing, doing, doing. 


And if we’re not moving forward doing something, then we are being left behind!


But doesn’t thinking lead to more purposeful doing?


A little upfront thinking and planning, maybe can save you some serious time wasted just acting out. 


Somehow, like a prisoner in isolation though too much alone time with your own thoughts is enough to drive anyone crazy, docile, and ready to behave just to get out, interact with other human beings, and doing something.


We need to stay active, not be bored, so we don’t think too much.


When I was in the hospital recently, one orderly named Kelvin, saw me sitting there by myself thinking, and he said to me, “Oh no, you don’t want to have too much time to think. Block those thoughts out of your mind. Why don’t you watch some TV?”  


Smart Kelvin. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Solitary Social Creatures

Solitary

We’ve all had the feeling of being alone, abandoned, and feeling down and out.

As social animals, we crave being with others–even the biggest introverts out there have got to have social interaction.

Sometimes, when young people live alone–before finding their significant others or old people live alone–after losing their significant others, there is a deep pain of being isolated in the world…almost as if there is no meaning itself in being alive.

Yet, others seem to adjust in a way to living alone, as long as they can reach out and get social interaction in other ways–family, friends, colleagues, classmates, at clubs, religious institutions, and more.

Either way–“No man is an island,” as John Donne wrote in 2003.

Being alone is torture.

No really.

The Wilson Quarterly (Spring 2012) in an article entitled “The Torture of Solitary,” by Stephanie E. Griest is about the purpose and effects of solitary confinement as rehabilitation and as a punishment.

Coming out of the Middle Ages, where physical torture was common–dungeons instead of jails, cages instead of cells, racks and rippers instead of rehabilitation and yard recess–the Philadelphia Quakers in the 18th century, had the idea that solitary confinement was humanitarian.

They believed that “what these prisoners needs…was a spiritual renovation. Give a man ample time and quiet space to reflect upon his misdeeds, and he will recover his bond with G-d.  He will grieve. He will repent. He will walk away a rehabilitated man.”

And so prisons (like the 1829 Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia) were built with entirely isolated cellblocks and prisoners were engulfed in silence and aloneness.

Any rejection of the mental torture of isolation through any form of communication–such as pipe clanging or shouting through flushing toilet pipes–could lead to yet again physical tortures–such as “strapped inmates into chairs for days at a stretch, until their legs ballooned” or even putting their tongues in “iron gags.”

The article concludes from the effects of solitary that “the physical pain of these tortures–common in many prisons at the time-paled beside the mental anguish of solitude.”

From the horror-mangled looks on the faces of the prisoners, Dickens wrote: “I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.”

I cannot imagine the pain and horror of these tortures by design–physical and mental. In all cases, the scars of the flesh and soul are probably indescribable and outright haunting to even the imagination.

Eventually the horrible effects of solitary and the high-cost of prison cells housing individual inmates, resulted in Eastern State Penitentiary being converted into a museum in 1971 with the “The crucible of good intention” finally shuttered.

From the Supreme Court, Justice Samuel Miller, we read:

“A considerable number of prisoners fell, even after a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others, still committed suicide; while those who stood the ordeal better were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community.”

“In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court nearlydeclared the punishment unconstitutional;” it is now used mostly for “short-term punishment for exceedingly bad behavior.”

Currently, there are more than 60 prisons across the country with solitary cells housing up to 25,000 prisoners.

This is a puzzle–what do you do with offenders that are too dangerous to be with others, but as human beings too fragile to be alone?

What is striking to me is how something as “simple” as putting someone by themselves and incommunicado can drive them literally nuts!

Almost like we cannot bear to be by ourselves–what is it about ourselves that we must turn away from, be distracted from, and causes such inner horror?

Our minds and bodies need to be active to be healthy, this includes being social–being alone and bored in solitary has been shown to cause people to hallucinate, go insane, and even kill themselves.

Yet still people recoil from other people–emotionally, they may be turned off or nauseated by them; physically, they may fight, separate, or divorce and end up for a time by themselves again–people make the decision that it is better to cut your familiar loses, then go down with a ship filled with corrosive and abusive others.

I imagine Buddhists meditating in the mountains or in an open field–alone and yet at peace–but this is self-imposed and temporary and more like a “time out” in life.

Then I see humans languishing in dungeons and in solitary confinement–physically and mentally tortured–they scream out in the void–and I see G-d reaching out to finally take them from their immense suffering to be reborn and try their lives again.

(Source Photo: herewith attribution to Deisel Demon)