Archive for December, 2018

In Search of 21 Influential Thinkers

Monday, December 10th, 2018

By Bob Gaydos

Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison ... who are their 21st Century counterparts?

Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison

A few weeks ago, in a burst of subtle synchronicity, Elon Musk was removed as board chairman of Tesla at the same time John Flannery was removed as chairman and CEO of General Electric. Since both companies were struggling in different ways, the firings, while surprising, were not shocking.

The surprise in Musk’s case was that he was forced out by actions taken by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which actually fined him and the company $20 million apiece for false statements Musk tweeted about financing to take the 21st century startup company private. Musk stayed on as CEO, but it’s nice to see the SEC is paying attention.

In Flannery’s case, he had only been on the job for a year, which seemed to many Wall Street analysts not nearly enough time to breathe life into the moribund, more-than-century-old company.

So, a reliable old company, with a household name, a onetime giant of household appliances and energy, but which has seen better days, and a new, hotshot company, with a sexy name, electric cars, solar panels, a colorful leader with an eye on dominating the next century of energy production, were both having trouble making their stockholders happy. That’s Wall Street, you say. How are the simultaneous takedowns of their bosses anything more than coincidence?

To many observers it won’t be. But to those who recall that Thomas Edison was one of the founders of General Electric and that Tesla Inc, is named after Nikola Tesla, Edison’s arch-rival for credit in discovering electricity as well as profiting from the discovery, well, perhaps it’s just another example of their names and future being linked by some invisible yet undeniable force. Like electricity.

Or synchronicity.

Were he still with us in more than name and spirit, I think Tesla would agree. Consider this statement from the visionary inventor: “The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.”

Of all the non-physical phenomena, perhaps the most common and least explored is “coincidence.” Carl Jung made some significant efforts, but more “traditional” science has for the most part ignored what it cannot easily explain.

Don’t worry, this is not going to be an effort to do so.

Tesla first entered my consciousness in more than a vague, yeah-I’ve-heard-of-him kind of way, eight years ago. I had recently retired and begun wading into the world of blogging. When you write daily editorials for 23 years, it’s difficult to go cold turkey. One day, a couple of friends who actually read my blog gave me a challenge: Come up with a list of the 20 most influential thinkers of the 20th Century.

Not a bad idea. Challenging and a good way to engage readers by asking for suggestions.

“Nikola Tesla,” my friend Ernie suggested when I put out the call for nominations. “He should be on the list. He invented electricity and radio; he just didn’t get credit because he was a terrible businessman and didn‘t know how to promote himself.”

As it turned out, the one who “got credit” and a good deal more, was Thomas Edison, who I had wisely put on my first, tentative list. Connection made. Eventually, Edison, who gave us the incandescent light bulb, and Tesla, who contributed alternating current, both made the list. Yes, Edison was the better businessman and Tesla the more visionary thinker.

But Edison’s heirs, if you will, eventually lost their way, venturing into health insurance and buying NBC-TV, among other non-power-related ventures. Meanwhile, the company that took Tesla’s name for inspiration, has been true to his visionary approach and, in hiring Musk, apparently, also true to the Tesla disregard for conventional wisdom and clumsiness with business affairs. Must be a coincidence.

What’s the point?

I’m looking for a new list of thinkers, this one for the 21st century. The question: Who are the Teslas and Edisons and Jungs who will shape the way we live in the rest of this still young century?

As with the 20th Century list, I need your help. This is a cooperative venture. It’s kind of what social media is best suited for. In fact, I will start the working list with names of thinkers who make this venture possible: Bill Gates (who made the 20th Century list), Mark Zuckerberg. Steve Jobs.

Others who are having profound influence on our lives: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the aforementioned Elon Musk, who at least seems to aspire to Tesla’s legacy. Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, is working on a new, privacy-focused web to rival the world of Google, Facebook and Amazon.

But there’s more to life than technology and shopping. As Jung explored coincidence and synchronicity, so now do Mooji, Eckhart Tolle, Rupert Spira and Deepak Chopra make us think about the nature of reality — the “non-physical phenomena” of which Nikola Tesla spoke. Author/essayist Rebecca Solnit has become the voice many people seek out for an explanation on a variety of complex subjects. Are there other authors, political leaders (77-year-old Bernie Sanders, 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?), scientists, philosophers, poets, artists, inventors, business leaders or anyone else you think will have profound influence on the course of this century? Please share and I will share and eventually come up with a list of 21 influential thinkers for the 21st Century.

As a possibly useful prod, I include the list we came up with eight years ago. Of course, looking back is much easier than looking ahead, but compiling a list of those we think will be influential in the 21st century actually makes us part of the process of shaping things to come.

The 20th Century thinkers list:
Albert Einstein
Gandhi
Henry Ford
The Wright Brothers (count as one)
Thomas Edison
Picasso
Nikola Tesla
Mark Twain
James D. Watson, Francis Crick, Rosalind Franklin (DNA trio count as one)
Winston Churchill
Philo Farnsworth
Rachel Carson
George Orwell
Sigmund Freud
Carl Jung
Bill Gates
Margaret Sanger
Bertrand Russell
Bob Dylan
T.S. Eliot

I know these are stressful times, but if we all contribute in a positive way to the Greater Consciousness, it just might relieve some stress. Email or comment. Don’t be bashful.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

It’s Time to Un-dumb America

Saturday, December 1st, 2018

By Bob Gaydos

Sarah Palin ... she was the warning .

               Sarah Palin
    … she was the warning

I think Sarah Palin was the canary in the coal mine. We missed the warning.

I’m sitting at the keyboard asking myself when it became OK to be dumb in America. Never mind just dumb. There’s always some of that. In a better, more tolerant, mood, I might call it ill-informed or poorly schooled.

I’m not talking about that and I’m not in a tolerant mood. I’m talking about proudly dumb. Insistently dumb. Scientifically dumb. Historically dumb. Intellectually dumb. Socially dumb. Patriotically dumb. Spiritually dumb. Financially dumb. Ethically dumb. Environmentally dumb. Grammatically dumb. Unhealthfully dumb. Politically dumb. Morally dumb. I-don’t-want-to-hear-it-because-it’s-inconvenient dumb.

Willfully dumb.

Sarah Palin/Donald Trump dumb.

The planet is on schedule to destruct by the end of the century. Eating romaine lettuce anywhere in America right now could kill you. The pretender-in-chief of the United States of America says California could prevent forest fires by raking leaves. He also says it’s OK to tear-gas children across the border in Mexico because the adults who brought them to seek asylum in America are criminals and might not even be their parents and, besides, the Border Patrol used “safe” tear gas. This is supposed to be better than devoting sufficient resources to processing the asylum seekers in an orderly, dare I say, humane manner.

Dumb. And apparently just fine with millions of Americans as long as their kids aren’t the ones being hit with tear gas.

Along with the turkey, I enjoyed a 100 percent organic salad on Thanksgiving (no romaine). I will be upset with myself if every word in this column is not spelled correctly. In many households in this country, these two admissions make me some kind of strange creature, a “libtard,” as the MAGA geniuses on social media put it. Someone to be scorned or mocked.

Why? I mean, why is it a bad thing to eat good food that is free of chemicals or to not want to have spelling or grammatical mistakes in something that carries your name as the author? I get it that on social media the standards are significantly lower, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing when you’re supposed to be making your country great — again, no less.

I’ve been called a lot worse than “Libtard” in my opinion-writing career, so it’s not personal. I just think that letting anything someone misspells, mispunctuates or misquotes pass as acceptable, while it may sound egalitarian, is really a way to lower the bar.

Like when Palin, running for vice president, was asked what newspaper she read and answered, “All of ‘em.” In other words, none of ‘em. She also said she could see Russia from her front porch in Alaska and that gave her foreign policy experience. And she gave this memorable account of Paul Revere’s ride:

“He who warned, uh, the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh, by ringing those bells, and um, makin’ sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be sure and we were going to be free, and we were going to be armed.”

We escaped Palin, but wound up with Trump.

I get it that some people are just born with more brain power than the rest of us and that not everyone grows up in an environment that encourages learning, curiosity and a willingness to hear new ideas. An environment that makes it OK to say, “I don’t know” without fear of ridicule.

Fear is a powerful force, especially the fear we create in our minds. Donald Trump thrives on it. His entire political philosophy, if he can be said to have one, is based on fear of those who question, those who disagree, those who look, sound or think differently. “Others.”

“They” are coming to take something away from you or to harm you. It’s a fear founded in ignorance. But worse. Trump preys on other people’s fears for his own personal gain — votes, money, prestige, power. It’s always a transaction for him, easily changed for the right (more profitable) counter-offer. And some people choose to believe him in spite of all the evidence to the contrary because they have never learned — are afraid — to say, “Why?” Or, “Are you sure?” Or, “I don’t know.”

For Trump himself, in my humble opinion, the fear is that he will be found out as a fraud and so he must at all times act as if he knows what’s going on. He’s been doing it all his life. It doesn’t even matter if he believes what he says.

Global warming? “I don’t believe it.” He hasn’t got a clue, but all those people who actually studied when they went to college — “The ones who think I’m stupid even though I’m worth billions and they’re not — think it’s real. I’ll show them. I’ll save the coal mines.”

West Virginia goes for Trump. Dumb.

That Thanksgiving salad? I’m not a stickler for organic, but I do like to know the food I eat is safe as well as healthful and delicious. I do think it’s dumb to reject some food out of hand because someone says it’s good for you. Brussels sprouts, for example. Try it. If you don’t like it, at least you have some reason for not eating it other than you think those who do are strange. And strange, by the way, need not be threatening.

Neglecting the safety of our food or failing to teach children about the health benefits of a diet balanced beyond French fries and pizza is dumb. Trump doesn’t care. We should. He exists on ‘burgers and mocked Michelle Obama for trying to make school lunches more healthful. I’d like to think she succeeded, but I’m not sure. As someone who lives in apple country this is hard to say, but I’m pretty sure middle schoolers are still tossing apples in the trash when they leave the lunch room.

OK, this is not a treatise, just a minor rant. I’m probably hungry. But I do think, given all the above, our educators and legislators have a major challenge facing them. The Fox News Generation, fed a daily diet of fear and fiction, may be beyond saving, but there’s still time and hope for the youngsters. Knowledge is power. Our schools need to step up their game. They need to  encourage intellectual curiosity and let students know that it’s OK to know stuff. To know how to tell the difference between real and fake news, for example.

That way they may be able to tell the difference between real and fake candidates for political office, they’ll know the Earth is not flat and, Twitter notwithstanding, spelling is not a function you should leave entirely to your phone.

rjgaydos@gmail.com