Zen and the Art of Being a Platypus

August 30th, 2016 3:22am - Posted By: Mark Cohen

“When analytic thought, the knife, is applied to experience, something is always killed in the process.” – Robert M. Pirsig.

Nuclear powered weasels frolic in the morning mist, as the chromosomes in my crooked toes silently tap to the rhythm of the spaghetti resting peacefully atop my chartreuse lawn mower.

Okay, that was gibberish. I wrote it to get your attention. And to help you exit your logical mind. Because today I want to muse about logic and labels – labels you apply to yourself and others.

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Pirsig observed that the scientific method often breaks things down into their component parts. Then we label those parts. For instance, we can describe a motorcycle by referring to the fuel system, the electrical system, and the power system. This process is useful, but somewhat artificial. When you look at a motorcycle, you won’t see anything labeled “fuel system.” We break things down and label them because it helps us think about and discuss things, but in doing so we often lose sight of the big picture – the motorcycle as a whole. Pirsig writes, “Mark Twain's experience comes to mind, in which, after he had mastered the analytic knowledge needed to pilot the Mississippi River, he discovered the river had lost its beauty.

Which brings me to the platypus. Biologists traditionally divided vertebrates (animals with a spine) into five categories - mammals, fish, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. Mammals have fur and give birth to their offspring rather than laying eggs. Reptiles lay eggs. Amphibians can live on land or in water. Then along comes the platypus. It has fur. It lays eggs. It lives on land and in water. Is it a mammal, a reptile, or amphibian? Biologists got tired of debating this and gave up. They created a new class of vertebrates - monotremes (egg laying mammals). So now, there are six classes of vertebrates. Did God change the number from five to six?  No, man did. The universe and the animal kingdom stayed exactly the same.  Biologists just changed their way of looking at things.

I know what you’re thinking.  Cohen is sucking down shots of Jeremiah Weed, listening to vulgar Mojo Nixon tunes, and hammering away on his Panasonic CF-52 laptop because he has nothing better to do on a Friday night. True, but irrelevant. I could still be right.

Think about the labels we apply to ourselves and others. We always employ some version of the verb “to be” when we apply labels. There were four cliques at my high school – the jocks, the nerds, the freaks, and the hicks. But not every student fit easily into one of those four categories. There was a kid on my track team who mostly smoked dope. He missed many track practices. But he would somehow make it to the meets and almost always place first in the mile race. (This was before the pointy-headed liberal elitists at Harvard shamed us all into using the metric system).  Was that kid a freak or a jock? He was a platypus. He did not feel constrained to place himself into one of the artificial categories others had created.

Back in 1936, a young man was born in Texas. His father was an Army officer who pushed him hard. He was an exceptional athlete and became a Rhodes Scholar. After earning a master’s degree at Oxford, he joined the Army and became a helicopter pilot. So exceptional was he that the Army offered him a chance to teach at West Point. Sounds like a pretty straight laced guy, right? Certainly not the kind of man that would throw all that away and become a pot smoking, folk singing hippie. His name was Kris Kristofferson. Platypus.

Ever hear of Bruce Dickinson? Probably not. He flew Boeing 757’s for an airline. He wrote some books. He was nationally ranked in the sport of fencing. Oh yeah, he was the lead singer for Iron Maiden. Platypus.

You’ve probably never heard of Tom Scholz either. He was a nerd who earned a master’s degree at M.I.T. and then worked for Polaroid. Pretty boring dude until he formed the band, Boston. Platypus.

You don’t have to be a musician to be a platypus. Take the case of Charley L. Johnson, Ph.D. He spent most of his adult life as an unknown professor of engineering at New Mexico State University. Typical nerd. Oh yeah, he was the quarterback for the Denver Broncos for four years. He played pro football for 15 years, and during some of those years, he was studying for his doctorate and serving on active duty (not in the reserves) in the U.S. Army. Typical platypus. (Johnson wasn’t the only platypus ever to play Quarterback for the Broncos. For a very brief time, the Broncos had a quarterback named Fred Mortensen. He never achieved NFL success, but he is the only Broncos quarterback ever to call a play in Chinese. He spoke fluent Mandarin).

Don’t worry; you need not be an athlete to be a platypus. There once was a young man from a small town in Missouri who became a lawyer. The law bored him, so he gave it up and taught high school. He liked gazing at stars and began studying astronomy. His name is Edwin Hubble. He discovered that the universe is expanding. America named a telescope after him. The Platypus telescope.

Changing careers is a great way to show your platypusosity. You can go from actor to President (Ronald Reagan), comedian to U.S. Senator (Al Franken), Astronaut to U.S. Senator (John Glenn), carpenter to actor (Harrison Ford), lawyer to fried chicken king (Col. Sanders), farm worker to artist (Grandma Moses), teacher to comedian (Joy Behar), journalist to fashion designer (Vera Wang), or actor to Panama’s Minister of Tourism (Ruben Blades).

You can change your religious or spiritual views. You are not stuck with the labels your parents applied to you or that you applied to yourself. There was once a young man who, after working as a printer and banker, earned a master’s degree in theology and became an Episcopal priest. But he realized the statement, “I am an Episcopal priest” wasn’t accurate. He was just him. Episcopal priest was just his current occupation. Two different things. He wasn’t stuck with the label. So he decided to study Buddhism. His name was Alan Watts.

You can also reject political labels. When I tell people I am a registered Democrat, they are often surprised to learn that I support gun rights, favor tougher enforcement of immigration laws, and support making English our official national language. I am a political platypus.

You are you. Your labels are not you. You are more than the sum of your labels. Labels others apply to you are artificial classifications they are employing to make things easier for them – they do not change you in any way. The same is true for labels you apply to yourself. You can change the labels you apply to yourself.

Be careful with the word “is.”  To say, “She is a Republican” is simplistic. It would be more accurate to say, “She is currently registered to vote as a Republican.” But that is not who she is.  She may also be a mother, a guitarist, a scientist, and a rap music fan. 

If you want to be happy, stop feeling constrained by labels others apply to you or that you apply to yourself. Labels are just words, they are not you. And stop applying so many labels to others because those artificial labels are preventing you from seeing the entire person.

Some self-help gurus encourage their clients to visualize themselves as a lion or hard charging rhinoceros. That’s okay, but lions and rhinos lead pretty one-dimensional lives. I say visualize yourself as a platypus.

You can do it. Be one of the few. The proud. The platypuses.

Posted in: The Big Picture

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Hodge Podge

August 29th, 2016 12:05am - Posted By: Roy Cohen

Lark Buntings Laughing in the trees,

 

Hoarding butterscotch by the threes;

Crying "shark" throughout the night,

Tasting coffee in their sight.

 

Lark Buntings grinning,

Dying fast;

Now who’s laughing,

Laughing last.

 

Kangaroos have gender foes,

Shooting tadpoles from their noses;

Playing pinball in the sand,

Joey hears the Promised Land. 

 

Hush little Joey hush,

Hush little Joey hush.

 

Apple seeds dance with merry,

To the horrid sounds of Joe Perry,

And his project,

His project failed.

 

License lends to licensees,

POWs on their knees;

Bike spokes cycle round the wheel,

Gong Show fans of mass appeal.

 

Taylor Daine and Tesla feud,

My Aunt Rose was so damn rude,

In her big senilitude.

 

Ponder questions rarely asked,

Space cadets are always last;

Sometimes after they’ve been gassed,

They hear their chromosomes,

They hear their chromosomes.

 

Electrical fooling machine works well on me,

Keith Olberman’s harsh reality steals my eccentricity;

It’s okay, I forgive the man,

Boston crab cakes in Siam.

 

Cleansers made from toxic powders,

Can’t connect without a router.

 

I draw conclusions from the clouds,

And talk as though I know McCloud;

Man, Chief Clifford’s so damn loud.

 

I like my water clean.

I like my water clean.

 

Spoken words are sewn by rhythm,

Doesn’t matter what’s within ‘em;

Music sounds from words of fashion,

Thoughts confused are another’s passion.

 

Take upon my oral list,

And weld the thoughts so often missed.

Feel the power, poets lurk;

Taste the gospel of their work.

Posted in: Poetry

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Three Models for an Analysis of the Aesthetic Value of Country Music

August 26th, 2016 5:21pm - Posted By: Mark Cohen

Three Models for an Analysis of the Aesthetic Value of Country Music

Posted in: Humor

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We Cannot Let a Madman Get Nuclear Weapons by Kim Jong-Un

August 12th, 2016 3:08am - Posted By: Kim Jong-Un

The World Cannot Allow a Madman to Obtain Nuclear Weapons

By Kim Jong-Un

Editor’s Note: Mr. Jong-Un is the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).  Mr. Jong-Un’s views do not necessarily reflect those of the Mountain-Ear.

Greetings Americans! I know our countries have had their differences, but there are times when adversaries must put aside their differences for the greater good – times when the danger created by non-cooperation is so great that survival itself depends on the willingness of enemies to set aside their squabbles and confront the greater threat. Now is one such time.

Since the dawn of the nuclear age, nations have worked together to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and prevent rogue states from obtaining them. The traditional rationale for nuclear weapons has been deterrence. The theory is that nations with nuclear weapons can use their nuclear threat to deter attacks, thereby preserving peace.

If you think about it, deterrence has worked pretty well since the end of World War II. There have been no worldwide wars since 1945. However, one scenario that now haunts the community of nations is that a madman will obtain nuclear weapons and launch a nuclear attack that could result in our planet’s destruction. A few months ago, your President Obama said, “There is no doubt that if these madmen ever got their hands on a nuclear bomb or nuclear material, they would certainly use it to kill as many innocent people as possible.”

Last week, MSNBC reported that your Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, recently asked a foreign policy expert advising him why the U.S. can't use nuclear weapons. Such statements are of great concern to North Koreans and people around the world. What kind of madman thinks that way?

There is a great deal of other evidence suggesting that Mr. Trump suffers from serious mental illness. Making fun of a reporter with a disability. Ejecting a baby from a campaign rally. Calling a war hero like John McCain a loser. Joking about earning a Purple Heart. Bragging about the size of his penis on national TV. Calling for the assassination of Hillary Clinton even though he knows she could kill him just like she killed Vince Foster and tens of thousands of Bernie Sanders supporters. The man is simply not rational.

The United States has approximately 2,500 deployed nuclear weapons and another 2,600 in reserve, along with thousands of warheads in its inventory. It is the world’s most powerful nation. The thought of giving a madman like Donald Trump control of this arsenal is terrifying.     

Last week, President Obama said Mr. Trump is not temperamentally fit to be President. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea agrees. 

Therefore, although it pains me to say this, North Korea urges you to vote for Hillary Clinton. Especially if you live in a swing state.

Posted in: Politics

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