Why Are We Really Supporting Ukraine?

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As the proxy war between the the USA and Russia continues in the Ukraine, I am still left wondering “What is the real motive for this war.”  It is all too easy to believe the propaganda put out by the US State Department such as the interview that follows with the US Ambassador to the Ukraine.  According to this narrative, it is all about freedom, peace, justice, and equality for the world.

Perhaps, I am simply a cynic at heart or perhaps it is due to my 76 years of experience with similar protestations when it came to wars and military efforts elsewhere such as in Vietnam, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Kuwait, Syria, and Afghanistan.  Efforts that beg many questions. 

Are we really fighting for peace, freedom, and democracy in the world?  Should we be fighting for these values?  Are we consistent in our values or are we simply USA Hypocrites?  Is America the Good Guy and Russia the Bad Guy?  Am I being “Unpatriotic?” 

Read the following interview and let me know what you think.

VOA Interview: US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink – June 18, 2022

Bridget_A._Brink,_U.S._AmbassadorBrink: I might put it a little different way. I think those of us who are such strong supporters within the U.S. government, within the American population, for Ukraine, support Ukraine because we see, or we think we see, and understand the future that Ukrainians want. And that is a future where Ukraine is free, independent, prosperous, sovereign and gets to decide its own future. To us, as Americans, it really appeals to also who we are. So, what I would hope, what I plan to do and what we are doing is supporting Ukraine in this immediate task of prevailing in its effort to defend itself that is crucially important. I think everybody would agree. And I think the government here and the people here would agree that another important task is and will be and will remain the reform effort, which will secure Ukraine for a future for Ukrainian children and their children.

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VOA: And this war is not only about Ukraine. Ukraine is fighting for a bigger goal, for democracy. Is Ukraine fighting for European values as well? If Ukraine fell, what could be the consequences?

Brink: Well, Ukraine won’t fail, and we will continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes. And as I mentioned, this is obviously very important to Ukraine, and it’s also really important to European security. It’s really important to America, because, as President Biden has said, it’s both morally outrageous what has happened, this unprovoked, unjustified attack on a sovereign nation. But it also is in America’s vital interest to have peace and security in Europe. So, this is something that has repercussions that go well beyond Ukraine. And for this reason, we all understand very much what’s at stake. And that’s why we’re here to help Ukraine prevail.

For the full interview click on the link below:

https://www.voanews.com/a/voa-interview-us-ambassador-to-ukraine-brink/6623182.html

I appreciate any comments that you have time to post.  Thank you for considering these questions. 

Doubling Down on Double Dealing Douche Bags

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What or who is a doubling down, double dealing douche bag?  Ever since Trump took center stage two egregious behaviors have become the norm in Republican politics.  The first is lying.  The second is doubling down on stupidity, arrogance and greed.  Trump set the bar on these behaviors and his loyal followers keep lowering the bar.  Many good hearted but naïve citizens of America are amazed with each new low and the media is constantly asking “How low can they go?”  There appears to be no low.  Lows with Republicans are like a black hole.  You can put an infinite number of lows into a black hole and never reach the bottom or fill it up.

I will save my comments on lying Republicans for another blog and today focus on doubling down behavior.  The latest example of this is Douche Bag Governor DeSantis and his ill-conceived and mean-spirited stunt of sending immigrants east to Martha’s Vineyard.  His followers think this is just grand behavior and applaud him when he responds to criticism with “doubling down behavior.”

DeSantis provides an excellent example of doubling down behavior:

“Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday said he intends to use “every penny” of the $12 million his state budgeted to relocate migrants and set the expectation for buses and “likely more” flights full of migrants paid for by the state.” — CNN

No compassion.  No remorse.  No backing away from a cruel stunt that hurts the lives of others.  Did you know that the immigrants he sent to Martha’s Vineyard with lies and misinformation were not from Florida but were from his fellow Douche Bag governor’s state of Texas?

So, what does it mean when we say that someone is “doubling down.”

“The phrase “double down” means to put forth an additional effort or risk in a situation or argument, even if you know the outcome will be a mistake or will be negative.” — Wikipedia

Doubling down can involve putting more effort into an approach that has not yet worked or even an approach that seems to be working but needs more commitment.  Thus, there can be a positive connotation to the phrase “doubling down.”

when-i-say-stupid-things-i-double-down-lie-and-make-it-worseUnfortunately, too often when it comes to Trump and his supporters, the behaviors that they are doubling down on have negative consequences.  This is because the efforts that they are doubling down on are either wrong or dangerous.  A few examples:

  • Trump doubling down opposing masking during the Corona Virus
  • Trump doubling down on assertions about a rigged election
  • Trump doubling down about his executive privileges
  • Trump doubling down on his appeal to White Power and privilege

When Trump and his followers double down it is because they know that they are mistaken or lying or corrupt.  The efforts of Trump and his sycophants have increasingly created a negative connation for the term “to double down.”  Why would any “good” person that we elect to help lead our country double down to support evil intentions?   Well, first it is because they are not good.  They do not give one red cent about morality or ethics.  They are pursuing what is known in ethics as a Utilitarian approach.  If the behavior is useful to their ends, then they will pursue it.  Obviously, doubling down is very useful to Trumpists.

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How is Doubling Down Useful?

In answer to the above question, you must be ready to accept the peculiarities of certain people.  For instance, there are people who believe:

  • The Trickle-Down Theory
  • Tax breaks for the rich will help the poor
  • Trump won the 2020 election
  • There is no climate change
  • The world is flat
  • 9/11 was a CIA effort
  • The moon is made from green cheese
  • Elvis is alive and living upstairs in Graceland

Doubling down behavior somehow (do not ask how, it just does) convinces some of the people noted above that the douche bag engaging in pursuing lies and criminal behavior must really know what he or she is doing.  Lincoln said that you can “fool all of the people some of the time but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”  Doubling down behavior is designed to lull us into thinking that we are wrong and that the person doubling down is right. Why we ask ourselves would anyone keep pressing an issue if they are wrong?  Why would people that we think must be smarter or more knowledgeable than we are stalk mistaken goals and objectives?  The answer which too many of us fail to understand or believe is that some of the people we elect are more focused on their own self-interests and do not care one iota about their constituencies.  Unless of course, they want your money or vote.

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We live in an age where the acquisition of things, the acquisition of power, the acquisition of riches and the acquisition of fame far override the value of the ideas that our Founding Fathers believed in.  If you add in the values that Jesus preached, you would not be able to recognize or understand what Republicans stand for.  They say they believe one thing, but then they pursue a completely different agenda.  The Republican Party today is the party of hypocrisy, lies and greed.  Lincoln would hang his head in shame at the behavior of his old party.  Jesus would probably throw most so-called Christians today out of his church just as he did with the money lenders.  As the song should go, “The Times they have a changed.”

“Pride can make one a stronger person in the one sense, or so it is often believed, when based solely on the surface, but in the other, and much more frequently, a stronger devil. When pride is undeniably found out of an evil, it saves face by doubling down.”  ― Criss Jami

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Documents a chronology of the potential end of our democracy.

Reviewed in the United States on September 2, 2022

“I found this a difficult book to read because it shows how successful the republican party has been in destroying facts, reality, and our democratic foundation in order to move us towards an authoritarian minority rule nation. It was interesting to add up the number of related events through the decades since the onset of Newt Gingrich in 1994, that have been driven by lies, conspiracy theories, slander, and violence, or at least threatening it. Trump is truly a symptom of an underlying national decay that panders to the absolute lowest base instincts of human nature. Frankly, the book is harrowing and fatalistic in leading the reader to assume that the fix is in and our democracy in at least the near future is doomed. While we tried to “go high,” it seemed only to embolden the worst among us that going “low” was the path to their success.” — Richard Nelson

Can you forgive yourself and start another day?

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“Tomorrow’s another day” is the famous comment from Scarlet O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind.”  This was perhaps one of the most powerful and dramatic endings to any story ever told.  Most of us were touched by these words and few who have heard them will ever forget them.  Have you ever wondered why these words were so powerful?  Why do they touch us all somewhere deep in our soul?  I believe it is because they blend an element of self-forgiveness with recognition that each new day is the possibility of a new beginning.  Self-forgiveness is evident, because Scarlett is not going to spend a great deal of time in self-recriminations.  She is simply going to start over again.

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The new day “tomorrow” represents for Scarlet is a new start to life.  It is her resurrection and her birth. Each day we can choose our life, our goals and our behavior.  The simple but powerful phase “tomorrow’s another day” allows us to be reborn.  It allows us to become free of the past and to start a new beginning. Each day of our lives offers us this possibility, if like Scarlet we are willing to grasp it.  We can have a new life or we can have an old life.  We can continue on the old path that we have chosen or we can find a new path.  Each new day can be a risk but life is a risk.  Without risk there is no change and no chance to live more fully.  We wake up each morning to a new set of choices.  Each choice offers opportunities and each opportunity has its own set of risks.

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How many of us do not realize the inherent possibility that tomorrow brings for us?  Do you see each tomorrow as a new beginning or as more of the same?  What will it take to help you realize the hidden possibilities in each new tomorrow?  Do you start each day with a sense of joy at the opportunities it presents?  Why not?

Let’s All Kill Buddha!

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Years ago, I spent some time studying Zen Buddhism.  Some of this was the “fad” of the day during the sixties and seventies.  Zen was so different than the Christianity or Catholicism that I had grown up with.  Zen spoke in koans and paradoxes.  A koan is a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.  For instance, “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”  Christianity has its parables and well renowned truths, but Zen teaches one to be skeptical of everything.   

Perhaps the most famous “truth” of Christianity is that Jesus was God incarnate.  In other words, Jesus was born a man but was actually a God.  This claim is indisputable among followers of Christianity.  Buddha never claimed to be a God.  Buddha never claimed to have any absolute truths.  One of the most famous lines that I have used many times was “If you meet the Buddha on the road, Kill Him!”  This message might seem bizarre to some people, but it makes absolute sense to many Zen followers.  Even Buddha’s message is not to be taken as “gospel” truth but instead examined and questioned with an open mind. 

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I think about “Killing Buddha” quite frequently.  In this day of lies, misinformation, disinformation, and deliberately confusing legalese, we see more and more people taking sides about issues that they have seldom spent much time thinking or questioning about.  Emotions rule conversations today rather than facts, data, or logic.  We believe doctors, salespeople, lawyers, reporters, and politicians despite the fact that they have a vested interest in making money off of us.  Doctors with their often-needless surgeries, reporters more interested in advertising revenue than the truth, politicians trying to be reelected for life, lawyers with few or no ethics dedicated to winning at all costs, and salespeople trying to make as much money as they can on each sale.  They all want you to think that they know the absolute truth.  Jesus said, “The Truth will set you free”, but where will you find the truth?  Ask a politician.  Ask a doctor,  Ask a lawyer.  Only if you are delirious.

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Can you imagine if I said, “When you meet a politician or lawyer on the road, kill him or her.”  On the contrary, the public keeps re-electing politicians to office.  It does not seem to matter to people that Congressional approval ratings are some of the lowest they have been in history; they keep electing the same liars back to office.  The reelection rate of incumbents is nearly ninety percent.

Congressional stagnation is an American political theory that attempts to explain the high rate of incumbency re-election to the United States House of Representatives.  In recent years this rate has been well over 90 per cent, with rarely more than 5-10 incumbents losing their House seats every election cycle.”Wikipedia

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We have some very interesting challenges ahead of us.  Climate change, excessive militarization, corporate capitalism, assaults on democracy and the obfuscation of legitimate information in favor of bias and distortion.  I have not even mentioned sexism, homophobia, racism, xenophobia and the decline of education and the media.  Many of the people I know think that these problems are insurmountable and that they herald the decline of America.  Some believe that they represent the decline of humanity and civilization.  Optimist or pessimist or realist, I doubt very much that we can overcome these problems if we do not have the will or desire to start dialogues that question everything.  A quote by Einstein that I much admire goes:

“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

EintsteinQuestionEverythingI have often been accused of being a pessimist but there is nothing about this quote that is pessimistic.  It is simply a fact that we must use our imaginations to see a different world and to believe that a different world can exist.  As long as we are stuck in the same thinking that generated our problems, we are not free to consider alternative realities.  We need more thinking about possibilities and the future.  We are bogged down with what Dr. Deming called the “problems of today.”  Deming said, “We must balance the problems of today with the problems of tomorrow.”

What if we taught our children in school to “Kill Buddha?”  What would tests look like?  What would a successful student look like?  What would schools look like?  Can you imagine students going around and killing Buddhas all over the place?  Imagine for a second if all the lawyers, doctors, politicians, and salespeople were challenged.  I suppose there are many who would be horrified at this idea.  Isn’t the role of education to teach facts and knowledge?  How would students get a job if all they knew how to do was “kill” Buddha? 

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Hope springs eternal in the human breast.  But what is hope without a plan?  We need positive direction from our leaders, but we also need more transparency and innovation on the part of our leaders.  Supporters and leaders should be in a dance together.  A dance of rhythm and harmony.  Leaders must be open and honest with their supporters and supporters must be willing to challenge their leaders at every turn and nuance that life puts forward.  There is too little dancing together today.  Demagoguery is not dancing nor are spell binding speeches excoriating the opposition. 

One has only to watch or read the political advertising to see the worst of American politics.  Political ads one after another spewing lies and misinformation about the opposition.  No one can tell what any politician stands for or what their plans are because they are so busy bashing their opponents.  Benjamin Franklin once said, ”We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”  I will paraphrase Franklin by saying, “Either Americans will all join together to destroy the problems facing us or we will all be destroyed together by these problems.”   That is the simple truth. 

 

Labor Day: A day NOT to Labor.

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September is the ninth month of the year in the Gregorian calendar and one of four Gregorian months with 30 days.  September is my favorite month of the year.  For me, September is the beginning of Fall. Actually, in Wisconsin, Fall is well underway by the beginning of September and by the middle of September the leaves will soon start changing.  You can already see splotches of color here and there and the Sumac is bright red in places.  Technically Fall does not begin until September 21st, but we all know that the real end of summer is on Labor Day.

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In many parts of the world, summer ends when students head back to school (They are already back in Wisconsin and in Minnesota they will head back tomorrow).  The Fall weather and temperatures are perfect (for me anyway) and I love the changing colors of the landscapes.  I love the cool crisp air and the beauty of the trees, shrubs and falling leaves.  I love the many Fall flowers and the aforementioned shiny red Sumac bushes.  The flowers and Sumac bushes will soon be complimented by the Oaks, Maples and Poplar trees which will contribute bright yellows, oranges and reds to the smorgasbord of colors.  The leaves have an almost ethereal quality as they float to the ground and cover it in a rich collage of hues and fading tones.  However, when the leaves start gently falling, the end of Fall comes all too soon for me.

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I was born in September and of course my birthday will bring some treats.  However, I would still love the Fall with or without my birthday.  Many people do not feel the same way that I do about the Fall, particularly in Minnesota.  Karen does not enjoy September and seems almost pained by the changing temperatures and climate.  She does not like getting up in the morning when it is 47 degrees or less and she regrets the acorns that are already starting to scatter on the ground.  I love to tease her by bringing some of the first acorns I find on my trail runs home to her.  You can find them scattered on the ground as early as middle August up here.  Karen tells me that she can only think that when Fall comes, Winter will soon be here.  Winter means snow and ice to Karen which is why we now own a home in Arizona. After enduring “Northern” weather for 60 some years, Karen had enough cold, frost, snow, frozen fingers, frozen toes and slippery roads to have no nostalgia at all for a Minnesota Winter.

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In many parts of the globe, Fall lasts somewhat longer than in Wisconsin.  Weather-wise, we have a two month Fall that covers September and October.  Never mind that the calendar says Fall ends on December 20; up “North” it really ends right after Halloween.  By then the colors are over and the leaves need to be raked up.  Not to mention, we may have snow long before the “end” of Fall.  If you are lucky enough to live in New England, your Fall will last at least a month or so longer than ours.  I remember in China visiting the famous “Tea House of the August Moon” or in China, it was called “Tea House of the Autumn Moon.”   I still remember thinking how funny that in China, August was the beginning of Fall, at least in Hangzhou where we visited this famous local temple on the lake.  I am sure it is not the same one as in the Brando movie but it was historic and interesting anyway.

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Well, in four weeks, Winter will not matter much to us.  We will be headed to Arizona to escape the Winter.  However, I am hopeful that we will catch most of the Fall beauty before we leave.  I want to get to as many church “harvest” dinners as I can and perhaps even have a bit of Lutefisk before going West. If you do not know what Lutefisk is, you are missing one of the few culinary delights that the Swedes and Norwegians up here have bestowed on America.  Well, Karen would add Lefse and Krumkake and Swedish pancakes to the list and perhaps a few other dishes as well.  Who can forego the famous Jell-O salads which are ubiquitous at church dinners?

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Time for Questions: 

What is your favorite month of the year? Why? What is your favorite season of the year? Do you enjoy each season or do you have a special season you look forward to?  What does Labor Day mean to you?  Do you know what it commemorates?

Tracking the “Time” of Your Life

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Keeping track of time! Marking your days. Marking your weeks and months. Keeping a daily or monthly calendar. Keeping a diary. There are many ways we can keep track of our time. Some think it is a key to managing a successful life. Time flies when you are having too much fun but tracking time helps insure that we use our time wisely or does it? There are few things that are unambiguously good. Most of what we do has pros and cons or unintended consequences.  Is this true with tracking our time?

412BOkJrofL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_The concept of tracking time brings forth images of tracking some wild beast in the woods. Deer, moose, bear, cougars, tigers all leave very distinctive tracks. Time also leaves distinctive tracts. Time leaves physical as well as emotional tracks on all of us. Not to mention the tracks that time leaves on the environment. Emotional tracks are evident in the greater cautiousness and fears that we have as we age. From experience, once burned, we no longer want to get so close to the flame. Indeed, many of us will not even go near the fire again. Divorce, rejection, death, pain all leave emotional scars. For some of us they may never quite heal. Physical tracks show up as lines, creases, joint aches, hair thinning, broken bones and disease. I often joke that physically I am aging more like cheese then a fine wine. I am getting squishier and somewhat moldy around the edges.

downloadPerhaps you see the idea of “tracking time” through a different lens. Maybe you have a need to track your minutes and seconds each day, a twist on tracking your dollars and cents. Perhaps, if you watch your time carefully, you may have more of it. Mark down your time spent each day in an Excel spreadsheet and carefully log your corresponding activities. This last task seems somewhat obsessive to me even though I am often accused of being a Type A personality. I once worked at a job where I was required to check my work in fifteen minute intervals each day and log what I was doing during each interval. After I left this company, I decided I would never again work for anyone where I had to justify myself at this level of detail. It was simply an exercise in obsessive control and domination.

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Type A personalities are supposed to be more compulsive and more aggressive than Type B personalities. Are type A personalities more prone to track their time? Are Type B personalities more prone to go with the flow? Do Type B people live more moment to moment? Are you a Type A or Type B personality? Do you go with the flow or do you track your time? Regarding the physical and emotional tracks that time leaves, how have you fared? What emotional tracks has time left in your life? What physical tracks do you see time making for you? Where are you headed now?

The Once and Future Tale of Frederic’s Last Man Standing Bottle

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Once upon a time there was a group of mostly guys (women were welcome) who would meet for coffee and donuts at the Frederic Library.  Someone nicknamed the group, the “Cucumber Guys.”  I was a member of this group.  Covid killed the group or at least our abode at the library.  We would meet from about 10-11:30 AM each day, Monday through Saturday.  The group sat around drinking coffee and discussing everything from the significant to the trivial.  Cars, guns, books, politics, religion were all subjects that might come up.  Sometimes the discussions were funny, sometimes thought provoking and sometimes even anger provoking.

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One fall day in 2012,  it was suggested that as the unofficial membership of this group was continuing to get older and older (most of us were already retired) that we create a “Last Man Standing Bottle.”  A bottle of whiskey would be purchased, and we would all sign up to be on a last man alive list.  Seven men agreed to do this with the understanding that the last survivor would someday inherit the bottle and drink a toast to each of the six men that he had outlived.

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Most of the men were either long-term residents of Frederic or spouses of long-term residents who had decided to come back to their roots.  My wife’s maiden name was Blomgren.  The Polk County Historical Society listed her family as one of the founding families of Frederic.  Her great-grandfather Gustaf Blomgren emigrated to West Sweden in 1860 from Smaland, Sweden. All of the other members of this “club” had similar ties to the Polk County area.

20220823_124000The seven men who would take part in this little effort included:

  • Ken Java (1934) — Deceased
  • Dick Doyscher (1939)
  • Tony Rolloff (1941)
  • Tom Searing (1945)
  • John Persico (1946)
  • Brian G. Rogers (1947) — Deceased
  • Jerry Beckman (1948) — Deceased

Ken being quite a good wood maker agreed to make a case for the bottle.  Jerry went to a store to have a metal plaque made which listed all of our names and birthdates.  The plaque is placed on the side of the case holding the bottle.  In a touch of whimsey, I purchased a bottle in Bardstown, Kentucky of 114 Proof Old Grand-Dad.

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At first the bottle was kept in the historic Beans restaurant.  The bottle has now been moved to a new home in the Frederic Depot Museum.  This is a museum built in the old train depot where once upon a time you could ride a train from Minneapolis St. Paul to Superior Wisconsin and stop in a number of small towns along the Wisconsin side.  Frederic was one of these towns.  As of this writing, three of the men have passed away. This story is exhibited along with the bottle in the original case that Ken made. Someday, only one man will be left standing.  Whoever follows this story, please see that this bottle gets to the “last man standing.”

Date of this Story:  August 28, 2022

Author:  John Persico Jr.

The Biggest Lie That I Ever Told

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The other day, we were having a discussion in my writing class and someone suggested we all write a piece on “The biggest lie that we ever told.”  At first, this sounded like a fun exercise.  Before starting it, you quickly realize that it makes one feel very vulnerable.  To open our consciences and share with others something that we may not be proud of.  In fact, something that we may have kept hidden for many years.  This is a very challenging and scary thing to do.  If you don’t think so, than I suggest you try this activity.  Here was my contribution to the effort.

How do I start or even write on this subject when I have never ever told a lie in my entire life.  Some of the things I did, I don’t think count as lying.

There was the time that I chopped the cherry tree down and my dad asked me who did it.  I simply told him that I did not remember.  I think someone must have done it but I could not remember who.

Then there was the time that I blew the three houses down and ate all the juicy fat pigs.  When they took me to court, I plead the 5th Amendment against self-incrimination.

The only other possible time that anyone could accuse me of lying was when I slept in the three bears’ beds and ate their porridge.  I ran so fast that even the bears could not catch me.

Oh, I almost forgot the time that  I stole the goose that laid the golden eggs.  The big old ogre did not need the goose anyway.  I fixed his butt when he tried to climb down the bean stalk after me.

So that’s it folks.  I have lived a life of honesty and would never ever lie, steal, or not tell the truth.  So help me God!

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The 2nd of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Pleasure without Conscience.

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A number of years ago when I first started graduate school, I was talking to a professor who had just purchased a brand new yacht.  This was nearly 40 years ago and I was pretty judgmental (I am hoping I am somewhat less judgmental today).  I remember saying to him exactly what was on my mind:  “Don’t you feel guilty with all of the poverty and problems we are facing in this world, to spend your money on such an extravagant purchase?”  To this day (Perhaps, my continued naiveté) I remain both shocked and amazed at his reply.  “John, if I can afford it, I deserve it.”  I was shocked because it seemed so insensitive to the world’s problems and I was amazed because I had expected that someone who had earned a Ph.D. would have had a more reflective and thoughtful reply.  Instead, he simply parroted back to me what I had labeled as the “Protestant Ethic.”  According to Wikipedia:

“The Protestant work ethic (or the Puritan work ethic) is a concept in theology, sociology, economics and history which emphasizes hard work, frugality and prosperity as a display of a person’s salvation in the Christian faith. The phrase was initially coined in 1904 by Max Weber in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

Somewhere in the course of the development of American Capitalism, guilt or perhaps conscience was replaced by the moral certainty that if you only work hard enough, you can spend your money as frivolously as you want to.  At least, this was the interpretation I drew and continue to draw from my understanding of the Protestant Work Ethic.  Now of course, it has morphed into an abomination called the “Prosperity Gospel.”  In some sense, I can understand this idea.  If you work hard, why should you not be able to harvest the fruits of your labor?  Why should you be expected to share with those who are less fortunate?  After all, how many of the “less” fortunate are “less” because of their own laziness, stupidity, inertia or lack of ambition?  Should I have to pay more taxes to support people who don’t want to work or whose entire goal in life is to eat their way to obesity, drink their way to liver failure or drug their minds to an out of this world zombie state?  Why should I have to put up with the lack of ethics and self-discipline that it would appear in so many of the indigent and poor in this world exhibit?  A study in England in 2009 found that:

Four out of five people see nothing wrong with stealing from their workplace – while more than half think it acceptable for a care giver to persuade an elderly person to rewrite their will, according to a new study.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1211629/How-80-think-OK-steal-work-study-reveals-wavering-moral-compass.html#ixzz2RU850BbL

In some sense, the Protestant Ethic is a direct refutation of the morals that I had been given in my early Catholic school training.  Perhaps, that is why Catholics and Protestants did not get along in years gone by.  I remember every lunch break being told by one of the nuns or sisters at my Catholic school to be sure to “clean my plate.”  When queried why this was so important I always received the same reply “Because of the starving kids in India.”  Somehow, I was expected to feel guilty for these starving children in some far away country who did not have enough food to eat.  Was it my fault that they did not have enough to eat?  However, it was okay if I cleaned my plate and did not leave any scraps.  Kind of reminds me of when I go to a Chinese Buffet and it says on the sign posted:  “Please do not take more than you can eat.”  I weight 147 lbs. and scrupulously (well, sometimes) obey this admonition.  I watch the 400 lb. plus people with plates that are stacked higher than the Eiffel Tower and I wonder if they saw the sign or is it simply that they are on a diet?  See, there I go again, being judgmental.

Well, here it is nearly 40 years later and the question I posed to my professor colleague still seems quite legitimate to me.  When is it okay to indulge?  When can I binge?  When is it permissible to go buy my brand new Ferrari or brand new yacht?  What would Sister Evangeline say if she knew I was spending $350,000 dollars or more to purchase a new boat that I might only use two or three times per year?  What would Martin Luther say?  I can not imagine Luther saying: “Well, John, don’t worry about it.  You are supporting the economy.  Every boat you buy is a job for some boat builder in India or Pakistan or some other place where the kids don’t have enough to eat.”  “Thank You Martin Luther, now I don’t feel so guilty.”  Hooray for the Protestant Work Ethic!

Here is what the Gandhi Institute has to say about this issue:

Pleasure Without Conscience: This is connected to wealth without work. People find imaginative and dangerous ways of bringing excitement to their otherwise dull lives. Their search for pleasure and excitement often ends up costing society very heavily. Taking drugs and playing dangerous games cause avoidable health problems that cost the world hundreds of billions of dollars in direct and indirect health care facilities. Many of these problems are self-induced or ailments caused by careless attitudes. The United States spends more than $250 billion on leisure activities while 25 million children die each year because of hunger, malnutrition, and lack of medical facilities. Irresponsible and unconscionable acts of sexual pleasure and indulgence also cost the people and the country very heavily. Not only do young people lose their childhood but innocent babies are brought into the world and often left to the care of the society. The emotional, financial, and moral price is heavy on everyone. Gandhi believed pleasure must come from within the soul and excitement from serving the needy, from caring for the family, the children, and relatives. Building sound human relationships can be an exciting and adventurous activity. Unfortunately, we ignore the spiritual pleasures of life and indulge in the physical pleasures which are “pleasure without conscience.”

Fromhttp://www.rabbitadvocacy.com/gandhi_teachings.htm

A person I really admired was the teacher and prophet OSHO.  OSHO also believes that all the violence in the world comes from the need people have to address the boredom and meaninglessness in their daily lives.  People who are bored and who feel that their lives have no meaning turn to violence and or drugs in an effort to fill their lives with something that excites them or makes them feel alive.  The problem with such stimulation is that it never really fills the void and as with any panacea it is only temporary.  The void returns and the need to find new or greater stimulation also returns.  The cycle is not broken by the search for outside stimulation since the only real meaning of our lives must come from within.  No matter how great the wealth we achieve, no matter how many titles we accrue, no matter how famous we become and no matter how many people want our autographs, this kind of stimulation can never fill the void that we have if we do not find real meaning for our existence.

Let us pose the central issue here (Pleasure without Conscience) in the form of series of questions. Each question puts a slightly different slant on the issue:  Here are some ways to reflect on the issue:

  • How much pleasure is it okay to feel before I feel guilty?
  • If I am enjoying my life, should I feel guilty?
  • Do I have to feel guilty if I am feeling great pleasure?
  • Does a sense of conscience have anything to do with my personal pleasure?
  • Do I need to tie the concept of pleasure in with conscience?

Depending on which way we posit the question, we will come up with different answers.  Try the exercise yourself and see what you find as your personal answers.  For me, I would answer some of these questions in the negative and some in the positive.  Nevertheless, such a pedantic method of addressing the issue actually ignores what I think Gandhi was really getting at.  I don’t think this is an issue of us not enjoying our lives or not finding pleasure but it is more of what I have come to think of as a “Happy Days” issue.  Do you remember the sitcom that ran from the mid-seventies to mid-eighties?  It featured Ron Howard as a too good to be true teenager and Henry Winkler as a thuggish type of Greaser.  The term “Happy Days” was associated with how many Americans felt about the period of time between the end of the Korean War and the beginning of the Vietnam War.  Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, I Love Lucy and the Mickey Mouse Club show were only a few of the sitcoms to depict a happy America where all was right with the world and Americans knew only bliss and prosperity.

Those “Happy Days” for middle class White male Americans were not so happy for the rest of the world.  During this period, there were many groups and constituencies in the USA who were denied rights, served excessive prison terms, could not find employment and were often subject to abuse and/or lynching.  I refer here to minority groups and women in the USA during our “Happy Days” period.  One could argue that either stupidity or a lack of conscience was a prerequisite for putting on “Happy Days” blinders.  Kind of like those folks who miss the “Good Old Days” down south.  Those nostalgic summer days when the happy slaves would sing and dance all day long in the cotton fields.  At the end of the day, they would trudge merrily home to their cozy cabins to sit by the fire-place and eat their fill of watermelon, sweet potato pie and Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Before going to bed, the young slaves would all have cute stories read to them by Uncle Remus.  Stories that would prepare the young slaves to get ahead in a world dominated by racism, discrimination and non-citizenship.  No doubt migrant workers, women and many other minorities would have their own version of the “Happy Days” fantasy that dominated American Psyche for so long.  In fact, there are many Americans who still believe in the “Happy Days” fantasy.

The point I am getting at is that no matter how you look at it, it is immoral and unethical to divorce Pleasure from Conscience.  To do so, is to be guilty of at best a form of benign neglect and at worst, a criminal conspiracy to keep other people degraded and denied the same opportunities as we might have.  Christians should all be familiar with many of Jesus’s teachings on this subject:

  • “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  Mark 10:25
  •  “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”   Mark 10:21
  •  “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”  Matthew 16:26

Clearly anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ could not put profit or pleasure above conscience.  Jesus was all about helping others even at the expense of his own life.  His entire mission was to help those who were poor, sick or downtrodden.  Is there anyone who could do this without a conscience?  Perhaps we have focused too much in the past few decades on success and getting ahead.  This intense focus may have allowed many of us to put our consciences aside with the result that they seem to have atrophied or in many cases disappeared.  Too many people now measure success by how much money they have made and not how many people they have helped.  It is time we start focusing on conscience again.  Pleasure without conscience is simply hedonism.

Ok, time for questions:

What pleasures do you have that you may sacrifice your conscience for?  Do you think it is possible to have both conscience and pleasure?  What does it mean to have an “ethical” conscience?  Can we have too much conscience?  Do you think people should have more pleasure or more conscience?  Why?  What about yourself? Where do you fall on this issue?

Life is just beginning.

I wrote this blog more than four years ago.  Many have read it during the past few years.  With hindsight, I can see that we have gone further down the path.  Our political systems are rife with a lack of conscience.  Furthermore, this lack of conscience is justified by a “Prosperity Gospel” which preaches that:  financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth. 

In other words, that God rewards increases in faith with increases in health and/or wealth.  Thus, if you are wealthy, you are a “true believer”, anointed by God and deserving of your wealth.  The poor and sick are not true believers and thus are deserving of their fate and little or no sympathy or help.

Too many of us have given up on conscience and have become more and more Amoral.  We don’t care what we do or the consequences of our actions as long as they are “legal.”  Unfortunately, the law has never been a good barometer for ethics and morality.  The law has too frequently been usurped by the rich and powerful to promote their own self interests.   A history of the Supreme Court decisions in the USA would show this truth as would the Nazi Laws in Germany during the 30’s or the slavery and apartheid laws that existed throughout history in many parts of the world.   Law does not make right.  It never did and it never will.

The 1st of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Wealth without Work.

1

The Seven Social Sins is a list created by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in 1925.  He published this list in his weekly newspaper “Young India” on October 22, 1925.  Later he gave this same list to his grandson, Arun Gandhi on their final day together shortly before his assassination.  The Seven Sins are:

  1. Wealth without work.
  2. Pleasure without conscience.
  3. Knowledge without character.
  4. Commerce without morality.
  5. Science without humanity.
  6. Religion without sacrifice.
  7. Politics without principle.

I wrote a blog for each of Gandhi’s “sins” about ten years ago.  The blogs seemed to be quite popular with my readers.  I am going to update and repost each of the Seven Sins for the next few weeks.  Karen and I are making some major changes in our living arrangements and I probably will not find the time to write much new material.  I am reposting these because they still seem to be quite relevant in these challenging and chaotic times.

Wealth Without Work:  The First of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins

Once upon a time in this great country, a model for attaining wealth and a set of rules to accomplish this objective stemmed from 3 basic beliefs.  These were:

  1. You worked hard, long and industriously.
  2. You attained as much education as you could absorb and afford.
  3. You treated all of your engagements with absolute honesty and scrupulousness.

Somewhere during the later 20th Century these 3 Cardinal beliefs (Above) about attaining great wealth were replaced by the following beliefs:

  1. Wealth can be attained at a gambling casino or by winning a lottery if you are lucky enough.
  2. Wealth can be attained by suing someone and with the help of a lawyer who will thereby gain a percentage of your lawsuit.
  3. Wealth can be attained by finding some means of acquiring a government handout for the remainder of your life.

Admittedly, not all Americans subscribe to the second set of beliefs and fortunately there are many who still subscribe to the first. Nevertheless, I think you would be hard pressed to argue that gambling, casinos, government handouts and lawsuits have not multiplied exponentially over the past fifty years.  The following are some charts which I think illustrate my points rather graphically.

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The nature of human beings is to want things fast and with a minimum of effort.  This is normal and not to be thought of as deviant or unusual.  However, as we age and develop more self-control and wisdom over our daily affairs, we learn to temper our desire for instant gratification with a more mature perspective.  Noted quality guru, Dr. W. E. Deming maintained that people wanted “Instant Pudding.”  For Deming this meant, change without effort, quality without work and cost improvements overnight.  Added together, “Instant Pudding” was Dr. Deming’s metaphor for the desire to obtain results with a minimum investment of time and energy.  Dr. Deming continually warned his clients that there was no “Instant Pudding” and change would take years of hard work and could not be accomplished without continued dedication and focus.

Unfortunately, our media and even schools today seem to emphasize the possibility of achieving success and wealth overnight.  Sports stars are depicted as suddenly being offered incredible contracts.  Movie stars are shown as going from unknown to overnight fame and fortune.  Singers and musicians seem to suddenly achieve fame despite being barely out of their teens and in many cases barely into their teens.  It would appear that everywhere we look fame, fortune and success happen overnight.  All it takes is to be discovered. This might happen if you can get on American Idol or be found by the right booking agent or obtain a guest appearance on a celebrity TV show.  In some cases, all it takes is the right YouTube video to accomplish overnight success.  One day PSI was an unknown Korean musician and in a few short weeks, he was celebrating success by a dinner in the White House and appearing at the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration.  How can anyone dispute that all that is needed for fame and fortune is to be in the right place at the right time?

You may be asking “yes, but what exactly did Gandhi mean by this “sin?”  The M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence gives the following explanation:

“Wealth Without Work: This includes playing the stock market; gambling; sweat-shop slavery; over-estimating one’s worth, like some heads of corporations drawing exorbitant salaries which are not always commensurate with the work they do.  Gandhi’s idea originates from the ancient Indian practice of Tenant Farmers.  The poor were made to slog on the farms while the rich raked in the profits.  With capitalism and materialism spreading so rampantly around the world the grey area between an honest day’s hard work and sitting back and profiting from other people’s labor is growing wider.  To conserve the resources of the world and share these resources equitably with all so that everyone can aspire to a good standard of living, Gandhi believed people should take only as much as they honestly need.  The United States provides a typical example.  The country spends an estimated $200 billion a year on manufacturing cigarettes, alcohol and allied products which harm people’s health.  What the country spends in terms of providing medical and research facilities to provide and find cures for health hazards caused by over-indulgence in tobacco and alcohol is mind-blowing.” ‘There is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed’, Gandhi said.

There is a visual problem here that perhaps underlies much of the current thinking about success.  The media loves to trumpet short success stories that will grab anyone’s attention. We are constantly bombarded with headlines such as:

Each of these sites (click on to hyperlink to the actual site) promises you overnight success or at least success in a much shorter time span than is realistic.  These ads are in the news, checkout stands, on TV and just about anywhere you turn around.  The constant daily bombardment of such ads creates a zeitgeist in which overnight success not only seems to be possible; but it actually seems to be the norm.  If you are not an overnight success, if you cannot become rich in days rather than years, if you contemplate a life of hard work to attain your fame and fortune, than something is wrong with you.  Anyone subscribing to the first 3 sets of beliefs I mentioned in the opening is a peculiar species today.  The most common belief about success in the new millennium can be summed up as:

I don’t have time to wait. I don’t have the patience to wait.  I don’t want to spend my life waiting.  I am entitled to success now.  Why should I have to wait?  I am as good as any of these rich successful people. If only everyone could see how good I really am, I would get the fame and fortune I deserve now.  If you expect me to shut up and work hard, I will leave and go elsewhere.  You need me more than I need you.

I believe that Gandhi and many of my generation would find such ideas very peculiar not to mention that they contradict certain universal principles.  Every time I hear of a new terrorist attack in this country or a new massacre at some workplace, I wonder how much the instigator was influenced by his or her desire for overnight fame and fortune.  In some bizarre out-of-this-world thinking, these maniacs equate their picture on page one of the news with a sort of glory that is accomplished by their bizarre and cruel rampage.  The more they kill or maim, the greater they think their glory will be.  We can look for all the “reasons” why but we will never find any “good” reasons for anyone to take such anti-social actions against others.  The paradox is that often the very people they hate are the ones they wanted attention or recognition from.

Ok, time for questions:

Have you raised your children to believe in hard work?  Are you one of the parents who want to make sure their kids have it easy?  How do you know how much hard work is enough?  Do you think you are entitled to success because you work hard?  What other factors play a role in success?  Is it fair that some people do not seem to have to work hard and yet still reap big rewards?  Do people today have it too easy compared to the immigrants that founded this country?

Life is just beginning.

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