Try, Try and Try Again

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Once upon a time I watched a series of movies called Star Wars.  One of the characters in these movies was an enigmatic Zen spouting creature whose name was Yoda. Yoda was the oldest and wisest Jedi Master. Yoda took Luke Skywalker as an acolyte to teach him the ways of the Jedi.  One of Yoda’s favorite sayings was “There is no try.  There is only do or do not.”  I loved this thought and I used it far too many times with my spouse and friends.  Most of the times, they would just roll their eyes at me or look with some angst while I tried to explain the import of Yoda’s thought.  Whether they got it or not, I will never know.

It was clear to me that when you attempt something, you either do it or you do not do it.  For instance, if I say, “I am going to “Try” to do a cartwheel.”  Either I do the cartwheel, or I do not do the cartwheel.  As Yoda said, “there is no try.”  But lately, I have had to rethink this thought.  Maybe, I was too quick to embrace Yoda’s theory.  Perhaps I am lucky to still have any friends?  People the world over still respond with the phrase “Okay, I will give it a try.”  Am I right or is the world wrong?

I think there may be something missing with Yoda’s theory.  There is a try but try is not succeeding.  Yoda is right but only to a point.  There is only you succeed, or you do not succeed.  You do or you do not.  However, without try there is no succeeding.  Without try, there is no do.  The famous French revolutionary Danton (1792) said, “ Dare, Dare Again, Always Dare.”  What if we had the same attitude about try?

I recently saw the following quote by the great actress Lauren Bacall.  She stated that this was the philosophy of her late husband.  He was the renowned actor Humphrey Bogart.

Humphrey_Bogart_1940_crop“To be good, was more important than to be rich.  To be kind was more important than owning a house or a car.  To respect one’s work and to do it well , to risk something in life, was more important than being a star.  To never sell your soul — to have self-esteem— to be true— was most important of all.”

Great thoughts.  Wonderful ideas.  Ideas well worth living up to.  However, I am quite sure from what I have read of Mr. Bogart that he fell well short of his lofty aspirations.  Cameron Shipp wrote the following in the 1952 Saturday Evening Post about Bogart.

“Humphrey DeForest Bogart, who will be 53 years old come Christmas morning and doesn’t care who knows it, is a whisky-drinking actor who has been hooting at Hollywood and making fun of its pretensions for 22 years. Mr. Bogart’s derision, often acted out with alcoholic capers in night clubs followed by funny quotes in the public prints, is mainly aimed at the popular gospel that under their grease paint, glamorous or menacing, screen players are really fine, home-loving, dish-washing citizens like you and me. In his one bad-man campaign to correct this impression, Bogart has toiled to reestablish the more interesting belief that actors are not necessarily wholesome,”

The more I could tell you about Humphrey, the less you would want him for a role model.  But you would be making a mistake.  This is a common mistake.  All too often made.  We dismiss the message because of the man.  It is said that many kings would kill the messenger because they did not like the message.  But you can kill the message because you do not like the messenger.  In fact, the latter is more often done these days than the former.  And this is where the role of TRY becomes important.  Let me explain.

I have written more than 600 blogs.  In many of my blogs, I offer my advice and wisdom on how to lead a good life.  I counsel patience, compassion, and kindness.  I counsel tolerance, courage, and gratitude.  I counsel learning, discipline, and forgiveness.  I often look back on blogs that I wrote many years ago and wonder “who wrote that?”  I seem far wiser in my letters than I do in my actual life.  I ask myself “why don’t I follow my own advice better?”  It seems to me that over the years, in fact, even over the weeks and days, there is hardly a time when I do not violate my own wisdom and guidance.

PrintTry.  Yes, I try to lead a good life.  I want to live up to my own advice.  I want to be one of the people that I am telling the world we need more of.  I want to live a life consistent with my wisdom.  A life where my behavior mirrors my thoughts and ideas.  But then I fail.  I fall flat on my face.  I try and do not succeed.  I lose my patience.  I am not kind.  I suffer from a lack of gratitude.  I won’t forgive my neighbor.  If it is either do or do not, all too often I DO NOT.  I think like a Yoda, but my actions often lead me to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and despair.

But try, the word disparaged by Yoda comes back into my mind.  Don’t give up.  Tomorrow is a new day.  Stop feeling sorry for yourself.  Try, try, and try again.

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I think I have a lot in common with Humphrey Bogart.  I have lofty goals and ambitions.  I want to save the world.  I want to eliminate greed, poverty, crime, bigotry, and injustice.  I want to live a life of integrity and be true to myself.  But all too often I fail to live up to Gandhi’s admonition, “to be the change I want to see.”  I can’t even eliminate injustice or selfishness in my own life, never mind the rest of the world.  Then I tell myself, “try again.”  Try again and try again.  Maybe each time I try, I will get a little bit closer to success.

One day maybe, I will be able to tell Yoda that I did not try because I really did it.  Until then I will just keep on trying.

What If?

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  • What if I die tomorrow?
  • What if I lose all my money?
  • What if I never find true love?
  • What if I lose my health?
  • What if there is no god?
  • What if there is no meaning to life?
  • What if my writing really sucks?
  • What if my partner dies before I do?
  • What if I am a coward?
  • What if the sun does not come up tomorrow?

So many things to worry about and so little time to do it.  Just for fun I typed in Google “What if,”  I used the parentheses to ensure that it would look up the question as a whole rather than just what or if.  It returned 3,190,000,000 hits.  For perspective, I then typed in “I am sorry.”  This returned 40,000,000 hits.  Admittedly, these are very spurious results to draw any conclusions from, but I will anyway.  I conclude that more people are worried than they are sorry.  Either that or they spend more time worrying than they do sorrowing.  What do you think?

Is ”What if” the meanest phrase ever written?  We seem to think in the negative when we use these two words.  Choose any of the questions from the list above and see how you would answer them.  I would guess most of your answers will suggest some unhappiness, gloom, sadness, or even a loss of desire for life.  We can see “end of the world” scenarios in most of these “what ifs.”

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But what if the expectations and goals that are reflected in our responses were stripped out of our thoughts?  Would we be happier or more depressed?  Let me give you an example.  Some people would say that if there is no meaning to life, it is not worth living.  What would be the point of getting up each day, going to work, coming home, eating, making love, and going to bed?  On the other hand, if we rid ourselves of the expectation or need to have meaning in our lives, perhaps this “what if” would not bother us at all.  We would not care one iota if there was or was not any meaning.  The same could be said for all the questions I started this blog off with.  It is our expectations that give us a negative twist for each of these issues.

You might argue that I selected only issues that have a potentially negative response.  For instance, the sun not coming up is unlikely to have a positive outcome under any circumstances.  Then let us look at some positive “what ifs?”  Here are a few:

  • What if I won the lottery?
  • What if I found my true love?
  • What if my life does have meaning and purpose?

6f2b74dab966ae86c4beae966dded6eaBefore you go off on a binge of happiness and celebrations, think for a minute what a positive answer to these questions might mean.  There are still expectations and assumptions associated with any answer to the above questions.  You assume that if you won the lottery, that you would not have to worry about paying bills, buying things you want etc.  You assume that if you found true love, it would last forever and forever.  You assume that finding meaning and purpose would bring you happiness.  To all of these possibilities, I say maybe.  You still have many choices and outcomes to each of these scenarios.  These choices can leave us just as captive to our desires and wants as any of our responses to the “negative” “what ifs.”

Why is this so?  Are there any positive outcomes possible for us?  Why is easy to answer.  It is because nothing is permanent.  Nothing is guaranteed.  Nothing you or I can do will ensure that life will work out just as we wanted it to or just as we planned it to.  Whether we attach ourselves to happiness or misery, we are still attached.  Zen Buddhism gives us the concept of “non-attachment.”  But non-attachment is easier said than done.

“Every day as I wave to my children when I drop them off at school or let one of them have a new experience—like crossing the street without holding my hand—I experience the struggle between love and non-attachment.  It is hard to bear—the extreme love of one’s child and the thought that ultimately the child belongs to the world.  There is this horrible design flaw—children are supposed to grow up and away from you; and one of you will die first.”Sarah Ruhl, “The Oldest Boy: A Play in Three Ceremonies

Madison Avenue is the enemy of “non-attachment.”  The people who market for corporations want you to believe that unless you are attached to something, you will live a miserable life.  They would prefer that you were attached to things or services that money can buy.  The idea is for you to believe that you are no good unless you own things.  The bigger the things that you own or the more expensive the things that you own, the happier you will be.  Success is the pathway to happiness because it will allow you to buy and own more expensive things than your neighbors.

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However, it is not only things that you can buy that are attachments.  There are many intangibles that you can become attached to.  Some of these are for sale and some not.  Many people are attached to status and prestige.  For enough money you can buy prestigious memberships in exclusive country clubs, political positions by spending enormous amounts on advertising or expensive cruises.  Status is an intangible, but it can be bought.  Status in society circles can be achieved by spending and donating money to the right causes.  Have you ever gone to a concert and noticed how the list of donors are ranked on the concert handout. Platinum, gold, silver, bronze, and honorable mention is one scheme that I have seen.  There are other rankings, but they all point to the prestige and status that comes from being able to donate more money than anyone else.

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I have a good friend who always told me that “We need to let go of things.”  Ironically, years later and I would place him pretty low in my list of people who can let go of things.  He knew in his head that attachment and ego were barriers to fulfillment.  But knowing, feeling, and doing are as much alike as a snowstorm, tornado, and earthquake.  Controlling one does not necessarily mean that you can control the others.  There are men and women who are intellectual geniuses but incompetent when it comes to managing their emotions or doing something that they know should be done.

Stepping-into-riverMy conclusion is that “What ifs” are intellectually amusing as a past-time but as for practical value they are close to useless.  Seldom will you ever get to apply a solution to a “What if.”  The possibility of something in real life happening exactly like it did the first time is less than the chance of finding identical snowflakes or fingerprints.  Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher born in 544 B.C. said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”   Those who forget the past may be condemned to repeat it, but the past will never be the same again.  Living requires adaptability and resilience.

Non-attachment is the best way to keep an open mind as to the possibilities that we will face each day as the sun comes up yet once again.

“To use the more traditional term “non-attachment,” I like to think of non-attachment as meaning “not attaching stuff to your sense of self.”  It doesn’t mean not investing yourself in things and doesn’t mean you don’t do everything in your power to bring about the outcome you hope for.  It just means not getting too caught up in your stories.” — “What Zen “Acceptance” and “Non-Attachment” Really Are” by  Domyo, May 4, 2017, Dharma Talks

For the Love of Smelt!

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There are many travesties in the world.  Methinks one of the greatest is the lack of appreciation for the lowly smelt.  Some of you probably don’t even know what a smelt is.  Up here in the Northwoods of Wisconsin some of us do have an appreciation for its wonderful flavor and texture.  Smelt may not rank with walleye or lobster, but it is infinitely better than lutefisk or boiled cod, which for someone reason are more admired by Norwegians and Swedes.

A smelt is proof that to paraphrase Ben Franklin, “God loved man and wanted him to be happy.”  It is a small, tiny fish about 4-6 inches long.  You catch it in April or May when they are spawning  along the Great Lakes or the Atlantic seashore.  There are six steps to eating smelt.  I will describe the process in each step.

Smelt Dip

Andrew Long holds up a net full of fish during a smelt dip along the Cowlitz River in Castle Rock on Tuesday.

  1. Finding Smelt

You have three options here.  1. Buy a wader and a net and catch your own.  2. Find a smelt fry at a rural fire department, VFW Post or police station and be served smelt.  These venues often catch their own smelt and use the event as a fundraiser.  It will probably not be fresh at a smelt fry and now a days they seem to be smaller and smaller at these shindigs. 3. Try a dozen different grocery stores and if you are lucky you might find a one-pound bag of frozen or if you are really lucky fresh smelts for about four dollars a pound.  The price shows you how unappreciated they are.

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  1. Preparing Smelt

If you go to a smelt fry, you can skip this step and the rest of the steps following.  However, if you catch or buy smelt there are different ways of preparing and cooking.  To prepare fresh caught smelt, simply gut them and take the heads off.  No need to filet them as the bones are so small that after frying them, you can eat bones and all.  Some people just fry the fish, head, guts, and all.  If you buy them in a bag frozen they will already be prepared.

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  1. Cooking Smelt

The preferred method is to get some flour and oil.  Lightly bread your smelts and deep fry them in the oil.  Roll them in paper towers to absorb some of the grease.  Be careful here as grease adds flavor.  If you are wanting some variety, the Internet is full of smelt recipes where you can pretend that you are a French or Italian chef and cook them with some exotic recipe.  True smelt people look down upon these pretentious and gastronomical quirks.

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  1. Eating Smelt

I love catsup on my fried smelt.  Sometimes I will use tartar sauce.  It is important to eat smelt in modest size portions.  Most smelt frys will advertise “All you can eat or until gone.”  Eating medium size portions will enable you to go back for seconds and thirds without seeming like a glutton.  Your spouse may say that you smell like a smelt if you go back for fourths but sometimes even thirds will leave you reeking of smelt.

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  1. Cleaning Up After Eating

Good reason to go to a smelt fry.  No cleaning up after eating.  Otherwise, you will need to clean some greasy frying pans and the dishes you ate on.  If you eat at home, you can always take a nap after three servings of smelt and hope someone else will take care of the dishes.

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  1. Finding More Smelt

You will be hard pressed to find a smelt fry after the middle of May in either Minnesota or Wisconsin.  Smelt frys are usually poorly advertised.  You need to scan your local papers for where they will be holding them.  I came back to Wisconsin in early April this year and had already missed two local smelt frys.  I managed to find three more that occurred after I was home.  I had to check high and low for these events.

I also visited all the local grocery stores to see if anyone had smelt.  After going to St. Croix Falls, Luck, Siren, and Frederic grocery stores, I found a single bag at a grocery store in St. Croix Falls.  I noticed it had been opened and I gutlessly decided not to buy it.  It was a close decision because I was getting close to a withdrawal thinking about not having any more smelt until next May.

Well, That’s All Folks!

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Can You Really See the World from Another Person’s Point of View?

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One of the most often quoted and pro-offered bits of advice is “walk a mile in their shoes.”  Another version of this wisdom is to try and see it from their “point of view.”  Jesus said “ “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” — Luke 6: 37-42

I submit that all of these bits of wisdom are more than admirable; they are essential to a life of wisdom and justice.  The problem is that all of them are impossible to follow.  You can’t walk a mile in another person’s shoes because their shoes won’t fit you.  You can’t see it from their point of view because you are not standing where they are.  You will always suffer from a plank in your own eye since this is nothing more than cognitive bias which we all suffer from.

Ergo, how do I see the world from another person’s point of view?  How do I reconcile the fact that there are often many other points of view?  Most of our lives we will live in an ocean of viewpoints.  They are like waves washing up on the shore.  One after another they roll in, break on the beach, and wash back into the ocean.  I couldn’t stop the waves from coming in if I wanted to and I could not stop for a second to deal with all the viewpoints that I am constantly bombarded with.

2c087c4a21acb3d800bbee0ce8d4df62The internet has made the problem even worse.  We are deluged with a tsunami of viewpoints every day.  From right, left, central, religious, agnostic, scientific, spiritual, communal, familial and hundreds of other perspectives our viewpoints of the world are bombarded by messages that challenge our thinking and our very reason for being.  Whose shoes should I stand in?  Whose perspective should I try to take?

Another problem with taking someone’s viewpoint is even more basic and problematic.  What if I don’t like or can not even imagine myself in their shoes?  I don’t sympathize much with pedophiles, racists, sexists, homophobes, and white supremacists.  How do I walk a mile in their shoes?  I would have to take a few years of character acting classes to even begin to imagine what a member of the KKK feels and thinks when he/she burns a cross on someone’s front yard.

Finally, the world may not like you for trying to understand the perspectives of the underdogs or those less fortunate in life.  You may lose friends and family for challenging viewpoints which are hardened by narrowmindedness and prejudice.  I doubt few people want to hear about the perspectives of a rapist or pedophile.  Taking their viewpoint will not help you to win friends and influence people.

Those of us who are unwilling to try to see things from another’s point of view will find ourselves in a deep pit of myopia.  The effects of not being able to comprehend things from the points of view of others is narrow mindedness, prejudice, and bias.  Solutions to problems become more difficult as we narrow our perspectives.  If we cannot see the world from the viewpoint of a pedophile (regardless of how abominable they may be), how can we ever understand their problems enough to create solutions that will eliminate this scourge from the earth.

What are some ways that we can actually walk a mile or maybe even just a ½ mile in the shoes of someone else?  Here are some recommendations.

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Experience It First Hand

This might fall in the category which I dismissed above to “walk a mile etc.”  This idea will work for some things.  You can experience what a canoeist experiences by going for a canoe ride.  You can experience what some writers feel by trying to write a short story.  However, if you are White, it will be impossible to feel what a Black person does when he/she is treated badly because of their color.  This is true for many other demographics besides race including age, gender, education level and intellectual capabilities.

You will not be able to experience what many people experience either because it is impossible to walk in their shoes or it might even be illegal.  For instance, you might not be able to experience the thrill or fear that a bank robber does when she/he walks in a bank to rob it.  You will also never be able to experience what somewhat with a mental disability feels as they navigate the world.  Thus, while some say that “experience is the best teacher” when it comes to understanding the perspectives of others, experience may not always be the best choice.

However, there are a great many things that we can experience first-hand if we are only willing to try them.  I know too many people who will not try things.  I am sure we all know people who will not do things even though they have never tried them before.  They might have tried them once and decided on the basis of one try that henceforth and forevermore they would never do it again.  It takes a certain amount of gumption, open-mindedness, and just plain courage to experience new things.  If you are glued to your couch watching the TV or if you are afraid to risk and dare you will find the opportunity of experience a closed door.

A few of the “I won’t try it” items that I hear and that irritate me include:

  • I don’t eat fish
  • I don’t like to travel
  • I don’t like Mexican food
  • I don’t like to read
  • I don’t like music or concerts

You can add some items that annoy you to hear in my comments section.

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Experience It Second Hand

Years ago, I wanted to try to understand sexism, racism, and prejudice.  I started out by reading about these subjects from the point of view of authors like James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Susan Brownmiller, Betty Freidan, Anne Frank, Hannah Arendt,  Ronald Takaki, Vine Deloria Jr., and many more.  I learned a great deal from the stories and experiences told by the people who experience discrimination first hand.

As I got older, I found more and more opportunities to attend lectures and discussions where I heard first hand people like Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, H. Rap Brown, Jesse Jackson, Audre Lorde, Rosa Parks, and Sarah Lew Miller.  I attended anti-racism seminars sponsored by several different groups. I have watched many documentaries dealing with prejudice and bigotry.

I went to important cultural sites that included Indian museums in Oklahoma, the Holocaust Museum in Israel, the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham, Jewish Cemeteries in Paris with memorials to each concentration camp and Dachau outside Munich.

My first-hand experiences with people of color grew through my friendships.  I went to places that many White people would have put off limits in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and New York.

Along the way to trying to understand the experiences of other people, I tried to help whenever possible fighting racism or bigotry.  I wrote a grievance for some fellow Black soldiers when I was in the service.  I supported organizations that fought racism like the Southern Poverty Law Center.  I conducted some seminars with a friend dealing with Gay rights.  I spoke out whenever I had the opportunity against racism and sexism.  My writings deal with many of these issues.

I note the above not to impress you.  If anything, I am unimpressed by my progress.  Somewhat like they say about Alcoholics, “Once an Alcoholic, always an Alcoholic.”  The best you can do is to become a recovering Alcoholic.  Growing up a White Christian male in a predominately White Christian Patriarchal society, it is very hard not to be a sexist racist anti-Semite.

When I was a kid, I was told it was a mortal sin to walk into a Jewish Synagogue.  That was because “Jews Killed Christ.”   There were no Black people in my neighborhood and a woman’s role was in the kitchen.  After our Italian family get togethers on Sunday and holidays, the men would all retire to the living room to smoke and watch sports while the women retired to the kitchen to clean the dishes that they had prepared dinner on.  Italian men loved boxing and would always root for the White boxer over the Black boxer. No amount of argument would ever convince my Italian relatives that Rocky Marciano was not the greatest boxer of all time.   How could he not be?  He was White and an Italian.  Case closed.

BedtimeNoozOne year at a Martin Luther King memorial service on the University of Minnesota campus at Northrup Auditorium, the keynote speaker was Dave Moore, a well-known news and television personality.  Karen and I attended many of the MLK day celebrations over the years.  I had never seen a White keynote speaker.  I was somewhat surprised and wondered what he could say about Martin Luther King or any other issue dealing with racism.  It turned out to be quite an interesting talk.

Dave Moore, spoke on growing up in an all-White Minneapolis neighborhood.  He noted that because there were no Black people in his childhood, he assumed when he was older that he could not be a racist.  He admitted how wrong he found this assumption to be.  He told the audience how many racist attitudes he found that he grew up with from simply assimilating the prejudices of his White culture.  It was a very moving talk coming from a man that was so admired by many people.  He essentially admitted that he grew up racist without ever knowing a single Black person.

Later in my life, I had a more diverse group of friends.  Many of my White friends would say that because they had a Black, Brown, Yellow, Red, or Gay friend that they were not prejudiced.  I have found that most colored friends of White people tend to be the “good” guys as opposed to their non-friends who are usually “They and Them people.”

1006OPEDnegley-superJumboNow we get back to the difficult if not impossible people to understand.  How do we put ourselves in the shoes of a rapist or pedophile?  There are many that would think I am crazy for asking this question.  I believe we will never eliminate these problems if we do not understand the causes.  We cannot cure the problem simply by locking up all the pedophiles and rapists in the world.  I do not believe that these are inherited characteristics.  There have been times and places in the world where practices bordering on rape and pedophilia have actually been legal and condoned.

Marital rape is criminalized in many countries. Throughout history until the 1970s, most states granted a husband the right to have sex with his wife whenever he so desired, as part of the marriage contract.”Wikipedia

Although there is substantial evidence in the historical and anthropological record of the sexual use of children by adults, surprisingly little is known about the etiology of pedophilia or its relation to other forms of sexual aggression.”  —

Thankfully, attitudes have changed about many behaviors and while cannibalism may still be a practice in some obscure parts of the world, it has largely been eradicated.  Unfortunately, rape and pedophilia although largely recognized as crimes  throughout most of the world have not seen a similar level of diminishment.

But if we cannot and would not walk a mile in the shoes of a rapist or pedophile, it still behooves us to understand their motivations.  What are the kicks they get out of these anti-social behaviors?  Why do they do it?  What can we do besides lock them up to effect permanent cures?

The second-best way (through second-hand experiences) would no doubt help us answer some of these questions.  The problem is that no one wants to read about what a rapist or pedophile thinks.  I remember years ago reading “Soul on Ice” by Eldridge Cleaver and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”

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In Soledad state prison, I fell in with a group of young blacks who, like myself, were in vociferous rebellion against what we perceived as a continuation of slavery on a higher plane. We cursed everything American—including baseball and hot dogs. All respect we may have had for politicians, preachers, lawyers, governors, Presidents, congressmen was utterly destroyed as we watched them temporizing and compromising over right and wrong, over legality and illegality, over constitutionality and unconstitutionality. We knew that in the end what they were clashing over was us, what to do with the blacks, and whether or not to start treating us as human beings. I despised all of them.” — Eldridge Cleaver, “Soul on Ice

Both of these books gave me some insights into the prison experiences of a Black man.  Both Malcolm X and Cleaver were once engaged in criminal and violent behavior and both men turned their lives around.  Their stories are profound and moving.  They also give the world some insights into the pros and cons of a prison experience.

Perhaps more insights provided by rapists and pedophiles might help us to better understand how to deal with these behaviors.  I cannot say with any certainty that it would help.  The one thing that I am certain of is that nothing we have done in the past seems to be making a difference today.  The statistics for child sexual abuse are horrifying.

  • There are more than 42 million survivors of sexual abuse in America. (National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse)
  • 1 in 3 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. (The Advocacy Center)
  • 1 in 5 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. (The Advocacy Center)
  • 1 in 5 children are solicited sexually while on the Internet before the age of 18. (National Children’s Alliance: Nationwide Child Abuse Statistics)

The statistics for rape and sexual violence in the USA are equally horrifying.

  • In 2019, over 652,676 women were raped.
  • Over 40% of women in the US have encountered sexual violence.
  • Nearly 80% of female sexual assault victims experience their first assault before the age of 25.
  • Around 20% of American males have been the victim of sexual violence.
  • Rape Statistics show that less than 20% of rapes are reported.
  • Women and men with disabilities face twice the risk of sexual assault than able-bodied individuals.
  • Sexual violence incidents, preceded by stalking, increased by 1.9% in 2019.

These statistics are from “32 Shocking Sexual Assault Statistics for 2022” by Jennifer Kuadli at Legaljobs.

In Conclusion:

  • First-hand experience can help us understand the minds and hearts of others, but we are sometimes limited in the experiences that we can actually undertake.
  • Second-hand experiences have pros and cons. Not all Blacks, Asians, Latinos, Indians, women, or any other group that you can think of will have the same experiences.  No one on this earth can speak for all people for all time. 
  • We need to try and try and try again. If the bell really does toll for all people, then we have a responsibility to understand what makes other people happy and what makes them feel miserable. 
  • We share this planet with other human beings and other species. The more we understand others, the more we can make the world a beautiful peaceful and happy place to live.

 

Two Short Pieces to Share

These are two short pieces I wrote to share with my writing class this week. I wanted to bring something that would not be too long. We each have about ten minutes in class to share a piece of writing, short story or poetry with the other students. My first piece was just something fun. At least for me it was fun.

The Spy Who Talked by John Persico

Interrogator:  “Let’s get this over with quickly.  We know you are going to talk so why make it difficult for yourself.” 

Spy:  “Nothing you can do will ever make me talk, so do your best.”

Interrogator:  “We have ways of making anyone talk, it is only a matter of time before you do.”

Spy:  “Could you give me an example?  What are some of the things that you might do that you think would make me talk?”

Interrogator:  “We could do Chinese Water Torture on you.”

Spy:  “That’s been tried before without any luck.”

Interrogator:  “We have a new battery and could give you some electric shocks.”

Spy:  “I find electro shock treatments to be rather therapeutic.”

Interrogator:  We could smack your feet until you talk.”

Spy:  “I love having my feet massaged.  Could you do my back as well.”

Interrogator:  “Ok, I am getting tired of this repartee, you asked for it.”

Spy:  “Asked for what?”

Interrogator:  “You want us to play hard ball!”

Spy:  “Can you give me an example?”

Interrogator:  “Well for starters, we can cut off your dick and feed it to our pet piranha.”

Spy:  “By dick, do you mean my cock and balls or just my cock?”

Interrogator:  “We usually start with the cock and work down to the balls.”

Spy:  “What if I tell you that I don’t have a cock and balls?  I am actually a woman disguised as a man.”

Interrogator:  “This is why we hate women spies.”  You make things so difficult for us.”

Spy:  “Is that all you’ve got?”

Interrogator:  “Let me check with our torture consultant and see what we have for women spies.  It will only take a few minutes.”

A Few Minutes Later:

Interrogator:  “We don’t seem to have a lot of good torture ideas for women, but we have come up with one that we think will do the job.”

Spy:  “I’m ready.  Do your worst.”

Interrogator:  “We are going to force you to watch 100 hours of old ‘Father Knows Best’ reruns.”

Spy:  “Please no, anything but that.  I will talk!  I will tell you all I know.  The whole truth and nothing but the truth.  So, help me God.

370 words

Mission Accomplished by John Persico

You don’t know what you would do,

But I know what I did.

Like the good soldier I was,

I followed the orders that I was given.

245 Women, children, and old men,

All lined up in a row.

So peaceful now,

No more crying or screaming to hear.

Red people, yellow people, brown people, black people,

A rainbow of corpses all pressed to the ground.

“Sergeant, get the men back into formation,

time to move on to our next objective.”

“Yes sir, lieutenant,” I say,

As we march proudly away.

96 words

How to Find Meaning and Purpose in Life

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Two most important elements in any life are meaning and purpose.  Your soul, your spirit and your sense of well-being may depend more on these two elements than anything else you will ever find.  Money, fame, and success will mean nothing if you do not believe that you are living a life consistent with your purpose.  Nothing you buy or acquire will have any importance to you if you do not feel that your life has any meaning.

Many books have been written about the elements of meaning and purpose.  Two of the most famous are “The Purpose Driven Life” and “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

 “Being successful and fulfilling your life’s purpose are not at all the same thing; You can reach all your personal goals, become a raving success by the worlds standard and still miss your purpose in this life.”  — “The Purpose Driven Life” —  Rick Warren

“These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus, it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. ‘Life’ does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny” — “Man’s Search for Meaning” —  Viktor Frankl

Perhaps, you still do not know what the difference is between purpose and meaning.  Do not despair.  There are as many ideas about the meaning of these two elements as there are about life after death.  Everyone seems to have their own ideas about these qualities, but everyone agrees on one thing; they are essential for a life that is worthwhile.  I am going to give you my take on them.  What they mean and how to find them for yourself.

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What Is the Difference between Meaning and Purpose?

We live in a world of contrasts and dualities.  Up and down, back and forth, good and bad, happiness and sadness.  Perhaps these are only our own perspective that we cast onto the world but for better or worse we are stuck with them.  The Yin and Yang concept is very useful in thinking about the world.  For every Yin there is a Yang.

“The principal belief of the Yin Yang is reflected in the categorization of musical tones. The two main forms of Taoist music are the Yin Tone and the Yang Tone.  Yin stands for all things that are female and soft and Yang stands for all things male and hard.  Through the proper balance of Yin (female) and Yang (male) a Taoist can find harmony and simplicity in all things.” (Bowker, 2000) — Wikipedia

Esoteric_Taijitu-5c85cc7b46e0fb00014319cdMeaning and purpose are Yin and Yang to each other.  Purpose is outside you and is what you do in the world.  For me purpose involves doing.  Meaning is inside you and what you do for yourself.  Meaning involves being rather than doing.  Let’s use a running race as an example.

I am a runner.  I have been running since I was twenty-five years old. I have run dozens of races.  Some of them were long and some were very short.  Let’s say I run a race and do so half-heartedly.  By fate or circumstance, I come in first place.  My purpose was to run and win the race or at least my age division now that I am 75.  How I ran it is somewhat irrelevant to my purpose.  In this case, I won, and I get the medal or trophy.  I may not have done my best, but the world does not care.  It rewards winners and not losers.  What we do for the world is our purpose.  We may not do our best, but we may still win the award.

My purpose in life is to help bring different perspectives and insights to the world through my writings.  I want to challenge conventional ways of doing things and thinking about things.  That is my purpose in life.  Purpose for me is about doing and not about being.

Back to the race.  I can run the race and give it my best.  I may go all out and still come in tenth or even dead last.  If I  know I did my best, I will feel good about myself, even though my results will not receive any accolades or awards.  To me, this is meaning.

img_7909Meaning in my dictionary is about living up to my potential, my values and my beliefs by doing the best I can each day to be consistent with them.  No one may ever know if I am being kind, compassionate or patient today.  You cannot see the inner virtues that I want to live by.  I am the only person at the end of each day who can judge whether or not my life had any meaning today.  If I can be the best person that I want to be each day, I will die feeling that my life had meaning.  To the rest of the world, I may just be another old teacher, old veteran or old guy who lived an average life and died at an average age.  Meaning to me is about being and not doing.

Martin Luther King in his famous Eulogy Speech summed up the meaning of his life very well when he told the world how we wanted to be remembered:

“Yes, if you want to, say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice.  Say that I was a drum major for peace. I  was a drum major for righteousness.  And all of the other shallow things will not matter.

I won’t have any money to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that is all I want to say. If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cheer somebody with a well song, if I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong, then my living will not be in vain.”

We should all write a eulogy for ourselves before we die.  This is to let the world know what we tried to be and tried to do.  The world will see what we did do.  You won’t have to tell the world what you did.  Purpose is written in accomplishments, but meaning is written in how people feel about you.  Purpose is pride and success while meaning is love and integrity.  In some respects, it is impossible to separate being from doing and meaning from purpose.  They flow together like melody and rhythm in a song. They can be separated but together they make life more beautiful.

See my blog:  “How about writing your eulogy today?”

How do I find my purpose in life?

Your purpose in life will depend on both your skills and your interests.  If you match the two you may find what your purpose in life is.  If you have skills in mathematics or science and you are interested in the medical field, you may devote your life to working as a doctor or medical researcher.  If you love music and have a skill for playing instruments, perhaps you will be a composer or music teacher or musician.  These skills will be the vehicles that you use to share your purpose with the world.

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The above diagram was developed to help people find what their purpose in life is.  It has four elements which overlap.

  • What do you love?
  • What are you good at?
  • What can you be paid for?
  • What does the world need?

Ask yourself these four questions.  If you can find a way to make the answers mesh, you will have found your purpose in life.  Over time, your interest and the world’s needs may change.  Finding purpose is not always a once and for all effort.  Some lucky people find a purpose which takes them all through life.  Many of us will have several purposes before we finish our journey through life.

How do I find my meaning in life?

There are hundreds of formulas and suggestions for how to find meaning in life.  The one thing I am certain of is that each of us must define our own meaning.  We define our meaning by deciding what we want to be in life.  Notice, I did not say what we want to do in life.  What makes this a difficult question to answer is that what we want to be is defined by how we go about being.  We must realize that being and doing are inseparable.  There is a Yin and Yang here.

Ask yourself, what do I want to be?

new1_10If I answer, I want to be rich,  my meaning in life will be defined by how I go about becoming rich and what I do with my money.  If I want to be a writer, my meaning will be defined by what I write and how I go about the writing process.  If  I want to be happy, my meaning in life will be defined by how I go about achieving happiness.  No one except me can judge how I define myself.  People may say that I am not very rich or that I am not a very good writer, but it is what I believe about myself which will define my meaning in life.  Vincent Van Gogh is now widely regarded as one of the greatest painters of all time.  His paintings sell for millions of dollars.  However, in his lifetime, he sold only one painting.  It was to his sister-in-law who felt sorry for him.

91QvVMwW4BL._AC_SY606_“What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.”Quotes from The Letters of Vincent van Gogh, ©Excellence Reporter 2020 Vincent Van Gogh,

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I realize as I write this that some people will never care about the meaning or purpose of their lives.  Just as some people are goal oriented and others are not, meaning and purpose may be subjects that not all people desire or can even pursue.  Perhaps they are luxuries of a more educated or affluent existence.  Perhaps people born into abject poverty and hunger have more to worry about then the meaning and purpose of their lives.  Aldonza in the “Man of La Mancha” sang:

ALDONZA

Take the clouds from your eyes

and see me as I really am!

You have shown me the sky,

But what good is the sky

To a creature who’ll never

Do better than crawl?

9781780749327_27I conclude with the consideration that Meaning and Purpose may not be everyone’s cup of tea.  I confess that it was much later in my life and many hurdles had been taken and many obstacles overcome before I started caring about the meaning and purpose of life.  Now I look back and shake my head with some sorrow that I did not grasp their import on life when I was in my teens.  A have learned that a life without meaning and purpose is not a life, it is just living.

Happy? Happy? Happy? or Why Ain’t I Happier?

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We all feel that we are entitled to be happy.  The Bill of Rights lists happiness as one of our inalienable rights.  Actually, it lists the “pursuit of happiness.”  Just like chasing a rabbit or health or winning the lottery, you are assured of no guarantee that you will catch happiness.  But that won’t stop most of us from trying.  The sad part is that most of us will probably fail.

Failure in any endeavor is always assured if you don’t know what you are doing or if you don’t have a strategy.  But voila, that is where John and his Magic Blog come in.  I am here to give you six methods for catching happiness.  Furthermore, I will not charge you one cent for learning how you can be happy for the rest of your life.  So, listen closely, pay attention, and take notes if you have to.  I may only keep this blog up for a week, just in case I get inundated with requests from Fox News, MSNBC, the Today Show and/or Jimmy Kimmel.  Fame is not really conducive to happiness regardless of what they try to tell you.

Let’s start with one basic fact.  There are multiple theories about happiness.  What this means to me is that there is more than one road to happiness.  I have identified six different secrets or theories for obtaining happiness.  I will share each one of these secrets with you and give you the pros and cons as I see them.

Ooops, I almost forgot.  Some things will not make you happy even if the experts tell you that they will.  The following is a list of things that “ain’t necessarily so” when it comes to finding happiness. I list these so you can stay on track and not get seduced by what so many of your friends and neighbors think will make them happy.

  • Money
  • Good health
  • Fame
  • Power
  • Lots of friends
  • Family
  • Gourmet food
  • Long life
  • Sports
  • Reading
  • Taking naps
  • Sex
  • Children

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 1.  Absolute Theory of Happiness 

This theory says that happiness is a permanent trait that you too can find or acquire if you only try hard enough.  Happiness is an attribute like integrity or honesty.  Once you find it or get it, all you have to do is hold onto it.  It exists like a pot of gold somewhere buried and if you search long enough and hard enough you can find it.  People in search of happiness try many of the items on my above list in the hope that one of these will give them happiness.

Pros:

  • Treats happiness as a journey or quest.
  • Looks at happiness as a trait that can be acquired.

Cons:

  • Endless searching for something that is usually a dead end.
  • Happiness is not usually outside but more often inside.
  • Happiness is seldom if ever permanent.
  • Having things will not make you happy.

 2.  Contingency Theory of Happiness

imagesThis theory says that happiness is dependent on other things happening in your life.  You must have these other things going on or you will not be happy.  If you have a good family, or good job or you have meaningful work, you will be happy.  Contingency is like a correlation in statistics.  The process of having a good family correlates with happiness but having a good family does not make you happy.  Some things have a higher correlation with happiness than other things.  Some people believe that having less things is more conducive to happiness than owning a bunch of things.

Pros:

  • There is some correlation between happiness and living or doing the right things.
  • Doing the right things may result in some temporary happiness.

Cons:

  • Finding happiness is more complex than simply doing the right things.

3.  Outcome Theory of Happiness

downloadThis could also be called the “Cause and Effect” theory of happiness.  This theory says that certain things or activities will lead to the outcome of happiness.  For instance, becoming an Olympic Gold Medalist may lead an athlete to happiness.

Pros:

  • Great achievements and meaningful accomplishments can lead to happiness.

Cons:

  • No matter how much you have accomplished or how great your accomplishments are, the satisfaction you will receive and the happiness you may derive will only be temporary.

4.  Relative Theory of Happiness

xKgn9039You will always be happy in proportion to how happy others are around us.  If I have a great deal of money but my friends have more, I will be unhappy.  However, if I have a bigger office than anybody else in the company, I will be happier than they are.  The state of being happy will always be relative or in comparison to some other standard that I mark my happiness by.

Pros:

  • Humans have a great propensity to compare themselves to others.  If you are better, you may achieve a sense of happiness from your pride at being better.

Cons:

  • Pride and comparisons will always change. You may be on top for awhile but soon you will be on the bottom.  When you are on the bottom your happiness will disappear.

what-percentage-of-people-say-they-are-happy-ipsos

5.  Average Theory of Happiness

Happiness is viewed as an average state of being.  You can never be beyond some mean of happiness.  Perhaps your mean will be different than mine, but you will not be able to go much above or below your limits.  Just as everyone has different physical limits, everyone has different limits to their happiness.  Some people are just happier than others and there is nothing that you can do or change to alter your happiness mean.  You are just going to be average happy and that is that.

Pros:

  • It may be more realistic to be satisfied with life as you know it.  Satisfaction and gratitude will convey a sense of happiness even if you are never the happiest person in the world.
  • You may never be exceptionally happy but you may never be exceptionally unhappy.

Cons:

  • Life may never have peak experiences for you in terms of being happy, happy, happy.

6.  Exceptional Theory of Happiness

bigstock-jumping-happy-young-man-12752945This theory views happiness as something that has no limits.  The sky is the limit.  Extraordinary happiness awaits anyone willing to go for it.  Every day will bring more and more happiness if you only believe it is possible.

Pros:

  • A joy that exceeds all others may come from feeling exceptionally happy.  The best day of your life may be one that you will remember forever.

Cons:

  • Best days are inevitably followed by worst days. Nothing stays up forever.  Or whatever goes up will go down and the further up you are the further down you will fall.

Conclusions:

You are probably thinking about now “Well, I don’t get it.”  Where is the secret that will give me perpetual ecstatic happiness?  Frankly, I have not found it.  Most of my journey through life has taught me that everything has its ups and downs.  There are no absolute truths that exist for all time.  There is no one path to happiness or samadhi.  Life is a cycle.  Today I find happiness, tomorrow my mother or best friend dies.  Can I be happy when they die?  I may not go out and commit Hari-kari, but I doubt that I will be feeling joyous for the next few weeks or perhaps even months.

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I think one mistake we make starts at the very beginning.  We assume or treat life as though it were about the pursuit of happiness.  I don’t think it is.  But I do believe we can be happy for cycles or minor periods in our life when things just seem to be going right.  My formula for achieving these brief periods of happiness is as follows:

  • Live each day the best that you can
  • Do the most that you are able to spread joy and peace in the world
  • Treat everyone you meet and know with love and respect
  • Respect yourself and your accomplishments
  • Do not look for never-ending happiness
  • Never pursue things or accomplishments as a means to happiness

Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy. — Guillaume Apollinaire

PS:

One of the comments by a reader noted the “Bluebird of Happiness.”  This reminded me of the famous song by Jan Peerce.  I had not listened to this song in ages and I just went back and listened to it.  The lyrics are wonderful and if my blog has not inspired you to “happiness” maybe the lyrics from the song will.

The Bluebird of Happinesscomposed in 1934 by Sandor Harmati, with words by Edward Heyman and additional lyrics by Harry Parr-Davies. Click the link to hear Jan Peerce sing this wonderful song. 

The beggar man and the mighty king are only different in name,
For they are treated just the same by fate.
Today a smile and tomorrow a tear, we never know what’s in store.
So learn your lesson before it is too late.

So be like I, hold your head up high ’til you find the bluebird of happiness.
You will find greater peace of mind, knowing there’s a bluebird of happiness.
And when he sings to you, though you’re deep in blue
You will see a ray of light creep through
And so remember this, life is no abyss
Somewhere there’s a bluebird of happiness.

The poet with his pen, the peasant with his plow,
It makes no different who you are, it’s all the same somehow.
The king upon his throne, the jester at his feet,
the artist, the actress, the man on the street.

It’s a life of smiles and a life of tears It’s a life of hopes and a life of fears.
A blinding torrent of rain and a brilliant burst of sun,
A biting tearing pain and bubbling sparkling fun.
And no matter what you have, don’t envy those you meet.
It’s all the same, it’s in the game, the bitter and the sweet.

And if things don’t look so cheerful, just show a little fight.
Fore every bit of darkness, there’s a little bit of light.
For every bit of hatred, there’s a little bit of love.
Fore every cloudy morning, there’s a midnight moon above.

So don’t you forget, you must search ’til you find the bluebird.
You will find peace and contentment forever, if you will be like I.
Hold your head up high, ’til you see a ray of light appear.
And so remember this, life is no abyss
Somewhere there’s a bluebird of happiness.

Why You Should Believe Nothing You Read or Hear in the News!

news-icons (1)I want to make an argument as to why most of what you hear or read is biased, prejudiced and based on narrow minded thinking.  Most of what you read will not lead you to the truth but will take you down a path away from the truth.  My argument will also apply to what you are about to read.  I am biased, narrow minded and prejudiced.  So why should you read or listen to what I am about to write?  Well, let’s start at the beginning.

Like many of you reading this, I consider myself somewhat of a truth seeker.  Although, I believe few if any “absolute” truths actually exist.  Nevertheless, I read a wide variety of books and magazines.  I listen to many different sources including TV, Radio, Podcasts, TED Talks, documentaries, and YouTube videos.  I attend training sessions, conferences, and talks by noted experts whenever possible.  I also scan many different news sources each day to find a variety of perspectives concerning political events and popular news.  My friends consider me well informed and very knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects.

maxresdefaultI have been seeking the truth or what might pass as “truth” for most of my 75 years on this earth.  I was considered the “smartest” guy in the room in many of my high school and college classes.  The authorities or those that are supposed to be good judges of truth and knowledge gave me two undergraduate degrees, one master’s degree and a Ph.D. Degree.  Once upon a time, I belonged to many different professional associations and was also a member of MENSA, the so-called high IQ society.  None of my qualifications or associations prepared me any better than anyone else upon this earth to find the TRUTH.  Like most of you, I am still looking and hoping that the “Truth will set me free.”  If only, I can find it.

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A few days ago, I noticed seven different editorials on Google News concerning the Ukrainian War.  Each of the editorials was written by a professional journalist and each espoused some very critical ideas.  Some of these ideas would carry weight with readers and no doubt influence public opinion for good or bad.  Six of the journalists’ names were listed and one was not.  Now most stories we get in the news whether on TV or print are written by journalists.  Less frequently it will be some “policy” expert or high-ranking government official who will be doing an opinion piece or some type of interview.

I started to ask myself a few questions:

  • What are their professional qualifications?
  • How much influence or weight do these journalists carry?
  • How much slant or bias do these journalists carry?
  • Are journalists and the media really qualified to tell us what we should or should not be doing?

I looked up each of the journalists to see what their qualifications were.  Basically, they were professionally trained journalists and most of them had extensive experience in foreign relations.  Neither of these attributes makes them an expert on the Ukraine but it is conceivable that they might have more knowledge in some areas of foreign policy than the general public.  Again, more knowledge does not mean less biases. Here are the news sources and brief bios for the six journalists I researched:

The Washington Post- Liz Sly and Dan Lamothe

Liz Sly (born in the United Kingdom) is a British journalist based in Beirut.  She is currently a correspondent with The Washington Post covering Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East.   She graduated from the University of Cambridge.

Dan Lamothe is an award-winning military journalist and war correspondent.  He has written for Marine Corps Times and the Military Times newspaper chain since 2008, traveling the world and writing extensively about the Afghanistan war both from Washington and the war zone.  He also has reported from Norway, Spain, Germany, the Republic of Georgia and while underway with the U.S. Navy.

NPR – Greg Myre

Greg Myre is an American journalist and an NPR national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community.  Before joining NPR, he was a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press and The New York Times for 20 years.  He reported from more than 50 countries and covered a dozen wars and conflicts.

The Wall Street Journal – David Henninger

Mr. Henninger was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing in 1987 and 1996 and shared in the Journal’s Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for the paper’s coverage of the attacks on September 11. In 2004, he won the Eric Breindel Journalism Award for his weekly column.  He has won the Gerald Loeb Award for commentary, the Scripps Howard Foundation’s Walker Stone Award for editorial writing and the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ Distinguished Writing Award for editorial writing.  He is a weekly panelist on the “Journal Editorial Report” on Fox News.

The Atlantic – Eliot Cohen

Eliot Asher Cohen (born April 3, 1956, in Boston, Massachusetts) is an American political scientist. He was a counselor in the United States Department of State under Condoleezza Rice from 2007 to 2009.  In 2019, Cohen was named the 9th Dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University, succeeding the former dean, Vali Nasr.  Before his time as dean, he directed the Strategic Studies Program at SAIS.

Cohen was one of the first neoconservatives to publicly advocate war against Iran and Iraq.  In a November 2001 op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Cohen identified what he called World War IV and advocated the overthrow of Iran’s government as a possible next step for the Bush Administration. Cohen claimed “regime change” in Iran could be accomplished with a focus on “pro-Western and anticlerical forces” in the Middle East and suggested that such an action would be “wise, moral and unpopular (among some of our allies)”

The New York Times – Cora Engelbrecht

Cora Engelbrecht is a contributor to the RIGHTS blog.  She recently received her BA in nonfiction writing from Wesleyan University, and now works in New York as a freelance writer, researcher, and graphic artist.  Her interest for human rights and global conflict stems from her time spent researching and writing abroad in Tanzania and South Africa.

rathom-trench-fb

I next turned to the question of how much influence do journalists carry?  The story of John Revelstoke Rathom (1868–1923) is very informative in this regard.  He was a journalist, editor, and author based in Rhode Island at the height of his career. In the years before World War I, he was a prominent advocate of American participation in the war against Germany.

c9713250-e5eb-46c7-8ea9-2810435084fa-9781643139364“Rathom campaigned for the U.S. to enter World War I in support of the British.  Under his management, the Providence Journal produced a series of exposés of German espionage and propaganda in the U.S.  In 2004, that same newspaper reported that much of Rathom’s coverage was a fraud: ‘In truth, the Providence Journal had acquired numerous inside scoops on German activities, mostly from British intelligence sources who used Rathom to plant anti-German stories in the American media.’” –  Wikipedia

It seems logical to assume that since we did enter the war and since the Brits did go out of their way to bias American policy that the efforts of Rathom and others had a major influence on our decision to enter the war on England’s side. America was persuaded by the media that we should enter the war when there was substantial public opinion to stay out of the mess that Europe was in.  My own reading of WW I shows a totally different scenario than from WW II.  I have little doubt that we should have entered the war against Hitler.  However, the picture from WW I is quite different.  I think that each side had equal claims to legitimacy for their war efforts.  But the media heavily influenced our eventual entry into the war.

Next I wanted to see if anyone had opinions about the bias or prejudices that the typical journalist might have.  I found the following comment in a recent article by Politico, “Why Journalists Love War”, by Jack Shafer  03/17/2022

“NBC News reporter Richard Engel, a veteran foreign war correspondent, dropped a tweet a few days after the war began that appeared to lament that U.S. forces hadn’t strafed the huge Russian convoy approaching Kyiv, seemingly unimpressed that such a strike might launch World War III.  Reporters didn’t call in bombers at White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s Monday briefing, but the tone of their repeated questions almost made it sound like they were advocating a no-fly zone and fresh jets for Ukraine.  And the New York Post left no ambiguity about where they stood with its super-partisan “Fight Like Zel” cover headline.”

“The overwhelming majority of U.S. journalists have taken a more subdued position on the war, identifying with Ukraine against the aggressor Russians, but stopping just short of cheerleading. Even so, journalists can’t hide the seductive draw of the bloodworks.  They can’t help themselves. They love war.”

Photojournalist,Documenting,War,And,Conflict

Of course, this is only one opinion.  However, it fit well with my observations.  I have noticed every day calls by journalists for increased efforts to support Ukraine that might well lead to a Nuclear War.  As I read these brash comments, I sit wondering where were the calls to intervene in Nigeria, Rhodesia, Yemen, and Cambodia?  Why are the news outlets pushing a narrative that implies world disaster if the Ukraine falls to Russia?

Listen please!  I would like to see the Ukrainians kick all the Russian asses back to Siberia or some other cold place.  However, I am not willing to start a Nuclear War over the Ukraine.  There have been too many missed opportunities by the West during the past five years that would have avoided the present war.  What is it that brings out the desire to have a nuclear confrontation with Russia?  Nothing I can see except a Democratic Party that needs to look tough and a cadre of journalists pushing a narrative for more and more support by our country for a nation that we do not even have a treaty with.

“The link between safety and ethics may not be immediately obvious, but the same ambitions and economic factors that pressure inexperienced and poorly prepared freelance journalists to enter battle zones also pressure journalists to present the news as they think that their paymasters most want to hear it.”  — https://ethicaljournalismnetwork.org/ethics-safety-solidarity-journalism — Originally published as a chapter of “Conflict reporting in the smartphone era – from budget constraints to information warfare”

A book that I am reading is “The Science of Fear” (2008) by Daniel Gardner.  The following  insight by Gardner is quite pertinent to this discussion.

9780226567198“The media are among those that profit by marketing fear – nothing gives a boost to circulation and ratings like a good panic – but the media also promote unreasonable fears for subtler and more compelling reasons.  The most profound is the simple love of stories and storytelling.  For the media, the most essential ingredient of a good story is the same as that of a good movie, play or tale told by a campfire.  It has to be about people and emotions, not numbers and reason.  Thus, the particularly tragic death of a single child will be reported around the world while a massive and continuing decline in child mortality rates is hardly noticed.” — Pg. 294

Ever since the decline of print news and the rise of the internet, the media has become a cesspool of click bait headlines, gross news reports about inane subjects, media celebrities touted as royalty and increasingly bizarre stories designed to spread fear.  There is no more morality or ethics in the news than there is in a cartel, mafia, or mega-corporation.  It is all about the money and there never seems to be enough these days.  Is the media biased is actually a very stupid question.  Right, left, central it does not matter.  They all have one agenda and that is to sell advertising for their corporate sponsors

My final question was, “Are journalists and the media really qualified to tell us what we should or should not be doing?”  My answer is that they are no more qualified than anyone else on the street or even one of your friends or relatives.  A study done several years ago and published in a book called “Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?” (2005) by Philip E. Tetloc examined the link between experts’ opinions and how often they were right.

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Tetloc in his heavily researched study found that experts are often no better at making predictions than most other people, and how when they are wrong, they are rarely held accountable.  Kahneman and Tversky in their book “Judgment Under Uncertainty” (1982) identify dozens of cognitive biases that impact the thinking ability of human beings.  They both later won a Nobel Prize for their work in behavioral economics.  It is often the most highly educated people who suffer from these biases the most.

Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (1962) dealt with the biases that the scientific community held regarding theories and principles.  Kuhn showed how difficult it was for the scientific community to let go of “old paradigms” and adopt new paradigms.  This was true even when all the evidence showed that the new paradigms did a better job of explaining the subject under study than the old paradigm.  Science history is full of many theories that took fifty or more years to be accepted simply due to the biases and resistance to change that is prevalent among scientists.  This is as true of scientists as it is of journalists, politicians, and the average person.

What is the answer:

A friend of mine said that the most important thing we have to do is to teach our children to question everything.  To question is the heart and soul of critical thinking.  However, we must be cautious lest we raise a nation or world of nihilists.  There is a difference between rejecting everything and questioning everything.

I am not a nihilist though I see a fine line between my thinking and nihilism.  I do not believe in absolute truth, but I think there are approximate truths.  As we learn more and more about anything, our truths get closer to the absolute, but we can never reach it.  I think the same way about meaning in life.  Meaning exists but only in our minds.  It will change many times during our lives.  The same is true for morality and values.  They exist but only in our minds.  Like the Velveteen Rabbit, they become real when we make them so.

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I used to hold up a dollar bill and ask my students how much was it worth?   They typically replied one dollar.  I asked them why it was worth a dollar?  Answers varied, but the truth or close to it is that it is because people believe that it is worth a dollar.  In terms of labor, ink, and paper, it costs the Federal government 6.2 cents to print a dollar.  In terms of buying value, a dollar in 1926 is worth only 15.58 cents today.  However, this is not an absolute either since the current value of a dollar actually varies from state to state.  The value of a dollar varies about 30 cents from the lowest to the highest state across the USA.  In Mississippi, a dollar is worth $1.16, while in Hawaii, the dollar is only worth 84.39 cents.

So, seeing is believing or is believing seeing?  Is there a difference between perception and reality or are they the same?  Can we ever escape the Rashomon effect?  The biases in perception created by our own desires to protect our egos or the egos of others.

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There is little I have learned in my life that supports my willingness to accept anything as 100 percent factual, 100 percent truthful or 100 percent valid and reliable.  The solution is to question everything.  Do not accept anything as absolute.  When it comes to politicians, lawyers, salespeople, and journalists, we all need to be on guard.  Their built-in bias is not for the truth but for the dollar or at least 84 cents on the dollar.

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 Update:  4/29/22

Just read the following on CNBC.  This “brilliant” analysis by a guy who writes regularly for a variety of news outlets and is listed as a “Tutor” notes the following:

“I think it’s outside the realm of possibility right now that there’s going to be a nuclear war or World War III that really spills over that far beyond Ukraine’s borders,” Samuel Ramani, a geopolitical analyst and associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, told CNBC.

Dr. Samuel Ramani’s credentials for this brilliant piece of optimistic analysis is that he is a tutor of politics and international relations at the University of Oxford, where he received his doctorate in March 2021. Somehow this makes him an expert in what Russia will do next in the Ukraine.  His “beyond optimism” comes at a time when Putin is starting to get more and more desperate in his bid to defeat the Ukraine.  Putin is becoming a cornered rat and NATO is pushing him into more and more of a corner.  Despite this, the genius who is less than two years since he finished his Ph.D. degree says “it is “OUTSIDE” the realm of possibility that Putin will launch a nuclear strike.  It would only be “OUTSIDE” if Nuclear weapons did not exist.  Questions I have are:

  • Why is CNBC relying on the credentials of someone with so little expertise to give us such an analysis?
  • How could anyone in their right mind say that something is impossible when that something already exists?
  • What is the “narrative” behind the focus by the Western news?
  • Why is NATO supporting a war when we have no treaty with the Ukraine.

 

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

Wrote this a while back. The thought never seems to leave my mind. I really enjoyed writing this blog almost as much as I enjoy listening to Nina Simone. I hope you will listen to the song as well as read my blog. The singing and words echo in my mind. Oh! It is so easy to be misunderstood. We want to say and do the right things but somehow they come out wrong. Leave a comment. Tell me about a time that you were misunderstood. What did you do? Did it work out for the best?

Aging Capriciously

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The great jazz singer, songwriter, musician, arranger, and civil rights activist Nina Simone sang the song of the title of my blog back in 1965. Although she did not write the song, the passion that Ms. Simone put into all of her songs would make you think that she was singing from personal experience. Then agian, perhaps, we all have personal experience with the subject of this song.

Click on this link to hear Nina Simone’s rendition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ckv6-yhnIY

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There are many people who aspire (some even claim) to have no regrets in their life. I am well beyond either the aspiration or any such claims. I have lost track of the many regrets I have. This song reminded me of one of them. The song evokes memories of one of my famous phrases which I now deeply regret. My regret is having unequivocally and mindlessly accepted the validity of…

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Was Chris Rock Funny or Insulting? The Relationship between Time and Humor.

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I was in an Arizona City coffee shop a while ago and picked up a Casa Grande paper called the Dispatch.  One of the headlines was, “More Time to Kill?”  The headline seemed to exhibit a latent humor or sarcasm.  It was an article about the execution rate in Arizona which is one of the busiest in the nation.  I thought, “Well that would be a good subject for a blog but perhaps too heavy for a Friday.” So lets take a subject that is more fun and save the heavy stuff for next week.  By the way, tomorrow Karen and I are driving back to Wisconsin so I may miss a blog or two.  More need to think about the drive and less about blog subjects.   The issue or question I want to talk about before my drive begins is what do “Time” and “Humor” have in common?

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Time and humor are intimately related.  Have you ever noticed that a good comedian has an extraordinary sense of timing?  For a comedian to be funny, their timing has to be spot on.  A comedian has to sense the pulse of the audience as well as gauge the temper of the day.  For instance, jokes about the Ukraine would probably not sound funny today due to the seriousness of the tragedy.  However, comedians often joke about minor disasters and other failings when the time seems right.  The “Slap Heard Round the World” was a joke about another person.  Some feel that Chris Rock went out of bounds with his joke about Jada’s hair because of her medical condition.  Nevertheless, comedians often joke about “off limit” subjects.  When is the time right to tackle a sensitive subject or to make a joke about an issue that will not offend anyone is a difficult question to answer?

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Some comedians get away with telling racist and sexist jokes. They are able to sense the mood and nature of the audience. They also have an excellent sense of the Zeitgeist.  The Zeitgeist is a German word that roughly translates to “tempo of the times or the sign of the times.”  During the sixties, many of us took ourselves very seriously but today we can look back and joke about hippies, Woodstock, flower children and many of the quaint ideas we had back then.  Just look at how silly the dress and clothes look from back in the sixties.  We thought we were so cool then and now we laugh at how clownish we all looked.

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If you watch the evening talk show hosts, they are masters at getting the timing just right with their audience. Even when they flub a joke, they are able to make an instant comeback.  Not only do they have to have excellent timing for their jokes but the selection of guests is very critical as well.  All of us want to see guests who are current in the public mind for one reason or another.  Perhaps they have an upcoming movie, divorce or some other noteworthy event.  If they are not connected to any significant happenings, we are not likely to be as interested in them.  Being a celebrity has a great deal to do with timing as well as talent.  Great celebrities are great marketers.  This is probably why a jerk named Trump became president.

How do you deal with humor in your life?  What in your life today can you laugh at that you might not have been able to years ago?  What do you regard as so serious today that you do not ever think you could laugh at?  What if you are wrong?  Is your life so serious that you cannot find anything humorous about it?  How could you add more humor to your life?  How could you find a sense of better timing in your life to deal with humor?  When was the last joke you told?

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