The Balloons are Coming!  The Balloons are Coming!

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I was up in the Casa Grande mountains this morning where I do either a morning run or a morning hike.  Suddenly, I looked up and saw a large object overhead.  With further perusal, I realized that it was a balloon.  Now I have seen many balloons over the mountains in the past twelve years, but this one was different.  It was large and round like so many are but this one was painted with red, white and blue stripes like an American flag.  Why I wondered would anyone paint a balloon with red, white, and blue stripes?

Moon over mountain

I was well aware that a Chinese surveillance balloon had been spotted over Montana and today another one was spotted over South America.  It has been in the news for the last two days about every hour.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that if the Chinese wanted to fool us, what better way than to make a SPY balloon look like a hot air balloon with an American flag painted on it.  Who would suspect such a balloon.

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As I continued to gaze at the balloon, I had the eerie feeling that I was being surveyed.  What if the Chinese were taking my picture?  What if they were scanning my body type and profile?  Could they send my picture back to Beijing?  The more I pondered these questions, the more terrified I became.  I realized it was time to get out of there and report my suspicions to the proper authorities.  Just as I started to leave, the balloon went hundreds, maybe thousands of feet in the air and headed to Picacho Peak.  It dawned on me that the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is just a few miles south of Picacho Peak.  What if the balloon was going to attack the base?  I had to get home quick.

As soon as I got home.  I went on my computer to find the number for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  I Googled “CIA phone number.”  All I could come up with was an address to contact them at:

To contact OIG, please send mail to the following address:

Office of Inspector General

Central Intelligence Agency

Washington, DC 20505

This would not do.  This was an emergency.  It was a matter of national security.  I tried again and found the following phone number for the CIA:  202–418–5000.

I dialed the number and was answered by a robot which said:

“You have reached the “Commodities Futures Trading Commission.”

Could this by a subtle ploy to hide the real identify of the CIA?  I decided that the number listed for the CIA must be wrong.  After numerous searches, (it took me about an hour) I found a number for Mr. William Burns, the Director of the CIA.  I can’t give you his number as it is classified, but I will describe my conversation with the CIA.

CIA:  Who do you wish to speak to?

John:  Hi, this is a national emergency.  I want to speak to the Director, Mr. Burns.

CIA:  Mr. Burns is busy now; would you like to speak to his secretary?

John:  No!  NO!  This is an emergency!  I just spotted another Chinese Surveillance balloon over the Casa Grande Mountains.

CIA:  Could you tell us where these mountains are?

John:  Everyone knows they are in Arizona.

CIA:  Can you hold please, while we find someone to talk to you?

John:  Please hurry, the balloon is headed towards an airbase.

A “SHORT” HOLD OF 30 MINUTES

 CIA:  Hello, I am the assistant to the assistant to the assistant for Mr. Burns, how can I help you?

John:  I just spotted a Chinese Surveillance balloon over Picacho Peak.  It is headed to the Air Force base in Tucson.

CIA:  How do you know the balloon is Chinese?

John:  Because it is designed to look like a hot air balloon and it is painted red, white and blue, with the American flag.

CIA:  This sounds serious.  We are recording this information.  Have you contacted anyone else about this?

John:  No!

CIA:  Good, then we want to advise you to say nothing to anyone else.  Are you planning any trips soon?

John:  Well, we have some Chinese friends in San Francisco who we were going to visit in April.

CIA:  My God!  You have Chinese friends?  How long have you known them?  Do you think that they could be spies for the Chinese government.

John:  We have known them for almost thirty years now.  I think they are in their late seventies and probably too old to be spies.

CIA:  They could be much younger and made up to look like old people.

John:  I doubt it.

CIA:  Look, there is a security risk here.  We advise you to terminate your vacation plans immediately with this family and do not mention anything about our conversation with them.  Can you give us their address?

John:  I would rather not.  I don’t’ think we should get them involved.

CIA:  Look, who is more important?  Your friends or your country?

John:  Can I have some time to think about it?

CIA:  Have you ever heard of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  This is the highest award for a patriotic American citizen, and you could be in the running for this award.

John:  Do I get any money with the medal?

CIA: That might be arranged.

John:  Ok, I will give you their names and addresses but you must promise that I will remain anonymous.

CIA: You have our word (Crosses his fingers behind his back while he says this).

John:  I have got to go now; I hear someone knocking at my door.

I hung up my phone and walked to my front door.  Opening the door, two tall White guys in suits with dark sunglasses were standing there.  I asked them “What can I do for you?”  The older of the two guys said “We are from the CIA, we are placing you in the witness protection program for your own good.  Get some clothes, we must leave immediately.”

“Can you wait a few minutes while I tell my wife”, I said.

“It is better if no one knows where you are going or why.  The less people who know the better.  This is an issue of national security.  Hurry, we don’t have much time.  By the way, do you have any papers or documents around that belong to you?”

“Well,” I replied, “I have several unpublished blogs that I started but did not finish.”

“Okay, we want those documents.  They are now classified TOP SECRET documents and belong to the US government.  Gather them up and let’s go.  We want you to put the following message on your voice mail in case anyone tries to call you.”

VOICE MAIL MESSAGE:

You have reached the voice mail of John Persico Jr.  I have gone away for a while.  I do not know when I will be back.  If you see any balloons in the sky or have knowledge of balloons that do not look like helium balloons, toy balloons, weather balloons, or hot air balloons, please leave the following details:

  • Where did you see the balloons?
  • What suspicious activities were these balloons up to?
  • Which direction where they headed?
  • What was your last contacts with any ethnic Chinese people?

mixxed ballooons

BREAKING NEWS:

The Balloon has been shot down over the Atlantic Ocean. The Republican response to this crisis has been summarized by the Governor from Texas:

“The China balloon flying over the U.S. is a direct assault on our national sovereignty,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted on Friday. “Biden’s refusal to stop it is a dereliction of duty. From flying balloons to open borders, Biden has no regard for our national security and sovereignty.”

Dick Doyscher: A Man for a Few More Seasons

I wrote the following blog on March 4, 2020. Dick died Tuesday, January 31, 2023. Dick was 83 years old. He took his own life. I learned about it this morning when I tried to call him. I called him yesterday but did not get a reply which was unlike Dick. The last time I talked to him was four days ago and he sounded cheerful and upbeat and not noting any health problems other the usual aches and pains of old age. I wrote this blog about Dick because I regarded him and his wife Gladys as remarkable if not extraordinary people and good friends. It is easy to overlook people like Dick because “extraordinary” is peculiarly defined by our media and news sources. Following is the blog that I wrote three years ago.

Aging Capriciously

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I wrote the following blog on March 4, 2020.  Dick died yesterday January 31, 2023.  Dick was 83 years old.  He took his own life.  I learned about it this morning when I tried to call him.  I called him yesterday but did not get a reply which was unlike Dick.  The last time I talked to him was four days ago and he sounded cheerful and upbeat and not noting any health problems other the usual aches and pains of old age.  I wrote this blog about Dick because I regarded him and his wife Gladys as remarkable if not extraordinary people and good friends.  It is easy to overlook people like Dick because “extraordinary” is peculiarly defined by our media and news sources.  Following is the blog that I wrote three years ago.

Dick Doyscher:  A Man for a Few More Seasons 

If the world is full of…

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Can I Make a Difference or Not?

images 23Hamlet posed his existential quest for life with the famous phrase “To be or not to be, that is the question.”  I woke up this morning wrestling with a somewhat different question.  I wanted to go back to sleep.  It was too early to get up.  It was dark and cold.  I did not want to leave my nice warm bed but something inside of me was in war over the question of whether I can make a difference or not in the world.  Am I a fool and charlatan or a man with meaning and purpose?  You might say it was my pessimist side fighting with my optimist side.  It seemed more like my nihilist attitudes battling with my existentialist attitudes.  Or perhaps it is my cynicism versus my somewhat subdued optimism.  I will simply call these two voices “Doom and Gloom” versus “Hope and Possibilities.”  The struggle between the two voices went as follows.

Doom and Gloom:    You have nothing to live for.  Your life is a waste.  You have screwed up more things than you have made right.  No one cares what you think. You are not making a shred of difference in the world.

Hope and Possibilities:  If you quit now, what were all your struggles and efforts for?  You must believe in yourself; you can make a difference.

Doom and Gloom:  Show me any of your successes.  Do you have a single win in life that you can feel proud of or that you can say really changed the world or made a difference?

Hope and Possibilities:  Do you remember what Mother Teresa once said “I am not called on to make a difference, I am called on to have faith.”  You may never know if you are making a difference in the world but like buying a lottery ticket if you don’t buy one you can never win.

Doom and Gloom:  You have about as much chance of making a difference in the world as you do of winning the lottery.  Nobody cares about what you think or say.    

Hope and Possibilities:  History is made by people who did not give up.  Look at all the people who made a difference by their examples.  Jesus, Socrates, Mandela, Rosa Parks.

Doom and Gloom:  It goes without saying that you are no Jesus or even a Rosa Parks.  Many of the people that you mention were martyrs.  Do you aspire to make a difference by being a martyr?    

Hope and Possibilities:  I have been willing to take risks all of my life.  I have stood up for people.  I have stood against bullies.  I have risked any reputation or career advancement to stand up for integrity and morality.  No, I do not want to die for what I believe.  I would like to live a long and happy life.  But I will not change my beliefs to pacify or to conform to what others want to hear.

Doom and Gloom:  That is why you will never be successful in making a difference.  No one wants to hear your political diatribes and rants.  Your opinions are like raindrops on a duck’s ass.  People just want to be happy, and you are trying to make people unhappy.

Hope and Possibilities:  Probably true.  Over the years, I have said many things that people reject or that they think are even stupid ideas.  I have been guided by a desire to change how people think and what they see.  Einstein once said that “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”  I have tried to think out of the box.  I see the world so different than so many people I know.

Doom and Gloom:    And what did this get you?  Converts?  No, enemies, loss of friends, arguments, disillusionment.  There is also a saying that goes “Insanity is defined by doing the same things and expecting different results.”  You my friend, are bordering on insanity.  Your blogs and writings have not made one bit of difference in the world.

Hope and Possibilities:  I have about two thousand readers each month who look at my blog and many of them have left positive comments.

Doom and Gloom:    You are preaching to the choir.  You are not reaching the people who will make a difference in the world.  You have a small fan club.  You do not get as many hits on your site in a month as Kim Kardashian gets in one hour on her site.

Hope and Possibilities:  If you want to hurt someone, you really know how.  If I make a difference with one person, I want to believe it makes my efforts worthwhile.

Doom and Gloom:  Sure, go ahead and keep telling yourself that myth.  You know you would really like to have more people listen to your ideas and to help support some of them.  Over the years, I have seen so many ideas come from your feeble brain and to date, I have not seen a single one of them adopted by anyone with the power or influence to implement them.  Ideas by themselves cannot make a difference.  You need power and action.   

Hope and Possibilities:  You are depressing me.  I want to say that you are wrong.  I am losing this battle.  I am not sure that I have anything left to say that could change your mind.

Doom and Gloom:   Maybe it is about time that you wake up and smell the roses.  If you need a purpose or goal in life, perhaps it is time to pick something else.  Time to stop being a Boy Scout.  The world will little care or long remember anything you say here.

Hope and Possibilities:  I guess this is where being an atheist is a liability.  I cannot fall back on Jesus, God, Saints, Zeus, Odin or any other supernatural being for help or for divine intervention.  I can only go on by faith in myself and by believing that whether or not I make a difference, I cannot give up trying.  I may not be the best in the world but I won’t lay down and do nothing.

Doom and Gloom:  The final words of a fool.      

Hope and Possibilities: 

“Just because an apple falls one hundred times out of a hundred does not mean it will fall on the hundred and first.”  ― Derek Landy

I finally slid out of bed after kissing my wife “good morning.”  It was still dark and cold.  I went into the bathroom to take my morning shower.  My mood brightened considerably but I still have not resolved the battle with myself.  I sometimes doubt that I ever will.  I need to be grateful today for what I have.  I need to help someone else and stop struggling with my ideas of success and failure.  I need to practice love and gratitude and not whether or not I have made a difference in the world.

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What’s Wrong with Our Cops?

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My mentor, Dr. W.E. Deming used to say, “Put a good person in a bad system and the system will win every time.”  The latest cop fiasco with five Black men beating a young Black man to death no doubt has many people either scratching their heads or gloating.  Those scratching their heads are trying to understand how it can be that so many officers would beat a helpless man to death.  Those gloating are no doubt saying “See, it was Black cops beating one of ‘Their’ own to death.”  Still others are saying that if it were White cops, they would not have been charged with anything.  The problem with each of these perspectives is that they ignore the system.  Police operate within a system.  A bad system produces bad results.  Let me explain further.

We need to start off by understanding what a system is.  Some definitions that work for me are as follows:

1.

A set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network.

“The state railroad system”

2.

A set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized framework or method.

“The public school system”

3.

Deming defined a system as ‘a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system.  The aim for any system should be that everybody gains, not one part of the system at the expense of any other’ 

A friend of mine said that the purpose of a police system is to to protect and serve the public.  

Systems can be very complex and difficult to understand.  When I was doing my management consulting, I would often bring a large group of senior managers from a company together to chart or map the “system” that they worked in.  This was usually a prelude to defining objectives and looking at “systemic” problems more wholistically.  That is a way of saying I wanted them to see the big picture.  We could do the same thing with any system.  In what is a very cursory or limited analysis of a “police” system, I offer the following factors or components.  These four factors make up a large portion of the system that police work in every day.  I would like to explain each and give my thoughts on how they create the dysfunction that seems to be prevalent in so many law enforcement agencies.  ‘

  1. Authoritarianism
  2. Exclusion
  3. Jeopardy
  4. Fascism

I do not claim that all police systems are dysfunctional.  I also do not claim that cops do not have a very difficult and demanding job.  There is perhaps no job in America that is more difficult than being a police officer.  Nevertheless, parts of the police system while designed to protect officers have been and still are major sources of dysfunction.

authoritarianism

  1. Authoritarianism

There is a saying that “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  I speak from experience that many officers get corrupted by the power that the gun, badge and night stick welds.  Growing up on a street corner society, I had my share of run in with cops.  I was arrested before I was 18 for assault and battery and for felony larceny.  This does not count my numerous other altercations with police for which I “escaped.”  When I was young, I used to say that “The only good cop was a dead cop.”  Later, my opinion changed 180 percent and I began to appreciate the need for good policing.

The problem though is that in many cases, police let the power that they are given go to their heads.  This problem does not exist in isolation from the other factors that I will discuss but it is exacerbated by the tendency for police to think that they are above the law or that they do not have to answer to the public they serve.  Many cops take umbrage at being questioned as they act like they have the absolute right to ask questions but not to answer them.  How often have you heard in TV dramas the officer say, “I am asking the questions here.”  The person who asks the question has the power and is the authority.  The person answering is “powerless.”  TV is not reality, but it reflects some of the attitudes that exist in law enforcement.

community policing

  1. Exclusion

Cops are for the most part isolated or segregated from the public.  The old days of Officer O’Malley walking a beat and talking to kids and neighbors in a friendly demeanor no longer exists.  Talk of “community policing” is for the most part a myth or a relic of a bygone age.  We seldom see a cop unless we are in trouble, or we need something, or we are watching the 10 o’clock news.

Isolation is not a good thing.  It creates an “us-them” atmosphere.  We don’t see police as belonging to our neighborhood or as being “friends.”  We view them with hostility and suspicion when they knock on our front doors.  It does not matter whether they are Black and we are Black or whether they are White and we are White.  They knock on our door and we immediately feel threatened.

guns

  1. Jeopardy

A police officer is in life threatening jeopardy every single moment of every single day.  Perhaps, never in history have cops been so threatened.  Their lives are on the line twenty-four seven.  A cop can be blown away going to a domestic dispute or merely stopping a car to give a ticket or a warning.  The proliferation of weapons has made police more vulnerable.  The bad guy always gets the chance to shoot first and the cop must give a warning before he/she shoots.  It is easy to see why some cops go over the edge and shoot first without asking questions.  I do not say that this is justified but how would you like to go out every day not knowing whether or not you would be shot dead by some crazy who had an AK 47 or a AR 15 or a Glock 17.

facism

  1. Fascism

Before exploring this facet of law enforcement, we need to define fascism.  One definition from Wikipedia is as follows:

“Fascism is a far-right, authoritarian, ultra-nationalist political ideology and movement, characterized by a dictatorial leader, centralized autocracy, militarism, forcible suppression of opposition.” 

Police exist to protect the status quo.  There are many who mock the “Golden Rule” with,  “Those who have the gold make the rules.”  Cops are on the side of the system that pays the bills.  They protect the government against protestors, marchers, and often peaceful gatherings of citizens who they think pose a threat to “law and order.”  They also protect the government, companies and society against rioters, looters, thieves and not so peaceful protestors.

The major problem with cops is that they are on the other side of the equation when it comes to social upheaval and change.  They did not see Civil Rights as a necessary antidote to racism.  They did not see the suffragettes as giving women the right and dignity to vote.  They often were and still are on the other side of the union-management divide during strikes and labor protests.  It would seem to many people that cops work for corporate America and not the citizens of America.

I have pointed out four elements that in many cases define law enforcement to many Americans.  There are many other elements that make up the law enforcement system in the USA.  I have written several other blogs on this subject.  The four elements that I described are the most problematic and I think help to best answer the questions that this blog started with.  “How could five Black officers beat a young Black man to death.”

If you follow what I am proposing, you can understand that these five men were “just doing their job” as the system defined it.  I am sure that any one of these five men would define virtues that many would call exemplary.  I have no reason to think that they were “bad” men wanting to do bad things.  Caught up in a bad system, you and I would more than likely have done exactly what they did.  You can argue this latter point with me.  But in my experiences, I have seen too many “good” people do bad things when working in an environment that fostered either negative, immoral or unethical behaviors.

PSI watched the video today (Jan 28) of the beating that Tyre Nichols received.  At first, I did not want to watch the video.  I have seen too many videos of police brutality in the past.  They are sickening, sad, tragic and pitiful.  I did not think that I could bear to watch yet another one.  However, I did.  I do not feel that I have the right to comment on such cases if I do not see what has actually happened. 

The one thought that I got out of this video was that it could have been YOUR SON, Your FATHER,  YOUR BEST FRIEND, YOUR MOTHER, YOU or ME that was on the ground and beaten to death.  Tased, Confused, Disoriented, Maced, Kicked, Punched, and Battered, would you have run?  Would you have been able to comply with commands screamed at you?  

In my next blog, I will offer some ideas that might help to change the system.  Changing the system is the only way to change results.  Dr. Deming insisted that 94 percent of variations observed in workers’ performance levels have nothing to do with the workers.  Instead, most performance problems are caused by the system, of which people are but a part.  “People cannot perform better than the system allows”, which he explains in his book,  The New Economics.”

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For further thoughts on this subject of police violence, an excellent article that I came across is

The killing of Tyre Nichols was heinous and shocking. It was also not an aberration by Simon Balto

How to Have Vacations That Are Epic and Fun!

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Several years ago, I bought some books on the “Greatest” places to visit in the world and “The Top 100 Places You Must See Before You Die.”  It was somewhat disheartening to realize that I would never get to all these places or the 185 countries in the world that I would like to see before the Grim Reaper gained on me.  To date, Karen and I have been to 35 countries, 49 States and every Canadian Province.

We both love to travel and when we were working time was a major factor in our vacation planning.  Now that we are retired, money is a limiting factor in how often we embark on an adventure to some new place.  Just like matter and energy being interchangeable, time and money are also interchangeable.  For most “average” folks, (average meaning that you are not in the billionaire category), you will appreciate the tradeoff and accept that a daily balance between money and time are facts of life.

These factors lead us to a very important question.  How can you maximize the enjoyment of a vacation given limits on time and money?  Over the years, I have learned two “secrets” that I am going to share with you.  I won’t charge you a single penny for them.  Both secrets have resulted in a fact that I am very proud of.  Every one of our twenty or more vacations to other places has been better than the last one.  Our first trip was about a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10.  We hit 10 on our next one and after that every vacation has been even more fun, more interesting, and more meaningful.  We are now up to a 30 on our scale of 1 to 10.

The First Secret:  Be a Pilgrim as well as a Tourist.

Most people who take a trip to another country are tourists.  Tourists are people who go to see famous sights and famous landmarks.  They may indulge in some cultural pursuits but generally they stay on the beaten path that is well worn by other sightseers.  You can find tourists coming off tour buses or cruise ships in crowds of 50 or more.  Someone may be leading them with a bright red umbrella, or a bright yellow flag hoisted high overhead.

Tourist+or+PilgrimThere is nothing wrong with being a tourist.  I would not think of going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower or London without seeing Buckminster Palace.  Every country has famous places that are “must see” for anyone.  However, there is more to “seeing” a country than simply visiting Machu Picchu or The Little Mermaid.  That is where being a Pilgrim comes in.

A pilgrim insinuates themselves in the culture.  They become friends with local people.  They cook and/or eat some of the local foods.  They visit events and places that are not in the tourist guides.  For instance, when we went to Greece, we spent two weeks on the island of Naxos.  This was not a tourist destination for Americans at the time and was mostly regarded as a summer hot spot for students from the Scandinavian Countries.

We arrived on Naxos shortly after most students had returned to school at the end of September.  We rented motorbikes and a small apartment owned by the local taverna owner just a block or so off the beach.  In the day, we took our motorbikes all over the island visiting the numerous villages on the island.  In the evening, we sat outside the taverna and had fresh fried squid with a local brew and watched the sunset.  We got to know the owner quite well and each evening she would ask us to tell her about the places we had visited that day.  We were surprised to find that she had not ventured very far from home during her life.

After our appetizers at the taverna, we would go back to our apartment and cook some local foods that we had bought.  Much of the meat we purchased was from a nearby meat market. We often could not tell what it was we were buying.  We would point at a carcass hanging up and say ‘kilo” and show 1 finger.  We would then go back “home” and fry the meat and try to figure out what it was that we were eating.

We did not speak any Greek and most people we encountered did not speak any English.  Many Americans assume that “everyone” speaks English.  First, that is very arrogant and second, in rural areas of the countries that we have visited, it is simply not true.  We always take a dictionary with us wherever we are visiting.  In our last trip to Spain, we uploaded a translator app that sometimes worked quite well on our phones but often did not.  You should not assume that people will know your language.  Best to be prepared and try to speak the language where you are visiting.  Most people will appreciate your effort and respect.

Bottom line is you will have a more fun and interesting trip if you can balance some tourist activities with some pilgrim activities or events.  The key is the willingness to try something different and to go off the beaten bath.

The Second Secret:  Plan Events as Well as Places to Visit.

There are dozens of books regaling you with titles like:

  • The Ten Best Places to See in the World
  • 100 Places to Visit Before You Die
  • The Greatest Tourist Sites of All Time

All these books have one thing in common.  They are all guides to places.  Over the years, Karen and I have started thinking not only of places we want to visit but also events.  We went to the Tetbury Music Festival in Tetbury, England.  Karen sang in the choir during this event.  We participated in a Chinese New Year Dinner in Taiwan, the year that I taught there.  While visiting Quadrelle, Italy, we joined a birthday party to the Isle of Capris.  We went to Madeira for their fireworks display the year of the millennium in 2000.  We had read someplace that Madeira had the greatest fireworks display in the world.  The year of 2000 also was the year that people worried about “planes falling out of the sky.”  Obviously, our plane did not.

We have been to “dangerous” places and events.  One of my general rules of travel is to visit places where “Americans are NOT hated.”  I can take some dislike and I do not expect everyone to love Americans, but outright hatred as sponsored by some governments, forget it.  I can spend my money and time elsewhere.  By the way, two of our other travel rules are:

  • Visit someplace interesting and unique.
  • Look for a good exchange rate.

Visiting events is fun and informative.  You can learn a great deal about people from events and traditions that are practiced.  Many of the events that we go to have been in the USA and we have enjoyed them so much that we have been back several times.  Local events take less preparation and less money.

Following are a few of the events that we have attended.  Most are in the USA, but some take place in other countries as well as the USA.  For instance, I have been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but I would love to go to the one in Brazil.  It is on my bucket list of events.

I have organized some of our favorite events by month.  Unlike places, events are time sensitive.  One of my best loved events is the Iwo Jima parade celebrating the American victory over Japan on the island of Iwo Jima.  Every year in Sacaton, Arizona they have a parade and dinner commemorating this event.  One of the flag raisers in the famous picture was Sgt. Ira Hayes who was from Sacaton.  Because of Covid Iwo Jima days has been cancelled for the past three years.  It is a very moving experience and I am hoping to attend a few more times before I leave this planet.

January 

Chinese New YearChinese New Year.  Chinese New Year celebrates the beginning of a new year.  Chinese New Year is a feast of foods that will make Dim Sum pale in comparison.  It is held in January each year and the actual date varies from year to year.  Most Chinese communities will have some festivities around this date.

We have attended a Chinese New Year with friends in San Francisco and in Taiwan.  The Chinese Cultural Center nearby in Tucson, Arizona is having a New Year celebration this month which is open to the public.

Each Chinese New Year features a figure from the Chinese Zodiac.  This year the figure is the rabbit.  In Chinese culture, the rabbit is a symbol of longevity, peace, and prosperity.  2023 is predicted to be a year of hope.

Feb

fValentine’s Day:  The day we remember our sweethearts.  Forget getting a good restaurant on Valentine’s Day.  I have foolishly waited until the last minute to book reservations only to find that the best restaurants are usually all booked up.  If you wait until after Valentine’s Day, boxes of chocolates and the price of roses will go down.  One of our favorite venues for Valentine’s Day was the Glensheen mansion in Duluth.  They used to host a wonderful Valentine’s Day Dinner and tour there.  Not too often have do we get to eat a wonderful dinner in a famous mansion.  You may or may not know why the mansion is so famous.  The story is quite intriguing.

vMardi Gras:  Crayfish, Jambalaya, Cajun Music, Dancing, and of course purple and gold beads are all symbols of Mardi Gras.  The French name Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday, from the custom of using all the fats in the home in preparation for the fasting and abstinence that Lent traditionally would bring.  I say traditionally since I doubt many Christians pay much attention to the strictures that historically accompanied Lent.

Most large cities and even small cities in the USA will have some kind of Mardi Gras event.  A local pub in Frederic, Wisconsin has a large Mardi Gras event each year and is well attended by friends and neighbors who probably have no clue what they are celebrating.  The beer and alcohol flows freely at this event.

March 

st

St. Patrick’s Day:  The day we celebrate the Saint who rid Ireland of snakes.  I wonder why he did not do the rest of the world.  I suppose some ecologically oriented people will put me on their hate list for that last comment.  But truthfully, how many people do you know that like snakes?  Anyway, the great thing about St. Patty’s Day is that you do not have to be Irish to celebrate.  People who don’t even know where Ireland is will be out in green underwear drinking green beer and saying, “Erin Go Wherever.”

Many large cities with a sizable Irish population will have an Irish parade.  These are always fun to go to.  Karen and I used to go to the parade and then to the Half-Time Rec in St. Paul, MN for Irish music, and some Irish food.  My favorite Irish foods are Irish Stew, Soda Bread, and Colcannon.  Washed down with a Black and Tan draft or a few Black and Tan drafts.  Where is my designated driver?

kiteee

April

Go Fly a Kite DayRemember the song from Mary Poppins.

“Let’s Go Fly a Kite” by David Tomlinson, Dick Van Dyke, and The Londoners

Oh-oh-oh

Let’s go fly a kite

Up to the highest height

Let’s go fly a kite

And send it soaring

Up through the atmosphere

Up where the air is clear

Oh, let’s go fly a kite

 The third Sunday in April is “Go Fly a Kite Day.”  The spring breezes make it a great time to fly a kite.  Something there is about flying a kite that makes us all children again.  Even if you do not have a child to fly it with, it is a great way to loosen up; and forget the cares of the world.  “Go Fly a Kite” was once a way of telling someone to go away or get lost.  It is much more fun to fly a kite than to tell someone off.

If you don’t have a kite, buy one or make your own. You could make a box kite, or a traditional diamond shaped.  If you are not very creative, any large store will have kites on their shelves.  If you are not into physical activities, look for some kite festivals or events in your area.  I am sure that these will inspire and motivate you to fly your own.  Remember what Jesus said, “Unless you become like little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of Heaven.”

May

dKentucky Derby:  Louisville Kentucky is the home of the most famous horserace in the world.  Every year, thousands of people go to the Derby to watch the “Running for the Roses.”  Women dress up in their fancy hats and everyone has a bourbon drink called a Mint Julep.  The grounds have seen the likes of Secretariat and Seattle Slew.

If you do not have the opportunity to visit the actual Derby, there are many venues (Local restaurants and bars) that host the running of the race and offer the opportunity to bet on your favorite horse.  Neither Karen or I are gamblers, but we still manage to find a horse that we like and put down two dollars on it to Win.  Placing a bet makes it more fun to watch the running which takes about two minutes.  It is also great fun to watch all the people.

June

debDemontreville Retreat:  Every year now for 39 years I have attended a silent retreat at the Demontreville Jesuit Retreat Center in Lake Elmo Minnesota.  What started as a weekend to vacation ended up being one of the most important events in my life.  You do not have to be a Catholic to attend this event.  The retreat house has been hosting three-day silent retreats for over seventy years now.  They host 50 of these retreats every year and they are men only events.  They start on Thursday night and end on Sunday night.  No one who attends will deny that they are a life changing event.  I do not care if you are Muslim, Baptist, Mormon, or even an Atheist, you will find that this event will have a profound impact on your life.  It should be one of the World’s Greatest Events.

July

ffff4th of July Celebration:  My good friend Dr. Hana Tomasek and her husband Yara escaped in 1964 from the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia (Now Czech Republic) to the USA.  No one in America was prouder of becoming a US citizen.  Each year Hana and Yara celebrated the 4th of July with a picnic, barbecue, and a hired music band.  The highlight of the ceremony was a speech by Hana on how glad she was to be in America and how much she loved the life and freedoms that this country had given her.

Hana died a few years ago.  Yara many years before that.  I miss Hana and I miss her speeches and her 4th of July ceremony.  I have never been a staunch patriot.  I like the quote that “The last refuge of a scoundrel is patriotism.”  Nevertheless, no one could call Hana and Yara scoundrels.  She lived in a country where the freedoms that we take for granted were practically nonexistent.  Sometimes you must go through difficulties before you can appreciate what you have.  I wish everyone shooting off their fireworks would go to a 4th of July celebration where the real meaning of America was evident.  It does not lie in firecrackers or the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner but in a realization that “Freedom Is Not Free” and that freedom has responsibilities as well as rights.

August

MBOTMA:  This funny looking and funny sounding acronym stands for Minnesota Blue Grass and Old-Time Music festival.  Held each year in rural Minnesota, nearly 5000 people spend four days camping and playing blue grass and old-time music.  A wide assortment of acoustic and sometimes not acoustic instruments is used by bands and individuals in their playing.

mbotma rrrr

The festival has several bandstands with live performances all day long by some of the best musicians in the country.  There are also tents for dancing, jamming, music classes and activities for younger kids.  It is a family-oriented event.  The musical performances continue well into the late evening when the jams typically start.  About sixty percent or more of the people who attend this event play some type of instrument.  What is truly unique about this event is that for most of the attendees it is more about the chance to play with other musicians during numerous day and night time jams.  A jam is an informal group of musicians playing together. Musicians would rather play than watch and some people never attend the stage events because they are so busy playing with friends and others at the festival.

Sept

20211010_191356John and Karen’s Anniversary:  It is probably narcissistic to list our anniversary as one of my favorite events.  Karen and I were married on September 5th, 1989.  We did our “honeymoon” earlier that year by going to mainland China for three weeks.  We left China a few days before the Tiananmen Square massacre which occurred on June 4, 1989.  The protests had already started when we landed in Shanghai three weeks earlier.  They closed the airport the day after we left.  It was very interesting being in China during this upheaval.

Every year we try to do something unique and interesting on our anniversary.  We have had several parties, taken many trips, and gone to numerous other events as a way of celebrating.  This year will be our 34th anniversary and we are going to South Africa to be both tourists and we hope pilgrims.  If you would like to celebrate our anniversary with us, simply find and friend us on Facebook.  Karen has become our trip photographer and posts a sort of running commentary on our vacations.  I am sure that this trip will be special since she selected the destination.

Oct

deaDía De Los Muertos:  When we first came down to Arizona in 2008, I had never heard of Día De Los Muertos or Day of the Dead.  Upon seeing more of the trappings of this Mexican celebration of the dead, I fall in love with the festival.  Unlike Halloween, which is about witches, warlocks, zombies and other hideous symbols of death, Día De Los Muertos is a festival to remember the loved ones in our lives who have passed away.  It is a joyous remembrance of death and not something to fear.  Traditionally, an altar is created, mementos and pictures of loved ones are placed on the altar.  In addition, breads and some pastries are arranged on the altar so that the deceased has something to eat.

There is a four-day Day of the Dead festival in Tucson culminating in a parade on the first Sunday of November that everyone is invited to join in.  Karen and I have been several times to watch the parade and join some of the festivities following the parade.  Over the years, the Day of the Dead has grown in popularity.  What was mostly a Southwestern Mexican festival has almost become a national festival.  It really took off in the USA due to the recognition when Disney made the animated film Coco about a little boy looking for his ancestors.  One of these days I would like to go to Mexico City for the festival.

Nov

Macy’s Day Parade:  Growing up in Brooklyn, NY, I used to watch the Macy’s day parade every Thanksgiving without fail.  Of course, we never ever considered going there.  If you lived in Brooklyn, you would not ask “Why not?”  Years later, I suddenly decided I wanted to go to this event.  But I wanted to go as a pilgrim not just a tourist.

macysffffI thought about the situation and realized that there must be tickets for the parade as some people got to sit in the review grandstands where the performers stopped and put on a little show.  Most parade goers simply observe the parade as it passes down the avenues and streets of Manhattan.  I wrote to Macy’s and inquired whether I could buy tickets.  I was willing to pay almost any amount for a ticket.  They informed me that tickets were not sold but given out to “special” people.

I then went down to the local Macy’s in Bloomington at the Mall of America and asked to speak to the store manager.  I inquired whether any employees in the store had received a ticket and offered to buy any that they might want to sell.  They only had to name the price.  He informed me that he did not get any tickets and did not know of any employees in the store who did get a ticket.

I was not ready to give up.  I went on Craigs list and made known my desire for tickets to the Macy’s Day parade for the upcoming Thanksgiving.  A few weeks went by and I was about to give up.  Then one day I received an email.  A buyer for Macy’s (Lauren Telep) had two tickets.  I contacted her and asked her “how much.”  She replied, “I will give them to you no charge.  You can sit with me and my mom.”  She explained that as a buyer for Macys she was given a number of tickets every year and this year, a few of the people she regularly gifted with tickets could not go.  I accepted her very generous offer and we have become friends and been communicating for many years.  She is a wonderfully generous person.  But that as Paul Harvey might say is not the end of the story.

Karen and I flew into New York from Minneapolis two days before the Macy’s Day parade.  We booked reservations at the New Yorker.  We spent some time in NYC just sightseeing.  The morning of the parade, I went out to run.  The hotel lobby was full of people in some type of uniform.  I ignored the people and did my morning run.  Upon returning, I grabbed a coffee and decided to see where all the people were headed.  I walked up the stairs to a large ballroom with a table and security guard outside.

Now I am sure that you have heard the saying that there are three types of people.

  1. The first type does not even know that there is a parade.
  2. The second type watches the parade.
  3. The third type is in the parade.

The people in the lobby and in the ballroom were the third type.  I was only type 2.  The lobby people were volunteers to perform various functions in the parade like holding balloons or carrying signs.  As I approached the ballroom, the security guard stopped me.  He informed me that without a pass, I could not get into the ballroom.  The people in there were getting the costumes that corresponded with their various assignments.  I asked him how I could get a pass and he referred me to the table with the people sitting behind it.  I went up to the table and inquired about getting into the ballroom.  They told me that I would have to be on their volunteer list.  They explained that if I was interested in being a volunteer for the parade, I had to send in a request several months before the parade and generally most people would be accepted.

So, there you have it.  If you want to be in the parade and not just watching the parade, you must go that extra mile or so.  Nobody is going to find you unless you are seeking.  However, not all those who seek will find but no one who does not seek will find.  That is for sure.

December

massMessiah Sing Along:  I do not sing.  In third grade, I was in a group of children who were assigned to sing for some reason which I no longer remember.  What I vividly remember is being with the other kids and merrily singing out when the “conductor” or teacher who was guiding us suddenly screamed out “Who is making that awful sound?”  She pointed directly at me and said “You, don’t sing.  Just open and shut you mouth, but I don’t want to hear anything coming out of it.”  I have not sung a note since that day.  The feeling still gives me goose bumps and shivers.  I have never been so humiliated in my entire life.  Please don’t tell me to get over it.  It is much easier to just keep my mouth shut and let others do the singing.  Which brings us to the Messiah.

I am sure you know the Messiah.  It is an oratorio by Handel covering the birth of Jesus.  It ends with the famous Hallelujah Chorus.  Every year some church or community group will organize a Messiah singalong during the Holiday Season.  My wife Karen has been singing in choirs since high school.  She has a lovely voice and enjoys attending these singalongs.  I go along with her.  I do not sing but I love the music.  Perhaps I enjoy music more than some people because for much of my life, it has seemed off-limits.

If you have made it to the end of this blog, I want to thank you for your patience.  I owe you a denouement.  It is simply this.

  • Be a pilgrim as well as a tourist. You will get more out of life.
  • Don’t go through life with only with a bucket of list of places to visit.  Make a bucket list of events as well.

If you have another minute or two, I would enjoy hearing about a few of the events that you love or that you would recommend for others.  Type them in the comments section. 

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Justice or Injustice?  You Tell Me!

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A week or so ago, I watched a film clip on YouTube where a masked robber came into a fast-food restaurant at about 11:30 PM.  He pulled a gun and robbed each of the patrons at gunpoint of their meager earnings.  I jumped up and applauded.  “Way to go.  The SOB got what he deserved.  No jury in the country would convict the “hero” who shot him.”

It was a symphony of justice.  The good guy’s win, and the bad guys lose.  One dissonant note was that I noticed the “hero” picked up the perp’s gun and apparently finding out that it was plastic threw it across the tables at the wall.  He then distributed the money taken by the perp back to the diners.  After this generous gesture, he left the diner in a beat up old pick-up truck.  A few days later a lawyer for the “hero” called the police.

Our “hero” shot the perp nine times.  Over the next few days, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike announced that there would not likely be any charges against the “hero.”  It was a plain case of “self-defense.”  I watched the video several more times.  Each time I watched it, I had a sinking feeling.  My initial thoughts over the glamor of a Gotterdammerung experience slowly morphed into a different perspective.  I want to share with you this perspective.  However, before I do, I must give you some caveats.

  1. I am not a pacifist. Never have been and never will be.  You try to hurt me or anyone I love; I will do my best to protect them even if it means hurting you.
  2. I am a gun owner. I collect folding knives.  I love to shoot and there is something magic about guns that I find intriguing.  I love the symmetry of a beautiful knife or an 1858 Remington New Army black powder revolver.
  3. I am not a bleeding heart liberal. I am not a progressive or a conservative.  I belong to no tribe or party.  I think for myself.  I don’t follow any script or drummer.  If you read my blogs, you will find this to be a valid statement.

Thus, very peculiarly, I started to think about the perp in this case.  He was a 30-year-old Black man (Eric Eugene Washington) with a history of jail time and violence.  He had a long record for his age, and it would not appear that he was doing much good for the world.  On the face of it, his death was no big loss for society.  Some might argue that he got what he deserved before he hurt any more people.

I watched an interview with his mother.  She was broken hearted, but she did not really support him with the usual banter of “what a good kid he was.”  She seemed astounded that he did what he did but she did not deny that the shooting was justified.  She expressed forgiveness for the “hero” but questioned why he had to shoot her son nine times.  I wondered this myself.

During the following days new coverage of this event, I watched more attorneys explain that the nine shots were justified because our “hero” had to be sure that the threat was neutralized.  Made me wonder how many bullets it takes to neutralize someone who is laying face down on the floor.  Made me think of the villages in Vietnam that we had to “neutralize.”

I asked myself what I would have done in this situation.  Face it.  The perp’s gun looked real.  It was a combat situation.  Combat is always stressful, and no one knows what they will do until it happens.  If someone had robbed me at gunpoint of my wallet, under stress and being really pissed, I might have unloaded all my rounds into his body.  I can’t say I would not have done exactly what our “hero” did.  However, this is where things change for me.

We could ask another set of questions.  Not what would I have done, but what do I wish I had done if I was the “hero”?  What do I think I should have done?  I give you the following two answers to these questions.

  1. I would have liked to stand up facing the fleeing perp and with my gun pointing directly at him say, “Drop your gun or you are dead.” If the perp did not follow through on my order, I would probably blast him with at least three rounds center target to “neutralize” the threat.  If he dropped his gun, I would order him down on the floor and cover him until the cops came.  I know this sounds like police procedure but that is one scenario I think would have been justified and perhaps resulted in the loss of no life.  Would the risk to my own life have been worth the extra effort?  Maybe that is what a real “hero” does.  In my mind, a “hero” risks his or her own life for others.  Perhaps even when they do not deserve it.
  2. In my second scenario, I do nothing. Not out of cowardice or fear.  I do nothing because I value a human life more than money.  Was this one life worth the few dollars that he robbed from the other patrons?  What kind of a world do we want to live in?  Do we want a world that values money more than people?  If the world is moving in that direction as the case may seem to indicate, it is a sad commentary.  I am not sure I want to live in such a place.  As I am 76 years old, I might not have to worry about it much longer.

So, there you have it folks.  I feel sorry for the mother of the victim and those who loved him.  I feel sorry that the victim did not get at least one more chance.  I am glad that none of the diners were injured and that they got their money back.  I am sure many of these people needed their money at least as much as our perp.

I also feel sorry for a society where money matters so much to all of us that we are ready, willing, and able to kill for it.

You can watch a video of the shooting at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxKYHntHjAg

Leave your comments.  Let me know what you think.  What would you have done? 

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The Day I Met the Bar Room Bum

man-in-bar

I’m sitting in a bar feeling shitty about my life.  I have an average job.  I have an average looking wife and average kids.  I’m feeling shitty about myself as well.  I have accomplished nothing beyond average in my entire life.  I had once thought I was destined for greatness.  I dreamed that one day I would have the best-looking wife on the block and make more money than I could count.  None of my dreams have come to pass and I am now sitting here in this average bar nursing a cheap drink and wondering where I took the wrong turn.

Suddenly, the bar room door opens and in walks this seedy looking bum.  You know the type.  Long stringy hair, dirty clothes, smelly and unkempt.  He has probably not bathed in a month.  I hope he will not come and sit down next to me.  I know he will try to bum a drink.  If he does, I will tell him to go to hell.  I am not in the mood to shell out good money for some alcoholic bum.

Sure enough, he sits down next to me.  I give him the evil eye and he moves on down to the two guys sitting at the other end of the bar.   I watch some give and take between the bum and the other two drinkers.  They are shaking their heads and I assume telling him to get lost.  He walks back over to where I am sitting and takes a seat.

bum in bar

“Hey mister, can you buy me a drink.”  “Get lost”, I say, “I’m not a charity for bar bums.”  “How about some compassion for someone’s who’s down on their luck.” “You want compassion” I reply, “go visit a priest.”

“What if I could tell you a story that would profoundly change your life” says the bum. “Would that change your mind?”  “Tell you what” I say, “you tell me the story and if it profoundly changes my life, I’ll buy you a drink.”   I expect this will get rid of the bum but instead he agrees to my terms.  “Deal” he intones in a low soft voice.

“My name is Mike.  Twenty years ago, I graduated from Harvard University with a degree in law.  I had the highest GPA average in my graduation class.  At least five major law firms in Boston attempted to recruit me.  I took the one that offered me the most money.  I received a high six-digit salary.

Happy man enjoying the rain of money

I bought five of the best suits I could find.  I purchased a Porsche Carrera GT and a penthouse with a view of the Boston harbor.

I was assigned easy cases at first.  We represented the big corporations in their lawsuits.  Most of these were by disgruntled employees, whistle blowers and private citizens.  I killed each of them.  I was assigned bigger and bigger cases.  The amounts contested often ran into the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Many of the cases involved issues of sexual harassment, environmental degradation and fraud.  I never lost a case.  My corporate clients were ecstatic.  I was the go to guy for any high profile big buck lawsuit in the nation.

My life was a dream.  I made more and more money.  My salary was now in the seven digits with my bonuses and gratuities from my clients.   I was invited to celebrity parties and the super exclusive country clubs of the rich.

I was tall dark and handsome.  I worked out six days a week in the gym and I had a body that was the envy of any guy in the firm.  The woman all drooled when I walked by.  I bought a bigger penthouse and added a Ferrari 458 Spider to my car collection.  The car was given to me by a grateful client.

One day at the office, the firm’s owner and founder introduced me to his daughter Ashley.  She was a knockout.  She was a former Miss College USA.  She was tall blonde and statuesque.  She had the face of any angel.  Sadly, she did not have the brains to match her looks.

I was polite to her but made no obvious overtures to show that I was interested.  She did not really care as just about every other male and even some female lawyers were thinking about how to get in bed with her.  I decided to pretend to ignore her.

We had a Christmas party at the firm later that year.  It was held at the Boston Harbor Hotel.  I saw Ashley and she was surrounded by a bunch of our lawyers each trying to impress her.  I decided this was a good time to throw my hat in the ring.  I joined the conversation and soon showed how stupid most of my competition was.  Each one in turn drifted away so that only Ashley and I were left talking.  I went to the bar and returned with another drink for Ashley and myself.  We talked for another half hour or so and I made my move.

couple

I invited Ashley up to my penthouse for a night cap.  In no time at all, she was in my bed.  I am not bragging when I say that not only did we go at it all night, but I called in to cancel appointments the next day and we spent the entire next day in bed going at it like deprived bunny rabbits.

As I said before, she was not the brightest light bulb in the pack but I figured where I was going, it would be good to have a looker like her as my wife.  A few months later in what was one of the Boston social events of the year we were married.  We moved into a new house in Back Bay.

I eventually left the law firm and started my own firm.  Some of the old firm’s clients went with me and I was now making more money than ever.  I worked seven days and week.  I was busy many evenings and did not bother coming home.  I bought a penthouse near my new office in Boston and brought my mistresses up there whenever I had an overnight.  I had hired several very good-looking paralegals to work for me and some of them were more than happy to help keep me warm at night.

Ashley started talking about having children and how she wished I could do more things with her.  I had no intention of doing either.  Why spoil a good thing?

woman on top sexuallyA few more months went by and one day I decided to come home from work early.  As I entered my house, I heard screams coming from upstairs.  I went to a desk and grabbed a loaded Colt Commander 45 ACP that I kept ready for emergencies.  I feared that Ashley was being attacked by some unknown intruder.  I ran up the stairs and into our bedroom.  There on the bed was Ashley and one of the young lawyers from my old law firm.  They were both nude and she was on top of him riding him like a bucking bronco.  What I thought were screams of pain were screams of ecstasy.  I had never heard anything like that from Ashley during our entire marriage.

She turned to look at me but did not break a beat in her rhythm.  The only thing she said was “Get out.  I want a divorce.”  I vacillated between shooting one or both of them but decided that my better course of action was to leave.  On the way out, I heard her say very loudly “Take off that damn condom, I want you to come inside of me.”

I packed some stuff and moved into my penthouse apartment.  I really did not give a damn if she left me.  At the time, I assumed I would be out some alimony but that would-be pennies compared to what I was making.  A week or so later, I received a letter from my father-in-law.  He informed me that not only would my old law firm be suing me for spousal neglect but I would be sued 150 million dollars for violating the terms of my contract when I had left his law firm.  Somewhere in the fine print of my contract, it had specified that I could not work with any of the firm’s clients for a period of five years upon terminating my employment.

The court convened for my trial a few weeks later.  Ashley showed up for the trial.  She sat with her lover on the plaintiff’s side of the court and glared at me the entire trial.  I lost on all counts.  I was told that I would have to pay 5 million dollars in restitution and was disbarred from practicing law for ten years following the date of the trial.  I lost everything.  My house, my cars, my penthouse apartment, my jewelry and my career.  Between my ex-father-in-law and my ex-wife, I was broke.  The only friend I had left in the world was Johnny Walker Blue Label and I could not even afford that anymore.

I took up drinking cheap whiskey.  It has been five years now since the trial.  I have five more years to go before I can practice law again.  I know that I am an alcoholic bum but can you blame me?  I told you that there would be a life changing moral in this story for you but before I give it to you, I want my drink.”

Mike had concluded his story.  I wondered what the life changing moral would be.  I had some ideas but curiosity got the better of me.  I decided to buy him his drink and let him finish his tale of woe.

“Bartender” I called, “bring my friend here a shot of Johnny Walker Scotch.”  The Scotch was quickly downed by Mike with a look of joy and ecstasy on his face that would be hard to describe.

“Okay”, Mike began “I have had many years to reflect on my life and where it went wrong.  I also know that not a man alive would at some point in their life not have been envious of mine.  The sad part and the moral is that we all want things that we think will make us happy when the real happiness is what we have inside and what we bring to life, not what life brings to us.”  With these last words of wisdom, Mike got off his bar stool and went out the same way he came in.  I never saw him again.

I sat for an hour or so after he left thinking about what he had said.  Just a few minutes before he had entered the bar, I was bemoaning my sorry life and denigrating my family.  I decided to go home and hug my wife and kids.

Happy family in front of house

Many years have past since I met Mike.  My life is pretty much the same as it was before I met him, except that I have never been happier.  My wife is beautiful and my kids are beautiful.  I would not trade my life for all the money in the world.

Time for Questions:

Do you appreciate what you have?  What does it take to make us happy?  Is money an essential element of happiness?  What if you had no money, could you still be happy?  What is the most important person or thing in your life?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” — Melody Beattie

What Do You Wish For?

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) seeds blowing in the wind

If you were given three wishes this New Year of 2023, what would you wish for?  The most common wishes that people think of are for health or money.  Beware though, the saying “Be careful of what you wish for, you may get it” has very often been true with sad effects.  Do you know the story of the Monkey’s Paw?  It goes like this:

Once upon a time there was an elderly couple.  The man’s name was Joshua and his wife’s name was Marie.  They had been poor all their lives and each day was a struggle to find food, heat, and the other necessities of life.  The only joy in their lives besides each other, was their son.  However, the son had recently been drafted to fight in still another ongoing never-ending war. 

evgeniya-egorova-witchOne day, when the old man was out walking, he saw a woman who had been beaten and thrown into a ditch.  Around her neck, was hung a sign which said “Beware, Witch.”  Without even a slight hesitation, the old man ran to the ditch to see how he could help the woman.  He gave her some water and bread that he had on him for lunch and tried to bind up some of her wounds by ripping up his cloak.  She looked at the old man with compassion and said “No one is ever kind to me, but you have been.  I have this monkey’s paw that I would like you to have.  It will grant you three wishes.  However, be careful.  Be very careful.  Wishes can often result in things that you do not really want.”  The woman handed him a gnarled dried up old paw and bidding a farewell, walked on down the road.  He put the paw in his pocket and walked on to his home.

The_lady_of_the_barge_(1902)_(14769861755)When the old man arrived home, he told his wife what had happened.  She immediately asked to see the paw.  Upon, looking at it, Marie said “Shall we try it.” The old man laughed and said, “You don’t really believe in such magic, do you?”  “What do we have to lose,” said his wife.  So they both picked up the paw and together made the following wish: “We wish we had enough money to never have to worry about food or clothes or other necessities for the rest of our lives.”  They waited and waited and suddenly both began to laugh.  Such foolishness and they were silly enough to think that it might be real.

Later that day as they sat down to eat their little supper, there was a knock on the door.  Upon, opening the door, there was a messenger there.  He told them that they were the beneficiaries of a fifty-thousand-dollar insurance policy.  Upon asking, who had left them the money, they were distraught to hear that their son had been killed in a battle but before he left, he had taken out an insurance policy in their names. 

“Oh God, what will we do” said Joshua to Marie.  We don’t want this money both agreed, we want our son back.  “It was the paw; it gave us the money, but we were not careful, and we got our son killed.”  Marie hesitated and then suggested.  “Let’s wish for our son back.  Yes, we can wish for our son back.”  Taking the monkey’s paw up again, they both said, “Please give us our son back.”  It was the second wish and again, they waited and waited and nothing happened.

monkeys-pawThey went to bed feeling sad, miserable, and as unhappy as any two human beings could be.  Later that night, they heard a scuffling coming up the path to their door.  It sounded like something was being dragged.  A knock sounded on their door, but they were both too afraid to move.  A voice cried out “Mom, dad, it is Eli your son.  I have come back.  I am alive.”  Almost too happy to describe, they bolted for the door.  Upon opening it to let Eli in, they recoiled in horror.  Eli did not look human.  His skin was in tatters.  His legs and arms were mere bones.  His face was a skull with bits of skin and dried blood hanging off it.  “Let me in, I have come back from the grave.  You have summoned me.  Let me in.”

“Oh no, what have we done,” cried the old man.  Grabbing the monkey’s paw, he shouted out their third wish, “We wish you to go back to where you came from.  Please go back.”  Their son turned around and walked off back into the darkness from whence he came.  Three wishes had been granted and three wishes had been used.  The next day, Joshua and Marie went down to the riverbank and tossed the monkey’s paw into the river.  They both prayed that it would never be found again. 

—- Above is my adaptation of the original story “The Monkey’s Paw” by English author W. W. Jacobs.  It first appeared in Harper’s Monthly in 1902

I would bet that this story would not deter you from accepting three wishes or even making a wish.  There are many venues for wish making without waiting to find a monkey’s paw or an Aladdin’s Lamp.   Thousands of people every year use one of the more convenient methods.  Let’s look at a few of these methods just to see how fruitful they are.

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Chicken Wishbone Method:

I have been doing this one since I was a kid.  Harder to do today as chicken nuggets, chicken bits and chicken filets don’t usually have a wishbone.  However, in days gone by, whole chickens would be roasted in the oven and you did not have to go to Costco to get a cooked one.  Somewhere in the chicken, you would find the wishbone after enough meat had been eaten.  You could then rinse the bone off and let it dry.  After drying, you would find a partner and each of you would grasp one end of the wishbone.  Pull and it would break.  The person holding the longer end gets to make a wish. 

I think I might have made twenty or so wishes using this method.  To date, I am zero for twenty.  I am not tall, dark, or handsome.  I am not rich, famous, and sought after by mobs of ardent followers.  I have never been elected to political office and I have no superpowers or even noteworthy talents that I could make a living on.  As near as I can see, I have been stuck with those genes that I received at birth and none of my wishes has altered my DNA. 

Nevertheless, I hear that some people will swear by (as well as wish by) the Chicken Wishbone Method. 

treve

Fountains Wishing Method:

Fountains are where you can make a wish, but it will cost you money.  You toss a coin in a fountain (a well or in an emergency, any kind puddle will do) and you make a wish.  I have been told that the more money you throw in, the more likely your wish will come true.  Any size fountain will do.  A fountain in your back yard has the  advantage that you can always take your money back out and use it again for another wish or to buy a McDonald burger when your wish does not come true.

Several years ago, Karen and I went to Rome.  No visit to Rome would be complete without a visit to the most famous fountain in the world.  It is called the Trevi Fountain.  The Trevi Fountain is an 18th-century fountain in the Trevi district in Rome, Italy, designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Giuseppe Pannini and several others.  Standing 26.3 meters (86 ft) high and 49.15 meters (161.3 ft) wide.  It is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome.

The fountain has appeared in several films, including Roman Holiday (1953); Three Coins in the Fountain (1954); Federico Fellini’s classic, La Dolce Vita (1960); Sabrina Goes to Rome (1998); and The Lizzie McGuire Movie (2003).

There is a trick though to getting your wish in this fountain.  You need a coin, but it does not have to be an Italian.  However, you must bend over backwards and throw the coin over your shoulder.  If you are not careful, you will miss the fountain and hit one of the million tourists also throwing coins.  Each year, dozens of tourists end up in Roman hospitals after being hit by coins (That is a lie, but I thought it sounded reasonable). 

child wishing

Star Wishing Method:

This is one of the easiest venues for getting your wishes made.  There are literally billions of stars.  Do you know that the Sun is a star and a rather small one at that.  Last week, Karen and I went to a planetarium show at the Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium.  It was a narrated show that talked about our solar system, our galaxy, and the millions of other galaxies out there in the universe.   Many of the exhibits at the Center portrayed a physical perspective on the relative size of our sun compared to other stars in the universe.   I was surprised that it was so dinky in comparison.  I wondered if the size of the star mattered when you make a wish

My first knowledge of the wonderful world of Star Wishing came when I was a little kid, and I went to see my first Disney movie.  It was Pinocchio and it was about a little puppet that became a human.  Pinocchio is a 1940 American animated musical fantasy film produced by Walt Disney Productions and based on the 1883 Italian children’s novel “The Adventures of Pinocchio” by Carlo Collodi.  It was sometime around the early 1950’s when I went to see the movie. 

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A wood carver named Geppetto wanted a son of his own and carved Pinocchio out of a block of wood.  Through a wish by Geppetto, (Pinocchio as the puppet was named) becomes human.  The movie is about the trials and tribulations Pinocchio learning to be human and to embrace a set of morals and ethics.   The Disney adaption of the book included the now famous song:

“When You Wish Upon a Star.” 

When you wish upon a star

Makes no difference who you are

Anything your heart desires

Will come to you

If your heart is in your dream

No request is too extreme

When you wish upon a star

As dreamers do

Like a bolt out of the blue

Fate steps in and sees you through

When you wish upon a star

Your dreams come true

Songwriters: Ned Washington / Leigh Harline

For a little boy growing up in Brooklyn, NY where we could hardly see any stars at night, this was too good to be true.  I did not need any coins, no fountains, no fried chickens.  All I needed was a dream.  It did not matter that my father was only a mail man or that I was the grandson of Italian immigrants.  It did not matter that I had no money.  All I needed was a dream. 

Unfortunately, dreams were in short supply for poor Italian kids in Brooklyn, NY in 1955.  To this day, I am fascinated by those kids that had dreams that became reality.  I am not sure how they managed to dream or to find stars to wish upon but there is no denying reality.  Many poor kids from the Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem, and Hells Kitchen managed to find success and happiness by dreaming, wishing and putting the effort in to make their dreams and wishes come true.

Wishing is only one step to forming the life that you want to live.  It is a step on a stairway of dreams, goals, actions, failures and determination that will see your dreams become your life.

So, consider carefully what you wish for.  Make your dreams a reality.  Start your New Year off with a set of wishes.  Reach for the stars. 

lamp

“There is hope in dreams, imagination, and in the courage of those who wish to make those dreams a reality.”  — Jonas Salk

PS: How many other wishing methods can you think of? Genies in Lamps, Dandelions, what else?

How to Lose Weight Without Even Trying!

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I wrote this blog five years ago.  It seems a good one to help you start the New Year off right.  I know lots of us will want to shed those pounds that we put on during the holiday season.  This NEED and DESIRE makes us easy pickings for all of the “diet programs” that promise us how little effort it will be too lose weight if we only buy their book and follow their rules.  I start off this blog with two rules of my own.  I have updated most of the health data in this blog for 2023 but I have no doubt that the data would be the same or even more depressing if you looked it up today and compared it to ten years ago.  So lets get to it so you can find out how to “How to  Lose Weight Without Even Trying!”

There are two rules of wisdom that I think most of us believe in.  They are:

  1. If it is too good to be true, it probably isn’t
  2. There are no free lunches

I have found the above precepts to be good guideposts for my life.  They are so often noted that we begin to take them for granted.  It could be argued that perhaps they are not true in every situation, but I believe that they are more often true than not true.  This brings us to the issue of diet programs.  Consider the following statistics:

  • An estimated 45 million Americans go on a diet each year. (BMC)
  • Americans spend $33 billion each year on weight-loss products. (BMC)
  • A higher percentage of women (56.4%) than men (41.7%) have tried to lose weight. (CDC, 2018)
  • Nearly half of adults (49.1%) attempted to lose weight within the last year. (CDC, 2018)
  • Obesity is more common among lower-income individuals, those with less education, and some ethnic/racial minorities. (Wiley, 2009)
  • 82% of respondents considered that weight loss was completely their own responsibility, while only 5% did not agree. (Wiley, 2017( Fitness for Weight Loss)

(Statistics are from Weight Loss Statistics and Health Benefits for 2023)

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If I go to Amazon.com and type in “diet books”, I find that there are 184,291 books available to sell me on a strategy for losing weight.  There were 424 “Diet Best Sellers” in 2016 and 209 “Best Sellers” published already in 2017.  These are only the “Best Sellers.”  There were a total of 39,673 diet books listed as published in 2016.  Many if not most diet books do not make the “Best Seller” lists.  In terms of magazines dealing with diets and weight loss, there are over a dozen magazines that you can buy each week at your local grocery store (that you will find stocked right next to the chocolates) that will tell you how to lose weight “without even trying.”

fad-diet-ads

However, the above statistics are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  If I go to Google and type in the words “diet strategies”, I find that there are over 75,000 listings concerning various diets, stratagems, plans, tips, secrets, etc., that will show you how to lose weight “without even trying.”

Here are some typical headlines that you will find as you peruse any of the above information that is offered for those of us that need to lose weight “without even trying”:

  • The Harcombe Diet 3-Step Plan: Lose 7 lbs. in 5 days and end food cravings forever
  • 1200 Calorie Diet Menu – 7 Day Lose 20 Pounds Weight Loss Meal Plan
  • Win at Slim: New Secrets to Lasting Weight Loss
  • Outsmart Your Cravings: Sweet, Salty, Crunchy
  • How I Lost 42 lbs.
  • Eat, Drink, Shrink: No Diet Ways to Fight Holiday Gain
  • No More Guilt: Stop Dwelling, Start Enjoying

no exercise or dieting

The beauty of all these weight loss schemes is that you can lose weight “without (you guessed it) even trying.”  Any half-way intelligent person would regard these titles and by applying either of the two rules noted earlier decide that they were pure bunko.  Lose weight without trying!  End food cravings forever!  Lose 7 lbs. in 5 days!  No sane person would believe any of this BS.  Nevertheless, the diet magazines, diet plans and diet books sell like crazy.  Every year a plethora of new diet strategies replace last year’s models.  Why do people continue taking the bait when they know that it is a sucker’s game?  The simple answer is that when it comes to looking like Margot Robbie, Jessica Alba, Dwayne Johnson or any of the Kardashians, all brain power and rational thinking goes down the drains.  Everyone in America wants to be thin and beautiful or have six pack abs “without even trying.”

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Every new diet strategy renews hope for the downtrodden and overweight oppressed masses.  Every new diet plan offers the possibility that beauty and slimness might be had before Christmas or at least before our next birthday.  Every new weight loss scheme provides the potential to become the person that we dream of being.  Hope springs not just eternal in the human breast, but perpetually, irrationally and beyond all measures of logic or intellect:  To hell with “no free lunches!”  To hell with “it probably is not true!”

If even the remotest opportunity exists that I can lose weight “without even trying”, I will take the bait like a mouse eats peanut butter or a cat eats catnip or a bear eats donuts.  “Dam the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”  Who cares about logic?  Who cares that no evidence exists to back many of these claims up?

before and after maleSo now we come to the real issue.  You wanted to know if there actually might be a method for losing weight “without even trying.”  My answer is YES!  But there is even better news.  I will send you the secret strategy for my quick weight loss “Without Even Trying” plan that I have developed for only $9.95 plus postage and handling.  I will give you a money back guarantee that in six weeks or less, you will lose twenty pounds “without even trying” or I will send you a full refund.  This offer is good for only thirty days after you read this blog and it will then expire.  The following stipulations also apply:

  • You must reside on a lake
  • You must be over 99 years of age
  • You must have been born in Last Chance, New Mexico
  • You must be at least 100 lbs. overweight at the start of this offer
  • You must believe everything you read or hear

Time for Questions:

Do you need to lose weight?  Have you been trying to lose weight?  How successful have your efforts been?  What has worked for you?  What did not work for you?  What would you like to change in your diet?

Life is just beginning.

“I believe that parents need to make nutrition education a priority in their home environment. It’s crucial for good health and longevity to instill in your children sound eating habits from an early age.” — Cat Cora

Thoughts to Start 2023 and Begin a New Year

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As we leave the “Old Year” behind and get ready to greet the “New Year” here are some thoughts that I hope you will enjoy from some great poets and authors.  These writings are in the public domain. 

The Death of the Old Year by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

And the winter winds are wearily sighing:

Toll ye the church bell sad and slow,

And tread softly and speak low,

For the old year lies a-dying.

Old year you must not die;

You came to us so readily,

You lived with us so steadily,

Old year you shall not die.

 

He lieth still: he doth not move:

He will not see the dawn of day.

He hath no other life above.

He gave me a friend and a true truelove

And the New-year will take ’em away.

Old year you must not go;

So long you have been with us,

Such joy as you have seen with us,

Old year, you shall not go.

 

He froth’d his bumpers to the brim;

A jollier year we shall not see.

But tho’ his eyes are waxing dim,

And tho’ his foes speak ill of him,

He was a friend to me.

Old year, you shall not die;

We did so laugh and cry with you,

I’ve half a mind to die with you,

Old year, if you must die.

 

He was full of joke and jest,

But all his merry quips are o’er.

To see him die across the waste

His son and heir doth ride post-haste,

But he’ll be dead before.

Every one for his own.

The night is starry and cold, my friend,

And the New-year blithe and bold, my friend,

Comes up to take his own.

 

How hard he breathes! over the snow

I heard just now the crowing cock.

The shadows flicker to and fro:

The cricket chirps: the light burns low:

‘Tis nearly twelve o’clock.

Shake hands, before you die.

Old year, we’ll dearly rue for you:

What is it we can do for you?

Speak out before you die.

 

His face is growing sharp and thin.

Alack! our friend is gone,

Close up his eyes: tie up his chin:

Step from the corpse, and let him in

That standeth there alone,

And waiteth at the door.

There’s a new foot on the floor, my friend,

And a new face at the door, my friend,

 A new face at the door.

——————————

New Year’s Eve by Thomas Hardy

    “I have finished another year,” said God,

     “In grey, green, white, and brown;

    I have strewn the leaf upon the sod,

    Sealed up the worm within the clod,

     And let the last sun down.”

    “And what’s the good of it?” I said.

     “What reasons made you call

    From formless void this earth we tread,

    When nine-and-ninety can be read

     Why nought should be at all?

    “Yea, Sire; why shaped you us, ‘who in

     This tabernacle groan’ –

    If ever a joy be found herein,

    Such joy no man had wished to win

     If he had never known!”

    Then he: “My labours – logicless –

     You may explain; not I:

    Sense-sealed I have wrought, without a guess

    That I evolved a Consciousness

     To ask for reasons why.

    “Strange that ephemeral creatures who

     By my own ordering are,

    Should see the shortness of my view,

    Use ethic tests I never knew,

     Or made provision for!”

    He sank to raptness as of yore,

     And opening New Year’s Day

    Wove it by rote as theretofore,

    And went on working evermore

     In his unweeting way.

——————————–

Te Deum by Charles Reznikoff,

Not because of victories

I sing,

having none,

but for the common sunshine,

the breeze,

the largess of the spring.

Not for victory

but for the day’s work done

as well as I was able;

not for a seat upon the dais

but at the common table.

———————————

Brighter, Better New Year by Joanna Fuchs

Happy, happy New Year!

We wish you all the best,

Great work to reach your fondest goals,

And when you’re done, sweet rest.

We hope for your fulfillment,

Contentment, peace and more,

A brighter, better new year than

You’ve ever had before.

——————————————-

A New Year to Start

Finally, from some place within me that calculates the benefits of a New Year versus the Old Year, I believe that January 1, 2023, brings more than just the beginning of a New Year.  It brings a promise of hope and possibilities.

It is the time when it becomes traditional for us to form new resolutions, new dreams, and new goals.  It is the time when we want to begin over and try to make those desires come true that did not work out the year before. 

We should bring in the New Year as a mother brings in a newborn baby, full of promise and love.  There are those critics and skeptics who look at the inevitable human trail of broken dreams and unfulfilled goals from bygone years and laugh at our efforts.  Let us not be like those who deny the possibility of hope and change. 

I may often be a pessimist but for any of you with the courage to tackle a new set of goals or dreams, I say “try, try, and try again.”  When you give up your dreams, you give up your life. 

Happy New Year from the Persicos.

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