No Time for Immigrants: Part 3: Final

I live in Arizona City. South of I-8 and just west of I-10, it is a major corridor for coyotes, drug runners and illegal or undocumented immigrants. There is hardly a week goes by that we do not have coffee shop stories of found pot bales, abandoned vehicles, spotters hiding in caves and illegal’s coming to homes asking for water or food. These stories are supplemented by our almost daily observations of border patrol vehicle searches and regular high speed police calls. One of our visitors commented that she had never seen so many police vehicles in her whole life as in our area. Last fall, one elderly resident who lived out in the desert was found murdered in her home. Nothing was missing but no suspects have been found. There are many folks in my area who will not venture out in the desert without being armed and there are many areas where you are warned to stay clear of. I routinely jog in the Casa Grande Mountains and while relatively safe, there have been drug busts and roundups of drugs and illegal immigrants within the past few months. A few months ago I found a rifle with a telescopic site and a sawed off butt behind a cactus. I turned it into the police station where they were not too concerned about it. To date, my biggest adversary has been a cactus that is known as a “jumping Cholla.” These things seem to magically find a way to get attached to you and their barbs are quite painful. I have had at least six attacks by them during the past few months.

The picture I am trying to paint for you, coupled with the fact of the ongoing drug war in Mexico, which is only about 120 miles from our front door (47,000 deaths and counting), is designed to give you some idea of the context in which many Arizonians find themselves. Gated communities, suspicion of neighbors, fear of criminal break-ins and an overall worry about the poor economy, housing foreclosures, and jobs (Arizona leads the nation in many of these problems) gives rise to a citizenry which is far from tolerant of anyone coming over illegally into this country. There is a great deal of fear in the nation as a whole ever since 9/11 and nowhere I think is it more evident than in Arizona. Fear and tolerance do not go hand in hand. However as Ben Franklin noted “Those who would give up their freedom for safety will soon find they have neither.” It is difficult to counsel this advice though when neighborhoods cannot be made safe and people are afraid they will become victims. So what does this have to do with stopping illegal immigration? Let me turn the clock back to help answer this question.

In 1963, I was sent to an Air Force station located in Osceola, Wisconsin. Coming from the east coast, I could not have told you were Wisconsin was if my life depended upon it. Furthermore, to be dropped into the middle of a Dairy Farm USA was a major culture shock. Nevertheless, I adapted by marrying a woman from Thorp, Wisconsin and having my daughter Christina born in Osceola. Life was good for me in the service but money was short. I found local work doing farm work and finally getting a part-time job (to supplement my service income) at a local nursery called Abhramsons. It was at this place, that I had my first meetings with Mexican farm workers. Each season, Abrahamsons’s would bring in workers from Mexico to work at the nursery. The work involved digging, balling, burlapping, loading and then digging to replant trees for wealthy buyers in Edina and the Twin Cities. It was hard work. We dug and loaded from 6 AM to often after 9 PM at night. I was paid one dollar per hour. I do not know what my Mexican counterparts were paid because they could not speak English, I could not speak Spanish and my bosses warned me to never discuss salary with the other workers. Thus, I spent my days working in the fields, sharing food but no conversation with the other workers. Believe me when I say there were few local non-Hispanic people applying for these jobs. I have since been to other areas of the USA including Mackinac Michigan and Door County Wisconsin, where they rely on immigrant workers to provide services to locals and tourists. To say that illegal or legal immigrant workers are taking jobs and bread from the mouths of Americans is a shallow and false bit of rhetoric. I have heard it said that if these undesirable jobs were not taken by immigrants then the wages would go up and US workers would then apply for them. This bit of fantasy ignores two possibilities: 1.The work could go overseas to even lower wage workers or 2, The Law of Substitution says that other higher value added services could replace services that become too costly.

So year after year, from the middle 40’s to the late 60’s, immigrants came over from Mexico and South America on a seasonal basis. Each year millions of these Bracero program (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bracero_Program) workers would come and work in the USA. Most would go back home after the work was over. Some would apply for citizenship and stay in the US. The Bracero program favored Hispanic workers (there did not seem to be many Canadians or Europeans looking for farm work) and it seemed to create a rather orderly and neat influx and outflow of labor seasonally needed by US employers. Then the program was changed and then the problems started. Barred from working seasonally and denied access to work permits, many Mexicans and other Latinos took the easy road. Illegal yes, enforced no. That is until 9/11, when all hell broke loose. Never in the past 100 years had US citizens felt so vulnerable as after 9/11. Fearing for an influx of terrorists and watching unparalled amounts of drugs crossing the border, we reacted to our fears by passing the Patriot Act, by beefing up Homeland Security, by passing Border Wall bills, by making it a felony to repeatedly try to cross our borders, by greatly expanding the Border Patrol and by building large detention centers in my county (Pinal, often referred to as Penal County) to house drug runners and detainees awaiting deportation. The number of anti-immigration bills started to proliferate state by state as the Federal government seemed impotent to deal with the crisis. Citizens armed themselves and formed border posses and watchdog groups to police our borders with Mexico. No one really seems worried about those Canadians. I suppose ever since prohibition was rescinded, the Canadians have stopped smuggling whiskey across the border.

So let’s ask a question here? Why do all of these illegals come to the USA? The answer I think is simple. Two reasons: Jobs and drug smuggling. I wonder if the solution to the problem seems as evident to you now as it does to me. First, legalize drugs. Let the government tax them and let anyone sell them just like cigarettes, coffee and alcohol are sold. We have spent billions on a fruitless drug war and we have accomplished nothing. Furthermore, in light of all the drugs that Americans take, it is a hypocritical war to begin with. It is a war waged by idiots and morons who keep our prisons, courtrooms, and lawyers sucking our taxes and wages for no apparent gain. It is a more ludicrous endeavor than anything that ever existed in Alice in Wonderland or any fantasy story that was ever created. We have become so blinded by the anti-drug rhetoric that we no longer have the ability to see reality. What did we learn from Prohibition? “THOSE WHO FORGET THE PAST ARE CONDEMNED TO REPEAT IT!” Banning alcohol did not stop the use of liquor nor did it curtail organized crime. On the contrary, it gave organized crime the income and mandate to expand its power and territory and become even more powerful and dangerous. The same is true for the South American drugs, primarily pot and coke that we are trying to banish. The drug cartels have become so rich and powerful, they are immune to any efforts to abolish them.

Second, we need to create a new policy for temporary and migratory workers that represents the nature of work needed by immigrants and by employers in the USA. This policy needs to be fair and equitable but also realistic. The relationship we have with Mexico cannot be dictated by the relationships we have with Canada, Europe or any other countries. We need an equitable policy, but there is a difference between equity and equality. A fair and just policy must create a win-win both for our nation and for the immigrants we give visas or sanctuary to. There cannot be one size fits all for this policy. Part of this policy must be humanitarian. It is in our constitution and in our national charter to help others escape from tyranny, poverty or other calamities. Part of our immigration policy must also be self-serving. We need to help our country become stronger and to better meet the needs of competing in a global economy. Realistically, we may have a cost attached to immigration. Despite many arguments on the negative and positive costs of immigration, the only real evidence that can support a liberal immigration policy is to look at our success as a nation over the last 250 years. Can any doubt that it was immigration that built and fueled the development of this great nation? We may need to balance short-term costs with long-term gains in a realistic immigration policy.

I have one final solution. Let’s take the development of an immigration policy away from the politicians and appoint a group of immigration experts from a wide range of viewpoints. Take the authors and writers from the dozen books I read and put them in a room together. Give them four weeks to hammer out a new immigration policy. When they are satisfied that such a policy is realistic and equitable, let them distribute this policy to the newspapers and Internet website for review by American citizens. After four weeks of review, let there be a national referendum on the policy. A plurality of sixty percent should be needed to pass. If sixty percent is not reached, the policy will be returned to the experts for further changes and amendments. Once a plurality of American voters has accepted this policy, it would be sent to the Senate and House for review and to become law. Woe to them if they could not finalize this policy.

There are many things you can find wrong with my suggestions. I can hear all the reasons why these ideas would not work. The question I have for you is this: “Can you find any better ideas.” The definition of craziness is to keep doing the same thing and expect different results. Maybe it is time we tried some new ideas; as Einstein said: “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” We need to discard our prejudices and biases and see things in a new light. What do you think needs to be done? When was the last time you wrote your representative to express your ideas? When was the last time you went to a party caucus or actively worked to help elect a representative? What could you do to help create a new and fair immigration policy for this country?

No Time for Immigrants: Part 2

The questions I raised yesterday on immigration can be summarized very succinctly into one overarching question.  Do immigrants benefit or hurt the USA in today’s global world?  If you believe that they absolutely do no good for our country or our economy than you are anti-immigration.  This is an honest position and a sensible one if your opponents cannot show that immigration on balance does benefit our country.   If you believe that under certain conditions and within certain constraints, it may do some good or perhaps a great amount of good for our country than you are for a fair immigration policy. There is a big difference between anti-immigration and fair immigration.  Many of the arguments and positions advanced today are anti-immigration.  However, a fair immigration policy must create a balanced win-win for our nation and for those immigrants seeking to become a part of it.  If you are for a fair immigration policy, then you must educate yourself on this issue and demand that those who lead us do all they can to create such an equitable immigration policy.  To demand any less, is to damage the fabric of this country.  Assuming of course, that you see the benefits immigration can have.   
Now some of you may be thinking, well “what about illegal immigration,” where does this fit in.  I think this question needs a blog of its own and tomorrow I will try to address this issue.  Suffice it to say for now, that I am not for allowing anyone to enter this country illegally. However there is a still a big chasm between an anti-immigration policy and a fair immigration policy.   Let’s look at some comments from anti-immigration people.   
“The mighty tides of immigration bring to us not only different languages, opinions, customs and principles, but hostile races, religions and interests, and the traditional prejudices of generations with a large amount of turbulence, disorganizing theories, pauperism and demoralization…I freely acknowledge that among such masses of immigrants there are men of noble intellect.  But the number is lamentably small.”  – Garrett Davis
 “The real objection to immigration lies in the changed conditions that have come about in the United States themselves. These conditions now dominate and control the tendencies that immigration manifests.  At the present time they are giving to the country a surplus of cheap labor – a greater supply than our industries and manufacturing enterprises need.”– Frank Julian Warne  
“It is an incontrovertible truth that the civil institutions of the United States of America have been seriously affected, and that they now stand in imminent peril from the rapid and enormous increase of the body of residents of foreign birth, imbued with foreign feelings, and of an ignorant and immoral character, who receive under the present lax and unreasonable laws of naturalization, the elective franchise and the right of eligibility to political office.”  Declaration of the Native American National Convention.
I confess I was having a hard time sorting out the arguments for and against immigration until I came upon a series of articles comprising debates for and against immigration that were written in the 1800’s.  Suddenly, I could see the same arguments (in slightly more modern language) that were being used by those against immigration today.  The difference is we now have the advantage of hindsight to see how much validity they had.  The comment by Santayana that “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it” started ringing in my mind.”   Let me make this clearer.  Take the first quote above.  This is from an article by Garrett Davis “America Should Discourage Immigration” written in 1849.  Garrett was appalled by the number of Germans and Irish that were coming over and sought to persuade the government that we needed to strongly discourage such immigration.  Everyone knew that the Germans and Irish were “mixed up with a large amount of idleness, moral degradation and crime.”  It is not too hard to find those today who still argue that new immigrants from new countries are also prone to such problems. 
The second quote is from Frank Warne and was excerpted from the Immigration Invasion, written by Warne in 1913.  Franks main concern was that all the Italian, Greek and Slavic immigrants coming over would lower wage rates and prevent America from developing the technology it needed to compete globally.  Warne said:  “Immigration tends to retard the invention and introduction of machinery which would otherwise do this rough labor for us.”  Looking back over the period from 1913 to 1990 can anyone find any validity in this argument?  The USA was arguably the most productive nation in the world from at least the early 1900’s to the late 1900’s.  
The third quote is from a prominent anti-immigration group and was written in 1845.  According to this group, the USA would decay from within as the new residents would not adjust to the American Way of life.  I think it can be said that from the early Pilgrims right up until the present time, we have not seen the American Way of Life yet corrupted by any successive wave of immigration regardless of what nation they were from.  There is a saying in organization development which goes “put a good person in a bad system and the system will win every time.”  I think the reverse of this saying is also true and it explains the greatness of our nation. 
 
Put a “bad” or at least a new person in a good system and the system will also win every time. New immigrants become creative honest hardworking and hard driving Americans. Proud of their new nation and willing to work even harder than the old generation of immigrations which now take their privileges and luxuries for granted.  Can anyone doubt the power of democracy and our constitution?           This leads me to one fallacy which I think is argued by the liberal-immigration forces.  I regard the liberals as those who would just let everyone in and do not see the need for a fair and equitable immigration policy.  In their naiveté, they think just leaving things alone will produce such a policy.   
The liberal-immigration groups will often argue that the best, brightest and hardest working leave their country to come to America and the rest stay home.  They are either too lazy or stupid to leave.  This concept is a sort of social Darwinism and it is advanced as an argument in favor of immigration and more liberal policies towards it.  However, I see no evidence that the people who stay home are any different from those who come to our shores.  People are people.  The first settlers to come to America were from a wide range of social and economic conditions.  Many in Europe were glad to get rid of them.  We would probably regard many of these first settlers as illiterate, radical and dangerous.  Nevertheless, they built the nation we now call home.  To argue that we should allow more immigration because they are the best and brightest is self-serving and short sighted.  Short sighted in that it overlooks the power of our nation’s values and ideals to assimilate all who enter this nation.  Self-serving since it suggests that we overlook the downtrodden and oppressed in favor of only those who appear to fit our elite definitions of the “best and brightest.”  
Let’s all work towards a fair immigration policy.  Let’s give up any anti-immigration rhetoric as incompatible with our American ideals.  Forevermore, history has shown that immigration has helped to make our nation great.  Let’s work together to create a plan to help our nation remain a beacon of light to those who are down trodden and oppressed.  We need a fair immigration policy that becomes further evidence to the world of the Great American Experiment.  Can you help this happen?  Can you fight against the prejudice of others to keep our shores open to those in need?  Can you add your voice to those who want a fair immigration policy? 

No Time for Immigrants: Part 1

 

The topic of immigration must be a timely subject since it was on the cover of Time magazine this week.  I had already decided to write about this subject before I found out how “Timely” it was.  I have been researching this issue for about a month now.  I have heard so many arguments one way or the other about it that I decided to educate myself about the issues and try to find some “truth” for myself.  My self-education began with a trip to the library where I requested about a dozen books on immigration.  They all came in from different libraries about a week later.  I had finished about nine of them when the urge to summarize my ideas and weigh in with my opinions just gripped me.  This subject is fairly complex as it must cover social, political, economic and legal issues.  I would like to do some justice to the subject, so my blog on this issue may become two or even three blogs.  Please feel free to weigh in on the comments section with your opinions, thoughts and feelings.  Many people have said that this issue should be decided on the basis of facts and not prejudices and antipathies but that would be like asking for the snow to fall when it was warm outside or for hell to be a nice place to visit.  It is not going to happen.  So realistically, I would like to look at this issue from both a logical factual perspective and also from an illogical or emotional perspective.  Often our gut feelings may be trying to tell us some important truths.  It does not hurt to listen to our feelings as long as we moderate our feelings with our brains.
Most of the books I selected looked at immigration from a wide range of perspectives.  There were pros and cons of immigration policy, some that were totally against immigration and others that were for a liberal immigration policy.  Several books dealt with the history of US immigration and others dealt with more of the legislative issues around immigration.  Books such as: Immigration Policy: Point/Counterpoint by Allport and Ferguson, Illegal Immigration by Miller, Mexican Immigration by Stuart Anderson and Immigration: Opposing Viewpoints, edited by Leone were among a few of the titles I selected to provide me with a wide range of viewpoints.  I started out with the intention to reject any bias I had one way or the other on the issue.  One of my caveats though was to try to separate fact from emotion.   I think perhaps one danger to seeing any “truths” is when facts try to hide as emotions or emotions try to hide as facts.  Much so called data that I read would not stand up to any statistical validity in terms of evidence or proof.  Much of the emotions out there also try to hide behind facts and present themselves as logical arguments when they are based on bias and prejudice.  My object in my reading and research was to sort through the rhetoric, and vitriol to see what we as American citizens really need to do about immigration.  What is in our best interests both short-term and long-term?  What obligations (if any) do we owe to other peoples of the world?  Do we need to worry about the quote inside the Statue of Liberty?
The New Collossus:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Emma Lazarus, 1883
Perhaps we need to erase this quote inside the statue and substitute it with the following:
The Scum of the Earth:
Stay home; you wretched curs,
We are sick and tired of being the dumping grounds for the world.
We have enough poor and tired masses.
We have enough yearning to be rich and well off.
Stay home; we have enough problems of our own,
We already have too many here who can’t speak English.
Even many Americans can’t speak good English.
Where will we find enough ESL teachers?
Stay home; find work or jobs in your own land,
Give us a break, taxes are high enough here already.
We have our own culture, you would not fit in.
We don’t need more criminals and illiterates.
Stay home; don’t come unless you are needed,
We will post for those aliens that fit our job requirements.
We only want those who are educated and creative.
The rest of you need not apply. 

Stay home!
The two sides as represented in both poems would seem to be galaxies apart.  Is there really any middle ground?  Are there any solutions to the issue of immigration?  Some of the key questions which I have found and which need to be answered are:

·         Do we already have too many immigrants here?
·         What do we do about illegal immigrants? How do we keep them out?
·         How many immigrants should we allow in?
·         Who should we allow in?
·         What do we do with the ones (both legal and illegal) already here?
·         Will too much immigration ruin our culture and values?
·         Will the wrong type of immigrants be bad for our country?
·         How long will it take for them to be assimilated?
·         How much immigration can our education institutions handle?
·         How can we afford health care and social services for those in need?
·         How do we keep out criminals and terrorists while letting respectable immigrants in?
·         Should we give amnesty to those already here?
·         What are the best ways to control our borders?
·         What is a fair immigration policy?
·         What role do drugs have in encouraging illegal immigration?

Are there solutions to these questions?  On the positive side, I believe that there are.  I believe history can show us a path through the web of confusion that seems to surround these questions.  The great philosopher Santayana noted:  “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”  The past has many lessons on the issue of immigration that we need to pay attention to.  On the negative side, we will not be able to solve these questions as long as we are basing our decisions on emotions masquerading as facts.  We need to sort out prejudice, discrimination, intolerance and xenophobia from the questions and decisions surrounding the issue of immigration. 
Over the next few days, I would like to share with you some of the answers I have found to the above questions.  However, do not rely on my perspective alone.  Do not trust the Buddha on the road.  Go to your local library and find some of the same books I have found.  Read the opinions and viewpoints for and against immigration.  Democracy only works with an informed citizenry. As long as only our politicians have the “facts” the rest of us will remain gullible and stupid on this issue. As such, we have no way to guard the guardians.  We all must be vigilant when it comes to decisions affecting our lives and the very foundation of our nation.  None of us would be here if it were not for immigration.  I presume this even applies to Native Americans to some degree.
Let’s all take our responsibility to keep this nation strong and democratic. Take some time today to inform yourself about some of the issues I noted above.  Go online and read some of the history or policies of immigration in this country in the past.  How much do you care about this issue?  Do you care enough to spend perhaps an hour each week for the next four weeks becoming more informed about this issue?  If not, are you willing to trust your political representative to make the decision for you?  Are you willing to let these questions be decided by others? 

Thank God its Friday! Where can I find a Fish Fry?

Friday, Friday, too much too say about this day!  Black Friday, Freaky Friday, Good Friday; Casual Friday, Unlucky Friday! Can you believe a chain of restaurants, a god and more songs than I could list named after this day?  Friday, is derived from the Anglo-Saxon form of Frigga, the Germanic goddessof beauty.  Frigga was the goddess of love, marriage, and destiny. She was the wife of the powerful Norse god Odin, The All-Father.

If there were a magic day, it would be Friday. You know the reason why too, don’t you?  The last day of the week, payday, the day that three day weekends begin on and a holy day as well.  The Easy Beats sing:  “Monday, I’ve got Friday on my mind.”  We can all identify with that song, since many of us start thinking about Friday as soon as we are headed to work on Monday. Even those of us who love our work, often look forward to this last day in the week, the day before our weekend break begins and frequently the day we begin it on early.  In Japan, Friday is Kin-Youbi: “Gold Day” or “money day”, and in many Asian cultures, paydays are on Friday (Wikipedia).  Friday for others has often been associated with the dreaded pink slips.  Instead of getting paid, you receive your layoff notice.  Love it, hate it, dread it, fear it, you cannot ignore it. 
Ever since I was a little kid, Fridays meant fish to me.  Of course, the Catholic tradition was to eat fish on Fridays.  In New York, it was canned tuna fish.  When we moved to R.I., I was ten and I discovered Fish and Chips.  When I was older, I caught my own lobsters.  I went into the Air Force at 18 and it introduced me to  Wisconsin at the Osceola AFB.  In Wisconsin I discovered the Friday night “all you can eat” Fish Fry and have been a frequent habitue of these ever since.  Now that I am in Arizona, I have found almost as many Friday night Fish Fries as in Wisconsin.  Some are good, many are bad, few are great.  My all time favorite place and the one that most stands out in my mind is Jake’s Valleys Tap between Prescott and Ellsworth Wisconsin.  They were so good, they were listed one year as the best in the entire Twin Cities. After that you had to stand in line an extra hour.
What do Fridays mean to you?  Have Fridays more often been good to you or bad?  Do you anxiously wait for each Friday or do you take your days one at a time?  What do you like most about Fridays?  What if we had a four day week and skipped Fridays? How would you feel about that? Would you miss your Fridays?

The Importance of Good Timing

Timing is everything.  How often have you heard this comment?  It implies that success goes to the person with the right timing.  If you watch a good athlete, you can see the importance of timing over factors such as strength or power.  A good golf swing is an example of this.  Some sports are power sports and require less skill than sheer strength.   Skill sports like golf, tennis, fencing and karate may require or put more emphasis on timing than other sports. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine any sport where timing is not important.  Great comedians must have perfect timing or they will find their jokes going right over the audiences head.  Photographers talk about the importance of timing in getting those great pictures. Business is full of opportunities that are time sensitive. Today, you may have an opportunity to make a fortune and tomorrow it is gone.  Good business opportunities will always be seized by someone else, whose timing is better.
So, how do we get our timing to be better or is it all just luck?  Can we improve our timing? The answer is yes, but it takes practice and patience. Great timing comes from practice and repeated failures. It takes time to get great timing.  People are not born with great timing, it is something we develop.  The person you envy because of their great timing is someone who is practicing their skill or activity on a regular basis. When you see someone in good shape at 80 years of age, do you think they were born that way?  I will bet my last dollar, they worked at staying in shape by watching their diet and by making sure they got plenty of exercise.  They put lots of time into it and they did not just get lucky. Too often we ascribe success to luck. Luck is factors beyond our control. Happily, success is within our control and has less to do with luck than it does with practice and hard work.  Good timing is a result of both practice and hard work. Read the book “Talent is Overrated” by Geoffrey Colvin and you can learn about the concept of “Deliberate Practice.”  This is not exactly what the term would suggest.  It involves a great deal of practice but a focused set of practice exercises that depend on your skills and abilities and the specific tasks you want to master.  These techniques work in business, music, sports or chess. 

Amazon: Talent is Overrated

Where do you need better timing in your life?  In what areas, do you feel that your timing has been weak or off the mark? What skills or activities do you want to be better in?  Can you make a schedule to practice these skills?  Do you have the patience?  Can you find the time to improve your timing?

The Yin Yang of Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday!

Went to bed last night and realized it was Fat Tuesday.   Wondered why I forgot since Fat Tuesday is also Mardi Gras.  I love Mardi Gras. Who cannot? A bacchanalia of feasting, partying, wine, women and song!  (Okay, let’s throw in some hunks and studs for the women) Everything we hope we find in heaven right here on earth! So when I awoke this morning, I thought well today is Ash Wednesday.  If ever there were opposites, then Ash Wednesday and Fat Tuesday would quality.  A great example of one of the Yin and Yangs of the universes and just think, they occur back to back.  So I thought, well let’s treat everyone to a dual blog today and make up for my remiss yesterday in one fell swoop.  By the way, somehow yesterday was my all-time single highest day for readers.  I am left perplexed since frankly I thought of yesterday as sort of an average blog.  I cannot say I was terribly excited about it.  So if it were not the blog, was it due to it being Fat Tuesday or some other arcane reason?  Since you might have read my blog, I would be interested in your theory.  You can post it in comments section.  Well, okay so let’s talk about Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday. 
I may have some qualifications for talking about these since I lived in Woonsocket, R.I. from my tenth birthday to my fourteenth birthday and went to a Catholic boarding school.  My favorite nun was Mother Findoca, who routinely rapped my knuckles and the back of my head.  She might have just cared about me more than anyone I have ever met except Karen and my mother.  I would throw my first wife Julia in this group except I am no longer on her Christmas card mailing list. Anyway, Woonsocket was the only town in the USA to hold a Mardi Gras festival besides New Orleans.  (Or at least that is what I was always told) Thus, at an early age I was exposed to the Mardi Gras tradition.  Can’t say I was much into wine, women and song at this age.  In fact, since third grade I had never opened my mouth to sing.  My third grade (public school) teacher had told me to shut my mouth and to not even open and close it.  She said I hurt her ears.  I have never sung a bar since that day.  I can appreciate very deeply what effect a teacher can have on a young person.  I can only hope that I have never had that negative effect on any of my students. 
Okay, so my second qualification is perhaps being Catholic (The first living in Woonsocket).  Catholics believe very deeply, although I don’t see it as much done in the flesh as in the spirit with the idea of Lent and forty days of fasting.  Wiki says this about Lent:
During Lent, many of the faithful commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuryas a form of penitence. The Stations of the Cross, a devotional commemoration of Christ’s carrying the Cross and of his execution, are often observed. Many Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches bare their altars of candles, flowers, and other devotional offerings, while crucifixes, religious statues, and other elaborate religious paraphernalia are often veiled in violet fabrics in observance of this event. In certain pious Catholiccountries, grand processions and cultural customs are observed, and the faithful attempt to visit seven churches during Holy Week in honor of Jesus Christ heading to Mount Calvary
 
Lent (Lent(Latin: Quadragesima, “fortieth ) lasts for forty days and forty comes up many times in the bible with many significant events from the Hebrews wandering in the desert for forty days to Christ fasting for forty days. The most significant event in Lent for me was figuring out what I could give up that really would not upset my life too much and going to church on Ash Wednesday and getting smeared with ashes.  I could then parade around prominently until my ashes either wore off or were washed off.   I thus looked like a real penitent at least for a few hours.  My “fast” would not usually last more than a few days and then be totally forgotten.  Since I usually gave up something I did not care too much about, it really did not matter much when I forgot it anyway. 
I am sorry if I sound sacrilegious and like a heathen (this last was one of my mother’s favorite expressions) but I never really got a sense that it mattered that much what I gave up or how long I did.  I ponder the Muslim tradition of fasting and think about how much more esoteric and serious it seems than the Christian tradition of Lent.  Do you really know many penitents who go and wonder in the desert for forty days or who truly fast for forty days.  If so, perhaps there would be many more thin people around.  I suspect you are saying “this idiot, doesn’t he realize the symbolic importance here?  I guess I am thinking that without the deed, the intention leaves something to be desired.  Every year at my Jesuit retreat (27 of them now) I am reminded that words without actions, intentions without efforts are only half of the battle.  How many people do you know that truly undergo forty days of fasting or at least some real sense of deprivation?  
Well, turning to a happier more pleasant subject, Fat Tuesday is the last day we are supposed to be able to have any fun, since we are all going to be deprived of such luxury for the next forty days.  This of course will only happen symbolically for most of us, but perhaps even thinking about the possibility entitles us to a night of debauchery.  Anyway, most of us are more up these days to debauchery than deprivation.  So Mardi Gras is a “legal” day to go overboard with those true evils that you will then put off for the next 40 days.  According to Wiki:  
Mardi Grasis French for Fat Tuesday, referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday; in English the day is sometimes referred to as Shrove Tuesday, from the word shrive, meaning “confess.”[6]Related popular practices are associated with celebrations before the fasting and religious obligations associated with the penitentialseason of Lent. Popular practices include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, etc. Similar expressions to Mardi Gras appear in other European languages sharing the Christian tradition.
If you have never been to a Mardi Gras party, you are missing out on a very fun event.  Of course, you must put out of your mind that it is all a prelude to forty days of deprivation.  It might be difficult to really have any fun if you had this on your mind all night.  I was sort of surprised yesterday that there no mention of Mardi Gras or Mardi Gras parties at my local coffee shop hangout.  My Arizona City coffee shop is where all the news that is fit to print is usually bandied about.  I was somewhat surprised that there were no local events since it has become common now to find people all over the US celebrating Mardi Gras. In a more serious vein, what can we learn from fasting or some form of self-discipline such as giving up a luxury or something that is really meaningful to us?  The answer I believe is a lot.   
We live in a society which from TV to IPAD to cellphone beseeches us to overindulge.  Go to the grocery store and look at the magazines on the rack.  Most of them will have some ultra-thin models touting a new six week weight loss regimen.  Open the magazines and page after page will have visuals of the greatest most fattening foods imaginable.  A few pages will tell you how to substitute mangos for margarine or salsa for catsup but most pages will also contain the hot fudge sundae brownie nut desert topped with low calorie whipped cream.  Did you know a DQ medium blizzard has about 850 calories?  That is half my BMR calorie rate for the day.  Go to McDonalds and have their deluxe breakfast without syrup or margarine and you have just had 1090 calories for the day.  You now have to get through lunch, snacks and supper and stay under 1000 calories, good luck.  Keep paging your magazine and you will finally come to the one page headliner article where “Rebecca Romijn” talks about how she lost 40 pounds in six weeks for her next movie.  Sometimes, the headliner has had five kids and may even be forty years old.  Rebecca is actually 39 this year.  She fortunately has the luxury of air brushing which the rest of us do not.  Perhaps, Hollywood stars could give up air brushing for Lent. That would be interesting.  
True fasting, which I have engaged in every Wednesday for the past 29 years, although some Wednesdays were better than others has helped me with a sense of self-discipline as well as a modest means of controlling weight gain. I usually limit my calorie intake to 1000 calories every Wednesday and try to stick to simple low calorie foods.  The past year I have to confess that with moving from MN to Wisconsin and Arizona, I have been off my fast.  I thought it would be very easy to resume but it has not.  I keep making a commitment to start again but each week it seems like something comes up.  I will still tout the benefits though at the cost of being counted a hypocrite. 
If you have never fasted, it does not really have to be food you give up; perhaps it could be shopping or something else that you routinely engage in.  For many, alcohol or smoking might be good things to try to put aside.  A true fast is not easy and should not be easy.  The point of fasting is self-discipline.  A side benefit is the sense of identity and empathy it provides us to with those less fortunate.  When you can have anything almost any time you want it, you forget what it is like to have less or not to be able to have at all.  
Today being Ash Wednesday, what can you give up?  Impatience, yelling at other drivers, criticizing your employees, lecturing your children or spouse!  Perhaps, your fast could involve adding something rather than subtracting?  What if you tried doing a good deed every day for someone for the next 40 days?  What if it were for your community or someone you did not know.  As I write this, my wife Karen is off to the food shelf where she will spend three to four hours helping to distribute and load food into peoples trunks who need help with groceries.  She will come back with a sore back but proud that she could give the time to help others in need.  What can you do for the next forty days to sacrifice?  In the long run, you will be the one who really benefits. 

Do you have the time or is that what you really want?

Do you have THE time?  This question once distinguished those who had a watch from those who did not.  Today, anyone can just as easily answer this question with a cell phone, IPAD, GPS or car.  We simply need to observe the time and state it in either Greenwich Mean Time or 24 hour military style.  One could be somewhat facetious and say “Well, it depends on what time you want?”  When we ask for the time, we are usually only requesting chronological time.  We assume that the person making the request only wants to know what time of day it is.  But what if they really want to know something else?
What if they wanted to know the time they had left to live?  What if they were looking for the time that the world had left to survive?  What if they wanted to know how long you were really going to stay with them?  In marriage vows, we say “until death do us part.”  None of us knows how long that will be or whether it will really last that long. The fact of the matter is most marriages barely last ten years. Yet we make a commitment to stay with the other person as long as we live.  In reality, it means as long as we still feel like we love them.  We make commitments of time that are impossible to live up to since we do not really know THE time. We cannot say how long the world will survive or how long we will survive. We cannot even say how long we will love anyone.  Times change, feelings change and we change. The most we can say about time is what time we think it is right now.  The future of time remains murky at best.
The next time someone asks you if you “have THE time,” try replying with “Well, yes I have it and if I give it to you, what will you do with it?” Alternatively, “Do you really need it?”  Or, “When will I get it back?”  Or, “What time are you referring to.”  This sounds nonsensical, but the point here is not to take words for granted.  They could mean many other things.  As Alice in Wonderland was told, “Do not presume to know what words mean.”  
Do you assume too much when others speak?  Do you try to check out the meaning of words and feelings?  Do you think that you know the meaning of the words without validating your assumptions?  What if you checked out the meaning of words more?  Do you think it would improve your communication skills?

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: