Obama and Moral Courage

Since, I first wrote this blog, I have noticed a marked change in President Obama.  He has taken the more difficult path on many issues and I would now rate him much more kindly in terms of his moral courage.  He has faced blatant racism and antagonism from many right wing zealots in this country, but particularly from the so called Republican leadership. Despite the low ratings he often receives, I think posterity will be much more kind to him for his strength and courage in trying to do the right thing for the majority of Americans.  I am proud that I voted for him and would without hesitation vote for him again.  If you still read the rest of my blog, please remember I wrote this blog many months ago and I have witnessed a much more courageous man in office this past several months.

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I voted for President Barack Obama in both elections.  I would vote for him again.  I lobbied for him.  I canvassed for him.  I sent funds regularly to support his campaign.  I was pleased that he passed the Affordable Care Act.  However, to date, Obama has demonstrated a lack of “Moral Courage” in his efforts to lead this country.   I have wanted to see him stand up and “kick ass.”  He has failed to do so on numerous occasions.  During his first term, I could forgive him for not closing Guantanamo or for the use of drones in our war against the Taliban.   However, once he was reelected, I expected more gumption and guts on his part.  I repeat myself, but to date all I have seen is a noticeable lack of Moral Courage in his efforts to lead our nation.  His giving in to the war hawks on Syria was the most recent and perhaps most egregious example.  I have no faith in the Democrats since they have repeatedly shown themselves to be moral cowards but I held out more “HOPE” for President Obama.

Moral Courage has been defined in numerous ways.  Some of them suggest a rather trivial approach to the concept.  For instance, someone said that “it takes Moral Courage to pick up litter.”  Perhaps!  However, I think of Moral Courage as more than just “picking up litter.”  A moral is something that has significant ethical relevance.  To be moral, means to be on the side of ethical and legal behavior.  It is not enough to be legal to be moral, you must also be ethical.  Racists, sexists, thieves and those who would deny others their rights are not moral people.

A web definition of the term “Moral” is:

Concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character.  “The moral dimensions of medical intervention”

Synonyms:  virtuous, good, righteous, upright, upstanding, high-minded, principled, honorable, honest, just, noble, incorruptible, scrupulous, respectable, decent, clean-living, law-abiding. 

Moral Courage is at least as much about courage as it is about morality.  It is easy to be moral when no one is challenging your ideas or positions.  It is much more difficult to be moral when you find yourself in the minority.  The term courage implies that one is brave in the face of some threat or risk to their well-being.  The greater the threat, the greater the courage it takes to be moral.  Thus, my definition of Moral Courage isTaking an ethical position in the face of a threat to your well-being or life. 

I have been a management consultant since 1986.  I have worked with over thirty companies.  One of my standard cautions to leaders (CEO’s, Presidents, Directors, etc.) was that if you wanted to make real change in your organization you had to risk being a martyr.  No one who undertakes change will gladly be accepted or warmly welcomed by a majority of the population.

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” — Niccolo Machiavelli

Moral Courage is a prerequisite for anyone who will undertake real change.  When Obama was campaigning, he promised real change to Americans.  We can’t blame him for the cowardice of the Democrats or the greed of the Republicans.  We can’t blame him for the partisanship that dominates politics today.  We can’t blame him for the high cost of medical care and the failure of our educational system today.  We can blame him for a lack of Moral Courage. The root causes of the major problems in America today can be found in the thinking that dominates politics and our institutions.  Specifically, we see the following:

  1. Short term thinking dominates long-term thinking
  2. A failure to see things from a systems perspective
  3. Lack of Moral Courage among our leaders.

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

Since President Obama is the “leader” of this country, the lack of these characteristics in his thinking is the most egregious in terms of assigning blame.  The first two faults we can attribute to his inexperience in politics and his lack of depth in the world of organizational change.  The third fault is a character fault and directly stems from his lack of courage in standing up to his critics and his unwillingness to take risks to change the system.  President Obama has found it easier to go along with the system then risk challenging the system and perhaps becoming a martyr to change.

American history is full of men and women who displayed Moral Courage.  The Founding Fathers, the Abolitionists, Harriet Tubman, the Suffragettes, Abraham Lincoln, Caesar Chavez, Martin Luther King and numerous others are well known to most of you.  All of these people either risked death or censure by their actions.  In many cases, they suffered untold hardships because of their willingness to stand up for what they believed.  When faced with the divergent paths of expedience or risk, they all took the path of risk.  For more information on people who have displayed Moral Courage go to:

http://moralheroes.org/

At this site, you will find numerous examples of individuals demonstrating Moral Courage in the face of risk and threats.

MoralHeroes.org is an ever-growing archive of inspirational men and women throughout our history that have sacrificed for the betterment of others physically, socially, politically, economically, or environmentally.

These acknowledged and unsung heroes have intentionally sacrificed their social standing and location, political or economic gains, or even given their own lives for others.

According to the authors of this site:

A Moral Hero is not a hero of accident or impulse (such as a firefighter in a burning building, or someone jumping in the way of a bus to protect another). A Moral Hero must have intentionally and selflessly upheld a moral virtue, such as kindness, patience, justice, compassion, love, or peace; knowing of the full risks and consequences of their actions. We have seen this in civil rights movements, democracy movements, peace movements and individual acts of kindness. They are not perfect humans, without blemish or errors. They may not have achieved their goal while alive, but they must have made a heroic effort to do so. They may not have spent their entire life as a Hero, or even been popular at all. However, if their single deed is great enough to inspire us to a higher standard of community, then they are a Moral Hero.

President Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This is one of the highest honors that can be bestowed on anyone. During the recent crisis over the use of chemical weapons in Syria, his position provoked some to remark that if the USA bombs Syria, Obama should be stripped of his peace prize.  I would second this recommendation.   His initial failure to look for alternatives, his failure to stand up to the war hawks and his failure to consider the United Nations as a potential resource to address the Syrian Crisis all showed a streak of moral cowardice.  Again, I might have attributed this to expedience in his first term, but now that he is closing out his second term, it is a lack of Moral Courage.

I know most Americans are sick of the partisanship in Congress. We are sick and tired of our elected leaders standing up for their party and not for our country.  We have had it with threats of shutdowns and filibusters to prevent anything being changed.  I call President Obama on his failure to demonstrate Moral Courage, but most of our so called leadership demonstrates the same character fault.

Can any of you think of an elected leader who you would nominate as a Moral Hero/Heroine?  I could take up the rest of this blog with the names of elected officials who have broken our trust with unethical acts of greed, lust and self-interest, but the newspapers give you these names on a daily basis.  It would be repetitious to repeat the names of these crooks, cheats and adulterers.  In fact, the only reason to do so might be humorous.  How many of these “immoral” leaders have asked for a “second” chance or found Jesus or committed themselves for “therapy?”   If I robbed a bank, do you think the judge would let me off if I found Jesus or found a good shrink?

These people who we elect have robbed us of more than our money. They have robbed us of the trust that we need in our leaders.  Without trust, we cannot have a great nation.  Ultimately, we trust in God, but on a daily basis, we are forced to trust our leaders to do the right thing and to care more about morals and ethics than to get reelected.  Unfortunately, for the past several years, the evidence shows that we have elected individuals who care more about their egos, their party and their chance to be reelected than they do about their country.

Time for Questions:

Polls repeatedly show a high percentage of Americans are dissatisfied with Congress, then why did we reelect over eighty five percent of them?  What will it take for Americans to say “I have had enough?”  Can we ever expect our elected officials to rise about their parties and to care more about their country?  What do we have to do as citizens to change our system?  Is it true that as Pericles said “The character of a state is determined by the virtues of individual citizens?”  Are we getting the government that we deserve?  What do we need to do to deserve better?”

Life is just beginning.

Lord, I Need a Scapegoat

I need a scapegoat (Sung to the Tune of “I need a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler)

Someone dirty and unclean

Someone unsightly and mean

I need a scapegoat.

If I’m Catholic, I can blame the Jews

If I’m Jewish, I can blame the Arabs

If I’m Arab, I can blame the Christians.

I need a scapegoat

Someone dirty and unclean

Someone unsightly and mean

I need a scapegoat.

If I’m rich, I can blame the poor

If I’m poor, I can blame the rich

If I’m middle class, I can take my choice.

I need a scapegoat

Someone dirty and unclean

Someone unsightly and mean

I need a scapegoat.

If I’m White, I can blame the Blacks

If I’m Black, I can blame the Whites

If I’m Indian, I can take my choice.

I need a scapegoat

Someone dirty and unclean

Someone unsightly and mean

I need a scapegoat.

If I’m a Democrat, I can blame the Republicans

If I’m a Republican, I can blame the Democrats

If I’m Independent, I can take my choice.

I need a scapegoat

Someone dirty and unclean

Someone unsightly and mean

I need a scapegoat.

Oh Lord, help me to find a scapegoat.

Isn’t it wonderful, there seems to be a scapegoat for everyone and every person!  A simple definition of the term scapegoat is “Someone we can blame when things go wrong.” Scapegoats must have different values, virtues and ideally look different than us, although the latter is not always essential.  Of course, they must be stupid, illiterate, lazy, dirty, uneducated, devious, mean, sneaky and not belong to any of the same associations as we do.  For instance, if you belong to the Masons, then they cannot also belong to the Masons.  However, you could select a scapegoat from any of the following:  Elks, Moose, Eagles, Rotarian, Jaycees, Lions, and Knights of Columbus.

If you belong to a country club, they could not be from your club but they could be from another club.  If you go to Johnston High School or Harvard College, they must come from some other school like South Providence High School or Boston College.  It is essential that scapegoats be in somewhat close proximity to your group or they will not be as useful.  The best scapegoats are usually in the next neighborhood or just over the border.  When scapegoats are too far away, it is difficult to remember why they are so guilty or evil.  A daily view of the target for your grievances is helpful to remind yourself of just how despicable and unworthy of respect your scapegoats are.  Out of sight and out of mind, is not a good quality for a scapegoat.  Thus, you should endeavor to select a scapegoat who will be around when needed.

Some of you may be wondering what a funny word scapegoat is.  Where did the term originate?  According to Wikipedia:

Scapegoat derives from the common English translation of the Hebrew term azazel (Hebrew: עזאזל) which occurs in Leviticus 16:8 after the prefix la- (Hebrew לַ “for”). The Lexicographer Gesenius[2] and Brown–Driver–Briggs Hebrew Lexicon[3] give la-azazel (Hebrew: עזאזל) as a reduplicative intensive of the stem azel “remove”, hence la-azazel, “for entire removal”. This reading is supported by the Greek Old Testament translation as “the sender away (of sins)”.

See, you really did not want to know the derivation of the term.  So let’s get back to some fundamentals.  What is the best way to find a scapegoat?  Well, we already know that they must be stupid, dirty, sneaky, etc. and not be part of our existing associations.  So basically, that leaves the field wide open.  Let me give you an example.  Let’s say I am a student flunking freshman English.  Who can I scapegoat?  The answer is easy.  Pick from other students who brown nose the Professor, pick from those minorities in the class who get the easy affirmative action grades, or in worse case, choose the Prof who speaks poor English and must have recently immigrated from Somalia or Russia or India.  Recent immigrants are always a good choice for scapegoats since they have less power to retaliate.  Speaking of retaliation, that is another key criterion for a good scapegoat.  They must have less ability to throw shit on us then we have to throw shit on them.  It’s like that old saying:

Never draw on the Lone Ranger,

Never arm wrestle with Superman,

And never piss in the wind.

You don’t want to find a scapegoat who can turn the tables on you.  This means they must be less powerful than your group and ideally they are harmless, pacifistic individuals or groups who do not believe or subscribe to principles of violence, vendetta, revenge or retribution.  Thus, it is clear you don’t want to scapegoat the Mafia, the Hell’s Angels or any White Supremacist groups.  It is a lot easier on your lifespan and health to find groups like Mothers for Peace or the Sierra Club or the Quakers to scapegoat.

Another good criterion for a scapegoat is that they don’t really know why you are scapegoating them or at least to them your motives appear uncertain, undeserved and confused.  An example should help here.  We all know that Gay men and women are sexual deviates who pursue and molest young children, however, the actual data shows that Gays are no more likely than straights to be pedophiles, commit rape or sexually harass anyone.  However, in good scapegoating, we never ever let the facts intrude.  Thus, we are more than justified in our beliefs that Gays are bad immoral strange people.  Again, don’t let the facts confuse you here or you will have to choose another group to scapegoat.  A good scapegoat is hard to find but once found can serve for decades if not centuries as a target for your problems and frustrations.

It is ironic that the United States should have been founded by intellectuals, for throughout most of our political history, the intellectual has been for the most part either an outsider, a servant or a scapegoat. — Richard Hofstadter

I realize that I am just barely touching the subject of scapegoating in my blog.  I have to apologize for not describing in more detail such aspects of scapegoating as:

  • How to humiliate and demean a scapegoat?
  • How to find new groups to scapegoat?
  • How to ensure that the rest of society hates your scapegoat?
  • How to ostracize a scapegoat?
  • How to transfer guilt and blame to a scapegoat?
  • How to get good publicity for your anti-scapegoat campaign?
  • How to convince others to join in hating your scapegoat?
  • Finally, how to crucify or stone a scapegoat?

I must also apologize for not going into more depths on certain groups.  There is a plethora of good groups to scapegoat that history and time have shown to be ideal for blaming and harassing.  For instance, if we had more time, I would like to show how you could apply the principles of scapegoating to such groups as:  Fat people, old people, young people, Generation Y, Generation X, Baby Boomers, Foreigners, Immigrants, Jews, Muslims, Intellectuals, Transvestites, people with disabilities and Atheists.  These groups can all be excellent scapegoats if you follow the principles of good scapegoating.  Remember,

  1. Don’t let the facts confuse you, keep in mind that facts are your enemy.
  2. Don’t personalize relationships with a scapegoat; never ever get to know one on a personal basis.
  3. Try to find as many differences as you can between your group and the scapegoat group.  Look for traits and behaviors that you don’t understand and that seem strange to you.  Like Norwegians eating Lutefisk.
  4. Be suspicious. Be paranoid. Remember your scapegoat is out to get your spouse, your money, your TV and maybe even join your club.
  5. Don’t try for a win-win with a scapegoat.  Win-wins are for Wusses, Commies and Fags.
  6. Think negative, negative, negative.  Always believe the worst. Good guys finish last.

 Time for Questions:

What can we do to personally stop scapegoating?  Are there people or groups who you scapegoat?  Why?  What role if any does scapegoating play in your life?  When was the last time you challenged someone who was scapegoating?  What happened?  Have you ever been scapegoated?  How do you feel when you are scapegoated?  Has anyone ever stood up for you?  How did you feel about them?  What if more of us stood up to the scapegoaters?  Does anyone really deserve to be scapegoated?

 Life is just beginning.

Memories Are Made of This

Perhaps my title reminds you of the Dean Martin song “Memories are Made of This?”  For some reason Dean’s song has relevance to my blog this week but not because of the lyrics but more because of the sentiments.  The actual genesis of my blog begun last night when I was listening to a Christian gospel group called Glory Train.  One of the members (who is a friend of mine) did a number based on “memories’ he had of a friend who passed away several years ago.  The song provoked many memories in my own mind of growing up:  Memories of friends, parents, grandparents, good times and bad times.

I suppose memories can be classified according to some unknown typology or perhaps a hierarchy of memories.  We can have happy memories, sad memories, bittersweet memories, terrifying memories, romantic memories, erotic memories or angry memories.  I leave it to the psychologists to develop the typology or hierarchy.  For now, I am more interested in what provokes memories? Why do we have memories?  Are memories useful or do they keep us mired in the past?  Are we better off forgetting the good and bad times and moving forward?  Perhaps the answers to these questions are really trivial but during my reminisces about the “good old days” or the “bad old days” they don’t seem so trivial to me.

“The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant.” — Salvador Dali

It seems when I am reminiscing that the past is always nostalgic.  Life was easier “back when.”  Friends were truer “back when.”  Love was more compelling “back when.”  Family was more meaningful “back when.”  “Back when” trumps now in most of my memories.  How real is this?  Not very I think, except in the feelings which drip drop from my reminisces.  The past seems to hold the secrets which are somehow lost in the present.  Love, friendship, relationships, happiness, youth beckon; if only I could go “back when,” everything would be okay.  No more suffering, no more strife, no more toil, no more aging.  Peace, bliss and joy would suffuse my daily existence.

“The Greek word for “return” is nostos.  Algos means “suffering.” So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.” — Milan Kundera

The ghosts of the past are like shadows on the wall.  Mom, dad, grandparents, old friends, old wives, God-parents, fond aunts and uncles, I see vestiges of them flitting here and there.  I hear echoes of old conversations and phases that once dominated the lives we shared together.  I taste the treats and meals that were conspicuous on holidays and special occurrences.  Every memory is pierced with a pain of loss and the sorrow of ending.  The bad times, the bad food, the bad people are all forgotten as my spirit flashes back to a past that has been sanitized by the passage of time.  I sometimes feel like I am living in an old episode of Twilight Zone.  Memories, people, events, stream by as I observe from the sidelines and occasionally grab a passing snapshot with my digital camera.  It records only the good, but the pictures are ethereal and they soon fade away.

“One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory.” — Rita Mae Brown

A tragedy of life seems to be that the older we get, the more memories we have.  Young people have fewer memories and thus have the satisfaction of not having to remember the “good old days.”  In fact, try talking to anyone from a younger generation about the good old days and see how long the conversation will last.  Whatever generation you are from, Depression, Greatest, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y or Millenniums, the newest generation will be the “young” generation and the other generations will be old.  As we age, there are more and more younger generations.  As a Baby Boomer, I have to put up with three other generations and if I live long enough perhaps a fourth.  I feel sorry for anyone born in the early part of the twentieth century who must now have to understand and deal with five or six other generations.

Imagine comparing memories with someone who was born in 1910 or 2001?  Not only do we have very different experiences but we deal with a sort of phenomenological dimension which cannot be translated not matter how many books you read about understanding the “other’ generation.  For instance, my experience and expectations related to war will be totally different from anyone who was born in 1910 or 2001.  War was once seen as rather heroic to some people.  Now we are seeing more resistance and revulsion to war for any reason except for an outright attack.  Imagine the comment that was made by Winston Churchill in a letter to a friend:

“I think a curse should rest on me — because I love this war. I know it’s smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment — and yet — I can’t help it — I enjoy every second of it.”  — Winston Churchill

Memories are made by taking the dross out of the past.  What is left are those reminisces which cause the aches in our soul, the hunger for the good old days and the desire to revisit the places and times of our youth.  The good old days, the good old places and the good old people are stripped of the impurities which were once a part of the reality that we lived in.  The memories we have today and that we think of as our past reality are sanitized versions of a life that would not look anything like our current reminisces. The “good old days” were never that good or great or wonderful.  The past is only a stepping stone to the future.  The days of tomorrow will inevitably be better than the days of yesterday.  Just as progress is made by going up, so the future is made by building on the mistakes of the past.  The good old days are yet to come.  One should pine for the future and not the past.  Sadly, the future will all too soon be remembered as the good old days.  “Whence cometh the good New days?”

“Look not mournfully into the past, it comes not back again. Wisely improve the present, it is thine. Go forth to meet the shadowy future without fear and with a manly heart.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

We all have memories; some good, some bad and some indifferent. Memories of what might have been or what should have been.  Memories of things left unsaid, events left unheralded and opportunities left unrequited.  Each memory we have is a page in our book of life.  One day our last page will be written. We will then become a memory in somebody else’s book of life.  I used to believe that having no regrets was the best way to live my life.  No regrets, no nostalgia, and no sorrow for the things I did or did not do.  Move on.  As I approach my final years, I am not so sure that I would want no regrets.  For me, regrets are a part of my life.  They are a reminder that I made mistakes, took the wrong paths and seized the wrong opportunities.  They are a reminder of the friends and relatives I did not have enough time for.  They are a reminder that life is much shorter for some of us than others and that no minute or even second should ever be squandered.

There are those who believe in an afterlife. A place where the dead are reunited with their former loved ones. I can see the allure of such a place but alas, I have no firm conviction that one exists.  If indeed it does; what a joyous place it would be.  A place where my mother, father, sister, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and so many friends whom I have lost over the years are all alive and well again.  Is it any wonder that so many people want to believe that something else exists after this life?  A heaven or nirvana where new pages can be written but no mistakes can ever be made – a place where no regrets, no sorrows and no unhappiness exist.  I would say “save it for a fairy tale” except that I like many others have a deep wish in my heart that such a place exists.  A place where no such thing as memories, nostalgia or the past will exist.  A place where every moment is spent making the right choices, saying the right things and never needing to have any regrets.

Time for Questions:

What are your favorite memories? How real or accurate do you think these memories are?  Do you let your past stop you from enjoying the present?  Would you go back to the past if you could?  Why?  What do you think the real value of our memories is?

Life is just beginning. 

Mans Inhumanity to Man

I have advice from a respected friend who says it is better to be positive than negative.  Generally, I think there is much truth to his comment.  Pessimists, cynics, skeptics, and critics seem to live hard unhappy lives.  Studies show that though optimists may not live as long as pessimists, they live happier lives.  We can look around us and see misery, inhumanity and poverty or we can look around and find kindness, generosity and love.  So why would I write about “man’s inhumanity to man?”  Perhaps I cannot give you a good reason.  Sometimes it just seems so egregious to me and terrible that I feel the need to condemn it.  I can not always have a “Happy Face” in light of the inhumanity that I see displayed by other human beings.

I am not talking about a specific act of cruelty or any one specific act that has recently found its way into the local headlines.  There are all too many such acts that get talked about in bars, coffee shops and at supper time.  I am also not talking about random acts of gratuitous violence.  Those bizarre murders and mayhem that are perpetrated by some warped sadistic mind.   Neither am I talking about the violence you see nightly on TV.  I wish I were.  I could simply write any of these acts off as aberrations and forget them.  Much more sadly, I am talking about our ongoing and seemingly endless ability to inflict cruelty on each other.  I am talking about the many instances of cruelty and mayhem that scream forth from the four corners of the earth yesterday, today and tomorrow.  The violence that never seems to end as each day the sun rises and sets upon the globe.  I am talking about the barrage of meanness that we inflict on each other every single day, 365 days of the year and 24 hours each day. Some days it seems like such depravity will never end and that it is more prevalent than God, love or kindness.

I am thinking about the wars, crusades, holocausts, inquisitions, witch hunts, gangland violence, prostitution, child abuse, genocide, domestic abuse, road rage and torture which stalk our world.   I am thinking about a so called justice system which values retribution over reformation.  An “Eye for an Eye” says the Lord and we go one further and extract two eyes for one and two pounds of flesh for one.  All too often the gore and savageness and mayhem seem to be enjoyed.  I have seen pictures of African Americans burned with charred bodies hanging from trees and crowds standing around smiling and posing for pictures.  I have seen videos of people rampaging in the street and beating innocent bystanders to death while laughing and joking.  I have seen pictures of people mutilating and defiling bodies that they have murdered of people who belonged to a different religion.  The visions of destruction and disaster in this world are all too often punctuated by smiling fiends who seem to extract joy and happiness from the cruelty they inflict on others.

Azucena, the daughter of a Gypsy burnt by a wealthy and powerful Count, is haunted by her duty to avenge her mother. Azucena confesses to her lover that after stealing the Count’s baby she had intended to burn his little son along with her mother, but overwhelmed by the screams and the gruesome scene of her mother’s execution, she became confused and threw her own child into the flames instead.  This plot forms the basis for the opera Il Trovatore by Verdi and from which the following aria is drawn (Aria: Stride la vampa / “The flames are roaring!”).   The aria by Verdi describes the glee and joy on the faces of those watching as Azucena’s mother is thrown on the raging pyre and burned to death.  If you want to hear the aria, (Click on the title), it is much more haunting than the words which have been translated below.

Stride la vampa!

Shrieks the pyre!
The furious throng
rushes to that fire
with a happy guise;
screams of joy
echoing around;
surrounded by ruffians
the woman is brought forward!
Evilness shining
on their horrible faces
by the somber flame
that rises to the sky!
Shrieks the pyre!
The victim comes out
black dressed,
disheveled, barefoot!
A fierce yell
lethal it blares;
the echo resonates
from hill to hill!
Evilness shining
on their horrible faces
by the somber flame
that rises to the sky!  From Il Trovatore by Verdi

I imagine similar scenes took place at the Roman Circus and inquisition not to mention the thousands of lynchings that took place in the USA during the 20th Century.  It is easy to point the finger at other people, but in many respects, we all participate vicariously in such violence.   Our popular movies and TV shows depict brutishness, gore and revenge that we all tune into daily.   The final scene of most “action adventure” shows is usually an uber-violent showdown between the good “guy” and the bad “guy.”  Iconic movies like Dirty Harry, Death Wish, Rocky and Star Wars are all about catharsis and retribution.  We sit through two hours of these movies waiting for our hero to get his retaliation.  We identify with our heroes/heroines need to get revenge in the most sadistic means possible.

A recent movie by Sylvester Stallone (Bullet to the Head) has a final scene in which the hero (who is a hit-man) faces off against a former Special Forces operative who is now a mercenary.  An ironic turn of events has us rooting for the hit man rather than the former Special Forces man.  The weapons of choice are fire axes which they wield in their battle against each other.  Nothing like chopping up your adversary to get even!  It is rumored that Mr. Stallone is making another “Rocky” movie.

In the famous movie “Runaway Train,” there is a scene of intense violence where our “Hero,” an escaped convict, is beating his friend to death.  A mechanic on the train (played by Rebecca De Mornay) stops the violent beating and says to Jon Voight, “You’re a monster.”  Jon answers “No Worse, a human.”  The final scene in the Runaway Train depicts the revenge and retribution enacted between Voight and his nemesis, the prison commandant.  Again, somewhat ironically, we are cheering for the arch-violent escaped convict against the prison commandment who has, although perhaps overzealous in his job, the legitimacy of the law behind him.  However, retribution and revenge are not about logic or even right and wrong.  There is an animal emotionalism that overtakes us that puts our vaunted logic and cognition on the scrap pile.  Thus, we will even take the “wrong” side to see that revenge is enacted or that “justice” is played out.  Our animal instincts routinely over ride our human instincts.

Herein lays the problem with “humanity.”  We prefer to call this evil emotional and irrational side of us, inhumanity, but as Voight noted, it is nothing less than our humanity.  We are not inhuman; we are simply and truly human.

Inhumanity: Noun

Crueltyatrocitybrutalityruthlessnessbarbarismviciousnessheartlessnessunkindness, brutishnesscold-bloodednesspitilessnesscold-heartednesshardheartedness, the inhumanity of war.

Have you ever wondered how anyone could pay money to attend a Roman Circus wherein they would watch humans being torn to bits by animals and gladiators?  Have you ever wondered how anyone could enjoy watching someone burn to death at a witch hunt?  Have you ever wondered how anyone could eat popcorn at a lynching?  It is generally hard for most of us to conceive of getting enjoyment from such brutality, at least when we are in our “human” mode.

However, have you ever gone to a football game, mixed martial arts match, karate tournament, hockey game, wrestling match or boxing match?  You can see the same raw animal emotionalism here infusing the crowd as they participate vicariously in the combat.  At all of these so called entertainment events, we suspend our concern for the well-being of others while we obtain vicarious enjoyment derived from watching others getting beaten and pummeled in a pantomime of war and revenge.  Perhaps, years from now our amusement at these events will rank on a par with the satisfaction our ancestors derived from witch burnings and lynchings.  You can argue that these modern events are mostly without the blood and gore of the Roman Circus but that is not always the case and it would probably not discourage anyone from buying tickets to these shows.  In fact, so much the better for ticket sales if some blood and gore and violence does emerge to “spice” up the show.

Man Was Made To Mourn:  A Dirge, by George Burns

“Many and sharp the num’rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves,
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heav’n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, –
Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!

Time for Questions:

Is there a cure for “inhumanity” or more honestly our “humanity?”  Do you get your violence thrills vicariously by watching others commit mayhem?  What need do you think this violence satisfies in people. What can we do to help insure that all people are treated humanely?  What will it take to get rid of our desire for revenge and retribution?  Can you ever see a time when kindness will trump cruelty? Are humans always destined for war and violence?  Did Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed and Moses preach the wrong message?  What would they say about the violence we view almost daily?

Life is just beginning. 

No Time for Immigrants: Part 3

SIx months of the year I am what they call a “Snow Bird.”   Karen prefers we are called “Winter Residents.”   We live in Arizona City.   It is south of I-8 and just west of I-10.  It has been 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 runs. 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 short time 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 danger 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 has led 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 where Wisconsin was if my life depended upon it. Furthermore, to be dropped into the middle of “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 migrant farm work and finally getting a part-time job (to supplement my service income) at a local nursery called Abrahamsons. 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.  In any event, I have yet to see the “older” immigrants from America who are now second generation citizens clamoring for these hard dirty and low paying jobs.  

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 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. 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 unparalleled amounts of drugs crossing the border, we reacted to our fears by passing the Patriot Act, by beefing up Homeland Security, by building Border Walls, 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 the Southwest. My county Pinal is often referred to as “Penal County” and has numerous detention centers 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 seemed worried about those Canadians. I suppose ever since prohibition was rescinded, the Canadians have stopped smuggling whiskey across the border and are less of a threat to the US.  🙂

So let’s ask a simple question here?  Why do all of these illegals come to the USA? The answer is easy. Two reasons: Jobs and drugs. 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 perhaps the most ludicrous endeavor that has ever been created.  It makes Alice in Wonderland look like a reality show.  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.

The second reason illegals come over is to find work and to have a better standard of living.  To help others accomplish this, 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 and 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 best evidence to support a more liberal immigration policy is to look at our success as a nation over the last 250 years. Can anyone 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 but to a good policy needs to be slanted towards tolerance for immigration and not intolerance. 

I have one final idea. 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 twelve experts on this subject 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 websites for a 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 can not be 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.

Time for Questions:

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?

Life is just beginning.

Labor Day: A day NOT to Labor.

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

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

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

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

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

Time for Questions: 

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

Life is just beginning. 

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