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I Wonder Who’s Curious Today?

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I wonder how many great novels have started out with these two words: “I Wonder?”  Ok, I am curious, so I will find out.  “Google, how many great novels have started with the words: ‘I wonder’?”   Well, I found “Wonder” a great book about children who are different and Natalie Merchant’s beautiful song “Wonder” about the same subject, but no list of great novels.  I will try again: “Novels beginning with the words ‘I wonder’.”

Wow, now I have found a list of some interesting books.  Foremost among the list of books is “I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey: by Langston Hughes.

In I Wonder as I Wander, Langston Hughes vividly recalls the most dramatic and intimate moments of his life in the turbulent 1930s.

His wanderlust leads him to Cuba, Haiti, Russia, Soviet Central Asia, Japan, Spain (during its Civil War), through dictatorships, wars, revolutions. He meets and brings to life the famous and the humble, from Arthur Koestler to Emma, the Black Mammy of Moscow. It is the continuously amusing, wise revelation of an American writer journeying around the often strange and always exciting world he loves.

Now I am getting somewhere.  Although sadly, Mr. Hughes stole the title of my proposed next book.  But I will let it go.  I am sure I can think of another title.  But the point that I am thinking about is that wonder and curiosity is or should be the essence of our lives.  “Once upon a time” is probably the most popular starting words for many stories, but I propose that “I wonder” should be the start of any journey.  More stories need to start with “I Wonder.”

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I wonder why they do not?  I think I know.  Schools do not encourage wonder and curiosity. Schools encourage learning the right answers to pass tests.  Society does not encourage wonder and curiosity.  How many times have you heard “Curiosity killed the cat?”  Of course, the retort is “And satisfaction brought it back.”  But there is already the societal warning that curiosity can kill you.  Consider one of the most famous anti-heroines in history and her story about wonder and curiosity.

debfcabe3a329e58d451650b7bbe3120653267d4r1-299-371v2_uhqPandora was the first human woman created by Hephaestus on the instructions of Zeus.  Pandora was a curious woman.  She was given a jar or box by the conniving Zeus with all the evils of the world.   Being a woman (sexism at its earliest) she could not resist peaking in the box.  So she opened it and inadvertently allowed all the evils within lose upon the world.  The only thing that did not fly out of the box was the spirit of Hope which remained in the box when Pandora put the lid back on.  Thus to this day, our world is full of evil but balance always by the ever-present Hope that things will be better.  Nothing could be more fitting than Hope for the times we live in today.

Here is a great song to listen to about Pandora’s Box by David Francey

Now, I have been teaching since 1975, on and off. I have taught every grade from preschool, to elementary school to high school and up though grad school.  There are trends and fads in teaching like in business and society.  Many argue every year about what the “core curriculum” of a school should be.  Some say math is essential, some say English is essential.  Some want civility to be added to the curriculum and some are still fighting over the dreaded “Sex education.”

One of the most popular subjects today is “Critical Thinking Skills.”  Every single teacher in America believes that “Critical Thinking” should be part of every curriculum yet less than five percent of any curriculum is allotted to these skills. There simply is not enough time to teach everything that people want to see taught.  Particularly, when we have standardized tests to prepare for and a believe that what was good for the Greeks and Middle Ages is still valid today.

Here is a great song for the curious:  “Be Curious” with English lyrics by Humood Alkhuder

I could leave every one of these subjects behind.  It is my belief that schools should only teach one thing.  That thing would be “wonder and curiosity.”  I doubt if anyone would agree with me.  I can hear the arguments now: “Schools must prepare children for life.”  “Schools must prepare children for jobs.”  “Schools must prepare children for society.”

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Just think for a second.  What if schools actually did teach children to be more curious?  What if they taught children to wonder about the world, to wonder about life, to wonder about people?  What would anyone imbued with a sense of wonder be like?

5 Benefits of Being A Curious Person by Leigh Weingus

  1. It can strengthen your relationships.
  2. It can help protect your brain.
  3. It can help you overcome anxiety.
  4. It correlates with happiness.
  5. It can help you learn pretty much anything.

You will find many articles about the virtue of curiosity on the web.  You will also find many of the components of curiosity.  Whether or not we can teach curiosity is perhaps another issue.  I have seen little in my many years of education that show we have the desire or knowledge to teach children to be curious.  If anything, I think curiosity is an innate trait which rather than nurture we do the best to kill.  Children ask fewer and fewer questions as they progress through our school systems.

‘Schools are killing curiosity’: why we need to stop telling children to shut up and learn – The Guardian

Imagine if you will that kids were not taught answers but were taught questions.  Anyone who has ever raised a child knows that they are the most curious little creatures on the face of the earth.  But right from childhood on, we do our best to extinguish this innate curiosity.

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Imagine if kids who asked, “who made the world?” or “why do I have to do that?” were given the quest to investigate and come back with their own opinions.  Imagine if children who asked, “why are some people racist?” or “why do people hurt other people?” were told “Well, I don’t really know, but can you research this and come back and tell the class what you have found out?”

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Imagine if we had leaders who asked more questions and looked more to experts to help solve social problems rather than political polls.  Imagine if politicians were curious about life and wanted to explore life rather than control it.  Imagine if stories written in newspapers and the media were less biased and more honest about what is known and what is not known.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.  — —”Old Man’s Advice to Youth: ‘Never Lose a Holy Curiosity.'” LIFE Magazine (2 May 1955) p. 64” — Albert Einstein

Autobiographies from the Dead — Jesus Christ the Martyr

Here is a blog I wrote a while back. Part of my “Autobiographies from the Dead” Series.

Aging Capriciously

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I am adding a few new autobiographies to my series.  I had stopped with seven, but it seems appropriate to add several more.  Thus, I really should not have said that this series will end since so many “dead” people still have stories to tell.  If you have not read my other “Autobiographies,” I strongly urge you to do so and add your comments or thoughts to their stories.  I know many of the “dead” will appreciate your perspectives.

38000-christian-denominations-good-luck-choosing-the-right-oneThis week, you will hear from one Jesus of Nazareth.  He has been called by many names including: Messiah, Emmanuel, Christ, Lord, Master, Logos (the Word), Son of God and by himself more often The Son of Man.   He is often credited with being the founder or perhaps foundation for a popular religion called Christianity.  Today, it is difficult to see the link between the teachings of Jesus and many of…

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The Man Who Was Smarter Than God

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Once upon a time there was a man who was smarter than God.  At least that is what his friends said behind his back.   Michael was indeed one of the smartest men you could ever meet.  Now some might call this a blessing while others might call it a curse.  His mother was fond of saying that “ignorance is bliss” while his father believed, (though he did not practice it himself) that intellect and knowledge was everything.  A man who was smart enough could rule the world.  His father continually berated Michael to think and to use his intellect.  Michael’s father demanded that Michael read only non-fiction and in an argument stick to the facts.  The only things that mattered in the world were facts, data and evidence.  Emotions ruled stupid people and decisions based on emotions were decisions that were stupid.

Michael grew up with very little respect or tolerance for anyone or anything that was not logical and rationale.  When the first Star Trek series became popular, Michael was surprised at the admiration for Lt. Commander Spock.  Many people saw Spock as the epitome of logic and rational thinking versus Kirk’s impulsiveness and McCoy’s rampant emotionalism.  However, Michael saw Spock as divided between emotions and intellect.  He could not accept that Spock was a role model for logical thinking.  Nothing was as important to Michael as mind and intellect and the ability to ignore and suppress emotions. This of course had its negative side as far as Michael’s social aspirations were concerned.

Michael had few if any male friends and zero female friends.  Men did not like Michael because they feared his put downs and lack of acceptance of their often biased and illogical thinking.  Michael was very intolerant of what he saw as inept thinking and has no qualms about correcting anyone.  It was hard to deny that Michael was usually right, but this meant that being around him would make you feel inferior and stupid.  No one wants to associate with anyone who makes them feel insignificant.

Michael was attracted to women and would have liked to date and have a social relationship with the opposite sex.  However, most women saw him as wooden and unemotional.  This was a state that Michael was rather proud of.  Moreover, compassion and love were traits that Michael saw as incompatible with a rational human being.  There traits would lead to decisions based on emotions and not logic.  Dates that Michael went on with the opposite sex usually lasted less than an hour and calls for a second date by Michael would always go unanswered.

Somewhere along the line, some of Michael’s friends (more like acquaintances really) tagged him with the moniker “The man who was smarter than God.”  This was the source of endless jokes and laughter, all of course behind Michael’s back.  Michael grew more and more isolated from any human contact, particularly after his mother and father passed away.  Michael never even bothered to attend their funerals.  “They are dead” he reasoned, “So my going to their funeral is not going to bring them back.”

As the years went by.  Michael became lonelier and lonelier but also richer and richer.  Michael was a genius with computers and also finance.  He invested his money earned from writing software programs into a stock portfolio that he managed.  This portfolio grew to nine figures and Michael never had to worry about working for a living or where his next meal would come from.

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Michael loved to take walks to break up his work and enjoyed being outside.  One day while taking a walk, he stopped at a little bench in a park and sat down to take a short rest.  A young man about 16 years of age walked up to the bench and sat down next to Michael.  “Hi,” the young man said, “My name is Joshua and I am special.”  “That’s nice,” replied Michael, hoping to end the conversation quickly.  “I am running away from home” came back a reply.  “Oh”, said Michael, not particularly caring why.  “Nobody likes me” explained Joshua.  “My sister makes fun of me and my mom and dad don’t do anything about it.”  Somewhat curious, Michael asked “Where are you going to go?”  “I always go to this bench until its time to go home” said Joshua.  This did not make any sense thought Michael, so he continued the conversation to find out more about this strange boy.

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Joshua was fifteen years old and a developmentally disabled child.  He had suffered a fall when he was very young which left him with a severely diminished cognitive capacity.  He also suffered from some physical limitations.  He was now in high school but spent most of his time in special needs classes.  From early on, his family told him he was special.  They were very loving parents and did their best to help him cope with his limited capacities.  They knew he would never be able to live on his own.  His older sister Inez, whom Joshua loved dearly, frequently became exasperated with him.  She did not quite have the patience of his mother and dad, but right about now, she would go out looking for Joshua.  The typical pattern was that Joshua would become angry with her and “run away from home” to this park bench.  Inez would come and “find” him and take him home.  She loved him as much as he loved her.

The conversation finally ended when Inez showed up.  Joshua introduced his new friend Michael to Inez.  She said hello to Michael and that she was very happy that Joshua had a new friend.  Joshua asked Michael if he could come to visit him after school sometime if he did not live too far away.  Michael reluctantly agreed thinking that he would never see Joshua again.  In some respects he regretted this since he actually felt a stirring of compassion towards Joshua and he was moved by Joshua’s openness and lack of pretentiousness.  Goodbyes all around and each left to go home.

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A few days later, much to Michael’s surprise, who should knock at Michael’s home but Inez and Joshua.  Inez said that she would drop Joshua off if it was okay with Michael and pick him up in an hour or so.  Michael agreed and spent the next hour or so talking to Joshua about many different things.  Joshua was surprisingly able to comprehend many things that Michael would bring up and they had some interesting if eclectic conversations.

Michael learned that Joshua loved science and animals and nature.  He also learned that Joshua’s parents were not very wealthy.  Michael deduced that they did not have enough money to buy some of the things that Joshua wanted and that they often struggled to buy some of the things he needed.  Apparently, the fall did more than just brain damage to Joshua and he had some severe internal injuries which needed ongoing treatment.  Joshua never complained though and saw most of these hardships as simple facts of his life.

al_roker_marqueeThe first day that Michael and Joshua spent together turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months.  Each week, Michael and Joshua would spend at least an hour together.  Some days, Michael would play video games with Joshua and other days they would do “walk and talks.”   Inez would drop Joshua off and Michael would take Joshua home.  Michael looked forward each week to seeing Joshua and spending time with him.  Michael often tried to buy Joshua some of the things that he wanted, but Joshua’s parents were very proud and explained that they would prefer that he did not.  Michael accepted their request but would take Joshua out for a hamburger or pizza whenever possible.  His parents did not mind this as Joshua had a prodigious appetite.

A few years went by and Michael s life became less lonely and much happier.  Michael greeted people on the street and spent time talking to other people without correcting them or giving them advice.  Every week Michael and Joshua would get together.  Then one week, Joshua did not come by.  Michael was disappointed but simply thought that some event had come up and Joshua had to attend it.  The following week went by and again no Joshua.  By now, Michael was very worried.  He called Joshua’s parents.  Inez explained that they were at the hospital with Joshua who was very sick.  She said she was sorry she had not come by to tell Michael about it, but things had been rather chaotic.  She said Joshua had asked about Michael and when would he come up to visit.   Michael told her that he would go right now.

When Michael arrived at the hospital, he found Joshua in bed with many tubes sticking out of him and his worried parents at his bedside.  Joshua looked up when Michael entered his room and his face turned into a big smile.  “I knew you would come,” he happily exclaimed.  “I am dying,” he whispered to Michael.  “But don’t worry about it, I will be OK.”

Michael stayed for awhile until Joshua fell asleep and then went out of the room followed by Joshua’s parents.  “We are very sorry we did not call you sooner”, they apologized.  “We always knew this time would come but we thought he had a few more years.”  “Isn’t there anything they can do?” replied Michael.  “No”, said his father.  “We wish there was, but they have done everything they could.”

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Michael came up every day to visit Joshua for a week.  Then one day, when he came to the hospital Joshua was no longer in the room.  The nurse explained that Joshua had died in his sleep the night before.  Funeral arrangements were made by Joshua’s parents and Michael attended the wake.  At the funeral, Michael gave his condolences to Inez and Joshua’s parents.  Michael was nearly as devastated as they were.  Joshua had a simple funeral, but Michael made sure that there were plenty of flowers there.

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Michael went home and for the next week did nothing and said nothing.  Then one day, he thought.  I am not going to forget Joshua.  I am sitting on a pile of money that is not doing anything for anyone.  I am going to start a home for “special” children where they can come each day to play games, have meals and interact with toys that their parents could not afford for them to have.  My home will have first class aides that are well trained in caring for special needs children and we will have all the security needed to ensure that these children have a safe and secure environment when not home.  This will be someplace that parents can drop their children off when they need a break or rest.

So Michael started this home.  It had the capacity for about 150 children.  The home had numerous playrooms, security cameras in each room and a full kitchen staffed by cooks with degrees in dietary nutrition.  The home was free to qualified children which was based on need and not income.  Parents would fill out an application and it was reviewed by a board of professionals versed in the needs of special education children.

Michael came each day and spent at least four hours at the home.  During these visits, he would meet the parents of each child and spend time with all the children to find out how they were doing and what they liked and did not like about the home.  Michael was constantly making improvements to the home.  When he was not at the home, he was using his genius to earn more money that he would then plow back into the home.  Michael named the home: “The Joshua Home for Very Special Children.”  Michael was admired by parents and loved by the children for the care and compassion he put into this home.

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Twenty years or so when by and Michael passed away.  In his will, he set up a foundation and trust to manage the home.  Every penny he had was put into this foundation.  Michael specified that he did not want an elaborate funeral and wanted a very simple burial.  Despite his request, the number of people that called to inquire about his wake and funeral soon dictated that his request would go unheeded.  A number of unnamed benefactors put up money to have the funeral moved to a larger venue.  Even with a bigger church, there was standing room only.  Estimates were that over a thousand people attended Michael’s “simple” funeral.  Many people stood up to talk about his generosity and compassion and all the children that he had helped not only with the home but often with medical expenses and care that they could not afford.  And no one referred to him as: “The man who was smarter than God.”

The End

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Reflections on the Corvid 19 Virus by a Prime Target

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Someday I am sure we will look back on this time with wonder and amazement.  Each of us no doubt has strong feelings about what is happening now and how it is happening.  For some it is fear and dread while for others it is a time for retreat and reflection.  Millions buy out every roll of toilet paper, face masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, white flour, bottled water and handy wipes.  Scalpers take advantage of a dire situation and a dearth of moral inhibitions to make a profit while health care officials try to “flatten the curve” so that the worst cases can get the medical treatment they need.

The media and other “experts” regale us alternately with paradoxical entreaties.  “Don’t panic, it won’t be that bad!”  “It will be the worst epidemic in history since the Spanish Flu or maybe even the Black Plague.”  “The death rate is 20 or thirty times that of a regular flu.”  “We don’t really know much about this flu.”  “It may take years to develop an effective vaccine.”  “We may have a vaccine very soon.”

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Wash your hands!  Wash your hands!  Wash your hands! 

I have many conflicting feelings myself.  I am seventy-three years of age and have lived a good life.  I can hear John the Baptist saying “Repent, Repent.  The end is near.”  Am I ready for the end?  Is my immortal soul as important as my physical body?  I see people hoarding food and I think people are more afraid of starving to death than dying of the flu.  Everything seems to be closing.  Schools, churches, sporting events, concerts, libraries, meetings and much more.  We are exhorted to continue spending but to keep going to work by politicians worried about the economy crashing while health care officials tell us to practice “social distancing” and stay home.  We are repeatedly told that we must flatten the curve.  The unknown is what this will mean for each of us personally in terms of combating this hidden menace.  Who will get the virus in a flatter curve and who will die in a flatter curve are unanswered questions.

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Stay home!  Stay home!  Stay Home!  Stay Home!  Stay Home!

Yet, I cannot help but think how amazing viruses are!  Can you imagine something that is barely visible under a microscope and that has no brain or ability to reproduce on its own, but it can reduce a human being to death and dust.  The pain and misery that this little thing can create is beyond belief.  The greatest science fiction writers in history could not come up with anything as insidious and menacing to the human race as a virus.  The movies are full of superheroes defeating the likes of mega villains like:  Galactus, Thanos, Ultron and the Dark Phoenix.  Yet, we have yet to come up with a superhero who can destroy a single lowly virus.  What is more exciting, watching Spider Man beat the Green Goblin or watching a nerdy scientist working in a laboratory trying to find a vaccine that will paralyze a virus?

Virus:  An infective agent that typically consists of a nucleic acid molecule in a protein coat that is too small to be seen by light microscopy and is able to multiply only within the living cells of a host.

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On the political scene, everyone is trying to blame everyone else for the state of affairs that exists.  Paranoia seems to reign in Congress particularly with an election fast approaching.  The Commander in Chief of the largest most powerful military force in the world is powerless to stop the Corvid 19 virus from spreading.  Yet he has the temerity or stupidity to suggest that his “Border Wall” might help staunch the spread of Corvid 19.  His stooge in waiting Mitch McConnell can block every bill in the Senate, but he can’t block the virus.  Other Trumpists like Representative Gaetz of Florida vote against a bill to provide paid sick leave but then take paid sick leave himself.  It has been noted by the opposition that President Trump did not do much to help our medical research capabilities during his reign of horror:

“President Trump’s third budget request, released Monday, again seeks cuts to a number of scientific and medical research enterprises, including a 13% cut to the National Science Foundation, a 12% cut at the National Institutes of Health and the termination of an Energy Department program that funds speculative technologies deemed too risky for private investors.” — March 12, 2019 – Washington Post

A friend of mine likes to remind me that we catch more flies with sugar than vinegar.  People want to hear positive things during a time of crisis.  We need to have hope and inspiration.  Yet to put out shmaltzy homilies when the reality does not support such optimism may simply be a case of too rosy colored glasses.  I wonder if I am an optimist or a pessimist?  I like to think that I am a realist.  Whether the glass is half empty or half full depends to me on whether the glass is filling up or going down.

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I look at some statistics that say perhaps 40 to 70 percent of Americans will get this virus.  The statistics are based on estimates from the Center for Disease Control.  Their estimates are based on some modeling methods.  For instance,  if the population of the US is approximately 330 million people and the death rate of this virus is estimated at 2 percent it will mean that between 200,000 and 1.7 million people will die from this virus.  Calculations based on the C.D.C.’s scenarios suggest an additional 2.4 million to 21 million people in the United States could require hospitalization, potentially crushing the nation’s medical system, which has only about 925,000 staffed hospital beds.

On the other hand, current data from China shows the rate of viral infection declining in China and the total number of deaths to be 3,199.  This suggests a death rate per capita that is considerably lower than estimates given by many experts.  If you figure that there are 1.4 billion people in China and that there were 3,200 deaths to date, this is a death rate of 1 per 438,000 people.  Extrapolating to the USA, this would mean a total of 750 deaths.  This is a death rate that is considerably lower than most pundits are predicting.  Keep in mind that China is where the disease started and where it took some time to identify the virus.  On the other hand, China also reacted very rapidly to containing and isolating cases of the virus.

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The figures I present are incredible.  The range of deaths vary between 750 and 1.7 million.  Who is right?  Why are the ranges so great?  Are we seeing a battle between optimists and pessimists or is it simply another case of the media hyping worst case scenarios to sell advertising?  Very large gaps between 1. 7 million deaths and 750 deaths suggest a lack of accurate facts and evidence.  Which will prove to be true?  What should the average citizen do?  As a wise person once said, “Pray to the lord but row for the shore.”  This means that we should hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

Say your prayers for others and wash your hands as frequently as you can.  I think this is the best than anyone can do.  I wish I had better advice.

 

 

Confessions of a Drug Lord

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My name is Tiberius Julius Aquila.  My parents had a thing for Roman history.  I live in a little rural village somewhere in the middle of nowhere.  I am called a drug lord, drug dealer, drug pusher, drug runner and other things that I prefer not to mention.  My job is to deliver goods and services to gringo customers that mostly live north of the border between the US and Mexico.  I expect my products to meet the highest standards of quality possible and that my deliveries will be on time every time.

I have been asked to tell you something about drugs that most people do not realize or think about.  In my business, I risk my life every day, so it is important that I know what I am doing and understand the ins and outs of the drug business.  In many ways, the drug business is just like any other business.  We buy materials, convert the materials into a product and attempt to sell the product at a price that will bring a profit and enable us to pay our employees.

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Our small village has only one industry.  We do not have high tech businesses or manufacturing businesses or medical businesses in our village.  We are an agricultural community with three excellent resources.  We have plenty of sun, water and soil.  This enables us to grow some of the best marijuana in the world.  Now some of our local farmers look down on the drug business and that is fine with me.  We need to eat, and non-drug farmers provide good crops to feed my soldiers and workers.  But for those in the drug trade, the profits are outstanding, and the work is year-round with guaranteed benefits.

Of course, there is one way that our business differs from other businesses and this gives us a bad reputation.  There is a lot of violence in the drug business.  I wish it were not so but it is true.  You see, if I ran a legal government licensed business, I would be protected by patents, copyrights, trademarks, anti-trust laws and many other laws that protect a legal business.  But in the drug trade, there is no protection.  The police, the army, do not protect my business or my business associates.  Thus, there is always a great temptation by others to take my business away either by stealing my products or killing me outright and taking over my territory.  Because of this I must use guns and violence instead of lawyers and bankers.  This makes the business always risky and dangerous.

Now, I said that I was asked to provide some facts about the drug business.  The first fact is that without customers I would be out of business in a day.  The USA is a land of drug addicts.  The government there does not like to admit it.  Instead they blame the cigarette companies, the pharmaceutical companies, the whisky companies and of course they blame me and my industry.  My industry includes the Mafia, the Camorra, the Columbian Cartels, The Mexican Cartels, the farmers, the mules and anyone else connected with the production and distribution of illegal substances.  Once we have a good network setup, we often branch out to manufacturing and selling other illegal drugs.  Fentanyl has been very popular of late and profitable.  But it is not easy to branch into other drugs.  There is much competition.

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Most of my customers never notice that the popularity of drugs ebbs and flows.  Some years it is heroin, some it is cocaine, some it is marijuana.  In the states, I must compete with the legal drug dealers who seem able to continually come out with new addictive drugs.  Alcohol is not very popular among illegal operations these days because it takes too long to process.  Good quality alcohol must be aged for years to achieve a peak taste.  Drugs do not age and that is both an advantage and disadvantage.  It is an advantage because we can produce a drug and sell it within a month or so of production.  It is a disadvantage because alcohol is still the most popular drug in the world and we are shut out of this market.

“People use drugs, legal and illegal, because their lives are intolerably painful or dull. They hate their work and find no rest in their leisure. They are estranged from their families and their neighbors. It should tell us something that in healthy societies drug use is celebrative, convivial, and occasional, whereas among us it is lonely, shameful, and addictive. We need drugs, apparently, because we have lost each other.” — Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays

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There are two kinds of drug users.  We can label them as recreational users and abusive users AKA drug addicts.  Recreational users consume modest amounts of drugs for fun, days off and special occasions.  Abusive users let the drugs consume their lives and are totally out of control when it comes to how much of a drug to use or when to use it.  The abusive users or addicts give our industry a very bad name.  I would be happier if there were no addicts, but I cannot control how people use my products.  It is like in the gun industry where they say that “Guns do not kill people, people kill people.”  I guess I would say that drugs don’t abuse people, but people abuse drugs.  You probably won’t buy that argument, but I thought I would try to run it by you anyway.

I know some of you will be offended by my calling the USA, a land of drug abusers but take a look at the following statistics: (From the Addiction Center)

  • Almost 21 million Americans have at least one addiction, yet only 10% of them receive treatment.
  • Drug overdose deaths have more than tripled since 1990.
  • From 1999 to 2017, more than 700,000 Americans died from overdosing on a drug.
  • Alcohol and drug addiction cost the U.S. economy over $600 billion every year.
  • About 20% of Americans who have depression or an anxiety disorder also have a substance use disorder.
  • On average, 30 Americans die every day in an alcohol-related car accident, and six Americans die every day from alcohol poisoning.
  • About 88,000 people die as a result of alcohol every year in the United States.

Are you ready for another fact of the drug trade?  Here it comes.  “There is no drug war.”  It is a phony war.  A war is a battle between two or more armies.  One side kills the other side and few if any prisoners are taken.  The armies use tanks, helicopters, airplanes, missile launchers and rockets to kill as many of the enemy as possible.   No one is attacking my soldiers except enemies within my country.  The competition that wants to take over my trade is the only army that I fear.  I do not worry about the military or the police.  We pay them enough to look the other way and as long as we limit the violence and mayhem to ourselves, they are happy to ignore us.

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Unfortunately, as with some military endeavors, there are often unintended consequences or as the US Army likes to say some people get killed and they are collateral damage.  We often have citizens who become collateral damage.  This usually gets in the newspapers and is very bad for our business.  We do not like bad publicity any more than other businesses would.  We are much happier with satisfied customers who get a quality product and tell others about our goods.  However, as with any industry, a few greedy people can upset the apple cart and then all hell breaks loose.  I think you saw that recently with the opioid crisis in the USA when a few pharmaceutical companies got very greedy and pushed the sale of large amounts of opioids to people whether they really needed them or not.  Another example from some years ago, was the highly popular company called ENRON which set up an energy business but got greedy and used many shady techniques to lie to their customers and inflate their stock prices.  Several senior executives from Enron ended up with prison terms.  In the end, greed will bring you down.

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The last point I want to make about my business concerns the idea that legalization would eliminate most of the illegal activity and violence associated with the trade.  I believe that this is false.  I am not saying this because legalization would put me out of business.  The fact of the matter is that legalization of drugs typically has one big problem.  It is that the government then decides to take a bite out of the profits.  They call this bite, taxes.  Mind you, they don’t just take a small bite, but they take a very big bite.  On average, federal and state excise taxes on cigarettes in the USA contribute to 44.3% of the total retail price of a pack of cigarettes.  Just to take one example for whisky, nearly 60% of every bottle of Bourbon sold goes to federal and state taxes.  When NY State decided to legalize Off Track Betting, it did cut into the illegal activity of bookie betting but not as much as the authorities had hoped for.  The state wanted winners to pay taxes and the mafia was a tax-free payer.  This meant that winners could bring home more money from illegal gambling than from legal gambling.

As long as I can avoid paying taxes, I will be able to provide my products cheaper than legally licensed drug dealers.  If I can provide a quality product at a lower price, I will remain the Walmart of drug dealers.   Perhaps, I should label my trucks with the logo “Always the lowest.”

Two other reasons that I do not worry about legalization concern both the puritanical and pragmatic interests that seem to govern attitudes towards drugs.   The puritanical people feel obligated to ban drugs because they believe that they are the devil’s weapons to destroy people.  Ever since the days of the Pilgrims there were Puritans who did not like to see people having fun.

“Years of research confirm biblical warnings that alcohol use leads to physical, mental, and emotional damage.”  (e.g., Proverbs 23:29-35)

When it comes to pragmatism, it is clear that politicians want to ensure a work force that shows up on time and is dutifully reliable to the time clock.  People using drugs often have a noted propensity for putting the needs of capitalism second to the needs they are focused on while high on drugs.  You may notice in the statistics above the large dollar amount lost to the USA economy that is attributed to drug use.  How this figure is calculated is a mystery but political attitudes towards drugs have always been hostile and show no signs of abating.  Regard the many years it has taken for the legalization of Marijuana to take hold in the USA.

I hope these “facts” of the drug trade have not been too disconcerting or off putting for you.  I believe that there is too much naivety and ignorance about our industry.  It is fostered for some of the reasons that I have noted in my confessions.  There are no doubt issues that I have missed or not mentioned.  If so, I err because of my perspective and not to deceive you.  I would not want to lose any customers.

“If you want to understand a society, take a good look at the drugs it uses. And what can this tell you about American culture? Well, look at the drugs we use. Except for pharmaceutical poison, there are essentially only two drugs that Western civilization tolerates: Caffeine from Monday to Friday to energize you enough to make you a productive member of society, and alcohol from Friday to Monday to keep you too stupid to figure out the prison that you are living in.”  ― Bill Hicks

Dick Doyscher: A Man for a Few More Seasons

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The world is full of extraordinary people, but Dick Doyscher is not one of them.  Therein lies the problem.  We are inundated with news of extraordinary people, some stupid, some evil and some great.  We have become accustomed to news of people who have won 4000 gold medals, who have made $50,000,000,000 dollars with a new line of running shoes, who are four year old virtuosos that can sing the Soprano role of Gilda in Rigoletto and dance “Thriller” better than Michael Jackson could, or nut cases who have gone out and shot 45 people with a single round that we ignore people like Dick.  Dick is not extraordinary, but he is remarkable.  To paraphrase the “History Guy”, Dick deserves to be remembered.

As we get older, we no doubt read more and more obituaries.  The typical obituary is not like an obituary for Princess Diana or Kobe Bryant.  People write books about the rich and famous.  The typical obituary for the common person is one or two paragraphs long usually ending with something like:

“They worked as an air conditioner repair person for thirty years until they retired.  After retiring they took up gardening and were known for helping their neighbors plant flowers.  They were loved by all and will be dearly missed.” 

Perhaps a beautiful life rolled up into a few paragraphs and a short sweet ending.  You still know little or nothing about the deceased except that they loved flowers and died.  So sad.

Well, I wanted to say something about Dick while he is still alive.  You should know why he is a remarkable individual because I am sure it will not be listed in his obit. He is now 80 years old as he loves to remind us.  He is fond of saying, “Well, when you are as old as I am.”  I think he knows this drives me crazy.  I will perhaps never be old enough to say “I told you so” to Dick since he will either a.) always be older than me or b.) when I turn 80, he will not be around anymore.  So really, I am writing this blog about him as a way of getting even with him for all the times he has flaunted his age in our library group.  But before I tell you why he is remarkable, a short background on how I came to know Dick.

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Ten years ago when we moved to Frederic, I discovered a bunch of guys (See the “Old Library Guys”) who meet daily in the Frederic Public Library for free coffee and donuts.  There are about seven or eight of these guys who are sometimes joined by wives or women in the library.  We are not gender exclusive, but our conversations tend to be around politics, cars, guns and local goings on.  A few years ago, we created a “Last Man Standing Bottle.”  We purchased a bottle of “Old Grand Dad 114 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey” (Seemed appropriate) and sealed it in a wooden case with seven of our names on it.  Two of the men on the bottle are now deceased.  Dick and I remain among the living with three other men.

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When I first met Dick, I cannot say that I was impressed.  He was a retired mechanic with a younger attractive wife (Gladys, who I will talk about later) and no formal education beyond high school.  Dick liked cars and guns and Lorie Line.  He did not show much interest in reading the great books, traveling to exotic places or listening to classical concerts.  He did like one pianist name Lorie Line than he had heard but felt little need to explore other pianists.  I nicknamed him “Dick the Stick.”  This was short for “stick in the mud.”

By all known stereotypes, Dick should have been a classic Red Neck.  Now even Red Necks can be kind and caring individuals and you might be thinking that perhaps Dick the Stick was a kind individual who lent money to other people and helped them dig their gardens.  If so, you would be dead wrong.  Dick does not believe in lending money.  He says we should go to the bank for that and he does not do much heavy lifting since he has a bad back.

So nothing remarkable about Dick yet.  But as the years went by, I started to learn more and more about Dick.  Politically, he did not conform to stereotypes.  He is one of the most open minded and creative political thinkers I have ever met.  He argued with me for years that the USA is in a sort of decline like the Roman Empire.  It took me several years to come to believe that he is probably right.  Nevertheless, he supported Obama and even voted for him despite his belief that we were wasting our time voting.

Many of our politicians seem to thrive on fear or greed.  Many of the constituents that continually reelect these self-serving politicos swoon to the melody of greed and fear.  The politicians pander to these base needs as they extort more and more money for their never-ending re-election campaigns.  The broader interest of the world is suborned to the petty greed and fear of their constituents.  Dick is not swayed by either fear or greed.  Dick is clearly a global thinker who sees beyond any narrow horizons to think about the good of others and not just his family and friends.

Now Dick has been a hunter and still has a cache of guns in his house.  But again breaking stereotypes for such men in the North woods, Dick is no supporter of the NRA nor some of the rabid positions they have taken on gun control.  Dick is a pragmatist when it comes to gun control and supports an element of sensible controls without trying to take all guns away from the second amendment supporters.

54bd1b7c4e715_-_trophy-wife-george-hamilton-1209-04-deI mentioned his “Trophy Wife” Gladys.  I will probably have to duck some punches when she next sees me for this slight, but the standard stereotype is an old guy that marries a younger woman who is a gold digger willing to give up her youth and beauty for money and support.  Gladys loves to travel, but Dick the Stick says, “My traveling days are over.”  When I first heard many years ago that Gladys was going on an exotic bike, hike or kayak trip, I thought to myself “Well, Dick, you will never see her again.  She will find some kayaking stud and that is the end of your relationship.”  To my surprise, Gladys returned home.  Over the years she has gone on many trips abroad without Dick the Stick and always comes back.   Dick is more than supportive and never questions her trips or the financial aspects.  He is one of the least jealous men I have ever met.  They respect each other as individuals, and each pursues interests both together and apart.

Gladys the “Trophy Wife” mirrors another remarkable aspect of Dicks character.  Both are very caring individuals without being obvious or obtrusive about it.  Dick befriended Brian Rogers who was one of the men in our “Last Man Standing” group.  Brian had cerebral palsy and was becoming more and more disabled from the disease.  Dick seemed to know just how to help Brian and they became very close.  Brian would not take charity or help from anyone and was very independent.  However, they formed an almost symbiotic relationship with Brian helping Dick with his depression and Dick helping Brian with his cerebral palsy.  It was a beautiful relationship which ended when Brian died.

Dick has helped other men in the group who need help.  I am often surprised by his ability to transcend insults or sometimes mean-spirited attacks by people in our group.  He will forget the insult and if he sees that the person needs help, Dick will make a phone call, pay a visit or extend a hand to help.  I will say “Screw him Dick” and Dick will say “He is not feeling well” or “He has had a string of bad luck.”  I will stick by “Screw him” but not Dick.  He is always willing to forgive and forget any slight that I have seen leveled at him.

His wife Gladys works part-time with a community church, but I have often seen her at other churches where she helps out with the events or dinners.  Many of the churches in our community have an aging population and need help with volunteers because of the older ages in the church.  Gladys has done more than her share to help other churches.  I mentioned that she mirrors Dick, but it is fair to say that it works both ways.  Dick mirrors Gladys in her compassion for others.

beaver tshirtNow less this sound too much like a soap opera, I should point out some of the character flaws that are obvious with Dick.  He once had a battle with some beavers that resided on his property.  These beavers were adept at building a dam using a stream that flowed near a road leading to Dick’s house.  The dam would cause the water to back up flooding the road.  Dick would go out there and break up the dam but faster than you could say “Dick the Stick” the beavers would rebuild the dam.  I asked Dick why he did not shoot the suckers.  Dick replied that he promised Gladys that he would not kill them but try to get them to relocate.  So periodically Dick would come in with his back aching from breaking up the dam and I would say “Give me your rifle and I will shoot the suckers for you.”  Dick would never do this.  I finally bought him a t-shirt with “Beaver Advice” on it.

new-2018-summer-vladimir-putin-t-shirts-menI mentioned that Dick does not want to travel anywhere (Except maybe Duluth).  I would attribute his “been there, done it” to a possible birth or brain defect but to be fair Dick did go to England, Peru and a bunch of other countries when he was younger.  Furthermore, unlike some people, he is always interested in hearing about the travels of Gladys and others in the group.  I am going to Russia this coming year and I keep telling him that I am going to have an audience with President Putin.  Dick often jokes about Putin and his strong political resolve.  I may bring him a Putin t-shirt when I come back from Moscow, assuming that I am allowed to leave the country.

Well, “That’s all Folks” as Porky Pig used to say.  I am not expecting Dick to go anytime soon.  But in case he does, you will all know some things about him now that probably will not be in the Frederic Inter-county Leader.  I think he is a remarkable man and maybe if he reads this, he will remember me in his last will and testament.

 

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