December 31, 2020 – New Year’s Eve!

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Out with the old and in with the new!   New Year’s Eve!  The end of our past and the beginning of our future!   All over the world, we count down the minutes and then seconds until a New Year begins.  New Year’s Eve represents a finish and a time to put failures, bad dreams, and a year dominated by the Coronavirus behind us.  New Year’s Day represents a new beginning.  We pray and hope that each year will be better than the last.  Curiously, we celebrate this ending with a night of wild parties and much drinking which is not a good way to start off the New Year.  Thus, may I suggest a bit of Greek wisdom, “Moderation in all things.”

giphyDo you ever wonder why so many people get drunk on New Year’s Eve?  Is it simply to forget the past or is it to celebrate the past?  How many New Year’s days have been ruined before they even got started?  Tonight we drink, tomorrow we make promises about how different our lives will be and what changes we will make.  Each New Years is a time new-year-resolutions-300x304of magic.  We think it will mean great differences in our lives, but how long do these commitments usually last?  Go to the health clubs on New Year’s Day and the parking lots will be full (Of course Covid 19 has changed this little fact).  By early March, the parking lots will usually be back to their normal contingent of cars.  The landscape will be littered with failed promises and failed New Year’s resolutions.  Some may think that they can escape this debacle by simply not making any resolutions.  Instead their failure to make any commitments remain with them day after day.  Not making a commitment is akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

new year resolutionThankfully, we have 365 chances each year to start our life anew. You don’t have to wait until New Year’s Day to begin again.  Each day you fail, tomorrow can be a new start.  If each day your commitments can last a little longer than the last time, you are making progress.  You do not have to wait until next New Year to start over.  Start now but get back up each time you fall.  The only failure in life is not trying and trying again.  Each time you fall down and you get up again you are a success.  Each day that you make a new commitment to try, you are a success.  Each time your commitment lasts a little bit longer than the last time you are a success.  So here’s to the success of each of you this New Year.  I drink a toast to all who try and try again.

Time for Questions:

What are you going to change in your life this New Year? What would you want to do differently?  What changes would help you to lead a happier and healthier life?  What are you going to do about it?  How long will your commitment last?  Can you fail and then keep trying?

Life is just beginning. 

Tonight is the first day of your new life.  Don’t wait to start.

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Reconstructing the Great Speeches – Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose:  “Give Me Blood, and I Promise You Freedom”

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Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was born in India on 23 January 1897.  He died in a Japanese Hospital on the 23rd of January 1945 in Taiwan.  Taiwan was then occupied by the Japanese Army during WW II.  He died a painful death from burns suffered during an airplane crash.  Bose believed in a free India and spent his life fighting against what he regarded as the British occupation of India.

For many in India, Bose was a hero for his staunch support Indian independence.  However, for many others he became somewhat of an embarrassment.  Bose took literally the old saying that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  In the later stages of WW II, he allied himself with the Axis powers of Germany and Japan.  Since they were fighting the British, Subhash believed that he could use their forces to help free India from British rule.  In addition to his willingness to ally himself with the Fascist forces, Subhas had another characteristic which cost him much support for his cause of India Nationalism.  Whereas Mahatma Gandhi believed in a philosophy of “Passive Non-Violence” to overthrow British rule, Bose believed that it could only happen if Indians were willing to resort to force and direct battles with the British.   Bose was no believer in non-violence.

BapuYou may have by now noticed that many great leaders seem to have had a sort of doppelganger or one who directly opposes their strategies and methods.  Martin Luther King had Malcolm X.  Sun Yat-sen had Zhang Binglin.  Nelson Mandela had Steve Biko.  Mahatma Gandhi had Subhash Bose.  Each of these men had similar end goals but the conflicts with their compatriots came about because of the differences in their methods for reaching their goals.  History remembers the winner of the conflicts and the loser is often only a footnote in the history of the winner’s biography.

Few people in America will recognize the name of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.  However, I think that he is a man that should be known to the world and remembered.  He had dedication and devotion to a cause bigger than himself.  He was a man of conviction, integrity, and commitment.  Many people struggle for things in their lives which will benefit themselves.  Bose’s struggle was for a freedom for his people and his nation.

I believe that freedom comes about because of a dynamic tension or yin-yang relationship between violence and peace or to put it another way between the sword and the olive branch.  If you regard the great revolutions of history, you will seldom find any that are successful solely on the basis of peaceful protests.  Frederic Douglas said that, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground.”

Here are a few other quotes regarding the relationship between violence and revolution:

“Revolution does have to be violent precisely because the Pharaoh won’t let you go. If the Pharaoh would let you go, the revolution won’t have to be violent.”  — Michael Hardt

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”  — John F. Kennedy

“We decry violence all the time in this country but look at our history. We were born in a violent revolution, and we’ve been in wars ever since. We’re not a pacific people.”  — James Lee Burke

History shows that seldom does the oppressor voluntarily allow the oppressed to be free.  Greed, power, and lack of compassion are typical traits of all oppressors.  Gandhi was a great man who overcame many trials and difficulties to pursue his path for Indian freedom.  Although Bose chose a different path, his trials and difficulties were as great if not greater than those suffered by Gandhi.  Bose was not afraid to speak out and to risk his life for what he believed.  He makes this point truly clear in the following speech.

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Give me blood and I promise you freedom:

Subhash’s famous speech was delivered in Burma (Now Myanmar) to the Indian National Army on July 4, 1944.

“Friends! Twelve months ago a new programme of ‘total mobilization’ or ‘maximum sacrifice’ was placed before Indians in East Asia.  Today I shall give you an account of our achievements during the past year and shall place before you our demands for the coming year.  But, before I do so, I want you to realize once again what a golden opportunity we have for winning freedom. The British are engaged in a worldwide struggle and in the course of this struggle they have suffered defeat after defeat on so many fronts.”

The British were fighting on two fronts.  In the West, they were battling the Nazis.  In the East, they were battling the Japanese.  At the beginning of the war, things went badly for the British on both fronts.  Bose had assumed that preoccupied as the British were with battling the Japanese and Germans, they would be easy pickings for an Indian army attacking India.  He was dead wrong.

“I am so very hopeful and optimistic about the outcome of our struggle because I do not rely merely on the efforts of three million Indians in East Asia. There is a gigantic movement going on inside India and millions of our countrymen are prepared for maximum suffering and sacrifice in order to achieve liberty.”

The battle for Indian independence has been estimated to have killed millions of Indian civilians and soldiers.  In “War of Civilizations: India AD 1857,” by A. Misra, a writer and historian based in Mumbai, he argues that the war was an untold holocaust that caused the deaths of almost 10 million people over just a span of 10 years beginning in 1857.  The total number of deaths due to the British treatment of Indian revolutionaries will perhaps never be known.  The British were brutal in their treatment of people they regarded as “disloyal” to the British Empire.

“Unfortunately, ever since the great fight of 1857, our countrymen are disarmed, whereas the enemy is armed to the teeth. Without arms and without a modern army, it is impossible for a disarmed people to win freedom in this modern age. Through the grace of Providence and through the help of generous Nippon, it has become possible for Indians in East Asia to get arms to build up a modern army.”

Many Indian regiments were disarmed after the ending of the 1857 uprising.  Indian artillery, except for a few mountain batteries, was abolished.  Unlike in the American Civil War where soldiers went home with their rifles, the British took arms away from the militants.

“We require more men and women of all categories for administration and reconstruction in liberated areas. We must be prepared for a situation in which the enemy will ruthlessly apply the scorched earth policy, before withdrawing from a particular area and will also force the civilian population to evacuate as was attempted in Burma.”

Vereshchagin-Blowing_from_Guns_in_British_IndiaMemories of the atrocities committed by the British in the 1857 uprising were still prevalent among the Indian population.  There were atrocities on both sides, but even after the war was concluded, the British engaged in a number of substantial revenge and retribution attacks against the Indians suspected or known to have supported the uprising.

“The most important of all is the problem of sending reinforcements in men and in supplies to the fighting fronts. If we do not do so, we cannot hope to maintain our success at the fronts. Nor can we hope to penetrate deeper into India.”

Boots on the ground are always critical to winning any wars.  100,000 Indian National Army (INA) soldiers fought on the Japanese side against their fellow Indians who fought on the British side.  The INA was dwarfed by the estimated 2 million Indian volunteers who fought for the British.

“Friends, one year ago, when I made certain demands of you, I told you that if you give me ‘total mobilization’, I would give you a ‘second front’. I have redeemed that pledge. The first phase of our campaign is over. Our victorious troops, fighting side by side with Nipponese troops, have pushed back the enemy and are now fighting bravely on the sacred soil of our dear motherland.”

As I mentioned earlier, Bose allied himself with the Japanese to fight for Indian independence.  Most Indians remained loyal to the British.  The battle for India lasted 80 days, from April 4 to June 22, 1944.  The Japanese were roundly defeated and forced to leave India.  It was one of the worst defeats suffered by the Japanese up to that time.

“Gird up your loins for the task that now lies ahead. I had asked you for men, money and materials. I have got them in generous measure. Now I demand more of you. Men, money and materials cannot by themselves bring victory or freedom. We must have the motive-power that will inspire us to brave deeds and heroic exploits.”

Bose now exhorted his Indian followers to give more than just their bodies and resources.  He wanted them to believe in the cause of independence as much as he did.

“It will be a fatal mistake for you to wish to live and see India free simply because victory is now within reach. No one here should have the desire to live to enjoy freedom. A long fight is still in front of us.”

0c6f7302f021918ba104c6faf94798e8Perhaps Bose saw the writing on the wall.  He is warning his supporters that they may “not see the promised land.”  The promised land being independence for India.  Nevertheless, they should remain committed to the effort.

“We should have but one desire today – the desire to die so that India may live – the desire to face a martyr’s death, so that the path to freedom may be paved with the martyr’s blood.  Friends! My comrades in the War of Liberation! Today I demand of you one thing, above all. I demand of you blood. It is blood alone that can avenge the blood that the enemy has spilt. It is blood alone that can pay the price of freedom.”

Freedom must be purchased at the cost of blood.  It is often said that “freedom is never free.”  Bose is asking his supporters to be willing to die for the cause.

“Give me blood and I promise you freedom!”

Subhash’s final line in his speech reminds me of Patrick Henry’s famous line “Give me liberty or give me death.”  The price of freedom can be steep.  Millions of men and women have given their lives to fight for the independence of their countries.

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On June 15, 1947, the British House of Commons passed the Indian Independence Act which divided India into two dominions, India, and Pakistan.  The fight for Indian independence began ninety years earlier and its success can be attributed to the relentlessness that leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose had for freedom.

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The excerpts from Bose’s famous speech were taken from the “Indian Express.” You can view the entire speech on this site. 

Happy Holidays 2020 from the Persicos

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Dear Family and Friends,

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness.”

John:  Few lines from literature could fit 2020 better than Dicken’s immortal first line from “The Tale of Two Cities.”  For many of us it will be hard to find anything good in 2020.  Nevertheless, I believe there was much wisdom and light that came out of the darkness and foolishness that bestrode this year like the Cyclops in Odysseus.  Karen made me promise not to get into politics as I wanted to talk about the greatest event that has happened for me in the past four years, so I will leave it to your imagination.

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We have remained healthy (so far) and are now awaiting our queue for the vaccine.  Amazing, since we usually each get at least one cold per year.  No colds this year.  Like most of you, numerous travel plans were disrupted and many things we looked forward to doing were replaced with more quiet and downtime.  Two components of my life which I now realize were not as pervasive as they should have been.  I was substitute teaching at the high schools in Casa Grande until the middle of March.  I chose not to return when the schools opened and will forgo any classroom teaching until we have both been vaccinated.  I miss the students as they are always fun and challenging.

I am working on a book of my short stories and have continued to write my weekly blog.  I write a mixture of what I like to think is “creative non-fiction” and fiction.  Much of my non-fiction is either political or spiritual.    I decided that with the help of my friend Socorro, I will take 30 of my short fiction stories and put them into one book.  In December, last year, I published a book of my blogs dealing with the subject of time on Amazon.  I called the book “The Sigh of Time.”  Writing is my main creative outlet these days.  Creative is subject to interpretation I suppose.  Well, time to turn this missive over to Karen.

Karen:  I’ll save the places we didn’t go for another year when hopefully we can get out beyond our 4 walls.  Traveling between WI and AZ homes was uneventful and safe as we are self-contained with the travel trailer.  We also enjoyed a camping trip to Bayfield in the fall and very am grateful for the trailer as we had deluges of rain several days.  I managed to pick 11 pounds of blueberries to take back home.  I’ve missed the 2 dulcimer festivals we usually attend and the Tucson Dulcimer ensemble, singing in choir, and performing for the nursing homes and assisted living.  I have a small uke group that is fun and has been meeting outdoors, and I also did a virtual dulcimer festival online called QuaranTUNE.

20201128_175404 (1)My creativity takes a more practical bend.  I refinished our Arizona kitchen and bathroom cupboards; made a dress I still haven’t worn and some flannel nightshirts for John to lounge around in as well as knit a bunch of baby sweaters and a couple of shawls to donate to Pilgrim Lutheran in Frederic.  We’re enjoying raspberry jam from our wild bushes in the back yard.  The summer project was to tackle the bookcase full of photo albums.  That included albums from my parents, grandparents, great aunt, John’s albums, and everything I’ve accumulated in more than 50 years.  Many bags into the trash, and I’m down to about 10 newly created albums which I will eventually move to AZ.  Next summer I’ll start in on the travel pictures from all the places we have visited in the last 35 years.

Our extended family is doing well.  Juli came to AZ in January, staying with Megan in Chandler before the pandemic.  Kevin, Susan, and Megan are all working from home.  Kevin apparently had Covid early in the epidemic but couldn’t be tested as he wasn’t a high enough risk.  I was delighted when Kevin took a trip to WI and came to see me on my birthday.  I did my usual fun visit to Susan for the four days John is away at his annual Jesuit retreat and spent a day with Juli.  Megan and I have done our Christmas cookie baking weekend and our lefse day.  Our grandchildren are certainly not children anymore.  Garrick is back at home with Juli and Rob and is a good support for Juli.  Logan is attending college and works as a pet attendant with her beloved animals.  Zach graduated from his master’s program and has been working at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa coaching baseball.  He has now accepted a position in Worthington MN as head baseball coach at their community college.  Sam is in his senior year at Augsburg and working as a pharmacy tech part-time.

We wish you and your loved ones health and happiness in 2021.

John and Karen

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Patience: The Third Most Important Virtue for a Good Life

Patience is number three of my seven essential virtues for leading a good life.  Every Wednesday I start my day with the following prayer:

  • Give me the patience to avoid judging others today and forgive me for those times when I fail.

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Years ago, I would give give an annual safety lecture for friends in our motorcycle club.  One year, I started my lecture off with the comment that “You should never run a green light!”  “You mean red light” someone replied.  “No, I mean green light.  This comment seems confusing at first thought, since it is perfectly legal to “run” a green light.

Before, I explain my logic behind the red light versus green light comment, let me give you a little test to see how patient you are.  I will do this by way of posing three scenarios.  I will suggest some possible paths that you could take in each scenario.  You select the action that you would be most likely to take or that perhaps you usually take.  I will then give you a score for each possible path.  The scores will point to your “patience quotient.”

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People waiting in line with shopping baskets at grocery store

The first scenario involves a common enough occurrence in most of our lives.  You have finished your grocery shopping and now need to find a cashier to check out with.  Today, there are only six lanes open and the lines seem to be somewhat disproportionate in length.  Do you?

A. Try to find the shortest line before moving your cart into position

B. Simply take the first line you come to

C. Hang back and see if they will open another line

D. Get into one line but hop over to another line if it seems to be moving faster

mc-cullgreets-061611-sn-tifOur second scenario involves going to church service.  At the end of many services, the minister (Do Rabbis and Imams do this?) will wait at the door and greet the outgoing parishioners.  Do you?

A. Wait in line and wonder why the heck they have to do this

B. Get in line and look forward to greeting the minister

C. See if you can find another door to exit by

D. Say some prayers in your pew until the line shortens

bigstock-angry-girl-driver-inside-car-125280341-725x400Our third and final scenario finds us on our ubiquitous freeway system wending our way to some appointment that we will probably be late to if the traffic stays so slow.  Do you?

A. Silently curse the other drivers on the road

B. Try to find the fastest lane

C. Simply resign yourself to being late and stay in one lane

D. Weave in and out to get ahead of the other traffic

If you selected, D for 1, C for 2, and D for 3.  You have a patience problem.  On the other hand, if you selected B for 1, B for 2 and C for 3, you should be writing this blog and not me.   All other choices put you somewhere between patient and impatient.  You decide and be honest where you are at on this continuum.

It is has been said that Patience is the greatest of all virtues, but I will not argue that point because it is meaningless.  Patience can save your life.  Patience can save your sanity and Patience can save your soul.  These three facts are cause enough to consider that Patience should rank at least among the top virtues in terms of importance.  How high it should rank for you will depend on how you rated yourself on my scenarios.  For instance, if you weave in and out of traffic trying to get someplace a few seconds or even minutes faster, you not only endanger your own life but you endanger the lives of other people.  You have a Patience problem.

Patience can save your life because as the saying goes “Haste makes waste.”  How many people have died because they could not wait?  They were so impatient and they just had to take the shortcut.  Whether it involved shutting the electricity off before doing some repairs, waiting for someone to hold a ladder for them or taking their time crossing the road by looking both ways, impatience costs lives.  You will live longer if you are more patient.

“He that can have patience can have what he will.”  ― Benjamin Franklin

“Patience can save your sanity, because you will be living a pretty stressful life it other people’s actions can dictate your feelings.  If you get mad in lines at the behaviors of people who take too long or have too many coupons, you will be habitually angry.  If you get mad at “inconsiderate” other drivers, you will be stressed whenever you set foot in a vehicle.  If your expectations of people mean that they should help you to save time in your life, you will most likely die from a premature heart attack.

“The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.”  — Leo Tolstoy

Patience can save your soul.  A good person is someone who can have empathy for others.  Other people make mistakes.  Other people are late.  Other people may not plan as well as you do.  Other people may be preoccupied and seem inconsiderate.  If you lack patience, you lack empathy for others.  Lacking empathy for humanity is a sure way to become calloused and soulless.  A spiritual person does not judge others and as Jesus said:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.  For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”  — Matthew 7:1

So why should you never run a green light.  Well, the answer is simple.  How many times have you sat at a light and watched some frenzied driver try to beat the light and fail?  How many times have you seen someone run a red light while you were waiting to enter the intersection?  How many times might you have been killed if you had been in the intersection when the other party ran the red light?  In each of these cases, the light would have been green when you started through the intersection.

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I always make a point of slowly entering an intersection after a light changes as opposed to gunning my engine and racing though the intersection.  This simple thought of “never running a green light” has saved my life more times than I can count both when I was on my motorcycle and in my car.  This was my point at our motorcycle safety meeting that day and everyone nodded thoughtfully after I had explained why you should “never run a green light.”

Time for Questions:

How did you do on my three scenarios?  How patient a person are you?  What would you have to do to become more patient?  What is stopping you?

Life is just beginning.

“Prayer of an Anonymous Abbess”

Lord, thou knowest better than myself that I am growing older and will soon be old.  Keep me from becoming too talkative, and especially from the unfortunate habit of thinking that I must say something on every subject and at every opportunity.

Release me from the idea that I must straighten out other peoples’ affairs.  With my immense treasure of experience and wisdom, it seems a pity not to let everybody partake of it.  But thou knowest, Lord, that in the end I will need a few friends.

Keep me from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

Grant me the patience to listen to the complaints of others; help me to endure them with charity.  But seal my lips on my own aches and pains — they increase with the increasing years and my inclination to recount them is also increasing.

I will not ask thee for improved memory, only for a little more humility and less self-assurance when my own memory doesn’t agree with that of others.  Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be wrong.

Keep me reasonably gentle.  I do not have the ambition to become a saint — it is so hard to live with some of them — but a harsh old person is one of the devil’s masterpieces.

Make me sympathetic without being sentimental, helpful but not bossy.  Let me discover merits where I had not expected them, and talents in people whom I had not thought to possess any. And, Lord, give me the grace to tell them so.

Amen”
― Margot Benary-Isbert

Lawyers, Lawyers Everywhere, but Not a Shred of Justice Anywhere

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I am going to make a case here.  My claim is that there are too many lawyers running things in the United States of America.  I will present the facts and arguments.  You be the judge and jury.  If I make a good case, then I will settle for fifty million dollars. 

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury.  This may sound like an extreme case.  I know most of you will have some friends who are lawyers.  Some of you may be thinking “Well, there are good lawyers and there are bad lawyers.”  Some of you may be thinking “Well, how would we run this country without lawyers.”  Please listen to what I have to say.  Then you may render your verdict. 

I will repeat my claim.  We have too many lawyers.  They have created a litigious society that is being run by fear and not by logic or reason.  Lawyers use lawsuits to run things and the number and frivolity of these lawsuits has reached epidemic even pandemic proportions.  We have lawyers running our government.  We have lawyers running our school boards.  We have lawyers running our city, county, state, and federal governments.  Everywhere you look in business, there are lawyers prosecuting lawsuits, making claims for reparations, litigation, and countersuits.  Civil courts have begun to take over justice from legal courts.  Law has replaced justice in America.  Laws are not made of the people, by the people and for the people, but laws made of lawyers, by lawyers and for lawyers.

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For the past two months we have witnessed lawyers running all over the USA with frivolous lawsuits and craftily plied arguments to usurp the will of the people.  Nay, not just to usurp the will of the people but to overthrow the government of the people of the United States of America.  Even as I write these lines, there are still pending threats to the legally elected President and Vice-President Elects of the USA.  These lawsuits and claims are made by men and women without a shred of decency, integrity, or ethics.  The only thing these lawyers care about is power and winning and money.  The destruction of American Democracy means nothing to these vultures.

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Ladies and Gentlemen.  Allow me to present some statistics on lawyers in the USA.

Lawyer Statistics & Facts – 2020 –  https://goremotely.net/blog/lawyer-statistics/

  • The US legal business sector has an estimated $160 billion market share.
  • More than 100 million cases are filed each year in state trial courts, while roughly 400,000 cases are filed in federal trial courts.
  • Only 14.4% of all US lawyers are certified members of ABA. (American Bar Association)
  • Some high-profile attorneys can earn as much as $2,400 hourly ($5 million annually).
  • There are more than 1.35 million lawyers in the US.
  • The number of active lawyers in the United States increased 14.5% over the last decade
  • In China, there is 1 lawyer for every 4,620 inhabitants.
  • In the USA there is 1 lawyer for every 300 inhabitants
  • The percentage of lawyers who are men and women of color (Hispanic, African American, Asian, Native American, and mixed race) grew by a mere 3% over the past decade, increasing from 11.4% in 2010 to 14.1% in 2020.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury.  Please believe me when I say that I am not the only one who thinks that we have too many lawyers in the USA.  Numerous experts can witness and provide testimony that America is one of the most litigious nations in the world.  The amount of litigation has nothing to do with justice.  Lawyers seek out and design strategies to create lawsuits strictly aimed at making money.  How many of you have been notified that you are eligible for some class action lawsuit?  Lawyers actually buy and sell such lawsuits in the hopes of extorting money from organizations that prefer not to have their reputations smeared or waste time in court challenges.  Many organizations simply settle rather than undergo a long and tedious legal process.

Ladies and Gentlemen.  Let me tell you what happens in many of these class action lawsuits.  A company is found with either a potential or tenuous wrongdoing.  Litigants who may have been remotely connected to this perceived wrongdoing are sought out who are offered a monetary reward for their participation.  They may be former customers, clients, or employees.  The case goes to court.  Millions of dollars are sought from the accused.  The lawyers may win or settle out of court.  An award is made.  Let us say that the settlement is made for 50 million dollars.  The lawyers take twenty percent of that for the claimants.  Thus, ten million dollars may be paid out to other people.  The rest of the money, the other 40 million dollars goes to the law firm. 

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Ladies and Gentlemen.  I will give you a personal case that I was witness to firsthand and that I will swear to.  A number of years ago, I received three envelopes in the mail.  Upon opening each envelope, I discovered that they were all from eBay.  One had a check for .47 cents.  One had a check for .97 cents.  One had a check for .25 cents.  The postage on the last envelope did not even cover the cost of the check.  Apparently, eBay had lost a class action lawsuit for some overcharging that they were alleged to have done.  I had never, I repeat never signed any documents alleging any wrongdoing or agreeing to any lawsuits against eBay.

Curious, I went online to find out what this was all about.  As I expected, some law firm had brought the lawsuit and won in court.  eBay agreed to pay.  Thousands of people received small checks like I did based on the volume of business they had done with eBay.  The people connected to this alleged crime received pennies while the law firm copped multi-millions for their efforts on our behalf.  I would gladly have refunded my money to eBay since I still do business with them and have never had a problem with their business practices. 

“In April 2018, The New York Times chronicled an even more troubling (albeit related) consequence of TPLF: litigation funders were pushing plaintiff law firms to encourage women to undergo unnecessary surgeries in order to drive up the value of their claims.” — Third Party Litigation Funding

Ladies and Gentlemen.  Did you know that law firms buy and sell lawsuits like you go to the store to buy and sell clothes or merchandise?  (See How To Sell Your Lawsuit)  If a law firm does not think it has the resources or time to prosecute a potentially lucrative lawsuit, it will simply list such suits in a legal newspaper classified ads offering to “sell” the lawsuit to another firm that has the resources to manage the lawsuit. 

“Mighty lends money to plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits. You collect only if they do. Plus, the head of this online electronic investment platform recommends that only personal-injury lawyers, or investors who have such lawyers helping them evaluate cases, plunk down their money at this early stage.”

Does anyone here think that this is about justice or fairness or equity?  The legal profession has become about power and money.  Do you think the lawsuits brought by Trump and his cadre of legal experts had anything to do with justice or democracy?

“President Donald Trump and his allies have filed dozens of lawsuits across the country in an attempt to contest the election results.  Most of them have been shot down or withdrawn, and no court has found even a single instance of fraud.  Of at least 57 cases to have been filed, including some not directly involving Trump but which could nonetheless affect his standing, at least 50 have been denied, dismissed, settled or withdrawn.”

Ladies and Gentlemen.  Please consider that the cases on behalf of Trump were brought by men and women with legal degrees.  These are educated people many of whom went to first class legal colleges.  These are people intelligent enough to get an advanced degree and pass tests that would be impossible for the average person.   Nevertheless, the cupidity of these lawsuits in terms of the damage they have done to our country can only point to a failure of the legal profession to inculcate a sense of ethics and morality in their practitioners.  These lawyers have no interest in supporting the very democratic foundations of a country that allows them to practice their profession.

Ladies and Gentlemen.  Let us look now at the damage that this profession has done to our government.  In no country in the world are there as many lawyers in the Federal government as in the United States of America.  Look at the following statistics:

  • The EPA employs 1,020 lawyers with payroll exceeding $1.1 billion
  • The IRS employs over 1,400 lawyers.
  • There are 10,000 lawyers who are employed by the US Department of Justice.
  • In total, there are 25,060 Lawyers in the Federal government costing taxpayers $26.2 Billion per year.
  • 25 of the 45 presidents of the USA have been lawyers
  • In the 116th Congress of the USA, there are a total of 192 lawyers out of a total congressional body of 537 individuals (Membership of the 116th Congress)

Ladies and Gentlemen.  You may well ask, “Well, what harm can all these lawyers do.”  Let me tell you. Having been around lawyers in many different organizations, I can testify to the limited perspective that the legal profession often has in terms of viewing the reality that confronts the average person.  Many of these “legal” experts have never done a day of hard work in their lives.  Often the sons and daughters of privileged and wealthy parents, they go from school to school until they achieve their legal degrees and then go right into some law firm that snatches them up as soon as they graduate.  Their experience of working people and the rest of the world is narrow, limited, and biased.  Once, in their field they are motivated by money, power, and greed. 

downloadLadies and Gentlemen.   How can you have a government of the people, by the people and for the people when it is a government of the rich by the rich and for the rich?  A government of lawyers, political science majors and corporate people.  An interlocking network of proponents who have a self-interest that nowhere matches the nature and interests of the general public of America. 

In the current Senate, only 19 of the 100 office holders served in the US military.  There is one engineer, four farmers, one rancher, one computer programmer, one accountant, about twenty teachers and the rest are either lawyers or businesspeople.  There are no plumbers, no architects, no scientists, no physicists, no chemists, no carpenters, no brick layers in the Senate.  Three percent of the Senate are African American, Five percent are Hispanic, or Latino and three percent are Asian/Pacific Islanders. Twenty five percent of the Senate are women.  — Congressional Statistics

vote-for-kevin-newman-too-many-lawyers

In the USA as a whole, the numbers are quite different from the Senate in terms of representation.  (See Census Government)

  • African Americans are 13.4 percent in population versus 3 percent in the Senate
  • Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders are 6.1 percent in population versus 3 percent in the Senate
  • Hispanic or Latino are 18.5 percent in population versus 5 percent in the Senate
  • Women are 50.8 percent in population versus 25 percent in the Senate
  • Veterans are 6 percent in population versus 19 percent in the Senate

Ladies and Gentlemen.  The facts speak for themselves.  But one last fact, if you please, before I do my summation. 

  • The median net worth of an American family is $52,700. The median net worth of members of Congress who filed disclosures last year is just over $1 million. — open secrets

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury.  Let me conclude.  As you can see from the evidence, there is no way that the U.S. Congress represents the American people.  The sad part is that we vote these people in time and time again.  We continue to elect the same people over and over again with the same disastrous results.  We have a so-called democracy which does not represent the American people.  But I have not even touched on perhaps what is the worst of the dangers that lawyers are doing to this country.

In a land where I live called Wisconsin, we have been involved in an ongoing dispute over the siting of what is called a CAFO, or Concentrated Animal Feed Operation.  I have been to many county government meetings and board meetings where arguments have taken place over the jurisprudence and legality of such operations.  In every meeting, there is always a lawyer sitting rather obtrusively near the board members. 

services-featured-civil-litigationMany of the board members in the rural counties are farmers or laborers or educators who have little or no training in the laws that they are sworn to protect.  Thus, they rely heavily on the lawyers that they hire to provide advice and perceived protection from lawsuits.  This renders the board members subject to the legal opinion of the lawyer which is quite often at odds to what the public wants.  The boards are frequently fearful of a lawsuit (often offered by the lawyer as a possibility) and will forego making an informed decision based on evidence that is presented at the hearings. 

I have witnessed this happen at county government meetings over other issues besides the one noted above.  I have also seen business organizations, when I was a management consultant, that relied too heavily on the advice of a lawyer.  This advice, based as it was on the fear of a lawsuit, and not a more probable positive outcome often led to missed business opportunities.  I knew when I had an opinion that differed from the legal opinion that I was going to have an uphill battle to have any positive changes made.  Lawyers thrive on fear and angst. 

download (2)We need less lawyers.  Lawyers and lawsuits are destroying America and Democracy.  We need leaders with more diversity in education.  We need leaders with more ethnic diversity.  We need leaders with more gender diversity.  We need greater representation that reflects the demographics of America.  We need less lawyers.  We need more justice and we need more fairness. 

The Prosecution rests it’s case.

 

Taking It to Extremes – Part 5 of 5 – Rights of the Individual versus Rights of the Group

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Introduction: (Skip if you have read Part 1 and go to Part 5 below)

A number of years ago, I wrote an article about the famous “Golden Mean” of Greek philosophy.  The mean was basically a rule that said the best way of living is to balance extremes.  Another way of looking at what this rule implies is that evil or bad things happen when we over do something.  We need to take all things in moderation.  Thus, drugs, smoking, guns, watching TV etc., are not evil or bad in themselves but when we take them to extremes, they became dangerous and counterproductive.

Life is an ongoing struggle to find our proper balance.  However, it may never be a question of equal balance because the proper balance can never be static.  There are many dimensions or polarities in life where it is not really a matter of moderation or balance but more a matter of dynamically imposing a temporary order between two extremes.  The concept of Hegelian Dialectics comes to my mind as an aide in thinking about this process.

Dialectical thinking can be described as: “The ability to view issues from multiple perspectives and to arrive at the most economical and reasonable reconciliation of seemingly contradictory information and postures.”  This is a much more complex process than simply balancing extremes.  The more I thought about it the more I decided to add a corollary to the Greek Rule.  Since I think time has easily proved the value of the Golden Mean, a corollary by definition is a proposition that follows from and is appended to one already proved.  My corollary is as follows:

John’s Corollary:

Anytime, one concept in a set of opposing concepts is allowed to dominate the other concept, extreme dysfunction will result.

I want to discuss this more by using five pairs of concepts that I think are critical to our world today.  I want to show you how the distortion created by proponents of each concept is dangerous to life as we know it.  I do not use the word dangerous loosely or frivolously or for effect.  The battle between these ideas is destroying life as we know it on this planet.   The proponents of each side of these polarities seek to destroy the proponents on the other side.

Rather than looking at things from a systems perspective and trying to dynamically adjust the system, opponents are driven to allow one idea to dominate to the exclusion of the other idea.  Witness the name calling between conservatives and liberals today.  Each side demonizes the other side and assumes God is on their side and Satan is on the other side. Liberals are evil to conservatives and conservatives are evil to liberals.

Here are the five pairs of concepts we will look at in the next few weeks.  This week we will look at number three on my list.  We have already discussed the “efficiency versus effectiveness” dimension in part one of this blog series and the “growth versus development” dimension in part two.

  1. Efficiency versus Effectiveness
  2. Growth versus Development
  3. Society versus the Economy
  4. Conservative versus Liberal
  5. Rights of the Individual versus Rights of the Group

Part 5.  Rights of the Individual versus Rights of the Group

Hofstede_4_countries_6_dimensions

Gerard Hendrik Hofstede was a Dutch social psychologist who pioneered research into scales that characterize different cultural attributes.  He eventually ended up with six dimensions.  Using his six dimensions of cultural characteristics, you can profile countries to help better understand what drives their politics and diplomatic relations.  (See Hofstede Dimensions) The six dimensions that became integral to his research included one measuring individuality versus Collectivism.  Collectivism is simply another word for group self-interest versus individual self-interest.  Hofstede studied many countries using various survey techniques and placed each country depending on their orientation somewhere along his scale. 

In terms of Individuality versus Collectivism, the United States ranks as one of the highest in individuality. 

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“Individualism holds that a person taking part in society attempts to learn and discover what his or her own interests are on a personal basis, without a presumed following of the interests of a societal structure.” Wikipedia

Contrasting the United States with China, we find China (and many other Asian countries) on the other end of the dimension, i.e., China is high in Collectivism or Group orientation and low in Individuality.

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“Collectivism is a value that is characterized by emphasis on cohesiveness among individuals and prioritization of the group over the self. Individuals or groups that subscribe to a collectivist worldview tend to find common values and goals as particularly salient and demonstrate greater orientation toward in-group than toward out-group.”Wikipedia

john-wayneThe significance of these orientations cannot be underestimated.  For instance, we have seen considerable controversy during the Covid Pandemic concerning masks, social distancing, and the closing of public and private venues such as businesses, restaurants, and religious organizations.  Many countries have witnessed protests and even riots challenging restrictions in these areas.  Basically, I suspect that research will show that countries higher in Individuality have resisted constraints more than countries that are higher in Collectivism or Group Orientation. 

In the United States, this orientation towards Individuality has been taken to the extreme as key leaders have acted like morons and spurned the advice of top scientists and medical people.  The results have been disastrous.  The United States has the dubious distinction of having the worst record of handling the Corona Pandemic in terms of numbers of cases and deaths.  This is a prime example of what I am calling Johns Corollary: “Anytime, one concept in a set of opposing concepts is allowed to dominate the other concept, extreme dysfunction will result.”

Demonstrators Protests At Texas State Capitol Against Governor's Stay At Home Order

AUSTIN, TX – APRIL 18: A protester holds up a sign protesting wearing a mask at the Texas State Capital building on April 18, 2020 in Austin, Texas. The protest was organized by Infowars host Owen Shroyer who is joining other protesters across the country in taking to the streets to call for the country to be opened up despite the risk of the COVID-19. (Photo by Sergio Flores/Getty Images)

The dysfunction in the case of the Pandemic has been thousands of deaths that did not have to happen. 

Many people in the USA are still protesting their individual rights and will blatantly enter stores and buildings that are marked “Mask Required.”  YouTube is full of videos of these “individualists” loudly proclaiming that it is “My right not to wear a mask.” 

Collectivism or Group Rights can also be taken to an extreme.  When the rights of a group such as a religion or political organization takes precedence over the rights of the individual, we can have instances of fanaticism and cultism.  Numerous examples come to my mind.  The KKK, Mafia, Anti-Semite Groups, Neo-Nazis groups are all instances of organizations that put the rights of the group over the rights of the individual.  Some of these fanatic groups tell would-be members that the only way out of the group is death.  There is no room for individuality in these groups. You either do it their way or you suffer dire consequences. 

51A3WUKdHbLThe Japanese ethic during WWII was one of extreme fanaticism towards the Group Orientation.  Few nations had anything even close to the Kamikaze or Banzai attacks that the Japanese army used against their opponents.  In these attacks, the individual was expected to die for the good of their country.  What differentiated these attacks from other attacks was the wanton disregard for the lives of the soldiers.  It was a foregone conclusion that the individual soldier was going to die.  Again, we see extreme dysfunction when one element of a dimension is pursued to the detriment of any rational balance.

As I write this blog, my state of Arizona has now taken first place in terms of the increase of deaths and new cases of the Corona virus.  Many of the states that eschewed masks, shutdowns, and social distancing requirements followed the examples set by their Republican leaders who in turn followed the example of the man running this country.  The United States is in the throes of a disaster made not only by nature but also by the extremism of its belief in the rights of the individual over the rights of the group.   

individualism and collectivism

The problems and conflicts between individualism and society have been going on since well before the present crisis.  For a good article describing some of the earlier medical confrontations, I have attached an excerpt that I hope will entice you to read the entire article.   Failure to learn from the past is a recipe for disaster in the future.  

“Across the spectrum of threats to the public health—from infectious diseases to chronic disorders—are inherent tensions between the good of the collective and the individual. To acknowledge this tension is not to foreordain the answer to the question ‘How far should the state go?’; rather, it is to insist that we are fully cognizant of difficult trade-offs when we make policy determinations.”  — The continuing tensions between individual rights and public health. Talking Point on public health versus civil liberties by Ronald Bayer, EMBO Rep.  2007 December, 8(12), 1099-1103

Forgiveness: The Second in My Series of Most Important Virtues

This is the second in my series on what I called the Seven Most Important Virtues for Living.   I will speak from my personal experiences on Forgiveness and try to share as much of my own life as possible.  I do not want to speak as an “Expert.”  I am far from being an expert on this subject.

Every Tuesday morning, I start my day with the following prayer:

  • Please give me the strength and courage to forgive those who insult, disrespect or harm me in any way. May I be strong enough to offer forgiveness to others and to ask for forgiveness for myself.

Forgiveness is a subject that is both easy and difficult for me to write about.  It is easy because I have had a great deal of experience with the subject.  It is difficult because much of my experience has not been positive.  It seems to be a virtue that I am not very good at.  I can’t say that I ever gave it much thought until several years ago.  Here is what changed my life.

When my oldest and only daughter started college, about two years after my first wife and I separated, we had a slight argument over money.  I did not think it was that big of a deal but Chris (my daughter) became very angry.  She said she never wanted to see me or talk to me again.  She told me that I had made her life miserable when she was growing up and she wanted me out of her life for good.  Almost ten years went by and despite my best efforts, she would not reply or respond to any overtures I made.  I felt very sad but I did not know what to do.  I was torn between trying to see her and also trying to respect her wishes.

I ended up talking to a sizable number of people who one for reason or another like me had been cast aside by friends or loved ones.  I thought this would make an interesting story and I wrote some of my thoughts on this issue and sent it to the Oprah Winfrey show.  I never expected to hear from them.  Several months went by and one day I received a phone call.  The person on the other end wanted to know if I would like to be on the show and talk about my problems with my daughter.  The other person described this particular Oprah show as one that dealt with forgiveness.  I was intrigued but I had several misgivings and turned the offer down.

A year or so went by and one day the Oprah show called me again.  For the second time they asked me if I would like to be on the show.  They explained that they would contact my daughter and if she accepted, we could both come on the show and tell our stories.  It would be a show about forgiveness and I could offer my apologies for anything I had done and see if Chris and I could work things out on the show with Oprah acting as a facilitator.  I decided to give it a chance and after discussing some logistics, I accepted the invitation.

A couple of weeks later, I was flown with my wife Karen and my step-daughter Megan to Chicago where they had booked rooms for us at the Omni Hotel in downtown Chicago.  We were told that a limousine would pick us up in the morning and then take us back to the hotel or to the airport after the show was filmed.  We were given food vouchers and enjoyed some fine dining in our hotel rooms before going to bed.  There was a definite feeling of both excitement and dread on my part.  I had no idea what to expect.  At this time, I did not even know if my daughter was going to be there.

Next morning, I went for a run around the streets of Chicago.  A funny thing happened on my run.  A film crew from a local TV news network stopped me and asked me if I was a tourist.  I said that more or less I guess I was and they then conducted a brief interview with me concerning what I thought of Chicago.  Two TV shows in one day!  After I returned to the hotel, Karen, Megan and I showered, dressed and waited for the limousine to take us to Oprah’s studio.

We were picked up and driven to the studio where Karen and Megan were taken to the audience area, while I was escorted to what they call the “Green” Room.  There were actually two such “Green” rooms where guests could be separated.  I talked to several other guests who were on the show also to deal with the subject of forgiveness.  One was a man whose family had owned slaves and he wanted to ask forgiveness for the history of his family.  The other was a Methodist Bishop who wanted to ask forgiveness for her church because of the slaughter of innocent Native Americans led by a Methodist minister named John M. Chivington at Sand Creek in 1864.

A short time passed and while I was getting my nose and head powdered, Oprah Winfrey herself and her little dog came in to chat with me.  We talked for a short time and she told me that she wished me the best but to keep in mind that I might not get what I hoped for.  She said that often the people who felt that they had been wronged did not want to forgive the other party.

I went out on the stage with Oprah and I was truly surprised that my daughter Chris had also accepted the invitation to be on the show.  I was immediately hopeful that we could resolve our differences and begin a new relationship.  Oprah explained that there were three components required for forgiveness.  True forgiveness it was explained requires one to accept all three components if that is what the other party needs.  The three components of forgiveness are:

  1. An apology or request for forgiveness
  2. A willingness to listen to hear how you hurt the other party
  3. A willingness to make amends or to try to correct the wrong in some way

Oprah started off the conversation by asking my daughter Chris why she did not want to speak to me.   Chris had a lot of reasons.  I had already realized that I was often angry when she was young and I would explode at the drop of a hat.  I had gone through a Domestic Abuse Program a few years earlier in which through counseling and a support group, I had begun to get my anger under control.  Chris had felt that while growing up she was often terrified to be living with me and feared for her and her mom’s life.  She had never been physically hurt by me and I can only remember one time that I had hit her mom and that was after she hit me.  Nevertheless, there was a constant feeling of fear in the house punctuated by my violent outbursts which included throwing things, punching walls and yelling at Chris and Julie, my spouse at the time.

When, Oprah finally turned to me and asked me what I wanted to say.  I had no doubt in my mind that I was sorry for my actions and that I wished I could turn the clock back.  I apologized to Chris and asked if she could forgive me.  I was ready to make any amends possible.  At this point, I had covered two of the three conditions for forgiveness.  I had said I was sorry and I had listened to her pain and grief.  I was ready to make amends.  However, Chris did not buy into the scenario.  She refused to accept my apology and informed me that she did not need a father in her life.  However, she said that she had two children and that perhaps they could use a grandfather.  She would have to think about it.  That was the end of our conversation.

Before leaving the show, Oprah told me that she was sorry it had not worked out better but that forgiveness is a very delicate process and that it does not always go the way we hope it will.   I was not discouraged though and I felt that the outcome was positive.  I thought that I could be a good grandfather and I welcomed the opportunity.

A few years later, I was again contacted by the Oprah show for a “follow-up.”  I again agreed to go on the show.   I did not know if Chris accepted or even had an invitation as she was not on the show.  My segment was very brief.  I explained that Chris still did not want me in her life but that I had been given a few opportunities to share some time with her two children, Frankie and Jesse.  These times were very brief and it was clear that it was only when Chris was present that I was allowed to see them.  I did not know it at this time, but even this opportunity to spend time with my grandchildren would soon derail.

While asking for forgiveness is never easy, particularly when you realize how you have hurt someone; I do not think it is the hardest part of forgiveness.  I had no trouble asking for forgiveness, for I am truly sorry about how Chris had to grow up.  I wish I could redo her life and give her a new childhood.  Many years have passed and I have only seen my daughter once in the past fifteen years.   She has been remarried and divorced but I have not been invited to any of her life events and any efforts to send letters or cards have not been acknowledged.   I found out two years ago in a conversation with my ex-wife that Chris had some time before attempted to take her own life.  It was shortly after her second husband left her.

The hardest part for me has been to “let go” and to forgive myself.  I tried going to confession at one of my annual Jesuit retreats.  The Father and I talked about my “sins” and the issues that I had as not being a very good father.  I was granted forgiveness by my confessor.  I hoped that this would help me come to turns with the grief and pain that I often feel when I think of Chris.  It has not.

I have been told that I really have not forgiven myself.  These are just so many empty words to me.  I do not know how to do this.  Particularly, when I reflect on the fact that out there someplace is a child that I spent twenty years with and to whom I am now totally irrelevant.  I never stopped loving my daughter.  I always wanted to be a good father and I did try to be a good father.  I remember many good times we had together as father and daughter.  It is hard for me to accept that the feelings and memories are not mutual.  If hell is of our own making, then I have made the hell that I feel when I think about Chris and wonder how she is.  I wonder if she will ever change her mind and forgive me.  Until then, I hope someday to know what it will feel like to forgive myself.

Gratefulness

If you enjoy reading my blog today, please see another blog I wrote dealing with this issue from the opposite perspective:  Ingratitude:  How it destroys our minds and hearts and souls

gratefulnessI want to talk about Gratefulness today.  It is the first in my list of the Key Seven Virtues that I think are worth developing.  Gratefulness is the opposite of ingratitude.  It is easy to fall into the trap of being ungrateful.  The world besieges us with evidence of our incompetence and faults.  Hollywood glamorizes the mundane and makes the rest of us feel inferior in comparison.  American Idol becomes the graven image that we now worship.  It is not an image of a gold calf or a prophet or a saint.  It is the image of success and fame and fortune that we all desire.  Even as I write this, millions of people are buying a lottery ticket in the hope of achieving instant wealth.  How many of these people are grateful for what they have?  I suspect many of them are very grateful in their daily lives, but it makes you wonder how grateful most people are when they will spend their money against all odds to become an overnight millionaire.  What don’t they have that they will buy if they do win?

Every Monday morning I start my day and my week with the following prayer:

  • I am Grateful for this new day and a new start. I give thanks for everything I have – especially my health, my friends, my family and my wife Karen.

I also say a prayer that my wife Karen will be healthy and happy.  She once mentioned to me that she appreciated my praying for her, so I have made it a part of my Monday morning start to the week.  My goal is to try to keep the thought of being grateful in my mind throughout most of the day.  I confess, I am usually able to keep it in my mind for about ten minutes at the most and then my day commences with the usual busyness and trivia that soon makes me forget my admirable goal.

If I were to rate myself on a scale of 1-10 of gratefulness, with 10 being the highest amount of gratefulness possible, I would probably give myself about a 2.  Nevertheless, I refuse to succumb to the Siren of Desire that drives one to buy a lottery ticket.  I do not want to win any money in a lottery.  I do not want to get any free money through a class action lawsuit.  I do not want to inherit any money from a dead relative or friend.  I admit I occasionally go to a casino and will play the penny slots for about fifteen minutes.  Karen has more patience and will play for as long as an hour.  We both allocate about ten dollars when we go for our “chance to win a fortune.”  We are usually at a casino for the entertainment or food.

My father was a gambler when I was young who lost a good portion of his earnings each week betting on the horses.  I learned from him that most gamblers were liars since they will only tell you when they win and never when they lose.  I still begrudge the fact that when I was growing up, my cousins (whose fathers were no richer) always had a nicer house, better clothes and more expensive toys.  My mother would regularly buy a lottery ticket and promise me that when she won, we would all be rich and never have to work again.  I always replied to my mother that if she put her dollar in the bank, she would have $1.01 at the end of the year.  It was kind of a joke.  When my mother died, my sisters and I had to cover the additional costs for her funeral.

I was reading a news article about two days ago about the continued recovery of former Arizona Representative Gabby Giffords.  I was struck by a comment that was attributed to her in the article.  She said:

“I wake up every day grateful that I have a second chance at life and a second chance at service.”

When, I read this, I thought there could not be much more I could add to the subject.  Here is a woman who could be bitter and angry.  She could rightfully complain about her physical and mental handicaps.  She could endorse stronger sentences for criminals.  She could lobby for fewer guns in society.  She could preach for more prisons.  Instead, she continues to pursue a life dedicated to service and to doing the best she can every day of her life to help other human beings.  We all need role models like this to really understand what gratefulness means.

One of my favorite blog readers is my sister Jeanine.  I think she is perhaps my most faithful reader, usually reading and commenting on my blogs each week.  Last week she posted a comment which included the following quote.

“I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” — Etienne de Grellet

She mentioned that one of her friends wrote this in her high school yearbook and she has never forgotten it.  She noted that she has tried to live by this quote in her daily life.  Judging by her friends and what they think of her and the efforts she puts out to help others, I believe my sister is also a person who does what she can to help others and who is also grateful for her life.

Let us pose the question:  What does it take to be grateful?

I would say that the virtue of gratefulness is composed of the following three abilities:

  1. Appreciating what we have. Savoring your life, your food, your health and your friends.  Like you would savor a tasty dish or appreciate a good song.  Appreciating the good and the bad.  Realizing that the bad makes the good better.

Without pain, there would be no suffering, without suffering we would never learn from our mistakes.  To make it right, pain and suffering is the key to all windows, without it, there is no way of life.” — Angelina Jolie

  1. Living in the present. If we worry too much about the past or think too much about the future, we are never able to just accept what is.  Violence is caused by too much dwelling on what happened yesterday.  Greed is caused by dreaming about what life would be like “if only.”  When we refuse to live our lives one day at a time, we inevitably get lost in a wilderness of whys, what ifs, and maybes.

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”  — Buddha

  1. Service to others. I am not sure that I can ever overcome the lure of fame and fortune and success.  They are constantly in my mind.  Except when I am serving others, particularly those who are less fortunate than I am.  Perhaps the only path to developing the virtue of gratefulness is by seeing  and helping the down trodden, oppressed, sick, dying, wounded and poor of the earth.  There is no doubt that seeing the misfortunes of others up close has a salubrious effect on our mental attitudes.  It is hard to feel sorry for yourself when you witness people like Gabby Giffords, Steven Hawking, and Malala Yousafzai and see what they managed to achieve despite handicaps much more severe than any we might have.

“Too much self-centered attitude, you see, brings, you see, isolation. Result: loneliness, fear, anger. The extreme self-centered attitude is the source of suffering.” — Dalai Lama

I have a little device that I learned in my studies, a long time ago.  It is an algorithm for change. You can use it for changing an organization or for changing your own life.  It goes like this:

  • Awareness precedes choice
  • Choice precedes decision
  • Decision precedes action
  • Action precedes change

If we want to develop the virtue of gratefulness, we must first be aware of what it means to be grateful.  We must be aware of what we should be grateful for.  We must also be aware of our ungratefulness and ask ourselves why we feel this way and where it comes from.  Once we are aware of our feelings in this area, we must continue to maintain this awareness.

Next, we must use our awareness to make a choice.  The choice is simple.  Am I going to be a grateful or ungrateful person?  Am I going to see life as full of opportunities and a place of unlimited possibilities or am I going to see life as a living hell on earth?  The choice is always ours.  The choice to be grateful means that we must make a decision.   To live gratefully or ungratefully.

If we accept the decision to live gratefully, then we must take action on this decision.  We must express gratitude whenever possible.  But more than just words, we also need to help others who are not as fortunate as we are.  Regardless of how unfortunate you feel you are there are always people who are less fortunate.  Start looking for these people and ask yourself “How can I help them.”

The final step in the process will occur if you follow the above heuristic.  You will find that there are more and more things in your life to be grateful for.  You will start enjoying life more than you ever thought possible. You will become grateful for the little things in your life and stop waiting for the big things.  You will become a person who appreciates every day that is given to you on earth.  Each day will become the best day of your life.  Don’t trust me!  Try it and see.  Age, death, diseases will still be difficult but you will find that gratitude can replace the sorrows of life with an outlook that can find joy in even the most difficult of times.

Time for Questions:

What are you grateful for?  What are you ungrateful for in your life?  How do you cope with the inevitable blitz of commercials telling you how inferior you are?  What do you do to help other people who are less fortunate than you are?

Life is just beginning.

“We are told that people stay in love because of chemistry, or because they remain intrigued with each other, because of many kindnesses, because of luck.  But part of it has got to be forgiveness and gratefulness. ”  — Ellen Goodman

My Ten Favorite Whiskeys in the World – Part 1

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I became a whiskey drinker about fourteen years ago.  Before that, I could not have told one whiskey from another.  As far as I was concerned, any whiskey needed to be diluted with coke or tonic water.  The cheaper the whiskey, the better.

I have learned to love the taste of whiskey.  I love the savor of a wonderfully smooth Anejo Tequila or a single barrel Kentucky Bourbon or a Jamaican distilled Rum.  One of the great pleasures of the world is sitting around a fireplace talking to a good friend and sharing a superb whiskey.  However, until my run in with a waitress, I did not know anything about this magnificent pleasure.  Here is how I morphed from whiskey illiterate to whiskey cognoscenti.

images (3)When I grew up, we always bought the cheapest.  Karo syrup instead of Log Cabin, margarine instead of butter, bologna instead of capicola, Welch’s grape jelly instead of Smuckers, Velveeta instead of cheese and so on and so forth.  I survived high school on bologna sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and potato sandwiches.  Kids would always trade food in the lunchroom but in four years no one in the room would ever want any of my sandwiches.  In fairness to my mom, she did the best she could on the meager food budget my father provided.  He spent more money at the racetrack, or should I say with the bookies than he did on our household.  Thus, I developed no taste for the so-called finer things in life and this extended to my taste in whiskey.  As far as I was concerned and even knew, the cheaper the better.

images (2)A long, long time ago, (or so it seems now) and many whiskeys under the belt, Karen and I were returning from a trip to visit our daughter Megan who lived in Chandler.  We were at the airport awaiting a somewhat delayed flight.  We decided to pass the time in a restaurant near our gate.  We sat down at a table and I noticed a flyer on the table advertising three different Tequilas.  One glass sold for 2 dollars, another for 5 dollars and the third for 8 dollars.  I cryptically remarked that “This is a joke.  Only a sucker would pay 8 dollars since there is no difference between the three except the brand names.”  Our waitress overheard me and disregarding the caveat that the customer is always right, she intruded and piously announced “You are wrong, there is a big difference.  Would you care to try a flight with one of each?”  I could not let the challenge go and I warned her that I was not impressed by how much things cost, and I would let her know what I thought.  I assumed that I was getting the flight of three for free since it was her challenge, but she brought me the bill later and it included the cost of each drink.

I tried drinking one of each without looking at which one I was drinking.  One was smooth, one was sharp and throat burning, and one was in between.  When I looked at each drink I had tasted, the correlation with price was 1.0 or a perfect correlation.  The higher priced Tequila was the smoothest and the lowest price was the rawest.  I was chastised.  I was humbled.  I was dead wrong.  It was a valuable lesson and it started me on my journey to learn as much as I could about whiskeys.  I decided to start with Tequilas.

Over the years, I have gradually added Bourbon, Rum, Brandy, and the odd whiskey to my penchant for taste testing.  I cannot claim to have much knowledge of many other well-known whiskeys.  I once attended a Cigar dinner, and each serving was accompanied by a Scotch.  The cheapest Scotch was about 45 dollars a bottle and the most expensive was a bottle that retailed for 500 dollars.  It turned out that an in-between bottle that sold for 200 dollars was my favorite.

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I will tell you three more facts that affect my whiskey journey.  First is that I have never bought a bottle of any whiskey that cost more than 100 dollars.  I have bought plenty of low-priced whiskeys since I am always looking to find a diamond in the rough.  Such was the case with a bottle of Very Old Barton (VOB) which sells for about 12 dollars a bottle and as the bartender in the Kentucky Bourbon House told me, it is as good as many a bottle that sells for 50 to 75 dollars.  I bought one that day and have since bought a few bottles each time I get down to Bardstown, Kentucky.  You will not find VOB anyplace except Bourbon County where it is distilled and a well-kept secret to locals.  It is not the best bourbon I have ever had but it deserves the accolades that the bartender heaped on it.

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The second fact concerns how I taste test my whiskey.  I never taste test a whiskey unless I have a comparison to test it against.  For instance, I will test a Padron Anejo against a Don Julia Anejo or a Jose Cuervo Silver against a Camarena Silver.  I will ask my wife to pour me a shot of each and then with my eyes closed I will taste each.  I may sometimes taste a new whiskey against a number of similar whiskeys that I have in my pantry.  I have now had more than thirty Tequilas and over forty different bourbons.  I have only tested about a dozen rums.  Once I buy a bottle, it either gets finished off or I donate it to my wife to use as a mixer.  In my opinion, a good whiskey should be drunk neat and at room temperature.  No ice and nothing to dilute it, that includes water which some aficionados claim makes for a deeper taste.  As with many other contentions in the whiskey industry, I find this one to be bogus.  Every industry has their myths which are based more on emotions and less on logic.  The whiskey industry is no different.

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One example to demonstrate what I am talking about concerns aging.  In some types of whiskey, such as Tequila, Scotch, Bourbon and Rum, you will pay a premium for an aged or older bottle of whiskey.  I have had whiskeys from one day old to 30 years old.  Aging certainly makes a difference as it seems to help smooth out the bite that a younger whiskey will have.  However, as with any process, there is a point of no return.  Is a bottle of 25 years old Bourbon that may cost you 1000 dollars really better than a ten-year-old Bourbon that you can purchase for 35 dollars?  I think not.  Two years ago, the top-rated whiskey in the country was a Henry McKenna 10-year aged Bourbon.  This whiskey won the Gold of Gold award at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2018.  It beat out every other type and brand of whiskey to win this award.  By the way, the prices almost tripled for McKenna and it is almost impossible to find this brand now.

The third fact I want to share with you concerns what I consider the factors that have influenced my selection of the ten best whiskeys.  They are as follows:

  • The level of alcohol that I prefer. Not all whiskeys come in different alcohol levels.  I have never found a Tequila at higher than 40 percent alcohol.  This seems to be the sweet spot for many if not most whiskeys.  On the other hand, Bourbons can go from 35 percent to 60 percent alcohol.  When it comes to bourbon, my sweet spot is between 45 to 50 percent alcohol.  You may prefer a Bourbon or a Rum with a lower or perhaps higher alcohol content.  Find what you like in a whiskey, it may make more difference than the price.
  • Small batch, large batch and single barrel are all used to demarcate Bourbons in the cask process. I have not found any of these to make a difference.  Likewise, the “Pure” Kentucky water seems like a simple marketing ploy to get you to stick with Kentucky Bourbons.
  • Many whiskeys are distilled with different formulas for ingredients. This may affect how well you like a whiskey.  I have not found a Rye whiskey or a Mescal that I like.  Bourbons and Rums may have a strict formula depending on where they are brewed, or they may be subject to a wide range of differences in terms of minor ingredients.  Taste will vary depending on ingredients and your preferences will depend on your tastes.  One of my favorites whiskeys is a wheat whiskey called Bernheim Original Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey.  There are few whiskeys like this in the USA and given the amount of wheat we grow; you would think it would be as popular as corn or rye whiskeys.  Bernheim is a great whiskey for about 30 dollars a bottle if you like the taste.
  • The length of the aging process. I definitely believe that an aged whiskey “generally” tastes better than a younger whiskey.  The real issue is how much aging is enough to give me a smooth drink?  Is it just a matter of preference or does the aging process taper off at some point?  I subscribe to the latter hypothesis.  I do not believe that aging can continue forever and forever to keep making a whiskey smoother.  At some point, the benefits of aging either stop or taper off to the point that it makes no testable difference.   If you want to pay 100 dollars or more for a “older” whiskey, go right ahead, but I doubt you are paying for a better whiskey.  More than likely you are paying for the storage of the whiskey all those years that it sat in a cask.

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Next week, I will share with you my top ten whiskeys for sipping with a friend.  I don’t mind sipping by myself, but alcohol should not be used to cure loneliness or to drown out your sorrows.  I regard alcohol as any other treat in my life.  As the Greeks said, “All things in moderation.”  I like to share my drinks with a good friend, but I do not push alcohol on anyone.  I have a number of good friends who are recovering alcoholics.  When we socialize, we do it over ginger ale or coffee or tea.

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” — Mark Twain

“Whisky is liquid sunshine.”  — George Bernard Shaw

“The light music of whiskey falling into a glass—an agreeable interlude.” — James Joyce

The Seven Greatest and Most Important Virtues for Humanity

christian_virtueI thought I would start the year of 2021 off with a positive slant.  Namely, some things we can all do or practice to be better people.  However, before anyone should pay any attention to what I am about to say, there are several questions they must ask themselves.  I would advise you that the veracity and hence credibility of an author is critical to your acceptance of what the author is trying to sell you or convince you of.  Do not buy an argument from someone who cannot be trusted.  Think about the comment that “If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him.”  An uncritical acceptance of any idea is dangerous to your own integrity and responsibility.  Hence, the questions I would want answered (If I were you) would be as follows:  Who is this writer to say what the “greatest” virtues for a human are?  How did he come up with these Seven Virtues?  What is the difference between a virtue and a value?  Is this an important difference or is he about to sell me another new religion?

Taking each question as noted, who am I?  What credibility do I bring to the subject? 

The-Virtue-ContinuumI would like to answer that I am a seeker of truth and knowledge.  I am very opinionated, often highly judgmental and have frequently been accused of being a “know it all.”  Many people would write my opinions off as being too liberal while others would say that I am too rational.  I place great value on being logical and trying to stay open to many possibilities.  I have been studying philosophy and religion since I was eighteen.  I have no degrees in either.  But the number of books and articles and stories that I have read number in the hundreds.  I have attended many different worship houses and types of religious services.  I was brought up as a Catholic until I rejected its teachings at about the age of 10.  When no one would give me a good answer for “Who made God?” I more or less decided that most religions were based on superstitions.

I continue to read and study and write in the hope and belief that continuous learning is critical to living a good life.  As Socrates noted “An unexamined life is not worth living.”  I want to examine all aspects of existence.  From good to evil, from logical to emotional, from predictable to unpredictable.  I want to understand and comprehend all of the mysteries of the universe.  Nevertheless, I am not trying to be omnipotent nor do I think that anyone can or will ever understand all that the universe holds.  The quest is the most important thing, but the results of the journey are also very important.  My goal is to dream the impossible dream.  I am dedicated to the idea that truth and knowledge will bring me closer to being able to live this “impossible” dream.  As the song notes:

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star (From Man of La Mancha (1972) music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion)

How did I derive these Seven Virtues?

In all honesty, seven is a good number for any set of factors since most humans can only remember between five to nine random numbers.  Seven is the mean for a large proportion of the human race in terms of memory capacity.  We note that many cultures have used seven as a sort of “perfect” number for deriving sets of values, ideas, virtues, and even mundane things like phone numbers and license plate numbers.

virtues_listGiven that one could easily comprise a list of ten or perhaps one hundred important virtues, why do I believe that my seven are the seven greatest and most important?  How do I have the audacity to make such an assertion?  I might have been sitting under an apple tree one day, or perhaps simply thinking about life at one of my yearly silent retreats at the Demontreville Retreat Center, when I compiled a list of seven virtues.  While I truly “value” these ideas, I understand them more as virtues than values.  I will address this difference later.  I decided that I want to live by these virtues.  Each day for the last fifteen or more years, I have selected one of these seven virtues to help guide me through the day.  Whether it is patience, kindness or courage, each day I start by reflecting on this virtue and trying to make it a part of my life.

How does my list compare to other lists?  One of the most famous lists of seven virtues is the Catholic Hierarchy of Virtues.  The top three in the Catholic Hierarchy are Faith, Hope and Love.  Of these, my list includes Faith and Love, though I use the term compassion rather than love. The next four in the Catholic Hierarchy are justice, wisdom, moderation and courage.  My list includes courage but not wisdom, justice or moderation.  This is not to say that I do not think these are important, but my list is based on feelings more than knowledge.  This is somewhat ironic since I believe that knowledge and wisdom are two of the keys to understanding life.  However, l cannot argue with the question: “What wisdom is there that is greater than kindness?”  Comparing my list to the Catholic list, I realize that I am emphasizing feelings over thinking.  I am emphasizing the heart over the brain and love over logic.  My final list of seven virtues includes the following:

  • Gratefulness
  • Forgiveness
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Faith
  • Compassion
  • Courage

Over the next several blogs, I will present each of these as virtues and explain why they are important and how we can go about integrating them in our lives.  I know and believe that we will all live better lives if we are living a life based on virtue.

What is the difference between a Virtue and a Value?  Is it important?

I would like to include the following excerpt from an article by Iain T. Benson called “Values and Virtues:  A Modern Confusion.”

“Now George Grant, the Canadian philosopher, whom I mentioned a while ago, made this point in an important comment on a CBC radio program a few years ago.  Here is what he said, “values language is an obscuring language for morality, used when the idea of purpose has been destroyed. And that is why it is so widespread in North America.” In North America, we no longer have any confidence that there are any shared purposes for human life. We don’t. It is that dramatic. Consequently, we cannot order any human action towards an end, because all means are related to ends.” 

Looking at the Oxford Dictionaries definitions of these two terms will also shed some light on the differences.

  • Virtue is defined as follows:
  1. Behavior showing high moral standards: paragons of virtue
  2. Quality considered morally good or desirable in a person: patience is a virtue
  3. A good or useful quality of a thing: Mike was extolling the virtues of the car
  • Value is defined as follows:
  1. The regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something: your support is of great value
  2. The material or monetary worth of something: prints seldom rise in value equipment is included up to a total value of $500
  3. The worth of something compared to the price paid or asked for it: at $12.50 the book is a good value

I think it is easy to see from these definitions that a value is generally something we attach to a product or service.  A virtue is more often attached to a behavior or character trait.  We value things, while we practice virtues.  A man or woman may be virtuous but we would not say they are “valuous”, in fact the word does not even exist.  We might say they were valuable, but then we would probably not be talking about their character but addressing their instrumental worth to us.  Therefore, I have labeled these critical seven behaviors as virtues.

-The-12-Lakota-Virtues-native-pride-33907515-700-630The danger in this discussion lies in your taking a sectarian or religious approach to my writings.  I assure you that I am not a religious person.  I may be a spiritual person but I do not think of myself in either of these categories.  I am an agnostic who wants to live a better life and help build a world that is a better place to live for future generations.  Living by these seven virtues is one way I believe I can contribute to this goal.

My Vision for my life is “To live a healthy useful and wise life.”

My Mission is “To live one day at a time.  To be the best person I can be each day and to do the best I can each day to do good for the world.”   I hope I sometimes achieve at least some of these goals.

virtue is doing itIf I have satisfactorily answered the questions that I posed above respecting my integrity and credibility, I will now set off to address each of my Seven Virtues and explain why they are so important and the difference that I think they can make in our lives.  Look for my virtues over the next several weeks in my blogs.

Time for Questions:

What do you think of my list of seven?  What would you change?  Do you have your own list that you live by?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.  — Buddha

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