3631– Thursday, May 23, 2019 -Am I Crazy or is the World Crazy?

There is a song called the “Long Black Veil.”  One of the refrains in the song goes:

She walks these hills in a long black veil
She visits my grave when the night winds wail
Nobody knows, nobody sees
Nobody knows but me

original

Something about the last lines resonates with me.  “Nobody knows, nobody sees, but me.”  I often feel like that about the life I live and the people around me.  Sometimes, I describe it as feeling like Alice in Wonderland.  Crazy times, crazy people and we go on our daily lives just like nothing was happening.  There are a great many people who mistrust and even hate “Big Government” today.  I have argued that government is needed to counterbalance a naturally greedy and predatory economic system.  Nevertheless, I have worked as a consultant with many different levels of government and many different government agencies.  The stupidity and corruption that I have seen in government is mind boggling.  It would make Alice think that Wonderland was a normal rational functioning place.

I wander these hills, and nobody sees, nobody knows but me. 

I suppose the general populace should be forgiven for not rebelling.  But when they give their political leaders a vote of no confidence and still vote them back into office, you have to scratch your head and wonder if you are crazy or not.  Am I the only one that sees the links between the corruption and stupidity and the fact that our political system is no longer functioning as it should?  Why rail against your political leaders and vote them back into office?  I would like to see a political system as follows:

  • One term of six years for all political offices. No repeats!
  • Representatives selected at random from a pool of qualified candidates for all offices
  • Consolidation of government to represent districts and not towns, counties and states
  • More emphasis on national referendums
  • Supreme Court judges only selected by two thirds vote of the Senate

I can be arguing with Democrats or Republicans in the USA and almost everyone agrees that we could eliminate a great deal of greed and undue influence in our political system by term limits.  Yet, we now have over twenty Democratic candidates running for the Presidency and not one of them has mentioned term limits.  Nor will they!

Does anyone notice?  Does anyone care?  Nobody knows, nobody sees but me.

The problems underlying our political system of greed and influence seem to be beyond touch.  We go through the motions every four years of another political circus to elect someone that many of us hope will defeat Trump.  That person will get into office, no matter who they are, no matter what they say they will do, and in a short period of time they will be corrupted by a sick crazy system.  As we always said in Organization Development “You put a good person in a bad system and the system will win every time.”  It will not matter who we elect.  They will back the military; they will represent big business and they will find some country or war to get us involved in.

I wander this country.  I walk these lands.  Nobody knows, nobody sees but me.

I find myself time and time again, wondering and wondering and wondering.  Maybe everyone else knows and everyone else sees and I am the only blind person in Wonderland.

Last blog I said I needed to focus on characters more.  My favorite character in my life is my wife Karen.  She has a big heart and really cares about people.  She is my lodestone for happiness.  I have a deal with her.  She keeps me happy and I keep her healthy.  I am much better at being healthy than I am at being happy.  My mother always said that “ignorance is bliss” and I sometime wonder if I have the opposite problem.  But Karen loves me despite my many caustic and pessimistic moments.  She cooks, sews, cleans and works as a Nurse Consultant continuing to bring in extra income even though she will be seventy-five years old in July of this year.  She is smart and thrifty.  I don’t know how I got so lucky.

Karen has a BS in Nursing and an Masters Degree.  We met in 1983 when we were both going through a divorce.  Coincidentally we had each been married for sixteen years.  We married in 1989 after a pre-marriage honeymoon in China.  We will be coming up on 30 years of married life in September.  We are planning to go to Paris and Moscow in the spring of 2020.  My favorites times are when I am with Karen.

Karen enjoys traveling, reading, music and we share the same attitudes towards politics.  Karen is quite an accomplished musician and is multi-talented in this area.  When we are down in Arizona, she is part of a group called “The Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble.”  A coterie of mostly women and a few men who play a variety of acoustic instruments with a strong focus on the mountain and hammered dulcimers.  Karen’s discipline in practicing and learning to play several different instruments always amazes me.  I think if I had her discipline I could have been ruler of the known world. 😊

Karen is the first and most important among many in my cast of characters that continues to influence my life.  I could talk about the ones that are living but I should eventually note some of the “dead” characters who influence my thinking and decisions.  Foremost among these would be Socrates, but I will save that thought for another time.

“Our uniqueness makes us special, makes perception valuable – but it can also make us lonely. This loneliness is different from being ‘alone’: You can be lonely even surrounded by people. The feeling I’m talking about stems from the sense that we can never fully share the truth of who we are. I experienced this acutely at an early age.” — Amy Tan

 

 

 

 

3633– Tuesday, May 21, 2019 – How Does One Become a Great Writer?

Three things are said to be needed for a great story:  Interesting characters, a compelling plot and a narrative arc that keeps the reader interested.  I learned this formula from a Great Course on writing.  Karen (my wife) and I were discussing some problems with writing yesterday when I remembered these concepts.  We were talking about both Karen’s daughter Megan and my sister Jeanine.  Megan became interested in writing a few years ago.  She joined a writer’s group and read all she could about writing novels.  She published her first novel on Amazon and is now writing two more novels.  She had called to tell her Mom about a friend who was in her writing class.  This friend had just published her first novel with a major publishing company and had received a fifteen-thousand-dollar advance.  This event had caused Megan to rethink her idea about continuing to self-publish her own novels.  There are no doubt pro’s and con’s to self-publishing.  Making a great deal of money is perhaps not one of them.

snoopy-dark-and-stormy-night

My sister Jeanine has recently decided to write a blog on her adventures and adjustments to her new life change.  Jeanine and her husband John have just sold their house where they lived for nearly fifty years and moved into a “mothers-in-law” apartment with their daughter Jennifer and Jennifer’s husband Jason.  This change comes on the heels of Jeanine being retired for the past few years and her husband taking a new job.  Jeanine had thought the plan was for John and her to sell the old house, pay off the mortgage and John to find some part-time work.  Moving in with their daughter would involve quite a bit of downsizing but would also enable them to have a great deal more discretionary income and to be free of any major debts.  John would also be free to find part-time work and to retire.

I suggested to Jeanine that such a life change might make an interesting blog.  For myself, I cannot fathom the thought of moving in with anyone else, much less one of our children.  It is not the size of the home that matters to me as much as having my own freedom and not having other people constantly around.  Nevertheless, our current culture is finding more and more families going back to the old “extended family” model where grandparents, children and parents all live together or live in various combinations of extendedness.  I suppose that is great for some people, but not for me.

Getting back to the subject of writing and as they say “The cobbler’s kids always need shoes” I suddenly wondered if or whether I should apply these concepts to my blog.  I asked myself:  Do I have or create interesting characters?  I would probably answer no.  Do I have or create interesting plots with each blog?  I think my themes about greed, war and passion are interesting and even if they are not plots, they do provide some focus to keep a reader interested.  However, I cannot say I have a continuous plot that runs through all my “dated” blogs.  Finally, as concerns a “narrative arc,” my arc is the arc of the perhaps last ten years of my life (as ordained by actuarial tables).  While this arc might not really interest everyone, it is very interesting to me.  Furthermore, how many people have described the last ten years of their life in a daily or weekly blog?  My wife Karen thinks the idea is morbid and might in fact be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I have assured her; I will not hasten my end to match expectations.

My weak point as a writer, (I welcome comments and criticisms) seems to be my cast of characters.  In future blogs, I will try to put more flesh on these people so that you will know the people in my life and who they are.  This is not to say that I cannot improve in other areas.  In fact, my writing class starts in about two weeks and I will be able to get feedback from my instructor and other participants to see how they feel about this blog.  I love the challenge that writing provides to make it ever more interesting and sometimes informative for my readers.  If you have read any of my other blogs, you might see that I have always tried to take complex ideas and put them into common sense language, so that they are more understandable.  There are too many good ideas written in obscure academic language that no one can read or comprehend.  As an old writing instructor told me “Never say, ‘Up the proverbial estuary without means of locomotion,’ if you can say, ‘Up shit creek without a paddle.'”

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”  — Ernest Hemingway

“We’re past the age of heroes and hero kings. … Most of our lives are basically mundane and dull, and it’s up to the writer to find ways to make them interesting.”  — John Updike, WD

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” — Samuel Johnson

 

 

3635– Sunday, May 19, 2019 – Greed is in the Nature of Business.

Good morning rain.  One thing we get lots of up here is rain.  Nice cold stormy days with pouring down drenching rain.  Even going out with a raincoat, you will get soaked to the skin.  We seldom see these great rainy days in Arizona and I always miss them.  Coming back to Wisconsin, I get to greet each of these days with the gratitude that they inspire in me.  You may wonder “Why does John love cold stormy rainy days?”  Days that make farmers and sunshine people like my wife Karen miserable.  The answer all goes back to when I was a child.

stormy night

On a nice day, I can still hear my father shouting: “Get your ass outside and go play, its too nice to be inside!”  Or he might have been sending me out to do some yard work or other chore.  However, on a nice stormy cold rainy day, I could curl up on my bed, watch the raindrops pelt my bedroom window and read one of my favorite books.  No one would bother me, and I well remember the feeling of heavenly bliss that would descend on my any time one of those days graced the sky.  I am 72 years old and still get that feeling.

One of my dad’s favorite comments was “If your so smart, why aren’t you rich?”  I have spent many years finding evidence in my life and the lives of others that there is often as not little correlation between being rich and being smart.  Unfortunately, it would seem that my father’s credo has become embedded or should I say enshrined in American life.  It is practically a gospel belief today that “prosperity” is ordained by god and being rich is a sign that god blesses you.  Proof of this credo is evident in the many comments one heard from those who backed Trump for president.  “How could he be wrong, if he is so rich.”  “He is a billionaire.”  “I trust him because he has so much money.”  There is little doubt that our current president also believes strongly in this creed:

“You know, a great friend of mine from New York, he’s a stone-cold killer. He’s a brutal man. He’s actually not even a good friend of mine because he’d turn on me in two seconds if it was (inaudible). (Laughter.) But he’s a very rich guy. And he said, “What are you going to speak about today? Like, what are you going to speak?” I said, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”  — Donald Trump at Conservative Political Action Conference, March 3, 2019

My good friend and current house guest (still asleep after a long night of arguing with me) believes that business and morality should go together.  “Should” being the word that I find very problematic.  Lots of things in this world “Should” happen, but will they happen?  I am a pragmatist.  Business is amoral.  A dollar bill is green.  It is not blue or red.  It knows no political, religious, moral or ethical persuasion.  It rises and fall with economic laws such as the Law of Supply and Demand or the Law of Scarcity or the Law of Cost Benefits or the Law of Incentives.

Should employers pay employees a higher wage?  Should manufacturers keep prices as low as possible?  Should companies sell more American goods?  Should businesses tell the truth in marketing products and services?  These questions remind me of the reply that we all tell our children when they holler “But it is not fair.”  And we reply “Yes, but life is not fair.”  Well, grow up people, business is not about being fair, it is about that green dollar and how can they get more of it.

The economic laws of business and capitalism require a balancing mechanism.  That is why we need “Government of the people, by the people and FOR the people.”  Not FOR the corporation or FOR the conglomerate or FOR the industry or FOR the business, but FOR the people.  At least one of our great presidents believed this, but today too many of our leaders have forgotten this wisdom and of course you and I both know why.  So, I will save that discussion for another time.  Enough pontificating today, time to put my galoshes on and go splash in the rain.

“There is a sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed.”  —  Mahatma Gandhi

3637 – Friday, May 17, 2019 – The Mouse Wars

Ahh life!  Told Karen when we got back to Wisconsin, I did not want to see anyone or have any visitors or guests for at least a month.  Time for us to get settled in, relax and get the house back together.  Not to mention and fight the mouse wars.  Which, while we are on the subject, I think may be over.  I am almost ready to proclaim VICTORY!.  Twelve mouse traps in the house and 16 around the outside of our house.  I settled on a “perimeter defense” as the best strategy for winning the war and it may be working.

mouse traps

I went to our local hardware store and came home with something like 40 mouse traps the day we found the mouse in our bed.  I put up our “army” of traps.  I kept several in reserve.  That night NOTHING.  The next day after I came back from my library group, I walked in and I could not believe my eyes.  Sitting on TOP of a trap was this cute fuzzy little grey mouse happily eating his crunchy peanut butter.  I tried to grab a broom but was too slow and he ran into Karen’s sewing room.  I quickly shut the door.  I then went into our bedroom and noticed a sprung mouse trap.  I figured the mouse had eaten the bait out of that trap and then went for the second one.  I flipped the trap over and low and behold, there was a dead mouse in it.  I was overjoyed.   One for two, or fifty percent was not bad.  I disposed of the dead guy or girl and debated on tactics for the trapped mouse.  I decided to stick two fresh traps into the room and quickly shut the door.  I figured that unless there was another way out of the room, he/she would get hungry and hopefully the trap would work.

I called Karen and told her the above facts and that under no circumstances was she to open the sewing room door.  We waited several hours after she came home and later that evening, I slowly opened the sewing room door to peak in.  Defying my belief, was one sprung trap and one deceased mouse.  My joy was beyond description.  It has now been almost two days and none of my other traps either inside or outside have been sprung.  Is it too soon to proclaim victory?

Returning to the subject of NO visitors.  We had one friend over for dinner last week.  She was driving through town and “How could we refuse?”  Today we are having two friends over for the weekend.  They want to visit a local maker of Tiny Homes and it is a 200-mile trip for them to come here, so “how could we refuse?”  After they leave on Sunday, we have another pair of friends who are coming to see us to exchange birthday presents.  Not sure why we are doing this exchange now, but “you guessed it”, “How could we refuse?”

After our last pair of guests leave, I am going to toss my cell phone in Coon Lake so that I cannot get any calls from anyone and put up a NO VISITORS sign.

There are reasons I can understand for hermits and ornery old people.  Both would seem to be strategies for keeping people away.

I am just hoping that none of our guests are treated to the sight of a plump grey mouse on their beds.

By the way, I suggested to Karen that since many people have cats, dogs, hamsters and other pets, we could simply call her bedroom mouse friend “Fluffy” and treat her as a sort of house guest.   Calling her or possible him Fluffy, seems to dignify the idea of a mouse on our bed somewhat.  Karen opted for the traps instead.

“Every house guest brings you happiness. Some when they arrive, and some when they are leaving.”  — Confucius

 

3639 – Wednesday, May 15, 2019 – Why Do We Hate China?

Shoulder hurts this morning.  Just when I thought I was over the shoulder pains; I seem to have aggravated them again.  Maybe it was chasing the stupid mouse around yesterday.  Last year when we got back to Frederic, we did not have a mouse problem.  This year, moth balls, dryer sheets, altoids, sonic mouse repellents and even a fake over-sized owl that I left in the basement did not work.  Caught three mice on Sunday after being here for two weeks and thinking that maybe they had gone back to the woods.  We did find evidence of mouse habitation when we returned but no mice.  We assumed we were home free.  Such is not the case.

Karen screamed yesterday and in broad daylight, one was sitting in the middle of our bed.  I chased him but he was too quick.  He seems to be hiding under the refrigerator and will not come out.  I now have 12 (that’s right 12) mouse traps baited with some nice fresh peanut butter (the crunchy kind) strategically located around the house.  As of yet, he or she does not seem enticed enough because the traps were still empty this morning.  So, while the world worries about China tariffs and a looming war with Iran, I am focusing on mice.  I wonder if I could get the morons running our foreign policy to start a war on mice.

Over my 72 some odd years, I have noticed that my country has had a sort of love hate relationship with Asians.  We love them for awhile and then we wage a war against them.  We like them and then we don’t like them.  We fought the North Koreans and then we fought the Chinese during our war against the North Koreans.  We fought the Vietnamese.  We fought the Filipinos.  We fought the Japanese.  We allowed millions of Chinese to enter the US to help build railroads and then we enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 because we had finished building the railroads and now had too many of them.  We allowed millions of Japanese into the US and during WW II we took their land and homes away and put them into “internment” camps.  We love them and then we hate them.

We love inexpensive products from China, but the news beats a drum of the inscrutable Chinese taking our jobs away and stealing our patents.  China takes the top spot among foreign creditors at $1.123 trillion, followed by Japan, at $1.042 trillion, as of December 2018.  We love their money, but we hate them.  You have only to search Amazon to look at all the titles that herald a coming war with China.  It almost seems like we cannot have an honest competition with anyone without eventually waging a war against them.  Now we have a war of tariffs being waged because of a total failure of foreign policy.  And like all wars that we eventually engage in, the media are 100 percent behind it.  While the idiots in government rail against the cupidity of the Chinese and the need for retaliation, the media go out of their way to support a coming war, be it trade or military.

U.S. Takes Aim At $300 Billion In Chinese Imports for Higher Tariffs — TIME

China Is Losing the Trade War with Trump — WSJ

Broad Support for Trump’s China Fight Faces Test as Tariffs Escalate – WSJ

The same was true with both Iraq Wars, with the Korean War and with the Vietnam War.  You could see any of these wars building up for months before we finally sent troops in.  And where were our leaders (either Democrats or Republicans) during these marches to war?  I will tell you where they were; they were beating each other up to see who could be more patriotic while they played the march to war on their constituents’ drums.

It does not matter whether it is an economic war or a military war, it is always the same.  First, we demonize the “other”; then we find ways that we are supposedly hurt by their perfidies.  When we have enough of the public convinced that they mean to harm us, then we attack.  We attack with economic sanctions and if these do not work, then we send in the troops.  The troops consist of honest hardworking citizens who have been convinced by their leaders and the media that they are doing the work of God and country.  We will call these warriors heroes and anoint a few of the ones who die in these wars with medals and flags.

Well, I need to get back to check my mouse traps.

“But I believe in fair trade, and I will tell you, I have many, many friends heading up corporations, and people that do just business in China, they say it’s virtually impossible. It’s very, very hard to come into China. And yet, we welcome them with open arms.” — Donald Trump

“China will always remain the builder of world peace, a contributor to global development, and upholder of international order.” — Xi Jinping

 

 

 

 

 

3641 – Monday, May 13, 2019 – Food, Music and Passion

I had a great weekend.  Took Karen out for a Mother’s Day brunch at the Indian Head Restaurant in Balsam Lake.  Food was excellent.  It was a good thing that we had reservations because they were packed.  Coincidentally, Manfred Schonauer was playing there.  We had just been to Manfred’s Pipe Dream Music Center Saturday Night to see his “Peace, Love and Understanding Concert.”  Manfred lives in Comstock, Wisconsin.  The only bad thing about going to hear Manfred and his friends play is the drive home.  It is a very rural area between Comstock and Frederic.  You have to be extremely vigilant and keep your eyes peeled for deer or you will be wearing deer on your car.  We counted four separate groups of deer for a total of six deer on our way back to our home in Frederic at 9 PM.

Manfred is a unique individual and a treasure for the area.  He is a fantastic musician who epitomizes what I think are the two key qualities of greatness, whether for a performer, writer, artist, musician, chef, worker or business owner.  These two key qualities are passion and joy in their undertaking.  Watch any great singer or artist and you will see that when they work, they work with a dedication and intensity that goes beyond the norm.  The put their heart and soul into everything they do.  They strive for the peaks rather than just the average.  Nothing but their best will satisfy them.  But and this is a big but, despite their hours of practice, their intensity and their passion, they always seem to have fun with their efforts.  While many of us see such labors as a potential for mistakes and errors, people like Manfred are having too much fun with what they are doing to worry about the occasional errors or mistakes.  You can see this in the smiles on their faces.

Two things I really enjoy are food and music.  I once was living near a bakery in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, with some of the best pastry I had ever tasted.  One day when the bakery had some cannolis, (one of my favorite Italian pastries), I asked to speak to the baker.  Now I could understand having great Swedish pastry in Eau Claire, but I was surprised at finding great Italian pastry.  When the baker/owner came out, I told him how wonderful I thought all his pastries were and I asked him how he found his recipes.  He told me that once a year, he took a two-week vacation and he traveled all over the US, going to the best bakeries and talking to the bakers at each of these establishments.  He said that he loved finding new recipes and sharing his recipes in a quid pro quo.  This was a man who clearly had a passion and joy for what he was doing.

A few days ago, some of the guys at the library were complaining that at a local restaurant, they had some of the worst sausage gravy and biscuits in their lives.  Why, I wondered, would a restaurant serve something mediocre in a relatively inexpensive dish?  Have you ever had macaroni and cheese or a cheeseburger that uses a cheap generic cheese?  For just a little more money you can use an excellent two- or three-year aged cheddar.  You will be able to tell the difference and the difference will determine whether you have a great serving or an average serving.  Why not use the best you can?  We are not talking about a lot of money here.

The difference is more attitude than money.  It is more caring about what you do and wanting to do the best you can, whether it is performing, cooking or simply waiting on a customer.  How often have you been to a business where it seems like they wished you had stayed home?  “Don’t bother me, I am busy, I have no time for customers.”

I have been to many average restaurants and several wonderful restaurants. I almost always find that the best restaurants are family owned and not chains.  I also find that the owners are on-site making sure that everything is cooked right and that all the guests are very satisfied.  It is not unusual for the owner to stop at tables and check to see how things are going for their guests.  The average restaurants will have a survey on your table.  The poor restaurants will not even have a survey.  Greatness involves really caring about what you do.

“Greatness comes by doing a few small and smart things each and every day. Comes from taking little steps, consistently. Comes from making a few small chips against everything in your professional and personal life that is ordinary, so that a day eventually arrives when all that’s left is The Extraordinary.” — Robin S. Sharma

 

 

 

3644 – Friday, May 10, 2019 – Just Another Day in Frederic, Wisconsin

Going to take my Honda in for a checkup this morning.  The suspension seems rough and I think it might need shocks and struts.  It has 235,000 miles on it, but the motor and transmission run well.  I think it is a gamble to spend any money on it as it is a 2009 car.  However, as with all things in life, one calculates an intuitive cost benefit analysis and decides based on the risk.  New cars costing what they do, I think it is worth the risk if I can get another 100,000 miles out of the vehicle.  If not, well that is why they call it risk.

Later this evening, we are going to a community banquet that presents awards to the Frederic Volunteer of the Year, the Citizen of the Year and the Business of the Year.  Each recipient gets an award but not before being regaled by several friends or co-workers.  In a sort of a “roast” format, the friends and/or co-workers provide some narrative (often very funny) on how the recipient has helped or contributed to the community.  It is all done in fun and well-meaning towards the award winner.  The banquet starts at 6 PM and will probably go until 9 PM or later.  Karen and I have attended four or five of these award dinners since moving up to Frederic in 2010.

We enjoy attending them because we get to hear some great stories about our neighbors which are both heart warming and inspirational.  Many of the winners do so much for the community with no thought of recompense or that they will ever be recognized.  In an age, when there seems so much bad news and stories of avarice and greed, hearing what some people are doing to help their neighbors instills me with hope for humanity.

My in-between time (between garage and banquet) will consist of going to the library for coffee and to find out how the Trade Lake Meeting on CAFO’s (Concentrated animal feeding operations went).  They are planning to build a 9000-capacity hog farm up in our neighborhood and many of the local citizens do not want it in their back yard.  Last night they held a meeting to discuss concerns and issues regarding the establishment of this feed operation.  I was too tired to go, and I don’t choose to make a battle out of this problem until I find out more about the pros and cons.  So far, it seems like it is mostly cons.  High risk with little gain for the local farmers and residents.

We have a group of local guys who get together each morning at the Frederic library.  The library provides the coffee and between three to a dozen of us get together daily to solve the problems of the world.  Karen has snidely noted that women’s groups typically meet only once per week while our “guy” group meets every day from 10 to 12 and then after the “regular” meeting some of us go out to lunch together to continue our conversations.  Without her saying it, I know she is thinking: “How is that women are thought to be the gossipy ones.”  I just tell her that there are many complex problems in the world and that Frederic men are ready to solve them all; if only we could agree on a solution. 😊

After library time, I will then head home to read a little and perhaps decide what I will fix on the travel trailer.  I have a few minor repair jobs to do on it.  I have been waiting for the weather to warm up before tackling any outside work.  I went out yesterday for a run and it was 33 degrees with a brisk wind.  My ears started to freeze or at least feel like they were freezing.  It is taking us some time to get used to the colder weather here in Wisconsin after coming from Arizona.

I hear a voice out in the darkness,

It cries and whispers through the pines.

I know it’s fate a calling,

I hear her through the winds of time.

It’s clear she wants to see me soon,

A need that echoes in my mind.

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