Optimist, Pessimist or Realist

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Are you an optimist, pessimist, or realist?  I have a good friend who always says that he leans towards being a “guy whose glass is half-full.”  I guess he is a pessimist.  I know I am married to an optimist, because whenever I say anything negative about anyone, she will provide a contrasting optimistic perspective.  I tend to believe that I lean towards pessimism.  I like to think that I am a realist.  When someone asks me if my glass is half-full or half-empty my answer will depend on whether my glass is being filled up or emptied.  Nevertheless, I suspect many would find that my blogs reflect a rather negative view of life and humanity.

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Climate Change:

Pessimist: “The end is near; the end is near.  We have destroyed the world with carbon pollution, and it is too late to do anything about it.  Nature magazine published a study which shows that Global Warming stated as early as 1830 CE.”

Optimist: “There is still time to do something about climate change.  Humanity has faced disasters before, and we always overcome them.  They thought that we would destroy ourselves with nuclear weapons, but we learned to use other strategies to deal with our differences.”

Realist: “Maybe we have just been lucky.”

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Corrupt Government:

Pessimist:  Politicians since the days of Plato and Socrates have always been corrupt.  There is no such thing as an honest politician.  Lying comes naturally to all politicians and the truth is only an inconvenience for most of them.  Politicians have become worse and worse over the years in terms of lacking morality and ethics.  They will always do what is expedient and they are all amoral.”

Optimist: “How can you make such a blanket generalization?  There have been many good politicians and many or them are very honest and moral.  Look at Marcus Aurelius, Rómulo Betancourt, Thomas Sankara, Nelson Mandela, Lee Kuan Yew, Jimmy Carter, and Muhammadu Buhari.  These men were all honest leaders who fought for the welfare of their people and did it selflessly.  They were capable, incorruptible leaders who made a real difference in the lives of their followers.

Realist: “You win some and you lose some.  On the whole, it would seem that we have more leaders like Trump than we do leaders like Gandhi.”

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Education:

Pessimist: “Pouring money into education is a waste of time.  Kids are learning less today than they did in the early days of public education.  Half the kids in school are bored.  Teacher turnover is at an all time high and classrooms are chaotic.  Parents do not support teacher discipline anymore.  Schools have become jails for most students who would rather be home.  Kids today do not see the value in education because parents do not.  Schools are just factories for the more privileged to come out and get the high paying jobs in society while the rest of the pack will work for Walmart or McDonalds.”

Optimist: “We live in a more educated society today then even twenty years ago.  Education has been responsible for raising the standard of living the world over.  People are living longer than ever because of scientific advances in hygiene, medicine, and public health.  Without education, we would still be dying in our mid-forties instead of in our mid-seventies.  Kids today learn different things then when we were in school.  They are more visually literate, and computers have been a new tool that students today are using to change the world for the better.”

Realist: “We seem to take two steps forward and one back.  For every pro about education today, there is a con.  For every pro about technology there is a con.  We need to have a broader perspective on change that will enable us to embrace new ideas and let go of old ideas that no longer work.”  We simply keep adding pages to school textbooks without taking any out.”

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I could go on and on with examples of the quite different outlooks that life provides us.  Who is right?  I doubt that we will ever really know.  Many of the old sayings exist to provide us with some direction on how to live.  A friend of mine tried to convince me that writing should be positive and inspirational.  His motto was, “You catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar.”  According to my friend, people will ignore writing that is too dismal and negative.  It is his opinion that writers should provide a path forward to growth and development.  I told another friend the other day that “hope without action is hopeless.”  It is not enough to just hope for change, you need to do something about it.  I like to think that my writings provide a path forward.

Nevertheless, we are all familiar with the concept of being too “Pollyannish.”  Someone who is too Pollyannish always sees the positive in everything.  Pushing the envelope on optimism they become extremists who see a bright spot in every dark endeavor.  We sometimes refer to these people as wearing “rose colored” glasses.  A realist would argue that sometimes a bright spot does not exist.

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My writing instructor, Dr. Wedin informed our class a few weeks ago that the story of Pollyanna, a 1913 novel written by American author Eleanor H. Porter, has been grossly misrepresented.  In common usage, a Pollyannish person is someone who is too unrealistic about life and its difficulties.  I decided to watch one of the many movies based on the novel and found a quite different interpretation of young Miss Pollyanna.  One that I assume was more in line with the novel.  In the movie, Pollyanna is a young girl who faces her share of joys and unhappiness.  However, remembering what her father told her, she always tries to find a bright spot in life regardless of how difficult things may be going for her.  Pollyanna’s philosophy of life centers on what she calls “The Glad Game,” an optimistic and positive attitude she learned from her father.

As a man who has leaned strongly towards pessimism for most of my life, I found myself admiring Pollyanna’s attitude and efforts.  They say pessimists live longer lives but optimists live happier lives.  There is something about pessimism that wears one down and tires others out.  Friends, family, spouses, siblings, and children all have a difficult time being around someone who is relentlessly pessimistic.  Just as hope without action is useless, pessimism without a plan to change things is depressing, gloomy and dreary.  Would you rather be around a pessimist or an optimist?

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But what about our third choice?  Would you want to choose a realist for a life partner?  Is this the Golden Mean that the Greeks worshipped?  I think not.  The problem with being a so-called realist is twofold.  The first problem is that realism must be based on a foundation of facts and evidence.  Herein, you can immediately understand the problem.  It is difficult if not impossible to obtain evidence that will prove irrefutable and reliable.  Life is full of lies, half-truths, unsubstantiated facts and impossible to find evidence.

The second problem with realism is that it is not useful without a path forward or some means of making sense out of reality.  Knowing reality is meaningless if you cannot do something about it.  Finding the best path forward always involves a number of decisions that go beyond the facts.  For instance, if I decide that my car needs a new engine, will it be more cost effective to purchase a replacement engine or buy a new car?  You might be able to work out an equation to make this decision, but I guarantee you that there will be several unknowns in your equation.  Every unknown impacts the outcome of your decision making.  Then of course, there are what we call “unintended consequences.”  Charting the unknown, even realists must go into mysterious territory.

So we arrive back to where we started.  Would you rather be an optimist, pessimist, or realist?  I would love to hear your comments on this question.  Please feel free to send me a reply.

Only send optimistic comments though.  😊

What About White Supremacy Makes You Feel Superior?

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I want to introduce you to a very remarkable woman.  Her name is Hazel Scott.  Hazel was born on June 11, 1920 and died on October 2, 1981.  I never heard of Ms. Scott until two nights ago.  They don’t teach you about people like Hazel in American schools. 

I was listening to a YouTube video featuring the pianist Dorothy Donegan.  Hazel Scott popped up as someone else I might be interested in listening to.  I listened to several of her videos which featured her playing both jazz and classical piano.  She also accompanied some pieces with her beautiful voice.  She is one of the most amazing piano players I have ever heard or not heard of.  I soon found out that Hazel was much more than just a fantastic musician. 

Curious as to her background, I got on my computer and found a Wikipedia which gave some of the details of her life.  (See Hazel Scott)

Hazel was a singer, pianist, and actor.  She was the first Black American to host her own TV show in 1950.  However, I am sure that if Hazel were still alive today and writing her eulogy, she would say “Don’t tell them, I was a singer and pianist.  Don’t tell them I was a Hollywood Actress.  Tell them I fought for the rights of Black Americans.  Tell them I refused privileges denied to my people.  Tell them I refused to play in segregated venues.  Tell them I refused to take roles that denigrated Black Americans.  Tell them I refused costumes that stereotyped Black people.  Tell them I used my money to bring lawsuits to challenge racial discrimination.”

In 1950, Hazel found out that she was on the suspicious list of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).  A group that was on a notorious witch hunt against communists.   Whenever, I hear of this HUAC, I think of the birthday party in Alice in Wonderland. 

mad_hatters_party_large`I mean, what IS an un-birthday present?’

`A present given when it isn’t your birthday, of course.’

Alice considered a little. `I like birthday presents best,’ she said at last.

`You don’t know what you’re talking about!’ cried Humpty Dumpty. `How many days are there in a year?’

`Three hundred and sixty-five,’ said Alice.

`And how many birthdays have you?’

`One.’

`And if you take one from three hundred and sixty-five, what remains?’

`Three hundred and sixty-four, of course.’

Humpty Dumpty looked doubtful. `I’d rather see that done on paper,’ he said.

Alice couldn’t help smiling as she took out her memorandum-book, and worked the sum for him:

`To be sure I was!’ Humpty Dumpty said gaily, as she turned it round for him. `I thought it looked a little queer. As I was saying, that SEEMS to be done right–though I haven’t time to look it over thoroughly just now–and that shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents–‘

`Certainly,’ said Alice.

51cvn6Ui9oL._SX260_Do you see?  If everyday is a possible un-birthday except your birthday, you may celebrate an un-birthday every day and get presents every day in addition to your birthday.  Anything that is not “American” which I will assume includes:  Mom, God, and Apple Pie, can be construed as “Un-American.”  If you are out to condemn or harass people, it becomes an open-ended warrant to attack anyone who exhibits traits other than a belief in Mom, God, and Apple Pie.  You have a 365-day open house to attack anyone in the USA who exhibits a philosophy contrary to what might be termed “Patriotic.”  I find this rather scary since I don’ believe in God.  I don’t like apple pie and I thought my mother’s cooking was terrible.  My list of “Un-American” traits would take up several pages but I suppose I would be condemned simply on the basis of rejecting these wonderful characteristics of Americanism.  By the way, I don’t like baseball, golf, football, basketball, or bowling.

Let us get back to Ms. Scott.  She voluntarily appeared before the HUAC and defended her friends who were being targeted.  She denied having anything to do with communism but defended socialism.  She stood up proudly and defiantly in front of a group of fascists intending to end her career.  And that is exactly what they did.  One week after she appeared in front of the HUAC, her TV show was dropped from the network.  She was as they like to say today “Cancelled” by this group of so-called patriots.

These hypocrites who would label anyone who believed in social inequality as “Un-American” but never identified the KKK as Un-American.  These patriots would probably include the KKK with Mom, God, and Apple Pie and therefore call their activities American.  Nothing Un-American about prejudice, lynchings, racism, discrimination, and attacks on minorities.

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I put on some more of Hazel’s piano videos.  Mesmerized by her flashing hands and her joyous way of playing the piano, I thought of the White racists in America who feel that they are superior to Black people.  In my mind, I contrasted Hazel with a White Supremacist.

Hazel:  Talented pianist 

White Supremacist:  Can drink lots of light beer

Despite billions spent on diversity and inclusion, new research from the Center for Talent Innovation finds that black professionals face prejudice, a lack of support from managers, and a cycle of exclusion that keeps them from the C-suite –  New Study Takes an Unprecedented Look at Being Black in Corporate America

 

Hazel:  Concerned for others.  Fights for the rights of others

White Supremacist:  Hatred for others who are different

Who ever walked behind anyone to freedom? If we can’t go hand in hand, I don’t want to go. — Hazel Scott

Hazel:  Beautiful, elegant, aristocratic, cultured

White Supremacist:  Tattoos, beer belly, swastikas

 

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Hazel Scott on the cover of ‘Round Midnight.

Hazel:  Brave, Courageous, stands up for what she believes

White Supremacist:  Hides behind white sheets and a pointed white mask

 

Hazel:  Juilliard School of Music

White Supremacist:   Probably dropped out of high school

 

Hazel:  Multi-lingual

White Supremacist:  Hardly speaks good English

 

Is there an irony here or am I missing something?  The race hating, immigrant hating, neo-Nazis with little culture or education espouses a doctrine of White Supremacy because he/she thinks that they are superior to Ms. Hazel Scott.  I must be living in Wonderland.

 

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life: Peace

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“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful.” — John 14:27

Peace is perhaps the second most spoken word in the English language as well as the second most misunderstood. 

546ad58cbe260aa3bb2946b2a7c566acA Rabbi, Iman, Pastor and Buddhist Priest were all discussing the issue of peace in the world and in particular peace in the Mideast.  The Rabbi said there could only be peace in the Mideast if all the Muslims left.  The Iman said that there could only be peace if all the Jews left.  The Pastor jumped into the argument and said there would only be peace if all the non-Christians left.  The Buddhist cleared his throat to interrupt the argument and said, “There will never be peace anywhere as long as there are Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Catholics and even Buddhists in the world.” 

Peace is the nexus that links politicians and religious leaders.  Peace drips from the lips of religious leaders and politicians so often that I would be a billionaire if I had a quarter for each time one of them uttered the word peace.  There is a symbiotic relationship between religious leaders and politicians.  We have hundreds of years of racism, greed, sexism, discrimination, and militarism pursued by political leaders and blessed by religious leaders all over the world.  Politicians need religious leaders to sanction their immoral behaviors.  Religious leaders need politicians to foster behaviors that are not endorsed in their official religious teachings.

We have a world that needs peace.  Peace is to the soul as food is to the body.  Peace sustains us spiritually and mentally.  When we think of peace, we think of such phrases as “Peace in the valley.”  “A life of inner peace.”  “Go in peace.”  “Let there be peace between our people.”  “It was a peaceful day.”  “Peace begins with a smile.”  Racism, sexism, greed, discrimination, and militarism all destroy peace.

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Happiness and joy are two of the sought-after states in the world, but neither state can exist without a foundation of peace.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God,”: Matthew 5:9.  You would think that those who say they are called to be Priests, Ministers and Pastors in the Christian religion would understand that Jesus expected them to be peacemakers.  Sadly, that seldom seems to be the case.  It is even sadder that the idea of peace is blasphemed by these same people whose vocation is to foster peace.  The concepts of spirituality and peace go hand in hand.  One cannot be a spiritual person and sanction the wanton and needless destruction of life.  Peace is meaningless if it is just a word.  If we really want peace it must be a way of life for all of us.  You cannot preach peace in the pulpit on Sunday and then support racism, sexism, discrimination, greed, and militarism the rest of the week.     

Mens-Peace-guins-Long-Sleeve-Crusher-Tee_70962_1_lgThe peaceful person does not use violence against others.  The peaceful person is a diplomat who solves problems with his/her brain and not with tools of aggression.  The peaceful person is confident because they have integrity.  The peaceful person has serenity because they have no fear.  Fear is the enemy of peace.  When the world is on red-alert, people live in fear.   People become fearful of others and fearful of living.  Racism, sexism, discrimination, greed, and militarism create fear.  With fear, no one can be at peace. 

We can only appreciate peace if we are carriers and messengers of peace.  The person who endorses violence, abuse or discrimination against others can never be at peace because they have no peace in their heart.  Such people live on violence and thrive on aggression.  They reap what they sow.  By sowing death and destruction, they ensure that they will never know peace. 

51qBtOmrIgL._SS500_We should all be grateful for peace.  This means we need to appreciate peace and understand that it cannot be taken for granted.  Peace is up to us to create.  It is too important to leave to religious leaders and politicians.  If we want peace in our lives and peace in the world, we must create it.  There can never be peace for anyone if there is not peace for everyone. 

Think about peace today.  Do you live in a land of peace?  When you get up or go to bed today, do you feel peaceful?  Are you at ease with life or are you anxious, nervous, and fearful?  Do you appreciate what or how peace in your life would feel?  What would it take for your life to be more peaceful?  Do you think the world deserves peace?  If peace is everyone’s responsibility, what will you do to sow peace today? 

Peace starts with living peacefully. 

Mark Twain wrote a short story called the War Prayer.  It has been made into a ten minute video.  It is very moving and something everyone should see.  The link is below:

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life:  Physical Health and Fitness

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There is a lot to be appreciative for in this category.  Sadly, too many people ignore or take these elements of life for granted.  Many people confuse good health with the health that they are born with.  Nature gives us a health plan when we are born.  Some of us get a better plan than others.  Fortunately, happiness and success are not totally dependent on the plan we are born with.  There is a large category of mental health which I am not going to talk about.  It is important to recognize though that mental health and physical health while no doubt correlate to some degree are not perfectly correlated.  There are many instances of people with major disabilities who are quite happy and quite successful.  The element of mental health and mental fitness are essential to overall happiness regardless of your physical conditioning.

Physical fitness or PHY ED classes are remembered by most former students as either something they tolerated or something they hated when they are were in high school.  The lessons if any that they learned in GYM classes were promptly forgotten when they left high school.  Those that excelled in sports and loved the extracurricular sports confuse sports with fitness.  I have met many former athletes who played football, soccer, baseball, or basketball and thought that was enough to be fit.

There is a great deal more to being fit than simply exercising or playing sports.  If you look at the people around you today, you will see a nation of unfit people.  Years ago, the obese person in your high school was a minority.  Today, they are a majority.  Walk down most any street in America and you will see a nation of fat and overweight people.

When I taught college, I would see entering freshmen coming in many of whom would have met health guidelines for weight.  Four years later, these same students had joined the ranks of obese Americans.  All too many had no fitness plan.  High school never gave them a fitness plan and neither did college.

But I want this blog to be about appreciation and not about how to do a health program.  If you need a fitness plan, you can search my blogs and find a great deal of information about starting such a plan.  Today, lets look at the fun and value in each of the six major elements of physical health.

I have put together a model based on my experience that includes six elements I think are essential to overall physical fitness.  These include:  Stamina, Strength, Balance, Flexibility, Nutrition and Weight Control.  Each of these elements are interdependent with the other five elements but each are unique in many ways.  I think there is great joy and fun in all six of them and I want to share some of my appreciation of each with you.  Let’s start with stamina.

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Stamina

Instead of talking about Cardio or Cardiovascular activities, I chose to call this group Stamina.  Stamina activities build endurance and also build a strong heart and vascular system.  People can be overweight and still have good stamina.  I was in a bike race and I looked over my competition.  It was my first race, and I selected a few guys with muscles on their legs that looked like basketballs.  I was sure one of them would take first place.  Two hours later, the winner was this skinny kid from the University of Connecticut who looked like he could not punch his way out of a paper bag.

Activities like running, swimming, biking, skiing, roller blading, ice skating, all build stamina.  Experts call them aerobic activities as opposed to anaerobic activities.  I have met many overweight men who see me running and say, “I wish I could run but I blew my knee out playing football in high school.”  I want to say “Bullshit.  There are many other stamina activities that put less stress on the knees, and you could use to get in shape.”  The truth of the matter is that most of these guys would rather sit on the couch and watch football than get out and exercise.  Walking is a great stamina activity, and you can walk with extra knee support and it will improve your conditioning without doing more damage to your knees.

You can and should appreciate the range and variety of stamina activities that have been developed and that are available today.  They offer variety and fun and surely beat sitting on your couch remembering the “good old days.”

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Flexibility

Can you touch your toes?  Can you manage a day without your back aching?  Do you get aches and pains whenever you do any physical activity?  Over the years, I have noticed when going to the gym or involved in some sports that men gravitate towards weights while women gravitate towards flexibility exercises.  Karen and I started doing Yoga about 25 years ago and we do it together about 2 or three times per week.  Most of the Yoga instructors are women.  We use Yoga tapes that are on DVD or now on Amazon Prime.  It is rather sad that many men think flexibility training is something for women and that “real” men lift weights.  The two are not mutually exclusive and in fact, the two are essential.  They have a Yin and Yang relationship.

I can’t say that I ever liked stretching.  After thirty years of doing Yoga, I am still not much more flexible than I was when I was forty.  I would rather lift weights and I can see more progress when I do.  I have been running for nearly 45 years now.  About 25 years ago, I started developing back problems.  Back aches, back pain and back spasms would hit me at the oddest times.  I did not see the relationship between tight hamstrings and low back pain.  I finally made the connection and started doing Yoga.

For the past ten years of so, I have seldom had any back problems.  I can’t do many of the Yoga postures like the instructors.  I often wonder if my muscles could ever be that flexible.  I don’t know the answers to these questions, but both Karen and I will swear that Yoga has helped us over the years to avoid back, hip, knee, and shoulder surgery.  If you look at the list of surgeries, these are epidemic today.  The medical profession makes more money doing surgery than referring people to Yoga classes.

I appreciate Yoga and I am thankful that there are so many great teachers who will put their classes out on Amazon, YouTube, or other media.  Yoga is actually fun if you don’t try to imitate your instructor or compete with your spouse.

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Strength

Lift that bag!  Tote that bale!  Pick up that grandkid!  Strength looks like big muscles to many people.  Everyone wants a six pack abs, bulging biceps and great triceps.  The funny thing is that I have seen many really strong people who don’t fit the stereotype.  There are different types of strength training.  Years ago I would focus on power training to build large muscles and lift large weights.  Now Karen and I use small dumbbells and focus on endurance training by doing higher reps with lower weights.  I don’t need to pick up a 100 lb. bag of cement.  I will leave that to the people that are twenty or thirty years old.  But there are days when I will need to do some yard or garden work and the ability to shovel a ton of dirt, or more is very much appreciated.

20210324_143136Just a few weeks ago, I put a new rock river in our home here.  I had a yard or about 1600 lbs. of river rock loaded into my pickup truck.  I got home with it and used a large Home Depot red bucket to scoop the rock up and put the river rock down.  It took me about two hours of steady work, but I had no aches or pains the next day.  I was quite surprised, and I give credit to one of our strength trainers that we use a lot.  Her name is Cindy, and we purchased her DVD on Amazon.

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Balance

Balance is probably not something that you think about or much appreciate when you are young.  You take your balance for granted.  As you age, balance becomes more salient in your life.  More and more experts are telling elderly people that balance is essential to preventing falls and broken bones.  Karen and I added some balance DVDs to our exercise regimen a few years ago.  I thought at first that these “silly” exercises would be easy.  I run four or five times a week on rugged mountain trails, “What do I need balance exercises for?”  Then the instructor said, “If this is too easy, try doing it with your eyes closed.”  I closed my eyes and fell into my wife.  I still have not been able to do many of these exercises with my eyes closed.

I have noticed that some of our friends have had bad falls resulting in broken bones.  The older you get, the longer it takes for anything to heal.  I have had three falls so far this year since returning to Arizona and running the mountain trails.  I thank both my flexibility training and balance training with preventing any serious injuries when I fell.  The most I have received has been some scrapes and minor bruising.  As the years go by, we will focus more on balance training.  It may look silly, but it is another one of those elements that have improved our lives and that we can be appreciative for.

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Weight Control

Do you like McDonald’s fries, fish sandwiches, or biscuit with sausage, egg, and cheese?  Do you enjoy Olive Garden’s Lasagna?  Do you go to the Golden Corrals’ breakfast buffet or do you prefer the Saturday night fish buffet at your local casino?  Do you expect me to tell you that these are all high fat options and that you should eliminate them from your diet?  Are you waiting for me to tell you that a garden salad full of greens and tomatoes is a much better option?  If so, you will have a long wait.  I love all of the aforementioned.

20210324_150814I now weigh 139 lbs. and am 5’ 7” inches tall.  You might think that my running and exercise is what keeps me thin.  OF course, exercise helps but let me tell you a secret.  If I run for 60 minutes, which is an exceptionally long run for me, I will burn up maybe 600 calories.  A McDonald’s Sausage, Egg and Cheese McGriddle is equal to 550 calories.   A large fries at McDonalds is 490 calories.  I can go through a buffet at Ak-Chin’s Casino and on my third trip to the buffet will easily have eaten enough calories for three runs in the mountains.  I can get an apple fritter at the Circle K after my run, and it will give me back 450 to 600 of the calories that I have just spent an hour or so losing.  I can eat a McDonald’s sandwich in about ten minutes and the apple fritter in less than five.  Here is John’s Law: “You cannot exercise off more calories than you can eat.”

Weight control is essential to good health.  A host of health problems are associated with obesity and being overweight.  We live in a society of food abundance and higher than ever before calories per item in the supermarket.  The supermarket should be called “The fat Market” because of the high calories food you will find there.  A standard box of Pringles holds 900 calories.  If I wash that down with a Modelo beer, I will have just consumed 1100 of my daily allotment of 1800 calories.  You want to know another secret?  In two hours I will be hungry again.  My wife made me a Mexican cheesecake the other day.  Ninety grams for a standard size piece of this cheesecake gives me almost 450 calories but “Oh, is it delicious.”

20210324_131838Weight control is not about good nutrition.  It is about balancing the calories that you get in with the calories that you put out.  You can get 2000 calories of good food or you can get 2000 calories a day of bad food.  You can drink yourself to death by consuming a bottle of alcohol a day.  You can eat fatty foods that will give you high blood pressure and high cholesterol and increase your chances of a heart attack.  Foods that they say are “bad for you” are also foods that we enjoy eating.

I started off by saying that I would not tell you to avoid certain foods.  That is still true.  What I will tell you is that you will enjoy these foods even more if you eat them in moderation.  Rosie Greer the famous football player had to watch his weight.  He loved ice cream sundaes.  He did not give them up, but he would make a mini-ice cream sundae with a fifth of the calories of a full ice-cream sundae.  I often use the “Rosie Greer” strategy in my eating.  Instead of eating a large amount of something, I will dish out a smaller plate and put the rest away and out of temptation.

Scale_Feet_732x549-thumbnailTwo items are excellent for weight control.  One is a health scale.  This is more than just a scale that tells you your weight.  Mine tells me such things as muscle percentage, bone density, body fat and BMI.  I put these down in a log and every few months or so, I add the updated information to my log.  This way I can track how I am doing over time.  You can purchase a good scale for about fifty dollars.

The second essential item is a food scale.  Karen and I keep one on our counter and use it at dinner to weigh out our portions.  It is easy to eat a sixteen-ounce steak.  Instead after weighing it out, we might only eat six ounces and save the rest for a second dinner. Looking at how much we are putting on our plate helps us deal with the number of calories we are putting in.  We lose it when we go for third helpings at the casino, but our casino trips are much less frequent than our dinners at home.  If it were the other way around, I would probably weigh 1000 lbs.  Last Sunday we went to the Angry Crab Shack in Phoenix for lunch.  We had a two hour wait and missed lunch but had dinner.  When I came home, I calculated that my one meal there with two beers, fried oysters and soft-shelled crabs on a po’boy sandwich was over 1700 calories and I took ½ of my sandwich home.  Nevertheless, it tasted mighty good.

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Nutrition

Nutrition and weight control are another balancing act or Yin Yang relationship.  I mentioned above that all things in moderation is a good strategy for eating but good nutrition should also be on your scheme of things.  It is important to eat food that provides a balanced diet with the right amount of fats, carbs, protein, vitamins, and minerals.  It is much easier to do this with fresh foods.  The world is full of “diet” plans and most of them seem designed to sell you some book or program.  There is plenty of good information freely available on what constitutes healthy nutrition.

You do not have to be a nutritionist or doctor to form a plan for good nutrition.  I have heard it said that being poor leads to lower nutrition and higher fat and sugar intakes.  I have also heard it said that a mobile society has no time to prepare healthy foods from scratch.  I do not believe that either of these two constraints cannot be overcome.  Both Karen and I have worked all of our married lives with two full-time jobs and now two part-time jobs.  Both of us are very frugal and look for bargains at the grocery store.  We minimize the number of high-priced cuts of meat or fish that we purchase and do the same with vegetables.  If I can get Mexican squash for ninety-nine cents a pound, I will purchase that over asparagus that sells for 4.99 a bunch.  We will purchase chicken at 1.39 a pound with bone in rather than 3.99 chicken filets.  We will seldom buy frozen pre-cooked foods.

Here are some of my simple principles for good nutrition. 

  • Learn the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods.
  • Look for healthy foods in the grocery store that are bargains.
  • Some grocery stores are more expensive for some things than others, explore your local stores to find the best deals.
  • Measure your portions to your desired weight.
  • Don’t buy “junk” food except in moderation. Think of it as a special treat.
  • Always eat leftovers. Use first in first out to eat leftovers before they spoil.
  • Cook meals that will last a few days in the refrigerator. Such meals as
    • Crock pot pork roast
    • Chicken soup
    • Turkey stew
    • Chili
    • Fried rice
  • Freeze any leftovers before they go bad. Use a marker to put title and date on the container.

I love eating.  It is one of my greatest appreciations of life.  I love eating exotic or interesting foods.  I love trying new restaurants.  Food is more than just a way to live.  Food brings us companionship and adventure.  New places to visit and new tastes to acquire.  Eating a balanced healthy diet should be thought of as a challenge.  Life seldom offers us as many challenges that are as important to living as eating.

“Eating is not merely a material pleasure.  Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship.  It is of great importance to the morale.” — Elsa Schiaparelli

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life:  Friends and Family

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The famous French philosopher Sartre said that, “Hell is other people.”  What I think he meant to say was that “Friends and family could be hell.”  A number of years ago the mother of a good friend of ours passed away.  The fight between her siblings over who was going to get what was vicious and resulted in a permanent schism between the siblings.  I was commiserating one day with her over our very dysfunctional families.  I noted, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had normal families?”  My friend replied, “We do have normal families.”  I knew exactly what she meant.  Years earlier when I was attending support group meetings for men who were violent and abusive, we would always hear newcomers say, “My family is so screwed up.  I wish I had:” (Pick one)

  • A more loving mother
  • A non-alcoholic father
  • Parents who did things with us
  • A father who was not a gambler
  • A mother who was not a drug addict
  • A mother or father who was not always gone
  • A mother or father who was not abusive

The more seasoned men in the group would listen to these plaints for awhile but eventually tolerance would run out.  Then you would hear someone say, “If you want a happy family, turn on TV and watch “Leave it to Beaver” or “Father Knows Best.”  The rest of us would sagely nod our heads.  In our milieu, healthy happy families did not exist.

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” ― Leo Tolstoy , Anna Karenina

downloadWell, you are probably thinking, “You can’t always pick your relatives, but you can always pick your friends.”  This is absolutely true, but how many people do you know that have lifelong friends that they can trust and rely on in an emergency?  I could start a long list of friends that I have left behind over the years for one reason or another.  I have ex-friends who became rabid Trump supporters whom I said goodbye to.  I have ex-friends who said goodbye to me, and I never knew why.  I just did not hear from them anymore.  I have other ex-friends who I could no longer relate to for one reason or another.  Friends seem to me to be like annual flowers.  They pop up for a while and then they fade away.  I have five good friends left.  I would have more, but some died early and one committed suicide.

You may be scratching your head now and thinking, “What does this narrative of misery have to do with appreciating our friends and family?”  One answer is that I do not like to sugarcoat things.  Most of life is composed of the good, the bad and the ugly.  I Latino-Family-small-1-850x566have put the bad and the ugly out first so that you would not simply hear a chorus of how wonderful friends and relatives are.  The truth of the matter is that as in most of life, you often have to take the bad with the good.

“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.” ― Bob Marley

Another point for acknowledging the bad side of things is that it helps us to appreciate the good side.  If things were always great we would never appreciate the bad.  We love the sunny days more after the rainy days.  We enjoy a good movie or a good painting because we know what a bad movie or a bad painting is like.  We develop models in our heads for the good and the bad and they are to some extent a mirror image of each other.  The Yin and Yang of life is a push and a pull.  Happiness, joy, and good health are more appreciated when we have experienced the opposite in our lives.  We appreciate good relatives and good friends more when we acknowledge some of the “mistakes” that life has dealt us.  We rise above life by dealing with the bad, putting it aside and saying prayers of thanks for the good friends and family in our lives.

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Family:

I do not know how many “Leave it to Beaver” families are out there, but I do have many friends who have had loving fathers and mothers.  Their families might not have been perfect, but they learned good values from their parents.  The other night we had two friends (Tom and Nancy) over for dinner.  We started talking about some of our family.  Since we were all over 70, our fathers, mothers and several siblings had all passed away.  We shared some of the good things we missed about these relationships.  Our conversation prompted me to ask, “What are the three most important things you learned from your parents?”  The discussion on what we learned was heart-warming and lasted nearly an hour.

Portrait Of Extended Family Group In Park

The answers to my question elicited several traits that we had all absorbed from our parents.  Among the common ones were a value for hard work, education, and honesty.  Tom mentioned that he learned, “You should always finish your work before you play.”  I could hear the same words echoing from my father.  Karen mentioned that she learned the value of frugality from her mom.  Nancy added that she learned caring from her parents.  This was seconded by both Tom and Karen.  I added that I learned to be accepting of other cultures and races.  My father was intolerant of racism and prejudice.  I grew up fighting for the under-dog as a result of what I learned from my parents.

“I sustain myself with the love of family.”   ― Maya Angelou

Good relatives and good families infuse us with good values and good character.  You learn what you live with.  Live with honesty, hard work, and compassion and you will be a person who cares for others and who is unselfish in their efforts to succeed.  Success is more than just one person succeeding, it is an entire world succeeding.  I have always loved the line from John Donne’s poem, “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” (No Man is an Island, Meditation XVII, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions)

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Friends:

Aristotle was one of the wisest men who ever lived.  Perhaps he was not as wise as Socrates, but he left us numerous writings which provide a guide for right living.  Aristotle wrote quite a lot about the issue of friendship (See his “Nicomachean Ethics, Books VIII and IX).  He commented that it was good to have many friends.  However, Aristotle had a typology of friendship based on three characteristics.  These characteristics were:  pleasure, utility, and virtue.

e232a636b958e0e88ab2b927e3db8531Friendships based on utility derive some perceived benefits from each other.  Perhaps helping each other with building or fixing things.  Friendships based on pleasure derive fun or shared activities together.  Friends who canoe or ski or golf together.  Friendships based on virtue derive mutual benefit from pursuing shared values and goals.  Friends who work together for a common good.  According to Aristotle, friendships based on pleasure and utility tend to be shorter than friendships based on virtue or goodness because needs and pleasures often change over time.  Our values in life are less transient and more permanent.  Friends who share your same values will be friends for life.

“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.”  ― Helen Keller

The value of a good friend is immeasurable.  Someone who understands you.  Someone you can trust.  Someone who cares about you and will step up in your hour of need.  Someone who will have your back when you are in a crisis.  Someone who consoles you when you are in grief or mourning.  Someone who cares about your life and wants to share your joys and your pain.  I hope that everyone reading this blog has at least one good friend.  Count your blessings if you have more than that.

downloadI have written about friendship several times in my blogs (See my Friends and Friendship: Part 1 and Part 2).  I have said that Facebook friends should not be counted as true friends.  FB friends are closer to what I call acquaintances.  Facebook can introduce you to possible friends but it will never be able to create real friends.  True friendship is difficult if not impossible to establish on FB or any other social medium.  Friendship is like marriage.  You get out of it what you put into it.  If you look at the high number of divorces today, it may blind you to the almost equal number of marriages that last for decades.  My spouse has some friends since grade school.  I have a few friends going back to high school.  We both share bonds of time and life experiences with these friends.

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”   ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

In my experience talking to other married couples, the ones that last are the ones that invest time and effort into their relationship.  Good marriages take work.  Good marriages are not taken for granted.  Good friendships also take work.  By work, I mean taking risks to improve your friendship.  The risks can be self-disclosure, honesty, confrontation and saying no.  Good friends are not born, they are made.  And like everything in life, they require effort and maintenance.

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The Beatles had a song and one of the lines was, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”  Hardly a day goes by that I do not think of this line and its relevance for both family and friends.  We are social animals, and we need other people.  We need people to love and people who love us.  Our friends and family are the wellspring for giving and receiving love.   The Covid Pandemic has clearly shown the negative impacts that isolation has on people the world over.  The biggest joy that will come out of defeating the Pandemic will be when we can all freely share time with our loved ones again.

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life:  Travel and Food

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Yesterday I had an argument with myself.  One of my key values is gratitude.  Years ago, I attended a Demontreville Retreat, and the Retreat Master gave us a sermon.  In the sermon, he told us that Saint Ignatius Loyola believed that ingratitude was the gateway to all sins and misbehaviors.  I thought about this and realized that I am often ungrateful for the joys and benefits that life has given me.  I take things for granted.  I ignore things.  I am simply unappreciative of things.  I compare myself to others and come up ungrateful and angry.  Wondering why or how these people got more than I did.  More money, more talent, more fame, more prestige.

When I started to think about writing this blog, I was confronted with a question.  Are gratitude and appreciation the same thing?  I discovered at a marriage retreat that Karen and I attended that tolerance and respect are not the same thing.  Once, I had thought that my goal in life should be to tolerate others.  I frequently used the quote that “The test of courage comes when we are in the minority and the test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.”  I thought tolerance was the epitome of human behavior.  I learned at this retreat that respecting others is much different than simply tolerating them.

gratitudeappreciation2Thus, the question arose in my mind about the difference or relationship between appreciation and gratitude.  Perhaps this is like asking how many angels can dance on the head of a needle, but I thought the question deserved some reflection.  Is the relationship between gratitude and appreciation similar to the relationship between tolerance and respect?

After looking up the definition of both words, I have come to the conclusion that gratitude and appreciation are more symbiotic than tolerance and respect.  To have gratitude is to have an appreciation for something.  However, while gratitude is easily defined, the concept of appreciation presents more difficulty.  Websters Online Dictionary defines appreciation as: “Recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.”  I may be grateful for something and this is a heartfelt or emotional process.  Enjoying the good qualities of someone or something is more of a mental or cognitive process.  What exactly do I appreciate about my spouse?  I say every day that I am grateful for a wife like Karen but why?  What are her good qualities that I appreciate?  How often do I compliment her on these qualities?

In this blog, I am going to talk about appreciating travel and food.  Covid 19 has rendered both of these tasks more difficult.  One of the symptoms of the Covid virus is a loss of smell and taste.  Without smell and taste, you cannot tell the difference between a medium rare steak and roast chicken or between vanilla cheesecake and a chocolate brownie.  Until you lose these abilities, you may never realize how important smell and taste are to your life.  Food is never something to simply sustain life.

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”  ― J.R.R. Tolkien

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”  ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own.

The Covid virus has also made travel an onerous task.  Countries have closed their borders.  Many nations have instituted mandatory quarantines on travelers arriving in their countries.  Dangers exist in crowded places such as airports and airplanes.  Fools are out there in public insisting on their rights not to wear a mask.  Travel means to be in closed confined spaces with a multitude of people.  All situations which exaggerate the risk of getting the Covid virus.  Furthermore, who wants to come down with a deadly virus in a foreign country 5000 miles from home.  These facts have made travel truly frightful for many formerly adventurous people.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” — Saint Augustine

“Well, I’ve done a lot of traveling and, I think over all, travel does broaden one’s soul. If anything at all, that’s probably the most important of what’s happened to me during the past five or six months.  — Malcom X, An Interview with Bernice Bass (December 27, 1964)

Travel and food go arm in arm and hand in hand.  You must eat if you are traveling.  Travel exposes you to mysteries every step of the way.  What will this new land be like?  What will the people be like in this foreign country?  Will they like Americans?  How will I communicate with them?  What do they eat?  Will their food make me sick?  What foods should I avoid?  How will I know what their food tastes like?

Belize Trip-035 (3)If you do not like to try new things, you should not travel.  One of my mottos is “I have never met a food I did not like.”  Karen and I eat at street vendors.  We often shop locally and pick out foods that we do not even know what they are.  When we were on Naxos, we found a meat market.  We entered and were greeted with a variety of skinned animals hanging from hooks.  There were no labels on these various creatures.  We assumed they sold the meat in kilos, so we asked for a ½ kilo of this and ½ kilo of that.  We decided that we would take the meats or whatever they were back to our little apartment and cook them.  We figured that once we did this, we might be able to guess what we were eating.  This was many years ago and I do not think we ever figured out what we were eating.  The food was good and twenty-five years later we are alive and kicking.  It was a great adventure.  One that we have replicated many times.

Karen and I avoid prearranged travel tours.  We have a formula that has worked for us over the years.  We rent a small apartment with cooking facilities.  We then take day trips by car to places that we want to visit, or we might take a train or plane.  We do not have to pack for more than an overnight stay and we have our own “home” to come back to.  Having kitchen facilities means we can eat out or in.  Days that we decide to eat in will find us at the local food markets.  It is always exciting going to these markets.  We buy things that we have never eaten before.  Another of my sayings is that, “I have never met a food that I did not like.”

Belize Trip-083 (2)I was forty years old before I had my first trip out of the USA.  I had always wanted to travel and my four years in the military had not provided me the opportunity to travel.  Later on, I became so busy with school and work that traveling seemed like a remote luxury.  One day I was on a plane coming back from Thompson, Manitoba.  (Canada does not count as foreign travel.)  I had been working with a mining client that week and was now headed home.  Next to me sat a young woman holding a travel guide to Spain.  It was May and schools were getting out for the summer.  I remarked “Are you going to Spain?”  “Yes,” she replied.  “Oh”, I said, “you must be very excited.”  She answered somewhat petulantly, “No, I went there last summer but my parents wanted me to go again since I am studying Spanish.”

Peru Trip 2007-334 (2)I did not say anymore to the young woman, but I thought “My, would I love to go to Spain or anyplace for that matter.”  Then and there in that moment, I made up my mind.  Karen and I were going to travel.  We were going to see the world.  When I arrived home, I shared my decision and determination with Karen.  She was delighted but wondered how we would manage it.  We have since been to 33 countries for a total of about 25 or more trips.  We like to go to one country and see various sections of it rather than trying to see the whole of Europe or Asia in one trip.  Usually we go for three weeks or so.  We are very budget oriented and try to behave like pilgrims rather than like tourists.  Our trips are usually a balancing act between being a pilgrim and being a tourist.

What have I learned from these trips about the world?  I would say my two greatest insights have been as follows:

  1. Americans are not exceptional.  We are privileged to have been brought up in a country with a great deal of natural and cultural advantages.  People the world over are as smart as we are.  People the world over work as hard or harder than Americans.  The inventiveness and level of development in many countries would astonish many Americans.
  2. People in other countries want the same things that we do.  People all want a successful life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Wherever we have been, we have seen people striving to live a good life surrounded by friends and relatives that they can share it with. 

We try to respect the cultures and people we visit.  We take some time to practice languages where we are going to travel.  We research cultural faux pas and expectations so as to avoid insulting or disrespecting other people.  We are visitors in their countries, and we are always grateful for the help that people give us.  Many times we have been helped by people whom we have never met before and who have gone out of their way to befriend us.  We have always been treated with respect on our travels and not as outsiders.  We have made many friends during our journeys.

Conclusions:

Travel to another country may be as educational as a year in school.  A life lived without travel is not really a life lived.  Travel requires risk but the rewards are great.  You will meet people who can enrich your life beyond your wildest dreams.  And to top it all off, the icing on the cake, will be the new foods that will expand your palette of tastes and smells and provide a variety to your diet that will make your life infinitely more interesting.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”  ― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad.

The Bullfrog and the Scorpion – Apologies to Aesop

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This story is originally by Aesop.  I have used it many times to illustrate the moral that Aesop attached to his story.  However, I am modifying the story somewhat and will attach my own moral to it.  I hope you enjoy it. 

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Once upon a time there was an old bullfrog who lived deep in the forest.  He had lived many years and most of them were on a small pond fed by a shallow bubbling spring.  The pond was surrounded by huge oaks and evergreens.  Closer to the banks, you could see many fronds, ferns and depending on the season a large variety of mushrooms.  The water in the pond was crystal clear and was favored by many different varieties of small fish.  Flies, water skimmers and dragon flies flittered about the pond and all made a tasty meal for Mr. Bullfrog as he was know to the other animals in the forest.  Of all of these meals, Mr. Bullfrog favored dragon flies.  However, his tongue was no longer as fast as it once was or thought Mr. Bullfrog, “maybe dragon flies are faster today than in years gone past.”  In any case, it had been many weeks since Mr. Bullfrog had enjoyed a dragon fly dinner.

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It was a mid-summer day.  The sun had come up early and the temperature was already in the high eighties.  Mr. Bullfrog was perched on a vacant lily pad in the middle of the pond.  He was enjoying the warmth of the sun on his back and the coolness of the water on his webbed feet as they dangled in the water.  Suddenly he heard a voice say, “Help me please.  Can you help me?”  He looked around but did not see anyone.  Again he heard “Help me please.”  It seemed to come from the far shore.  He paddled over and as he came closer to the bank; he saw a large black scorpion sitting near the edge of the pond.  The scorpion asked, “Can you help me?”

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Now Mr. Bullfrog was wise in the ways of the world.  He had not lived his many years by being a fool.  He back paddled a few yards so as not to get too close to the scorpion.  Scorpions were the vilest meanest most dangerous creatures in the forest.  Everyone knew that you could never trust a scorpion.   

bullfrog-1“What do you need help with?” asked Mr. Bullfrog.

“I need to get to the other bank.  Would you give me a ride on your back?”

Mr.  Bullfrog thought this was one of the most ridiculous requests that he had ever heard.  Why should he trust a scorpion?  “Why would I give you a ride?  What if you stung me?”

“Why would I sting you,” replied the scorpion?  “It would not be in my self-interest.  If I killed you, then I would drown.  Self-interest theory says that a concern for one’s own interest or advantage requires that we be generous in foreign aid.” 

518QHRLJzuL._SX356_BO1,204,203,200_Mr. Bullfrog thought about this for a while.  In some respects it made good sense, but he still could not see that the rewards outweighed the risks.  He had read Dr. Persico’s book on strategy several years ago and applied many of the ideas to his own life.  One of the key concepts concerned risk mitigation.  One should always access the gain of an action against the inherent risks associated with the action.  Mr. Bullfrog concluded that the risks still outweighed the gain.  “What is in it for me,” asked Mr. Bullfrog?

The scorpion thought about this question for a minute and answered it thusly.  “Look, I was going to the other shore to eat a dragon fly that I had left there a few days ago.”  The wily scorpion knew that bullfrogs loved dragon flies.  “If you carry me over there, I will give you a half of the dragon fly for your labors.”

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Mr. Bullfrog started to salivate at the thought of a dragon fly meal.  He was about ready to accept the chore when he suddenly thought about one of Dr. Persico’s key principles.  Think about contingencies and unexpected consequences.   Applying this line of thinking, Mr. Bullfrog thought, “well, what if he is lying?”  “How, do I know you are telling me the truth about the dragon fly and how do I know that once you are across, you will really share your meal with me?” 

The stalemate seemed unbreachable.

The scorpion thought long and hard.  Finally, an idea popped into his mind.   “What if I kill a dragon fly for you now and leave it on this bank?  You will have a whole dragon fly for a meal on this side and once we get to the other side of the pond, you will have another ½ dragon fly for a meal.” 

This clinched the deal for Mr. Bullfrog.  Him mind still continued to pursue contingencies but risk mitigation theory now favored the possibilities of at least one dragon fly meal and possible 1 ½ meals against the possibility that the scorpion did not really have a dragon fly waiting on the other side. 

It took about an hour, but the young scorpion was quick, and he soon snagged a dragon fly.  After stinging it, he brought it to the edge of the pond.  “Here is your dragon fly.  Take me to the other side and you can come back and enjoy your favorite food.”

Mr. Bullfrog paddled to the edge of the bank.  The scorpion jumped on his back and away they went.  The farther across the pond they went, the more the scorpion had to resist the impulse to sting the frog.  Killing things was so much in his nature that it was only with great effort that he continued to resist his natural instincts. 

bullfrog-swimming-w-treat-davidsonAbout halfway across the pond, Mr. Bullfrog suddenly dived beneath the surface of the water.  The scorpion was flung into the water.  Mr.  Bullfrog paddled a few yards away and then surfaced.  When he came to the surface, he heard the scorpion pleading “Why have you done this?  We had a deal.” 

Scorpions cannot swim and he began to sink into the depths of the pond.  The scorpion heard Mr. Bullfrog reply, “Well, I took you ½ way across the pond and given my analysis of the rewards versus the risks, strategic thinking says that I am better off letting you drown here.  The advantages are multiple.  First, if you are telling the truth about the dragon fly that you killed a few days ago, I will find it and have two whole dragon flies to eat.  Second, If you are not telling the truth, I have at least one dragon fly for a meal.  Third, I pursued a very risky effort with you on my back, and ½ way seemed to me to be the maximum that most scorpions could forgo their instincts.  I consider I was lucky to get that far and any further would be pushing my luck.  Strategic planners should never rely on luck.  Finally, letting you drown means one less murderous scorpion in the world.” 

The last words of the scorpion before he drowned were, “I should never have trusted a bullfrog.” 

As Mr. Bullfrog paddled back to his lily pad, he thought, “Good strategic thinking is the best thing in the world, next to a pair of webbed feet.”  

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life: Literature

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I am definitely biased when it comes to literature.  Without reading, books, magazines, articles, stories, plays, parables, and fables, I do not know what my life would be.  There are few things that enrich life more than the written word.  Movies, plays, and videos would be nothing if there were no words to go along with them.  Even sports and athletic events are heavily dependent on the written word.  Talk show hosts, TV actors, comedians and many other performers hire dozens of writers to script plots and routines that are the life blood of the entertainment industry.

I woke up this morning thinking how to convey the value of literature.  There is so much that I could say.  There is so much that needs to be said.  The question is how best to do justice to the world of literature and to keep this blog from becoming a book.  The thought came into my mind, that literature is everything to me from A to Z.  This gave me the idea to use the alphabet as a device to convey the importance literature has had for me.  But more importantly I want to inspire you as I have been inspired by the many books that I have read over the years.  I want to briefly touch on how they have enriched my life.

For each letter of the alphabet, I will try to note a few authors or books that I have read and what they have meant to me.  Some of my authors will be fiction writers, some poets, some non-fiction writers but each has left me with a piece of the puzzle.  The puzzle I refer to involves the existential quest to find the meaning of life.  I suppose that I may never find the meaning, but literature has helped create many of the puzzle pieces for me.  I am still struggling to put them all together.  The process is more fun than getting the finished puzzle.

A –

Aesop, Alistair MacLean, Agatha Christie, and August Wilson.  A few of the many authors whose writings have enriched my life.  From drama to morals to spies, I am sure that everyone has been exposed to these writers, perhaps without realizing it.   Numerous shows and movies have been based on their literature.  A is a good place to mention the following question, “What is the difference between someone who does not know how to read and someone who knows how but does not read?”

61aJkCcMlhL._SL500_Several of my stories have been influenced by Aesop’s stories.  When growing up, I loved reading stories of foxes, rabbits, scorpions, and other animals that Aesop used in his writing.  His parables and morals still guide my life in a myriad of ways.  I watched a few of August Wilson’s plays that were performed at Penumbra Theater in St. Paul, MN.  It was my introduction to the world of African American literature which was sorely missing in our education system.  For a good escape into the world of murder, drama and spies, MacLean and Christie cannot be beat. On countless rainy and often sunny days as well, I have curled up and said, “To hell with the world.  I am dropping out for a few hours into a world of fantasy.”

B –

I could speak of many authors here but nothing in literature has spawned more stories or ethics or plays or even religions than the Bible.   If you peruse my blogs, you will find at least a dozen stories that I have written that have been based on biblical sources.  There are many authors involved in the Bible.  The Bible notes for different books either who was the author or who they think the author might have been.  In many cases, the authors are unknown.

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Is the Bible fiction or non-fiction is a question that would create great dissention depending on who you asked?  Many would say that the Bible was the literal truth given by God to prophets to pass down to humanity.  Others would say, it was a series of stories that were embellished in the telling.   Neither of these issues ever bothered me.  The point is that the Bible is one of the greatest books in history, if not the greatest.  It has history, drama, murder, sex, morals, and good advice all wrapped up in one binder.  Read it and you will see why some people say that it is the only book they read.

C –

392278aCamus, Eldredge Cleaver, and Cervantes could not be more different.  Camus the existentialist.  Cleaver the revolutionary.  Cervantes the dreamer.  What puzzle pieces they inspired in me.  Hard to find out how they fit together but in the grand scheme of things, I would not leave any of them out.  Cleaver wrote, “Soul on Ice.”  One of the most inspiring prison writings ever written.

“From my prison cell, I have watched America slowly coming awake. It is not fully awake yet, but there is soul in the air and everywhere I see beauty…. I was very familiar with the Eldridge who came to prison, but that Eldridge no longer exists.  And the one I am now is in some ways a stranger to me.”  — Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice, 1968

Camus helped me to understand Existentialism from an applied perspective.  A great deal more helpful than a strictly theoretical understanding.  Cervantes created a character that I would like to be.  A man forever hopeful and willing to battle the world regardless of the forces arrayed against him.  A man willing to “dream the impossible dream.”   If only, I can retain Quixote’s optimism until the day I am no more.

D –

Dostoevsky, Dickens, and W. E. Deming.  I knew Dr. Deming personally.  I had dinner with Dr. Deming and took several clients to visit him at his home in Washington, D.C.  I helped out at several of his five-day seminars.  My first job after completing my Ph.D. degree was attained by reading his book, “Quality, Productivity and Competitive Position.”  A tour de force that would revolutionize American business.  A book that told me that 95 percent of what I learned in graduate school was wrong.  I learned more from Dr. Deming than I learned from all the great professors who wrote so many of the textbooks that I had been studying for 5 years.  Dr. Deming told me I wasted my time.  I was loath to accept his finding but gradually came to realize that he was right.  Eventually, the blinders were lifted from my eyes and I could see the truth of American business.  The truth that Dr. Deming had tried to share with the world.

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I cannot say that I have read all of Dostoevsky’s or Dicken’s works.  What I can say is that few writers I have read have been more articulate about the human condition than these two authors.  They are natural born psychologists.  Their insights into people are so profound that it seems a mystery to me that anyone could as accurately portray humanity as they have done in their writings.  It is not really stories that they tell so much as creating a picture of the inner souls of their characters.  It is easy to describe the outward characteristics of a character but much more difficult to portray their inner characters.  Both Dickens and Dostoevsky portray humans at their best and at their worst.  Reading either of them is better than reading a textbook on human psychology or taking a Psych 101 class.

E –

Jacques Ellul.  Jacques wrote the “Technological Society.”  I read this book in 1982 when I started graduate school.  There are many books that describe the “what” of technology.  Books that talk about computers, software, hardware, and the impact that they will have on society.  The central premise of Jacque’s book is this:  “In our technological society, technique is the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity.”  Not exactly what we read about or think about when we hear the word technology.

But technology is technique.  It is not simply something electrical or digital.  Technology is a philosophy of life.  Ellul showed me the deeper meaning and relationship between life and gadgets.  Society is influenced by technology in more ways than I could ever have imagined.  Understanding technology has given me the ability to appreciate both its pro’s and con’s.  There is always a downside as well as an upside to new gadgets, particularly things like social media, the internet, and computers.  Each of these technologies have impacted our lives both for good and bad.

F –

BondAnatole France and Ian Fleming.  I discovered Fleming’s books on James Bond, after I saw the hit movie “From Russia with Love.”  I subsequently read every one of Fleming’s books and have seen every movie in the Bond franchise.  I loved the character so much I continued to read “Bond” books even when they were written by other approved writers.  I was attracted to the character who was everything I wanted to be.  Handsome, rugged, dashing, brave, a man’s man and a woman’s man as well.  I will never forget the line from one of Fleming’s books, “Boredom is the worst curse of all.”  Eventually, I outgrew James Bond but there will always be a part of me that wonders what it would be like to live in his world.

France on the other hand gave me a different view of the world.  I read several of his books during the early seventies when I was in my socialist learning stage.  I identified with many of his ideas.  France was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1921.  His books were often both ironic and satirical.  He approached subjects steeped in religion with a perspective that might have seemed atheistic.  He challenged us to think of God and Satan and their relationship together.  I think many of my blogs have been influenced by France.  Particularly my blog titled, “A Conversation between Satan and God.

G –

Grendel-2007-Beowulf-movie-Crispin-Glover-cJ. K. Galbraith, Goethe, and John Gardner. Perhaps my favorite story as well as my favorite opera are based on a man selling his soul to the devil in return for some privilege. Goethe wrote the story and called it Faust after a learned man who wanted more than knowledge.  Gounod did the opera based on Goethe’s story.  Many other stories have been based on the idea of a bargain between Satan and humans.  One other that I have always liked was “The Devil and Daniel Webster.”  It told the story of a New Hampshire farmer who sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for success.  When the devil came to collect his due, the farmer called on Daniel Webster to defend him.  This story ended happily as opposed to Goethe’s story which has a tragic ending.

Like many people, I would like to be more successful, more famous, and more admired.  Would I sell my soul to the Devil?  There have been times in my life when I would gladly have sold it.  I am at a point now where fame and fortune do not mean as much.  If I have a soul, I will depart this world with it intact.

J. K. Galbraith was a noted economist and Harvard Professor.  In his book, “The New Industrial State,” he supported much of what Dr. Deming had to say about American business.  I was particularly struck by Galbraith’s denunciation of MBA programs.  Deming also detested these programs and argued that they were destructive for American business.  Galbraith has been lionized and villainized.  Anyone with the audacity to challenge the inherent greediness of Capitalism cannot expect to win friends.  My thinking on Capitalism reflects what I have learned from both Deming and Galbraith.

John Gardner wrote several of my favorite stories.  He was a professor of literature well known for his writing and critiques.  Just when I thought I could learn everything from philosophy, I find a writer who mercilessly skewers philosophy with a character based on Socrates.  Agathon is a wise cynic who knows all about the world but nothing about life.  Gardner also wrote “Grendel” which was the Beowulf story told from the perspective of the beast.  Gardner had a unique way of turning things inside out and getting you to see an entirely different perspective.  His books often dealt with issues of morality, freedom, and justice.  From Gardner I leaned that life is seldom simple and when we look at the world it becomes complex and contradictory. 

H –

Chris Hedges.  Hedges wrote the “Empire of Illusion.”  This book portrays the American Dream as an illusion.  Hedges disparages the idea that America is exceptional and that we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  The book was published in 2010 and clearly outlines the descent of America into Trumpism.  On its webpage, Amazon summarizes the main theme of Hedge’s book as:

“A prescient book that forecast the culture that gave rise to Trump — a society beholden to empty spectacle and obsession with image at the expense of reality, reason, and truth.”

No society can make progress if illusions and fantasies guide its policies rather than truth and knowledge.  America today seems to be sorely lacking in truth or knowledge.  Morris Berman another critic of American culture gave up on changing anything in this country and moved to Mexico and off the grid.  I question every day pre-Trump and post-Trump whether America is on an unstoppable downhill slide and if there is anything I can do about it.  Will I be able to help make a difference and steer this country towards the dreams and values that it was founded on?   I wrote sixteen Anti-Trump articles dealing with the menace and danger that he held for America.  A president who represented everything that was bad for the future of our country.  He lost the election but how can anyone forget that 75 million Americans voted for him.

I –

0b243a477fd3257de4b036b2c7e4e52bIvan Illich and Washington Irving.  When I was in my undergraduate program in education which I started in 1971, I decided to read as much of the counter-education literature that I could find.  My most memorable readings were “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by P. Freire, “How Children Fail” by John Holt and “Deschooling Society” by Illich.   I have read many more books on education since the 70’s but it seems to me that nothing new has been added to the schooling critique leveled by these educators.  Schools are still failing students and society.  Educators are like fish.  They live up to the Chinese saying that “The fish are the last ones to see the water.”  I have written numerous critiques of the education system in America as have many other educators, but nothing changes.  The solutions to the problems that ail our education system are rooted in a theory of education that was appropriate 100 years ago but is now obsolete.

School prepares people for the alienating institutionalization of life, by teaching the necessity of being taught. Once this lesson is learned, people lose their incentive to develop independently; they no longer find it attractive to relate to each other, and the surprises that life offers when it is not predetermined by institutional definition are closed.” ― Ivan Illich,

Washington Irving wrote my favorite ghost story.  The “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” still scares and thrills anyone reading it.  Sit outside in the fall just before Halloween on a dark night in the woods and read this story.  Keep looking over your shoulder in case the Headless Horseman is out for his night ride.  Perhaps you will see Ichabod Crane running pell-mell through the woods to escape the Horseman.  This is only one of many great stories that Irving wrote.  I learned to brave the night woods knowing that I was a friend of Irving.

J –

The-12-Personality-Archetypes-Which-One-Dominates-YouCarl Jung was one of the many theorists I studied at the University of Wisconsin for my M.S. degree in Counseling.  Carl Jung was one of the acolytes of Freud along with Alfred Adler, Wilhelm Reich, Otto Rank, and his daughter Anna Freud.  Each follower eventually broke with Freud and founded their own school of psychology.  Jung started the most esoteric and enigmatic of these schools.  His philosophy or methods are called Jungian Analysis and appeal to many people due to his emphasis on the interpretation of dreams, archetypes, and symbolic behaviors.  Jung gave me an appreciation for the elements in life that we might simply write off as useless or meaningless.  To undergo a dream interpretation can be a very life changing experience.  I discovered that there is no single path to self-awareness and psychological health.  Different schools of therapy appeal to different people and each may be effective.

K –

41mABQ-2vlL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_John F. Kennedy, Ezra Klein, and Daniel Kahneman.   What do a President, Journalist and Nobel Prize winner in Economics have in Common?  I learned from Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage” about what integrity really means.  Kennedy may not have written much of this book but the lives of the people he shares puts an exclamation point on the values that JFK had for this country.

I read Kahneman and Tversky’s “Judgement Under Uncertainty” in 1982 when I was in graduate school for my Ph.D. degree.  Years later they would win the Nobel Prize for Economics after having totally changed the way we think about and understand human economic behavior.  Much of the theory I was exposed to in graduate school was proven wrong by the research that Kahneman and Tversky conducted.  I learned a new way to think about economics and organizational behavior from this book.

Klein’s book “Why We’re Polarized” takes a more nuanced and data driven look at the gap that is separating Americans today.  He avoids the nauseous palliatives and bromides offered by so many writers on this subject.  You could fill an entire library bookshelf with all the authors telling us why Americans are divided and angry and how we can solve the problem.  Almost all see the division as a major problem.  Not Klein though.  He suggests it might be inevitable.  His book is laced with data proving that this divide did not just spring up with Trump but has its roots many years before Trump was on the radar.  One might say that Klein proves the adage that, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”

So what do these three authors have in common besides a last name that begins in K?  The answer is that each man has helped me to think about life in America and what it could be with more intelligent reflection and commitment to the values that our Founding Fathers promoted.  Economics is worthless without social commitment and social commitment is shallow without a strong economic system.  The principles of economics are not iron clad laws but continue to be better understood.  No doubt many years from now, we will see much of our economic decision making through a new set of lenses.  Kahneman has been a major force in the evolution of economic thinking.  Kennedy and Klein show us what is possible with integrity and intelligent thinking applied to politics and governance.

L –

795355R. D. Laing and Fritz Leiber. Do you know Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser?  If not, you are missing two of the most interesting and funny characters in the genre called Sword and Sorcery.  Fritz Leiber coined the phrase “Sword and Sorcery” and helped birth an entire new form of literature.  When we think of fantasy, most often we think of Lewis Carroll’s, “Alice in Wonderland.”  This classic story is imbued with fantasy and magic, but no one actually does any magic in the story.  Magic is limited to Alice’s dreaming.  Many fairy tales have more actual magic than Alice in Wonderland.  Tolkien’s “Hobbit and Ring Trilogy” come to mind.

When we think of Science Fiction, a more modern form of fantasy, we think of Star Wars and stories that blend fantasy and science.  Sword and Sorcery is different.  It blends heroic fantasy with magic.  Magic is the exact opposite of science.  The Marvel character, Dr. Strange is one of the few Marvel characters to blend fantasy with magic or the occult.

“So tell me, giant philosopher, why we’re not dukes,” the Gray Mouser demanded, unrolling a forefinger from the fist on his knee so that it pointed across the brazier at Fafhrd. “Or emperors, for that matter, or demigods.”

“We are not dukes because we’re no man’s man,” Fafhrd replied smugly, setting his shoulders against the stone horse-trough. “Even the duke must butter up a king, and demigods the gods. We butter no one. We go our own way, choosing our own adventures—and our own follies! Better freedom and a chilly road than a warm hearth and servitude.” — “Swords in the Mist”

R. D. Laing was a psychologist.  When I was in school for my graduate degree in counseling psychology, as I often did, I sought out the unconventional theorists.  Besides Wilhelm Reich, and Thomas Szasz, Laing was one of the most unconventional thinkers in the field of psychology.  Much as Thomas Kuhn became a target for many in science because of his radical thinking on science and paradigms, Laing also became the target of many in his field who felt threatened by his critique of psychology.  And well they should have for Laing challenged some of the major theories prevalent in the field at his time:

“Laing maintained that schizophrenia was “a theory not a fact”; he believed the models of genetically inherited schizophrenia being promoted by biologically based psychiatry were not accepted by leading medical geneticists.   He rejected the “medical model of mental illness.”  – Wikipedia

To go where no man has walked before, one does not have to go to Mars or another planet.  There are plenty of places in the human mind where few dare tread.  You go to these places at a risk to your sanity and reputation.  The status quo must protect itself and people who move to a different drummer or question common assumptions are treated as an invading virus that must be eradicated.  The normal system has no room for mutations.  You will be barraged by assaults from those in the system who have no desire to change.  Vested interests will marshal their big guns to eradicate you if you think differently.  You will begin to question your own sanity.  Only the strong can survive.

M –

Miyamoto Musashi, C.W. Mills and Yukio Mishima.  Two out of three in this group are Japanese.  I wonder if there are more last names starting with M in Japan?  Musashi was the greatest swordsman who ever lived.  He wrote philosophy with his sword.  His “The Book of Five Rings” blends swordsmanship and strategic thinking for anyone who wants a practical philosophy for success.  Some people talk about success but Musashi put his life on the line over thirty times fighting opponents in duels to the death.  His ideas about life and death are forged in a crucible of reality that few of us could ever comprehend, much less undertake.

miyamoto_musashi___vagabond_by_asi4abarai_dd23c8p-fullviewMishima was an author, poet, actor, and modern-day samurai who wanted to reinstate the Bonsai spirit in Japanese Culture.  After WWII, Americans occupied Japan and did everything they could to drive out the Samurai attitudes and policies that dominated Japan the previous fifty years or so.  Mishima created a group of followers who thought that they could overthrow the elected Japanese government and restore the old ruling order.  He greatly overestimated support for his ideas and after a failed rebellion he committed Seppuku or Hari Kari as it is also known.  I read a few of his novels and came to appreciate his writing and even his politics to some extent.  In his “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea” he states that “living is merely the chaos of existence.”  He has also noted that “I still have no way to survive but to keep writing one line, one more line, one more line….”  A sentiment that I think anyone serious about literature would surely appreciate.

C. W. Mills was a sociologist, professor, and author. He became famous for many of his writings on Organization Theory.  By the time I was in graduate school, pursuing my degree in Organization Theory, he was no longer a popular theorist.  His writings were no longer mandatory readings.  I suppose I chose to read him since he had long since fallen out of favor.  My habit again of looking at those who are lepers in the establishment.

Mill’s, “The Power Elite” dispelled my nascent socialist leanings by clearly disputing the idea of a cabal of rich capitalists plotting to take over the world.  The ideas he had on bureaucracy as internalized social control had also been expounded by Max Weber.  When I was employed as a consultant at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in 1989, I augmented the prevailing quality theories I endorsed with the theories of Mills and Weber.  Mills died in 1962 at the age of 45 and Weber died in 1920 (Of the Spanish Flu) at the age of 56.  Neither man lived a long life, but their ideas were as valid in the 1980s, and even today as when they were written almost one hundred years ago now.

Conclusions:

I am halfway through the alphabet, and I realize that this blog is much too long.  After writing A-M, I do not think either you are I have the fortitude for N-Z.  I will offer to send you my list of authors for these letters.  People like Nietzsche, OSHO, Plato, Poe, Roddenberry, Idries Shah, Tolkien, Twain, Voltaire, Alice Walker, Mary Wollstonecraft, Yeats, and Emile Zola all made a big difference on my views of the world and thereby on my life.  But for now, this is enough.  If I have not yet convinced you of the importance of reading and literature both for pleasure and for learning, I am doomed to a hell for poor writers and debaters.  It will fall to a “better man than I” to convince you that reading is essential for a good life.

What is the difference between someone who can read and does not and someone who does not know how to read? –  Answer:  NOTHING!

 

 

 

 

The Alien from Outer Space – Captured in Utah

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As they walked into the large conference room, they saw the alien standing in the middle of the room.  It was about seven feet tall and about 3 feet in diameter.  The alien had what looked like four branches coming off a main trunk and four branches upon which the main trunk was balancing.  The bottom branches were probably legs and the top branches were waving in the air and might have been arms.  No head was apparent on the alien and it was impossible to tell if it had any particular gender.

QVNIMTE2NDI3MjA2The color of its trunk was somewhere between blue and green as its hues ebbed and flowed.  One minute it looked blue and the next minute it looked green.  The most striking feature of all was in the middle of its trunk about five feet above the floor.  It had a large round eye about 9 inches in diameter.  There was no mistaking it as an eye since it included a large red pupil, a green cornea, and a yellow sclera.  The pupil was about two inches wide and the cornea was about four inches wide.  The eye seemed to follow every movement in the room and when you looked at it, the alien seemed to be able to look right through you as though it was reading your mind.

I was surrounded by news reporters, army officers, soldiers with guns at rest and what were obviously many government officials.  This was what the human race had been waiting for.  An alien had been captured and was going to speak to the world.  I had been brought to this well guarded room in Washington D.C. after I had agreed to speak about my purpose in visiting a planet they called Earth.  The major tv networks had all been alerted and were on deck to broadcast whatever the I had to say to the entire world.  News reports said over two billion people had found some way to listen to my talk.

I calmly surveyed the inhabitants of this room who were only a small part of the inhabitants of this planet.  I had been surveying them for 100,000 years but they were not aware of this fact.  They soon would be.  I looked out over the gathering with some amusement.  Shichak is the name that I chose to use with these humans.  They would never have been able to pronounce my real name.  But my name is unimportant.  What is important is what I have to say to the inhabitants of Earth.  At my other visits to Earth, I always observed for some weeks than returned to my home planet.  This time I did not fly away.  My captors did not realize it, but I came to this room entirely voluntarily.  I could have destroyed all of them and a great deal of their planet with a single twist of my antenna.  I chose to stay until I had delivered my message.

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My spacecraft which could travel at warp drive speeds between the galaxies had encountered some minor difficulties.  I had intended to land briefly and repair the ship.  After landing in a remote area of Utah, my ship had been seen by a local paramilitary group which surrounded the space craft.  They threatened to open fire with some high-powered projectiles unless I came out of the craft.  Years earlier I would have ignored them, but I sensed that the weapons they had could do some serious damage to my ship.  I had been seen many times before, but I had quickly opened an invisibility cloak and returned to space.  This time would be different.  After making my decision, I left the vessel to deliver a message to this species that I was certain would surprise and astound them.

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In less than 24 hours, my captors had taken me from the Utah forest to a police station in Monroe, Utah, to a government office in Provo, Utah and to an Army base in Bluffdale, Utah.  It was not only my appearance which surprised all who met me but even more surprising to them was the fact that I spoke perfect English.  I have the ability to speak the language fluently of any species on the planet Earth or any other planet in the universe.

At each site that I was taken to, I indicated that I would only talk to the President of the United States of America.  Finally, I was put under heavy guard and taken in a military cargo plane to Washington D.C.  During my trip, I had been passed up the line from privates to colonels to generals to Army secretaries and finally to this room where the President of the United States of America and the rest of the world waited to hear what I had to say.

It was time to speak.  The President had arrived with his staff and were seated.  I made some bugle like sounds to get everyone’s attention.  They were quite surprised but quieted right down.

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I spoke, “I did not come to your planet on a mission of peace.  Neither did I come on a mission of aggression.  I come as an observer.  I have been observing you for nearly 100,000 years.  I have made many trips to your planet.  Several times in the past, my ship has been spotted by your people.  One other time, I was forced to land and effect some repairs.  My ships have varied in size and shape from ovoid to saucer shaped.”

“I come from a planet my people call Zanist.  It is 7,000 light years away in another galaxy.  Our planet is over twenty billion years old.  Our people refer to themselves as Zanes.  As you calculate your lifespan, the average life of a Zane is about 200,000 earth years.”

“The sun that heats our solar system is dying.  It has been dying for many years.  We developed interstellar travel capabilities nearly a million years ago.  When we realized that our planet was doomed, our leaders decided that we should seek out another planet to inhabit.  Many scouts were sent out to find a new home for our people.  I found your planet over 100,000 years ago.  It was perfect for us except for the fact that a new species was quickly evolving, and you were that species.  We were not sure whether you would survive.  Many other species on your planet have rose up only to disappear in a few centuries.”

“We have what you would call a prime directive.  We do not interfere with the development of a sentient species.  Many on our planet were not sure that humans were sentient.  It was evident from early observations that you were brutal and cruel to other species as well as each other.  Nevertheless, our ethics prevented us from interfering with your development.”

“I was selected to monitor your planet in the event that you did not survive or that you annihilated yourselves.  This latter possibility seemed the most likely given your aggressive tendencies.  I returned after the ice age to find that you had managed to survive.  I watched many battles over the years where I thought you might destroy each other: the Three Kingdom Wars, the Mongolian Wars, the European Wars and two World Wars.”

“Finally, with your development of nuclear weapons, we were sure that you would self-annihilate.  We were quite surprised when you did not.  With my observations on this latest visit, I think it might be close to the end for your species.  Your current disasters due to your destruction of your environment, global warming, and climate change will be your death knell.  Your planet will survive but your species will probably not.  I take no joy in this observation.  My role is simply to observe and to report when your planet will be ready for us to occupy.”

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“We will be able to fix your planet and return it to its former healthy state.  We could tell you how to do this, but it would be a waste of time.  It is apparent that you understand what you need to do but you lack the desire or will power to do it.”

“That is all I have to say.  I am returning to my planet.”

As I spoke these words, I observed one of the military people talking to several of his subordinates.  I could read his mind and see that he was intent on preventing me from leaving.  It was his intention to place me in some sort of a cell.

Milley-talk“You have taken my space craft to one of your many military bases.  Some of you wish to stop me from leaving.  That is impossible.  I have no desire to harm any of you.   I have already repaired my vessel and it is back in orbit.  I will go to my ship.  Perhaps you will see me again in the future if you survive.  I doubt it.  Goodbye.”

“Beam me up Scotty.”  A little phrase I learned from my visits to the planet Earth.

The alien’s colors gave off a burst of blinding light forcing all the participants to close their eyes.  When the gathering opened their eyes, the alien was gone.  A grave like silence blanketed the room.  Reporters, government officials, military people and the President of the United States of America were all speechless.  The first words that everyone at the gathering heard were, “Does anyone know what’s for lunch?”

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The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life: Art

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You may be expecting me to regale you with some long-winded bull about artsy fartsy stuff that you should absolutely have in your life.  My conscience tells me that maybe I should start this blog off with a disclaimer or perhaps a spoiler alert.  The big question I am asking myself is who am I to convince you of the value that art has for you or the rest of the world?

e9d976ac0ad1923d2a1b45f65431411aWhen I grew up, the only art in our house was an Elvis on velvet painting that my mother had hanging over the living room sofa.  We also had a wooden ship with metal sails and a clock that did not work built into the side of the ship.  It was featured prominently on the mantle over our fake fireplace.  Our furniture would have done the Salvation Army proud.  I do not remember any other art besides Elvis displayed on our walls, floors, or ceilings.  Neither my father or mother had any interest in art.  My mother liked Elvis and that is why she got the painting. 

s-l300When I think back upon my schooling, I do not recall ever having had a single class in art appreciation.  We would occasionally go on field trips but usually to a library or a science museum.  No one in my schools acknowledged the world of art.  For blue collar kids like myself, the world of art had little relevance or practical use.  Everyone knew that artists died poor.  The great Van Gogh sold only one picture in his lifetime and that to a relative.  The purchase of art was for the rich, spoiled, eccentric scions of old aristocratic families with more money than they knew what to do with. 

unnamedWhen Karen and I first moved down to Arizona, we took a day to go and visit Scottsdale.  Scottsdale is a wealthy upper-class community.  Scottsdale is generally considered the most affluent large city in Arizona.  The average income of a Scottsdale resident is $51,564 a year. The US average is $28,555 a year.  According to Zillow.com, the typical price of a home in Scottsdale is $582,292.  We walked around the downtown portion of Scottsdale and expected to see the usual mix of clothing stores, jewelry shops, antique shops, and restaurants.  We were not surprised except when it came to the antique shops. 

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Most towns we visit today seem to have an abundance of antique shops.  Not Scottsdale!  Instead of antique shops, full of overpriced cast outs from yesteryear, Scottsdale had more jewelry shops and art galleries than I could count.  It goes without saying that I do not generally go into high end jewelry shops selling Rolex watches.  In some of these Scottsdale shops, a Rolex would be a cheap watch.  Sporting my Casio, I would not even merit a sales attempt.  However, we were really surprised at the number of art galleries.  Foolishly, we dared to venture into a few of them.  Our trips inside did not last long. 

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My idea of an expensive piece of art runs in the double digits.  Most of the art in these shops exceeded my tax return from last year.  Meaning the art was well into four or more digits.  I found myself petrified of knocking something over or off of a pedestal.  My heart rate was so high, I almost called 911.  We decided we had seen enough art and it was time to find some decent tacos and beer.  We found a good Mexican restaurant and sat on the sidewalk where we could look at the expensively dressed local Scottsdale people.  I soon noticed that Scottsdale did not have any obese or overweight citizens.  I suppose that when you are really wealthy, you can afford a coach, trainer or whatever to help you diet and keep your weight down. 

HP-Hero-Header@2xArt reflects the beauty that life holds.  Paintings portray ideals and impressions that intrigue and magnify the senses.  Sculptures mirror the objects in our world that mystify us or that remind us of magnificent events.  Pictures bring us to other places and times that would be forgotten without the images the photographer captures.  Art does not attempt to simply mirror reality; it attempts to augment and enhance reality.  Art can be a caricature which like a Rorschach text enables us to see many different visions.  Art is a realization of values, norms, pain, happiness, the past, the present and the future.  Art can simultaneously create fantasy and reality.

flickr_-_cc_-_manuel_paternity_-_no_modification-_no_commercial_useYou may be rightly thinking, “But what good does art do me if I cannot afford to even walk into an art shop?”  I often asked myself this same question.  Why look at stuff that I could not afford?  It took me years before I even ventured into an art museum.  I have since visited the Louvre while in Paris and many other museums in the USA and in Europe.  My attitude is now one of gratefulness that someone has purchased these magnificent works of art to share with the public.  The vast majority of us could never begin to afford the pricelessness of these museum pieces.  I strongly encourage you to visit an art museum sometime. 

il_794xN.2697702323_8azbWhen it comes to art that I would like to own, it is simply a matter of what I can afford.  The art world is full of overpriced works of art.  Many would rebel at my labeling art this way.  My critics would say that it was high priced and not “over” priced.  That may well be.  I have talked to a number of artists and the vast majority do not get paid for the value of their efforts and creativity.  However, just like in athletics, a few stand out and are disproportionally rewarded for their efforts.    

I will also claim that there are many underpriced works of art.  I find what I call bargains done by both artisans and artists that I would have thought would sell for much higher prices.  Karen and I have visited quite a few art festivals.  When we moved to Arizona, we decided that we would decorate the interior of our house with affordable works of art.  Art that we admired and liked and that fit our budget.  We chose to find original works of art rather than just reproductions.  There is nothing wrong with reproductions, but we opted to save our money for art that we thought was unique and one of a kind.      

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I have not said what I consider quality art or great art to be.  That would be more than presumptuous.  More astute minds than mine have tried to define “great” art.  I have always subscribed to the maxim that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  I cannot define great art, but I can tell you what I like.  Sometimes, it is simply something that reminds me of another place or time and sometimes it is something that I think is beautiful.  My house could never hold all the art that I have admired over the years.  As I said before, I am grateful that there are people called artists who are willing to venture into a field where the rewards are so problematic compared to the skill and creativity required.   

If you find the world boring, if you wonder if there is more to life than you experience, if you are depressed at the bad news each day, if the daily diet of mayhem and misfortune makes you wish you were living in another time or place, then art may be the solution to your misery.  Art is a bouquet of flowers which can bring joy to your heart.  Sir John Lubbock, 4th Baronet said that, “art is unquestionably one of the purest and highest elements in human happiness.  It trains the mind through the eye, and the eye through the mind.  As the sun colors flowers, so does art color life.

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You can begin to appreciate the world of art today.  It will not cost you a single penny.  Your initiation fee is paid by the amount of time you are willing to devote to art.  There are classes on art online for free.  There are YouTube videos with tours of art museums and histories of great paintings and artists.  Your local library will have dozens of books that are collections of some of the great art works in history.  The Salvation Army and Goodwill have many used books that include works of art for you to purchase at less than two dollars a book.

10 Free Courses to Help You Understand and Appreciate Art …    

Another option of course, is to appreciate the world of art as an artist or creator rather than as a follower or viewer.  Several years ago, I took an art class.  I wanted to see if I had the talent to be an artist.  The class taught how to paint miniatures.  I did several paintings which turned out quite well.  The class also showed me the hard work and discipline that was required to be an artist.  I wisely chose to make my fortunes in the business world rather than in the more challenging world of art. 

Whatever you decide, I hope that you can let the world of art color your days like a rainbow that never dims or goes out.  The world will be a happier place when we can all learn to appreciate art.

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