3520 – Wednesday, September 11, 2019 — Can We Ever Understand the Trump Phenomenon?

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Pontificating and writing books and articles about what I will call the Trump phenomenon has become (forgive my use of this cliché), a Cottage Industry.  I have three books on my shelf right now in which an author has gone on a quest (to a remote area of America) to find the reason why so much of rural and middle America embraced Trump.  The ostensible goal of these quests is to understand why anyone would vote for a racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic bigoted egomaniac.  Fully twenty-eight percent of American voters selected Trump as well as more than 75 percent of the Republican Party.  Most of those on the left, regard it as the proverbial enigma wrapped in a riddle.

Many of these quests endeavor to be “objective” exercises to find out why Americans voted for and in many cases “love” Trump.  Not surprisingly, these authors tend to be on the left of the political spectrum.  I suppose to be objective and qualify as research, each author must show sympathy for the “deplorables” that elected Trump by trying to listen, empathize and gently understand the forces that were at work in their embracing Trump.  In one case, the author assumes that if you can party with the other side, you will better understand their perspective. 

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A few of these books have sold quite well, even if they do very little to shed any real light on the Trump phenomenon.  They all seem to be researched (research to these authors means meeting with rural folks over tea or coffee and talking to them without insulting their intelligence) by a well-meaning liberal.  Usually, the author is an academic who thinks that talking to anyone who would vote for Trump can solve the puzzle and perhaps make America great again.  Reading these books, you will be no doubt be embellished with many narratives that involve a poignant description of a “typical” rural American to show how the other side really lives and how sad some of their lives are.

I find the solution to the enigma much less puzzling and much less difficult to solve.  I did not need to go on a quest to find the solution.  The solution simply involves “looking at rural America.”  Rural America is dying, dying, dying.  Churches are dying.  Restaurants are dying.  Retail stores are dying.  Industries are dying.  Banks are dying.  Resorts are dying.  Jobs are dying.  Small farms are dying.  Rural America is dying, and no one seems to notice.  Even the people living there do not really notice.  It is a case of the fish being the last ones to see the water.  But on many levels, the angst exacts a toll on the citizens of these areas.   Alcoholism, drug addictions and guns are all means of coping in rural communities.  

People who live in many of many of these rural depressed areas have been told to “get retrained.”  “Find employment in the new emerging industries.”  “Join the information age.”  “Learn computer programming.”  “Go back to school.”  “Go where the jobs are.”

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In 1979, I was hired as a DVOP (Disabled Veterans Outreach Person) by the State of Minnesota.  I worked as a job counselor with the DES (Department of Economic Security.)  At about this time in Minnesota, the iron range was shutting down, many foundries in St. Paul were closing and the stock yards were closing.  For years, these industries had provided relatively decent pay and benefits for people more amenable to working with their backs than with their intellects.  As an employment counselor with a Masters in Employment Counseling from the University of Wisconsin Stout, my job was to help them regain financially viable employment.  Here is what this meant.

I had to take a man (most often a man) with twenty or so years working in one industry, a bad back, little or no education beyond high school, responsible for supporting a wife and two or more children and find him or her a job paying twenty or so dollars per hour with benefits.  There were no funds provided by DES for this man to go to school and even if there were, what kind of school could he go to?  Over the years, both Wisconsin and Minnesota had shut down many vocational training schools to emphasize college over vocational education.  Unions seldom provided apprenticeships and even if they did, most would go to younger workers with less physical problems. 

Globalization was hailed as a great concept and as a business person, I would argue it was good for many Americans and much of the world.  But for the man or woman who worked in American industries that were either outsourced, replaced by foreign labor or moved overseas, it was not so good. 

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I continued working as an employment counselor for the DILHR (Department of Industry, Labor and Human Relations) in Wisconsin.  I had taken a Wisconsin State test and found work closer to my home in River Falls, Wisconsin.  I became a Manpower Counselor II in charge of an office in Hudson and Ellsworth Wisconsin.  I ran the WIN Program (Work Incentive), IHRAP Program (Indochinese Refugee Assistance Program), LEAP Program (Labor Education Advancement Program) and several programs for veterans and minorities. 

We had minimal funds for people that could qualify for education and we had maintenance funds for eligible job seekers to help support them while they looked for gainful employment.  With respect to education, there was no way anyone could go to school and support a family while they were in school on the available funds.  For job seekers, the maintenance funds could help while they looked for employment but, in many cases, they had little chance of finding employment without further education.  Regulations prohibited many of these “eligible” job seekers from going to school while they received AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children), Welfare benefits or unemployment benefits.

Bottom line, both the Democrats and Republicans threw many of the people who lost their jobs because of Globalization under the bus or over the cliff.  “Go get retrained they were told.” 

694940094001_5470675642001_5470650547001-vsThe research that purports to explain the Trump phenomenon almost never goes beyond the “Right Wing” narratives for Trumps election.  These narratives all point to abortion, guns, taxes, small government, immigration and jobs as the key factors in Trumps victory.  Trump blames the Democrats for everything wrong in rural America and the Republicans have provided a compelling set of schemes that have convinced many in rural America that a partial solution to their problems lies in more capitalism. 

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Greed is good is a mantra among Republicans and they have managed to sell desperate people needing desperate measures with faith in the “Trickle Down Theory.”  For those who might question this theory, the fallback narrative is to blame immigrants, Latinos, Blacks and Muslims with usurping the American Dream.  Trump and the Republicans have sold the rest of the solution as “Make America White Again.” 

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Is it any wonder that people are sick of government and politicians?  The vision and mission of most government agencies hardly ever comes close to matching the reality of the policies, laws and regulations that spew forth from these lawyer led entities.   You would be forgiven for not realizing that the citizens of the United States of America are the customers of government rather than the other way around.  Trump is a phenomenon of distrust, disgust and despair.  Trump promised solutions to these problems while the rest of the government slept and slept and slept.

“I’ve always resented the smug statements of politicians, media commentators, corporate executives who talked of how, in America, if you worked hard you would become rich. The meaning of that was if you were poor it was because you hadn’t worked hard enough. I knew this was a lie, about my father and millions of others, men and women who worked harder than anyone, harder than financiers and politicians, harder than anybody if you accept that when you work at an unpleasant job that makes it very hard work indeed.”  ― Howard Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times

 

 

 

 

 

3525 – Friday, September 6, 2019 — Those Were the Days My Friend!

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My blog this week is based on a song that was made popular by Mary Hopkin’s in 1968.  The original writer was Gene Raskin.   Gene added English lyrics to a Russian song called “By the long road” which was composed by Boris Fomin (1900–1948).  The song in its many manifestations had continued to be about reminiscence and youthful idealism.  In my version below, I have taken some liberties with the lyrics and have added my thoughts on age and youthful idealism.   If you care to listen to the Hopkin’s song while reading my blog, click on the following link and then return to my site. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QptZ8tYZAkE

Once upon a time we shared a dream
When we believed that we were special
And we laughed away our evenings
Thinking of the success that would bring us great esteem

I grew up loving science and mathematics.  In the late fifties and early sixties, the space age was just beginning.  I wanted to be a part of the new wave of exploration and I dreamed of becoming an astronaut.  I read books on physics and relativity and quantum theory.  I believed that knowledge was the key to achieving my dreams.  Somehow, I never thought that my desires were above my head or possibilities.

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d dream and dream forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

When I finished high school. I knew what Harvard and Brown and Yale stood for.  If you had money or were the siblings of any alumnus, you could apply to one of them.  If your father was a postal worker and your mother a part-time clerk at Woolworth, you had neither pull nor money.  The money probably mattering only slightly more than the connections or pull one needed to get into an Ivy League school in the sixties.  Truth be told, I did not even have the money or grades to get into a state college.  Without a college education, my dreams of becoming a pilot or an astronaut were shear fantasy.

A few weeks after high school, the only real possibility I had for a future was in the United States Military.  The war in Vietnam was starting to ramp up when I graduated in 1964 and it was said that the service would take a warm body.  I applied and did very well on the military exams.  I decided that I liked the Air Force uniform better than the Navy, Army or Marine uniforms.  Up and away on my first airplane ride to Lackland AFB for basic training.

Then the busy years went rushing by me
I lost my starry notions on the way
If by chance I’d see you in the city
We’d smile at one another and we’d say

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d dream and dream forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

I married while still in the service.  I was only 21 and my wife Julie was only 20.  Julie was several months pregnant when we married.  Somewhere along the way she became very sick and was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.  She spent several months in the University of Minnesota hospital while pregnant with our first-born child Christina.  Christy arrived while Julie was still in the hospital and in 1968 I was ordered by a young nurse to help out in the delivery room.  Thus, I was on the forefront of the new age for fathers and husbands.  Something, I was reluctant at the time to join.

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d dream and dream forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

The years have flown by since then.  Many friends have either passed away or orbited out of my universe.  My first marriage ended in divorce.  My daughter has not spoken to me for nearly twenty years now.  My dreams of business success have become so much flotsam in a sea of failed possibilities.  Always told how smart I was, my intelligence never seemed to add up to anything that I could put in the bank.  Dreams of greatness in some non-financial endeavor (which became my fallback position) are now floating away alongside of my business aspirations.

Just tonight I stood before my mirror
Nothing seemed the way it used to be
In the glass I saw a strange reflection
Was that broken person really me

I am now fighting the battle of growing old.  Energy forfeiting time to naps.  Days spent in a doctor’s office.  Buying sympathy cards by the dozen.  Learning to be a caregiver.  Dealing with an ever-increasing number of aches and pains.  Muscles that do not respond or recover as quickly.  Friends that spend what seem like long hours describing medical conditions and treatments.  Loved ones that I worry about more and more.  Trying to figure out what is appropriate for the next funeral.  Wondering if there is something else besides “My condolences” that I can say.

Through the parlor door there came familiar laughter
I saw your face and heard you call my name
Oh my friend I am a great deal older but no wiser
For in my heart, the dreams are still the same

My dreams, I never gave up on you.  I substituted hard work and determination for luck and chance many years ago, but they did not prove a path to you.  You might think me shallow or that I abandoned you, but nothing could be farther from the truth.  Hardly a day goes by when I don’t think about giving you one more shot.  I ask myself if ten years is enough, for that is about what I have left.  My self-bribe is that it is never too late as long as I do not give up hope.  But is my heart really in it?  Do I want you bad enough to keep on fighting for you?  I somehow sense a certain futility, like taking another turn at bat is not going to get me a home run.  Hard to admit, but maybe I never was and never will be a home run hitter.  Is this a battle that I am going to lose in this life?

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d dream forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

Those were the days, oh yes those were the days!

 

 

3528 – Tuesday, September 3, 2019 — Love versus Hate:  Does Hate Trump Love?

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God calls us to love others, just as he loves us.  We show love to others by forgiving, accepting and honoring them.  —  From a quote in a Lutheran Church Brochure

Pick up a newspaper any day of the week.  How much love do you see?  Very little I would bet.  How much hate?  Pages and pages of hate.

  • Man kills seven and injures 31 with assault rifle.
  • Woman with five DUI’s kills mother and daughter in auto crash.
  • Israeli bomb attack kills fifteen jihadists.
  • Terrorist bomb kills 35 soldiers in Iraq.
  • Trump encourages beating up protesters.

I propose that you will find at least ten times more hate in the news than you do love.  But that is not news to you or anyone else, is it?  Newspapers exist to sell advertising, and nothing sells like hate, violence, gore, mayhem and disasters.  The crème de la crème is reserved for serial killings, mass killings and family murders.  Local news is full of crime stories from places that are thousands of miles away and that no one has ever heard of.  Bad news and hate crowd out the good and love that society has.  In a way it is ironic, since so many people in the world regard themselves as Christians.  Christianity professes to follow the teachings of a man named Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ (for those of you who might be unfamiliar with him) was a big advocate of love and peace.  Jesus told his followers “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  — John 13:34.  Jesus is also reputed to have said “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  — Mathew 5:44.  Another irony, considering that numerous Christian churches have supported racism and hatred towards Blacks and other minorities.

One would think that particularly in those parts of the United States dominated by Christian churches, love would blossom like a million flowers.  You would expect that in the so called “Bible Belt” you would see evidence of love and not hate everywhere you look.  If any place was against prejudice, discrimination, bigotry and ill will towards their fellow human beings, it should be in the Bible Belt.  Another irony, since according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the South has more hate groups than any other area of the United States.  Even more confusing, are the Christian ministers who preach hate and use Christs name to justify it.  This is a recent map of hate groups in the USA.

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A few Sundays ago, Pastor Joe Major of Louisiana’s Faith Baptist Church gave a guest sermon at the Philippines church of Pastor Logan Robertson.  You’ll never guess what Major talked about.  In a sermon titled “Make the World Straight Again,” Major told the raucous crowd about how all homosexuals were inherently pedophiles and that’s why they deserved to be executed.  Several years past, the Rev. Steven Anderson quoted passages from the Old Testament to the congregation of his Faithful Word Baptist Church about the kinds of people God hates in Tempe Arizona.  Anderson told worshipers he interprets these passages to include Mr. Obama and that he prays for the president’s death.  Is it ironic that Anderson believes he is a Christian and promotes hate in the name of Jesus?

But enough looking at hate, what about love?  Can we find examples of love in the world?  Do we even know what love really is?  We all know the quote about “love is kind, love is patient, etc.”  But what is the difference between love and compassion or between love and mercy or between love and charity?  What about the role of forgiveness?  Can we have love without forgiveness?  Should we forgive everyone?

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,

with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

then your light will rise in the darkness,

and your night will become like the noonday.  —

Isaiah, 58:9-10

Love can not exist in the dark.  Hate brings the dark.  Love is extinguished by hate. In order to have love, you must eliminate hate.  The two cannot go together.  Love opens the door.  Hate closes the door.  Love leads to mercy.  Hate leads to revenge.  Love leads to compassion.  Hate leads to scorn.  Love leads to forgiveness.  Hate leads to vendettas.  Love leads to charity.  Hate leads to greed.   If you want to bring love into the world, you must work to eliminate hate.  Love cannot blossom in a soil that is contaminated with the poison of hate.

I think we are love deprived today.  I mean real love.  Not love of things.  I love my car.  I love my new watch.  I love my blender.  This is not love.  This is idolatry.  It is a Madison avenue con that has been foisted on us to buy stuff and more stuff.  No where in the world do people own more stuff than in America.  Rich or poor in this country, we all have the disease of stuff.  We buy and sell and buy more stuff.  A t-shirt exhorts us to “shop till we drop.”  The midnight madness sales during the Holiday seasons are an ironic example of what it means to be really crazy.  Ironic, because when things matter more than people, we have a world that is truly mad and insane.  We have a world without love.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King

 

 

3535– Tuesday, August 27, 2019 — Four Young Boys Growing Up in America, Part 2

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Twenty years have gone by since we have left our four young men.  They have now each reached their 32nd year of life.  Not one of them will see their 33rd year of life. 

Whitaker had achieved everything his parents had wanted him to.  He had gone to college, taken over the family business, got married to a beautiful young debutante and now had two young children.  The oldest, a girl, was nine years old and a boy seven years old.  Whitaker loved his wife and children very much.  Like his parents, Whitaker joined the prestigious country club and was head of the planning committee for events.  

The investment business was going very well, and his many clients were always pleased with the way that that their accounts were growing.  Whitaker seemed to have a magic touch.  Everything that was bronze or copper, he could turn into silver or gold.  His family life was also picture perfect.  Two very well-mannered children and a stay at home wife who alternated time between home and working on various local committees to help the less fortunate in the community.   

It was a beautiful Saturday morning in May.  Apple blossoms were blooming, his wife was planning a dinner that evening with some club friends and his kids had their usual Saturday morning league sports.  Whitaker had breakfast with his family and kissed each of them goodbye.  He took his golf bag and left for the country club.  There was some business to attend to with the planning committee he told everyone and if he had enough time, he might get in a round of golf. 

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Whitaker arrived at the club around 9 AM.  He greeted some friends upon arrival and then went up to an office that he kept in a private room at the club.  He entered the office and locked the door.  He walked over to his desk and sat down.  From a locked drawer in his desk, he removed a Ruger 9 mm automatic pistol.  He looked at it for a minute as though undecided but finally he flicked the safety off.   Whitaker put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.  He died instantly.  Club members hearing the loud report rushed up to the room.  They had to batter the door down and when they entered, they found Whitaker slumped over his desk and quite dead. 

Jamal was heading to the country club about the time that Whitaker decided to depart this life.  Jamal had gone to college and obtained a law degree.  He had married the woman of his dreams and now had a set of five-year-old twin girls.  Jamal was a brilliant orator and could remember facts and figures that would astonish his listeners.  His law firm had prospered, and he now had two partners and more clients than even they could handle. 

Jamal had moved from the inner city to a well-manicured upscale home in the elite section of town.  He had a swimming pool, jacuzzi, a three-car garage and two large stone fireplaces.  Although never much of an athlete, he had taken up golf and joined the most prestigious country club in the city. 

This Saturday morning, he had packed his bags in an old beater car that he kept, kissed his wife and kids goodbye and headed off for a round of golf at the country club.  Despite having a Porsche, he always felt more comfortable in the old beater.  He told himself that driving it would keep him humble and help him to remember where he had come from.  He did not want to have his newfound wealth and status go to his head. 

As he headed to the country club through the expensive homes and gardens that dominated this area of town, he soon noticed a police car following closely behind him.  Then, the lights started swirling and the sirens started blaring.  “Pull over” a voice from the police car demanded.   Jamal pulled to the curb as did the police car.  A uniformed officer came over to Jamal and asked him what he was doing in this area.  Jamal still unperturbed, replied that he was going to play golf at the country club. 

The officer had received word of a shooting at the club and seeing a black man in an old car driving through this area had raised his suspicions.  “Step out of the car please,” he asked.  This was a little too much now for Jamal.  “Sir, I am a lawyer and I belong to the local country club.  What do I need to step out for?”  “Because I told you to sir,” replied the officer. 

Jamal had not been treated this way in a long time.  He was now feeling pretty angry, not to mention the potential embarrassment at being put up against his car within one mile of his country club.   Jamal spoke “I am not getting out of this car.”  The officer now quite irritated, unbuckled and drew his 10 mm Glock.  “Get out of the car, right now,” the officer demanded.

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Jamal swung the car door open, stepped out and started to walk away.  The officer shouted “Stop, Stop, Stop.”  Jamal either not hearing or not caring continued on walking down the street.   Suddenly, three loud blasts echoed throughout the neighborhood as the officer pulled the trigger of his pistol three times.  Each shot hit Jamal squarely in the back.  The first shot was enough though since it went through Jamal’s scapula, then his heart and lodged against a rib.  The next two shots were superfluous as Jamal was already dead when he hit the ground.  

Robert was fed up with life.  Nothing had gone right for him.  He had flunked out of high school and then got kicked out of the Army because of some asshole with more stripes than he had.  He had got married and had three children.  He came home early one day from a construction job and found his wife in bed with his best friend.  She took the kids and left.  Truth be told, he did not really give a dam.  His wife was an asshole, his best friend was a jerk and his kids were a pain in the butt. 

Things were looking up though.  It was Saturday.  The weather was fine, and he had the day off from his new job at the nearby cement plant.  The outdoor rifle range had opened.  Robert had bought a new rifle and was excited about taking it to the range and trying it out.  It was a Kel-Tec RDB 5.56 Bullpup.  Robert had purchased an optional fifty round magazine and one thousand rounds of ammunition.  He thought it would be more than enough ammo for a fun morning at the firing range. 

Robert arrived at the range and found that all twenty-four firing lanes were already occupied.  He looked around for the Range Master to see if he might have any idea when a lane would be opened.  It was a new Range Master, whom Robert did not know.  He was surly and brusque and replied that he did not have the slightest idea when a firing lane would open.  His manner really pissed Robert off.  Robert told him “I have been a member of this range for ten years; you should be more respectful to members.”  The Range Master laughed and told Robert that as far as he was concerned, he could take his business elsewhere. 

Something snapped at that moment in Robert.  Everywhere he turned, people treated him with disrespect and like he was dirt.  This was the final straw.  He would show the world that he was somebody and that no one could push him around.  Robert packed up his rifle and ammo and left.  He had made a decision that would change his life forever.

bullpup

Robert drove to the large indoor shopping mall just a few miles from where he lived.  He knew it would be packed on a Saturday morning.  He arrived and parked in a handicapped parking lot.  “Fuck, them too” he thought as he walked away and left the keys in the car.  He entered the mall through a side door and proceeded to take an escalator to the top floor.  Upon getting up to the second level, he took the gun off of his shoulder and surveyed the tableau in front of him.  Lots of kids with their moms.  Mothers pushing strollers.  Fathers walking holding their young children.  Teenagers hanging out with their friends and their ever-present cell phones.  “Fuck them all,” reflected Robert as he aimed his rifle at a nearby couple on the first floor and started pulling the trigger.

As soon as the first shots rang out, pandemonium reined.  Parents screamed and kids were running everywhere.  Robert kept aiming and firing, rather heedless of whom he was firing at.  Fortunately, security guards were close to where Robert sat and seeing him, they quickly opened fire.  Robert had already killed six people and wounded at least twenty-five others.  He knew his time was up, but he reflected, he would go out on his own terms.  He put the Bullpup under his chin and pulled the trigger.  The rifle blew the top of his skull off and Robert died instantly. 

Jack woke up this beautiful Saturday morning thinking how wonderful life was.  He had a great wife and a young five-year-old son.  His career since finishing college had gone very well.  He worked for a successful computer firm and had recently been promoted to a district manager position.  He lived in a nice house in a modest suburban neighborhood, not far from where he had grown up. 

He was making a list of chores to do this Saturday when his wife asked him if he could run a few errands for her.  She had the job of doing the Sunday fellowship snacks for their local church and was going to be busy doing some baking this day.  Would Jack get some more sugar and eggs at the local grocery store?  “Sure” Jack said.  He started to get his keys when his young son began to shout “Daddy, daddy, can I go with you.”  “Of course,” replied Jack. “Get your coat and let’s go.”

They climbed in the car and drove to the supermarket where Jack quickly found the sugar and eggs and some other food items.  Upon heading back to the car, Jack told his son: “Lets go to the mall and we will find a nice birthday gift for your mom since her birthday is next week.  You can help me to pick it out.”  His young son thought that was a fun idea and both dad and son headed for the nearby mall.

Upon arriving at the mall, they walked down a large open aisle looking in store windows along the way.  Jack requested his son to keep his eyes open for something that he thought his mom would like.   A loud sound like thunder broke the thoughts going through Jacks’ head.  Jack quickly realized that the echoing sounds were the sounds of gunfire.  He pushed his young son down on the floor and threw his body over his son. 

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That was the last effort that Jack ever took in this life.  A 5.56 caliber bullet entered Jack’s front chest and penetrated his heart.  His young son felt the life go out of his father and started crying.  When the medics arrived, Jack had been dead for ten minutes. 

  • More than 38,000 men, women, and children are killed with guns each year in the United States.
  • Over 85,000 people are injured every year.
  • More than half of all gun deaths are suicides.
  • Among high-income countries, the United States accounts for 80 percent of all gun deaths in the world, 86 percent of all women killed by guns, and 87 percent of all children younger than 14 who are killed by guns.

  Giffords-Stats-Page-Breakdown

 

3539– Friday, August 23, 2019 — Four Young Boys Growing Up in America, Part 1

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Once upon a time, there were four boys.  Their names were Jack, Whitaker, Jamal and Robert.  They were born and growing up in the United States of America.  The land of the free and the home of the brave.   Each boy was now entering his twelfth year of life.  Each boy lived within ten miles of the other boys.

Jack was a white boy.  His mother was of Italian heritage and his father’s descendants were from Ireland.  Both of Jack’s parents were Catholic.  Jack’s mother worked as a cook in a small little bakery in the town where they lived.  Their town was actually now a suburb as the nearby city had grown large enough to encompass most of what had once been a small town.  Jack’s father was a computer systems analyst working in the nearby city.  He had gone to a local community college where he finished a two-year program in IT. 

Jack went to a public school close to his home.  Most of his school population was white but there were a few black students at the school.  Jack was a friendly kid who never started fights or picked on anyone.  Jack was an average student and seldom got A’s on any subjects.  On the whole, Jack was just another average white boy in a school full of other average white boys.  His parents were hopeful that he would go to college and find a career with good prospects.  His parents had already started a college fund for Jack and believed that with some scholarships and loans, Jack would be able to afford the local public college. 

Jack was taught that he would be successful if he worked hard, was honest and got a good education.  Jack was taught to respect all people and that he should never judge anyone by the color of their skin but only by what was inside of them.  Jack grew up with a modest number of toys and once in a while even had a few designer clothes to wear. 

Whitaker was a white boy.  His mother was Scottish, and his father was English.  It was said that his parents could both trace their heritage to some of the original Mayflower colonists.  His parents were Presbyterian.  Whitaker’s mother was a lawyer in a large law firm in the city.  Whitaker’s father was a wealthy investor and a business owner in the city.  They lived in an exclusive gated community within the same small town as Jack and his parents.  Though their paths never crossed. 

Whitaker went to a private school in a nearby suburb.  Whitaker was a rather moody boy, but he excelled in sports and was on the A list for most of his subjects in school.  His parents shopped at an expensive supermarket and at the high-end retail stores in the city.  Both parents drove Porsches and belonged to an exclusive private country club.  They believed that wealth had its privileges and they had many influential friends.  They had no doubt that when it came time for Whitaker to go to college (There was never any question of whether or not he would go) that they could get him into either Yale or Harvard. 

Whitaker was taught that people got what they deserved in life.  If you worked hard and smart than you would get ahead.  If you did get ahead, it was because you earned it and you should never be ashamed of taking the lead or getting more of the good life.  Whitaker was taught that life was on the whole fair and that people should not be judged by what color they were but what they had achieved in life.  It was up to each individual to forge their own destiny.  He did not worry about clothes or toys since he simply needed to ask for what he wanted, and he would get it. 

Jamal was a black boy.  His mother and father had both grown up in the same city where they now lived.  Jamal’s grandparents had grown up in the deep south and it was said that his great-grandparents had worked as slaves on some plantation in Georgia.  Jamal’s mother and father belonged to an African Episcopal Methodist church in the city.  Jamal’s mother worked as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) in the local hospital.  Jamal’s father was an electrician in the same hospital and a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

Jamal went to a public school in the city which was forty percent black, ten percent Latino, five percent Asian and forty-five percent white.  Jamal was well liked in school and looked forward to going to school each morning.  Jamal had friends from many different backgrounds.  He was an exceptional student.  He loved math and science.  He was good in sports but would rather hang out with the nerds than with the jocks.  Jamal dreamed of going to college and was hopeful that someday he would be able to get into college. 

Jamal was taught to be courteous to all people and that in the final result it was what was in someone’s heart and not what they wore or the color of their skin that mattered.  He was also taught that life was not fair.  He was cautioned to be careful when around white people especially white police officers.  Jamal learned that black people were not always treated like white people but that he should not let this discourage him.  He could still make something of himself in the world, but it would take more effort on his part.  

Robert was a white boy.  Robert did not know much about his father.  He left when Robert was still a baby.  Robert grew up with a stepfather who told him that his birth father was a loser and a boozer.   Robert’s stepfather was a construction worker in the city.  He worked a great deal and when he wasn’t working, he mostly listened to football and baseball games.  Once in a while, he would take Robert to the shooting range with him.  He told Robert that it was very important to learn how to shoot so that he could protect himself. 

Roberts mother was a recovering alcoholic.  She worked part-time as a nurse-aide in a local assisted living center.  She thought that her genealogy was a mixture of French, German, Irish and even some Native American heritage although she was not certain of the amounts.  She loved her son very much but was usually working when he came home from school.  She would have liked to help him more with his school work, but her shift work made that very difficult.  Robert’s parents were hard working individuals but neither of them had much education or love for learning.  They did belong to a local evangelical church where they took Robert every Sunday. 

Robert went to a public school in the city.  It was the same school that Jamal attended.  Robert stayed with mostly the white boys.  He loved sports but did not have much use for any of the academic subjects.  He was typically disruptive in his classes, usually because he was bored.  He saw little relevance in the academic subjects that he could apply to his life.  He knew his mother wanted him to go to college.  Robert thought that he would really like to be a pro football player and that perhaps he could get into college on a sports scholarship and play football.  If not, he might go into the United States Army. 

Robert was taught not to take any shit from anyone.  He was taught that people will take advantage of you if you let them.  He learned in church school that Christians had built America and that immigrants were people who wanted something for nothing.  Robert was taught to be careful about what he said about other people because the government was politically correct, and it was not OK to say the truth about women and minorities.  Saying the truth could result in people looking down on you.  Thus, it was best to keep your mouth shut unless you were with other god-fearing Christian white people. 

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART TWO NEXT WEEK:

 

3543– Monday, August 19, 2019 — Muhammad and the Christian Money Lender

koran

My name is Muhammad.  I was born in 570 CE.  My father died the year before I was born.  My mother died when I was only six years old.  I was raised by a succession of family members until I was in my teens.  I was then sent to live with my uncle Abu Talib.  My uncle was a merchant and it was hoped that I could learn a commercial trade from him.   We traveled far and wide over many of the trading routes between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.  When I was eighteen, I decided that I had learned enough from my uncle and that it was time to go out on my own.  This story is about how I became an independent trader.

arabic rugs

It was a beautiful sunny morning in early March.  I had decided to walk to the market place in Jeddah near where I was staying to see what wares and goods were for sale.  It had become my intention to buy and sell rugs.  I loved the beauty and craftsmanship that went into an Arabian rug.  I could always feel proud that these were my products and that I was making the world a more beautiful place by sharing these fine Arabian rugs with others.  I never lied to my clients and I never made false or exaggerated claims to any people.  I was given the nickname “al-Amin” meaning faithful or trustworthy.

I was walking around the market place perusing the various wares of the other merchants.  In one of the alley ways I noticed a booth with a sign that read: “المال للإقراض “ or “Money for Lending.”  Suddenly, I had an idea.  If I could borrow some money, I could afford to buy a few more rugs.  Typically, I was short of money to buy enough rugs for a trip.  It would be much more worthwhile going on a caravan with enough rugs for my potential buyers.

The_Moorish

I walked up to the booth and greeted the merchant.  “Ahlan wa Sahlan”, I said.   He replied: “Ahlan wa Sahlan, my name is Musa.  I am a Christian money lender and I am happy to make your acquaintance.  How can I help you?”

I thought about his question for a brief second.  “I would like to borrow some money to help finance my rug business.  I can only afford a few rugs now but if I had more money, I could buy some extra rugs.”

The money lender looked at me very carefully and then answered: “It will take two things before I can give you some money.  The first is the collateral for the money that you need.”

“I am not familiar with the term collateral Sir,” I responded. “What is collateral?”

“Well, it is something that you give me so that if you fail to pay me back the money that I lend you, I will be able to sell your collateral and recover my money.  It might be some jewelry or gold or rugs that you will provide me to keep until you repay me.”

“Mr. Musa, I do not have any collateral that I can give you.  I only have my good name.  I am known far and wide as an honest merchant who never cheats anyone.  I always ask a fair price for my goods.  People call me ‘al Amin’ because I always pay my debts and I am very trustworthy.”

“Hmm” said Mr. Musa.  “I guess I can ignore the first requirement for my money since you have such a good honest reputation.  Now all we need to agree on is the interest that you will pay me for the loan.  Would you agree to pay me back at five percent per month of the total amount that I lend you?

“Mr. Musa, I do not understand this interest. What is the interest for?”

“It is my profit or commission for helping you with my money.”

“Sir, did you not say that you are a Christian and are not Christians followers of Jesus Christ?”

“Yes, young man, I am a Christian and I am a believer in Jesus.  But what does Jesus have to do with us doing business.”

“Well sir, I thought Jesus taught his followers to help the poor and needy.  Did he not say, ‘Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back?’ Then why Mr. Musa would you want to take money from me for helping me?”

“Young man, you do not understand the ways of the world.  Many things are spoken by the prophets, but one does not always live by their words.  In a perfect world, I suppose one could follow the path trod by Jesus, but Jesus did not live in our times.  If you do not feel that my terms are fair, then you do not have to borrow my money.  Truth be told, there are not many other money lenders in this bazaar who will lend you money at any better rates.”

“Mr. Musa, I am very disappointed in the Christianity that you profess.  I think that this idea of interest is very unneighborly and even seems to me to be greedy.  I think a religion should not allow such greed to exist.  If I were establishing a religion, I would make it a sin to charge interest to help others.”

“O ye who believe! Devour not usury, doubling and quadrupling (the sum lent). Observe your duty to Allah, that ye may be successful.”  — Qur’an (3:130

Muhammad went on his way and left the merchant looking puzzled and scratching his head.  “There goes a man who will never amount to anything” thought Mr. Musa.

“The invention of money opened a new field to human avarice by giving rise to usury and the practice of lending money at interest while the owner passes a life of idleness.” — Pliny the Elder

“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” — Mark 10-25

 

3547– Thursday, August 15, 2019 — Buddha and the Duck   

buddha

My name is Siddhartha Gautama.  I was born into a rich family.  I was living a life of privilege with servants and maids to cater to my every whim.  I had no need to work to earn money since we had more gold than we knew what to do with.  My days were full of eating, drinking, playing and indulging my whims.  As I grew older, I could see that my life was going nowhere.  It had no meaning or purpose beyond my daily pleasures.  I soon decided that I must leave home to find out what life was really about.  I left home when I turned twenty.  My goal was to find the true meaning and purpose of my life.

It was a sweltering day in July, and I was trudging down yet another long dusty road somewhere between China and India.  I had been walking unnamed roads for many months now.  The only meaning I was finding was the dust and sweat covering my skin from my exertions on these unpaved rural roads.  I was getting more and more depressed as my journey now seemed fruitless.  I was about to conclude that life was hopeless and that I would never find my meaning or purpose.

As I came over a rise in the road, I saw a duck waddling across the road.  I called out in jest “Hey, Mr. Duck why are you crossing the road?”  I started to laugh when all of a sudden, I thought I heard the duck say, “Why do you think stupid?”  Clearly taken aback, I looked around to see where the voice had come from.  “What are you looking for dummy?”  This time I was sure that the duck was talking, and it was looking directly at me.  I began to think that the summer sun was addling my brain.  I spoke “Ducks cannot talk.  You are an illusion.”  “Well, now” said the duck, “another human who thinks they know everything.”

duck on road

“Okay, just supposing that you really are able to talk, why are you talking to me.”  “Well, you asked me your dumb question, so I thought that I would reply to you.  Most of the time, it is not worth bothering talking to humans since their only thoughts are about sex, food, drink and money.”

“I am not like everyone else.  I am traveling in search of the meaning and purpose of life and particularly my own life.  I do not care about sex, food, drink or money.”

“Ha” said the duck.  “You think that you are so special that you have a meaning or purpose ordained by the gods for your existence.”

“Well, you raise an interesting point Mr. Duck.  I simply assumed that we all had a purpose for existence.”

“You humans are always assuming things.  You think that the world and everything in it are made for your purposes.  You believe that you are the center of the universe and everything revolves around you.”

“I think instead of crossing this road, I will also journey down the road and look for the meaning and purpose of my life” said the duck with a funny cackling laugh.

“You are making fun of me” I replied.

“Why is it funny to think of ducks looking for the purpose and meaning of their lives?  Should it be any funnier than humans looking for the purpose and meaning of their lives?”

“You humans are all the same.  You think that you are so important.”

“But what,” I replied, “If there is no purpose or meaning to anyone’s life?”

“Maybe, there would be no worry, no power trips, no greed, no lust, no hate, no war” replied the duck.

“Are you saying that the problems humans have come from a search for meaning and purpose?”

“I am not saying anything.  I am only walking to the other side of the road.  I will be on my way again.  I hope you have a good day.”

“Good day to you as well Mr. Duck.”

The duck continued on his way across the road and through the brush until he was no longer visible to me.  His last question had left me in a quandary.  What if all of my discomfort and unhappiness came because I was searching for meaning and purpose?  What if these were truly irrelevant concepts to the universe?  What if I stopped this search and could simply BE as the duck was?  Eat when I was hungry.  Sleep when I was tired.  Walk when I felt like it.  What would a life without purpose and meaning be like?

Free the mind from disturbances.  Get rid of entanglements.  To simply be.

“Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.” — Buddha

“Life has no meaning.  Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life.  It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”  — Joseph Campbell

 

 

 

 

 

 

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