My Four Best of Everything – Part 1

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Have you ever gone to a concert where the performers asked you to join in?  Well, I am asking you to join in today and contribute to my blog.  This week I am doing what I call my four best of everything.  Everything that matters to me anyway.  Perhaps I should say it is my four favorites of everything because best is such a qualitative term.  There may be little difference between the word favorite and the word best, however, using the term best is more provocative and usually ends up in arguments or debates.  Since I do not want to be judgmental, I will use the term favorites in the text of this blog.

I am going to share with you my four favorite fiction writers, my four favorite non-fiction writers, my four favorites writings/stories (both fiction and non-fiction) and my four favorite ideas.  After I list each of my favorites, I will provide a short explanation of why I like this writer or selection so much.  Each of my favorites are listed in no order or preference.  Asking me to pick the “best” of any of these would be impossible.

I am sure that each of you reading this will have some ideas concerning your favorites in these areas.  Like the concert performer inviting you to join in on song, I invite you to put your ideas or thoughts concerning your favorites in my comment sections.  The more the better.  Don’t be shy.  Use any language you want to share your ideas with the rest of the world.  Let us know what you like and why you like it.  Plenty of room in the blogosphere.

My Four Favorite Fiction Writers:

Mark Twain: I started reading Mark Twain when I was in grade school and fell in love with his short stories.  Later I graduated to his novels and then some of his commentaries.  I love his ability to combine satires with humor.  He had the ability to send a message about life while still making his reader laugh.

the war prayer

“O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst…”  — Mark Twain, “The War Prayer”

Kurt Vonnegut: My first book of Kurt’s was the novel “Cats Cradle”.  I am not sure if you would call it simply satire or more nihilism, but I was 18 when I found his pick and was just doing into the military.  I could not wait to read the other novels that he wrote, and I binged on Kurt for the next year or so.  I think I may have co opted many of his ideas as they became my ideas for much of my life.

“Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns.”  — Kurt Vonnegut, “Cat’s Cradle”

Anatole France: I discovered France about five years after Vonnegut.  A very different writer but also with a keen sense of social justice and injustice.  I loved “Penguin Island”, “The Revolt of the Angels” and “Thais.”  How these stories shaped my thinking about life, I will never know but I am sure that they fueled my already growing skepticism about life, good, evil and truth.

“No, let us not conquer the heavens. It is enough to have the power to do so. War engenders war, and victory defeat. God, conquered, will become Satan; Satan, conquering, will become God. May the fates spare me this terrible lot!‎” — Anatole France, “The Revolt of the Angels”

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Edgar Allen Poe: Yes, it is true, sometimes I do read material that is simply escapism.  My favorite genres for many years were science fiction, science fantasy, horror and murder mysteries.   I am pretty sure that I read everything that Poe wrote.  I found many other fiction writers that entertain me but only Poe could blend horror, mystery and the foibles of humanity to create the strange stories that he wrote.

“He did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation.”  — Edgar Allan Poe, “The Cask of Amontillado”

My Four Favorite Non-Fiction Writers:

Thomas Jefferson: Call him a Founding Father.  Call him a hypocrite.  Call him a racist.  Call him whatever you want, but no one has ever in my mind approached his depth of intellectual vigor in terms of delineating the necessities for a truly just society.  You need to separate the man from the message.  The message that Jefferson left us was sublime.  The man himself was not up to the message but that does not diminish the message one iota. 

“Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” — Thomas Jefferson, “A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge”W. E. Deming:

Dr. W. E. Deming:  Dr. Deming is the only one of my favorites that I have had the pleasure to not only meet but to also work along side of.  He was cantankerous, irascible and cynical.  He was also brilliant, compassionate and a true humanist.  His vision for humanity was a workplace that embraced both the scientific method with a love for all employees.  Dr. Deming spent most of his teaching and consulting life dedicated to making his vision a reality.  I had the privilege of working alongside Dr. Deming several times.  He taught me most of what I now know about organizations and how to continuously improve them.

“To manage, one must lead. To lead, one must understand the work that he and his people are responsible for. Who is the customer (the next stage), and how can we serve better the customer? An incoming manager, to lead, and to manage at the source of improvement, must learn. He must learn from his people what they are doing and must learn a lot of new subject matter.” — Dr. W. E. Deming, Out of the Crisis

00oshoOSHO: His given name was Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.  OSHO was a religious teacher from India.  He wrote numerous books on life, religion and spirituality.  He also gave talks and started several communities for his followers.  His books and talks were full of insights and stories to make you think and question your own life.  OSHO became infamous when he tried to start a community of acolytes in a rural area of Oregon.  The town OSHO started was called Rajneeshpuram.  It became a target for locals who thought that their community was being taken over by a bunch of cultists.  Things went south when some of OHSO’s devotees exceeded authority and tried to retaliate against the local community.  This is perhaps another case, where the man did not live up to his message.  Nevertheless, I have never found any spiritual writings that are as profound and thought provoking as OSHOs.

“Never belong to a crowd; Never belong to a nation; Never belong to a religion; Never belong to a race. Belong to the whole existence. Why limit yourself to small things? When the whole is available.” — OSHO

Daniel Kahneman: I first read Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s book “Judgement Under Uncertainty” in 1982.  Twenty years later Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for Economics.  Tversky had died in 1996.  Their research and work challenged the very bedrock of economic decision making since they attacked the assumption of human rationality that prevailed in modern economic theory.  I completed my Ph.D. degree and went into management consulting.

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One of the key foundations of my consulting was based on the work into heuristics and biases that were described in “Judgement Under Uncertainty.”  Corporations could make some brilliant decisions but too often they were guided by fallacies and misconceptions that relied more on emotions and prejudice than good data and facts.  Today, economics has taken a giant leap forward in understanding human decision making based on the work of Kahneman and his many followers.

“Searching for wisdom in historic events requires an act of faith—a belief in the existence of recurrent patterns waiting to be discovered.” — Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, “Judgment Under Uncertainty”

I hope you have enjoyed or at least found my list of favorites interesting.  I will follow up with Part 2 which will deal with my four favorite “Writings” and my four favorite “Ideas.” 

Now it is your turn to list some of your favorite authors or speakers or books in the comments section.  I am looking forward to hearing what some of you have found interesting and why you found them interesting.

 

 

Autobiographies from the Dead – Jefferson the Founding Father

For the next several weeks, my blogs are going to consist of “autobiographies” written by some very special people.  They have one thing in common.  They are all dead.  Some have a burial place and some were simply discarded like pieces of trash.  Their stories will be told by the deceased themselves.  They cry out from the fields, rivers and graveyards to speak.  I have heard their cries.  They want me to tell their stories to you.  They want you to know what their living and dying was for.  This week, Jefferson will tell you the story of his life and death.

Jefferson the Founding Founder

Thomas_Jefferson_by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800My name is Thomas Jefferson.  I am one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.  I almost single handedly wrote the Declaration of Independence.  I was the third President of the newly united colonies and one of the most influential and famous Americans who ever lived.  Many people equated my skills and abilities with those of Leonardo Da Vinci.  I was considered a Renaissance Man.  My quotes and writings are ubiquitous throughout the world.  My name is synonymous with the concepts of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Yet, here I am today looking down at my grave in sadness.  I would never have thought that the day would come when I would be scorned and spit on and called a hypocrite.  Of course, even in my lifetime, I had many critics and people who attacked my position.  But it is different today.  Now, they are not doing it for political gain or to thwart my plans for building a great nation.  Today, I am being criticized because they honestly believe that I was a hypocrite and that I deserve to be denounced for it.

The sad part is that they are right.  I was a hypocrite.  I was also a coward.

I want to explain why I did not free my slaves.  I suppose I could make a few good excuses that would have to do with the economic realities in which I was faced.  I can’t deny that I knew slavery was wrong.  I often talked about how evil the entire enterprise was.  Our “peculiar” thing was, as we called it down South, not simply peculiar, it was fundamentally cruel and malicious.  Nevertheless, I was never a very good business man and I teetered between bankruptcy and solvency on a daily basis.  There was no way I could have freed my slaves and still run an economically viable business.  I was caught between making a living and living my ethics.  I choose to eat and continue my privileged life style.  In the South, I was not condemned for this choice.  I received no accolades either.  This was the way we lived.  We owned slaves and slaves were inferior beings born and bred to work for the White man.   I lived in a strange world.  I could not accept these beliefs but neither could I break free of them.  I do not justify my acquiescence and I do not seek to be exculpated for my failures.   If I were in a dock today, I would plead guilty.  My soul could not rest without such an honest admission.

sally hemingsNow we come to Sally.  I loved her like I never loved any other woman in my life.  I started a clandestine affair with her when she was only 14.  Was I taking advantage of her?  Maybe so, I do not know.  I never forced her or threatened her or coerced her.  Perhaps it started out as an affair of passion when my wife was sick and I was not able to have sex with her.  Soon though, it grew into much more than that.  Sally was witty and smart and fun.   She had none of the pretenses of the typical Virginian lady.  In bed, there were no rules and anything went.  If I could have imagined heaven, it would have been being in bed with Sally.

People started to suspect that something more than slave master and mistress was transpiring between us.  I could not afford to let anyone think it was anything more than that.  In 1790, in Virginia, it was permissible to sleep with a slave.  It was not permissible to love a slave.  My reputation, my entire life would have been destroyed if it had been shown that I was openly consorting with a Black woman.  I had six children with Sally.  Each of these children was kept secret from everyone around us.  I took the secret of these children to my grave.  One hundred and fifty years later, my family are still attempting to deny my lineage to these children.   I am sorry that I had to deny them.  I was worse than Peter with Jesus.  They were my children but they were raised in my house as domestic servants.

I freed Sally and her surviving children when I died.  I could not afford to free all my slaves as this would have left my heirs with a large debt.  My lands, house and slaves merely paid off the mountain of bills that my creditors were clamoring to be paid for.

Did Sally love me?  I don’t know.  I would like to think that it was more than simply serving her master.  But who can tell?  In the warped and perverted system that we called our “peculiar” thing, how could a Black woman have a normal relationship with a White man or vice versa?  Suspicion, fear, prejudice, uncertainty and opportunism were all pervasive in Black-White relationships.  Sally may have seen me simply as a way to have her children freed.  I might have indulged a younger beautiful woman simply to satisfy the narcissism of “old” age.  Who knows?  There is no sense wondering what I would do if I could do things over again.  I am sure I would do the same thing that I did before.  I would indulge in cowardice and hypocrisy because I could do no other.

I am looking at my grave stone now.  It reads:

HERE WAS BURIED
THOMAS JEFFERSON
AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA.

These were my most important accomplishments.  Please remember me for them.  Forgive me for my failings as a human being.  I never claimed to be a god or to be better than my fellow man.  I ask forgiveness from my children and my descendants.  I hope someday my ancestors will acknowledge the patrimony and lineage between the Hemings and the Jeffersons.  Ironic, that in some ways, this lineage is a more fitting tribute to the principle that “All men are created equal” than anything I have ever done with my life.

I never believed in a God of judgement or a God of human like characteristics.  My belief was in some kind of a higher power that created the galaxies but was not necessarily sentient.   I wander now through these galaxies looking for the god of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.   If I should find him, I will ask him why?  What was it all for?  What did I accomplish?  Would I have left a greater legacy if I had not been a hypocrite?  How could I have done this?   Would he forgive me for my hypocrisy and cowardice?  How do I get rid of the sadness and pain I feel?

Time for Questions:

Do you admire Thomas Jefferson?  What did you find most admirable about his life?  What would you have done if you were in Jefferson’s shoes?  Why?  What do you think he should have done with his slaves?  Why?  Do you think it was wrong for him to have a relationship with Sally Hemings?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

1789 “As far as I can judge from the experiments which have been made to give liberty to, or rather, to abandon persons whose habits have been formed in slavery is like abandoning children. Many quakers in Virginia seated their slaves on their lands as tenants. They were distant from me, and therefore I cannot be particular in the details, because I never had very particular information. I cannot say whether they were to pay a rent in money, or a share of the produce: but I remember that the landlord was obliged to plan their crops for them, to direct all their operations during every season & according to the weather. But what is more afflicting, he was obliged to watch them daily & almost constantly to make them work, & even to whip them. A man’s moral sense must be unusually strong, if slavery does not make him a thief. He who is permitted by law to have no property of his own, can with difficulty conceive that property is founded in anything but force. These slaves chose to steal from their neighbors rather than work; they became public nuisances and in most instances were reduced to slavery again. But I will beg of you to make no use of this imperfect information (unless in common conversation). I shall go to America in the Spring & return in the fall. During my stay in Virginia I shall be in the neighborhood where many of these trials were made. I will inform myself very particularly of them, & communicate the information to you. Besides these there is an instance since I came away of a young man (Mr. Mayo) who died and gave freedom to all his slaves, about 200. This is about 4 years ago. I shall know how they have turned out. Notwithstanding the discouraging result of these experiments, I am decided on my final return to America to try this one. I shall endeavor to import as many Germans as I have grown slaves. I will settle them and my slaves, on farms of 50 acres each, intermingled, and place all on the footing of the Metayers (Medietani) of Europe. Their children shall be brought up, as others are, in habits of property and foresight, & I have no doubt but that they will be good citizens. Some of their fathers will be so: others I suppose will need government.” – Letter to Dr. Edward Bancroft, Paris, January 26, 1789; “The Works of Thomas Jefferson,” Federal Edition, Editor: Paul Leicester Ford, (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5) Volume 5

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