What Do You Wish For?

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) seeds blowing in the wind

If you were given three wishes this New Year of 2023, what would you wish for?  The most common wishes that people think of are for health or money.  Beware though, the saying “Be careful of what you wish for, you may get it” has very often been true with sad effects.  Do you know the story of the Monkey’s Paw?  It goes like this:

Once upon a time there was an elderly couple.  The man’s name was Joshua and his wife’s name was Marie.  They had been poor all their lives and each day was a struggle to find food, heat, and the other necessities of life.  The only joy in their lives besides each other, was their son.  However, the son had recently been drafted to fight in still another ongoing never-ending war. 

evgeniya-egorova-witchOne day, when the old man was out walking, he saw a woman who had been beaten and thrown into a ditch.  Around her neck, was hung a sign which said “Beware, Witch.”  Without even a slight hesitation, the old man ran to the ditch to see how he could help the woman.  He gave her some water and bread that he had on him for lunch and tried to bind up some of her wounds by ripping up his cloak.  She looked at the old man with compassion and said “No one is ever kind to me, but you have been.  I have this monkey’s paw that I would like you to have.  It will grant you three wishes.  However, be careful.  Be very careful.  Wishes can often result in things that you do not really want.”  The woman handed him a gnarled dried up old paw and bidding a farewell, walked on down the road.  He put the paw in his pocket and walked on to his home.

The_lady_of_the_barge_(1902)_(14769861755)When the old man arrived home, he told his wife what had happened.  She immediately asked to see the paw.  Upon, looking at it, Marie said “Shall we try it.” The old man laughed and said, “You don’t really believe in such magic, do you?”  “What do we have to lose,” said his wife.  So they both picked up the paw and together made the following wish: “We wish we had enough money to never have to worry about food or clothes or other necessities for the rest of our lives.”  They waited and waited and suddenly both began to laugh.  Such foolishness and they were silly enough to think that it might be real.

Later that day as they sat down to eat their little supper, there was a knock on the door.  Upon, opening the door, there was a messenger there.  He told them that they were the beneficiaries of a fifty-thousand-dollar insurance policy.  Upon asking, who had left them the money, they were distraught to hear that their son had been killed in a battle but before he left, he had taken out an insurance policy in their names. 

“Oh God, what will we do” said Joshua to Marie.  We don’t want this money both agreed, we want our son back.  “It was the paw; it gave us the money, but we were not careful, and we got our son killed.”  Marie hesitated and then suggested.  “Let’s wish for our son back.  Yes, we can wish for our son back.”  Taking the monkey’s paw up again, they both said, “Please give us our son back.”  It was the second wish and again, they waited and waited and nothing happened.

monkeys-pawThey went to bed feeling sad, miserable, and as unhappy as any two human beings could be.  Later that night, they heard a scuffling coming up the path to their door.  It sounded like something was being dragged.  A knock sounded on their door, but they were both too afraid to move.  A voice cried out “Mom, dad, it is Eli your son.  I have come back.  I am alive.”  Almost too happy to describe, they bolted for the door.  Upon opening it to let Eli in, they recoiled in horror.  Eli did not look human.  His skin was in tatters.  His legs and arms were mere bones.  His face was a skull with bits of skin and dried blood hanging off it.  “Let me in, I have come back from the grave.  You have summoned me.  Let me in.”

“Oh no, what have we done,” cried the old man.  Grabbing the monkey’s paw, he shouted out their third wish, “We wish you to go back to where you came from.  Please go back.”  Their son turned around and walked off back into the darkness from whence he came.  Three wishes had been granted and three wishes had been used.  The next day, Joshua and Marie went down to the riverbank and tossed the monkey’s paw into the river.  They both prayed that it would never be found again. 

—- Above is my adaptation of the original story “The Monkey’s Paw” by English author W. W. Jacobs.  It first appeared in Harper’s Monthly in 1902

I would bet that this story would not deter you from accepting three wishes or even making a wish.  There are many venues for wish making without waiting to find a monkey’s paw or an Aladdin’s Lamp.   Thousands of people every year use one of the more convenient methods.  Let’s look at a few of these methods just to see how fruitful they are.

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Chicken Wishbone Method:

I have been doing this one since I was a kid.  Harder to do today as chicken nuggets, chicken bits and chicken filets don’t usually have a wishbone.  However, in days gone by, whole chickens would be roasted in the oven and you did not have to go to Costco to get a cooked one.  Somewhere in the chicken, you would find the wishbone after enough meat had been eaten.  You could then rinse the bone off and let it dry.  After drying, you would find a partner and each of you would grasp one end of the wishbone.  Pull and it would break.  The person holding the longer end gets to make a wish. 

I think I might have made twenty or so wishes using this method.  To date, I am zero for twenty.  I am not tall, dark, or handsome.  I am not rich, famous, and sought after by mobs of ardent followers.  I have never been elected to political office and I have no superpowers or even noteworthy talents that I could make a living on.  As near as I can see, I have been stuck with those genes that I received at birth and none of my wishes has altered my DNA. 

Nevertheless, I hear that some people will swear by (as well as wish by) the Chicken Wishbone Method. 

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Fountains Wishing Method:

Fountains are where you can make a wish, but it will cost you money.  You toss a coin in a fountain (a well or in an emergency, any kind puddle will do) and you make a wish.  I have been told that the more money you throw in, the more likely your wish will come true.  Any size fountain will do.  A fountain in your back yard has the  advantage that you can always take your money back out and use it again for another wish or to buy a McDonald burger when your wish does not come true.

Several years ago, Karen and I went to Rome.  No visit to Rome would be complete without a visit to the most famous fountain in the world.  It is called the Trevi Fountain.  The Trevi Fountain is an 18th-century fountain in the Trevi district in Rome, Italy, designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Giuseppe Pannini and several others.  Standing 26.3 meters (86 ft) high and 49.15 meters (161.3 ft) wide.  It is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome.

The fountain has appeared in several films, including Roman Holiday (1953); Three Coins in the Fountain (1954); Federico Fellini’s classic, La Dolce Vita (1960); Sabrina Goes to Rome (1998); and The Lizzie McGuire Movie (2003).

There is a trick though to getting your wish in this fountain.  You need a coin, but it does not have to be an Italian.  However, you must bend over backwards and throw the coin over your shoulder.  If you are not careful, you will miss the fountain and hit one of the million tourists also throwing coins.  Each year, dozens of tourists end up in Roman hospitals after being hit by coins (That is a lie, but I thought it sounded reasonable). 

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Star Wishing Method:

This is one of the easiest venues for getting your wishes made.  There are literally billions of stars.  Do you know that the Sun is a star and a rather small one at that.  Last week, Karen and I went to a planetarium show at the Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium.  It was a narrated show that talked about our solar system, our galaxy, and the millions of other galaxies out there in the universe.   Many of the exhibits at the Center portrayed a physical perspective on the relative size of our sun compared to other stars in the universe.   I was surprised that it was so dinky in comparison.  I wondered if the size of the star mattered when you make a wish

My first knowledge of the wonderful world of Star Wishing came when I was a little kid, and I went to see my first Disney movie.  It was Pinocchio and it was about a little puppet that became a human.  Pinocchio is a 1940 American animated musical fantasy film produced by Walt Disney Productions and based on the 1883 Italian children’s novel “The Adventures of Pinocchio” by Carlo Collodi.  It was sometime around the early 1950’s when I went to see the movie. 

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A wood carver named Geppetto wanted a son of his own and carved Pinocchio out of a block of wood.  Through a wish by Geppetto, (Pinocchio as the puppet was named) becomes human.  The movie is about the trials and tribulations Pinocchio learning to be human and to embrace a set of morals and ethics.   The Disney adaption of the book included the now famous song:

“When You Wish Upon a Star.” 

When you wish upon a star

Makes no difference who you are

Anything your heart desires

Will come to you

If your heart is in your dream

No request is too extreme

When you wish upon a star

As dreamers do

Like a bolt out of the blue

Fate steps in and sees you through

When you wish upon a star

Your dreams come true

Songwriters: Ned Washington / Leigh Harline

For a little boy growing up in Brooklyn, NY where we could hardly see any stars at night, this was too good to be true.  I did not need any coins, no fountains, no fried chickens.  All I needed was a dream.  It did not matter that my father was only a mail man or that I was the grandson of Italian immigrants.  It did not matter that I had no money.  All I needed was a dream. 

Unfortunately, dreams were in short supply for poor Italian kids in Brooklyn, NY in 1955.  To this day, I am fascinated by those kids that had dreams that became reality.  I am not sure how they managed to dream or to find stars to wish upon but there is no denying reality.  Many poor kids from the Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem, and Hells Kitchen managed to find success and happiness by dreaming, wishing and putting the effort in to make their dreams and wishes come true.

Wishing is only one step to forming the life that you want to live.  It is a step on a stairway of dreams, goals, actions, failures and determination that will see your dreams become your life.

So, consider carefully what you wish for.  Make your dreams a reality.  Start your New Year off with a set of wishes.  Reach for the stars. 

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“There is hope in dreams, imagination, and in the courage of those who wish to make those dreams a reality.”  — Jonas Salk

PS: How many other wishing methods can you think of? Genies in Lamps, Dandelions, what else?

How Do You Know if You Know Anything?

truthHow do you know if you know anything?  You have two paths to answer this question.  The first path involves your belief that you do know something.  You can choose this path if you are fairly certain that you know something.  It may surprise you, but this is not a path of science.  This is a Faith-Based path.  No matter what anyone tells you, science relies on faith almost as much as religion relies on faith.

Consider the Heisenberg Principle of Uncertainty and Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems.  Both theories show that ultimately, we can never be certain of anything, and that the fundamental bedrock of even science must then be a degree of faith.  Formulated by Werner Heisenberg, Nobel Prize winning physicist in 1927, the Uncertainty Principle states that we cannot know both the position and speed of a particle, such as a photon or electron, with perfect accuracy; the more we nail down the particle’s position, the less we know about its speed and vice versa. 

Godel’s first incompleteness theorem states that “No consistent system of axioms whose theorems can be listed by an effective procedure (i.e., an algorithm) is capable of proving all truths about the arithmetic of natural numbers.  For any such consistent formal system, there will always be statements about natural numbers that are true, but that are unprovable within the system.  The second incompleteness theorem, an extension of the first, shows that the system cannot demonstrate its own consistency.” — Wikipedia

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Let me provide a simple example of what these theories tell us.  For instance, you may say, “I know the earth is round.”  I challenge you to prove this.  The only way that you can prove it is by relying or trusting on the wisdom of experts who say that the earth is round.  Even if you have a picture of the round earth, how do you know that it is real?  In essence, you are relying on faith.  It is your faith in someone you trust whom you believe has more knowledge than you do.  You cannot prove the earth is round so your belief is based on faith.  This explains why climate change deniers are so difficult to argue with.  They refuse to accept any evidence from experts on climate whom they disagree with.  Instead, they find the inevitable expert who disagrees with many other scientists.  Most of us have faith in the majority.  But history has countless examples of where the majority were wrong. 

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The second path you can take is what I call the Path of the Atheist.  In this path, you accept what Socrates did that you know nothing.  Socrates was called the wisest man in the world because he believed that “I know that I know nothing.”  The atheist does not believe anything unless it can be proved to them personally.  Since it is impossible that anyone can ever prove anything to you beyond a shadow of a doubt, you must conclude that knowledge (like God) is impossible to know or prove.  The atheist concludes that all possibility of ever conclusively proving anything is impossible.  Thus no one can really know anything. 

The Path of the Atheist diverges from the Faith Based path since with faith we believe things.  We believe that there are facts and there is an ultimate truth.  Even if we cannot find them ourselves.   The scientist’s belief is tempered by realistic probabilities based on experiments and history.  The Path of the Atheist does not believe that there is any ultimate truth.  Truth is only a process that gets us closer to some approximation that we are finally willing to settle for.  The Atheist says, “Show me an ultimate truth that is unvarying and that you can prove will be forever true.”  You might argue that the sun will come up tomorrow, but you only have history to rely on for this.  The dinosaurs might have believed that they would live forever but all it took was one large asteroid to wipe out millions of years of evolution. 

As we go through life, we sometimes choose one path and sometimes the other.  Given whatever circumstances we are confronted with, we select the path that provides the most comfort and certainty for us.  Even the Path of the Atheist is comforting since the atheist does not expect any irrefutable truth.  This gives the atheist the ability to ignore whatever fads and foibles society is following in search of a truth that does not exist, or at least for the atheist does not exist.   

truth as factual

What is the meaning of all this?  Are we arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of the pin?  Are we engaging in the same logic that Bishop Berkeley did.  A man who denied that there is a reality of matter apart from what the mind perceived.  Some philosophers have argued that we cannot prove or ever know if we are living or dreaming.  I would guess that most of you reading this blog persist in the idea that you are truly alive and not dreaming now. 

What then is the value of discussing truth?  In this age of misinformation, disinformation, false facts, and fake news, it is a matter that we all need to take more seriously.  For generations and centuries, humans have searched for the truth.  We are told that the “Truth will set us free” and that truth is a value even more important than honesty.  But as Sara Gran said ““Most people wouldn’t know the truth if it bit them in the ass and paid for the privilege.”  Could it be that to paraphrase Colonel Nathan R. Jessup in a “Few Good Men”, “You don’t want the truth because you can’t handle the truth.” 

truth will set you free

Truth is a great deal more complicated than we realize.  It is one of those “holy grails” which if we find may give us eternal life.  Problem is that no one has found either the Holy Grail or the Truth.  It is said that you have your truth and I have my truth.  Dr. Deming, an expert on quality insisted that nothing could be accomplished without an operational definition of any concept that was going to be studied.  He said “An operational definition is a procedure agreed upon for translation of a concept into measurement of some kind.”   The science of an operational definition lay in the measurement of the concept but the starting point for measurement lay in the agreement between two “reasonable” people as to what measurement procedure would be used.  Without an agreement there was no starting or ending point. 

We may meet someone on the street or at a party or it may be a friend or relative and they advance some theory or ideas which contradicts the facts as we know them.  A popular controversy these days among some is whether Trump really won the election and if it was not stolen from him.  If you believe it was stolen, you will have a set of ideas about what constitutes a “fair” election. 

trumpThe Faith Based Path could lead one to accept that hundreds of systems across America could not all have been wrong and that the tallies were accurate because someone you trust told you they were.  If you do not trust the poll counters, you will reject the decisions made by election boards and cling to the idea that Trump was cheated by liars and scoundrels.  Either way it is a matter of faith.

If you follow the Path of the Atheist, you may reject the vote tallies because you do not believe any voting procedure could be foolproof.  You accept that there is error in any system and the deciding factor for you lies in the degree of error that you are willing to accept.  Given your proclivity to accept a certain amount of error, you will either accept of reject any election results based on the voting tallies.

I chose the Faith Based path and accepted that fifty state election boards cannot all be wrong.  On the other hand, I followed the Path of the Atheist since I know that error exists in any procedure, and I do not trust that any election process can rule out all the errors in the system.  I accept the errors in life just as I accept the risk of dying on the road tomorrow when I drive someplace.  It is not a matter of faith; it is a matter of statistical probability.  Tallies like life will never be perfect.

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What do we do?  First stop looking for an ultimate truth.  Truth is like beauty and is in the eye of the beholder.  Second, ask others what they base their truth on.  See if you can come up with an operational definition for establishing truth that you are both willing to accept.  Third, agree on a way to measure the outcome of whatever you are measuring or looking at.  Accept that error will always exist and that predictability for any ultimate truth is near zero. 

The best we can achieve in life is a “useful” truth that we may find to make life easier and happier for all of us.    

 

Happy New Year – 2022

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sourceJanuary 1st– the beginning of a New Year.  This is the time when many of us will make new resolutions, new dreams, new goals and promises galore.  It is a time when we will begin over and try to make wishes come true that did not work out the year before.  We bring in the New Year as a mother brings in a newborn baby, full of promise and youth.  There are those critics and skeptics who look at the inevitable human trail of broken dreams and unfulfilled goals from bygone years and laugh at our efforts.  Such people deny the possibility of hope and change.  I may often be a pessimist but for any of you with the courage to tackle a new set of goals or dreams, I say “try, try, and try again.”

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You can and will do a better job this year than you did last year.  You can and will continue to grow and change.  We can all continue to overcome the folly of our past lives.  Hope springs eternal in the human breast and what would we be without it?

We need to dare and dare again and when we fail, we need to get back up and try again.  The only failure is when we stop trying.  So I say, “Disregard the naysayers, go ahead and set some new goals and new dreams.”  Stretch your vision and your horizons.  People do not perish because of their dreams; they perish because of a lack of dreams.

“It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.” — Bob Goddard

“Everything that has ever been accomplished, every skyscraper, every bridge, every invention, every medical breakthrough, all started with a dream!” — Catherine Pulsifer, Living The Dream Accomplishment

“Wishes are possibilities.  Dare to make a wish.” — ― Lailah Gifty Akita, Think Great: Be Great!

Deconstructing Fairy Tale Enigmas and Conundrums

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Once upon a time there was a town that had a rat problem.  It decided to hire a Pied Piper who could lure the rats away from town with his magic flute.  Okay, you probably know the rest of the story.  He got rid of the rats, but the town managers refused to pay him.  So the Piper got out his magic flute and lured all the young children away.  They were never seen again.  Incredibly sad.  But is it plausible?  Let’s examine a few questions here:

  1. What kind of a flute could lure both rats and children? Wouldn’t the frequencies Rattenfaenger_Herrfurth_Pied-Piperrequired be different?  Could children hear the same frequencies as rats?
  2. Where did he take all the rats? What would stop them from coming back again?
  3. Why did he steal the kids? Why not lure the town managers away?  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get rid of our politicians that easily?
  4. Most importantly, what happened to the kids? If they survived, how would the Piper feed hundreds of kids?  If they did not survive, how did he kill them?  Would the Piper really have been nasty enough to murder hundreds of little children?  And if he did, who would ever hire him again?

Lots of questions but we simply accept the story as it is told.  And that my friends is the problem.  We go through life simply accepting fairy tales without ever questioning them.  For instance, the Trickle-Down Fairy Tale.  This tale says that if we give lots of money to the rich, the money will somehow work its way down to the poor.  Most poor people I know believe this fairy tale.  Most poor people are still waiting for it to happen.

Deconstruction is defined as “A method of critical analysis of philosophical and literary language which emphasizes the internal workings of language and conceptual systems, the relational quality of meaning, and the assumptions implicit in forms of expression.”  I am going to use this concept loosely to look at several old and new fairy tales.  We will look to see if we can find the obvious truths that we take for granted.  Searching for the truth often requires us to cast common myths and assumptions aside and pursue the dangerous and mysterious.  I am going to apply deconstruction to the enigmas (“A person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand.”) and conundrums (“A confusing and difficult problem or question.”) that are inherent in most fairy tales.

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Cinderella:

Once upon a time there was a lonely and mistreated girl named Cinderella.  Cinderella is a popular fairy tale with its stereotypical evil step-mother and beautiful but hapless heroine.  Cinderella lived with her two stepsisters and her evil stepmother who made her life hell.  But along came a fairy Godmother who turned things around for Cindy.  Throw in a handsome prince, money and a giant castle and you have the stuff of a fairy tale that still thrills young girls and would be princes.  But I have a few questions:

  1. Ok, I will give you the fairy Godmother with superpowers to transmute organic material into other organic material (mice to horses) as well as pumpkins into a carriage. But if she has such powers why can’t they work past 12 Midnight?
  2. What was Cinderella’s plan after the prince fell madly in love with her? Was she going to get anything else from her stepmother to help with next steps?  It does not 618bdeaaba384270870seem like there was any long-term strategic plan here.
  3. Do you really think that the King would let his heir apparent marry a commoner, no matter how beautiful she was?  If that was the case, why couldn’t the fairy Godmother give Cinderella a million bucks or at least make her a princess?
  4. Where would Cinderella learn palace etiquette? Would she be accepted in court with the manners of a scullery woman?  I doubt it.  I think divorce would have been pretty quick.
  5. What about the poor stepsisters?  So they were ugly.  Doesn’t this story smack of discrimination on the basis of looks and beauty?  Where was the Godmother for the two ugly stepsisters?  Seems to me that they were the ones who needed the most help.  All Cindy needed was a makeover and a gown, but the two sisters needed extensive plastic surgery.

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Anybody Can Be President in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave:

This is a wonderful fairy tale.  It is one that we all grow up hearing and ultimately believing.  “In the USA, anyone with drive, passion and a vision can be President of the USA.”  But let’s be realistic.  Looking at the statistics, we see that:

  • 44 out of 45 Presidents have been white
  • 45 out of 45 Presidents have been male
  • 36 out of 45 Presidents had a net worth in today’s dollars of >$1,000.000
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been Latino
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been Asian
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been female
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been Native American

Not since Harry Truman (1953) have we had a president worth less than one million dollars net worth.  Now if there are 328,000,000 people in the USA and we subtract from the total amount of people living in the USA those with little chance of becoming President, (I list each of the above characteristics that do not seem to play well with one’s odds of becoming President) we can see how many people really do have a chance of becoming fulfilling this fairy tale.

328.2 million people in the USA (2019)

-76.29 million Black and White men under the age of 35.  (Must be at least 35 to be President.)

-73.29 million Black and White women under the age of 35

-85.1 million Black and White women over the age of 35 (Not good odds since none have made it yet)

-27 million Latino women

-15.4 million Latino men under the age of 35 (Not excluding Latino men over 35)

-9.7 million Asian American women

-4.66 million Asian American men under the age of 35 (Not excluding Asian American men over 35)

-3.2 million Native American women

-1.77 million Native American men under the age of 35 (Not excluding Native American Men over 35)

I have not forgotten LGBTQ people, but I have not found a way to eliminate them by ethnicity or gender from the general census data.  I did not subtract Asian American, Latino or Native American men over the age of 35 who I think may still have a better chance of being president than a woman.  African American men over the age of 35 are also included since their probabilities are now somewhat higher since President Obama’s election. 

Subtracting the groups that are not likely to see a presidency in the near future we are left with:  31.79 million men over the age of 35 who have a chance of being president.

We will assume that you will likely need to be a millionaire to be elected President.  5.8 percent of the US population are millionaires.  Let’s estimate that between 3 to 4 percent of all millionaires are either males over the age of 35.  The rest of the millionaires being either female or males under the age of 35.  Then we multiply 31.79 million x 5.8 % to find the Final Total number of people in the USA who may rightfully feel that they have a chance to be president.  Trumpets please.  The final number is:

1.113 million

Thus, if you are born in the USA, and you are a male over 35 who is rich your chances of becoming President are about 1 in a million.  White males will no doubt continue to hold an advantage for the foreseeable future.  Well, at least that is better odds than winning the lottery.  However, the lottery pays a lot more.

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Goldilocks and the Three Bears:

Once upon a time there was a mischievous and naughty little girl named Goldilocks.  Goldilocks was spoiled rotten by her parents who gave her everything she wanted.  They named her Goldilocks because of her bright yellow hair.  One day Goldilocks decided to go out for a walk in the woods.  She soon came upon a small cottage and decided to peek in the windows.  She was a very nosy child.  Upon looking through the window, she spied a table with three bowls of hot porridge just sitting there.  She did not see anyone inside and decided that she was hungry and that she was entitled to a bowl of cereal.  She held the belief that everything belonged to her and that included the porridge.  She tried the door and upon finding it open, she entered the home.

Have you noticed that Cowboy Stories, Comedy Romances and Fairy Tales all have happy endings?  For the rest of us, it’s death and taxes.

At this point, I am sure that you remember the rest of the story.  She eats three bowls of porridge.  Do you think she was maybe obese to begin with?  She breaks the little bear’s chair when she tries to sit on it.  Proof that she was too fat!  And then messes up all the bear beds and finally gets caught by the bears when they come home.  At this point, Mama bear would probably have messed up the kids face for messing with her nice clean beds.  But as far as I know, Goldilocks gets out alive and runs home where her parents continue to spoil her rotten.  So a few questions to deconstruct things if you will indulge me.  I will give you the anthropomorphic bears as a gift even before we begin.

  1. How did a fat kid get so far into the woods that she found a bear den or cottage?
  2. Where did the bears purchase their furniture and porridge? Do fairy tale bears shop at the same stores as humans?
  3. Bears can run at speeds upwards of 30 mph, how come they could not catch Goldilocks?
  4. Why were the bears eating porridge? Is that a traditional bear food?
  5. If the bears lived that close to other human dwellings (Assuming a fat kid could not walk too far) how come no one warned Goldilocks about the bears?
  6. What is the moral of this story anyway? Spoiled kids should not mess with bears or eat porridge that does not belong to them?

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The United States of America is the Greatest Democracy on Earth:

This is one of my favorite fairy tales.  According to this story, there was this exceptional group of people who banded together to form a more (and almost) perfect nation where democracy ruled.  It would be a government of the people, by the people and for the people.  According to the Fairy Godfather, who was named Thomas Jefferson, everyone in this country would be free except: Black People, Indian People, LGBTQ People and Women.

This country would be based on a democratic form of government where each person had one vote (Except Black People, Indian People and Women).  Representatives would be fairly elected and would make great and wonderful decisions for the people based on their superior knowledge and intellect.  Democracy would be a rule of the majority with CONCERN for the minority.  Thus Black people could continue to be happy down on the old plantations, women could continue to stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen and Indians could happily walk many miles to their new homes on the reservations.  What a great place America would be.

There was only one snag though.  Jefferson said that you could not really have a Democracy without two things:

  1. An educated citizenry who could make informed decisions.
  2. A free press which would keep people informed.

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Now, in the fairy tale, voters are all given equal opportunity to vote.  There is no voter suppression, Jim Crow laws or gerrymandering.  A vote is a vote is a vote.  Also in the fairy tale, the government is “for the people” not “for the Corporations.”  Representatives are looking out for the best interests of the people and not big business.  There are also no bad guys in the fairy tale.  These are the things that make the fairy tale so great and insure a happy ending.  In real life we have the greedy lobbyists, the corrupt politicians, the sycophantic followers and the corporations who buy votes.  Real life does not have happy endings.

But before we finish with deconstructing this fairy tale, we must say something about Jefferson’s two conditions for a democracy noted above.  In the fairy tale we have great public education systems where people are taught to think for themselves and to be able to tell lies from the truth.  In real life of course, schools do not teach critical thinking and students cannot distinguish lies from truth.  However, they are excellent at finding the right answers to exam questions.

Turning to the issue of a free press, in the fairy tale, we have courageous journalists who seek out the truth and who will print it regardless of the consequences.  In the fairy tale, journalists are motivated by a desire to inform the public and to ensure that information about critical issues is widely available.  In real life, most journalists are hacks whose major skills involve writing good clickbait lines to draw you into an extensive amount of advertising designed to make money for the corporations running their newspaper.  Profits and not information are the motivators in real life for newspapers and media.

So there you have it.  I have deconstructed some major fairy tales.  If you live in the USA, I am no doubt sure that you have read or heard of all of these.  Just to be clear, I love fairy tales and the fantasies that they give us.  Without fairy tales, we would have to live in the real world 24/7 and who could do that without going out of their minds?

“There must be possible a fiction which, leaving sociology and case histories to the scientists, can arrive at the truth about the human condition, here and now, with all the bright magic of the fairy tale.” — Ralph Ellison

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Four Best of Everything:  – Part 3         

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This is Part 3 of my four best of everything.  In this final part, I would like to share with you my four favorite ideas.

For those of you who missed Part 1 and Part 2, this was my introduction.

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 that I admire in the literary world 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 sure that each of you reading this will have some ideas concerning your favorites in these areas.  I invite you to put your ideas or thoughts concerning your favorites in my comment sections.  The more ideas you have 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 Ideas:

internal-coverIf you think about the ideas or premises or nostrums that guide your life, you will soon notice that we have many ideas that along our journey we have adopted.  The sources of these ideas are vast.  Fairy tales and children’s stories give us ideas such as “A stitch in time saves nine” or the “The race does not always go to the swift” or “Those who do not plan ahead may starve in the winter.”  Many of our ideas about living no come from our parents and family.  My mother used to say such things as “Ignorance is bliss” and “If you give them enough rope, they will hang themselves.”  My father was fond of saying “Believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see.”  He also used to like to say, “You have nothing to fear from the dead, only the living.”  These two later beliefs have guided a great deal of my life.

As we grow up and go to school, leave home and get a job, we no doubt pick up more ideas that we will covertly and sometimes overtly use to guide our lives.  By guiding, I mean we will use these ideas to make choices that impact the direction of our lives.  One of the many ideas that I carry in my brain came from Dr. George Box of the University of Wisconsin.  He said, “All models are wrong, some are useful.”  This premise has guided much of my working life.  I have used this Box’s thought when consulting to find a more productive way of addressing organizational changes that are needed in a client’s business.

However, since this blog is about the best or at least my favorites, I need to start discussing my four favorite ideas.  There is no particular relevance to the following order.

There is No Truth:

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Obviously, if you accept my truth, then it poses a paradox.  How can this be true if there is no truth?  But in many ways, that is the nature of most truths.  They are paradoxical.  If they are relative, they are not always true which is a contradiction.  If they are absolute, there are usually exceptions that can be found which makes them false.  What a dilemma!  From the time we are born we are taught to say the truth, speak the truth, search for the truth, but we are all liars.  We don’t know what the truth is and there are many times we would not say it if we did.

If someone came to your front door and said, “Is your mother home, I want to kill her”, what would you tell them?  Would you admit that she was home, if she was?  I doubt it.  We all say we want the truth, but the fact is that many of us will never find the truth because (As our leaders believe) and as Jack Nicholson said, “You can’t handle the truth.”

A friend of mine explained his version of the truth to me several years ago.  He said “Imagine a bookshelf with five shelves.  On the bottom shelf, I put things that people tell me that are opinions and unsubstantiated or uncorroborated pieces of information.  As time goes by and I find more evidence in support of this so called “truth”, I will move the bit of information to the 4th shelf.  Each time I get more evidence it goes up a shelf.  On the top shelf, I have things that I believe are true beyond a ‘reasonable’ but not absolute doubt.  For the time being, I accept the top shelf ideas as true, but I hold out the possibility that I will later find some bit of evidence that invalidates even this Top Shelf truth.”  I like this model of truth.  Let me give you an example of how it plays out for me.

About two months ago, I came across an article that said “In 30 years, all beef and diary farms will be dead.  Things of the past.”  Living in Wisconsin, I was astonished by this bit of information.  I did not put much credibility into the idea.  Given my predilection for cheese, steak and butter I could not reasonably accept any truth to this idea.  Nevertheless, I put it on the bottom shelf of my “Truth Bookcase.”  A few weeks later, I was attending the Annual Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus in Minnesota. This past year it dealt with the environment and global changes to it.  I was surprised when one of the speakers echoed the same idea that I had heard a few weeks ago.  Namely that diary and beef farms would in twenty or thirty years mostly be a thing of the past.  I moved this thought up a shelf.  Two days ago, I was reading the local newspaper and they had an article about diary farms in Wisconsin.  According to this article, ten percent or 800 diary farms in Wisconsin went out of business this past year and there was no sign that the trend would not continue.  I was astounded. I had no idea that the diary industry was so shaky.  I moved the original idea that at least diary if not the beef industry would be gone in thirty years up another shelf.  Two shelves to go.

Thus, truth becomes a process. It is not a final goal.  There is no final absolute truth.  It is a nominal, like in quality improvement that we can never reach.  We can only get closer and closer, but we can never reach a truth that is God like.  The truth that humans can know will never be infallible.

Everything Will Change:

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This idea seems so obvious that I almost ashamed to list it as one of my favorites.  Nevertheless, I keep having to remind myself that “This too will pass.”  Life is a stream of events and even if Santayana was right in that “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it”, there is still nothing in the past that will ever be recreated exactly as it happened one hundred or one thousand years ago.  Heraclitus was also right when he said, “You never step in the same river twice.”

All is change.  If we could see the atoms of time that surround us, I am sure that we would see a stream of “time” atoms that are flowing like a river with swift currents and eddies and backwaters.  This is the flow of time and the river of change.  Sometimes going backwards but inevitably surging forward and sweeping everything out of its way.

We poor humans are caught up in this river and we must do our best to keep from drowning.  We are swept along like so much flotsam.  The river of time that we are in is invisible to the naked eye, but this does not stop it from changing the lives of those swept along by its currents.  Every day, we deal with new events while the old events keep playing out.  A continuous series of changes.  New wars, new disasters, new diseases, new horrors all mixed in with new ideas, new joys, new births, new technologies, new celebrations.

There are those who we say are “stuck in the past.”  The good old days never die for many.  We see the sad efforts that many have to hold onto the past or to “Make America Great Again.”  Why, can’t things just be like the were when I was a kid?  Movies were twenty-five cents and a bag of popcorn was ten cents.  The good guys were good guys and the bad guys were bad.  Police officers walked the streets and helped people in need.  It was happy days.

African Americans were denied voting rights and the basic liberties as stated in the constitution.  A women’s place was in the kitchen and a man was the undisputed king of home.  White people won all the wars they started, and Indians stayed on the reservation.  Mexicans came over to pick tomatoes and then went back home.  A child’s place was to be seen and not heard and the World Series was the greatest sporting event in the world that only White Americans played.  Oh my!  What ever happened to the good old days.

You Can’t Take It with You:

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Who says I can’t take it with me?  I sure as hell am going to try.  Like Pharaoh, I am going to build a big mausoleum and I am going to put my house, motorcycles, cars, rings, watches, shoes, clothes, wife, kids and anything else I own right beside me when I die.  I am going to collect the biggest batch of things that the world has ever seen, and I am going to have it all buried with me.  Isn’t that what life is all about?  Collecting stuff, collecting things.  Shopping for more stuff and more things until we drop dead.

Maybe I am getting carried away here a bit.  Of course, I can’t take it with me.  Pharaoh might have had it buried with him, but it did not take the tomb raiders long to take it back.  Maybe you can get something that can’t be taken away?  A building named after you.  An airport or street named after you.  A testimonial placed somewhere in your honor.

Alas, people are fickle.   Buildings get torn down.  Name places change with the whims of those in power.  There are only so many airports and streets and there are millions of people clamoring to have their names in places that they think will insure their posterity.   You can’t even take fame with you.  In a hundred years or so no one will remember who you were.

One of the famous tropes among baby boomers is remembering where they were when JFK died. I once asked one of my freshmen college classes this same question and to my astonishment got blank looks.  I could not believe it when one of them said, “Who was JFK?”  Who will remember you when you die?  Maybe your wife and a few friends assuming they outlive you.  So what can you take with you?  Fame, fortune, power, money?  What did Marc Anthony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar say: “The Evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”  There is nothing on this earth that you can take with you.  There is nothing that will outlive the entropy and erosion that will destroy all the mightiest monuments that have ever been built.  Everything else is an illusion that you take with your to your grave but that is as far as it will go.

Love is the Only Real Purpose in Life:

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You can spend your life looking for its meaning or you can spend your life trying to find its purpose.  Your search will uncover many ideas but none of them will ever suffice.  Nothing will satisfy your quest until you realize that love is the only purpose a human life exists for.  Every prophet who ever existed recognized this simple truth.  Love is the only thing that gives life meaning and purpose.  It is so simple that it escapes many of us.

We look for purpose and meaning in our work, our jobs, our acquisitions, our accomplishments, our credentials and our status, but none of these give us happiness.  The only satisfaction we get in life is from loving others.  The individual who does not know love for others lives a lonely unhappy life.  Love is the power that makes life worth living.  As Jackie Wilson sang in his song Higher and Higher: “You know your love, keeps on lifting me higher and higher.”

I sometimes think love is one of life’s great mysteries.  I have spent a great deal of my life asking the question “What is love?”  I am 73 years old and I am still puzzled as to what love really is.  Is love the same as passion?  Is love good sex?  Is love caring for someone else?  Is love simply wishing no harm for anyone else?  Does love need reciprocity?

People use the term love for many things.  I love my car.  I love my dog.  I love my Nikes.  I love you.  I love him.  I love her.  I love everybody!  Jesus said that love was more than just words.  Love exists in the doing.  How do I show my love for others?  “Greater love has no one than this, that they will lay down their life for another.” – John 15:13.   Do I need to die for someone else to show true love?

I don’t believe that loving things is love.  I don’t think loving my car or my Nikes is true love.  For that matter, I do not think that loving my life is true love or even that loving my wife is true love.  I think true love is a more intangible quality that we can only approximate.  To know true love is to be a lover in a more universal sense.  True love seems most evident during a crisis.  I think that the people who stayed behind on the Titanic to let others have a seat in the lifeboats were true lovers.  I think Harriet Tubman (who ran the underground railroad) was a true lover.  I think Martin Luther King was a true lover.  Lovers are not perfect people by any means, but they know that life is more than just loving oneself or even another single individual.

Let’s be clear here.  I love my wife and I love my sister, but does that make me a true lover?  Not necessarily.  What if I love my wife and sister but I hate immigrants?  What if I love you but I hate Black people or Latino people or people who belong to another religion or another country?  To know true love one cannot hate anyone.  Today we hear a vocal minority decrying “haters.”  However, these same people hate Democrats, liberals, Non-Christians, Gays, immigrants and minorities.  They may love Trump, McConnell, Nunes, Christians and Republicans but they are more haters than lovers.  Jesus did not say “Only love those who are related to you or whom you like.”  He did not say that you can pick and choose who you love.

Love is the most important journey of our lives.  To find true love is to find a love for the world both in concrete and abstract terms.  It is to love globally as well as locally.  It is to love non-kin as well as kin.  It is to love the rich as well as the poor.  It is to love the sick as well as the healthy.  It is to love Democrats as well as Republicans.  Probably no task is more difficult, but no task has more promise for humanity and for our own souls.

Well, this concludes my best of everything series.  In Part 1, I covered some of my book preferences.  In Part 2, I covered more literary ground and in this final Part 3, I have covered some of the ideas that I think are my favorite guides for trying to live a good life.  I am certainly no exemplar of any of these ideas.  I journey down the path and get stuck in some bogs.  On other days, I take a wrong turn.  I often hesitate when I should be charging forward.  On some days, I even go backwards.  My life has regrets, recriminations and misgivings that would fill an NFL stadium.  I know right from wrong and still too often choose the wrong.  But one of my other guides is “do not kill the message because you don’t like the messenger.”  You may need to find your own guides, but you won’t go wrong with any of the four that I have described in this blog.  Try them and let me know what you think.

 

 

 

 

 

3625– Wednesday, May 29, 2019 – Make Believe or Reality!

I have always loved music.  I am tone deaf.  I cannot sing a lick or carry a tune.  I don’t know a clef from a chord, and I cannot even play a harmonica.  However, I have never heard a genre of music that I did not like.  From Bollywood to Reggae to Funk to Hip Hop to K-Pop to Opera to Classical to Enka to Tex-Mex to Flamenco to African American Gospel, I love them all.  I do not love all songs equally of course.  In every genre, I have some favorites but just like I love trying a new food, I delight in finding a new genre of music.  Each genre has its gems and stars.  Each has something to offer us.

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Music plays a special roll in my life.  Not only do I love to listen to music, but many songs have inspired me to write.  I often find a refrain or lines from a song that seem to cry out for a blog or for someone to say something about them.  If music is the sound of color, then writing about music is the voice of music floating on pages of white papyrus.  Each letter in the alphabet is a tone and when you string them together in words, and sentences and paragraphs, they want to be heard and they ask the reader to listen and to tap to their beat.  Words are melodies that can resonate just like the notes from a piano or a guitar.

One of my old standards is of course American Rock and Roll.  Growing up in the sixties, you would be hard pressed not to have listened to hundreds of the first rock and roll songs.  A singer that I loved back in those days was Conway Twitty.  Some lyrics from a song of his that are rolling around in my brain today goes like this:

But myself I can’t deceive
I know it’s only make believe

I am wondering how much of my life is make believe.  I doubt that 100 percent is, but I think some portion is.  Let’s say that 40 percent of my life is make believe, then I question what are those aspects that are make believe?  First of course, we must agree on what “make believe” is.  Without going to a dictionary, I propose that for something to be make believe it has to be a total fiction that is self-consciously induced.  Meaning, that I fabricate the make believe in my own mind.  Make believe includes fictions, lies, fables, delusions and fantasies that have no basis in reality but are things that I hold dear.  That can’t be me can it?  Can I the most rational logical unemotional person in the universe have any make believes?  Did you say bullshit when I said I was the most rational etc.?  Is that one of my “make believes?”  Well Sir, I am sure that is the only one I have.

“What” my wife Karen says, “about your ideas that men are inherently better drivers than women.”  “Hmm, okay, maybe I have one or two others.”  Still a long way to go until I reach 40 percent.

But myself, I can’t deceive,
I know my faults, my fantasies and my dreams are only make believe

Well, damn it.  Isn’t there a problem here then?  How much do I really know about myself versus how much do I not know?  Do you remember the model in psychology called the JOHARI Window?  There are four quadrants in this model:  As follows with some examples:

Known to others Unknown to others
Known to me I am an old looking guy Secrets about my family
Unknown to me I was sarcastic yesterday When will I die?

 

My “make believes” probably lie in the known to others and unknown to me quadrant.  A goal that psychologists say we should pursue is to increase our knowledge of the unknowns to us.  Some of these unknowns we can find by being more transparent and open to input and feedback from “others.”

Often though our make believes are an armor which protects us from the things we fear.  As life goes on, day by day, aging can seem to bring more and more things for us to fear.  Things we now fear that we never gave a second thought to when we were younger.  “I can’t do that because I might.”  “What if?”  Perhaps one of the worst things about growing old is to live a life that is the very opposite of the poem by Dylan Thomas.

“Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Ragerage against the dying of the light.” – Dylan Thomas

Instead, we tread more carefully, we flicker and whimper and at the dying of the light we cower under the covers.  Easy to do.  I cast no aspersions against the hardships of aging.  For many, I am sure, much more difficult than it has been for me.  So, I go back to my make believes.  I am sure that today I am:

Twenty-two years old.  I am dashing and handsome and athletic.  All the men want my autographs and all the women want my hand in marriage.  I am a Nobel Prize winner and a Rhodes Scholar.  I have six Olympic gold medals and five bestselling books on the Times list.  Faust often confers with me and Socrates borrows ideas from me to use with his pupils.  Pavarotti takes voice lessons from me.  Kings, movie stars and rich people line up at my door each day and clamor for a visit with me.  I am gracious and kind and compassionate and spend time and money to help the poor and needy.

But its only, only Make Believe.

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”
― J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan

 

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