Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Prayer for International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  A day set aside so that we maintain a collective memory around the events of the Holocaust.

I hadn't known of this day before.  It was brought to my attention reading an article in a local magazine.  I was reading that article because I needed a break from the project I was working on.  The project from hell.  It keeps coming back and just won't seem to move into the "completed" part of my checklist for all my efforts and for all the efforts of my team.

As read the article, I considered just how much effort would have been required to plan and implement something as massive as was the Holocaust.  How many individuals must have been involved?  The number must have been massive.  The details, the minor details must have been awe-inspiringly many.

Through all that, nobody said "Guys, I'm not so sure this is a good idea."  If anyone had said that, they didn't matter because any conscientious objectors were easily replaced by one of a throng of willing participants.

The leaders of the movement that planned and implemented the project we now call "The Holocaust" are renowned for their ability to control the population - to motivate the fulfillment of such a massive undertaking.  That manner of thinking wrongly puts the responsibility for the Holocaust solely on the leaders.  For the leaders to have this control, a mass dissolution of critical thought has to have occurred.

I wonder what that felt like.  I wonder what life looked like to ordinary people when the groundwork for the Holocaust was being laid.  I wonder what it felt like to be surrounded by people who simply repeat every thought a leader put into their heads without first letting it slosh around in there a bit.

I wonder these things because I want to know what they felt like so I can recognize them and stop them from ever happening again.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Throwing Over Those Money Changers' Tables

Recently, while doing some research for a project I was putting together, I connected two dots that I had previously not known to be connected.

Both Jesus of Nazareth and Martin Luther King, Jr had ministries that spanned years and ended in roughly the same way.  MLK's was longer than Jesus', but Jesus seemed to pack a lot more in a shorter period of time.
Anyway, its pretty clear from the three synoptic Gospels that if they were even aware of him, the authorities of his day tolerated Jesus' rebellious ministry right up until the time that he messed with their money - their source of power - when he pitched his fit in the temple and overturned the money changers tables.  A couple days later he had been arrested, tried and executed.
Following that same pattern, right around the time he probably considered to be the prime of his activist career - in his mid 30's after a successful campaign to bring about legal equality -  MLK shifted his focus to financial equality. He turned his attention to how the Vietnam war was being fought by the poor (mostly blacks), for the benefit of the wealthy (mostly whites).  At New York City's Riverside Church, exactly one year to the day before his execution, he delivered an address, in which he said this:
"On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth."
It was the 1967 version of overturning the money changers' tables.  This shift of focus alienated him from those who had been his allies - among them President Johnson and union leadership - who saw this line of thought to be dangerous.

They were right.  It was dangerous for Jesus and it was dangerous for MLK. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Prayer for the Epiphany

It is interesting how things you learn in book form or academically seem so simple and so reasonable when you learn them, but then you meet them in real life, face-to-face and they don't seem so simple anymore.

The other day, I met with a wonderful man. Through mutual friends, he sought me out for advice on dealing with financial matters.  When he told his story, I could only think to myself that this man has done everything that society asked of him, and now, that very same society has turned its back on him.  Society - to use a business term - "externalized its expenses" on this man.  It took everything in me to not tell him to simply re-externalize those same expenses on it by simply walking away and letting their problems be their problems.

In a nutshell, his story starts with something completely outside of his influence.  He was born at such a time that he turned 50 at the time of a crashing economy.  By no fault of his own, his company "downsized" him.  Of course, there was no hiring for several years due to the recession/depression, so he did what we are trained to do - he prepared himself for returning back to work by seeking and obtaining advanced education in his field.

Now, at the age of 55, he has come to realize that he is essentially unemployable due to his age.  Younger holders of the same advanced degrees will work for far less money, mostly because their parents paid for the advanced degree.  In addition to being unemployable, he has the burden of debt from seeking the education - an education which in retrospect he would not have pursued with his new understanding of the whole 55+ plus thing.  To compound this, he also has burden of debt from his recently graduated daughter's education.

So, I ask you:  What did this man do wrong?  He:
  1. Held down a good paying job for many years;
  2. Owned a reasonable house, car, etc;
  3. Helped his daughter get the tools she needed;
  4. Did the "right" thing preparing himself for his next chapter.
Here is exactly where he went wrong - all of which now painfully evident through the gift of retrospect.
  1. He should have saved more/spent less while he was working despite that being frugal is "bad for the economy";
  2. He should not have bothered to get his advanced eduction;
  3. He should have realized that at age 55, nobody would want him.
This is the grandiose message of living in the US.  Take heed of it.  It will happen to you.  It will happen to me.  Beware of society's apparent plan to externalize its obligations on you.  See it happening.  Be prepared:
  1. Assume you will be unemployable at the age of 55.  If you have a job, its a winner for you, but if you assume you'll have a job and don't, you're screwed.
  2. Be very, very frugal with your education spending.  Nobody cares where you went to school (within reason), especially undergrad.  That applies to your children as well.  Don't pay $100k for a degree that wins you the ability to have a job that pays $25k/year. I'm not saying don't study what you love, you should do that, but be very, very mindful of what you pay for it.
  3. Surround yourself with people who want less - people who find joy in life, not joy in things - people who fail dismally at quantifying success;
  4. Realize that you don't deserve anything.  Nothing.  Not a single thing.  House, car, wardrobe - all can be smaller.  So make it smaller before someone forces you to make it smaller.
  5. You will be abandoned by society.  Plan for it.  You will get sick two years after you're "downsized" and two years before you're Medicare eligible. It will run you into bankruptcy and the quality of your care will take a nosedive, and you will hobble sick and broke into Medicare eligibility.
  6. Lastly, keep in mind that you are not your money.  You cannot be accounted for on a ledger.  You can fail entirely at money and simultaneously be a success at life.  The system is set up to assume you will fail.  That should tell you something about your chances.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Good Bye, 2014

I am restless these days, frustrated with life's pace.  Too fast here, too slow there.  Impatience is such bother, I can hardly justify it, even when it is justifiable.  Co-existing with ambiguity is a "pissa" (to us a very New Hampshire term).

Taking pause to look back, 2014 had its moments.  I took a great course, met some great people, nudged the needle at work a little and did a lot of work helping my older daughter to launch herself onto a path of self-realization.  I came to realize that I did, in fact have a subconscious (my subconscious had previously been relegated to the bullshit pile) - sometimes like having a not-quite-comfortable-yet new pair of shoes and sometimes like having a new toy.

Some dreadful things happened around and even to me as well.  Unexplainable, unjustifiable illness, learning gone wrong and unhealthy self-congratulations still seem to make dynamic, if less frequent appearances.  There was some growth that comes out of pain and self-realization and I'm happy for its results, although the trail could have been less bumpy.

2014 was a lot like other years - equal parts "happy it came" and "happy its gone".

So, Good Bye, 2014, not in a "good-riddance" sort of way, but in a "see ya' round some time" kind of way.  You were good while you lasted.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The New National Security (sigh)

I generally avoid the media, partially by design and partially due to my schedule, but occasionally, I find myself in a public place where I end up being force-fed media.

This morning, I was force-fed some media.  Shaking of the head ensued.  I would have much rather watched Let's Make A Deal, but changing channels was not allowed.

The story that made me shake my head the most was about this whole North Korean hacking of the Sony corporation and ensuing threats over a movie - a comedy - that painted North Korea in a bad light.  [Note to producers:  Really?  Does nobody love you enough to point out the potential flaws in your plan?]

What got to me was a conversation between a news question-asker and a news question-answerer.  The line of questioning had to do with the US State Department's response to the presumed North Korean attack on Sony.

Sony.  A Japanese entity.  A privately held Japanese entity.

Why is the US Government even being asked about its response?  But no, nobody asked that.  What was going to be the State Department's response?  The answer was non-responsive [duh], but the point is that there was an answer that went beyond:

"We are sorry for Sony's business loss and we hope that the company's management will find a way to recover its losses and seal its internet exposure to avoid future concerns.  We do not consider a private entertainment company being the subject of an electronic attack to be a matter for State Department response."

Since when has a foreign private enterprise become a protectorate of the US Government?  Will the State Department be invoicing Sony to figure out their problem or fight their fight?  For that matter, is the State Department even for hire?  Will Sony be able to criticize the State Department for it actions if they don't rise to Sony's standards?

Maybe its a confession that the Department of State has about the same level of  electronic security as company who contributes to our society by producing and distributing movies, music and computer games?

Do you honestly think Trickle-Down economics is working?  If somebody hacks into my bank account, will the Treasury come running? 


Monday, December 22, 2014

Holiday Prayer

I have recently re-found something from my past and I am thoroughly enjoying it immensely.

You see, I used to be a Jimmy Buffet fan.  A "Parrot Head", as we are called.  In my 20's and maybe into my early 30's when my children came around, I would pack up the car with friends - always a different bunch - and head off to the summer concert.  It was like Mecca.  [OK, it wasn't much like Mecca except for the annual-ness, the spiritual fulfillment and the long trip.]

As the years rolled along, I found myself getting annoyed at the concerts.  People didn't dance anymore and a whole bunch of them didn't even know the words [blasphemy!].  Buffett had become corporate, or at least the Parrot Heads had become corporate.  Talking through the quiet songs and standing still through the lively ones.  Dancing in the aisles had all but disappeared.  How do you talk through "Come Monday" and not dance to "One Particular Harbor"?  Finally I figured it out.  These people, some still wearing their business suits [seriously?!?] were not attending to be filled with Key West-ern joy.  They were there to explore the coral reefer and be able to say they were there.  [The same thing happened at Fenway Park too, but that's another issue.]

So, Jimmy had sold out.  He had given in to greed and "gone mainstream".  A more appalling thought there could not have been.  My hero had turned into everyone else.  Shit.  I started to hear it in his music, I heard cheap echo-chambers and I noticed that he really doesn't have the best singing voice, and my soul wandered.  I never really stopped buying his albums, but I had demoted myself from Parrot Head to simply "fan".

This year I finally made my trip to my own personal Mecca - Key West.  Duval Street, Mallory Square, Captain Tony's, all the places that I so romanticized that they could not possibly have lived up to my expectations.  They did, they did, they did, and while I was there, my soul rediscovered Jimmy Buffett.

I have an iPad now, so I set it on random and let it play all of his music in no particular order.  Slowly, I came to realize that he, in fact doesn't really have a great signing voice and the production quality of his studio albums is a little iffy.  But they all were.  The new ones, the old ones.  What I realized was that his work really didn't change when all those suits started showing up to the minstrel Margaritavilles, rather it was me that had changed.  I had become a picky, high maintenance, judgmental shrew.

Well, I am back now.  I'm even thinking of buying the Parrot Head license plates from the state (if only I had a car upon which to put them).  I have shed my negativity and let the music and its spirit embrace my soul.

So my Holiday prayer for me and for you this season is that we find ourselves able to shed whatever it is that is holding us back from letting something or someone's spirit embrace our soul, or embrace our soul once again.  My joy is entirely up to me.

Happy Holidays.

[PS...If Santa is listening, another trip to Mecca wouldn't be a bad thing either.]

Monday, December 15, 2014

When the Fountain of Injustice is Justice

Say I:                 I wish they’d just made those police officers in Missouri and New York stand trial.
Says she:          Why?

Say I:                 It just looks like we’re covering up an issue rather than addressing it.
Says she:          Which issue?  I think there are many here. 
Say I:                Race is a huge issue, but I think it's bigger even than "just" race. One kid was killed because they thought he might have robbed a store.   Can you really die because you robbed a store or flee from the law or whatever he did?  The other one was selling illegal cigarettes or cigarette licence or something.  Seems like the response to the crimes in question was a little out of line.
Says she:         Yes it does.

Say I:                Did you hear about the 12 year old who was shot holding a toy gun.

Says she:         Yea, but you weren’t there.
Say I:                Right.  I wasn’t there for either of them and the safe thing is to presume that the media has this all out of whack.
Says she:         Sure, things may have gotten out of control.
Say I:                Yea, I know.  But isn’t that part of police training?  How to keep things from getting out of control?  Isn't that the point of policing in general - to keep what we can in some sort of order?
Says she:         Yes, but again, you weren’t there.
Say I:                I know.  I wish I had been.
Says she:          I know.  But really, what would the trial have done?  They didn’t do anything wrong.
Say I:                I know, I heard that expert talking on the radio.  It seems like all three were working under the rules of the law.  Makes me question the law.
Says she:         THAT is what makes you question the law?
Say I:                Yea.  I know.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Prayer for Pearl Harbor Day

73 years ago today, on a sunny Sunday morning, just before 8 am, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  2,535 souls died that day and 1,213 more were injured, but did not die.

Not quite 60 years later, on a seaonally brisk Tuesday morning, just before 9 am, the first of four coordinated attacks ended the lives of 2,997 souls and injured another 6,000.

The aftermath of that sunny Sunday morning in 1941 was in the next 1,346 days, an additional 3,228,504 souls lost their lives.

The aftermath of that brisk Tuesday morning in 2001 was that in the 5,566 days (and counting), another 198,354 souls lost their journey and another 121,811 have been injured.

As Pearl Harbor becomes a fleeting memory known only to those who studied it, I reflect on September 11 and hope.  I just hope.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Everything is Mostly Relative

Recently, I had a health issue that slowed me down for a few weeks.  

The early stage meant spending two entire days sitting in a chair, dredfully reluctant to so much as move.  This was "my" chair.  On any normal day, I can't sit in this very same chair for more than an hour or so before my butt starts to ache and my body gets impatient.  Not this time, though - immobilized by a demon, my butt had nothing at all to say.

I shall never again allow my butt to think a bad thought about my chair.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Day-After-Thanksgiving Prayer

I sat yesterday around the table with family and friends.  It was good to be with those people.  And the weather was beautiful (in Tampa, Florida).  It was quite easy, actually to feel gratitude all around me.

I know its un-American, or unpatriotic and there is always the fear that because of it, the terrorist will probably win something, but I really don't see what all the excitement is about with that food.  Potatoes, squash, bread - all made with love, care and butter - but there isn't enough love or care or butter to transform that food into something that merits all the hooplah.  The turkey and carrots I don't mind but hardly raise to the level of praise traditionally attributed to it.

As I sat there looking at that dinner, upon which everyone else feasted like a Renaissance Pope (with silverware, of course) I considered what might have happened if a fierce storm had blown the Mayflower off course and the Pilgrims had landed in Miami rather than Plymouth.  Would there be shrimp and fish (snapper is nice this time of year) instead of turkey?  Would there be beans and peas (oh wait, I do like the peas, nevermind that) instead of all those apparently indestructible root vegetables?

One day, I might end up in charge of Thanksgiving and dinner will be jerked fish with coconut rice, and a huge (because bigger salads are always better) salad with rum punch and desert will be fresh fruit and maybe crepes.  

One storm away.  Turkey sushi, anyone?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Thanksgiving Day Prayer

Someone dear to me called me to thank me.  I listened while he talked.  It was part apology, part confession, part thanks, part promise for the future.  It was 100% beautiful.  

I've been thanked before.  This time I felt a real connection to him, I also felt a real connection to myself.  I felt a connection to all things.

I wanted to thank him, but I didn't want to take away from his moment.  I just told him that I was proud and privileged to be with him on his journey.

Dr. Amen makes the claim - based on his research - that gratitude can be more effective than pharmaceuticals against depression and anxiety.  Even if that is only kinda true, its remarkable.

We are all sitting in different seats on the same bus on one interconnected journey together.  I am thankful for that today.  I hope you on this day can feel my gratitude and feel your own as well.

Monday, November 17, 2014

My Epitaph

I was asked to describe someone (let's call him "Good Ole What's His Head") the other day.  Springing forth from my sub-conscious (thank you to Coy Callicott for providing me with my very own sub-conscious) came the following:
  • condescending;
  • dualistic (which is my language for "simplistic");
  • narcissistic;
  • pedantic;
  • ethically challenged.

Before I could say those words, but probably after my body language and facial expression gave away my thoughts, I felt terrible about having such low regard for this soul.

A few moments later, I simply did the Southern thing and said that Good Ole What's His Head was a wonderful person and most probably had a wonderful soul and would most likely be a valuable addition to any relationship.  The message was clear, in a very Southern way.

I wonder what would be on my epitaph if we could only use the first four or five words that sprung forth from your subconscious?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Compassionate Conflict (aka "You're an Idiot, but you already know that, don't you?")

Someone said something recently in public conversation that was so stupid it made me wonder whether this poor soul had anyone who loved her to tell her that she should stop saying it.  But alas, it would appear not because she said it again.

I was like the others in our small group.  I sat and listened.  I thought her the fool.  It was really inconsiderate of me on a couple levels.  First, to let her make a fool of herself, and second to allow her foolish notion to stand as fact-substitute in this conversation, and presumably more conversations to follow.  I felt like I was watching a Gubernatorial debate in my home state of South Carolina:  a fact-free battle of wits between unarmed participants.

But what is an appropriate response to idiocy taken as fact?  The world is 4,000 years old is absolutely a fine belief to have, but to turn it into fact is clearly problematic, what with all the evidence and all.  It's not the only thing:  there is no such thing as global warming, victims of "real" rape can't become pregnant, Asian kids are smarter...you know the list, its extensive.  I have so often wanted to say something, but I stop myself.  In the process of stopping to think of something not-ugly to say, the moment passes I end up saying nothing.

But saying nothing is socially irresponsible and it gives the upper hand to the idiots (gosh, that's not a nice term, but its all I can come up with right now). The answer is compassionate conflict.  This seems to many to be a contradiction in terms, but it really is not.  Start by putting yourself in their shoes.  If you do, I think you'll find that many people who take stands with no basis actual fact usually have some things in common.  Amongst other things, they believe that:

1.  Nobody is actually listening or cares.
2.  Nobody will dare to challenge their statement.
3.  Nobody believes that they actually believe what they're saying. They are clearly just saying it to win a point that they presume to be won already and are just being gracious by bothering to have the discussion in the first place.

Compassionate conflict, in real life, it looks like this:

"Oh heavens.  You and I both know you don't believe that."

Try it on the next idiotic, fact-creating comment you hear.  Try it with compassion, not with accusation, out of concern for the idiot (sorry again), not out of concern for the topic.  Empower them to see what you see...that nobody believes they could possibly be that stupid.  

Says she:  You know and I know that if we pass gay marriage, its a slippery slope to people marrying sheep and goats.

Say I:  Oh heavens.  You and I both know you don't believe that.  You're just upset about gay marriage.  [NB:  What I would have said before would have been unhelpful.  Probably something like:  "Yes, and bulls and rattlesnakes."]

Says she:  Well, ah.  Er.  Well, it could happen.

Say I:  Sure, it could.  But if you live like that, you'd never go outside because you could be struck by lightning or get skin cancer from being in the sun.

Says she:  That's different.

Say I:  Is it, though?  You're talking about protecting against the highly improbable by denying access to something that's right there and free for the taking.

Says she:  They already have rights.  The same rights I have.

Say I:  Oh heavens.  You and I both know that you don't believe that. But you're clearly upset that this is somehow going to change your life.  I'm sorry you're so bothered.  Can you say more about that?

....and so forth.

It has worked for me, it can work for you!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Professional Scapegoats

We have a client who really doesn't listen to us. 

People in the know tell me its not just us -- its a pretty constant trend, bordering on a bizarre business plan of sorts.  They hire specialists like us to get their opinion and then have some odd sense of fear that they're being "duped" or "tricked".  This causes them to quite often make ineffective (or sometimes just plain bad) choices.  The poor results of which, they of course blame on us and people like us.  There is a management team in place, but they all just "yes" the alpha to death.

The non-sensical part (as though the rest of this makes any sense) is that our fee doesn't change any whether they take our advice or not.  Our relationship is structured so that we don't stand to gain financially from whatever decision they make.

My firm was just hired by them to do some work -- work which could completely have been avoided had they just done what we suggested the last time they hired us.  They can't see the connection, but its pretty clear to us.  It's a real mess.  And they're right back to not listening again.

I feel bad for them.  I want to just look at the apha and tell him that his lack of trust and his destructive pattern of making decisions without having a clue about what he's talking about are going to kill his chances at success.  He'd probably just think I was conning him.

Why don't I?  Unfortunately, the client is a bit of a "cash cow" for us, mostly thanks to their own mismanagement.  Personally I am growing to hate that about them, actually.

I can only imagine the reputation we'll have when we're gone and the whole thing either blows up, fizzles out, or ties itself in knots.  They'll blame everything on us, of course.  We will join chain of fools who came before us.

From my perspective, we will be fools for having exchanged our souls for cash as not much more than professional scapegoats.

From their perspective, we will be fools if the results are poor, and they will be brilliant if the results are wonderful.

Either way, its a lose-lose.

Monday, October 27, 2014

What Hope Looks Like

Sometimes I find it easy to lament the speed at which life happens. Today with easy travel and constant connectivity, time certainly can get to feeling compressed.  

We've been compressing time for as long as there has been time.  Poetry, prose, movies, plays...all of them compress time.  What takes days, weeks or years to happen in reality gets compressed into easier-to-handle slices of time.  Things like love or hope become a little stereotyped so that readers or viewers can recognize them clearly and quickly.  But in reality, things like hope and love happen all the time, but not nicely compressed and laid out for easy consumption. 

I recently had a bit of an epiphany that made me feel better. A little.  I was re-reading a book, written by a close acquaintance of mine, Pat Jobe.  In this 2008 book, Falling In Love With Everything: A memoir, but mostly made up, hope happens at normal life speed in the early part of Chapter 21 (reprinted here with Pat's consent).

To set this up, this is one of a series of conversations with Tinkerbell Starbelly, who is Pat's somewhat real, somewhat made up sweetheart /muse/nemesis.  Throughout the book, she seems to want desperately to validate his falling in love with everything, but just can't seem to get herself to buy it.

Tinkerbell Starbelly and I decided to play a game.  We sought ways to disprove my love for everything.  We drove across the James Island bridge from the south into Charleston and looked out on the spot where the Ashley and Cooper rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean.

“You are not, you could not possibly be in love with children living in refugee camps in Rwanda because their parents were chopped to death with machetes,” she told me as we looked out on all that ocean, those sailboats and that lovely city by the sea.

"Would I prefer they not have camps to live in?" I asked her. 

“You would prefer that they had their parents and the war that killed their parents had never happened,” she said.

“Yes, but I don’t have that power, do I?  I can’t make that happen.”

“No, but you certainly can’t be in love with the fact that it did happen,” she insisted.

“So what is the better chose?  How do you react to children in a refugee camp in Rwanda?” I asked.

It makes me sad, frustrated, angry, afraid something like that could happens to members of my own family or friends,” she said.

“And what comes of your sadness, frustration, anger and fear?” I asked.

“I participate in the broad discussion of the issues.  I support organizations that are working for a better world for those children.  I let people in my church know of efforts being made by others in our larger church family,” she said.

“Sometimes I do those things, too.  So, how are we different?  I fall in love with children in refugee camps and do what I can to help them.  You feel sad about children in refugee camps and do what you can to help them.  How are we different?  Being in love with everything doesn’t mean I have to be so overjoyed with any injustice that I ignore it or refuse to do anything I can to set things right.  It simply means I draw energy and strength and joy from being in love with everything.  Besides, being in love with everything does not preclude some sadness or even righteous anger at injustice.  Being in love often gives me the energy to feel whatever sadness or anger I need to get through a tough place.”

“Ok, that sounded almost normal, reasonable, practical,” she said.

“Don’t go all soft on me,” I teased.  Her eyes narrowed like she might slap me.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Birthdays Cakes

Everyone is so focused on quality of life these days.  

Although I am sure that I would not want a long life of low happiness (happiness is a stand-in for quality).  I also am pretty sure that the whole James Dean thing is a bunch of crap, too.

I heard a comedian once wonder what might have happened had Martin Luther King not been assassinated.  Would he have pulled an Alex Trebek, or a Henry Winkler and be hocking life insurance or reverse mortgages on underproduced TV commercials?
"Hello, my name is Martin Luther King Jr.  You may remember me from such events as my "I Have a Dream" speech.  Have you ever considered what financial affect your absence would have on your family?"
And so what if he had? Long life and happy life are not mutually exclusive. Life full of birthdays.  With candles and birthday cake because how many bad days have you had that involved birthday cake?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Post-Marked Everywhere, Always

Hello, everyone

We're sorry we've been away for so long.  Far from here, they have a game that puts cricket to shame in terms of how long it takes to play.  Being rather time-insensitive, we're big fans of it - plus there are the social aspects  (wink, wink).

Anyway, it seems you've been busy while we've been gone.  We missed a lot, but they have a condensed version on Netflix, and we did watch most of that.  The crusades seemed a bit over the top, but then again in the grand scheme of things, you certainly seem to have chosen to generally be "over the top".  We would love to have stayed and chatted, but...well...you know how it is.  However, in the interest of just about everything you know, we figured we'd leave you with a few observations.

First, we have to say that we hadn't considered just how dangerous religion would turn out to be.  Guess that one is on us.  In retrospect, we should probably have seen that one coming.  A few things on that:

     1. Not quite sure how religion has become something used mostly to separate you from each other.  Suppose its not really religion, more fear - religion seems to play more of a scapegoat role.  It is interesting how you've integrated fear into just about everything you do.  We're being polite.  Its quite troubling, actually.  From your perspective, things like saber-toothed cats must have seemed a little over the top on our part, but in our defense, they evolved while we were taking a nap.   Sorry if that set a bad precedent.

     2.  While we're on the topic of fear, the whole heaven thing you've created is quite intriguing.  Honestly, we've never seen that one before.  Hell, on the other hand is quite disturbing.  Have you talked with your therapist about that?

     3.  This concept you all seem to have developed of of being fundamentally messed up is just really, really hard for us to wrap our arms around.  You call it "original sin" and "original suffering".  "All life is suffering"?  That viewpoint tells us a lot about you, but we're not quite sure we're better for knowing.  We had to sit down when we heard it for the first time.  We happened to be in what you call a "pub" in what you're calling "Ireland".   One good thing about needing to sit down in a pub is that we simultaneously understood the purpose of beer, which under the circumstances, seems to be a very good idea.  Almost as good as the afore-mentioned heaven concept.

On another topic, you're not the first we've seen spend so much time and effort developing ways to kill each other.  You are, however the fiirst to do it in tandem with developing ways to kill yourselves.  That's quite baffling, but may also explain beer and heaven.

Lastly, we just love what you did with the Enlightenment.  That was quite a wonderful rebound from your dark ages.  However, you seem to have taken it a bit too far.  Just because you can understand more than you thought you could doesn't necessarily mean that you can understand everything.  We by no means want to steal your hopeful thunder, but let us give you a hint:  you can't.  For that matter, we can't.  Of course understanding that you can't understand doesn't really fit into the whole "scientific method" thing you've developed - which is cute, we must confess.  Its certainly better than what you had before, but it is still quite limiting - just in a different way.

Well, that's all the time we have right now.  We would love to wish you well and enourage you to keep trying, but we're afraid that one group of you will somehow turn any well-wishes on our part into a license to punish or annihilate other group(s).  So we'll just leave it with we'll be back around some time.  Hopefully when we come back, you and Irish Pubs will still exist, and we can talk a few things over a pint or two.  Until then, best of luck.  We'll be rootin' for ya.

Peace and love.


Monday, October 6, 2014

My Tail Wagging Me

"The tail wagging the dog" is a current-day slang phrase that tries to communicate that what we think of as "normal" cause and effect have been reversed.  (Two side notes:  First, whether or not cause and effect can actually be reversed is a subject for a different conversation;  Second Wag The Dog was actually the name of a movie meant to illustrate what this reversed state looks like in leadership.)

For example, the Federal Reserve, which is supposed to be setting monetary policy (cause) to create desired outcomes, mainly in the fixed income markets (effect), largely reacts or catches up to the those very same markets.  The tail wags the dog.

Congress, which is supposed to lead our greatest society on earth for the mutual pursuit of happiness largely reacts to social movements by codifying them after the fact.  Again, the tail wags the dog.

Lastly, we, as a nation, have a foreign policy which does not lead our allies into mutual-benefit international relations so much as react to what seem to be a increasing string of surprises.  One more time, a wagging dog.

But it is easy to blame or criticize big nebulous things like the Federal Reserve, Congress and Foreign Policy because they have been designed to be unable to fight back or defend themselves in civil discourse.  For me, right now, my concern is with my tail and whether or not I am wagging it or it is wagging me.  

Some days, I feel like I can be influential, persuasive and wildly participatory in the well-being of those in my circles.   Other days, I feel like a leaf helplessly being whisked down a stream.  I suppose this has always been true, as the song says, some days you're the windshield, some days you're the bug.  Its not the realization so much as my reaction to it.  Maybe I'm getting to an age where I don't want to be wagged anymore,  Maybe I'm impatient, or maybe, just maybe, I need to refuse to be wagged just a little more every day.

Either way, I hope wagging can eventually go back to being an unbridled expression of joy rather than one half of a somewhat discouraging cause and effect progression.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Thank You, Saint Anslem, v 2.0

I had previously written a post entitled Thank You, Saint Anslem.  It was about the actual Saint and his theology.

This one is directed with gratitude to the Monks of the Abbey of Saint Anselm College.

When I younger, although we were happy, my family was not affluent [that's putting it rather mildly].  The Monks of the Abbey of Saint Anselm College allowed me to go to school there for four years and earn a Bachelor's degree for pennies.  I was graduated with no student loans.

A couple weeks ago, I was in a discussion with some pretty thoughtful friends and the quesiton came up about spending yet-unearned future lottery winnings, if they were to occur.  I was first to chime in, saying that I would repay the Monks.

One of the other group members called me out on this. 
Says He:  Do you think they allowed you to go to school there for free so that one day you will pay them back?
Say I:  No. 
Says He:  So, then why would you cheapen their gift to you by making it all about the money?
I was unable to respond.  I had no response.  My friend was correct.  I was cheapening my debt of gratitude to the Monk of the Abbey by making it all about money.

If I really want to pay the Monks back - not that I think they're asking for that - what I need to do is live a full life in the service of others, like they do.

They paid it foward, now its my turn.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Time for a Re-Write of the Ten Commandments

God spoke all these words:

I am God, your God, who watched you wander around and generally be mean to each other while simultaneously trying to figure out how things work.  Now, post-Newton, post-Darwin, my hope is that you’ve come to figure out these Ten Really Good Ideas:

1.   Go ahead and worship any god(s) you choose, including me. It’s all the same thing anyway. I'm not afraid of them because I am them.

2.   Your god(s), including me are not reasons to fear each other.   They’re reminders to love each other.  If your god is not a constant reminder to choose love over fear, then you may wish to check yourself and your friends out on that.

3.   Worshiping god(s) doesn’t mean giving up hope in yourself.  It is quite literally impossible to respect god(s) if you don’t first respect yourself.

4.   Teaching loved ones to fear or hate your god(s) is probably not a great idea and will take generations to unravel.  A relationship based on fear is never a good one.

5.   Making fun of your god(s) by using their name in a rude or disrespectful way is sort of a confession that you’re afraid of the unknown.  Take the unknown seriously, but don’t be afraid of it.

6.   Take a break every now and then.   Check in with yourself on your work/play balance.

7.   Be mindful of the way you treat those you love.  Even though they are not perfect and they don’t necessarily deserve your unconditional respect, you deserve to not bear the burden of having to withhold yourself from them.

8.   Be nice to each other.  Don’t murder anyone for god’s sake.  Also, don't break your commitments to your loved ones.  Ask before you take something that might not be yours already.

9.   Only you can make you happy.  Stuff and other people can’t make you happy.  Wanting it badly can drive you nuts and should probably be avoided.

10.For god’s sake, don’t be boring, tedious or pedantic.  You know you don’t like those sorts of people, why would you be one yourself?

This I can tell you:  “Don’t be afraid. The great sin is sinning against your own conscience.  Be true to yourself while keeping these Really Good Ideas and you will be at least able to see oneness with everything from where you’re standing."

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dear Democratic Party

Dear Democratic Party and Assorted Candidates,

Thank you so much for all the wonderful e-mails - as many as twelve per day - more if something significant happens to be going on.

I'm not an advertising executive - I'm just a slightly less than average "bloke" - however, I thought it might be beneficial to share my thoughts - and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone here - about your e-mail campaign(s).  I'll just number them to keep my thoughts straight.

1.  About the volume.  The sheer number of e-mails is astounding.  Where do you ever find the time?  I have all I can do to send out the few a day I manage.

2.  About sharing my e-mail address amongst yourselves.  Thanks, but just because I send $25 to Equality Maine, it might not mean that I want to also send money to every other Democrat who ever ran for every race in Maine, mostly because I live in South Carolina.

3.  I'm just speaking for myself here, but the fact that some or one of those other guys or maybe the whole bunch:

     a) Are people you don't like;
     b) Are about to do something you don't think is a good idea;
     c) Are evil;
     d) Are well funded;

Doesn't motivate me to suddenly choose to exceed my political activism budget.  It motivates me to think ugly thoughts about those other guys, and I'm honestly a little flush on that.

4.  What would motivate me to exceed my budget is not who you are, per se, but what you're going to do with the money.  Simply stating that "they" have more than you doesn't necessarily ring my bell.  Also, it kinda makes me think your plan doesn't extend much beyond "please send money".

5.  Does anyone actually believe that if they donate $5, they could win dinner with President Obama?  Seriously?

6.  While I'm on the topic of President Obama, how big exactly was that birthday card?

7.  One more thing about President Obama.  I seem to remember from Junior year in high school that two terms is pretty much the end of the old rainbow in terms of being President.  So, why are you asking me to send money to his election fund?  Is he thinking maybe of running for Alderman or something?  Dog catcher?

8.  I get the whole idea of having one person send me an e-mail to ask if I got someone else's.  But you should probably wait more than an hour or two.

9.  Again, just talking for myself, but is anyone actually buying the concept of a political fundraising emergency?

10.  Are there seriously no Democratic Party equivalent for the Koch bothers?  Tell me about them.  I'd love to hear about them.  I might seriously exceed my political contributions budget if I knew I wasn't alone.

So, that's all I've got right now.  Best of luck.  I'm rootin for ya.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

Why I am a Socialist

I have decided after a long period of evaluation, that I am a Carter/McGovern Democrat.  But the Democratic party has left souls like mine behind, leaving us to find our way to greener pastures, like the one in which I now graze - the Democratic Socialists of America. 

President Carter came to office during a very difficult time.  Sure, they're all difficult.  Nobody is saying that Roosevelt had it easier, although he had the war as an economic engine.  Carter didn't have to drop an atomic bomb or declare any wars.  However, Carter didn't really have an economic engine, and he knew it.  We had consumerism and a very high expectation of delivering lots of goods and services at very low prices - prices over which we had lost control.

His malaise speech - the very speech that probably ended his chances at a second term - will go down in history of one of the most important speeches ever ridiculed and ignored by so many. Nobody wants to be told to turn down the thermostat and tighten our belts a bit.  A plan based on austerity is for other people, not Americans.

A few years before that, McGovern tried to get us to believe in the power of the American spirit.  McGovern believed that we could take care of everyone first and still have enough energy, innovation and productivity to earn and hold the world's admiration - all boats would rise in America's rising tide.  He too was ridiculed - winning only 17 out of 537 electoral college votes in his loss to Richard Nixon.  He even failed to win his own state - a state which had sent him to Congress 3 times by the time of the election.

Some 30 years later, Carter/McGovern democrats like me are few and far between.  We've mostly been branded as "liberals", a term which has become a dirty word.  In 2008 Obama talked of hope and the mostly dormant Carter/McGovern genes awoke and we sprung to our feet.  But a term and half later, we've sat back down, victims of yet another hoax. 

America's prosperity has been and will continue to be for a short time more, largely policy-driven.  America's world leadership is based not on admiration and collaboration, but fear. Sustainable and beneficial leadership cannot emerge from fiddling with the rules and playing the bully.  Those tactics can work for a while, but they will eventually flame out, as we are flaming out now.  If we are unable to pay for our Empire, I don't think anyone else needs us enough to come rushing to our rescue. Many have followed our lead and find themselves now needing to pay for years of keeping up with the Jones'.

So, in the end, it turns out that Carter's interdependent realism and McGovern's strength of spirit have left the Democratic party.  In its place remains merely a different view of how to fiddle with the rules and where to spread fear and where not to.

The Democratic Socialists are small, scattered and barely organized.  But unlike the what's left of the Democratic party, it speaks my language and I believe them when they talk.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Labor Day Prayer

Here we find ourselves again on Labor Day.  A day to remember those who the history books probably forgot.  No last names synonymous with a New York Stock Exchange companies, no monuments to their individual contributions, no chapters in text books.  The many have a tendency to become the one on days like today.

I will hold dear in my heart those specific individuals from whose work I now benefit.  I will list them by name in my thoughts as I barbecue or putter about the yard.  I will hold their commitments to themselves dear and reflect on how their work moved time all the way to today.

Happy labor day to all of them and to everyone whose committments to themselves and to their loved ones are moving time right now.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Separation of Church and State

Say I:           You know, one day if I ever do manage to serve as a minister, I may run for political office.

Says He:       You can’t do that!  That would violate the separation between church and state!

Say I:           I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t.

Says He:       (a little more emphatically than before).  Damn straight it would!  No minister can serve political office.

Say I:           Pretty sure that’s not accurate.

Says He:       Well, even if you could, nobody would vote for you.

Say I:           Why not?

Says He:       Because you’re a minister!  Would you wear the collar?

Say I:          (after a few seconds thought) Probably not while I'm working as elected official.

Says He:       Doesn’t matter.  Nobody would vote for you because you were a minister.

Say I:           Because ministers can’t be active in civic society.

Says He:       Right.  Separation of church and state.  Period! No iffs, ands or buts about it.

Say I:           What about the priesthood of all believers?

Says He:       What does that mean?

Say I:           Well, many Christian - specifically Protestant Christian - religions believe that all believers have a duty to minister in their faith. Every believer is a priest.

Says He:       Like which ones?

Say I:           Well, I’m a little shaky here, but I’m pretty sure that’s Lutherans for sure, and I think Presbyterians, but I have to admit I’m not always super clear on some of the difference between the denominations.  Anyway, if they’re all supposed to be functioning as priests, does that mean we can’t invite any of them to serve in secular government?

Says He:       Don’t be stupid. Its only real ministers who can’t hold elected office.

Say I:           And why again is that?

Says He:       Because they all have an agenda.  They’re all pushing their religion on everyone else and that’s not right.

Say I:           So, you can’t separate a minister from his or her religion?

Says He:       Of course not.

Say I:           But you can separate a non-minister from theirs.

Says He:       Yes. They know how to separate church talk from regular talk.

Say I:           (after a few seconds of consideration) Maybe you’re right then.  I pretty much am the same way in church as I am in the rest of my life.

Says He:       Exactly.

Say I:           Well, you’ve made your point.  Maybe not the point you’d hoped to make, but you’ve made a point.

Says He:       Right.