The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

ROBBING THE CRADLE; HASTENING THE GRAVE

For people of my generation, if someone spoke of a person’s “robbing the cradle” that phrase meant that a man or woman married someone who was significantly their junior in age.  That was before Roe v. Wade.

Words, phrases and attitudes have changed in the forty years since the Supreme Court declared abortion to be legal.  The thrust of this post is not going to be an examination of the morality, immorality or amorality of that decision and the consequences we have seen as a result of it.  There is more than sufficient material on that topic which has already been published.

Rather, I thought I would examine one possible outcome for our society as our attitudes toward human life and death have evolved as a result of the decision.  But before we peer into a possible future, it might be useful if we used the guidance of history to review how we have gotten to our present state of mind.

With Roe v. Wade we redefined human life.  We declared pregnancy to be a “sickness” and insurance companies were mandated to cover pregnant women for the condition as they would “any other illness”.  Thus, a woman was empowered to “take control of her body” in the matter of her pregnancy in much the same way that she was able to purchase aspirin for a headache.

Gone were the days when an unwed, pregnant mother-to-be was whisked off to a geographically distant relative on some pretext of helping an “aging family member” until the time of her giving birth to her offspring.  Now science and society had created an alternative to deal with the problem or, should I say, the “illness”.

We had, by legally defining a fetus as a “non-person,” been able to hold our heads high and repeat those famous words that “All Men are created equal.”  Since a fetus was not a man (or woman) it was not entitled to those rights or privileges any more than your ordinary house cockroach.

In the ensuing years, having started down the path that says that the ultimate concern should be for the potential mother’s health, (that is both a physical and mental matter), we have gradually been able to extend our original definition of non-humanness through the advances which science has made.

Now a fetus who may have Downs Syndrome or Cystic Fibrosis or may simply be the wrong gender can be identified.  In the interest of the mother’s mental health, this unwanted child may be terminated because it doesn’t fit into either its parent’s view of what is best for her or what society deems best for itself.

It should be clear from our history that mankind is a “discriminating” lot.  If it were otherwise, we would not have felt the necessity to  create an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to cite one obvious example, nor would the KKK ever have had any membership.

So given our history of discriminating against others, now that we have the ability to discriminate against “non-others” as many think of human embryos, let’s picture how this attitude might play out were a despotic government to come to power.

In this future, women who rejoiced in having the “right to choose” might no longer have that right if the State didn’t consider them to be suitable breeding material.  Those who were required to donate sperm would be carefully screened for the physical and mental characteristics that the State deemed desirable.  Those of both sexes who did not meet the State’s defined criteria would be sterilized to limit population.

The State and the State alone would determine what and who was of value.  All those who did not contribute to its own well-being would be eradicated.  This, of course, would be most noticeable among the population of the elderly as they were systematically decimated either through neglect or by means of euthanasia.  End Of Life Panels would have the final word on who would receive and who would be denied medical treatment – all in an effort to make ours a beneficent and utopian society.

This is, of course, an imaginary future and could never actually happen – at least not in America.  We are a noble people dedicated to a great purpose.

I wonder if that was what the guards said to themselves as they pulled the lever, releasing the gas in the showers of the death camps as they purged their society of several hundred more whom the State had declared undesirables.

WHO’S GOT THE POWER? (PART TWO)

When the last installment of Marcel Proust’s “magnum opus” was published in 1927, it was the culmination of a writing effort that spanned a fifteen year period.  The work was translated into English as, “A Remembrance of Things Past”.

Those who long for the halcyon days of a kinder, gentler, smaller, more rational government already realize that problems which have been created over long periods of time cannot be remedied with short-term and short-sighted solutions.  Attempting to repair society by applying Band-Aids to deep, festering sores may staunch the flow of blood for the moment but this approach will not remove the cancer from the body politic.

It is essential that those who recognize the deadliness of the path on which America has set its footing (and by implication much of the Western civilized world as we know it) are not merely passing through time and history.  We are the ones who have the opportunity to take action and write history through the steps we take today to make ours a better country and a better world.

History provides us with a great deal of nurturing guidance.  And one of its most important lessons is that it takes time to unfold.  From Plymouth Rock to The Declaration of Independence, 156 years of history had to pass.  If we embark on a path of real change today, many of us who start this process will not live to see its fulfillment.  But we will leave, as did the Founding Fathers, a legacy which those who come after us will enjoy.

Those of us who are educated, rational and pragmatic have spent far too much of our time and resources in an effort to convince those of a different opinion that we offered a better way than the one to which they subscribed.  Underlying our arguments was the assumption that these people were also educated, rational and pragmatic.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

When Governor Romney made his famous “47%” remark he was immediately attacked and lambasted for telling it like it was.  His statement was, of course, correct – but the emphasis should have been that meant that there were 53% of the populace who still had the dignity, desire and self-esteem to work toward changing things for all of America’s population for the better.  We’re still here today, despite our war injuries.

So how do we regroup, rearm and begin?  The first thing must be to define our goals and to keep them in mind as our frame of reference.  If we don’t know our destination, it’s difficult to determine a travel plan.  And too many of us are buying into our opponents’ strategy of distraction, holding up minor issues as talking points so that we ignore the real, fundamental and root causes of society’s malaise.

We also have many talking points.  But if we waste our efforts critiquing the opposition on Benghazi, the economy, the general level of unemployment, or a myriad of other subjects we only serve to weaken ourselves and thus give aid and succor to our opponents.

While those criticisms might be valid and well-documented, they mean nothing to an uneducated or under-educated mob whose only concern is surviving today and hopefully tomorrow.  And they mean nothing to those who, through intention, have helped to formulate this permanent under-class so that they may continue their own agenda which is to rule and dominate.

Perhaps the simplest way to define the goals of our war is to say that most of us who are reading this believe that a return to limited, Constitutional government wherein the individual has personal freedom based on a moral code would be a desirable goal.  Implicit in that is our ability to elect people to office who share that view.  And this leads us to a practical way to approach our ongoing battles.

It’s many years since presidential candidates rolled into town on a train, gave a speech and took off for their next destination.  Campaigns were financed with a few dollars here and a few dollars there.  Today, getting elected is a function of how much money can be raised for advertising and whose content slams the opponent the harder.  “Media is the message,” to misquote Marshall McLuhan.

It should be obvious that if those who contribute vast sums of money to get our opponents elected were to have their incomes reduced, they would have less ability to fund them in the next election cycle.  This is nothing more than the boycott strategy which worked so successfully in the 1960’s and 1970’s for the migrant farmworkers under the leadership of César Chavez.

There is a reason that I do not insure through GEICO or Progressive Insurance, or buy See’s Candy or eat at Dairy Queen.  By choosing to spend my money with them, I am supporting those who have helped foster our present policies and contributing to those who want to advance them further.  Why would any person who shares my view, rationally and willingly support those who would make us target practice?

Obviously, this is hardly an inclusive list of companies or services which I avoid.  But it should give you the basic idea.  The fact is that there are alternatives, often better alternatives to these companies’ products and I would rather spend my money with those who share my philosophy.

One person boycotting a company’s products is a personal statement.  But hundreds of thousands doing so will have an impact.  And if that number escalates to the millions, even the most hardcore liberal businessman will take notice and re-consider his thinking.

One of the most consistently generous groups in their views and their financial support for the liberal agenda comes to us from Hollywood.  Arguably, their products are also contributors to the violence which has become so commonplace on the American landscape.

Setting aside the fact that from an artistic standpoint, Hollywood offers little in the way of output that appeals to me, this is an issue which every conscientious conservative thinker should examine for himself.  Do I want to support an institution that actively seeks both to erode my personal freedoms and expose myself and my children to prurient violence and standards of morality which do not meet my personal expectations and example?

Again, one person boycotting the movies is a personal statement.  But millions, committed to a boycott would not only have a financial impact but just might cause those screenwriters to create material that is actually worth viewing.

History is not merely something that has happened before.  Its pages are being inscribed even as I type this post.  But the question is will it be written by those people of conscience who believe in the freedom of the individual or by those who believe in the power of the state?

The answer to that will be determined by what each of us does because, at least for the moment, the power is still in the hands of the people.

BARNEY FIFE AND GUN CONTROL

Well, I’m old enough to admit that one of the iconic programs which I watched while growing up was “The Andy Griffith Show”.  I referred to it in an earlier post, “Opie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” – which was one of my favorites – and apparently yours as well.

If you remember the show, Sheriff Andy Taylor, a soft-spoken, charming small town law enforcement professional had a Deputy by the name of Barney Fife, portrayed by the recently deceased Don Knotts.

Barney, had he not found comfort in his role as the Deputy in Mayberry, might have had a brilliant career in politics.  He was incredibly clueless  and inept.  The depth of his incompetency was such that Sheriff Taylor issued him only one bullet to use in his service revolver – and he had to keep it in his pocket.

Fortunately, life in Mayberry was, certainly by today’s standards, exceptionally civilized.  I don’t believe a weapon was ever fired on the show (other than by the Deputy who would set one off accidentally) – but I wouldn’t stake my life on that.  Instead, the Sheriff used reason and argumentation to defuse almost every contentious situation which arose.  Violent response was not the Sheriff’s first choice when resolving matters of public safety.

As much as we might long for it, the world of Mayberry is not our world today.  Violence and criminal behavior exist everywhere – perhaps most noticeably in our major cities – but they exert their influence throughout our society.

So I began asking myself a question as we have now heard the pronouncements of President Obama on the subject of gun control – or as it is now phrased, “violence control”.  Let’s, like the President set aside the fundamental question of the reason the Founding Fathers wrote the Second Amendment, to allow the people to resist a tyrannical government.  And let’s focus for a moment on an important, although ancillary issue, that we are trying to curb the innocent from being further victimized by immoral thugs.

So I pictured a situation in which a major disaster occurred.  Those who are lawfully empowered to carry weapons, our police, our military are busy trying to control the violence and the looting that ensues.  If you should question that would happen, look at New Orleans after Katrina and Staten Island after Sandy.

Fortunately, the phones are still working and you call 911.  Although you don’t know it, you are on their queue to be protected by the authorities.  It’s just that you’re 9,254th on the list and you probably cannot sing enough verses of “Kumbaya” to keep the vandals from breaking down the door to your house before they get to you.

A miracle occurs and an off duty policeman who is on his way home sees the criminals at your door.  Like Barney Fife, he removes the bullet from his pocket, places it in the chamber and shoots one of the wrongdoers dead.  He is now out of ammunition.  As he watches helplessly, the thieves, armed and with no moral conscriptions, break down the door of your home and shoot you and your children dead before stealing your property.

There is, of course, an alternate which might play out.  You have noticed an increase in violent, criminal activity in your neighborhood – beyond the capacity of the police to control.  So you have armed yourself with a semi-automatic weapon as a matter of self-defense.  You have registered it and taken classes on how to use it and practice with it.

The robbers come to your door.  You warn them to stay out – but they persist and break down the entry to your home.  You shoot them all and when your call to the police is finally answered, they call the morgue to remove those who would have done harm to you and your children.

In the President’s address on this subject today, he used children as a backdrop for his plans to disarm Americans.  Enough has already been written on his motivation for doing this that I needn’t add my two cents worth.

But if the honest intent of His Excellency is, indeed to protect the kids of America from violence, he really should spend some quality time watching old episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show”.

Barney Fife was a swell guy and a likeable cuss.  But with the one bullet resident in his pocket, he just didn’t have enough ammo to get the job done..

GAMBLING WITH YOUR LIFE (PART TWO)

Because it is one of my favorites, I am going to begin this post with the classic wit of James Thurber by sharing one of his stories from, “Fables For Our Time.”

“The Fairly Intelligent Fly”

“A LARGE spider in an old house built a beautiful web in which to catch flies. Every time a fly landed on the web and was entangled in it the spider devoured him, so that when another fly came along he would think the web was a safe and quiet place in which to rest. One day a fairly intelligent fly buzzed around above the web so long without lighting that the spider appeared and said, “Come on down.” But the fly was too clever for him and said, “I never light where I don’t see other flies and I don’t see any other flies in your house.” So he flew away until he came to a place where there were a great many other flies. He was about to settle down among them when a bee buzzed up and said, “Hold it, stupid, that’s flypaper. All those flies are trapped.” “Don’t be silly,” said the fly, “they’re dancing.” So he settled down and became stuck to the flypaper with all the other flies.


Moral: There is no safety in numbers, or in anything else.”

Life is a gamble.  We never know what the day ahead will bring.  If it were otherwise, there would be no such thing as an insurance industry.  We cannot control every external force which may beat at our door.  But we can and should prepare our houses to be as weather-resistant as possible.

Following up on yesterday’s post, I wanted to share some insights into the glamorous (and sometimes seedy) world of gambling because the rules here are applicable to our lives in general.

ATTITUDE

If you have come to Las Vegas or any other venue that offers gambling, you may have done so with the idea of enjoying a vacation or a little getaway.  You have not come with the intention of “breaking the bank” but want to engage in the milieu without spending a lot of money.  That’s fine.

The slot machines have greatly evolved from the old days when a player had to feed in coins, pull a handle that turned his hand black and hope to hit three oranges.

Today’s games feature towering interactive display panels on which we might see Superman rescue Lois Lane if a player hits the bonus feature.  This all happens while sitting in a seat equipped with Dolby surround stereo sound – just the sort of thing the player might encounter if he were playing a video game or attending a movie.

Let me tell you that the casinos don’t take gambling casually and if you engage in it, neither should you.  It is their livelihood and they have armed themselves with every advantage to maximize their profits.  If you don’t understand that, you have no business walking through the front door of one.

Every casino game has a house advantage built into it.  Every one – bar none, which means that no matter what game a player selects he is the underdog.  Well, sometimes underdogs win – but they had better be mentally aware that they have to play their best game in order to have any hope of surviving the experience.

Whenever I walk into a casino I think of myself as walking onto a battlefield.  I respect my opponent’s superior weapons and numbers.  I might have a thousand dollars in my pocket – but there isn’t one table in any casino where the dealer’s rack doesn’t contain ten to twenty times as much in chips.  Multiply that by the number of tables and the vaults in the casino cage which contain thousands of times as much and it should be obvious that my little wad doesn’t represent much more than a spit in the ocean.  My foe is Goliath and in my role as David I am not armed with some rocks and a slingshot but have brought a pea shooter to the fight.

There is one and only one advantage that the player has in this battle.  As long as the player chooses, the house must continue to let him play.  But it is totally within the player’s power to end the battle if he should be ahead, pick up his chips, cash them in and go home with his session’s profits.

Casinos offer “gambler’s junkets” which include air fare, rooms, meals and other amenities because they make money from the players who accept them.   Most people who enjoy them stay for only a few days.  Should they get behind when they begin gambling, there is a tendency to want “to get even”.    This usually results in taking greater risks – which more often than not result in yet bigger losses.

If you are serious about trying to earn some additional income through gambling, you need to record the results of every session.  This is a “business” and you should treat it as such.  Buy a little ledger and record the date, the time of day you played, the game you played and the win/loss result.  While figures don’t lie, gamblers who are dishonest with themselves refuse to record the actual results of their gambling experience.

Finally, if you expect that when you walk into a casino that the sound system will be playing Handel’s, “See, The Conqu’ring Hero Comes” from Judas Maccabeus, you need to turn around, go home, take an attitude adjustment pill and get a good night’s sleep.  That aria isn’t on any casino’s playlist.

KNOWLEDGE

It should seem obvious, but apparently isn’t, that if you do not have the knowledge to understand a game of chance, you have severely limited your possibilities of winning at it.  I can guarantee that on any given weekend I could go down to the Strip, walk into any casino and go up to a craps table.  It’ an exciting, fast paced and confusing game – especially for the uninitiated.

There at the table will be standing some young lovely from out of town, dressed to the nines (which today means wearing an un-torn T-shirt), hanging over the side of the table.  She has made a five dollar bet on “The Field”.  The dice are rolled and her bet disappears.

“What happened,?” she asks.  Simply that a number was rolled which was not included in her bet.  “Oh, cocktails – I’ll have another Bloody Mary.”

By the way, I would like to pass on a little knowledge which I have acquired over the years.  “In vino veritas” may be an old and true aphorism.  But having a couple of belts is the fastest way to impair your judgment and it is for that reason that casinos offer free alcoholic beverage service.  If you are drinking you should not be driving and you should not be gambling.  If you take nothing else away from this post, consider that if you observe this rule you will be doing yourself and your bank account a big favor.

Let’s return to blackjack as it is one of the simpler table games and one with which I suspect many readers are familiar.  There was a time when in Northern Nevada, the Reno/Tahoe district, the casinos required that their dealers took a hit if their hand was a “soft” seventeen” – as in A-6.  It was called soft because no matter what their next card was, the hand couldn’t go over 21, as A-6 is either 7 or 17.  Las Vegas casinos required that their dealers stay on that hand.

Hitting a soft 17 improved the house’s win percentage by a small amount.  But if you add a small amount to the hundreds of thousands of times that hand was held by the house in the course of a month’s play, it added a lot of money to the bottom line.  So, using their knowledge of how this improved their profitability, all the casinos began hitting this hand.

The standard and correct payout on a player’s getting a blackjack is 3-2.  A $10 bet should receive a $15 payoff.  But some casinos, not content with their already significant advantage changed that to 6-5 so that same bet received a payoff of $12.  If you’re sitting at a blackjack table where that is the house’s payoff on a blackjack, you are not only being “fleeced” but you’re being butchered as well.

Knowledge in gambling consists not only of an understanding of the game, using the best strategy in executing your play but it requires that you seek out and only play at casinos which are giving you a fair shake.  A 6-5 blackjack payoff is nothing short of criminal rape and if you play at that table you have invited the consequences upon yourself.

MONEY MANAGEMENT

This is a subject which is uncomfortable for many of us.  If you question that statement you have only to look at how government “deals” with this issue.  However, this critical aspect of successful gambling is essential if you are to have any hope of making any money at it.

I cannot count the number of times that I have seen someone walk up to a blackjack table with a $10 minimum bet requirement and hand the dealer a $20 bill.  Usually the person is on his way to dinner or a movie and will say to his date, “Let me just lose this and we’ll get going.”  Normally, that is exactly what happens.

There are many sage pieces that have been written about money management.  As it pertains to gambling perhaps the first and foremost is, “Never bet more than you can afford to lose.”  That is a piece of advice that unfortunately many ignore and it is the reason that “Gamblers Anonymous” exists and has a large membership.

I have a simple rule for money management.  I need to have one hundred times the minimum bet with me before I have the right to sit at a table.  That means that if I choose to play at a blackjack table with a $5 minimum, I have to have at least $500 in my pocket.  You need to have sufficient wherewithal to survive runs where the house seems impervious to the odds, because those sorts of runs happen every day.  It’s not pleasant but that’s just the way it is.

If you don’t have sufficient capital to withstand one of these assaults, you are out of the game long before things change and the cards or the dice or whatever turn in the player’s favor.  So do yourself a favor and make sure that you are sufficiently capitalized to play any game in which you choose to participate.

I have a second rule which comes in two parts.  The first part is limiting losses.  The second part is taking profits.

If I begin the day with a $500 bankroll, I will not let it fall below $250.  If it hits that number, I am done for the day.  It just wasn’t my day.  There are days when even applying all my knowledge and equipped with a positive and realistic attitude nothing is going right.  I accept that, take my loss and leave.  The casino will be open tomorrow.

But just as important, perhaps even more so, is knowing when to book a profit.  If I am willing to lose $250 I should be willing to accept the same amount in profit.  I have had days when I just seemed impervious to the laws of probability and would win hand after hand – much to my own surprise.  I never want to cut off a winning streak prematurely – but I also realize that “this too shall pass”.  So I have a simple way of letting the casino tell me when it’s time for me to go home.

Let’s say, for example, that I have reached my $250 profit goal.  For purposes of conversation, we’ll assume I’m betting $25 a hand.  I take my original stake and put it to the side.  That is going home with me no matter what happens.  I take my winnings and put them in a separate pile.  I now have ten bets left at $25 apiece.

I make my first bet and win.  I take that $50 dollars and place it in a third stack.  I lose the next bet, the bet after and win the fourth bet.  That $50 also goes in the third stack.  When all ten bets have been made, I take half of the winnings in the third stack and put them with my original stake.  They are also going home with me.  I will then “run through” the remaining chips in the same way until there are no more chips left to bet – and then I leave.

There have been times when I walked into a cold streak and lost all of those ten bets.  There have also been times when my hot streak continued and my original $250 profit turned into $1000.  Having a mechanical method of determining when to stop playing removes all emotion from the equation – and emotion is equally unwelcome in matters of divorce and gambling.

DISCIPLINE

We live in a permissive society where anything goes, no one is to blame and there are always external reasons which explain our failures.  If you are of that mindset, go nowhere near a casino – unless it’s to eat dinner.  Otherwise, you may be the main course on the menu.

Discipline is hard to acquire.  It doesn’t happen overnight but is something that has to be worked toward as an attainable goal.  Gambling is a grind it out business – both from your perspective as the customer and from the casino’s perspective as your host.  I can assure you that the casino staff are very disciplined and seldom make mistakes.  If they do, they lose their jobs.

I know of no successful business that achieved that status despite having sloppy procedures and internal controls.  There is a reason that companies write manuals on what is and what is not permissible, give them to their employees and expect them to abide by the rules that are outlined in them.  It is essential that people know what is expected of them and what they may expect from their employer.  This is something known as accountability – and if you want to gamble for a living, full time or supplemental, you must accept this as part of your pattern for success.

The way I sum up discipline is with this statement.  “Discipline is doing something that hurts because you know it is the right thing; and it is not doing something that feels good because you know that it is the wrong thing.”  Some people call that morality – but I find it hard to use that word when we are speaking of gambling.

While I realize that most of my readers have never contemplated making a livelihood by becoming professional gamblers, I would suggest that these rules apply equally to all life endeavors in whatever field.  And abandoning them usually results in personal failure.  Let’s look at a few examples from the world most of us know only too well.

Attitude – (Low Self-Image).  I was born into poverty; I’m not all that attractive; I’m a minority and people discriminate against me; my parents didn’t love me; nobody loves me; my life is meaningless.  Analysis:  This person will spend his life moaning about how unfairly he has been treated, how unfair life is and will try to suck you into the conversation so he can moan on your shoulder.   If you have the rest of your life to waste in a hopeless effort to “redeem” this poor soul, adopt him as your new BFF.

Attitude – (Inflated Self-Esteem).  Examples include, rock stars, politicians, sports legends, .com Executives (for a short while).  I am above the law; the rules that low-lives have to live by don’t apply to me; I can do anything I want because, well – I’m me; the universe revolves around me.  Analysis:  Most meteors, when entering the earth’s atmosphere mostly burn up, and those which aren’t fully consumed in the process, generally land with a thud.

Attitude – (Healthy Self-Esteem).  I am who I am; some parts of that are terrific and others need improvement; I’m a caring and thoughtful person – even if that is not always reciprocated by those I meet; I have standards and I’m going to hold on to them; I’m pretty good today – but I plan on being better tomorrow and better yet the day after.  Analysis:  We need more of you on planet earth.

Knowledge – The antonym of knowledge is ignorance.  If you believe you know all there is to know, you have died.  It’s just that your brain hasn’t gotten around to informing your body of that fact.  Life is a process of becoming more knowledgeable and, more importantly, using that information to improve you life and the lives of those you encounter along the way.

The knowledge each of us acquires not only has an impact on the quality of our own lives but has a profound impact on all society.  And our ignorance has an even more dramatic impact.  To verify this statement, look no further than those who are either un-educated or under-educated and who must rely on the general populace for their support and income.  Sadly, they have no job opportunities and even in a robust economy would have no more.  And, perhaps the saddest commentary on this scenario is that most are ignorant of their own helplessness.

Money Management – U. S. “official deficit” reaches $16.2 Trillion.

Discipline – There is a reason that the military, professional athletes and professional musicians practice and train on a regular, daily basis.  Repetition of successful behavioral patterns results in successful performance.

The word discipline comes to us from the Latin word “discipilus” – student.  Most of us would do well if we were to think about enrolling in some adult continuing education classes.

Summary:  The song, “Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries” is a charming little ditty, a “feel good song.”  Unfortunately, it doesn’t reflect life’s realities.  For most of us a more accurate song depicting our view of the world is one from Peter Pan, “I Won’t Grow Up.”

Life is a gamble.  I’ve met talented people with all the advantages, money, looks, intelligence who squandered what they had and died of drug overdoses.  I’ve met people who were not particularly attractive who came from impoverished backgrounds and struggled to become great successes.

Ultimately, it all comes down to how we play the cards we are dealt.

ON BUYING INSURANCE

If you’ve followed this blog for any period of time, you’ve heard constant references that I make to the dogs with whom I’ve shared my life.  There was a dog in our home when I was born and I hope there will be one by my side when I pass from this earth.

Dogs have brought me so much joy with their simple ways and honest behavior.  They have in many ways been my guide – as important as any spiritual advisor.  It was not through their words but their acts that I learned.  So if you’ve concluded from this summary that I have a passion for dogs, you are certainly correct.

And that brings me to what I have learned from my companion dog Gracie.

Gracie doesn’t have a mean bone in her body.  She is one of the gentlest creatures who has ever walked this planet.  She interjects herself between other dogs at the dog park if she feels the playfulness is getting a little too contentious – acting as hall monitor.  I have often worried that, if there were a dog who was truly vicious while she was busy interceding and who attacked her, she would have no idea how to respond to this assault.

I’ve met a few dogs in my life who were, indeed, vicious.  Their number is far less than the people whom I could categorize thusly.  Those dogs, like many of those people, were unfortunate victims of their upbringing.  And as we look at our world today, it seems to me that our general abandonment of principle and love (other than the self-centered kind), has loosed far more vicious people on the world than it once knew.

We are now about to embark on a discussion on “gun control”.  The media, already bought and paid for, will show us scenes of horrible tragedies, mass shootings and stories about the helpless victims and the toll their deaths took on their families.  We should all bow our heads in prayer and reflection over what caused these tragedies and mourn those who died in them.  That is the very least we should do – and it is probably all that most of us will do.

Soon the rhetoric will begin on Capitol Hill and from the White House.  It will sound good if you fail to listen closely to the underlying emptiness of the conversation.

It will talk about the number of violent deaths caused by weaponry – and will totally ignore the walking deaths caused by welfare.

It will address itself to the undeniable tragedies of Newtown, CT and Aurora, Co and will lay the blame squarely at the feet of guns, while ignoring the fact that there are mentally ill people in this country for whom we provide limited assistance or help.

It will necessarily re-write history and ignore the reasons that the Founding Fathers incorporated the Second Amendment of the Constitution to uphold the First – Freedom of Speech.

It will ignore the facts about areas which have allowed gun ownership and have among the lowest crime rates and that areas which have restrictive gun control laws have consistently had more murders committed due to the use of illegal guns.

In essence, it will be a lie – as much that emanates from Washington has proven to be.

So today I made a decision.  I will admit that it was one at which I arrived after a lot of kicking and screaming.  I made a decision to purchase a weapon – not because I have any intent to go out and shoot up the town or rob a bank but as a matter of defense – for Gracie’s sake and well-being.

I am not thinking of it as a “gun” but rather, an “insurance policy”.  And while, as with all insurance policies, I hope never to have to call on the benefits for which I have paid premiums, I will be armed – and Gracie will be safe.

That is what responsible parenting is all about.  Isn’t it?

“FAGIN” GOVERNMENT

There have been no lack of stories retelling the events of the year 2012 A.D.    There never is a dearth of these reviews at year end.  Suddenly, everyone becomes an historian.  Since part of my educational discipline is in history, there is one thing that I learned from my studies in this field.

There are lessons which history teaches us – but those lessons have no value unless we absorb them and take guidance from them to build a better future.

America has a unique history among the countries of the world which we have seen come and go over the centuries.  It was founded on the principle of individual freedom and liberty as the most precious human right that a government could guarantee to its citizens.

That is a concept that many of us have forgotten – and many more have never learned.  In part, that is because we now have school systems which depict the patriots at The Boston Tea Party as thugs, willfully destroying the property of others.  How strange that on July 4, 1973, the U. S. Post Office issued a series of four stamps commemorating this very event of thuggery.  A lot can happen to our thinking in four decades.  And a lot has happened.

At the end of 1973, our National Debt stood at $458 Billion and our Gross Domestic Product stood at $1.4 Trillion, a ratio of 33%.  At the end of 2012, it is estimated our National Debt will be $16.1 Trillion and our GDP will be $15.8 Trillion, a ratio of 102%.  In other words, we have simply stopped being productive – both as individuals, taken as a group, and as a country. And we have been wasteful.

In some ways, we have cast ourselves in the role of Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard” – the aging actress who relies on her past triumphs and has an expectation that because she was once great and admired, the world owes her a living and the next starring role.  Unfortunately, the world has a different view.

This transformation didn’t happen overnight, notwithstanding all the media hype over the fiscal cliff.  Whatever is or is not resolved in that matter will really be of little importance in the long, historical view of things.  Some patchwork quilt “solution” will be hammered together by the short-sighted whom we elect to their respective seats in the Washington establishment.

If we are to take the Biblical injunction, “By their works shall ye know them” to heart, then we have managed to content ourselves with electing women and men to public office who have a fundamental philosophy of concupiscence and self-interest.  Their concern is not for their constituents but for their own re-election and they will say or do anything that is necessary to insure that – no matter how the country might suffer as a result of their acts.

That mindset is thoroughly entrenched in the vast majority in the Washington oligarchy.  And while that is frightening, what is yet more frightening is that we, the people, not only tolerate it but endorse it by re-electing these real thugs in election after election.  It’s as though we are smiling as they hand us the shovel with which we have to dig our own grave before they mercifully put us out of our misery by shooting us in the head.

We didn’t get here overnight and we’re not going to get out of this mess overnight either.  Of course, if we pursue our present path, we’re never going to extricate ourselves but will keep digging our grave deeper and deeper.  At least that may be a good thing for the hardware stores that sell shovels.

I can think of no finer summary of our government’s modus vivendi than the following song from the musical, “Oliver” in which the thief Fagin explains his philosophy to his troupe of admiring young crooks.

DEAR JOHN

The world may not have ended on December 21, 2012 – but we did lose a great citizen.  I received a call this morning that a good friend, John Hamilton had passed away at the age of 72.

You don’t know who he was – but you should.  He was someone who was an example for all of us – a kind, righteous man.  He happened to be black – but that is not something that should be all that important to us.  It was not all that important to him.

I heard the news from his sister, Delia who is the person who introduced me to John at a Christmas party which she hosted many years ago.  I was immediately struck with his warmth and genuine kindness at that party and we became good friends over many years.

John sold insurance for a livelihood.  That’s a tough gig – but he handled it well.  He never made millions of dollars, but he worked long hard hours to support himself.  He was an immaculate dresser – which brings me to how I got to know him the best.

I was having coffee on a Saturday morning when the phone rang.  It was John.   The reason for his call was that he wanted to buy a new suit and wondered if I would be kind enough to help him pick it out.

Frankly, that surprised me. As John always dressed impeccably, I had always assumed that he had an eye for fashion.  But it turned out that his sister helped him pick out his wardrobe and she had gone to California to work on her Master’s Degree in anthropology.

The reason he asked for my assistance was that he was color blind.  I had known John at this point for at least five years and neither he nor his sister had ever mentioned this.

John had a disability.  But he found a way to cope with that.  As I came to learn, he numbered every article of his clothing so that he could co-ordinate his outfits.  He took pride in his appearance and in himself. 

He didn’t cry or moan about his red green confusion.  He dealt with it and found a way to work around it.

John was one of the small minority of the black community who rejected the Obama administration in the last election.  He held to higher standards.  He was an individualist.

You’ll remember that he asked my help selecting a new suit.  When we arrived at the store where he did most of his clothes shopping, he asked the salesman why the buttons of one that we had selected had the letters PC inscribed on them.  Of course, this was decades before we had heard of Political Correctness.

The salesman, thinking this would be a good selling point said, “This suit was created by the famous French designer, Pierre Cardin.  When you wear this suit, those in the know will know that you have excellent taste.”

John paused for a moment.

“So when I wear this suit, I will be advertising Mr. Cardin’s business.  Will I be receiving royalty checks from him for promoting his enterprise?”

The salesman laughed, obviously thinking that John was joking.  He was deadly serious.

John went on, “It seems to me that if you do something to benefit a commercial venture you should get compensated for it.  And since Mr. Cardin apparently doesn’t share that view, I’ll take the suit – but only if you replace the buttons with plain ones that are appropriate to the material.”

And that’s what the tailor in the store did.

Over the years, John and I had many conversations about the “mob mentality” in clothing as it reflected on the lack of individuality in our society.  Think about all the clothing and accessories which you or your friends own which are emblazoned with a company logo or name, items that were purchased in an effort to look trendy and chic.

Inanimate objects do not empower us.  Only we have the ability to do that for ourselves, with the help of family and friends.  John knew that.  And he lived that.

Delia requested that I deliver the eulogy at his funeral.  I consider it a great privilege that I was asked to do so.  Since I learned of his death I have been trying to put together some thoughts that reflect on his life.

Maybe I will talk about the man I knew who loved kids and cats and dogs.  The man who held the door open for the person behind him and who always allowed ladies off the elevator before him, stretching out his arm to make sure that the door didn’t close unexpectedly.

I will always remember his beaming smile and his hearty laugh.  I will always remember how he would swoop down to comfort a child who had skinned her knee while she and a friend were playing hopscotch.  

John was a kind man and a gentleman. You couldn’t help but notice as he was so proficient at his craft – having practiced it every day of his life.  And with his passing, there is one fewer of that dying breed who are left to shine their light upon us. 

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