Friday, August 22, 2008

A Tribute to My Uncle...a Quiet Hero


(Photo taken Feb 2008 in Florida)

One thing in life we can never take any credit for is the family we are born into. To that extent, I was born into a rich family...rich in character, rich in faith, rich in hope and love. To that extent, I must boast of a particular family member.

The heart has been heavy this week as my Uncle Ted has been struggling to hold on to this side of life for a number of days now. These times are when it is most difficult to live so far away from family and your roots. My best goes out to my Aunt, Cousins and Mom who are carrying on the vigil as my Uncle goes into a hospice care situation with the medical professionals basically "calling it a day" and the election of family to not sustain his life artificially. My wife and I will be traveling up there this next week...and while we were hoping to visit Uncle Ted and Aunt Nan in a more upbeat context, Bibi and I will look forward to reconnecting and sharing in this family struggle.

This man was diagnosed with terminal cancer about 5 years ago if I remember correctly and given 1-2 years estimated time to wrap up his affairs. Since that time he has been through a number of chemo treatments, worked through a couple of strokes, and other periodic ailments like colds and pneumonia which come to those on various medications which reduces the bodies resistance to germs and infection. Yet, he has been a walking miracle both in the words of his doctors and the people who have been around him constantly these past few years. You might even call him the "energizer bunny". His "batteries" have just kept on running beyond anyone's expectations.

I always remember Uncle Ted as a robust and healthy man of good Norwegian genes. Always clean cut, no bad habits,..."Mr. Clean" you might call him. He and my Aunt are in their 60th year of marriage and within our family stand as the longest healthy marriage relationship on record. When we occasionally review albums and old family movies, I have often focused on photos from their wedding day...which I believe was the first wedding my mother performed as wedding pianist in her early teens at my grandfather's church. Every time I have looked at those photos and then at my uncle and aunt together in recent years, I have marveled at the continued zest and "connectedness" between them. Theirs is a generation of one of the last to hold the virtue of marriage in highest esteem and honor as a lifelong commitment.

We spent constant time together in my growing up years and never did I ever hear a cross word between them as a couple. Uncle is the strong quiet type, and my aunt the soft spoken but always capable negotiator...seemingly quite able to get things done or understood in the family. I never remember any yelling or screaming towards my 3 first cousins Tim, Kriss or Caryl as we were all growing up together. Both parents seemed to have firm control by simple old fashioned parenting techniques. A hard look of disapproval or use of first and middle names in a stern voice in those days seemed enough to make kids fall in line with their parents wishes...most of the time anyways.

My Uncle and Aunt are no strangers to hardships and loss. When we lost my youngest cousin Caryl as a result of a very rare and vicious disease when she was in her early 30s with a young family, Ted and Nancy always seemed so supportive and in control even though underneath I know it was just devastating. There have been numerous health challenges over the years and struggles to help various family members in crisis. Yet, I never heard a critical or complaining word. Instead they have exhibited a quiet acceptance of life's challenges and heartaches that come along with the joys of living and loving. They always seem to come away from hardships with a positive, living faith that things are going to be better. They have never seemed too concerned about storing up riches in this life, but rely heavily on a never wavering faith in God and their convictions of what is right and how we should then live.

My uncle is quietly a man of many talents though never boastful of them. He and their whole immediate family are quite artistic. We relish many of the art pieces that both my uncle and aunt have created over their lives and gifted to us...and my cousin Tim just recently retired as an artist at the Kellogg Company. It seems to run in their immediate family.

My uncle was also a "builder". I still have fond memories of playing with my cousins on the building site of their first big house on Roxbury Lane. Swinging on the vines in the trees of the wooded lot they were building on, playing hide and seek around the construction site, the smell of sawdust and construction everywhere. My uncle would work at his factory job at Eatons all day and then work half the night and all weekend on their house though always careful to rest on the Sabbath. At that point in my life, it was the biggest and most contemporary house I had ever seen. Quite the testament to Ted and Nans creativity and careful planning together. This was to be the first of many "projects" and rebuilds that they would take on...all to very high standards and a homey effect. Even their current home was the result of many hard labors and personal touches of this couple in their 70s. Ner a lazy bone between them.

I also remember my uncle's car refurbishing projects in the basement garage of my Grandparents home when I was a kid, specifically the old Mercedes Benz that was towed in, all crashed and rusted one day. I watched my uncle refurbish by hand that whole car body for weeks and seemingly months after working his regular job...a little bit most every day...until out came this brand new looking vintage Mercedes. I could not appreciate the accomplishment at the time, but I now only imagine the sense of pride in driving a vehicle that you have put so much sweat and effort into rebuilding. Building value with your own two hands. Taking pride in what you MADE, not what you BOUGHT.

I also owe my interest and passion for flying and airplanes to Uncle Ted. He had signed up towards the end of World War II at age 17 for the Air Force and left at that tender young age for Florida where he was trained to fly fighter planes. From that time on he always had flying magazines everywhere and went often to the Experimental Aircraft Association's Oshkosh, Wisconsin fly-ins. I latched on to every word and description of the latest experimental aircraft or vintage plane he had seen whenever he came back from those trips. I still plan to fly my own small plane one day in this life...substantially due to those early influences. The sense of adventure that seems to run in our family.

Perhaps his passion for flying and fine if slightly used automobiles contributed to his "can do" approach to life. Whatever his hand found to do...he did it with all his might. And when these recent battles with deteriorating health have tried to overtake him, he has always found a way to keep going, keep busy, keep focused on the positive. One day at a time finding all the joy and fulfillment his energy will allow him to...and then to some miraculous level even higher.

His phenomenal ability these past few years while going through various types of chemotherapies and all kinds of drugs...to still get out of the house and walk 9 holes of golf with his core foursome of octogenarian golfing buddies is testament to his dedication and commitment to whatever he set his mind to do. I saw this myself this past February when we were blessed to spend a week together as a family in Florida. Uncle and I went to hit some golf balls at a driving range one afternoon...and while he was obviously frustrated and unsatisfied with his deteriorating capabilities...he still had that glint of determination in his eye to push as far as he could with what he has left. And of course, he was very encouraging to me, telling me how impressed he was with how far I was hitting the ball...while conveniently NOT taking note of my shots that yanked left or right...way off target. And it is the little details he takes note of that really make him unique. After hitting quite a few balls and feeling quite worn out from his condition, he still very diligently returned the empty golf ball basket and borrowed clubs we had used to the specific spot we had taken them from. Energy he didn’t need to expend, yet a class performance always.

American culture during my lifetime has heavily leaned towards accumulation of wealth and "security". My uncle and aunt have never exhibited any great ambitions to wealth or extravagance. They have enjoyed the simple pleasures in life, worked towards simple goals, enjoying the results of their personal labors versus counting on others. A great team, an inseparable pair, and surrounded by adoring family and large network of friends. This couple is the kind of people that make GREAT friends...forever type friends.

I am very thankful today for the family influences I have had...and the special care and concern my uncle and aunt have shown for me over the years. They set the mark in so many ways for the way life is supposed to be lived and how love is to be exhibited in a marriage...in that quiet everyday consistency and shared senses of humor.

Words are always deficient in defining the spirit of a person. I would lay the following adjectives on my Uncle Ted; quiet, unassuming, humble, fun, witty, hardworking, dependable, unwavering, adventurous, consistent, supportive, well rounded, strong and committed. Looking for weaknesses, I don’t find too many unless you count being TOO giving, TOO caring, or TOO trusting in the Lord as "weak".

My uncle is a "Man's Man"...and my life has been enriched by having his influence in my life. Even his struggle to continue his life and stay with us on this side has been an example of how to live and overcome difficulties that no sermon or book could ever match in effectiveness.

We are miles apart Uncle Ted...but even in your current struggle...you continue to be a mentor and lifelong example. God bless you, Aunt Nan, and my other loved ones up there...and we will be there soon as we can.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Gun Slinging Maverick Vs Mr. Slick



Last night's first debate of the Presidential contenders, primarily focused on morals and faith based issues was probably the best format and execution of a debate in recent history. I still support the idea that the setting places too much connection between religion and politics, but one has to give kudos to Rick Warrens even handed monitoring versus recent shameful political pandering by media pundits in the same role.

What I missed in this format is the interchange of ideas and being able to observe the reactions of each candidate to what the other says in real time. I also think McCain had a significant advantage being last and able to leave the final impression(s). Some have even suggested he was somehow able to hear or know the questions ahead of his turn since he seemed to know the questions and his answer before Warren was finished asking...or...he was just very well prepared. I hope it's the later. A more fair and comparative format would be to have both candidates on stage at the same time and exchange back and forth the "first turn" on the various issues.

What continues to crystallize for me between these two candidates is their very different approaches and temperament about the issues. You have the hard talking, maverick positioning, decorated war hero John McCain versus the more liberal, slick, conversant, intellectual Barack Obama. Both men in my view have pros and cons...and I'm still leaning towards 3rd party candidates which represent my personal platform preferences. Yet, I have to take interest in the two front runners if only to get a feel of how things will be depending on who wins the Presidency of our country.

Most people will vote which "image" or personality they most identify with...unfortunately. John McCain represents to me the gun slinging maverick who says he is going to give you the straight truth, stand up strongly against our enemies, and represents the "old guard" and more traditional views of American tradition and positioning in the world. I used to like McCain more, even when I didn't agree with him, when he was the independent maverick voice of the Republican party. Unfortunately he has sacrificed much of that integrity to political convenience in his campaign for the Presidency. I also don't like the amount of slime and negative campaigning he and the Republicans are falling back on as they feel very threatened by the upstart politician, Obama.

Barack Obama has succeeded in turning the process on its ear as the most successful and well spoken minority candidate in our country's history. His personality and approach is much less combative or confrontational. He has succeeded in galvanizing a whole new demographic of Americans into the political process including youth, minorities, and the poor or displaced in American culture. To that extent, I applaud and WANT to like and support him. Unfortunately, behind all the imaging and intellect is more of the typical liberal agenda of bigger government programs, higher taxes and more government intervention in the marketplace...all of which I oppose.

I WANT to support the strong aggressive "Patriot" message of McCain of "getting" all our enemies and standing up to everyone in the world. Unfortunately, I don't think he will have the money and forces at his disposal to live up to the rhetoric. The current administration has burned through most of that. I fear someone putting out "tough talk" on my behalf who doesn't have the size or substance to back up the talk with action. After all, it was George Bush's tough talk against Hussein and Iraq that forced us to back it up when Saddam called us on it. Now we face challenges on many fronts, including Russia, to America's authority and controls in international affairs. I personally think our foreign policy is in tatters and we no longer have the money to buy our friends with. Unfortunately, history shows us time and time again that when an empire gets unrealistic about its capabilities to control territories it holds influence over...it quickly recedes in size and stature in the world. I fear the militarization talk of McCain in face of our current combined problems as a country.

I WANT to support some of the social message and idea of pursuing international dialogue in solving our conflicts and challenges that Barack Obama represents. If words and enforceable agreements can be negotiated in place of guns and warships by engaging everyone on a rational basis...I would be more for that than spending our remaining wealth and soldiers lives on warfare. To me it has been obvious that the current administration has been more dictatorial and bilateral in their decisions than consensus oriented with our international allies. Yet, we can't rebuild our defenses and our economy by just putting more government programs in place and redistributing wealth in our own country. Just reshuffling the tax codes and getting us out of international conflicts won't rebuild our economy nor guarantee a strong defense of freedom and democracy. Obama would need to make some major changes in his platform before I could vote for him.

So, who will be the next leader of the "free world"? A gun slinging maverick, or a slick talking negotiator? Both candidates have flip flopped on various issues of importance. At the end of the day, they are both just "politicians"...with skeletons and moral issues in their past. We should not put too much importance or trust on either one of them to get our country out of our mess. In my mind, it will be up to each of us Americans to find consensus amongst ourselves and demand that government reflect the "will of the people". There is too much "taxation without representation". There are too many "career" politicians manipulating our process. We too easily relinquish decisions for war to our imperfect and fallible President and executive branch of government. We are asking too much of government and too little of ourselves. This is the core difference we will need to see to rebuild our country's greatness. The power of ONE...to change and influence the world.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The First Debate...Focus on Religion






Tomorrow night is the first Presidential debate of the season between McCain and Obama. It will be hosted by pastor and author Rick Warren...at his "Saddleback" church. Therein lies my mixed feelings about this debate, and American political process overall.

If you've been following my blogs, you probably realize I am strongly for separation of church and state. I don't believe governments should meddle in religion...and I don't think non-profit religious organizations should be political. There are many reasons for that which I have stated before and won't go on about here. Still, I find it quite ironic that America's first Presidential debate this year will be based on religious views and the candidate's faith.

On the positive side, I think most Americans want a leader for our country who is moral, just, balanced and in control. Because so much of these campaigns have already been about each candidate's religion, their pastors, and the supporters they have from various religions...I suppose this forum will help get THEIR words on where they stand on these issues of faith and church. And with the state of our world and leadership overall, many of us might believe we will need some major miracles to get out of the messy state of affairs our country, economy and culture is in. To that extent we might want to figure out who God is going to support, and who he is not going to be behind come next November.

I say that tongue in cheek of course, because I personally don't think God is going to be paying much attention to what is said on Sunday night. And, I am quite tired of all these politicians playing the "faith" card, siding up to whatever religious leaders they can, and most of the time talking out of both sides of their mouths. After all...that’s what MOST politicians do. I saw the first "religious" debate between Clinton and Obama a few months back...and I squirmed for both of them AND the people that were observing them as they grimaced, sweat, floundered and faked their way to trying to present themselves as THE religious leaders of our time.

I also have a little problem with such a sectarian approach to this religious Presidential debate. While I think Rick Warren has had many good things to say and write about, and I will probably welcome a new style to moderating these debates compared to the conniving and sniping media bigots we usually have doing this...one has to ask why this is being done in a "mega-fundamentalist-protestant-Christian" setting? Why not a Catholic church? Why not a Jewish synagogue? I'm sure the Scientologists would have loved the opportunity.

So tomorrow night the world will continue to be sold on the idea that Americans are generally white, fundamentalist Christians. They will continue to perceive that while we tolerate other religions and cultures, we are very sketchy on including them in our society and elections. Somehow I am quite sure these politicians will continue the rap of how our government is always "righteous" and our enemies are always "without reason". We will continue to listen to these guys pretending they each have huge faith and the inside track on God. And unfortunately, there will be very little content about the REAL problems and issues we should be judging these candidates on.

Again I reiterate from another writing...Jimmy Carter as far as I have been able to observe has been a great example of a true Christian "believer" in both word and deed...yet I view him as one of the weakest Presidents of my lifetime. So...why do we Americans continue to place so much stock in the "religious professions" of modern day Presidents? We see them all fail as humans against the perfect standards of an all righteous God, yet we still somehow want to hold them up to a higher standard. Our expectations set them up for lying, pretending, or maybe at the end of the day we actually FORCE them to make decisions on THEIR faith based on OUR expectations and what is "popular" in today's religious circles. This to me is more a recipe for failure and impossible expectations from these very mortal men. We are setting them up for failure against unrealistic standards most of US do not live up to.

I think it will be an interesting if uncomfortable debate...but in the end I will still be sitting in my chair wondering which of them is going to get our country out of bankruptcy, who will build us a strong defense, who will be most productive towards cheaper and cleaner energy policies, who will be for smaller government and lower taxes, and who will protect each of our individual freedoms in the most effective ways? I would vote for a 400 pound, black, agnostic, transsexual gorilla for President if I thought they had the best chance of accomplishing all of those challenges.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Be like Denmark...For Energy Efficiency




http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/08/10/opinion/edfriedman.php

Thomas Friedman, one of my favorite columnists, "hits the nail on the head" again related to answers to our country's energy addiction. His story almost makes me want to move to Denmark...if it weren't for the cold, long winters. But for energy revolutionaries, they stand out as the most progressive society when they had to deal with their own energy crisis back in 1973.

For those of you who don't want to take time to read the article, here are Ed's highlights:

...you knew it was rush hour because 50 percent of the traffic in every intersection was bicycles. That is roughly the percentage of Danes who use two-wheelers to go to and from work or school every day here. If I lived in a city that had dedicated bike lanes everywhere, including one to the airport, I’d go to work that way, too. It means less traffic, less pollution and less obesity.

...Denmark today gets nearly 20 percent of its electricity from wind. America? About 1 percent.

...Danes recycle waste heat from their coal-fired power plants and use it for home heating and hot water, or the way they incinerate their trash in central stations to provide home heating. (There are virtually no landfills here.)

...Today, one-third of all terrestrial wind turbines in the world come from Denmark.” In the last 10 years, Denmark’s exports of energy efficiency products have tripled. Energy technology exports rose 8 percent in 2007 to more than $10.5 billion in 2006 (Ed...more than 10x the annual income of the Panama Canal), compared with a 2 percent rise in 2007 for Danish exports as a whole.

...It is one reason that unemployment in Denmark today is 1.6 percent. In 1973, said Hedegaard, “we got 99 percent of our energy from the Middle East. Today it is zero.”

...Denmark’s prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, told me. “The cure is not to reduce the price (of gasoline), but, on the contrary, to raise it even higher to break our addiction to oil. We are going to introduce a new tax reform in the direction of even higher taxation on energy and the revenue generated on that will be used to cut taxes on personal income — so we will improve incentives to work and improve incentives to save energy and develop renewable energy.”

...Why should you care? “We’ve had 35 new competitors coming out of China in the last 18 months,” said Engel, “and not one out of the U.S.”



Now, explain to me again why America cannot compete with the Danes on energy issues? Are we going to lose to the Chinese in THIS arena as well? Windmills look much more attractive to me than smoke stacks, belching out their contamination and contributing greatly to our growing percentage of cancer deaths in America.


Hats off to the Danes...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

What it means to "kill an American"...



This article was sent to me this weekend by a friend. According to snopes.com when I checked the authenticity, it was penned by Peter Ferrara, an associate professor of law at George Mason University School of Law in Northern Virginia. It was originally published in the “National Review” on 25 September, 2001. I had read it before a few years back.

Based on all the recent banter and bigotry of our political process where everyone is trying to claim the “inside track” on being a true patriot or “American”, I thought this would be worth repeating here. This is in hopes that the world, and yes, even we Americans, will truly understand what it means to be an American…and it is much more inclusive than many of us think.

"An American is English, or French, or Italian, Irish, German, Spanish, Polish, Russian or Greek. An American may also be Canadian, Mexican, African, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Australian, Iranian, Asian, or Arab, or Pakistani or Afghan.


An American may also be a Comanche, Cherokee, Osage, Blackfoot, Navaho, Apache, Seminole or one of the many other tribes known as native Americans.


An American is Christian, or he could be Jewish, or Buddhist, or Muslim. In fact, there are more Muslims in America than in Afghanistan. The only difference is that in America they are free to worship as each of them chooses.


An American is also free to believe in no religion. For that he will answer only to God, not to the government, or to armed thugs claiming to speak for the government and for God.


An American lives in the most prosperous land in the history of the world. The root of that prosperity can be found in the Declaration of Independence, which recognizes the God given right of each person to the pursuit of happiness.

An American is generous. Americans have helped out just about every other nation in the world in their time of need.


When Afghanistan was over-run by the Soviet army 20 years ago, Americans came with arms and supplies to enable the people to win back their country!


As of the morning of September 11, Americans had given more than any other nation to the poor in Afghanistan. Americans welcome the best of everything...the best products, the best books, the best music, the best food, the best services. But they also welcome the least. The national symbol of America, The Statue of Liberty, welcomes your tired and your poor, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores, the homeless, tempest tossed. These in fact are the people who built America.


Some of them were working in the Twin Towers the morning of September 11, 2001 earning a better life for their families. It's been told that the World Trade Center victims were from at least 30 different countries, cultures, and first languages, including those that aided and abetted the terrorists.


So you can try to kill an American if you must. Hitler did. So did General Tojo, and Stalin, and Mao Tse-Tung, and other blood-thirsty tyrants in the world. But, in doing so you would just be killing yourself. Because Americans are not a particular people from a particular place. They are the embodiment of the human spirit of freedom. Everyone who holds to that spirit, everywhere, is an American.


AMEN

Friday, August 8, 2008

Infidelity or War...What is Most Newsworthy?





The number one news item of the day today is...sadly enough...the infidelity admissions of John Edwards, former primary Presidential candidate for the Democrats. I came home after a couple of meetings looking for some news. On 4 of 5 news feeds from the USA, I could find no other story but...John Edward's infidelity and rumor of a "love child". Finally, on Bloomberg News I could finally find a report on the growing battlefront between Russia and Georgia...and the positive news that the DOW ended the week up over 305 points. What is it about our culture that elevates a politicians sex life or fidelity over other key news of the day? Instead of what CNN, FOX and the rest of the tabloid news agencies reported today...if I was news director, here are some of the stories you would have heard WELL AHEAD of any coverage of John Edward's sex life:
(These are all actual news headlines from the last couple days)

Islamic terrorists threaten Olympics in video, says US monitoring sources ...

A $2.3 Billion Loss for Fannie Mae...

As casualties in Iraq diminish, Afghan conflict grows more fierce...

US weighs military forays into Pakistan...

US marine to stand trial over murder of Iraqi prisoner...

Karadzic to deny genocide charges at UN trial ...

Israeli, Palestinian peace doesn't look promising...

US Consumer Credit Increases $14.3 Billion in June...

Big Brother's big mortgage bailout is a blow for responsible taxpayers...

John McCain blames Congress for energy crisis...Paris Hilton Solves the Energy Crisis


Ahh...but it was so much more entertaining to hear about all of John Edward's past peccadillo’s, his denials, re surfacing every video of every speech he ever made regarding integrity and fidelity. We sit watching this LONG LONG story with every pundit in American news heaping on their views and opinions. Various factions jump out onto the news stage saying "I told you so", "It was MY Scoop", "I talked to and prodded John Edwards first on this subject". All very proud American journalists these.

I'm not sitting here defending or excusing Mr. Edward's actions and lies. It is unfortunate that we live in a day and age where so many leaders lie to us, hold US to higher standards than they themselves live up to, and voluntarily go seeking the limelight when they know underneath the cloak of truth and honesty that naked they are no better than you or me.

But is seems to me even more sick that our modern day minds and attentions are forced to focus on these failings of individual men, while we ignore the various atrocities and attacks on freedom that are happening EVERY DAY while we lay sleeping. These smirking journalists and pundits all circling their prey with their "holier than thou" hypocrisy, prodding and poking to even know the underwear size of famous people.

I think I'd be further ahead just to go fishing...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

On Dogs and Motorcycles...




Things have been pretty heavy on this blog lately basically focusing on politics and religion. It’s time to lighten up for a minute and discuss / reminisce a little about two of men's favorite subjects...dogs and motorcycles.

I have a motorcycle...a BMW650 Scarver...that was my birthday present to me on my 50th birthday. I had a few cycles in my younger days and always liked them. Only problem in recent decades has been that they are difficult to move around when you move a lot...and in northern climates like Michigan and Chicago, it is too frustrating having a bike and only 4 comfortable months to ride them in. But now that I am living in tropical climates and a big city, it seems like a more prudent investment.

Now, I know many people close to me would question the "prudent" aspect of cycle ownership and riding, the danger, and exposure to the elements. Alas, no one has ever accused me of being too "careful" or risk averse, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I still like to ride. There’s something about being on the road on two wheels that gives one a sense of freedom...free to roam, free to fit through small spaces, and definitely easy parking. And yes, going fast on two wheels is a special thrill though I try to reserve that to open road riding...and on good roads only.

In a city like Panama City, Panama, motorcycles make a lot of sense. The traffic and traffic controls here are ridiculous and during a busy day I can get across town on a cycle in 1/3 the time it takes in a car or taxi. Also, with gas currently at more than $4.50 per gallon, it makes enormous difference on the cost of transportation...and my BMW runs VERY clean...almost no exhaust...and it also runs very quiet compared to "hogs" and choppers. I don't really get impressed by LOUD engines. I'm more into performance, reliance and control of "noise pollution". That’s why BMWs are such marvelous bikes. And, they take a beating and still keep on giving. Most of the world tour cyclists I have found, many traversing around the world on a motorcycle, seem to prefer BMWs for their durability and low maintenance. Sure, it's not cheap when you need repairs or maintenance, but...I'd rather pay for the quality and less hassle.

Culturally here in Panama people don’t ride bikes around the city during the work week. Most of the bikes you'll see are delivery bikes...little Yamaha or Suzuki 125s on the average...with big delivery bins attached carrying everything from packages and documents, to Big Macs and Dominos Pizza. Me, I'm the crazy gringo that shows up to real estate and attorney meetings helmet in hand. If it is a nice day and lots of traffic, it is the preferred way to arrive on time. And those who know me know I have never minded being a little "different". Actually, I would prefer that more of this population road motorcycles or regular bikes in the city. Less congestion, pollution, better for their health, and parking is a breeze. There are few regulations in Panama on motorcycles and parking...at least "enforced" regulations. Most buildings have a few bikes parked right at the front door...on the sidewalk, in the grass, on the curb. Granted most of them are not as nice as my cycle and I try to be careful not to park in someone’s way or where careless people will run over my baby. So far so good (knock on wood).

Out at the real estate project we are working on, "La Reserva", there are 3 Labrador retrievers "guarding" the place. I don’t know how much security they truly provide since by nature they are quite friendly, slobbering and jumping like puppies on any new face they see on the property. Being outdoor dogs, they usually are a bit wet or grimy from their latest hunts and sojourns. They also have taken the worst of it a couple times meddling with Sloths and other wild creatures in the area. But being back around dogs in that environment reminded me of the value and tradition of dogs as "man’s best friend".

Dogs have great character. They are very loyal, especially to their owners/handlers. They tend to be affectionate also and they can have amazing sensitivity to human moods and even physical ailments or disease. They are usually playful and observant. And yes, they can be protective and "bravo" if their owner is threatened somehow. These are all good things to have in a friend. AND...they listen without talking back usually...which is very unusual in a friend.

The main dog in my life was a Doberman Pinscher. Yes, I prefer big dogs with short hair. Lower maintenance and less smelly. This Doberman, named "Dobie", was a good example of how humans can and should be. Friendly and happy around his "family", and very defensive and careful of strangers. He had a strong image so most people wouldn't "mess" with him, but underneath he read people well and was good with kids. He definitely didn’t like the garbage man or the gas meter reader man. They were definitely threats to his "turf", and maybe he even knew that somehow they were there to cost us money. He was a bit high strung and I remember him knocking down my grandmother a couple times in his exuberance...and one of my funniest memories of him was when he dragged my little sister across the yard on her belly in the snow as she held on to his leash with determination that SHE was going to walk HIM (sorry sis...had to bring that memory back up:) ).

Unfortunately we had to give him up when we moved and the family decided no dogs at the new home. Mom found a good home for him out in the country somewhere outside our home town. Then later on we heard a heroic story of our Dobie who apparently while home alone detected a fire at the house which was isolated in some woods. He reportedly ran out to the end of their long driveway and barked and barked until someone noticed and followed him back to the danger. That’s our Dobie...Lassie had nothing on him.

All this to express the little things in a man’s life that makes it worth living and meaningful. We can learn a lot from our dogs, and we can experience a lot of highs and escape on motorcycles…just you and the road. At the same time, one of my favorite themes in life is..."wherever you go...there you are". So we carry these experiences and examples of character with us where ever we go in this short life on earth. These experiences help us come back and face our daily realities with a fresh approach and energy.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A is A...We Need John Galt



(This video is the 13th in a series of 14 posted up on YouTube depicting the core soliloquy of the main character in Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged", John Galt. It is pretty strong medicine to explain and offer hope for an answer to America's current crisis. I recommend taking the time to review all 14 videos in order if you can...but 13 is paramount to this blog if you are only taking time to view one)

In my early 20s I read "Atlas Shrugged" along with a number of other writings by Ayn Rand. It was probably, next to the Bible, the most influential book on my life and yet in my bookcase there are probably no two books more diametrically opposed. I am glad that I exposed myself to the Randian philosophy of "Objectivism" as a balance to the traditions I was brought up with. The masses would probably deem Rand's writings as "evil"...going against the grain of mankind’s apparent bent for blind altruism and belief in collectivism and socialistic values. From an early age we all experience the pressure to conform and "fit in" with the norms of our day...how to dress, how to talk, how to believe. Rand’s writings and beliefs are in direct contrast to much of the world's recent political and philosophical leanings...primarily based on her premises that individual sovereignty is paramount to government or statist sovereignties and morality is based more on the power of the mind/reason than the power of "faith".

While I admire and identify with many of her views, I would not call myself a true "Objectivist"...as people following her philosophy have been labeled. I need another religion or movement like I need a hole in the head. If you can't 100% agree with a fundamental creed, it is disingenuous to label yourself accordingly.
The 10 main points of Objectivism are:

1. That reality is what it is, that things are what they are, independent of anyone's beliefs, feelings, judgments or opinions -- that existence exists, that A is A;
2. That reason, the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by the various senses, is fully competent, in principle, to understand the facts of reality;
3. That any form of irrationalism, supernaturalism, or mysticism, any claim to a nonsensory, nonrational form of knowledge, is to be rejected;
4. That a rational code of ethics is possible and is derivable from an appropriate assessment of the nature of human beings as well as the nature of reality;
5. That the standard of the good is not God or the alleged needs of society but rather "Man's life," that which is objectively required for man's or woman's life, survival, and well-being;
6. That a human being is an end in him- or herself, that each one of us has the right to exist for our own sake, neither sacrificing others to self nor self to others;
7. That the principles of justice and respect for individuality autonomy, and personal rights must replace the principle of sacrifice in human relationships;
8. That no individual -- and no group -- has the moral right to initiate the use of force against others;
9. That force is permissible only in retaliation and only against those who have initiated its use;
10. That the organizing principle of a moral society is respect for individual rights and that the sole appropriate function of government is to act as guardian and protector of individual rights.

(Online sources for more information on this philosophical movement: The Atlas Society, Ayn Rand Institute )

It’s interesting for me to note that while most people would not agree intellectually with many of these points, in practice many of us live according to most of them. We humans are a pretty selfish lot...with huge egos and an insatiable quest for "success" mixed with a significant dose of bigotry. Yet we complicate things by trying to live up to near impossible codes of conduct and "acceptable behaviors" placed upon us by society and religions. Hence, we live with a huge sledge hammer of guilt manipulation hanging over our heads. We live to please others before ourselves. We work to pay taxes before we pay ourselves. We worry about what others will think about us before we think of our own integrity or individual mores. Most voters vote based on popularity contests or what their circles and traditions are harping versus their own true conscience.

Ayn Rand wrote most of her enduring works during the 40s and 50s. She wrote in reaction to her childhood growing up in Russia under Lenin and Stalinism, and later because of her reaction as Americans embraced Roosevelt's "New Deal" where the concept of Big Government taking care of the little man took its roots in America. This was the beginning of the "welfare state" in her mind with the voters assenting to their government’s role as the "benevolent dictator". In response to this major left turn in America's mass consciousness, we have now seen everything from markets to morality manipulated and controlled by government forces and the breaking down of true community and individual sovereignty. It has now evolved to a point where America has truly lost its competitive edge, bleeding our currency and productivity in favor of those foreign powers that hold our debt and control the prices of our energy. And we continue to look to these inept, egomaniacal politicians to "somehow" pull us out of the eye of the storm. We are placing our faith and hope in the wrong hands folks, and it is quickly becoming a mandate for abandoning ship and every man for himself. We have allowed the concerns and needs of "the masses" to overshadow the needs of ourselves and our families. We have sacrificed true morality for some vacuous lip service and catch phrases of integrity and greatness we wish and hope we still have. We have allowed an inept President to waste our military and financial resources on aggressive, "first strike" methodology in pursuing nefarious "terrorists and evil doers" and have come away primarily with empty hands and coffers when it comes to capturing the leaders of Al Queda. The world is revolving around power hungry leaders and forces, manipulating their various populations through powerful and unified media controls. The continued trend towards "individual sacrifice for the greater good" is more prevalent today in our world than it was during the Communist revolution early in the 20th Century.

Some of the "Objectivist" leaders of note are from various factions and strange "bedfellows" in many cases. Alan Greenspan, Hillary Clinton, and Camille Paglia are examples of the variety of follower's Objectivism has garnered. As I have alluded to earlier, I would not label myself a true "Objectivist". I have learned in life the danger of accepting or pursuing labels and movements as a self definition. It’s almost as if to become a follower of Ayn Rand or "Objectivism" is contradictory to the philosophy itself. If man is free to define himself and search for his own truth; If man is an end unto himself, he does not limit himself or NEED to line up under any particular leader or movement. If man is to be truly self-actualized, he cannot define himself solely within the terms of another leader or group of people. The problem with Objectivism and Ayn Rand's movement was and is much like any other religion or philosophy. It has its limits based on the limits and definition that leader or leaders pronounce on those who would identify with them and call themselves "objectivists" or members of the Rand Association. If we perceive that no man/woman is perfect, then we must carefully weigh all thoughts and beliefs according to "their fruits" and take that which we want or agree with to our selves, and leave that which does not connect with our own minds or reason. I think it is just fine to admire and respect a leader or person's ideas without having to agree with them 100%. I would now label myself as an "objective" person...but not as an "Objectivist", because as Ayn Rand herself stated, if you disagree with any of her statements related in the 10 points of the philosophy, you cannot say you are one with her. Based on my understanding of her own core fundamentals, I found some contradictions in what she believed and then what she expected in people she would accept into her circles. I respect her pursuit of purity of thought and reason, yet I question her right (under her own philosophical foundations) to dismiss any one else’s thoughts or reason as totally false if it did not align up to hers. I sensed in her biographies and videos I have seen of her that she was a very frustrated and somewhat bitter intellectual whose philosophy and actions revealed a level of emptiness and snobbery...to the extent of a closed, albeit great, mind...which was exactly the type of life and reasoning she was speaking out against. I think she was so anti religion and false pretenses of faith that she lost track of her own "soul" when it comes to the secret inner working of each of us humans that cause us to be who we are. I think the uniqueness of being human is the constant challenge of balancing that which we feel emotionally with that which our senses report to our mind that forces us to "reason" about that which we feel. This to me is the never ending cycle of personal growth and self revelation if you will that gives meaning and adventure to life. Once we think we have arrived to a point of "having everything figured out", it is human frivolity that causes us to close our minds to change and new experiences.

Where I primarily fall away from "Objectivism" is where I discover the issues or experiences that have no "reason" or definition. I think life is about searching for that "mystical" connection where the mind and the soul meet. By faith, many of us call it "God"...pursuing a beginning and an end to the meaning of our lives. It is easier for most of us to simply accept the precepts and programming we were born into, passed along generation to generation, which somehow becomes "absolute" truth in our lives. It’s a mad never ending cycle of pursuing "absolutes" in thoughts and beliefs that have no absolute proofs and we grow up being taught that without these "belief systems", we are somehow doomed to evil, madness and emptiness. We are driven to delusion in this life as society demands us to define ourselves by label of religion, philosophy, race, or political party. Most of us at the end of the day DON'T REALLY KNOW, yet somehow we find ourselves claiming certain labels within our society just so people will leave us alone or accept us as fellow humans. We grow up with this need of belonging that plays out in the end of not being true to ourselves or the truth of our never ending questions. It is so tempting to throw in the towel on trying to reason and know things...and just give in to blind acceptance of a creed or political persuasion. Our minds grow up lazy and we don’t want to do our own homework. More than that, we have little threshold for pain and do not want to embrace the emptiness required of challenging all fundamentals we grew up thinking and evaluating them one by one for validity and truth. This applies to ALL labels from being Christian, to being American. What are you really, how do you know, and why? Most people are very uncomfortable with the WHY question. For me, it has been a fundamental aspect of my life pursuit...asking why and trying to prove the answers. And the older I have gotten, the more I have found out I don't know for sure...and life becomes more and more mysterious...meaning more and more adventurous...which is not a bad thing.

So, getting back to A is A. That IS a fundamental principle I can deal with. I believe in "cause and effect". That is scientific, reasonable and has played out as proof in my mind and experience time and time again. Who we are and how we live is determined by how we think...and therefore act. If we want to change the world, we need to change how WE think, and then how the world thinks. If we want to change the world peacefully, we need to get involved in education and exchange of ideas. If that doesn’t work, we will inevitably be trying to FORCE our ideologies on the world through the barrel of a gun...and history...cause and effect...have shown that does not work in the long run.

The most effective forces for long term change of thinking have been wrought by "men of the mind". Even Jesus was arguably a revolutionary through "reason". For this reason I have not felt compelled to throw out Christianity against Objectivism, because at some levels I believe the concepts of belief intersect. Here is how:

I think you can believe in God and still be an "Objectivist" (that’s the main reason I would be left out of their organized movement). If you can believe in the absolute of "existance exists"...A is A...in my mind you can also believe that to be true because of a rational, divine order in the universe. If there is a divine order, then there is a divine "intelligence" behind it that set things in motion. We call that intelligence of design "God". If you accept Judeo Christian traditions of God creating Man "in his own image"...it’s not that big a leap to believe that humans have "god-like" potential. If we are "Sons of God", we are destined to become like him...to learn and to mature into an understanding that imitates the evolution of creation. Yes...you can be a creationist and still believe in evolution. Maybe not a purist in either camp of thought...but you can rationally make a case for the compatibility of creation and evolution side by side (I won’t go into that now...maybe another future blog:)). Does it matter in the long run which side of these arguments I fall on? Probably not. If A is A...life is what it is...whether I embrace it, believe it, or NOT. If God is real, it doesn’t matter whether I believe it or not. If God is dead, I will probably never know it or hear about it (come on now, I said that "tongue in cheek").

Regardless of where you fall on all these issues or beliefs, I fundamentally believe it is important for the human race to wake up to our potential of change. To start change in the world, we only have control of ourselves...and maybe a few close friends and family who we influence. So change has to start there. Someone recently called it the "power of one". If we don’t initiate change from within, we will never affect in a positive manner towards that which we want in this life. If our belief system tells us nothing we do in THIS life matter...and save our efforts for some future life...well, I think we will have missed the point of what life is all about. Whether God made us, or whether we just somehow evolved, it is measurable how effective the human mind can be in discovering answers to our questions and meeting the needs for our existence. Too many of us have just blindly given in to mass consciousness. We have accepted absolutes that aren’t provable and made them "absolutes of faith" that dictate every decision we make in life. We have given our wills over to despots and power mongers who promise us the world and give us a stick to poke our eyes out with. We have submitted our privacy and possessions to the "will of the people" and those whom the "people" have given dominion over us. We have accepted the rules even when the rules go against our nature and will. We have decided it is more important to accept a label of self definition based on what religions, race or countries we came from than to stand up and be counted as "A".

I truly believe we are seeing "Atlas Shrugged" revisited in a much larger dynamic than when the book was written in 1957. She may not have been "correct" in all her views and convictions, but Ayn Rand was truly prophetic in pronouncing the cause and effect of "Collectivist" thinking and allowing governments and religions to squash the spirits of individualism until the whole globe is manipulated and controlled by a very few "powers that be". There is nowhere to run any more for cover. It is time to stand up for "A". If there was ever a cause to die for, dying to preserve YOURSELF is valid. Because without the freedom to live freely and independently, life is arguably not worth living...it doesn’t account for anything worthwhile.

We need more voices like that of John Galt.