Why? Explaining The Holocaust (Review)

When I first noticed Dr. Peter Hayes’ new book displayed on the shelf, I thought, “How come yet another book about the Holocaust?”  Yet, the title caused me to pick it up and to bring it home, anyway.

At the beginning of Why? Explaining The Holocaust, the author answers the question “Why another book on the Holocaust?”  He writes, “I bring to bear expertise that is unusual among students of the Holocaust. I am by training an economic historian.” Hayes asks important questions: Why did Hitler focus on the Jews? Why Germany? Why did Nazism’s state-sponsored incarceration quickly devolve into state-sponsored mass murder? Why the divergence of survival rates? Why only limited humanitarian aid from other nations? What legacies and lessons have we learned?

The author introduces each particular question then explains the relevant background and compares competing theories. In the process, he confronts many of the common myths about the Holocaust. There is no singular response to the question, “why?”  I was left wondering if there is a neat answer to the question in the book’s title.  There are many answers to the question “how?”.

It turns out that there were many forces that came together to enable the genocide. One of the troubling factors is the apparent reluctance of other nations to intervene even though they knew about the ongoing genocide. The reader is given a concise summary of other nations’ reactions to the actuality of the Holocaust. These include the Catholic Church, non-Jews of Poland, and the United States.

In the process of explaning the data, the reader finds out that from 1942 onwards, Sweden did more than other nations to provide sanctuary for Jewish people. Even Fascist Spain provided some refuge for refugees.

Although I still don’t definitively know why the Holocaust happened, I now understand some of the reasons and can see it from a different perspective. I recommend Why? Explaining the Holocaust.

{ Why? Explaining The Holocaust by Peter Hayes, 432 pages published January 17, 2017 by W.W. Norton & Company; ISBN: 978-0-393-25436-5 }

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Dr. Peter Hayes. “Beware the beginnings.”

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Act Happy?

The piped music at the supermarket where I was shopping yesterday included Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy”.  Just hearing the tune triggered memories of 1988 when I was going through a very rough time, romantically.

McFerrin’s song was topping the charts and seemed to always be playing on radio stations everywhere.  I glommed onto the song like a drowning man to a floatation ring tossed out by a lifeguard. I bought a copy of the tune and played it whenever I fell into a funk.  Eventually, I became tired of the CD and filed it away in a drawer. Pretending to be happy turned out to be just a band-aid treatment and not a cure. I actually had to face the reality of my life.

Just acting happy for awhile only made me temporarily feel happy.  It was not a healthy, viable long-term solution to an underlying problem. At least the burst of rainbows and unicorns put the situation in perspective. I saw the need to work on a resolution of the situation so I could move on with life.

Sacrificing self-responsibility by pretending to be happy was not a good life strategy. To act happy could easily morph into avoidance and denial. Perhaps this is one reason why I was able to see the superficiality of the happy happy pill being prescribed by McFarrin’s catchy ditty.

To act happy is a good temporary recess from the school of life.  We don’t advance to the next grade if we spend all of our time on the playground. Feigning happiness is not the effective way to address serious issues that need direct action.

To act happy as a long-term strategy is an effective way we can sabotage our efforts towards genuine happiness. This is true in matters of romance, family, friendship, and work. It can even be more isidious than simple procrastination because the pretense enables us to completely ignore the issues that need serious work. In the end, unhappiness is further served.

Pretending life is wonderful causes conflict and tension between what one knows is reality and what is fantasy. The energy needed to maintain the façade ultimately becomes draining.

To avoid pain and unhappiness in the moment means not wanting to put in the time and effort to resolve issues. Authentic happiness does not result from escape to constant pleasure. Intentional attention and work on the issues yields a more healthy balanced life. Of course, people with serious issues should seek out the help and advice of a licensed professional counselor or doctor.

The Blue Jay of Happiness says we cannot pretend forever.

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Using Orchids …Floral Friday

I mulled over how to approach today’s theme for several days.  At the urging of a fellow blogger, I was encouraged to write an in-depth article about the use of orchids in floral arrangements.  In the end, I decided not to do so at this time.  It seems that SoundEagle is in a better frame of mind to do this. The site covers a great many topics in much greater depth and detail than I do.   If you haven’t seen SoundEagle’s blog you can check it out here: https://soundeagle.wordpress.com

Meantime, the best way I can address the subject of using orchids in floral design is to simply photograph some examples.

I have one “pre-fab” orchid and two that I created for today. Ready to go or “pre-fab” orchids can be found in live or faux forms.  Since I generally use faux blooms, I decided to show one I came across and bought at a thrift store. The stark, simple pink flowers are perched in a contemporary basic planter sold by Scheurich of Germany. I can visualize this in any setting from traditional garden room to Bauhaus.  This is spartan Germanic design at its most basic, technological form.  The no nonsense planting is encased in a plastic pot that snaps into place in a concentric ridge inside the ceramic planter container. German engineering–Wunderbar!

A Tiki vase or tumbler by Daga of Hawaii is the base for a tropical style arrangement.  The vertical armature is an element from a dry assortment pack. The spiral end echos the angle of the orange colored blooms. Faux berries and fill flowers enhance the planting medium.

A relatively rare, vintage “Gardenhouse” white planter by Haeger Potteries grounds the classic white orchid stems. I used a standard wooden florist stake to build a traditional form. With minimal fussing, the design pretty much fell into place.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders this odd statement by novelist Joe Schrieber: “In her mind, the orchid was still screaming.”

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The Time Capsule

The sturdy green metal trunk has been stashed away in the primitive basement of dad’s oldest house for at least a few decades. Before that, it was in the basement of my childhood home for as long as I can remember.  There was not enough room at the auction to sell it, so the trunk remained neglected until this month.

I struggled to carry it up the old stairwell and then to a work bench in the garage.  Out of breath, I pondered the unopened trunk while my sister patiently waited to find out what was inside the relic.

Amazingly, the hinges and props were in good condition, so lifting the lid and keeping it open were simple. The interior and the lift-out tray are finished in an attractive fabric pattern. Aside from torn out leather handles, the trunk is in fairly good condition.  The main problem is the very strong stench of mildew.

The lift-out tray held family memorabilia like my siblings’ old report cards, some baby books, a few infant and children’s articles of clothing, and some amature sketched portraits dad had attempted when we were still young kids.

After skimming through the items in the tray, we finally lifted it up and away.  Inside were more mildewed family items like letters and birthday cards.  On the right was a stack of folded newspapers. I was so excited that I nearly fainted. The papers had been placed inside the trunk from most recent on top to oldest. I snapped photos of the most interesting pages as we removed them.

If there had only been one newspaper, the first one would have been plenty.  The Omaha World Herald pages were published on the day after the Apollo Eleven Moon landing. I took a picture to preserve the image, just in case the paper had become brittle from age and fungus.  I have delayed opening the newspapers beyond the fold until there is more time to carefully examine them under better conditions.

Beneath the first paper was a copy of the Norfolk (NE) Daily News sporting a banner headline of the same event.

Next was a copy of the Omaha paper that covered the John F. Kennedy funeral in great detail.

The edition that was published on February 21, 1962, featured the earliest event I can personally remember.  Astronaut John Glenn has the prime front page spot. There are numerous stories about his successful orbits in Outer Space.

The next newspaper took my breath away as I read the huge banner headline. The August 6, 1945 issue of the Oregon Daily Journal was saved because dad was stationed in Oregon waiting to be deployed to the Pacific Theater. The atomic bombing of Japan ended the war, so dad never saw action overseas.


There are only a few war time newspapers in the stack. They include the Omaha paper’s April 7, 1942 edition with details about action in the Philippines.

The oldest event is recorded on just a fragment of newsprint. For some unknown reason, my paternal grandfather only saved the upper portion of the front page of the Omaha paper’s December 8, 1941 edition.  Due to the immense historical significance of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I would love to have seen the rest of the newspaper that was printed the day after the attack.

Now, I have a new project.  I need to learn how to clean and preserve these old mildewed newspapers and what is necessary to preserve them.  I’ll probably have to work on them in the garage because the stink is much too strong to take them inside of a house.

That project may need to be placed on hold, because there is one more trunk in storage down in that old basement.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Thomas Jefferson. “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

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This past weekend I received a snail-mail letter from Lobsang, one of the Tibetan monks I sponsor in India.  He usually informs me about his studies at the university at the monastery where he lives.  Lobsang also likes to include a small bit of wisdom or share a thought that he thinks I might appreciate.

His latest letter included the “Metta Prayer”. The term “metta” is a Pali word that can be translated into multiple English language equivalents. They include: amity, benevolence, concord, fellowship, friendliness, goodwill, inoffensiveness, non-violence, and, most commonly, loving-kindness. Buddhist scholars define metta as the strong desire for the happiness and welfare of others. Basically, it is an attitude rooted in altruism not self-interest.

Lobsang stated that metta is a practical need for day to day living. It is especially necessary in our contemporary world that is brimming full of destructiveness, ill-will, and hatred. Metta is one of the fundamental tenets of all the Buddhist schools.  Its aim is to promote the well-being of all humans, animals, and plants.  In practice, it is the intent to act benevolently towards all things on Earth.

The foundation of metta is the ethics portion of the Noble Eightfold Path, that is Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood.  The practice of skillful ethics yields fearlessness and security towards others. The teachings advise the practitioner to be “honest and upright while being gentle in speech, meek and not proud.”

Because metta promotes the well-being of all sentient beings, it is a basic type of humanism. It promotes moderation and restraint as a lifestyle. That means the practitioner’s few tasks lead to the actual well-being of everyone. Metta is not something held in isolation or compartmentalized in the mind.

Effective, efficient, gentle restraint occurs in a conscious discipline of frugality and moderation through meditation.  This mental conditioning causes metta to become effortless and natural.  The personal result is tranquility in the mind of the practitioner.

Sometimes metta is described in negative language. Monastics and practitioners are taught that metta’s qualities include: non-harassment towards all beings, non-tormenting, inoffensiveness, non-destroying, and non-vexing. Thinking of these negatives naturally causes the mind to balance them with the positives of principled and caring conduct.

The contemplation of negative language leading to positive virtues fosters a very mature and developed approach to living ones life.  The ability to act in ways that are inoffensive, non-harassing, non-destructive, non-torturing, and non-vexing are strengthened by consciously paying attention to our actions. We see these values manifested when we encounter a member of a monastic order. His or her behavior is beautiful, refined, and loving. We feel at ease in his or her presence.

According to one ancient teaching, metta is a solvent that dissolves not only the practitioner’s pollutants of anger, offensiveness, and resentment, but also those of others.  Because metta takes the attitude of friendship, an adversary might also be thought of as a friend.

It must be stressed that metta is not wistful sentimentality.  Metta practice is a powerful tool to be used in the art of living.  If I could only practice one discipline, it would be metta meditation, hands down. There are no guidelines nor principles of action more efficient and helpful in all areas of life than that of metta meditation.

There are resources about Metta Meditation on the Web that can provide more in-depth information and techniques.

The Blue Jay of Happiness remembers this traditional saying: “For it is only when a person shall have peace within and have boundless goodwill for others, that peace in the world will become real and enduring.”

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Much Ado About Growth

While reading articles and blogs, I sometimes come across writers who extol growth.  It’s a fuzzy buzzword that appears often in self-help or spiritual writing.  Growth is usually presented as a positive virtue. 

In the mental and “spiritual” realms, growth is some lofty path that supposedly continues infinitely higher and higher. Growth is always sold to us as a very good concept.  We’re told that we should always strive to grow.

I must admit that I’ve pretty much bought into the “growth culture”.  Growth is part and parcel of nearly every human venture from physical, to mental, to financial, to business, and so forth.  From the time we are born, we begin to grow in many ways.

It appears that growth is vital to our survival and our ability to thrive in an often hostile world. It even feels good to expand our physical and mental reach each step of our lives.

Advocacy of growth is the one concept about which many wisdom traditions agree.  Religious authorities say that if we are to be saved or achieve enlightenment, we must grow.  In other words, growth is a pretty heady subject.  However, have you ever stopped to question the idea of growth?

Certainly, we understand that it would be disadvantageous to be stuck in the stage of childhood the rest of our lives. Even though we may sometimes feel a wave of nostalgia about the simplicity of our childhoods, most of us find the idea of being stuck in childhood horrifying.  We are familiar with the many attributes of adulthood and wish to retain them.

It’s also obvious that we need to keep up with the latest developments and techniques related to our work and careers.  The ways we make a living are not static. It’s wise to hone one’s skills.

Likewise, we should expand our intellectual knowledge about the world and society around us. Naiveté is not advantageous, nor is it a virtue.

At what point is the act of growth enough?  When have we developed our physical muscles to an optimum amount? When do we have more than enough intellectual knowledge so we aren’t tempted to feel like a member of an elite? When do we have enough wisdom to know when to consolidate our “spiritual” learning so we don’t fall prey to spiritual pride?

While we can generally agree that growth, per se, is a good and admirable thing, when does our desire for growth become obsessive? When do we become so focused on growth, that we forget how to live? Can we arrive at the place where we have grown too much?

To be clear, I do not advocate the current trend of know-nothing, education bashing.  In fact, I find that unnerving.  One of the best privileges of living in a modern democratic republic is access to free public education.  It’s good to have a working knowledge of many different subjects in order to prepare ourselves for a relatively independent adulthood.

We surely want to have access to continuing education opportunities so we can keep up with changes in our careers and topics of which we find interesting.  A well-informed public is better equipped to deal with our volatile world.

The same goes for “higher” knowledge.  Having peaceful, inquisitive wisdom is essential for a satisfying, joyful life.  Being able to appreciate a fair amount of philosophy, science, art, and literature contributes to our personal growth. It is this “higher” wisdom that enables us to better interact with our fellow humans, creatures, and the environment around us. This wisdom helps us live better with oneself.

When we spell it all out, growth is a good thing. Still, the questions remain: When do we experience enough growth?   Is there  some sort of peak growth?

I can only ask the questions and share them with you. I don’t have the answers, nor do I know if there are answers to them. I do think that it is helpful to ask ourselves these questions.

Although I don’t believe anyone has definitive answers to them, I think it’s important we explore them from time to time.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes psychologist Carl Rogers. “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

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Alessandro Volta’s Big Discovery

The power source for many of our modern devices had its humble beginnings due to dissected frog legs.

Pavia University Physics professor and student of chemistry, Alessandro Volta was in disagreement with anatomist Luigi Galvani. The two men disagreed over Galvani’s theory of muscular responses. Galvani claimed muscle tissue contained a form of electricity, Volta did not. Volta believed that muscle response was triggered by the contact of different metals, in this case iron and brass, in a wet environment.

The original idea came about while Galvani was dissecting a frog, when one of the frog’s legs started to twitch. The anatomist thought it happened because there may have been lightning in the area.  Afterwards, Volta attempted to duplicate Galvani’s experiment under different weather conditions. This time on a clear day with no lightning taking place nearby.  After repeated tries, Volta noted that battery-01alessandrovoltathe clamps holding the frog leg in place were constructed of two different metals. During the next few years, Volta understood that the moist muscle was a conductor for a very low current that was the result of contact between the two different metals.

In 1799, Volta stacked one disk made of silver and another made of zinc. The disks were separated by a cloth soaked in salt water. The result was a low electric current. He began to use this type of current for other experiments. Volta soon discovered that several stacks or piles could be connected to each other with metalic strips to create an energy source of higher current.

The name of a grouping of similar items, or articles arranged or used together as a set or series is called a battery.  Because Volta had linked several piles together in series, he called his discovery the battery. In subsequent experiments with his battery, Volta discovered that stronger acids, such as sulfuric acid, yielded higher current.battery-02

In 1800, Volta was confident enough with the results of his experiments and tests that he announced his discovery publicly.  While demonstrating his voltaic pile to the French Academy of Science, he was appointed to the court of Lombardy by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who ruled that portion of Italy.  In 1815, The Austrian emperor selected Volta to fill the post of director of the Philosophy Department at the University of Padua.

As you have probably guessed, the unit of electrical potential we use today, the volt, was named in honor of Count Volta.  It’s easy to forget that Volta discovered other phenomenon besides electrical force. During his tenure at the Royal School in Como, Italy, in 1775, Volta improved upon and popularized a static electricity generator called the electrophorus.battery-04

During the next three years, professor Volta investigated the chemistry of various gases. An essay about flammable air by Benjamin Franklin inspired Volta to investigate further. Volta discovered methane and isolated it in 1778. He experimented with internal combustion by igniting the gas in a closed container with an electrical spark.

Volta was an early student of electrical capacitance. That is, he developed various techniques to observe electrical potential and electrical charge. He found that for any given object, potential and charge are proportional. This has come to be called “Volta’s Law of Capacitance”. While doing this research, Volta invented the electrical condensor which we now call the capacitor.

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Alessandro Volta. “You must be ready to give up even the most attractive ideas when experiment shows them to be wrong.”

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