International Forgiveness Day

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Just a short, casual perusal of the news headlines reveals a lot of people nursing long-lived grudges. The Israelis and Arab states destructively act out their resentments on a regular basis. Russia and the West rattle sabers from time to time. The various nations of the European Union harass each other now and then. The same goes for China vs. the West, and North Korea against everybody else. Here in the United States, many people seem to think the Civil War never ended. Locally, regardless of where one might live, we hear and see reports of one on one resentment and violence.

A person is tempted to say, “Enough already, can’t people just shake hands, agree to disagree, and forgive one another?”  After all, we are frequently admonished to forgive each other.  The dominant Christian culture regularly professes forgiveness by reciting the “Lord’s Prayer”. One version says, “…forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Other versions substitute trespasses for debts or sins for debts.

What I often wonder, is that the followers of the dominant religion don’t seem to follow through when they pray their Lord’s Prayer. If professed Christians practiced their biggest prayer, there would be no resentment. There would be no trumped up anger regarding so-called “religious freedom”.ForgivnessDay-01

My community is the target of intense hatred by the Christian and Muslim institutions and believers. Friends, acquaintances, and I have directly endured insults and violence perpetrated by “good Christian” thugs. The LGBT community has long been trotted out as the favorite scapegoat to distract the public from problems caused by themselves.

We are daily presented with unjust situations brought about by those who hate us. We must regularly struggle about whether or not we should forgive the misguided haters. It’s very easy to hatch our own grudges against the community’s Christian and Muslim adversaries. Many of us find ourselves repeatedly having to forgive them just to maintain our peace of mind.

In this vein, is forgiveness really possible? Can the LGBT community forgive the people who remorslessly wish us harm, especially those who justify it by cherry-picking religious dogma? It’s very tempting to just give up and hate the haters in return. It’s certainly unhealthy to just “take our lumps” and naïvely sink into denial about the discrimination and gay bashing. After all, we can now legally marry the persons we love, isn’t that enough?

Just as racism didn’t end with the Civil War truce, homophobia didn’t end with marriage equality.  Instead, the prejudice has only devolved into more open resentfulness. There will be endless opportunities for everyone to practice deep forgiveness.  Can the LGBT community, members of minority races, nationalities, people with disabilities, women, and others who are hurt, actually forgive?

If you have ever paid close attention to those times when you decided to forgive someone you may have noticed that your mind is also in the process of strengthening its own ownership of hurt or victimhood. We should ask ourselves this ForgivnessDay-03question. Do we forgive others out of true compassion and love; or do we forgive in order to no longer be further hurt?

Are we forgiving other people in an effort to show ourselves how much largess we possess? Do we do it as a way to aggrandize ourselves? Do we forgive others as a technique to calm our stormy minds?  If we consciously cultivate a particular virtue there can be no love.

True love, compassion, and forgiveness can only come about when we let go of the desire for it.  To find real peace of mind, we must let go of our entitlement for hurt as well as love. In this sense, forgiveness is just the first step towards inner and outer peace.

Namaste’
mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness likes this famous Oscar Wilde saying: “Always forgive your enemies–nothing annoys them so much.”

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Edison’s Essay Question

Inventor Thomas Edison employed several assistants to help him develop and construct many of his inventions. Edison hired people with little education because “smart people knew too many ways a thing won’t work”. Edison provided the core ideas but the assistants and proteges did the actual physical work of building the gadgets and devices.Edison-04

Edison’s employees were subjected to overly long work days that frequently extended into the night. He was also very tight-fisted with payroll, his employees toiled for little compensation. Edison often told his workers he only wanted employees who wanted to work for him just for the experience of working with him. Edison made it clear that he was the one to do the thinking and they were to do exactly what he told them to do. Edison also had a mean streak that was often manifested through practical jokes.  We can imagine that Edison had a very high employee turnover rate.

In order to maintain the numbers of employees in his laboratory, Edison sometimes held local contests in order to screen applicants for employment.  One of the most Edison-03noteworthy contests took place in West Orange County in New Jersey, on August 1, 1929. Edison needed 49 new proteges.  His test included basic educational background questions about chemistry, geography, history, and science.

He also asked about the applicants’ ethical beliefs. For instance: Is it ever permissible to tell a lie? Would the applicant ever choose professional success at the expense of comfort, reputation, pride, honor, health, love, or happiness.  This question should have been a warning to prospective employees.

Edison’s last question was, “What new discovery or invention do you believe would be of greatest benefit to mankind?”

Have you ever pondered the many manufactured things we take for granted?  How about the ideas that have enabled those products. What about the major concepts that have made our world more humane and civilized?

This morning, I leaned back and fantasized that I was applying for one of Thomas Edison’s slave-like jobs.  I asked myself what has humankind developed that is truly of greatest benefit to mankind?

We’ve thought up many concepts and ways that are ultimately harmful to mankind.  Some obvious ones come to mind like warfare and weapons of death. There are borderline things like vice and propaganda.  What has been developed that has done much more good than harm?

Right off the bat, I believe that tools are the basic things we have had to improve our odds of basic survival. Although other animals have discovered rudimentary tools, humans are far and away the main inventors of tools. Practically everything we need to survive in modern society came about because of tools or is a tool, itself.

Although fire happens all by itself, humans discovered how to contain and control fire in order to utilize it. We can use fire to refine metals, heat our living spaces, and provide light.  Without fire or heat, we couldn’t have cooking, another discovery of great importance. Of course, fire can be used for good or ill. I think our controlled use of fire is a good thing overall.

A few ancient civilizations independently developed the concept of plumbing. Archaeologists have discovered ancient sewer systems in such places as China, Rome, and the Americas. Water has been brought into cities and buildings via aqueducts and pipes for centuries. It’s obvious how these have greatly contributed to our overall well-being.

Basic medicine along with anesthetics have been extremely important developments. When things go wrong with our bodies, we need to have repairs and healing. Obviously, the science of medicine is one of the best developments.

The most basic development and invention of all time is language. Without the ability to speak, there would be no way to pass along and work together to develop technology and civilization.  First, we passed along information by way of word of mouth. Next, and more importantly, we came up with language and writing. If there were no communication skills and ways to preserve our thoughts, society and civilization, as we know it, would be absolutely impossible.

It was on these basics that further inventions were developed as refinements. For instance, the taming of electricity has been akin to our taming of fire. Electrical and electronic communication is a refinement of couriers, smoke signals, and jungle drums. Computers and the Internet are refinements of libraries and telephony.Edison-01muckers

Out of all of Edison’s ideas, he believed his greatest invention was the phonograph.  Even that was a refinement of other inventors’ concepts. Edison liked the phonograph best, because it brought music and the spoken word into people’s homes. In other words, the phonograph unquestionably improved people’s lives.

So, what might we think of to incontestably improve the lot of humanity? What might we improve upon or conceive out of thin air that will greatly enhance all of our lives? Will it be a refinement of nanotechnology? Perhaps a quantum leap regarding the Internet? It will probably be a total surprise out of left field.

Who will be the next Thomas Edison?  More importantly, who will be the next Nikola Tesla, who once worked for Edison?

Will there be another person who imagines unique, earth-shaking concepts, fully formed, ready for development? Will the next giant leap for humanity come from an advanced super computing robot?

Taking only the highest ethics into account, what do you think will be the next development that will be of greatest benefit to mankind?

Ciao
1984aThe Blue Jay of Happiness likes this thought from C.S. Lewis:  “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”

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Fancy Things …Floral Friday

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I’ve been very fortunate to come across several attractive collectable items recently.  Before I put them on shelves or otherwise displayed them, I decided to compose some still-life photographs of them.

The decoupaged vase featuring two girls in a classic scene remind me of summer in a place like Greece or Italy. I put together high-key colors to offset the mellow earth tones of the container.  I then paired the arrangement with my recently cleaned telephone for visual balance.

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One of my friends likes to invent mini-scenarios when we shop the Goodwill Store.  After I picked up the gorgeous vase with the painted roses and gold gilt trim, she made up a story about me tackling her to the floor and prying the vase from her hands. All I could do was shrug my shoulders and grin.

I couldn’t find a maker’s mark on the vase, so it remains anonymous.  I didn’t want to overpower the painted roses, so I put together a small assortment to simply enhance the piece.

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The vintage Chinese Panda diorama gave me the idea to use an old Japanese ginger jar. I gathered a posey of mostly fill flowers to enhance the peacock motif. I like how the two unlikely pieces enhance each other.

These three still lifes are examples of the advice I often give.  Bring out your nicest things, and actually display and use them.

Ciao
mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness knows that sometimes it’s good to simply sit back and study a fancy vase.

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International Day Of Friendship

If there’s one positive take-away from my youth I always want to keep, its the exposure to people from other countries. This has been a constant throughout my life.  It began with the Foreign Exchange Student who stayed with our family.Friendship-03

I like to look at a globe or a world map, then ponder the various countries that are home to some of my friends. Most of them came from out of the blue with accidental meetings. Some were the result of more structured planning.  I think of friends in Europe and India this way. One friend, from Japan, became my lover and soul-mate. Long-distance, virtual relationships have come via the Web.  All of these friends have a special place in my heart.

Rumi, the Sufi poet had this to say about friendship:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field
I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”

I love to ponder this verse because I feel the depth of the timeless friendliness of Rumi coming through the ages. These aren’t cold, structured words they are more like seeds for deep, profound emotions.

A real friend, one you listen to and care about and who listens to and cares about you in equal measure, is a profound rarity in this world.  That particular kind of friend is one who will protect you from your mortal enemies and you would do the same for him without hesitation.Friendship-01

Even a casual friend is someone special. The least you can say about her is that she is not your enemy. This truth came to mind when I remembered one of Abraham Lincoln’s statements about friendship. “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” This is a beautifully subversive idea, isn’t it? Imagine what would happen if every person on Earth actually befriended an adversary. Instead of sabre-rattling, we’d hear the laughter of comaraderie.

Something of this sort inspired UNESCO, through the United Nations, to declare the International Day of Friendship. It began as a proclamation initiating the “International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010).” It has since become a continuing initiative. The International Day of Friendship is one of the best holidays to come from the UN.

There is much anecdotal evidence that argues when young children are left to their own devices, they befriend one another regardless of class, race, or gender. Children have to be taught intolerance. Taken to a logical conclusion, a generation of kids who befriend each other without intolerance, will create a friendly world. I like this idea, a lot.Friendship-02

Through universal friendship, UNESCO aims to promote respect for all human rights and equality. They hope to advance understanding, tolerance, and solidarity. Ultimately, they want to promote international peace and true security. Through international friendship sustainable social and economic development will become a reality. This is a plan I can fully support.

The UN encourages individuals, civic groups, religious institutions, governments, and international organizations, to promote initiatives, activities, and events that contribute positively to the world about friendship. On July 30th, each year, we can all promote further dialogue that encourages mutual understanding and reconciliation.

As I reflect on International Day of Friendship, I ponder this verse from Kahlil Gibran:

“When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.”

Namaste’
1978veryhappymeThe Blue Jay of Happiness enjoys the wisdom of Elie Wiesel.  “Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession. Friendship is never anything but sharing.”

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Putinism (Review)

Russia seems, to me, to be a dark, mysterious, dangerous, and forbidding place. Perhaps that is so, because I grew up in the midst of the Cold War.  The very taboo nature of the Soviet Union engaged my fascination like the proverbial moth to a flame. Through my studies of Russian history and the information gleaned from my Russian Internet friends, I really want to visit the country.  However, my instincts tell me that if I should ever visit Russia, I will either be sent to a Gulag or murdered on the streets.

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This complex personal reflection was reinforced by Walter Laqueur’s new book, Putinism:  Russia and its Future with the West. Perhaps other observers of international politics will have a similar reaction.

I spotted the new book right away in the new releases stack at the Norfolk (Nebraska) Public Library. The photo of the enigmatic leader of the Russian Republic, wearing his trademark sunglasses, seemed to dare me to bring the book home.

Most readers will probably be drawn to this book because of the recent military Putinism-01actions in Crimea and the Ukraine. Many will recall the controversies surrounding the Sochi Olympics, or the very troubling aspect of extreme homophobia across the Russian Republic.

Today’s Russia is nothing like we were led to believe was to develop when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics imploded.  Laqueur reminds us that many, in the West, believed that with the end of the Soviet Union, a freedom-loving liberal democracy would spring forth like a phoenix from the ashes.

Unfortunately, our leaders largely deluded themselves. The US and much of the rest of the West thought that Russia was only a Cold War relic.  That judgement has been not only premature, but very dangerous. Laqueur points out that our urgent mission is to figure out who we are facing, what the Russian politicians want, and why they see us as adversaries. He says we need to come to our senses before its too late.

In this book, Laqueur demonstrates that three, ages old, mindsets of the Russian people continue right now. There is a big sense of manifest destiny regarding Eurasia; a fortress mentality type of xenophobia that remains strong; and the ever present Russian Orthodox Church hold sway over Russians. While the trappings of society have changed, the attitudes of the average Russian have not changed much since the early 20th century.

Walter Laqueur

Walter Laqueur

I was disappointed that Laqueur didn’t write much beyond a few mentions of homophobia in today’s Russia. The very weak shell of the Russian gay community in the nation is a major scapegoat for the Putin regime and the Orthodox Church. Over the top homophobia is also one reason for American conservatives’ fascination with Vladimir Putin. One reason I selected Putinism: Russia and its Future with the West, is that I wanted his take regarding the exptreme oppression of the LGBT community in Russia.  Evidently, that problem was not on Laqueur’s radar screen.

Otherwise, I thought the author wrote a good historical brief as background to today’s political reality in Russia. The book is a sober portrait of what has been and what may well occur in the world’s geographically largest nation. Perhaps Russian xenophobia is well-founded. Laqueur’s assessment of Russia-China relations is eye-opening, as is the extent of ultra-conservativism in the regime.

My take away from this book is that the Russian Republic is a pre-fascist/proto theocracy in its formative phases. Even though I still have a positive interest in Russia and its culture, I’ll be watching destructive developments in that part of the world a bit more closely.  I think that people who care about international relations should read Walter Laqueur’s new book.

{ Putinism: Russia And Its Future In The West by Walter Laqueur; 320 pages; published in July, 2015 by Thomas Dunne Books: ISBN: 978-1-250-06475-2 }

Ciao
1984aThe Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a quote from Fyodor Dostoyevsky. “Lack of originality, everywhere, all over the world, from time immemorial, has always been considered the foremost quality and the recommendation of the active, efficient, and practical man.”

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Kennewick Man

It was an Internet meme that repeatedly appeared in emails and social media posts to me that restarted my curiosity about the archaeological work around the so-called Kennewick Man.

Shortly following the public release of the results of facial reconstruction work on the prehistoric skull, comparisons were made with television, film, and stage actor Patrick Stewart.  I enjoyed looking at the side by side photo comparison. I thought that Captain Jean-Luc Picard might have entered some sort of real-life “space-time continuum”. The actual discovery of the Kennewick Man would make a stunning Star Trek movie. KennewickMan-02PatrickStewart

I can imagine the film opening sequence depicting the two hydroplane boat racing enthusiasts discovering a skull while attending an annual racing event on the banks of a Columbia River reservoir. As archeologists discover and piece together more bones, Patrick Stewart could depict the Kennewick Man in “flashback” scenes about the “ancient one’s” life. In my fictional version, archeologists would discover that Kennewick Man was Captain Picard who had gotten caught in a time warp that brought him back in time to prehistory. If you’re a screenwriter or novelist and use this plot, be sure to include me in the credits.

On July 28, 1996 the human remains were discovered at Lake Wallula, the waters behind the McNary Dam near Kennewick in Washington State.  Within days, claims were made by the area’s Indian tribes, the scientific community, and the US Army Corps of Engineers, who has jurisdiction over the dam. Just who could possess and study the “Ancient One” ended up as a Federal court case.KennewickMan-03

Two years later, the National Park Service and the Corps of Engineers conducted several archeological exams of the bones.  The scientists performed current and standard techniques on the remains, the sediment within the bones and a stone speartip that was embedded in the man’s pelvis.

Radiocarbon tests determined that the Ancient One lived approximately 8,500 to 9,000 years ago. They also determined that the man had lived with part of the speartip embedded in his hip because researchers discovered that the bone had partially grown around the projectile.

What remained, was the controversy over the man’s tribal ancestry. Some studies claimed that the Kennewick Man’s physical structure was very similar to Japan’s indigenous Ainu people.  As late as last year, researchers compared the Ancient One to the anatomy of Polynesian peoples. Meantime, regional Indian advocates held fast to their argument that the Ancient One’s closest descendents are Native Americans.

The results of the latest study of DNA samples taken from one of the Kennewick Man’s hand bones were released this June. The journal “Nature”, says the results contradict last year’s suggestion that the skeleton may have been that of a Japanese or Polynesian man.KennewickMan-01

Scientists compared the skeleton’s DNA to samples from modern Native Americans and other global populations. Stanford University genetics researcher, Morten Rasmussen, said the results showed that the Kennewick Man was more closely related to American Indians and not the populations of any other peoples.

The closest match is with some members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the same group who has been advocating for the return of the remains to their custody. The legal dispute remains unresolved. Native advocates hope that the skeleton can be returned under the terms of the “Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act”. Meantime, archaeologists lay claim to the relics under the auspices of “The Archaeological Resources Protection Act”.

Ciao
1984aThe Blue Jay of Happiness says archaeology is the scientific method of digging up unintended time capsules.

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This Is Wheat Day

I  noticed the advertisement in the sidebar at the right side of the Facebook page.  The headline screamed over a photo of a bagel, that I must stop eating wheat right now. I rolled my eyes and thought to myself, “now they’re demonizing something else.”

After clicking the ad, I saw a photo of a smiling model dressed in a doctor’s smock holding a clipboard. I was promised a glowing, healthy body if I went ahead and clicked yet another link. I had no desire to hear still another long lecture about yet another “amazing discovery” or health plan.  I shook my head and closed the ad.Wheat-01

Certainly, a share of people suffer wheat gluten sensitivity or an allergy to wheat products.  There might be isolated instances where wheat or some other food substance might be harmful to health.  I don’t personally know of anybody who has become seriously ill nor died because of wheat ingestion.

To those of us who do not have medical issues regarding wheat products, the fear mongering turns us off.  If we are to give up delicious bread, pasta, and breakfast cereal, where will we obtain our low cost nutrition?  To give up these foods seems totally unreasonable, especially to the growing numbers of poor people in the country and the world. Regardless of income level, wheat is the main staple food in most countries on Earth.

Given wheat’s low cost, delicious flavor, and ability to satisfy my hunger, I do not intend to give up on wheat any time soon. Anyway, cakes, cookies, and other treats made from non-wheat alternatives aren’t very tasty.

Wheat is an integral part of civilization. Indeed, it was one of the main reasons that western civilization began. As hunting and gathering food became insufficient means of sustaining larger numbers of people, the discovery of agriculture enabled humanity to survive and thrive. The early grassy ancestors of barley, rye, and wheat were cultivated.   References to wheat and its food products are found in ancient documents, religious writings, and literature.  People have been eating their daily bread since before the dawn of history.Wheat-03

The US Department of Agriculture lists six classifications of wheat: hard red winter, hard red spring, soft red winter, hard white, soft white, and hard durum. The hard varieties are commonly used for all-purpose flours. Hard wheats contain plenty of gluten, so they’re best used in bread, rolls and bagels. We commonly find the soft varieties in pastries, cakes, flat-bread, crackers, and biscuits.

Besides the foods we normally associate with wheat, we find wheat used to brew beer and many alcoholic spirits. Some parts of wheat are blended with other plant materials to process biofuels for industry and transportation. Some nations use wheat to supplement animal feed requirements. Wheat has a much higher protein content than either maize (corn), or rice.

Obviously, wheat is a crucial part of everyone’s well-being and the global economy.  Wheat crops thrive just about anywhere wheat culture has been transplanted. Wheat has been cultivated across Europe, Asia, parts of Australia, and Africa. In the America’s we find wheat in parts of South America, and it is a big part of the economy of the Great Plains of North America. In fact, wheat is why the Great Plains are Wheat-02sometimes called the “Breadbasket of the world”.  Wheat is actually grown in 42 of the states in the US, Kansas is the top producer.

There are some varieties of wheat that are marketed as “ancient grains” or are “stealth wheat” in health food stores.  Perhaps you’ve eaten foods containing Einkorn or Farro (Emmer). These particular “stealth wheat” grains may be assimilated differently into our bodies, many are higher in antioxidants than conventional wheats. Other wheats found in health food stores or healthy eating departments of supermarkets include bulgur wheat, couscous, and wheat berries.

According to information provided by the Nebraska Wheat Board, there are many positive health benefits to be found in regular hard and soft wheat varieties. The most common include healthier levels of blood pressure, reduced asthma risks, lowered risks of stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.  Wheat can also be used in diets to reduce inflammatory disease risks and weight management diets.

When you hear or sing “America the Beautiful”, containing the phrases, “amber waves of grain” and “the fruited plain”, don’t you usually think of vast wheat fields?

Happy Wheat Day.

Ciao
mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness reminds you to never refrigerate bread or bread products. Either eat them promptly or place them in the freezer.

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