Uncle Thor's Lessons, Anecdotes and Humor

22
Jun

Spiritual Observations

(I am purposefully using generic terms in this discourse on Spirituality. This is done make it relevant to people of many religious and spiritual backgrounds. Translate these concepts into the terms of your own spiritual path. Any way you slice it, these are my own observations.)

My background is known to many readers but may surprise a few. Spiritually, I have experimented with everything from Alchemy to Zen and back again. I am known in the Heathen (Norse / German Pagan) communities for overt 20 years of publications. My take on religion and spirituality is simple, straightforward and practical. Some of these observations are:

1) Anything that is genuinely spiritual ought to be practical.

2) Anything spiritual ought be to be understandable in common everyday English.

3) No one person, group or religious denomination owns all of spirituality. At the end of the day, it is up to the individual. And in my experience, Spirit is far less concerned about his religious affiliation than in his character and sincerity.

4) Spirit, God, Goddess, Gods, Mind, etc. will respond when one’s approach is along the right lines.

5) The aforementioned right lines are not narrow, but broad. There are more ways to work correctly along these lines than there are ways to be wrong.

6) In matters of Spirit, do not be stupid. Things which sound stupid usually are. Spirit does not support stupidity.

7) Spirit will guide you to things which are wise, productive and successful. Spirit will not direct you to things that are foolish, depraved and useless.

8) Doubt is necessary to spiritual growth. Doubt means there is more to discover. Those who choose to believe in something despite doubt only build a wall which they shall not pass. Invariably, the very truith they need – the truth that would replace doubt – is just the other side of that wall. Doubt is an indicator of spiritual honesty.

9) Supreme Being is a verb, not a noun. Supreme Being implies the totality of all there is, in this realm and the next and so on. Therefore, we are part of this great movement of everything that is Supreme Being.

10) It is the nature of Existence to express itself in greater and greater complexity. It starts simple and grows into more and more complex forms. Look at the living creature of our planet. They began as single-celled entities and evolved into complex beings. The same can be said of the physical Universe. Hydrogen was the first Element. It eventually created Helium, and from there the other Elements. The full explanation is found in the formation, life and death of stars. “From One comes Many.”

11) This Universe is a spiritual as any other. It is as spiritual as the so-called afterlife. Matter is not opposed to spirit. They are essentially part of the same thing. The key is to perceive the spiritual in this life and in the world of our experience.

12) One’s relationship with Spirit is reflected in his life.

11
Jun

Shades of 1975

On the news tonight : Al Qaeda allied insurgents have taken the Iraqi city of Mosul. They took the city with relative ease. Iraqi Army troops dropped their weapons and ran. This is the third city to be assaulted by insurgents. They have already made deep inroads into Ramadi and Fallujah.

Who dropped their weapons and ran? Does it sound like the ARVN in 1975? In fact, doesn’t the rampant corruption reported in the current Iraqi government sound eerily like that of the South Vietnamese?

The United States trained both the modern Iraqi and 1970s South Vietnamese armies and equipped them. We trained the troops and we let the officers study at our own facilities here in the US. The United States also bore the brunt of fighting in the early years. Our forces did the bulk of it in Vietnam and in Iraq. We overcame tremendous odds at Khe Sanh, Hue, Fallujah and Ramadi. The United States also incurred casualties.

The ARVNs thanked us for their freedom by dropping their weapons and running. Now the Iraqis are doing the same thing.

Should the United States go back there are help them regain lost territory? NO! Not many years ago, the Iraqi Army was the most powerful military force in that region. They have the manpower and materials to make a force large and powerful enough to retake their cities. What Iraq obviously lacks is the will to do it.

We bought them a chance to have a great future. The United States paid with manpower and equipment. It paid with the lives of our troops. It paid with the wounds of those who are now disabled. And believe me, the heart and courage of our modern troops is every bit as strong as that of the fellows who stood toe-to-toe with the British at the Battle of Monmouth. We paid with our best people and gave them back their country. Just like we did in Vietnam.

Just like Vietnam, the corrupt Iraqi politicians were more about lining their own pockets than securing a nation for their people.

We may have to deal with this new Syrian variant of Al Qaeda in the future. However, if that time comes, it has to be entirely on our terms and for our security. The United States cannot afford to be drawn into Iraq’s quagmire. We gave Iraq everything it needed. The only thing we could not give them was the will. Not one more American should suffer for Iraq.

*************

What is Iraq’s future? Look at Korea. The South Koreans fought to maintain the freedom bought for them by the United States and UN forces. Today, South Korea is a prosperous modern society. Contrast it with North Korea, a dismal land of totalitarian government, famine and shortages of basic needs.

In the case of Iraq, a failure to regain their lands will likely culminate in a state much like Afghanistan under the Taliban, circa 2000. Iraq has the largest middle class of any society in the Middle East, but that is being lost even as I write.

My message: if you are not willing to fight for it, you do not deserve it, anyway.

03
Jun

The Living Business

I have had brushes with Death in the past. Close calls with everything from fast-moving cars to looking down the barrel of a gun. However, the whole thing takes on a new dimension when the danger is inside yourself. I have been living the past 11 years with heart disease. I had a heart attack the first time. Last time, it was a cardiac congestive failure. (Think of it as like a heart attack but your drown in your own juices.) Both events could have killed me. Both landed me in the emergency room. Both have done their damage.

Having these things is like having a bomb built into your chest. One false move could set it off and then blammo! If lucky, the hospital. If not, a heave ho to the other side. I have had close calls with both heart problems over the years. Few things rival waking up with your chest aching and you can’t get your breath.

Living with the possibility of death from without is one thing. Living with it as part of you is another thing entirely.

For one thing, forget the macho-samurai thing about a “resolute acceptance of death.” That makes for nice quotes in wannabe warrior novels. The reality is very different. Death is there but there is no great big Zen Warrior thing. It is simply the fact that danger can be more immediate. Having a plan if something bad occurs is part of the remedy. The other is to minimize the chances of it happening. That means knowing yourself, knowing the disease as it affects you, and knowing what you can and cannot do. It also means knowing when to stop and when to ask for help. (Many of us have a problem with these two!)

What you really need is a resolute acceptance of Life – especially your life. You need to know that your disease does not define you. And you have to feel that your life is necessary. Understand and appreciate that the world is a better place with you in it. Whether you are temporarily incapacitated or have your activities limited by the ailment, know that you still make a difference. Diseases and injuries can slow us but they do not stop us.

Whether your are inhibited a little or a lot by your disease, your impact on this world remains. The dead have done their work and have gone. You are not dead so you still have things to do here. Your life matters to you and to others and to the world.

Get comfortable with the idea that Life is Unfair. Embrace it and it will be words of comfort rather than a cry of despair. Do not bemoan the unfairness of life. Your problem may seem unfair to you, but consider the grand scheme of things. Life happens, things happen. That problem may or may not be your fault. However, once you have it, dealing with it is your responsibility. Life does not care how or why you got it. Life only cares what you do about it.

Your attitude is also your responsibility. An attitude of willingness to live fully in spite of problems is the right one. The attitude that wallows in self pity and hides out of fear is an attitude of death, not life.

I am reminded of a story told by an old self-defense teacher. He had taught in New York City for many years. The man was a veteran of Guadalcanal. He told how he and his fellow Marines endured shelling by Japanese artillery. Everyone waited in their holes, wondering when they would “get theirs.” Then daylight came, the shelling stopped. They did not “get theirs” that night.

The jujitsu teacher said that the significance of his experience came to light after years of teaching self-defense. He spoke of some folks so afraid of getting mugged or harmed that they remained locked away in their apartments. Their fear of “getting theirs” kept them from living. They were so afraid that they never ventured out to enjoy what Life had to offer. Folks with ailments can have the same choice. They can let fear of an outbreak of their ailment keep them from doing anything, or they can choose to live in spite of the problem. Appreciating the nature of a problem means you deal with it. Fearing the problem means that it deals with you.

Do not be a hostage to any ailment or limitation. Learn to live with it and live in spite of it. Life is not about dying. So long as you are alive, your life is about the business of living. Be inspired by Life, not a hostage of fear.

25
May

Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving: Gratitude in Action

America is a grateful nation. Three of our holidays are rooted in Gratitude. Thanksgiving is the holiday when we express our gratitude for the good in our lives. Veterans Day is the holiday when we honor those who have served our nation in the military. Memorial Day is when we remember those who have passed from this life. We honor them and express our gratitude for the good they had done while they lived among us.

Expressions of gratitude are many. On Memorial Day weekend, many American Legion posts visit local cemeteries to place flags on the graves of veterans. Many towns have parades to honor those who have passed. There are celebrations nationwide. People recognize those departed folks who have served the nation and community.

We need these holidays and these expressions of gratitude. We need to express our thanks and we need to protect our holidays by keeping alive the spirit of honor. That is becoming more difficult. In our merchant-driven society, the marketers try to turn even our most solemn celebrations into times to buy. All too many people are more focused on “Black Friday” than Thanksgiving Thursday. Worse, some merchants are now opening on Thanksgiving day. They place an attitude of greed over the spirit of a thankful family gathering. Others promote their sales and other buying incentives for Memorial Day. Where most of us see the holiday as a day or remembrance, the merchants would have us see it as a time to buy, buy and buy. In their hands, the greedy mentality of the market would replace the spirit of gratitude.

We, the people, are the ones who need to protect Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day and Thanksgiving. In our hearts and minds, we need to place first things first. The attitude of gratitude must take precedence over exhortations to spend and shop. Those of us who are older must pass on to the young our appreciation of the sanctity and importance of these holidays. Active participation in holiday events solidifies the appreciation of its genuine spirit. Something as simple as placing flags on graves or attending a ceremony is all it takes.

*************

There are folks whose sacrifices are what enable us to live freely and in safety. Back before our Revolution, farmers and settler and tradesmen put side their tools and took up arms to defend against threats to their communities. These were not professional soldiers. They were everyday citizens armed with squirrel guns and deer rifles. The same men also served as emergency personnel, manning the bucket brigades to put out fires. Since then, others have come to defend the people. A stream of militiamen, soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen have emerged to fend off armed enemies. Police have handled domestic threats, while firemen and other emergency workers have given their all the protect us from harm. Coast guardsmen have protected our shores from enemies and criminals. Some died in the line of duty. Some served and then lived out their days. Because of all of them, our society and our way of life has survived.

Memorial Day is the time when we remember and honor those who have served and have passed from this world. It is a day of gratitude and respect. Without those people, we would not be where we are today. Those of us who have served know that we have also done our part and will be remembered when we have passed. American thrives because of the sacrifice and service of dedicated people. It will continue to thrive so long as there are men and women willing to step up and serve in their time.

21
May

Using the Power: Using Your Mind

The prime mover of all magickal work is your mind. Almost all of the words and charms and items only serve to engage that faculty of mind that sets the power in motion. While some objects may have properties which can affect the Astral, the greatest input comes from Mind.

The Power is always there. Getting it to do what you desire requires effort yon your part. The most common means of doing this is a prayer, charm, spell, treatment, etc. Each of these is a deliberate act intended to evoke the power for your benefit. Despite the claims of some religions that their method is “holy” and others are not, they are all similar in their intent. The technology may differ, but the difference is not really that much.

A working has three phases: to contact the power, control it and direct it to its intended goal. Three words are all you need: Contact, Control, Direct. For instance, if you wanted to work for Healing, you would first address the power according to your beliefs. A Christian might invoke Jesus or one of the saints. A Hermeticist would look to the Element related to the cure he seeks. A Heathen might invoke the Goddess Eir or use the Runic forces of the Bjork and Lagu Runes. Metaphysicians would seek the aspect of Mind that related to the cure, such has Life and Strength. As you see, all are different symbols of the power, yet all work along the same lines.

Contact is the start. The next step is to form the raw power for the specific intention. It may be to heal a broken bone, cure a fever, assuage pain or restore balance to a sickened mind. Very few folks can do healing work without this step. Depending on one’s technology, it might be necessary to address both the affliction and the desired outcome. A common trick is to first state the problem and then work one’s way to calling for the solution. I have seen variants of this used in everything from old German spellcraft to modern Science of Mind.

The last phase is to direct the power. In effect, the power has been formed for its specific purpose. Now it is sent on its way. That in itself is simple, but it is the attitude that makes a difference. When the power is sent, the sender has to have confidence. One effective way is to offer thanks that the result is inevitable, as if it has already happened. One accepts future good as a present reality. This is found in ancient charms, classic prayers and the treatments of modern metaphysicians. One might say that an attitude of gratitude seals the deal.

There is one more part to the directing phase. Many have trouble with it. The idea is to send it forth and then step back. Allow the power to work. Get your mental and physical hands off it for a while. Some folks of conventional religious background express it as “Let go and let God.” At least for awhile, stop thinking and fretting about it. A good thing that helps is to finish the spell, take a breath, and then start thinking about something else. Fretting and worrying can lessen or, in extreme cases, negate any effect that working may have caused.

The working has to be personal to the one performing it. It should use symbols and concepts that have an internalized meaning. One example is the old “Pow Wows, the Long Lost Friend” book by John Hohman. This is a collection of Pennsylvania Dutch charms for healing, protection and other intents. The prayers include references to Chrstian themes and characters, though a few have hints of their original Pagan content. Angels, Jesus, St. Peter, Marys and the like are the powers mentioned in the charms. Despite claims of Gypsy origin for some of them, all are of earleir Germanic origina. (Because Gypsies were thought to have magickal powers, they were often cited in books like Hohman’s to impress potential customers). The original spells used German themes. It is easy to back-translate them because they were Christianized in a very consistent manner. Jesus had replaced Odin / Woden / Wotan. St. Peter replaced Thor / Thunor / Donar. Three Angels and Three Marys took the place of the Three Norns of Fate.

Here is where personalization matters. A Christian would not have been able to use the charms in their original German form. The Norse and German lore has little or no meaning to him . The Christianized form could work because it uses power sources that he knows subjectively as wel l as intellectually. Likewise, a follower of the Old Norse and German traditions would get no effect from the Christianized forms of the charms. He would get results from the old German form because the old lore has an internalized relevance for him. People need to use power symbols and lore that speaks inwardly to them. This is why the prayers of a Christian, the charms of a Pagan and the treatments of the metaphysician all get results for their respective users.

This is why the old teachers insisted that people get good with one system before looking around. By getting rooted in one tradition and one set of power symbols, the individual can work with increasing consistency. One cannot develop consistency when he is skipping from one to the other or building a polyglot and haphazard collection of concepts from many sources. “Eclectic” work can come years after one has built a consistent spirituality and work. Those who go eclectic from the start rarely build a strong foundation for their work.

20
May

Lessons from Elsewhere

Many years ago, I had been taking classes at one of the metaphysical organizations. Their system was run along lines dictated by reason rather than blind faith and old scriptures. Most of their methods worked. Granted, the system had its limits and there was a point where one could go no further. Nonetheless, it was one of the few straightforward organizations I have even encountered.

The system has a sub-class fo clergy know nas practitioners. These were folks trained to offer spiritual counseling and perform spiritual work for people. I had taken some classes there before, and decided to try the practitioner’s course.

I have to admit that the course was not what I expected. The teacher, who was head of the local chapter of the organization ,went line-by-line through the founder’s book. He took every few lines and made statements about them. It reminded me of exegesis. Keep in mind tha I already had spiritual experience through other sources. In an otherwise solid system, the practitioner’s class was like Bible study with a different, albeit more practical, book.

Fortunately, I had gotten to know one of the people who was full clergy. She saw me taking the classes and called me aside in the bookstore. The woman knew that I had experience and some talent. She told me that the those taking the classes were learning about the system. They could understand it intellectually, but few would be able to actually do much with it. She indicated some small booklets on a rack. “Take any one of them and master that, and you will have more than those people taking classes. You will actually be able to do it. That is far better than knowing about it.”

I had run into similar advice in other things I studied years earlier. She was right, of course. The woman was working along the lines of what I call: “Learn Deep, not Wide.” The goal of it all is to be able to use the power to benefit yourself and others. I had done something like that before, so I gave it a whirl with the metaphysical system. Once again, it worked. Perhaps I had only paid scant attention to that kind of advice in the earlier times, but this time the lesson stuck. A lesson repeated many times: there is a vast difference between knowing ABOUT it and knowing IT.

Most of the folks taking the Practitioner course wanted the title. I am reminded of the old joke about people who would rather take a cut in pay to get a better-sounding title. In so many things, having the title is not the same as being good at it. A title is no substitute for having the ability, at least for practical folks. There are many who are willing to cut back on the skill if it means they get the title faster.

This title-seeking mentality is behind rushing through the grades in things as varied as Hermetic orders, Wicca and martial arts. There is a reason it takes time before a grade can be bestowed. Some things can be developed by effort, but some require time to mature. That is why so many problems originate with folks who were rushed through the grades. A title or rank does not mitigate incomplete training. Better to have the talent, education and ability than a title that says you do. When Life demands your talent, it will not accept anything less. A title will not do!

Learn the Power. Get to know it. Meditate on it. Look for manifestations of it in the real world around you. Find a means of working the Power that suits you. Study and practice, and in three to five years, you will be able to do much more than folks who read all the books and take the classes. Learn Deep, not Wide. You will not get a title, but then , you will not need one.

**********

Those metaphysicians understood some of the mental processes for using the Power. Their understanding was so good that they could teach it. Given a student with the right attitude, as discussed above, and it would provide good results. What proved most useful was their ability to explain things in plain language. There were few specialized terms. Because of them, I was able to explain my own work in modern English.

I still think fondly of that group and their teachings. Their emphasis on practicality was refreshing. Their teachings would appeal to a conventional person who did not insist on the traditional views of deity and religion.

20
May

Some Pointers on the Work

Over twenty years ago, we stated that we did not want to start an organization. That still holds true. Time has revealed many instances that affirm the wisdom of our decision. Likewise, we have avoided titles and ranks. There are no leaders and no followers. Our goal is to help folks empower themselves. Empowering means independence.

We steered clear of several groups and individuals. Time has validated those choices. We avoided entanglements that could have hampered us. Likewise, we refused alliances that could have tarnished our reputation and impeded our work.

Another thing we refused to do was alter our work to “fit in” with the current trends. Two examples are our refusal to adopt the “Nine Virtues”, a modern compilation similar to a Christian creed. We also would not switch out our words for the Runes to adopt “proto-Germanic”. Our work stays true to itself and takes no account of what others might be doing.

There are friends we made, friends we kept and friends we lost over the years. We did not back down on our principles. Though we are not the biggest name in our field, we are still here and going strong.

Here are a few of the lessons we learned over the years of doing this:

Groups come and go, as do newsletters and other programs. The big name of the day might not be so big a year from now. Indeed, many who thrived in the 1990s are no longer there. Some got smaller and some changed. Some just folded their tents and went away. Likewise, popularity is a shifting thing. The big names and big causes of the day can become small, the flow of popularity going to others. Changing trends are a constant thing.

Do not change yourself to accommodate any group or person or trend. Though it may seem easier to jump on someone else’s bandwagon, it is better to be consistent than to go with the favorite of the day.

Many people have diminished their credibility by making what I call an “asshole alliance.” That is where two sides agree to endorse each other for their mutual benefit, even if one or both is shady. Both sides want something. The shady side is willing to play along with the other. The other side is willing to drop some of its integrity in return for the benefits promised by its shady counterpart. It is better to stick to one’s principles than give up a little integrity for the passing gains promised by scoundrels. Because after a while, it gets hard to tell who is not a scoundrel in such a fool’s alliance. One compromises the other and they both end up on the weasel list.

Never lend your name to anything you do not control. You will be surprised at how careless some folks can be with your name. Likewise, be slow to endorse anyone or anything. If you do endorse, keep it low key. Never give a 100% whole hearted endorsement because all too often, it will come back to bite you on the ass. You will be surprised how someone who seems like a good fellow might have a nest of weasels for a heart. Endorse rarely and make it discreet.

If you make a mistake, try to get ahead of it. For example, if someone you endorsed turns out to be a jerk, you need to retract that endorsement as soon as possible. Handle mistakes succinctly. You do not need to hash out every detail or blame everyone else who was caught in the mix. Most people do not care for a long, detailed report of the whole thing. Here is an example from the previous statement about endorsements. If you need to retract an endorsement, do it quickly and clearly. You ought not go on about the offense. Many can be handled by stating, “Due to circumstances, we no longer endorse so-and-so. We no longer recommend him and have ended contact with him.” A quick statement is often all you need to get ahead of a mistake.

Avoid feuds, spats and “witch wars.” If someone wants to start one, do NOT feed into it. There will be people who will not like what you do. They may dislike it because they disagree on some points. On the other hand, their animosity might be because someone they like happens to dislike you. There is no reason to bandy words with the fools. Let them sputter and carp by themselves. Take the high road. When you argue with a fool, after a while it is hard to tell who is who.

Do not get involved in these feuds on behalf of friends. They can argue with the fools on their own, if they so choose. Do not become part of it.

Avoid name-calling. It always looks bad.

When the work stops being enjoyable, then it is time to lower your profile and step back. Take a break and focus on other aspects of your life.

Set clear boundaries as to how much of you is public and how much is private.

Don’t let idlers and hangers-on sap your energy. Send them packing.

Know the place you inhabit. If you are a provider of information , then do so. Do not try to be their problem solver or social worker or guru. Again, set boundaries.

Whatever wrong someone will do to others, he will just as easily do to you. Character is reflected in one’s actions. For instance, the one who steals from family does not have a separate character for non-family. The same character which pillages the family funds is the one that deals with you. Better to distance yourself when someone is revealed as a bad fellow. You stand to lose if the company you keep is the wrong type.

Know the difference between real friends and conditional friends. Real friends know your name, know your dog’s name and know you well. Conditional friends are the various allies and pals with whom you offer mutual support with the work. They likely have never been to your home or petted your dog or know what your favorite sport is. Never expect the same loyalty and helpfulness from a conditional friend that you get from real friends.

Family and your own well being come first. Never let the work get between you and your real-world life. The work is something you do because you enjoy it. It is not your whole life. Your life and your loved ones take precedence. If it comes to a toss-up of one or the other, drop the work and keep your life.

Be especially good to the customers and friends who support you. A little generosity on your part goes far in acknowledging your recognition of them.

18
May

Hunting for Pennies

Back in the 1950s, part of a child’s summer day was the ice cream truck. These were small vans with refrigerators and side windows, painted in white and decorated with other colors. They would ring a bell or play a jingle to announce their arrival. When the trucks arrived, children would stop playing and run to their parents to beg a few coins. Then they flocked to the ice cream truck to buy a variety of frozen treats.

The truck varied. Some, such as the Good Humor brand, sold frozen ice cream bars and popsicles. Others like Mister Softee had frozen custard machines and made specialty ice cream cones and sundaes on the spot. The various trucks each carved out their own territory. Some neighborhoods has Mister Softee and others Good Humor or one of the other vendors. In our area, ice cream trucks would start appearing between late April and mid-May. They peddled all Summer, departing some time in September.

The ice cream truck was a neighborhood routine. It always arrived about the same time. Children expected it. So did parents, who would have a few coins on hand for them. For many youngsters, the man driving the truck was known by name and was something of a local hero.

Times changed and most of us outgrew the ice cream truck. We did not even notice them much, except when they slowed traffic while vending their frozen fare. The numbers of ice cream trucks shrunk. What with the costs of fuel and supplies, it was less profitable.

I had pretty much forgotten about them until we moved here in `99. There were three trucks that made the rounds in town, each playing its own jingle. One had a cheesy rendition of “Turkey in the Straw.” Another played some kind of odd music that sounded as if it was a march for the Viet Cong. The neighborhood kids knew them, as did parents. With three trucks coming around, parents had to limit their kids to choosing just one on any particular day.

Things I never paid much attention to as a child became obvious. Then as now, the trucks patrol their bailiwick at a slow speed. Though they may have a few routine places to stop, such as blocks with a lot of children, the drivers are always on the lookout for opportunity. What with changes in the neighborhoods in our town, the local trucks have had to change their stops. When we first moved here, there was a large family next door and several smaller ones across the street. All three trucks passed here two or three time a day. After the large family moved, the trucks changed their pattern. In subsequent years, we have had American families move out and illegals come onto the block. There were fewer trucks. The drivers learned where the children were and would slow down even more in those places, hoping to entice customers.

I grew up at a time when there were several route vendors in the old neighborhood. There was the man who carried a sharpening wheel and would sharpen knives and scissors. We had a vegetable peddler who came through with a small truck laden with bushels of fruits and vegetables. A scale hung from the end of the truck. For the Italians own the block, there was a small maroon van that had a loudspeaker. It sold tripe and other Italian meat specialties. Another regular was the door-to-door Fuller Brush salesman. He sold a variety of brushes and cleaning supplies.

Route vendors knew their customers and had regular stops. They brought the staples of everyday life to the customer’s door. Back then, the men would drive the family auto to work, so the women at home had to walk to the store. Vegetable peddlers and knife sharpeners saved them a trip. These folks were very different from the ice cream trucks.

There is something eerily predatory about the ice cream truck business, at least as I see it today. The trucks are dependent on children for their income. They prowl the neighborhood looking for groups of children playing. Nearing the children, their music gets louder and the truck moves even slower. Ice cream truck drivers stop if they get the right reaction from the kids. Otherwise, they slip by and speed up. It is as if the trucks are hunting for dollars and cents in a market that is shrinking. They are quite unlike the vendors of old, who had regular routes and regular customers.

Talk about a tough way to earn a living! Not only does it sound creepy – hunting for groups of kids as customers – but it is not a high-yield kind of product. Ice cream trucks are a nickel and dime business. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, it was nickels, dimes and quarters. There is a lot of work, a lot of investment in product and equipment for a low-yield product. Besides, the competition from supermarkets and local ice cream stands is much greater than in the past. With fewer children and fewer stable neighborhoods, the trucks are left to hunt. Granted, things might not be as dire for trucks working in larger cities.

Frankly, I am not decrying the demise of the ice cream truck. They were convenient fifty years ago. Today, they are a vestige of another time, trying to hold on to a shifting and shrinking market. The trucks block traffic while trolling for dollars and cents. Life changes and so do the services that people want. Gone are the vegetable peddler, knife sharpener, milk man and door-to-door salesman. People go to the Internet, the supermarket and the mall today. Times have changed. And to put it bluntly, I am still creeped out by the measures to which the ice cream trucks have to go to make a few dollars.

***********

One of the peculiarities of the 1950s and 1960s were traveling amusement-park type rides. They were actually smaller versions of the ones in the parks. The rides were mounted on flatbed trucks which went from neighborhood to neighborhood. For a dime, children rode for two or three minutes. Issues of safety arose in the 1970s, and the vehicles were gone.

Keep in mind that in the old days, folks had less extra cash. The nearest amusement parks were not always nearby. Besides a day out at the park was expensive for a family. It was an infrequent pleasure. Going to Palisades Park or Uncle Milty’s was a big treat. The same can be said for kids in New York who had Coney Island and Rye Playland. A mini-park existed in South Beach on Staten Island. Otherwise, it was off to the Shore: Asbury Park, Point Pleasant or Seaside Heights. That was impractical for most folks, so the traveling rides were a welcome sight.

These days, it is just as easy for a family to take a drive out to Great Adventure or one of the other parks.

14
May

VA Scandal – Deadly Book-Cooking

The fact that we have a Veteran’s Administration is largely due to the efforts of the American Legion. One of the founding principles is the welfare of veterans. The Legion was the driving force in assuring that veterans would receive the right care. This relationship continues to the present time. It should be no surprise that the American Legion is taking action against the scandal involving falsified lists at the VA.

The current state of the scandal is that the Phoenix office of the VA had secret lists that delayed service to veterans. It would be pathetic if it were just a paperwork shuffle. Things are much worse. People died because their care was delayed. In any other circumstances, this may have been called a case of negligent homicide. It is a betrayal of trust, another breaking of promises to veterans, and a cynical act that caused preventable death.

The past few years, there has been a string of broken promises to veterans. Everything from health care to commissary rights has been adversely affected. A scandal involving “cooking the books” and veterans dying due to VA negligence is evidence of an unfortunate trend in government. And by the looks of things, it is not isolated to Phoenix. Shades of the Vietnam Era!

A pattern of broken promises, scandals and attempts to cheat people out of things they have earned must be addressed. The pattern has to be broken. Effective and enduring remedies must be put in place. The guilty need to be held accountable. Someone has to answer for the deaths of veterans that were a result of the scandal.

An atmosphere where promises are broken so easily is a breeding ground for greater ills. A broken promise is a lie, after all. Small lies lead to bigger lies, and bigger lies lead to worse. When a policy of deception becomes pervasive in government, the ills of corruption soon follow. By exposing these shenanigans, the effects of corruption are diminished. Every wrong that is uncovered is one less place for deliberate wrongdoing to thrive.

In the case of the cooked books at the VA, we can be sure that the American Legion will be thorough in its handling of the matter. If the problem is more widespread, all of it will be exposed. The Legion answers to veterans, not government or politicians. It can and will take care of the issues in the VA. The efforts of others will likely be necessary to root out the liars and promise-breakers in the rest of government.

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In view of yesterday’s posting, the chicanery at the Phoenix VA has the same sordid feel to it. Empowered to do good for the people they serve, corrupt politicians and corrupt officials put their own agenda ahead of everything else. In the end, the people are the ones who lose.

13
May

Giving Wisely

In the news tonight was an article about a waste of 100 million dollars. Mark Zuckerberg of FaceBook had pledged 100 million dollars to Newark, NJ, for its schools back in 2010. He gave to then Newark mayor Corey Booker and governor Chris Christie. To date, there are no results to be seen. 20 million had been spent hiring various consultants. Many of these hirings are political plums. There is no change in Newark’s schools. Four years and 100 million dollars and there is no visible result.

I read some years ago how an American gift to the government of Mali went awry. The United States provided facilities, equipment, vehicles and everything else the Malian government needed to improve its agriculture. Nothing came of it. Malian officials plunders the agricultural facility, using the vehicles as their own. A big gift that could have made a big difference lay waste while politicians picked it apart for their own personal gain.

In both cases, the only ones who benefitted were politicians and their pals. The people who were supposed to benefit received nothing.

Personally, I am appalled by these stories. I am appalled that gifts which could have benefitted many people ended up being squandered by politicians. Let us be blunt. It is corruption. When resources intended for the benefit of the people go to politicians and their cronies, there is no other name for it than corruption.

Sadly, this kind of thing is all too common. The reason that so little can be done to help African countries is that many of them are rife with corruption. From the local civil clerk to the president, everyone is looking to skim the system. In corrupt systems, any gifts have to get past the folks in charge. Little is left for the people. Corruption limits the help that richer nations can provide. We also see it in Mexico, where corruption is a huge problem. The people suffer while those in power prosper.

This kind of thing is not limited to governments and corrupt officials. I have seen it with individuals and families. There are many instances where generous but naive persons gave money to needy families. Rather than use the money to feed the children and buy them clothes, it was all spent on liquor and good times. A couple weeks later, the money was gone and nothing had changed.

We see wealthy and famous people giving to charities. They make a big thing of it. But where is the money really going? The people running the charities may command large salaries. A portion of all donations goes to pay them. More goes to pay for advertising. How much actually goes to the charity work itself? Sometimes it is as little as 5%.

At the lowest level are the bums who beg money. They claim they need it for shoes or food or rent. It usually is spent on booze and drugs. Street-smart folks would buy a sandwich for the bum, but never give him the money. They know that to give the bum money was to fuel his addiction.

Corrupt officials are not much different from bums, in spirit.
The way to put the brakes to charity fraud is for the giver to be wise. He needs to be sure that the charity is legitimate and that the funds go to helping, not to salaries of consultants. He also needs to realize that politicians are the worst folks to trust with charitable donations. By their very nature, politicians look for their own gain first.

It is wrong for a person to give irresponsibly. Waste of resources is wrong, whether the cause sounds good or not. You are responsible for how your resources are used. It is up to you to make sure that your gift will be appreciated and used wisely. Look before you give.

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