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Episode Nine

Rebecca and the Radicals

 It’s August and hot. Paul Granger shows up for his appointment in a sweaty T-shirt, blue jeans and sandals. “Hi, Paul,” Rebecca greets him warmly, “What can I do for you?”

   “You know I love you, right? I love what you’ve done for this town. I’m on your side all the way. However, we’re in serious trouble. We’re in the crosshairs and are about to be blown away.”

   “I’m listening.”

   “You know they’re already fracking in Othertown. That’s only 300 miles from here. They’re gonna be coming here eventually. You’re against fracking, right?”

   “Paul, you know better than that. I have no opinions. I am here to help the people of Anytown make and implement their decisions together.”

   “Well, that Dan Burton and his crowd of developers are inviting the fracking frackers in here. They don’t care about our water. They don’t care about global warming. All they care about is money. You’ve got to stop them!”

   “Paul, the way to handle this is to call a town meeting. Do you know how to do that?”

   “I know about meetings, but I’ve never called one. What’s the deal?”

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Episode Ten

Rebecca as Target

 As she walks to the door to leave her house, Rebecca glances out the window and sees an unfamiliar black car with men in it. She thinks better of leaving the house. Instead, she calls Jeremy, the bodyguard on call at precinct headquarters less than ten minutes away. As he comes around the corner in his police vehicle approaching her house from Rebecca’s left, the black car takes off heading the other way. Before it can pick up any speed, it’s stopped by an unmarked police car that makes a sudden turn blocking the street. 

   The men in the car are arrested. Their assault rifle and handguns are taken from them, and they’re taken down to the precinct for questioning. When Rebecca arrives, the police have them in separate rooms, threatening them with long prison terms and offering immunity if they rat out their bosses. They’re not talking. Both sides are angry and belligerent. 

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Thought for the Night.

980C5BD4-DE21-4A62-B0E5-E9335604714C.jpegDo you ever just have an idea that gets stuck in your mind like a splinter in your skin?  My splinter for the day is revolving around the idea of desensitization and the aspects of it. 

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New Year


As the new year rolls around we have several goals bumbling in our heads, new missions to accomplish, and relationships we would like to kindle or end.  In essence, the new year is like a subliminal restart for the mind, but that's all.

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Episode Eleven

Rebecca and the Duke

 Rebecca walks into the interrogation room. Duke Jorgenson, sitting on the other side of the table, stands when she enters. He smiles and says, “Welcome.” Their eyes meet and remain fixed on each other for some time. His smile fades to poker face, then to ice. His blue eyes are riveted on Rebecca’s, as if willing her to lose this staring contest. 

  Rebecca is silently chanting her mantra, purifying the situation, waiting for words. Finally, the Duke says, “I don’t care what you do to me. You won’t turn me like you did those punks.”

   “You start right off with a lie. You do care what we do to you. You care very much. You don’t want to die. You don’t want to spend your life in jail. You’d like to go free, but you’re so corrupted by competition you actually believe the only thing you care about is winning. And trying to be the best at something, you’ve fallen to being the best at murder. You’ve sold your soul to the devil. You’ve become the best, or one of the best, in a race to do evil. When you die, you’ll go to a place where everyone is just like you. There you’ll learn the meaning and the price of evil.”

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International Youth Leadership Conference, Japan

From March 27th to April 5th, 2015 a group of student ambassadors from metropolitan New York City met with students in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan for a ten-day International Youth Leadership Workshop.

The focus of the workshop was to create and expand awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons; teach empathy, compassion and communication skills to youth from different cultures; and give the participants a chance to express their newfound connection and understanding through art.

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Winners and the Alternative

Installment 9 – Winners and the Alternative

A lot of you have responded to this blog series with some form of “I agree with you, but it’s impossible.” This comment is usually combined with “The winners have too much power” or “Winning is human nature” or both.

   In this context, I’m forced to reveal that I learned to ski in one night. I was fifteen. A friend invited me to join his family on a big mountain in Switzerland for two weeks of skiing over Christmas vacation. I was thrilled, of course, but when I got to the mountain, I discovered I had never skied, didn’t know how, and this was a problem.


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Winners and Syria



Installment Eight – Winners and Syrian Refugees

I take up the issue of Syrian Refugees because it’s such an excellent example of the winner approach to problem solving. Just to review, last week a major terrorist attack took place in Paris. ISIS claimed responsibility for that attack. One apparently false Syrian passport was found, but so far, all the terrorists confirmed to have taken part were Europeans. Nevertheless, the response by France and the US was to intensify the bombing of Raqqa, Syria.

   True, Raqqa is supposed to be “an ISIS stronghold”, but it’s also a city, a place that over 200,000 innocent civilians call home. This bombing, of course, will cause even more Syrians to leave their country, but the domestic response by many governments in Europe and 27 governors in the US is to close their doors to Syrian refugees. As I write, the US House of Representatives has just passed a law making it more difficult for refugees from Syria and other countries in the Middle East to get into the US.

   The American governors and legislators attempting to shut out Syrian refugees may actually believe they’re making their state or the US safer. But the rest of the world sees the US responding with surprisingly blatant self-centered cowardice. To make absolutely sure that no terrorist can possibly get into the US, Americans are shutting the door on innocent people who are suffering and desperately fleeing violence for which the US is largely responsible. Rather than accept a nearly nonexistent chance of harm coming to Americans, American leaders are closing their eyes and hearts to millions of human beings who are actually suffering terrible harm right now.

   This selfish cruelty is the hallmark of a winner. Where a decent human being would risk his or her own safety in an effort to help someone else, winners protect good ole number one. Winners instinctively use their power to protect themselves, regardless of the effects on those less able to protect themselves. Winners build castles, forts, walls, and gated communities to separate themselves from enemies and, especially, from the angry, suffering masses in their own territory. Winners accumulate as much money as possible, then buy palatial houses here and there around the globe, fancy cars for all their garages, private jets to take them from one house to the next, gold-plates to eat from, gold-plated toilets to swallow what they excrete, and private armies to protect it all. They delight in extravagance and take every opportunity to display their superiority, never giving a thought to the people on whose shoulders they so comfortably stand.

   Winners deeply believe they have earned their fabulous happiness by hard work and just being better than those less fortunate. They are unable or unwilling to see how their good fortune depends on the misfortune of others, including future generations and the Earth itself. Or if they see, they can’t afford to care.

   In order for a few people to be extremely rich, a lot of other people have to be extremely poor. In order for a few people to get rich without doing any productive work, they absolutely must exploit the people doing the productive work. In order for a few people to earn thousands of dollars an hour just by owning certain stocks, someone has to be earning a few cents an hour working for the companies that issue those stocks. In order for a few people to earn billions of dollars by manufacturing things from raw materials like iron, copper, cotton, and wood, someone has to let those commodities go for less than they’re worth.

   People in Africa, South America, Asia or Detroit are not poor because of some natural disaster, ethnic conflict or refusal to work. They are poor because the system we live under makes some people poor in order to make other people rich. The political-economic-social system we all live under makes a few people happy and the vast majority of people unhappy, and this is no accident or temporary malfunction. Our system does this inevitably, inherently, and unavoidably.

   Since we have all been carefully trained not to see this, let’s take a look at sports. There are billions of people in the world, and about 200 countries. Every couple years we have some great global sports tournament like the Olympics or the Winter OIympics or the World Cup or whatever. And every time, we know that a tiny handful of people in the US, Russia, China, Germany, Brazil, or a few other countries will win, while the vast majority of people in the vast majority of countries will not get anything. We know this because that is the way the system operates. That is the way the system is supposed to operate. It is inevitable, inherent, and unavoidable. It’s impossible for lots of countries to win the World Cup. The World Cup can only be won by one country.

   I’m not criticizing sports. I love sports. I love competition within a system that has universally accepted rules, impartial referees, and does not kill the losers. However, to accept and enjoy competition in sports does not mean we have to allow the world to be governed by this kind of competitive system. Life on Earth does not have to be competitive. It used to, of course, when we were animals. We didn’t know any better. Besides, we didn’t have nuclear weapons, and we weren’t a hair’s breadth away from making Earth uninhabitable, so we could enjoy the game. Who’s number one? The Spanish or the Incas? The British or the Indians? The Americans, British, French, and Australians or the Germans, Italians and Japanese?

   But now, we have to change the game. The goal of life on Earth is no longer finding out who is number one. The goal at this point is to find out how seven billion human beings can live here without killing the oceans, making the atmosphere poisonous, and irradiating ourselves to death. To do this, all we have to do is make two minor changes. First, we accept that our common goal is continued human life on Earth. Second, we stop electing and following leaders who don’t understand this and start electing and following leaders who do. In other words, we stop electing and following winners and start electing and following decent human beings. Is that so much to ask?

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Pure Evil



Installment Seven -- Winners, Pure Evil, and Hypocrisy


US Senator Johnny Isakson (Republican, Georgia) is a winner. In a September interview reported in Creative Loafing, he said, "There's only one thing, and one thing only, that ISIS understands, and that's force. We've got to kill 'em and exterminate 'em, so they're gone and destroyed.” During a radio interview on November 11, in defending his belief that the US should send soldiers into Syria, he said, “Bombing won’t do it and negotiation won’t do it. You can’t negotiate with a group that beheads people and burns them in cages. These people are pure evil.” (approximate quote – just heard him on the radio, not even sure what station I was listening to.)

   But Isakson is not the only one who thinks like this. Googling “isis pure evil” got me 521,000 results. “Pure evil” is the cornerstone of winner philosophy and the basic justification for most violence. Winners begin with the assumption that they are good. Therefore, ipso facto, anyone who opposes them is evil. If the opponent makes the winner really angry, the opponent becomes pure evil.

   Labeling a group or individual pure evil is essential to winning because it opens the door to a whole new array of tactics and weapons. After all, if you’re fighting pure evil, winners believe, you can use any means necessary. Winners feel free to lie, cheat, steal, and kill when they’re fighting pure evil. They’re convinced that the only way to fight pure evil is to use methods that would be considered evil if you used them against good people, but which become good if used against evil people.

   The idea that some people are pure evil is the most dangerous and destructive concept or structure in the human mind. Actually, to call it an “idea” is inaccurate. Neither the premise that one’s self is good nor the assertion that one’s opponent is pure evil can be defended rationally. Calling someone pure evil derives not from thought but from feeling, from irrational emotion. These emotions—fear, anger, rage, and hatred—have killed billions of people, and the slaughter continues.

   The first part of the problem, our tendency to assume we are good, can be alleviated by an honest look at our own lives, our ancestors, and our history. Senator Isakson, who declared that ISIS is pure evil, no doubt believes that his country, the US of A, is pure good. It has made mistakes here and there, but it’s the world’s greatest champion of freedom, democracy, and universal wellbeing. To believe this, he overlooks a genocide of native Americans, an ongoing legacy of slavery and cruelty to non-whites, the fact that Hitler was created and supported to the end by American business and political elites, the fact that the US placed all humanity under the nuclear sword of Damocles, the brutal economic colonization of South America, the Vietnam War, the Afghanistan War, the Iraq War and the fact that, ever since the revolutionary war, hardly a year has gone by when the US did not send its soldiers out to kill someone somewhere to expand its empire and enrich its oligarchy at the expense of ordinary people.

   In the specific case of ISIS, Isakson overlooks hundreds of years of Western domination and control of the Middle East capped by the last fourteen years during which the US, from ISIS’ point of view, has created one chaotic, violent failed state after the next in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. He also overlooks the thousands of bombings and drone attacks that have killed, injured, and displaced vastly more human beings, including women, children and the elderly, than ISIS has. The US even supports the House of Saud (Saudi Arabia), which routinely beheads far more people than ISIS. My point here is not that the US is pure evil. It is not. But the US has no special claim to morality or goodness. Like everyone else, Americans are a jumbled mix of good and evil, a truth that winners are psychologically or institutionally incapable of comprehending.

   The second part of the problem, branding opponents as pure evil, can be alleviated by understanding why the opponent is acting so badly. As a decent human being, I certainly don’t condone the cutting off of anyone’s head. However, I know anger and rage. I know I have done evil things in the grip of those emotions, so I can, to some extent, put myself in the shoes of someone angrier and more brutal than I am. I can imagine what I might be like if I had seen my wife and children blown to body parts by a drone attack. If I were surrounded by people who had experienced similar horrors, and if I had nowhere to live because my house and the houses of all my friends lay in ruins due to US or US-backed bombing, and if my reference community was fighting for liberation from Western imperialists who have long been robbing my country while keeping my people under the icy thumb of political and economic oppression, I can imagine myself forgetting all about being a decent human being. I can imagine wanting to slice the head off every American I could lay my hands on.

   Again, I don’t condone this feeling or behavior. I understand it. Understanding an opponent’s feelings and motivations is crucial to resolving a conflict, but such understanding, even the desire to understand, lies beyond the emotional capacity of winners like Johnny Isakson. Winners make a point of refusing to understand or talk to anyone who is pure evil.

   Winners are utterly blind to their own hypocrisy. To fight the recruitment of youth for al-Qaeda and ISIS, President Obama said local leaders "have to stop the twisted ideology used to incite others to violence." In the past seven years, no one in the world has incited more people to violence than President Obama, but US officials and apologists routinely and with a straight face criticize violence because they truly believe that violence by the US military is not evil. It’s not even violence. Violence by good people is law, order and stability. Violence by bad people is evil. All winners on all sides of all violence fail to see that good and evil are in the eyes of the beholders.

   To actually resolve conflicts, we have to look through each other’s eyes. Winners prefer to kill “pure evil” opponents. But as long as we accept violence by good people as good, we will never put an end to violence. And until we realize that violence itself is the biggest obstacle to a decent world run by and for decent human beings, we will continue to walk meekly behind our elite winners down the road to self-extermination. 

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Not Solving Problems


Installment Six – Winners Not Solving Problems

Watching the candidates for US president debate each other on TV, I’m struck by how fiercely they present themselves as winners. They are all so fantastically powerful. If we just elect them, they will force Mexico to build a wall between them and the US, they will put the Russians-Chinese-Muslims in their place, they will take money from the rich and give it to the poor, they will take this country back, put it on the right track, and get the economy growing again. They will do these things because they know that these are the right things to do, regardless of any idiots who don’t think so. The message is, “I’m a winner. Elect me and I will use my great powers of winning to win for you what you want.” The one thing they all have in common is, they are super-winners.

   The problem with winners is, as I keep saying, they are always fighting to win, as opposed to solving problems. Decent human beings, I assert by definition, eschew winning in favor of solving problems. So what does this actually mean?

  In the world of winners, the goal is to climb some ladder as high as possible, and winning is how you do that. If you win the competition to get hired into a good company, you want to get promoted. If you win the competition to be section chief, you want to be a department head, then vice president, then president. If you win an election to be mayor, you want to be governor or senator, then president.    

   Do you want to win the competition primarily to get more money? At the lower levels, where money is scarce, yes, money or security or escape from economic stress is a big motivator. But at the higher levels, winning itself is the object. If you have a million dollars, you don’t really need two million, but you want two million or a hundred million or a billion or however much you can win. If your ladder is money, you want as much as you can get because that is how you know you are winning. It’s your measure of success and value as a person. If your ladder is politics, you want to be president or prime minister. If your ladder is art, you want to be exhibited in the Louvre. If it’s boxing, you want to be world champion. And to climb to the top of any ladder, you have to win and keep winning.

    We all want to win and climb higher on our respective ladders because the higher we get, the more respect we get, the more money we get, the better we get treated, the more often we can get what we want, etc. When you’re at the top of any ladder, you get treated like a king. People open doors for you, carry your bags, give you stuff, and agree with whatever you say. Hence the saying, “It’s good to be king.”

   Prior to 1945, this whole ladder-climbing thing made sense. The pursuit of power structured our society, ensuring that our leaders would be winners. All groups naturally want to be led by winners. After all, we want our family, clan, tribe, political party, company or nation to win against our rivals, so it’s good to have a strong, smart winner as our leader.

   We (human beings, chimpanzees, wolves, even chickens) respect and obey our leaders because our success as a group depends on their strengths, skills, virtues, wisdom and luck. We believe our leaders are vital to our own success because, in winner society, the main method of solving problems is to have the leader solve it. He or she may consult his or her advisors (or legislature or board) or delegate down the chain or pray to God, but ultimately, he or she is responsible, makes a decision, and the group goes along. Most of us still consider this perfectly natural. We see no alternative. We see no need for an alternative. Most of us still don’t understand that our leadership needs reversed dramatically on August 6, 1945.

   More accurately, ever since 1949 (when the Soviet Union got the bomb), the world has had no leader and no prospect of finding one. When the Soviet Union collapsed and became Russia, certain American winners thought the US could become leader of the world. They did their best to take over (they are still trying, actually), but they failed. By now it should be clear that the US, with all its fabulous military might, can’t even control Afghanistan or Iraq. How will American winners conquer the rebellious winners in Russia, China, India, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Iran, Germany, France, etc.? The human family is beginning to realize that the US can make a terrible mess of just about anywhere, but it will never, ever be boss of this planet. Nor will Russia nor China nor India nor the Rothschilds nor any banking cartel nor the Illuminati nor the New World Order. The world is never going to be controlled by a winner. There will be no king or emperor or shogun of the world.

   That being the case, the winners’ method of solving problems (the leader decides) is unusable, impossible, can’t happen. No winner (person, political party, bank or country) is going to eliminate nuclear weapons. No winner is going to come along and make us all start using less fossil fuel. No winner is going to declare an end to our infinite-growth-based economy. No winner is going to make sure everyone on the planet has enough to eat, clean water to drink, healthcare, education and a decent job. No winner can do any of these things because we simply cannot solve our global problems through competition.

   As a species, we face several urgent, life-or-death problems (nuclear weapons, CO2, methane, ocean acidification, weaning ourselves from oil,) but our biggest problem is the fact that our current problem-solving methods (elections, litigation, amassing fortunes, building empires, spying, lying and killing each other) are inappropriate and inadequate. As a result, our problems go unsolved, and we edge ever closer to self-extermination. The only way the human family can survive is to cooperate, that is, identify the problems, discuss them openly and honestly, and come up with solutions that work for all of us, including plants, animals, and the Earth itself. In other words, we need leaders who are decent human beings eschewing winning in favor of solving problems.

   Let’s take some examples. Some people believe we should put less CO2 into the air and oceans, we should provide free education for all, health care should be controlled by insurance companies, abortions should be illegal, gay people should be cured, everyone should be Christian or Buddhist or Muslim except everyone in Israel should be Jewish, all corporations should have workers on their boards of directors, big banks should be bailed out, central banks should be eliminated—take your pick. And a lot of people disagree with all these ideas. Within our adversarial, winner-take-all system, the only way to do anything about any of these problems is for one side to win. Thus, huge amounts of money and energy are spent trying to get certain winners into political offices where they can help one group of winners at the expense of some other group. Unfortunately, no group ever has or ever will obtain enough power to solve problems like these.

   Problems like the above can only be solved by decent human beings using the most advanced techniques of peaceful resolution or transcendence of conflict. If there were enough decent human beings in the world to put decent human beings into elected office (instead of winners), our elected decent human leaders would bring all the stakeholders together to think and talk and talk and think until we come up with a solution that wins support from everyone.

    Because I’m not as smart as all the stakeholders, I can’t suggest transcendent solutions to the problems above. All I can say with certainty is that we will not find solutions by fighting to win the right to solve the problems to our own benefit. If two guys fighting over a bag of oranges discover that one wants to make juice while the other wants to use the peels for marmalade, the fight is over. If a couple fighting over what color to paint the kitchen discovers their house is on fire, the fight is over. If two countries fighting over the water in a certain river find water conservation and recovery measures that assure plenty of water for both, the fight is over. But winners focused on winning will make none of these discoveries. Solutions like these can only be found by decent human beings committed not to winning but to solving the problems in a way that satisfies all parties.

   The tricky part is that no decent human messiah will rise to the top and teach the rest of us to be decent human beings. We will only live in a decent world surrounded by decent human beings who elect decent human leaders when enough of us have become decent enough to make this happen. We each have to make the choice for ourselves and become the ones we’ve been waiting for. What are the chances? But as my mother used to say, “It’s that or nothing, whichever you like the best.”

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