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Archive for June, 2011

There once was a country that viewed itself as a fair and just society. They even called themselves the “Fair and Just Society.” Like most societies, they could be divided into three groups of people. One-third of the people had the least amount of the income and wealth in that society — let us say only about 20% of the income and wealth. The second or middle one-third had about what would be the average of that societies wealth and income distributed among them, say 30%. The last group, the wealthiest one-third, had about 50% of the wealth and income of that society.

Let us also assume that at some point the members of the Fair and Just Society agreed among themselves that there are certain things that they all need and should be paid for collectively, like, for example, the common defense, roads, education of the Fair and Just Society’s children and so on. And let us further assume that the members of this Fair and Just Society agreed that these collective expenses should be paid for by each section of society according to their means. The lowest one-third agrees to pay 20%, the middle 30% and the top one-third 50% because they all agreed that that would be fair and just.

Now let us assume that all things have worked out reasonably well for our Fair and Just Society and that even the poorest one-third had enough to eat, clothe and shelter themselves and everyone was pretty happy. Then one day, for whatever reason, good cost control, a sudden jump in productivity, the discovery of oil or gold or whatever, the Fair and Just Society finds that they have collected more funds than are needed for their common expenditures (Defense, education, etc.) and decide to ask the people what they should do with it.

Upon hearing this everyone was happy, no one more so than the upper third and their agent who was sent to speak to the representatives of the Fair and Just Society. He told them that because his employers were the upper third in income and wealth they knew more about money than anyone else and that it was very complicated and because of that he recommended that the money be returned to the people in the form of tax relief because then each individual will be able to choose what it wished to spend it on and so they will each benefit individually and the economy would benefit in general by this infusion of money.

Some of the representatives upon hearing this could not fully comprehend why giving to each person to spend as he wishes was better than all the people deciding together on spending it on something that would benefit them all the most. After all they argued, the money still gets back into circulation and the Fair and Just Society gains an asset owned by all the people. And some even thought at least some of it should be held for a “rainy day” when it might be needed. But most of the other representatives agreed that giving the money back to the individuals seemed reasonable and fair. So they asked the representative of the upper third how he suggested that it be done.

“Well,” he says, “I was hoping that you would ask that. Over lunch I prepared this chart.” And he whips out a chart. “What this chart shows” he says, “is that you should give all this money to the upper third because, not only do they know more about money than anyone else, they having so much of it after all, but also since they do not have to spend in on necessities like food and stuff they will have this excess cash that they will invest in new factories and the like, you know, to make shoes and canned soup.” “And,” he continued “they can even take some of that money and, oh say, pay for research or start-ups and increase productivity and things like that”.

When the agent of the upper third finished speaking, the representatives of the Good and Just Society all looked at one another for a moment then broke out laughing. “You cannot be serious,” the Chairman said, “no one in their right mind could possibly be so stupid as to believe what you just said. Nevertheless, as a fair and just society we do think that it is fair and just to return it equally to all in accordance with their contributions to the common good, a 10% reduction to the bottom third on their 20% contribution, a 10% reduction to the middle third on their 30% contribution and a 10% reduction to the upper third based upon their contribution”. And with that they all got up and left, still chortling and shaking their heads.

Now because this is a parable, we will assume that in fact an across the board 10% reduction in taxes is fair and just.

Of course, we all know that for many reasons an across the board reduction in taxes was not fair and just at all. For example, the lowest one-third would most likely spend it on consumable necessities like food, clothing and shelter since their 10% would not be that much money. Or, as the agent of the upper one-third was overheard telling some of the representatives of the Good and Just Society outside the hearing room. “They will probably just spend it on dope and booze and taking a few days off work.”

The upper one-third on the other hand probably would also spend some of it on dope and booze, but they would still have a lot of money left over. So they will call in their advisors and direct them to take this excess cash and use it to make more. After the advisors leave, the upper third would probably take a puff of their joints, a sip of their Mai Tias and brood about the workers in their factories that did not show up for work that day. Eventually they decide that they would have their secretaries draft letters to the Representatives of the Fair and Just Society complaining about the morals of the lower one-third and a lot of the middle one-third and that in the future any tax cuts should all come to them. That done, they will leave on vacation, using some of the money they received from the Fair and Just Society, because they believed they earned it.

The representatives of the upper third then met to plan how they will turn this cash into more cash for the upper third and along the way turn themselves into members of the upper one-third.

They reasoned that after all that money spent on dope and booze there would not be enough cash left among the lower two-thirds for the upper third to invest their money to acquire it from the lower two-thirds. Nevertheless, there would be some and so they decide to increase their marketing budgets to persuade the lower two-thirds to spend whatever money they have left on products produced in the factories owned by the upper third. But still the upper third had a lot of money left over from the gift the Fair and Just Society had given them.

“Let’s use that money to buy the assets of the lower two-thirds,” suggests one of their representatives.

“But the lower third has no assets,” complains another.

Yes, they do,” states the first. “We can buy their future and their freedom. We can give them some of our money to buy more dope and booze and tell them that they can pay us back from their future wages with a sizable profit to the upper third of course, and substantial commissions for us. And then we will tell them that since we have given them so much money and we know all about economic things, we being so rich and so smart, they can trust us to keep them in dope and booze forever. And in return they will agree to vote in the elections for the representatives to the Fair and Just Society as we the agents of the upper third tell them to.”

“As for the middle one-third,” he continued. “Many of them have worked hard and amassed some assets like their houses and their small business, so we will point out to them that because of all their hard work and our knowledge of finance, their assets have appreciated and they would be wasting that value unless they put it to work. Then we will loan them some money in return for the owning their assets if they do not pay us back.”

And they all agreed that was a good plan and they put it into practice.

Now it came to pass that this worked so wonderfully well for a while that the lower two-thirds, although actually poorer, appeared to be living so much better than they had been. As a result, they thought the agents of the upper one-third were much smarter than they were. And also, so much money was flowing into the hands of the agents that they soon began to replace some of the upper one-third.

Then one day there was, of course, not enough things for the upper third to buy because almost all the assets had been purchased and almost all of the futures mortgaged and on top of it they had even more money now with nothing to do. So the agents of the upper third went to the members of the upper third and showed them how instead of making things or buying more assets they could simply gamble all this money on the economy because everything was so good and the agents were so smart things would keep getting better and better and except for a few corrections now and again they would make even more money.

Then a funny thing happened, soon there were fewer members of the upper third who actually made things, they had been replaced by the agents who really did not make anything at all.

Then of course there was what is known as a “correction”, the lower two-thirds had mortgaged all their futures and no longer had the money to buy things. So as the factories closed down the lower two-thirds began to lose their jobs and their homes and businesses.

Some of these people turned to the Representatives of the Fair and Just Society and asked them to do something about it. Unfortunately for the lower two-thirds, the Representatives of the Fair and Just Society had by now all been replaced by the employees of the upper one-third. Nevertheless they agreed to look into their concerns.

“No problem,” they said, “we can make everything better by cutting those things we have been paying for up until now and lowering taxes on the upper one-third so they can invest even more.  We can pay for whatever essential community services are left (like protecting the assets of the upper one-third) by borrowing from the upper one-third and it all will work out just like it was described in that chart.”

Now we all know that that’s what really happened, but since this is a parable we will assume that everyone actually did believe that the distribution of the money was fair and just and that no one could have possibly foreseen what actually did happen.

So, the representatives of the Fair and Just Society a few months or so after making the fair and just present to the people were surprised to find, that while the income and wealth of the upper one-third grew exponentially, the lower two-thirds barely held their own and their debts to the upper third increased even more rapidly than the upper third’s income.

This being a Fair and Just Society and their representatives, not yet being replaced by the employees of the upper third, understood what that meant for the future of the Fair and Just Society. So, they convened a meeting and called in the upper third and their agents and told them, “We all made a mistake and in order to avoid an economic catastrophe and to preserve the Fair and Just Society, you are all just going to have to give all the money back”.

OK, I will admit maybe that this a fantasy and not a parable. But still…

MORAL:

1. No society, if it hopes to survive, can surrender to an individual, institution or groups of individuals or institutions unbridled and uncontrolled dominance over its economic and political well-being, no matter how apparently beneficial it appears at the time.
2. We are better off as a society to agree to what we want our society look like and act to make it so than to just hope for the best or trust to our individual efforts alone.
3. A fair and just society never ever follows the advice of those with the most to gain financially.
4. A fair and just society resists giving collective funds or advantage to those with the resources to compete for them on their own.
5. There is no magic wand, invisible hand, or strong and brilliant leader that can save us from our folly. If we believe that, then Pogo was right when he said so long ago, “We have met the enemy and he is us“.
________________

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One day long ago, a group of gladiators were getting ready to enter the arena to fight each other to the death until just one remained. He, the winner, would be rewarded by the Emperor with a laurel crown followed by a good dinner. Although each of the gladiators believed that he was sure to be the winner and looked forward to the fame it would bring and to that dinner, each, of course, also shared a little fear that he would not win but would die that day.

One of them, the oldest, wisest and among the weakest of them, realizing his chances of surviving were pretty thin, spoke up. “Wait a minute, this is all pretty silly, here we are getting ready to go out into the arena and fight to the death until only one of us is left standing. All this so that the winner gets to wear some weeds and eat a good meal. And what is really sad about that is that whichever one of us is the winner, tomorrow he will be out of a job because all the rest of us are dead. That’s pretty stupid, if you ask me”.

The others thought about what he had said and after a while agreed that it was not very sensible. “But what can we do about it,” they asked?

“Well,” said the thoughtful gladiator, “we can all agree amongst ourselves to fight just as hard as we can in the arena, but when one of us goes down, the victor will make it look like he dealt a fatal stroke to the loser and then the loser will put on a good show and act as though he actually is dying and this will go on until only one of us is left standing and he will get the laurel crown and eat the meal and we all will get to do it again tomorrow and who knows, maybe a different one of us will win that day. And maybe each of us will learn over time how to fight a little bit better and how to die a little more realistically and the Emperor may be so entertained that he will give something more than some damned shrub and a ham bone.”

All the gladiators saw the right in what the thoughtful gladiator said and they all agreed to what he proposed and they all prospered.

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images

Once upon a time, long long ago, there was a vast savannah on which only lions and gazelles lived. The gazelles ate the grass that grew on the savannah and the lions ate the gazelles when they could catch them.

Although the lions were endowed by nature with fierce teeth, claws, and strength, they generally only were able to catch the weak, aged, unwary or unlucky gazelles because nature, in order to maintain a balance on the savannah between predator and prey, made young healthy gazelles able to run faster than the lions and escape. Those gazelles that got away ate the grasses that grew on the savannah, mated and new gazelles were born. And so, they all, lions and gazelles, thrived among the savannah’s endless grasslands.

One day there was born into the pride, the biggest, the meanest, the fastest and the hungriest lion of them all. One who was able to catch, kill and eat any gazelle that lived on the plain, which of course eventually he did. And the Great Lion as he was called and all the members of the pride prospered until that day the Great Lion finally had caught and killed every gazelle living on the savannah and there was nothing left for any of the lions to eat.

So the Great Lion, still being hungry, began to kill and eat all the other lions until they too were all gone but one. As he was about to be dispatched by the Great Lion to be the Great Lion’s last meal, this next to last lion alive asked the Great Lion, “Why? You could have just eaten what you needed and we all could have and prospered forever. Why didn’t you?”

And the Great Lion looked at him with a smile and said, “My job was only to kill and to eat. I was just following my nature. It was your job, the job of you and all the other lions in the pride to make sure I did not run wild and destroy our grassy paradise.”

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One day during my weekly massage, I asked my masseuse, who I shall call M, to tell me some stories about her life in the massage business. One of her tales follows:

Among her regular customers was an Indian woman. She and her husband were members of the health club in the Bangkok hotel in which M worked. The couple would exercise several times a week and have a massage about once a week. Generally, they both chose male massage therapists, but when two were not available, the woman would request M’s services.

The woman would always ask for the exact same treatment from M and explained why:

“Every time my husband wants sex.” she explained. “he would start grabbing at my sari, trying to pull it off until I agreed to go to bed with him. He would get on top, move up and down for a few moments, finish, then get up and go into the shower where he would wash and sing happily to himself. After, his shower he would return to the bedroom and ask:

‘Are you happy?’

I being a good wife always nod my head and say, ‘yes very much.’

So as a result .whenever I have a massage, I choose a male masseuse and I tell him that all that I want from him is to mount me like a buffalo and pound me for one half an hour, no more and no less.”

She then explained to M, that she wanted M to massage only one part of her body for precisely one half an hour and instructed M, on the proper placement of M’s fingers and preferred repetitive movement.

At that point I asked M what she thought about all that.

She answered, ” My arm hurt a lot, but she gave me a nice tip.”

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It was the Golden Age, after the pill and before the scourge of AIDs. Like all Golden Ages, people’s attention turned from mere survival, to self-indulgence, self-adsorption and self-aggrandizement or as some say Hedonism, Mysticism and Capitalism and still others simplified to Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll.

Now at that time, the City of San Francisco was one of the centers of that age, often referred to as “new”, when society as a whole suffers from a mass attack of Alzheimer’s.

In the City at that time there lived a man who like most people wanted fame, fortune and sex. Like most people he believed it was his right to not have to work too hard for it.

Eastern Mysticism was sweeping the country then and attracted a wealthier class of adherents than the ever-popular Pentecostal Christianity. Besides, burning books and sexual suppression was not popular then.

So, he decided to become an eastern spiritual leader. He called himself “Baba Giufa” because it sounded like something an eastern mystical guru who could become popular and attract a lot of followers would call himself.

Now Baba Giufa knew in order to be successful he needed to assemble his own followers. So, one Saturday he put on a white busboy’s jacket and a pair of mostly white pants with a string belt. On his head he placed an old white Panama hat from which he had carefully cut off the brim and on his feet he wore a pair of pink rubber flip-flops.

So attired, he went into Golden Gate Park  at about 3PM. He sat himself down on the heavily traveled sidewalk along-side the road that ran past the Japanese Tea Garden and the DeYoung Museum across from the Band Shell.

He sat in what looked like the traditional lotus position but really was not because he found the lotus position too uncomfortable but as long as it looked a little like the lotus position he thought that it would do for his purposes. He had no idea what to do with his hands, so he placed them palms up on his knees because he thought it looked like the picture of a Yogi master he saw somewhere. He closed his eyes and then he began to chant…

Actually, Baba Giufa did not know any chants. But in school he had memorized Lewis Carrol’s poems the Walrus and the Carpenter and the Jabberwocky. By reciting them in a very low and sing-song voice he hoped that it would seem to sound a lot like chanting. And,it did.

Whenever he finished chanting one of the poems he would open his eyes as wide as he could until his irises seemed to float in bloodshot white seas. He also stuck his tongue out as far as he could. To most observers it appeared as though he was having a seizure of some sort. Then after a few moments he would retract his tongue, close his eyes and begin his chanting again.

Now after a while at this, a crowd began to gather around him; some because they were upset that he was sitting on the well-travelled sidewalk forcing then to detour around him, others out of curiosity and still others attracted by his seeming other-worldliness.

Finally a skinny, inquisitive young man with long flowing hair and a scraggly beard that was in fashion at the time, approached him and inquired, “Who are you and what are you doing here?”

Baba Giufa stopped his chanting, opened one eye, and stared at the young man for a while and then asked, “Do you have friends and family?”

“Why yes I do.” replied the startled young man.

“Then let me tell you this,” Baba Giufa responded in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, “I am called Baba Giufa and I have found the secret to inner peace and happiness and if you want to share the secret with me then next Saturday at precisely 3 PM bring along your family and friends and I will return and instruct you all.”

With this, Baba Giufa rose from where he was sitting, passed through the crowd and went home.

Next Saturday at precisely 3 PM, Baba Giufa returned to the same place in Golden Gate Park and found a crowd of about twenty people standing around. The skinny young man was siting on the sidewalk cross-legged directly to the right of where Baba had sat the previous Saturday. Baba took his seat and began his chanting and spasms. This continued until the inquisitive young man leaned in towards Baba and said in a loud voice, “Baba, last week you told me that if I gathered friends and family here at precisely 3PM on the following Saturday, you will instruct us all on the secret to inner peace and happiness.”

With that Baba Giufa rose from where he was sitting and looked over the crowd that had grown quite a bit larger since he had arrived.

Baba Giufa then asked the crowd, “How many here know what I am about to say? Raise your hands.”

No one raised their hands.

“Than why.” said Baba Giufa, “should I say anything to those who have no idea what I will speak about? I will return here next Saturday at precisely 3 PM and at that time I will instruct only those that really want to know, the secret of inner peace and happiness.”

With that Baba Giufa passed through the crowd, left the park and returned to his home.

On the next Saturday at precisely 3PM Baba Giufa returned to the park and resumed his seat and chanting. This time the crowd was much larger. Also, although the young man remained seated on his right, an attractive blond woman in a granny dress with flowers twisted into her hair sat on his left.

Again after a while the inquisitive young man leaned towards Baba Giufa and asked of him the same question.

Baba Giufa rose from his seat and observed the ever-growing crowd and shouted so that all could hear, “All those who know what I am going to speak about raise their hands.”

This time everyone had been instructed by the skinny inquisitive young man to raise their hands when asked that question and they all did so,

Baba Giufa look at them for a moment and then said, “Why should I speak at all to any of you when you all know what it is I am going to say? I will return here next Saturday at precisely 3 PM and instruct those who truly wish to know the secret of inner peace and happiness.”

With that he passed through the crowd, left the park and returned home.

On the third week, at precisely 3PM on Saturday Baba Giufa returned to the park. This time he carried a bunch of paper in one hand and a shoe box in the other. He found a crowd even larger than the last time. And, not only was the inquisitive man and the comely woman already seated on each side of his place on the sidewalk but several other seekers were assembled on the sidewalk as well. In addition, surrounding his place were several vases filled with multi colored flowers. He took his seat and handed to the inquisitive young man the bits of paper on which he had written his name, Baba Giufa, and his address and phone number. In front of himself he placed the shoe box in which he had cut a hole into the top and on which he had neatly lettered the word “Donations”. He began his chanting.

Eventually, the skinny man leaned towards Baba Giufa and asked the question again. This time Baba Giufa did not rise, instead he simply stared at the shoe box in front of him.

After a while everyone got the idea and several of the onlookers came forward and dropped money into the box. When Baba Giufa was satisfied that no further contributions were forthcoming, he stood up and addressed the crowd. “All of you here that know what I am going to say please raise your hand.”

About one half of the crowd, having been well-trained by now, raised their hands.

Then Baba Giufa said, “All those who do not know what I am about to say raise their hands.”

The otter half of the crowd did so.

“Well then,” said Baba Giufa, “I would appreciate it if those who know what I am going to say would tell those who do not. For those really interested in learning the way to inner peace and happiness I have given to my first disciple here, who shall hereafter be known as Babu Beardo, scraps of paper with my telephone number and address on it.”

And with that he picked up the shoe box made his way through the crowd and went home.

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Sometimes poetry can bubble up from the depths of despair. This tale was sent to me by Irwin. I include it here in memory of a fine man and a good friend:

“Friday I came out of the bank. there was a man who came into the lobby and then went outside. I don’t know how to describe him except to say he looked scruffily dressed and reminded me of a former city councilperson who was one of the last white faces in Santa Ana government; outside of the long-time city manager who lives in Coto de Caza as does the former mayor who now is the right hand man at the Irvine Company. I got the distinct feeling this fellow was either going to rob Citibank or was waiting for me so when I got into the oyonemobile I locked the doors started the car and drove away.

Yesterday morning I went to the market and was waiting at the fish counter (Dover sole $9.99 a pound) when the guy came in and peered into the red meat display. When he left, I breathed a sigh of relief. When I checked out of the market and got to my car I could see him at the end of the parking lot next to the small free-standing building which houses “drs. r us.” Who is this guy and am I really seeing him again and again? I quickly drove away.

Today I thought about it a lot. I was thinking that maybe it was “death” following me around and checking me out. What I had to keep death away I don’t know but I suspect it was those adolescent tendencies of mine that when confronted I have just a few choices, to whine, freeze and/or make it to the closest door. What kept death at arms reach? Surely death could appreciate and have a real taste for a coward. Did he just decide that it wasn’t my time or that I was the wrong person?

At 2:30 am, I couldn’t sleep so I checked my email. I received an email from a former county CEO. In it he explained that he didn’t know what day or time it was; that his three-year old romance ended when the woman died in their bed at the age of 37. I guess Mr. Death found somebody; hopefully it wasn’t in place of me by mistake. I have enough bad karma on my conscience.”

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consciousness

“Well, here I am. Where am I?”

“You are here.”

“I am? Who are you?”

“I am you, who else could I be?”

“OK, is this all there is?”

“Well, some think so. They think everything else is just your imagination. They call it many things, but I like Monism best.”

“A bit lonely isn’t it?”

“Yes, that’s why most of us believe there is you and there is everything else. We like to call that Dualism. There are some who have been toying around with three, but none of them seem to be able to understand it, so they are always fighting about it.”

“OK so how do I know about this other? It seems a bit hard to figure out .”

“Reason.”

“What the hell is that?”

“It is what you use when you think about the other.”

“Wait a minute, now we have me, the other and reason. Sounds a lot like those crazy people.”

“Well maybe, but we think we can make it better. Some guy named Pythagoras suggested replacing reason with mathematic, you know, number. We already have one, two and three and somehow one way or another they seem to encompass everything.”

“Well OK. but I still am not convinced. When I look at the other, everything seems to be moving around. How do I know what’s going on?”

“Essence.”

“Say what?”

“Essence, everything has an essence; that is what it is and what you see is the essence of the other.”

“Sounds like bullshit to me.”

“We have the answer.”

“Who are you?”

“We are the Liebnitz-Newton Siamese twins and by using numbers we can stop things from moving around so that you can know where they are, where they come from and where they are going. We call it the calculus.”

“That’s great. We now have, me, the other and number, which is sort of like the holy spirit and with the use of the holy spirit, I can find out whats going on over there with the other.”

“Uh, not so fast.”

“Who are you?”

“I am Einstein and I have discovered through number that what is over-there depends on what you are doing over here.”

“Crap! Let’s see if I got this right, according to number what goes on over-there is contingent on what I am doing here. Doesn’t this sound a little bit like old-time Monism? There is me and then there is that that depends on me.”

“Well no, there is still the other but it is relative.”

“OK, I will keep that in mind. Can I go about my business now?”

“Excuse me, my name is Planck and I think there is something else you should know before heading off. According to number, that business with the calculus that lets you know where things are and the like, well is seemed to not be quite accurate. You see things in the other are here and there but not in between.”

“We seem to be going backwards.”

“I am afraid I have even more bad news.”

“OK, hit me with it. Who are you by the way?”

“I’m called Heisenberg, and according to number you really cannot know about the other because every time you try to, you change it.”

“Aren’t we back to where we started? And doesn’t that mean…?”

“Yes, everything is possible and nothing is also.”

“Oh, my.”

“Hi, my name is Goedel and you really need to know this. You know that mathematics and number thing you worked all this out with? Well, you made it all up. You see it all depends on the assumptions you choose.”

“Crap and worse, I am really back to where I started, I feel like I am deaf, dumb and blind without arms or legs crawling face down through a sea of mud.”

“Don’t worry about it. We are working on something that will make everything work out. Its called ‘Strings’.”

“Strings, first we have one, then two and then maybe three and when they did not work out we now have strings. What the fuck are strings and what number are they?”

“Well we don’t really know what they are but we do know that they are not one two or three, but precisely seven, or ten or eleven or another number. We don’t know that either, but we are working at it and you will just have to be patient for a while.”

“Hmmm. OK, what do I do in the mean time?”

“What you always do, fight a few wars, foul your nest, bugger your neighbor and things like that”

“Well all right, but hurry up, I don’t think I have much time.”

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