Immigration

                        Sunday, March 19, 2017

RE: Immigration Reform

Dear Senators Murray and Cantwell,

Please work with one or more of your fellow Republican Senators McCain, Graham, Rubio, and/or Flake to reintroduce the 2013 Immigration Bill* with ONE MAJOR CHANGE: Replace a “Path to Citizenship” with a “Path to Honorary Citizenship.”

My great-grandfather James Alexander Simpson entered the US from Ontario, Canada around 1900 with neither documentation nor permission. He and an uncle crossed the border with a cow and walked to Minnesota where they settled. He never became a citizen, nor did he vote in the US. However, he married, raised a family, started several small businesses, and contributed significantly to the communities he lived in.

Great grandpa’s direct descendants represent a cross-section of Americans including teachers, farmers, preachers, doctors, professors, business persons, tradesmen, sales persons, soldiers, and Marines.

To my knowledge my great-grandpa was never in any trouble with the law and was a contributing member of our society throughout his life. Likewise I know of none of his direct descendants who have ever been in serious trouble with the law. America is a better country because he came, and was allowed to stay and raise a family.

Great Grandpa Simpson did not need to have citizenship to leave a positive legacy in this country.

Likewise, the first generation of today’s undocumented immigrants can leave similar legacies without actually becoming citizens themselves.
I recommend issuing those granted permanent residency with an opportunity to apply for an honorary citizenship upon reaching age 65.

This would require that they meet reasonable criteria like those described in the 2013 Immigration Bill. Otherwise law abiding undocumented immigrants don’t need to vote, they do need an assurance that they can keep their families together.

My understanding is that it was primarily the “path to citizenship” component that killed what otherwise was a workable and fair bi-partisan legislative solution to our broken immigration system.

Please reach across the aisle and work with one or more of your Republican colleagues who you think might be receptive to this idea.

It is even possible that President Trump and Speaker of the House Ryan might be receptive to this kind of solution/compromise. They may well listen if a bi-partisan group of Senators present them with a solution that provides for border security, grows the economy, preserves the order of law, and treats law-abiding immigrants with respect, dignity, and kindness.

Thank you for your consideration of this idea.

Respectfully,

Jim Simpson
Seattle, WA

PS – Keep up the good work.

* (Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 , S. 744)

Benchmarks

Give Trump a Chance

Dear friends and family,

I know that some of you voted for President Trump and I have seen a number of comments indicating that we should all give him a chance.  Some of you have also pointed out that we do need for the country to be successful – we are in the same boat after all.

I am very willing to give the new policies and actions being taken by the President and Congress a fair assessment and judge them based on results/outcomes.

Here are some benchmark numbers inherited from the Obama administration that are fairly clear cut.  I will measure success of the current Trump administration/Congress over the next 4 years against these starting points. Please see footnotes below for sources and elaboration on these metrics.

Benchmarks

                                                                                         as of 1/20/2017
Security
# of deaths from nuclear explosions (1945-2016) (1)    0
# of citizens killed by terrorists in US (2016) (2)            43
# of US Military Deaths in Combat Zones (2016) (3)      19
# of Violent Crimes (2015) (4)                                             1,197,704

Economy
Total Employment (5)                                                        145,303,000
Unemployment Rate (6)                                                    4.7%/9.2%
Inflation Rate (CPI) (7)                                                       2.1%
Ave. Cost of 1 Gal of Gas (8)                                              $2.302
Median Household Income (2015) (9)                            $53,889
Median Household Net Worth (2016) (10)                    $88,087
National Debt (1/20/17) (11)                                             $19.9 Trillion
Budget Deficit (FY 2017 est.) (12)                                    $559 Billion
Total Exports (Nov 2016) (13)                                          $186 Billion
GDP Increase Annual Rate (as of 3Q 2016) (14)            3.5%

Quality of Life/Satisfaction/Miscl.
US Health Care Per Capita Spending (2015) (15)           $9,990
% of People with Health Insurance (2015 (16)               90.9%
Drug Related Deaths (2015) (17)                                        33,091
HS Grad or Greater (2016) (18)                                          88.4%

Presidential Job Approval Rating (1/19/2017) (19)         59%

Numbers alone, however, don’t necessarily equate to success. As Einstein said, “Not everything that counts can be counted.” There are of course other very important aspects of life in the US impacted by the Federal Government that do not lend themselves to simple numbers: President Trump’s campaign promise to keep Medicare & Medicaid as is; environmental issues, criminal justice issues, minority and women’s rights, immigration, refugee policy, and many more.

I think, however, that these 19 metrics, which are easily verifiable and understandable, are a good snap shot of “success”.

I am very willing to give new policies “a chance to succeed” and honestly hope that all of these numbers will look as good or better in say 3 1/2 years. I wish President Trump and Congress luck in that regard.

“Giving him a chance” does not mean, however, that we should sit quietly by and not speak out if we see injustice or disregard for our constitutional rights, the rule of law, or basic civility.

I would never vote for Trump in the future no matter what the numbers show because of his negative personal attributes. If, however, new policies and actions actually improve things and don’t cause harm to the environment or violate human or constitutional rights, I would be very willing to consider supporting someone like Ohio Governor John Kasich who could carry successful new policies/programs forward without all of the negativity associated with Trump.

As I see it President Trump has a great opportunity to prove himself with his party controlling both houses of congress – I don’t need to “give him a chance” he has a fair chance already.

So Mr. President, let’s see if you can produce positive results.

Jim

Note: This is not a cut and paste list/posting, I did the research/compilation myself. It is my opinion and my work, for whatever that is worth. I used the most recent metrics available as of the Inauguration on 1/20/17.

Footnotes:
(1) No source really needed here – if we have a nuclear explosion anywhere in the world the rest of the list is of secondary at best. Nuclear war remains the most critical risk to mankind. If a bomb goes off it is a clear failure of both our military (deterrence ability) and of our State Department (diplomacy). These are the most important functions of the Presidency.
(2) National Consortium of the Study of Terrorism, Department of Homeland Security/University of Maryland. 2015 is the most recent published total. From other sources I estimate the number of deaths in the US is 63 for 2016 with 14 from the San Bernadino attach and 49 from the Orlando attack.
(3) Military Times – “Honor the Fallen” listing of those who fought and died in military combat operations (does not include US training deaths or suicides) in 2016. I think combat deaths is a good overall measure of the ability of the US to maintain the peace worldwide and institute our foreign policy at the lowest cost in US life. The purpose of the military and diplomacy is to prevent war, therefore the lower this number the better.
(4) FBI -Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, violent crime is composed of four offenses: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. 2015 is most recent year available.
(5) Bureau of Labor Statistics, All employees, total nonfarm, seasonally adjusted through December 2016 (preliminary – most current available as of Jan 24, 2017)
(6) Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, Unemployment rate 16 years and over as of December 2016 The first number is the U-3 rate which is commonly used but which is computed differently than the second rate which some call the “real” unemployment rate which counts as unemployed those who are unemployed, underemployed, and marginally employed.
(7) Bureau of Labor Statistics, 12-month percentage change, Consumer Price Index, All Items as of December 2016
(8) American Automobile Association as of January 24, 2017
(9) US Census Bureau, Median Household Income, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5 Year Estimate
(10) Federal Reserve – Financial Accounts of the United States, Household Net Worth 2016 Q1 most current available.
(11) US Treasury Department , Debt Held by the Public as of 1/20/2017
(12) Congressional Budget Office, Budget Projections for FY 2017 $559 Billion
(13) US Census Bureau – Nov 2016 Most recent month available – includes goods and services. Note that I have measured exports not the deficit. I view exports as a clear indicator of how competitive the US is on the world market. Imports, however show what we are spending as a society. If we pay a fair price for what we are spending we should receive an equal value. We are not spending more than we make if our domestic productivity is high enough to cover these purchases.
(14) Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis ,National Income and Product Accounts Real Gross Domestic Product: Third Quarter 2016, (Third Estimate).
(15) Centers for Medicare & Medicaid, National Health Expenditure Accounts. 2015 is most recent final report.
(16) Center for Disease Control, Health Insurance Coverage in the United State: 2015.
(17) Center for Disease Control, Drug Overdose Death Data 2015 Opioids only in this number as CDC does not track all drug overdose numbers – Opioid related (Heroin and Synthetic) are far and away the largest cause of death by drug overdose.
(18) Census Bureau, Educational Attainment in the United States: 2015, 25 and older.
(19) Gallop Poll – Presidential Job Approval

Amelioration

This blog is written for family, friends, and colleagues. Others are certainly welcome to read this, but it is written to and for people who know me personally.

I assume that all of you who are US citizens will be voting between now and November 8.

I also assume that nothing I say at this point will change how you vote.

The question/topic of this post is, “How are each of us going to act on November 9?

From personal communication or social media posts I know that some of you disagree (perhaps even strongly) with my voting decision for president which I explained in my previous post, “Government”.

Neither Donald nor Hillary nor any of their surrogates have ever bothered to meet with me personally to explain their past performance or opinions. Because of this, I have no first-hand knowledge of what either candidate is really like or what they have or have not done in the past. Like you, I rely on my media sources for facts and opinions to help me make my voting decisions. Like you, I have to guess what might change if one or the other is elected.

We all have different sources and see the facts differently and I am not going to enter into a “my sources are better than your sources” or “my critical thinking is better than yours” discussion.

We do, however, have first-hand knowledge of each other, having interacted personally at various junctions in our lives. From these personal experiences I do know that all of you reading this are basically good people who care about others, your country, and mankind.

Some of you reading this are to the left of Bernie, some of you sit in chairs on the far right side side of the room.

I have a pretty good idea about how the election will come out but I could be dead wrong, as could any of you. There will be lots of unhappy people no matter who wins.

My concern is how are we going to treat each other once the dust has settled after the election.

What, if anything, should I say or do differently if I am correct? What, if anything, should I say or do differently if my candidate looses?

To me, family, friendship, basic civility, and the reality we see in our daily real-world lives is more important than the outcome of the election and all the hype surrounding it. There is a surreal “otherworld” feeling I get when I see election coverage or rhetoric that is counter to what I experience in my interactions with real people in everyday life which I have talked about in my previous post titled “America.”

What I fear is the continued demonizing of others we know who do not agree with us politically. If we fall prey to those whose interests are furthered by creating fear and hatred via a “we vs they”/black or white” dynamic, we could all go down together. The idea of a house divided against itself not being able to stand is as true now as it was in Greek mythology (Aesop), The Bible (Jesus), or US History (Patrick Henry, Lincoln).

Some of you are likely thinking, “Jim, you sound pretty naive saying, ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’”

Call me naive then, because as overused as this phase is, it does make perfect sense to me that treating each other in our personal lives with kindness and respect regardless of the other person’s political views is the first and most important step we can take personally to make things better.

On November 9, the day after our election, I plan to focus on the reality that I see in my daily contact with others with whom I come in contact personally. I will still watch TV, surf the Internet, and read my newspapers and magazines to have a wider perspective and context. However, regardless of how they may have voted, I will try to interact with the people I personally know and love based on what they actually do in their lives, not on assumptions of their motives derived from their political point of view.

We would all do well to head the words of Satchmo in his classic,“What a Wonderful World”:

The colors of the rainbow,
So pretty in the sky.
Are also on the faces,
Of people going by,
I see friends shaking hands.
Saying, “How do you do?”
They’re really saying, “I love you”.

Government

As we are now one month away from the 2016 election I thought it would be a good time to share some of my thoughts on the role of government.

Before continuing I would like any anarchists reading this to immediately stop.

If you are still with me I assume you agree that some degree of government is needed for the six billion humans on this planet to survive. The ancients figured out pretty early on that some kind of order is needed to protect both life and property.

Fast forward to 1776. My understanding of the American experiment is that, for perhaps the first time in history, the ultimate power of government rested with “the people.” Well, at least with, “some of the people.” Rights were considered to be given by God, not received as a benevolent gift from some powerful person who was “in charge.”

I am still waiting for tickets to the Broadway musical Hamilton to really get the inside story on the conflict about “how” we should govern ourselves. At what point does “the greater good” override the “individual pursuits.” That fundamental unresolved question seems to have been with us Americans since the beginning.

Side Note to Canadian friends: Like most Americans, I am too ignorant to speak intelligently about the birthplace of my great-grandfather James Alexander Simpson. James Alexander was born in Ontario and never became a US citizen and lived here undocumented (illegally?) till he died.

My very limited understanding of the differences between our two democracies is that Canadians have a fundamental “right to good government” while Americans have an inalienable right to “ the pursuit of happiness.” The Canadian founding fathers seemed to me to have focused more on the collective good while their American counterparts focused on individual freedoms.

But I digress, as this post is limited to government as I have experienced it here in the US.

Inductive Approach – Bottom Up

Most news and talk we all hear this year is about the federal government and I will get to that, but I would rather start this discussion of government at the bottom and work my way up.

In Seattle we live in a condo and I serve as the treasurer on the board of our home owners association.   This is governmental politics at rock bottom, somewhere in the dirt below the grass roots politics.

In a condo disputes and different expectations between members on the type of governance needed must be resolved in a manner that has the best interest of the entire community as a goal.

Even at this lowest level of governance the decision makers have a direct impact on the quality of the lives of their neighbors in areas like security, aesthetics, social interactions, property values of the shared assets, and expenses. How people feel about the place they live is directly influenced by a few people entrusted with power, limited as it is at this level. People are dependent on other residents who volunteer their services.

I think there are direct parallels (and hopefully some good examples) from these simple democratic organizations and the basis for making decisions that are applicable on the national level.

These areas of governance are:

Rules and Structure

Taxes and Fairness

Management and Solvency

Membership and Access

The Greater Good and Service

These are not all of the functions of the Federal Government. Most notably I am not addressing National Defense. These five areas are, however, essential at all levels of governance.

The basic principles I have personally experienced as a board member on our condo homeowners association have application at the National Level.

Rules and Structure

In a condo it can’t be “every man for himself.” Individual freedom is fine, up to a point.

It is my business what I watch on TV, but when I had the sub-woofer turned way up while watching Game of Thrones and rattled the dishes in my upstairs neighbor’s apartment, I had gone over the line (sorry Laurie, Marianne warned me that I had overdone it on the special effects.)

Fortunately my neighbor respectfully requested I turn it down which I did immediately. In that case there was no reason for her to enforce “the rules”.

Most rules at all levels would be unnecessary if people were just courteous, kind, and respectful.

In our little condo the rule breakers’ indiscretions are pretty minor and most people are good neighbors.

But alas at the national level there are some truly bad apples among us. And there are also basically good people who just put themselves first without considering the impact on others.

So we are stuck with rules and some sort of authority to ensue order when necessary.

The documents governing our little condo exceed 30 pages.

At higher levels of government the numbers of pages of “rules” are beyond counting. But at any level there must be a degree of structure that has law and enforcement as a basis for order.

At the National level I often hear people talk about there being “too much regulation.” I rarely, however, hear the specifics that are essential in determining what should or should not be enforced/included in “the rules.”

And, news flash, this is a big country. And big countries need big government.   There are certainly areas in the federal government that can be improved and cut, but no matter what, with 360 million people, the rules book is going to be “huge” no matter what.

Taxes and Fairness

In the condo we also pay a form of taxes known at “dues” or assessments” that are used to pay for common building expenses. These taxes are assessed using a “fair share” that is based in our case on the size of our individual units – the bigger units pay more, the smaller ones less. My fair share is 2.4%.

This “fair share” was defined when the condo was built and we all knew what the definition of “fair share” meant when we bought our units.

Our condo association has an annual budget of about $90,000. This pays for insurance, a part time manager, utilities and maintenance out of an operating fund. We also have a “reserve” fund to pay for expenses we know we will have to pay in the future, like a new roof or elevator. Infastructure will eventually wear out and will need to be replaced. We need to plan and budget carefully for these future expenses.

“I am paying too much.”

I cringe when I hear simplistic statements like “Taxes (dues) are too high.” Too high for what? Too high for whom?

Talk to me instead about what services we might be able to reduce or curtail. Or identify specific efficiencies that can save money. Just don’t say they are “too high”, it is meaningless without context.

I also cringe when someone proposes spending money without identifying where it will come from. There really is no free lunch.

At the national level nobody really knows what that fair share should be. It seems that some very wealthy individuals who have benefited greatly from our society have contributed very little and in some cases nothing.

Everyone agrees the tax code is unfair, but so far neither party has significantly changed it except to “roll back” taxes as if that does not have impacts down the road. Personally I don’t see the difference between tax loopholes and taking money from one person and giving it to someone else.

Management and Solvency

How the money is managed is key. Even in our little condo there are legitimate questions about the need to spend money. An example is a monthly expense we have for a plant/ flower arrangement we have in the front lobby. There is a good case that the natural beauty of live plants enhances the quality of life in our condo. There is an equally good argument that we could substitute dried flowers for less money. This is a microcosm of the dilemma officials at all levels of government must face – making decisions between competing interests.

At the National level it is not enough to just say “government is too big” or there are “too many regulations.”

Tell me the specifics. Tell me the pros and cons of the alternatives. Compromise. Spend money like we do in the condo – like it was our own money.

Membership and Access

In the condo, every unit owner gets one vote. Citizenship is defined in our governing documents. This basically amounts to ownership being the key. Other people are allowed access to the building to visit members and to come into our condo to provide us services.

At the National level citizenship is a gift of birth or a reward for meeting the standards established to be granted citizenship. It seems pretty clear to me.

We do not, however, have a realistic, fair, or sustainable policy for the persons who we hire to provide us services but who are not citizens. There have been good bi-partisan efforts made in this area (e.g. the comprehensive immigration reform bill of 2013 written by the “Gang of Eight”), but these efforts have been stymied by extremists.

The Greater Good and Service

 As condo board members we have had to take positions that might inconvenience or restrict one or a small number of residents because the decision is best for the organization as a whole.

An example is our enforcement of rules that limit what changes can be made to the structure or exterior appearance of the building or common areas. Enforcement does limit the freedom of the individual somewhat, but the end result is better for all.

I, and I believe my fellow condo board members, try to act in a manner that is for the greater good of the whole organization.

Our national leaders should do the same.

In our condo we serve on the board and in committees. We hire a manager for some tasks, but spend many hours working without pay to ensure that things go well in our building/home. We serve.

Beyond lip service to the military and police, many politicians seem to have little respect for the concept “service” that our government employees provide. It seems popular to be critical of “big government”. I don’t appreciate members of Congress who lambast the VA for not giving Veterans better access to service but then fail to provide the resources needed to hire the staffing needed.  Service means service to others.

National Politics:

 “Where logic, wisdom, and good intentions meet reality, human frailty, and indifference in a win or lose battle.”

I have described some of the key functions of government and addressed how they should be approached, but I have not addressed the issue at hand nationally here in the US which is “Who” should run the government.

Nobody runs for office in our condo as a Democrat or Republican. The issues and solutions are really not “liberal” or “conservative.”

Is it liberal or conservative to “Plan wisely for the future”; “Apply rules justly and evenly”; “Consider how a decision will impact other people”; “Spread costs fairly”; or to “Help out your neighbor in need?”

Of course not. It is totally possible to be frugal and generous and fair at the same time. Both conservatives and progressives have some good ideas and intentions but they have to work together just like those of us at the lowest levels of governance do.

Keeping America Great

We all want the country to continue to succeed but it won’t happen without all of us playing our part.

As noted above, at the national level the idea of the greater good seems to be lost on many as does the concept of service. Rules and Structure seem to be just for “other people. We want it all, but we don’t want to pay our fair share. People want government off their backs, but they sure do like the subsidies and benefits of citizenship. We enjoy having the benefits of cheap foreign labor, but fail to establish a fair mutually beneficial scenario for these people.

My most memorable quote from the last election was a woman who was quoted as wanting the Government to keep “its hands of her Social Security.” And this year it seems like it is “brilliant” to avoid paying anything in federal taxes, as if this would be a good strategy for everyone. Really?

The 2016 Election

And the answer is…

I have always considered myself an independent. I have voted for both Democrats and Republicans for president at different times based on who I thought was the best for the country.

I really think that the best balance of government is when one party controls the White House and the other at least either the Senate or the House.

This division of power helps keep us from straying too far in either direction. I like it here in the middle. I wish there were more in here with me.

People on both sides wail about how we have a “stalemate.” Yes, it does seem that way if you watch the news, but as I look around the country I see much to be extremely happy about. Yes, there are lots of problems, some very serious, but AMERICA IS GREAT NOW. See my previous Blog post titled America if you think we are in deep trouble, we are not.

I’m With Her

Some of you on the right will cringe, as will some of you on the far left, but my vote will be cast for Hillary Clinton.

There is no other rational choice.

My assessment of Hillary is that she is very competent and level headed. She will, as her opponents accurately predict, give us “more of the same,” to which I can only say, “bring it on!” Things are going pretty darn well for the vast majority of Americans.

Hillary, if she works with Paul Ryan and other Republicans, can make incremental progress on a wide range of issues in each of the five areas of governance I described. We don’t need a revolution, evolution will do just fine.

Hillary sure ain’t perfect, nor is she as transparent or as forthright as she should be. And there is Bubba.

But…

The alternative is so much worse to contemplate.

I realize that for some of you voting for Hillary is like kissing your sister, you will do it, but it just feels icky.

However, voting for Donald is like French kissing your sister, it’s disgusting and just plain wrong.

I’ll spare you the details which have been (and will be) amply covered by so many others on why Donald represents a clear and unacceptable risk. I have boiled it down to the fact that he deals in hate and in fear. These two evil sins pose a threat to our great country.

I have seen no convincing evidence that Donald has the skills, or ability to learn the skills, necessary to be effective in government. Skill and experience in business may transfer somewhat in the area of management and possibly structure, but not much at all in the other areas I have identified above. The function and purpose of private enterprise is fundamentally different than those of government. Business experience does not in itself provide the skills needed in the five functional areas of governance that I discussed above, nor even at all in the even more important area of National Security which I did not address here.

My vote likely will not change the outcome for Washington State which is a pretty much a Navy Blue state.

Your vote, however, may make a difference in a state where it might be a close race. Some of my friends and relatives who get this blog live in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Minnesota, and Iowa. Your votes will be very important.

When you do vote, please consider who would to the most predictably sound job (if not ideal) in each of these essential key areas of governance I have identified above:

Rules and Structure

 Taxes and Fairness

 Management and Solvency

 Membership and Access

 The Greater Good and Service

Also think about National Security, then vote your conscience.

God Bless America (& the rest of the world too!!)

 

 

America

If you spend much time watching TV news, trolling the internet, listening to talk radio, or, if you are old like me, reading the newspaper, one might come to the conclusion that the United States was going to hell in a hand basket.

Note to millennials – the newspaper was an ancient means of mass communication using a flat tactile substance made from pulverized and reconstituted wood fibers. It is more commonly known as paper. Ink is placed on this paper and writers’ reports and columnists’ ideas are transferred to the reader using these two medium – ink and paper. In a more primitive time young underpaid helmet-less boys riding bicycles with big bags on the front would throw these newspapers aggressively at your front door, occasionally breaking a window.

The “good news” that is reported (low unemployment, high stock prices, strong dollar, few US military deaths, technological advances, medical breakthroughs, decreased auto fatalities, record US auto production, lower violent crime rates, etc.) seems to be usurped by the bad news (Continued craziness in the middle east, terrorist activity around the globe, mass shootings, police related violence, and a national political scene seemingly pulled from an SNL skit).

So what’s really going on here in America?

In my blog entries I have tried to limit my opinions to areas where I have direct first-hand experience.  I do, however, form my own personal world view based on a number of sources beyond personal observation, which of course is limited. I have listed the sources I like and use below in a post script, but I don’t want to merely rehash the thoughts of others

So this blog on America is based on my personal observations.

Road Trip – 2016

I left Seattle on June 15 of this year on a 7,500-mile cross country road trip starting in Seattle, going through parts of Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana.

Here is what I saw:

I saw or experienced no crime, nor even any scary people. Kind and friendly people were the norm virtually everywhere.

Gas was cheap. Trains were numerous, full, and moving in all directions. So were trucks which were hauling goods and raw materials, even in the most remote stretches of Montana.

Parking lots at malls and shopping centers were busy/mostly full.

I slept two nights in rest stops in the back of the car, and was never worried about my safety.

It is hard to judge local economics from a short visit or whistle stop, but you do get a vibe just from looking around. Some small towns seemed to be hurting with dilapidated buildings and not many signs of life. More, however, where vibrant and moving. Some of the big cities were booming, others plugging along.

I saw some people who seemed to be struggling with drugs or mental illness. I also saw a couple of food banks actively distributing food.

One rough looking guy hit me up for money for his family for dinner as I was walking in to order take-out at a pizza joint in Tulsa. He talked about being a Christian and being a hard worker. I don’t know if really I believed him, but we walked into the restaurant like we were together & I bought him a pizza along with my order. He thanked me and said he also appreciated that I had treated him with dignity. It may have been a line he had used many times, but I felt good about it and I also felt good about the people in the restaurant serving us as they did seem to treat him with the same respect they did me even though I suspect they knew him and that this was a regular occurrence.

Bathrooms were generally pretty clean almost everywhere, and when the men’s room was full in Shelby Montana, the clerk said “go ahead and use the ladies room” with not even a trace of irony or snicker. In North Carolina I did hear a bathroom joke, but it was not too mean spirited – mostly just sophomoric.

I saw many apparently Muslim women and families in places I had not expected to see them like rural Minnesota and rural Illinois. The were going about their business as if they belonged here. I saw no terrorists.

I heard Spanish and other languages I could not immediately identify being spoken in almost every state, usually interspersed with English.

On a reservation in Montana the clerk, after saying “Welcome to the Black Feet Nation”, asked if Marshawn Lynch had really retired. He had noted from my license plate that we were from Washington State and he was a big fan of the African-American Seattle Seahawks running back. We informed him that yes, Marshawn had retired, but that we had a new running back who we were excited about. He seemed pleased.

I saw some Trump signs on farms and some Bernie bumper stickers on cars. The yard signs I saw were almost all for local sheriffs or other local positions. I had expected to hear political talk in some of the rural dinners I ate in but there was none.

Mostly people were talking about the weather, local issues such as construction projects, gossip, and sports or hobbies. National politics and international problems don’t appear to have much impact on the real people I observed living their lives.

I had many conversations with the friends and relatives I stayed with across the country. Everyone I stayed with was either employed or happily retired. All seemed to have very nice living situations and recreational opportunities.

Their problems were personal/family in nature, primarily caused by illness of either the mind or body. Most had opinions on the national and international issues, but the bulk of the conversations were about what is real for them, family, health, jobs or retirement, and relationships.

The hundreds of people I observed personally during my trip were pretty impressive just being ordinary.

Of course I realize that I am a terminally “glass half-full kind of guy.” My slice of America is not necessarily representative, but it is very real.

And sure, the problems I did not observe on this trip but which are reported in the media are significant and there are many things to work on.

But what is so bad that we can’t make improvements without yelling, screaming, or creating hatred of people different from ourselves or fostering fear of change?

Bottom line for me:

America IS Great, right now!

PS

For the record, my smorgasbord of primary sources of information, news, and opinion beyond my personal experience are the following (in no particular order):

The Wall Street Journal, The Seattle Times, Time Magazine, The Economist, Local TV news in Seattle and Gettysburg/York PA, PBS Newshour, NPR radio, CBS & NBC nightly news, USA Today, CNN, BBC, and, to keep it all juicy and unbalanced, MSNBC, FOX News and Facebook. I don’t tweet. I don’t watch entertainment/celebrity news, although sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. One of my favorite columnists is the somewhat conservative David Brooks of the New York Times and PBS Newshour. Here is a recent column he wrote about how we are doing: 

                                                                   Is Our Country as Good as Our Athletes Are? We’re doing pretty well, in and outside of sports. By DAVID BROOKS                                                                                                                                                             

War

On this Memorial Day it is altogether fitting and proper that we remember and honor the sacrifices of those service men and women who died in service to our country.  This is of course a doubly important day for Veterans like myself who “survived” when some of our fellows did not.  I lost three Marines in my Communications Platoon in 1969 and 13 of my fellow classmates at the USMC Basic School in Quantico lost their lives in Vietnam.

CIMG0177

Plaque at the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico, Virginia honoring classmates from my Basic School class who died in Vietnam.

Words to Ponder

Last week the President gave a speech in Hiroshima.  The news reports I saw only published snippets of what he said. I also saw various comments on the Internet both pro and con so I took the time to read the entire transcript to decide for myself.

I was impressed by the thoughtful approach the President took to the timely (a mad man in N. Korea has nukes) and extremely important (the end of civilization as we know it) issue of nuclear proliferation.  President Obama rightfully pointed out that Hiroshima was a warning that the course of warfare has changed forever and raised the stakes so dramatically that it is imperative that we work diligently to keep the peace to the extent it is humanly possible.

There was certainly no apology as some might have you believe, rather there was an acknowledgement of what every soldier already knows:  That war is hell and it impacts civilians as well as military.

President Truman made the difficult decision to drop the bomb knowing that in doing so innocent women, children and even some American POWs would die.  He made the difficult decision to end the war that had already cost at least 60 million lives worldwide and prevent even more deaths that would surely have resulted from a full-blown invasion of Japan.

President Obamas talk was not, however, about Hiroshima per se, but rather about the larger issue of the consequences war itself (Which in this case Japan initiated) and what we (People of the world) can do to prevent, or at least limit, it in the future.

On this Memorial Day we would do well to think deeply about why these men and women we honor today died.  We must think about war.

My War

I can neither adequately explain nor can I fully understand why we were in Vietnam.  At the time I enlisted I believed that we had some sort of obligation to defend this small country from invasion and subversion by communist backed forces supported by China and Russia.

The prevailing argument for US involvement was to prevent the communists from taking over southeast Asia one small country at a time – the domino theory.  I remember counter arguments saying basically that we had no real interest in Vietnam and nothing to gain by fighting for the South Vietnamese regime.

I thought at the time (1967) that “helping the little guy”was actually was a more honorable reason to get involved than fighting a war for our own gain.

More important to me personally than the political arguments for fighting was the sense of obligation.  My great-great grandfather had fought with the 54th Ohio Regiment in the Civil War and was captured in the Battle of Chicamauga and spent some time at the dreaded Andersonville Prison in South Georgia as a POW.  My grandfather was a dough boy and fought in Europe in WW1.  Dad served in the Army Air Corps in WW2 and I had two uncles who served in Korea.  I had two cousin who had served in Vietnam  already.

It was my turn.  I left college and my girlfriend (Marianne), and enlisted in the Marines.

I won’t go into a long drawn out war story about boot camp, OCS,

and what it was like in Vietnam  – maybe in another post.

My purpose today is not to talk about me, but rather to the larger issue of War and why we should think about it today on Memorial Day.

My reasons for joining the Marines are relevant to this larger issue in that, like all soldiers in all countries and in all wars, I faced complex and vary confusing questions about “why” we were fighting and risking our lives.

Who Will Stand up to Bullies?

A friend of mine recently took his college age son to the American Cemetery at Normandy.  He reported that it was an extremely emotional visit.  His son also shared with him that many of his contemporaries in college express very strong and clear opinions that war is always wrong and that the United States is primarily an aggressor and the cause of the problem.

I too have heard these arguments and find them overly simplistic.  It does not help that they are often delivered with a heavy dose self-righteous indignation.

As the President also pointed out in Hiroshima, there are important reasons why we must be prepared to respond militarily.  He reminds us quite eloquently that throughout history there are those who have used military force against innocent people stating,

“On every continent, the history of civilization is filled with war, whether driven by scarcity of grain or hunger for gold, compelled by nationalist fervor or religious zeal. Empires have risen and fallen. Peoples have been subjugated and liberated. And at each juncture, innocents have suffered, a countless toll, their names forgotten by time.”

I am proud to have served in the military and believe that, although we have at times made serious, sometimes horrific mistakes, “Most of the time”, the United States has used it’s military power appropriately. The vast majority of men and women that I came in contact with over 29 years of military service are thoughtful people who try to do the right thing.

I believe even more strongly that it is folly to pretend that there are not evil forces in the world that must be stopped and stood up to.  Military action by it’s very nature guarantees death for some.  Some would say “the lessor of two evils is still evil”, to which I would respond, “Yes, but less evil is still better than more evil.”

As individuals and as a nation we don’t always get good choices and sometimes military action and the military service and loss of life that goes with it is necessary.

The answer to the “why” question related to war is not simple.

False Bravado

On the other end of the spectrum from those who believe that the US is always wrong going to war are people who talk about going to war like they were going to a sporting event.

Macho trash talk about “carpet bombing”, “kicking ISIS’s ass”, and loose talk about the use of nuclear weapons sickens me.  Teddy Roosevelt’s advice to “speak softly but carry a big stick” has always resonated with me.

When a Veteran who has been in combat speaks about “kicking someone’s ass”  I figure he/she has earned the right to do so.  However, when a politician spouts out bellicose chest-beating bullshit about war or military tactics they know nothing about, I cringe.  Unless they or their own sons and daughters have served, they best speak reverently and very cautiously about war and the death that will accompany it.

Worst of all is the draft-dodging Donald Trump who “loves our veterans” but mocked and belittled John McCain and, by extension, all POWs to include my great-great grandfather by saying “I don’t like people who get captured, OK”.  POW’s may have survived their war without dying, but they also have experienced a type of hell that none of us can imagine.  To Donald I can only say, “Shut the fuck up asshole!”

Guess I got that off my chest.  Pardon my language, but the old Marine in me comes out when I get riled up about people disrespecting the sacrifice of others.

President and General of the Army Dwight David Eisenhower had good advice for us when talking about war,

“Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in blood of his followers and sacrifices of his friends.”

Words Matter

The fact is that words about war do matter and need to be considered very carefully and thoughtfully.  In World War 2 one of the slogans was “Loose Lips Sink Ships”, meaning that talking about anything related to the war effort could be important intelligence that could give our enemies an advantage that would ultimately cost the lives of our soldiers, sailors, or Marines.

Today a similar situation exists in today’s war against terrorists when Americans with access to the world media inflame the situation by purposely aligning all Muslims with the fanatical terrorists who have killed ruthlessly across much of the world.  ISIS has killed way more of their fellow Muslims than they have Christians or Americans. Driving a wedge between peace loving Muslims and the US by equating “Islam” with “terrorists” feeds right into the hands of the these mad men who would love nothing more than to position their ruthless power grab as a religious war.  The Muslim world must ultimately play the dominant role in solving the problem of extremists, and we need their support.   “Political correctness” in the use of words about war makes perfect sense to me – it saves American lives.

The Dead

So where do the people we honor and remember today come in?

I think we do them the highest honor by recognizing not only their bravery and sacrifice, but also that we as citizens of this great nation must be engaged in the discussion of when and how we use military power.

When considering war we need to ask ourselves “why”.  This discussion should be conducted with the upmost clarity and seriousness.

Talk softly and think deeply when you visit their graves today.

Values

In my previous blog post titled “Goals” (You can scroll down to see older posts) which was prompted by talk about New Year’s resolutions, I bemoaned the realization that “goals” don’t help me that much when facing the more nuanced decisions I face in life.

I concluded in that “goals” post that I needed something more than just goals to help me make tough decisions. I do have some touchstones or directional guideposts that I can use to help me make decisions. One word for these touchstones is “values.”

The word “values” is way over-used and often misused to represent a code (e.g. “family values”) or equated to absolute universal truths. To me “values” are very personal and they are neither universal nor absolute.

I have always had trouble with absolute rules in life because there is always at least one exception to every rule. Values provide a flexibility and interpretation that hard and fast rules don’t allow. They point me in a direction without tying my hands like an absolute rule that forces me to make a choice that just does not seem right.

Where Do My Values Come From

My parents both died last spring at age 92. They pretty much lived by the Ten Commandments although I never heard either one say that they did. Even my Dad the Presbyterian minister rarely mentioned the Ten Commandments. Both Mom and Dad focused more on the New Testament teachings of Jesus to love one another, help the poor and sick, and “to do unto others” as they would have others do unto them. They did not so much preach as they walked the walk. They left the talking to others. They led by example. That they were Christian never had to be said. Dad never wore a clerical collar or ever introduced himself as “reverend”, just as “Jim.”

The Ten Commandments and teachings of Jesus seem pretty much on track, and certainly they influence me and my values, however, as a career soldier and Marine, that whole thing about not killing people and loving my enemies did pose a conundrum for me.

I was a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout although not exactly a stellar member, only making it to the rank of 2nd Class. I was in it for the fun and the camping trips. But I did retain some of the Boy Scout Oath and it seems to mostly ring true even today: A scout is brave, loyal, respectful, kind, courteous, helpful, etc.   Seems like they were on to something although they also included a rather loaded commandment to be “morally straight” which I have trouble accepting on several levels.

Superman had a pretty clear mission of fighting for truth and justice which seem admirable, but he also added in “and the American Way”, which, like “Morally Straight” is pretty hard for me to wrangle in. These kind of “coded values” can be whatever one wants it to be and they can be used to justify otherwise bad behavior and hatred.

So as helpful as these lists of rules and descriptions of right and wrong may seem, they don’t answer all questions and I find I have to pick and choose. None are absolute, save perhaps, “love one another.”

Just Do the Right Thing

“Trust your gut, Jim.” At various times I have heard that phrase from friends, counselors, bosses, and from family members trying to help me make a decision. I am sure that they all meant well, but this approach does not help me to decide the really hard choices.

Some decisions, even though they may cause you physical or financial pain or inconvenience, are pretty clear. I don’t commit felonies and I pretty much obey the lessor rules, like not butting in line. I will wait at the corner until the “white man walking” lights up, even if others have looked both ways and gone against the orders of the “red hand”.

These are not the kind of decisions that confuse me and they are not what I am talking about in this post even though there is clearly a relationship between these “rules of the road” and underlying values like fairness, safety, citizenship, etc.

Competition Sucks

What I am most troubled by are really tough things to decide, the ones which involve competing values:

“Should I sit in my easy chair, read the paper, drink coffee and savor the moment, or write that thank you note to someone who has helped me recently?”

“Should I give the homeless guy a buck or follow the advice to not further enable an addict?”

“Do I “Follow my dream/passion”, as is a popular theme lately, and thereby, put myself first; or do I do what needs to be done for a greater good, something I am good at even if it is not something I truly enjoy?”

When “values” compete I have a hard time deciding what to do.

The Chicken or the Egg?

Cognitive dissonance is a term I remember from grad school – not sure exactly what course, but hey, it stuck somehow. Shrinks and marketing gurus use cognitive dissonance to describe the phenomenon of people allowing their actions, not their values, to drive their future decisions.

The text book example I remember is a big purchase decision on something like a car. If you are trying to choose between one that has a higher safety record or one which has better mileage you may be stuck (dissonance) between these two values – safety and economy.

Once a choice is made, however, people then change the relative importance of that value to fit their action. So, if you choose the “safe” car, you now value safety more than economy. You are now more likely to not only say that, but to make a similar choice in the future.

An example might be Volvo purchasers who tend to stick with “safe” cars in the future, or Prius owners who go with high mileage or hybrid cars. The act of buying a Prius makes you value efficiency more. The cart is now in front of the horse.

How is This Working For Me?

For identifying values to live by this concept of cognitive dissonance creates the whole chicken or egg discussion. I think that many times in my life I have adjusted my values to match the decisions I have made previously.

When I did not squeal on classmates in HS who had cheated on tests or committed various acts of vandalism, I certainly justified this by saying (at least to myself) how much I value loyalty.

When I joined the Marines, patriotic duty became relatively more important value than the “Thou shall not kill” commandment.

When I moved to a new suburb outside Atlanta for “good schools” the value of education for my children became more important than value of supporting integration and ethnic diversity.

Whether the decision is ultimately “a good one” or “a bad one” I still have justified these decisions, at least initially, by changing my value system so that my values were “in sync” with what I had done. In cases where the decision turns out to be really “bad” in the long run, it is very helpful that “forgiveness” is one of the key elements of Christianity – we all need an out.

And So the Point Is?

As I look back, sometimes my values have helped me to do the “right” thing, sometimes not. Often what seems “right” changes over time. My values don’t seem to have changed radically, but they have evolved. I am pretty sure that most of you reading this have had similar experiences about decisions you have made in your lives.

So after all this, I have to conclude that I can’t really look totally to a set of “values” alone to help me figure out what to do in a tough situation. I really have to go to a higher source for the answers:

What’s it all about Alphie?

Fear

“We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” FDR

“There is no such thing as paranoia. Your worst fears can come true at any moment.” Hunter S. Thompson

“Yea, though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death, I will fear no evil, for I am the meanest mother-fucker in the valley.” Senior Drill Sergeant D.C. Curran, USMC Recruit Depot, Parris Island, SC 1967.

It is difficult to pick up the paper (Yes, I still read real papers) or watch, read, or hear anything on TV, radio, or the Internet without coming across the growing idea that fear is a primary driver of our national and world politics and culture.

In this posting I won’t try to evaluate fear politics on the global or national level. While these are vitally important issues, there are plenty of opinions on these matters available from way too many sources already.

And I won’t try to tell anyone else what they should or should not be afraid of. If I did so I might offend some of you, and I have no desire to do that. And of course, I don’t have the answers to those questions about other people anyway – I doubt anyone does.

But I can share with you my answers to the question I have often asked myself: “What are you afraid of Jim?”

Fear drives behavior. For the cave man it was either fight or flight. Do we have better options? Are we “running” or “fighting” needlessly when there is no real danger to us personally. Saber toothed tigers were pretty clearly dangerous. Today, the dangers are more nuanced and less clear.

There are many dangers out there that need to be acknowledged by a wise person. I do strive to be wise, although many would say I have only gotten as far as being recognized as a “wise guy.”

So it is prudent to periodically review what I am, and am not, afraid of because fear drives behavior. Fear can hold me back and keep me from being a better person and achieving meaningful goals. Fear can also save my butt.

Sometimes there is Real Danger, but “What can I do?”

Living in Seattle I am fully aware of the cataclysmic potential of “The Big One.” A megathrust earthquake will occur one of these days in the Cascadia Subduction Zone just off the Washington State coast. The San Juan De Fuca plate will suddenly slip further under the North American plate.

All hell will break lose all along the southern BC, Washington, and Oregon Coasts. The last time this happened in 1700 it caused a magnitude 9 earthquake.  Whole Salish Nation villages all along Washington’s coast and in the Puget Sound disappeared forever.  A huge tsunami crossed the Pacific and pounded Japan.  For point of reference, magnitude 9 would be 10 times stronger than the largest earthquake ever in California including the one in San Franciso in 1906.  It could happen here at any time, and you do not want to be in Seattle when it does.

I am aware that this might happen, but when? And what am I supposed to do now? Leave town? FEMA advises stocking up 3 days of supplies but this does not seem to be much help when the entire region will not have clean water or electricity for months.

Am I better off just getting crushed at the outset or starving to death in the post-apocalyptic mess that would be left? The threat of a megathrust earthquake is very real but I don’t know what I can do about it. So I just hope it happens another 200 years or so from now and, although it is a very real danger, I am not really afraid of it. It does not change the way I live day-to-day.

Other real dangers fall into this category: meteors hitting earth, untreatable pandemics, nuclear annihilation, lightning strikes, drunk drivers hitting you head on with no warning, rare forms of cancer, being killed by an Islamic terrorist, or by some other a wacko with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle in a movie theater. There is not much I can do to limit the risk of these events and really, these things will either happen or they won’t.

The risk of any of these terrible things actually happening to me personally on any given day are pretty remote. So I don’t really worry about them much and, therefore, I am not really afraid of them. They don’t influence my behavior very much if at all. They don’t dominate my life.

What am I afraid of?

There are some dangers for which I find fear is a useful ally. This would include some of what I consider “common sense” observations of dangerous situations. For these dangers I allow fear to drive me to take action and/or change my behavior: I no longer drink and drive. I stay away from dark alleys in questionable neighborhoods. I quit smoking and don’t add salt to food. I try not to engage with obviously aggressive people (alone or in gangs) on the street or on the road. I take lots of showers when I am in “tick” country. I no longer run on ice or at the pool or with scissors. I don’t get very near the edge when there is a long way to fall. I am a cautious fellow and I do not have any desire whatsoever to participate in any dangerous sports like wing suit base jumping. I am not a risk taker when there is a clear and present danger.

My biggest fear personally right now is for my son Josh. The uncertainties surrounding his long term and current medical and mental status are daunting and sometimes seem overwhelming. Right now this fear of the unknown overrides all other fears and as such, drives most of my behavior. This crisis situation will hopefully not be the case much longer for Josh and then I can get back to being afraid of other things.

On a lessor scale I am also afraid of my own tendency to overeat and drift towards red meat, deep fried anything, and ice cream. In this case I know the danger/health risks and can make a difference, but I don’t take the steps I should to protect myself. Maybe I should be more afraid here – it might motivate me to do better.

I am afraid of this category of “more present” real dangers, and I try to take actions to avoid them. They do impact my behavior, and I think my “fear based” responses are rational.

Things that don’t scare me at all.

I try very hard not to react or, more to the point, over-react, to those things that are really not at all a danger to me personally. There seems to me no reason to be afraid of things that are really not dangerous.

Included in this category of “non-dangerous” things for me are almost all people I have ever come across except for the aforementioned aggressive types and the NVA (North Vietnam Regular Army) we Marines were fighting in Vietnam. They were actually trying to kill us so yes, I was afraid of them.

I have no general fear of any of the following: Mexicans, Muslims, gays, lesbians, Syrians, immigrants, homeless, bi-sexual or transgender persons, communists, socialists, African-Americans, Arabs, Asians, or for that matter, not even the most feared people of all, the Canadians.

When I left Vietnam I was lucky enough not to have had PTSD and was no longer afraid of the NVA. I would love to go back to Vietnam and actually meet some NVA, especially any who fought in I Corps where I was. Any fear I had of them then was circumstantial, they were serving their country, I mine. The NVA were dangerous then not because they were Vietnamese, but because we were on opposite sides and in a war zone.

Also included in this ‘no fear’ category for me are most of the organizations that I will ever come in contact with: the police, COSTCO, Pacific Medical, organized religion, the IRS, the Republican Party, the Sierra Club, unions, big corporations, committees of all kinds, the dentist, lawyers, or even telemarketers. I may not like them all equally, and some may be annoying as hell, but I see no clear or present danger to me personally from any of them. Therefore, I am not afraid of them. They don’t limit me nor do they dominate my life/thinking.

It’s not all about me.

Well, enough about me and my fears. As noted before, this is by no means a prescription for others. Fears will rightfully be different for every person. I personally have very little fear of ISIS, but many service men and women deployed in the middle east daily face a very real clear and present danger from ISIS or other terrorists. They should be afraid.

Maybe you too can ask yourself these questions:

     “What am I afraid of?”

      “Why am I afraid?”

      “What am I not afraid of?”

      “Am I really in any clear or present danger?”

      “Do these fears limit me or dominate my life/thinking negatively?”

Peace and love to all,  

Jim

Goals

Goals

It’s that time again: New Year’s Resolutions.  These are promises made to be broken – proof positive of a fundamental flaw in one’s character.

This year I bought myself a Fitbit for Christmas.  This wrist band device counts steps taken with a default goal of reaching 10,000 steps a day.  This number is supposed to be a good rule of thumb for a minimum amount of daily exercise.  Now the pressure is on.  Will I meet my daily goal?

I am ambivalent about the value of goals.  Of course, I am ambivalent about many, if not most, things, hence the name of this blog “The Middle Ground”.

Like many of you, I have a “to do” list that never seems to get shorter.  Even now that I am retired my list is way longer than the time or money available to satisfy it.  I plug away at the list and occasionally “Check one off.”  But I am not sure if I am actually achieving what I should.  Am I meeting my goals?

So I do see some value in having quantifiable or at least identifiable goals.  Did I get it done or not?  How many times did I actually do what I said I would?  Is there more that I should be doing?

Goals can also help me in making daily choices about how I spend my time and money.  I can ask myself, “Which choice will get me closer to my goal?” Often having a goal sets up a “yes” or “no” choice that is easier  for me to make.

The Fitbit keeps me honest by actually counting the steps I have taken.  I may think I have done a good deal of exercise, but then I push a button and see that I am significantly below my 10,000 step goal.  This goal motivates me to get off my butt and take an evening stroll.

And yet there are things that bother me about goals.

People and organizations I have known or been a part of set goals using metrics that are easy to count: Quarterly sales, enlistments, re-enlistments, revenue, income, repetitions, miles, pounds, membership, and even attendance in church.

Yet even the best metrics always seem to miss something qualitative.  I know skinny people who don’t look healthy; I’ve seen revenue manipulated to influence quarterly performance/stock prices; I’ve seen that money alone does not buy peace of mind or happiness;  and I have even known people who go to church regularly who are really not good people.   The goals may have been met, but all was not as it should be.

Setting goals seems to force me into comparing myself with others.  “Ryk lost 50 pounds, surely I can lose 25.”  Comparing myself to others then sets up a competitive situation.  Being competitive (and winning) is great fun in games and pretty much mandatory in war, but in all other aspects of life I find collaboration and cooperation much more effective, productive, and rewarding.

Goals that involve “beating” someone else just don’t give me satisfaction. Competition also makes me a loser.  Even if I “win” more than I lose, I am still a loser at some point.  Why be a loser at all?

Even the most successful businesses don’t really “beat” the competition, they find markets where there is no competition and offer goods or services no one else has.  They didn’t “win” the game, they invented a new game.

You can’t really set a goal when there is nothing previous against which to measure.  You kind of know success when you see it. That’s more like having a vision than a goal. 

People who have made a significant difference in our world in my life time such as Bill Gates, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, and Einstein, have been innovative and have stretched old limits, but there successes were not exactly “goal based”.  They did not even know the limits of their personal impact, so how could they have defined a goal?  Value based, yes.  Goal based, no. 

And having multiple goals makes for more difficult decision making: “Do I keep my budget goal for the month or buy this fitness device that will help me with my weight loss goal?

Of course I could set a singular goal like an Olympic athlete does.  Then the decisions would be easier, but I fear becoming very one dimensional which I have become at various times in my life.  I don’t look back on those times fondly.

“So which is it Jim, goals or no goals?”

I plan to continue to use goals and “to do” lists but not beat myself up if I don’t make them.

Oh, so just want to be let off the hook if you don’t make your goal?”, you might ask or, “You must be willing to settle for mediocrity?”

Hmmm, those are good questions.

The school book answer (and a pretty weak one) is something like, “I will review my goals periodically and adjust them based on new circumstances and updated information.”  I have used answer that in the past but it never really seemed quite honest.  It is basically a BS answer.

A better answer has something to do with focusing on values and having a moral compass.  I’ll work on that answer and get back to you in a future post to this blog.

Take CARE Always,

Jim

Hi, this is Jim Simpson. I am starting a blog called “Middle Ground”.

Hi friends,

I am starting a blog which I intend to use to share thoughts and ideas I have with a wide range of people I know.  People I don’t know are welcome too.  One of my favorite sayings is “For every difficult or complex problem there is an easy solution…and it is wrong.”  There are many sides to virtually all important questions and I tend to be “in the middle” on many if not most of them.  I am pretty “gray” in my thinking and find few things that are “black or white.”  That being said, I hope to use this blog to learn and to share.   More soon.

Jim