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Archive for the ‘Wisdom’ Category

When Trisha’s father passed away in 2004, he left her his library. Over the years, she kept only the most precious pieces. In her den, on a prominent shelf, is the fifteen book set of the Complete Works of Charles Dickens, by the Kelmscott Society Publishers, New York. The volumes are not dated, but I found through online research that they were published in 1904.

The books are now brittle, some of the spines have crumbled, and I don’t think any of the books themselves would survive a reading. They would disintegrate from being handled.

But precious they are, on that shelf, to remind her of her father, who himself must have acquired them when they were already old.

I have never read any Dickens, but it gives me comfort to know the complete works are in our house.

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Lynne said she’d been on the phone one day last summer (also with her door open), “I heard the cat munching his catfood, and out of the corner of my eye saw a black and white shape at the dish… then thought, up-oh, the cat’s upstairs… I turned around to look and, of course, you guessed it, it was a skunk, the absolute nightmare scenario of living in the country. I slowly moved toward it, telling it to leave, please. It just looked me in the eye and, with its paw, scraped the cat’s dish closer to itself! I decided to do nothing and wait. Do you know how slowly skunks eat? Finally, when the skunk was finished, it calmly walked out the door.”

— The Pocket Lint Chronicles, Barbara Carlson, page 148

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Flip Flop Selfie

Picture Credit: my shoe – sorry, actually don’t know.

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A couple of weeks ago I drove westbound on Rancho California Road in Temecula, getting ready to turn left onto the I-15 southbound, when BAAAAMMM I was hit from the right. An SUV had tried to cross into my lane, apparently didn’t see me, and tore up the entire right side of my Prius, from the front bumper, through both right doors, the rear fender and the rear bumper.

I have never before been hit like that. I pulled over to the right side, and the car that hit me followed. It turns out the driver was a 15-year-old girl who was out on a practice ride with her mother two days before she was scheduled to take the test to get her driver’s license.

The poor girl was upset.

While we waited for the police to come, we exchanged information, taking pictures of each other’s driver’s licenses, registrations and insurance cards. When the police finally came, the officer didn’t actually do anything, since there were no injuries involved. He gave us each his card with the ticket number on it, and told us that we should both contact our insurance companies and they would work out the details.

I was depressed all the way home. I didn’t want to have to deal with getting the car fixed. It didn’t look like it would be cheap. The wheel was hit, and the entire right side of my car was scraped. The door didn’t open. The mirror was bent.

When I got home, I needed a break. I sat down at the TV and watched the depressing evening news. But I calmed down. At around 8:00pm I went to my desk and pulled up my insurance policy with 21st Century Insurance. It was time to call this incident in.

Just as I was getting started I received a call from Geico, the insurance company of the car that hit me. The agent first asked me whether I was ok, hurt in any way, and whether my car was drivable. I told him it was a bit wobbly at high speeds, since the wheel was hit, but I was able to take it home. He asked me to describe what had happened, and I did.

Then he told me that they would take full responsibility for getting my car repaired, and they would provide a rental car in the meantime. He was ok with me calling my own insurance company, but he didn’t think it was necessary, since they’d take care of the problem.

The gave me a phone number to call in the morning to take my car in.

The next morning, I called the number, and they told me to take the car to Henson’s Fix Auto, a shop in Escondido, not more than a mile from my office. I made an appointment at 10:30am.


When I walked into the lobby, there were three people there. The first person got up and introduced himself as the Geico representative. He’d take care of my problem. Then he introduced me to the lady at the other desk, who worked for Henson’s shop. She’d get the work done. And the other gentleman was a representative from Enterprise Rent-a-car, who was here with my car.

The man from Geico looked over my car with me and explained all that he saw and that they were going to do. Then he led me back into the office, and the lady from the shop gave me all the paperwork. The man from Enterprise handed me the key to the blue car he had brought for me and checked me into the car. I was out of there within less than 30 minutes.

It was the most pleasant, helpful and efficient customer service experience I can remember. Something as traumatic and upsetting as a trashed car was made easy and comfortable.

The next day Geico called me with the cost of $4,800 and assured me that Geico was taking responsibility. It would take two weeks to get the car fixed. He said he’d call Enterprise and tell them how long I’d need the rental car.

Every day in the last two weeks I received text messages updating me about the status of the repairs and that all was well.

Today I received the call that it was done and I could pick it up. I drove back, gave them the key to the rental car, checked out the repairs – looks beautiful – and drove away.

Geico has the most impressive customer service I have ever experienced. Henson’s Fix Auto shop does customer service like it should be done in the digital age. And Enterprise supplied me with a hassle-free car.

I hope the 15-year-old girl learned a valuable lesson about traffic from this and I hope she got her license. I remember the day many years ago when my own son totaled his first car, and how relieved I was that he was ok. He learned. We all want our kids to grow up alright, safe and responsible. And this family did the responsible thing and took care of this for me as effortlessly as it could be done.

And now I think I need to switch to Geico.

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In early December I visited Detroit and called an old friend (EP). We had not seen each other in many years, and it was time for a visit. As friends dating back to high school are wont to do, it took only a few minutes for us to be back in the groove. He is a professor at a large university, and we have nothing much in common, other than our love for art, writing, philosophy and a general feeling of living lives of joy and integrity. We disagree on religion, and that brings spice to the conversation.

We met at a Chinese “deco” restaurant; the sushi was great, we downed a bottle of Champagne, and before we knew it we might as well have been back in high school, so the discussions went. I got a call from work in the middle of it telling me that a critical public server was down, and the internal stress went through the roof, but I recovered, and I hope I was not too absent-minded after that.

Of course, in the age of smart phones, it was appropriate that we two old dogs took a quick selfie before we said good-bye, for the record, and for evidence that we actually met. Hey, I had forgotten about the visit we both did together to the art museum in Toledo, some 15 years earlier. He reminded me of that.

Here we are, the professor and the software CEO, with a set of titties on a painting between us photobombing the occasion.

We have to get together more often.

Friends. Timeless.

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Trump, and now Nikki Haley, are telling us that “the world” respects the United States and Trump. America is “respected again.”

That’s baloney.

Here is a chart that shows confidence that the U.S. president will do the “right thing” regarding world affairs. The countries shown are Spain, France, Germany and the U.K.

Clearly, Obama was respected, and Trump is lower than Bush. It says nothing about how Americans feel, or what’s good for America. It says something about how other countries “respect” the American president. This must irk Trump, to whom it matters so much what others think. This is probably why he denigrates Obama so much. He is obsessed with Obama and does not understand why he cannot garner the same respect and admiration.

Respect must be earned. It can’t be gained by making outrageous – and false – claims.

Trump lives is a world of his own wishful thinking.

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One of my friends and readers noticed my post titled Dirty Deeds and Bible Verses and promptly called me out about comparing the Bible and the Quran. I should have known better. As much as I read, I have not read the Bible nor the Quran, so I am not much of an authority. I can pull up passages with the best of them, but I cannot make a sound and winning argument. Of course, I am an atheist, so I am entitled to not knowing. Wolfgang is a linguist, a scholar, and a Christian who has written extensively about the Quran and Islam. So he shot back at me via email, which is am reprinting here with his permission.

First in the original German:

Jeff Sessions würde ich eine andere Stelle des Neuen Testaments entgegenhalten: Apostelgeschichte 5,29: „Man muß Gott mehr gehorchen als den Menschen.“ Ich kann mir kaum vorstellen, daß Gott es befürworten würde, den Kindern die Eltern wegzunehmen. Römer 13 ist deshalb problematisch, weil die Stelle vorauszusetzen scheint, daß der Staat nur das Gute befiehlt.

Du hast völlig recht, lieber Norbert, wenn Du davor warnst, Koran- oder Bibelstellen zu zitieren, um irgendeine politische Auffassung zu untermauern und sogar „Dirty Deeds“ zu rechtfertigen.

Allerdings ist ein gewaltiger Unterschied zwischen Bibel und Koran. Das Alte Testament enthält keine unmittelbar als göttliche Offenbarung an den heutigen Leser gerichteten Befehle wie der Koran („Ihr Gläubigen, tut das und das …“), sondern Erzählungen, und zwischen Neuem Testament und Koran, zwischen Jesus und Mohammed ist ein himmelweiter Unterschied. Auf der einen Seite sehen wir einen Mann, der Feindesliebe predigte, niemals zur Tötung „Ungläubiger“ oder anderer Menschen aufforderte, einen Mann, der Giganten des Geistes wie Tolstoi und Dostojewski faszinierte – und auf der anderen Seite einen Staatsführer, Feldherrn und Eroberer, der Gefangene machte und Anteil an der Beute bekam.

Überaus bezeichnend für den Unterschied zwischen Jesus und Mohammed ist die Haltung der beiden Religionsstifter zur Steinigung. Von Mohammed wird mehrfach überliefert, dass er die Steinigung für nötig hielt. In der Sammlung Al-Buhari steht das folgende Hadith (Reclam-Ausgabe Seite 451): „An einem Freitag steinigte Ali (Gott möge an ihm Wohlgefallen haben) eine Frau. Er sagte: ‚Ich habe sie gesteinigt, wie der Gesandte Gottes (Gott segne ihn und schenke ihm Heil) es in vergleichbaren Fällen getan hat.‘“ Und Jesus? Jeder kennt seine wunderbaren Worte (Johannesevangelium, Kapitel 8): „Wer von euch ohne Sünde ist, werfe den ersten Stein auf sie!“ und „Geh hin und sündige von jetzt an nicht mehr!“

Fazit: Die Menschenrechte sind mit dem Gesamttext des Neuen Testaments (auch da gibt es problematische Stellen) zu ca. 95 Prozent vereinbar. Der Koran dagegen ist ein Buch, das an vielen, vielen Stellen radikal und massiv den heute geltenden Menschenrechten widerspricht.

And here my translation:

I would counter Jeff Sessions with another citation of the New Testament: Acts 5.29: “We must obey God rather than men.” I can hardly imagine that God would support taking parents away from their children. Roman 13 is troubling because the passage seems to assume that the state only orders benevolence.

You are right, dear Norbert, when you warn about citing Quran or Bible verses in order to provide a foundation for a political view or even to justify “dirty deeds.”

There is, however, a massive difference between the Bible and the Quran. The Old Testament contains no divine epiphany directed at today’s readers as the Quran does (“believers, thou shalt do this and that…”), but instead tells stories, and there is a sky high difference between the New Testament and the Quran, as well as Jesus and Mohammed. On the one hand we see a man who preached loving your enemies, who never ordered the deaths of non-believers or anyone else, a man who fascinated giants of thought like Tolstoy or Dostoevsky – and on the other hand we see a statesman, a commander and conqueror, who took prisoners and his part of the loot.

The difference between Jesus and Mohammed is particularly highlighted by the attitude of the two founders of religions towards stoning. We know from multiple citations that Mohammed considered stoning necessary.  In the collection Al-Buhari we find the following Hadith (German Reclam edition page 451): “On a Friday Ali (Allah may be pleased with him) stoned a woman. He said: ‘I have stoned her, as the envoy of Allah (may Allah bless and praise him) has done so in comparable situations.'”And Jesus? Everyone knows his wonderful words (John 8.6): “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” and “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on sin no more.”

Conclusion: Human rights are compatible with about 95 percent of the text of the New Testament (while there are also some problematic locations). The Quran, however, is a book that in many, many places radically and massively contradicts today’s generally accepted human rights.

For further reading about comparisons between religions, and particularly strong condemnation of Islam, may I direct you to The End of Faith – by Sam Harris – here is my review written in 2009.

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The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.

— Dwight Eisenhower

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To Tell a Lie

He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truth without the world’s believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions.

— Thomas Jefferson

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Napoleon on Religion

I do not see in religion the mystery of the incarnation so much as the mystery of the social order. It introduces into the thought of heaven an idea of equalization, which saves the rich from being massacred by the poor.

— Napoleon: In His Own Words” (1916)

In English: Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.

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China has a government that makes up its mind to do something, and boom, it gets it done.

For instance, China has more high speed rail than the entire rest of the world combined. China is currently building almost twice as much high speed rail as the entire rest of the world combined. The United States is ranked along with tiny countries like Belgium, Austria, Taiwan and Uzbekistan in its installed base. Greece, yes, Greece is building more high speed rail than the United States (see more details here).

Another example is quantum research. Here is an example of China’s advance in teleportation. They succeeded in teleporting an object from earth to orbit.

In the United States, we are vilifying scientists in many areas of study for reasons that are incomprehensible to me. For instance, our government is squelching research in stem cell technology because of a religiously guided notion of what an embryo is. Our government is systematically shutting down climate research because some members of that government are financially supported by corporations that might lose some of their profits if the public realized the damage they are doing. The White House let all its people in the science office go.

China has an active space program. The last time the United States launched humans into space was July 8, 2011. That’s over SIX YEARS ago. We rely on Russia to launch our astronauts. On October 17, 2016, China launched its sixth manned space mission. They are rapidly becoming a space superpower all on their own. They don’t need the Russians to launch their astronauts.

I am not a friend of China, its policies, and its government. I am just an observer. 50 years from now, China will be the undisputed superpower in the world. The U.S. will look like a crumbling nation, with shoddy infrastructure (we already have that, I agree with Trump on that). We will have to import all technology from other countries. All goods sold at Walmart and Amazon will be made in China. We will be busy praying to hold the waters back in Florida, Louisiana, Boston and New York City.

China is moving ahead of us rapidly and we don’t even notice. Our leaders are on a reverse course, ceding scientific, political, moral and ethical leadership to other nations. We’re supposedly busy making our nation great again, while we apparently are fixated on building useless walls (which the Chinese did many centuries ago), keeping out immigrants because we’re afraid they might kill us, and spending enormous money ($700 billion) on weapons so other countries can’t come and take our stuff.

The way I see it, if we keep going like this – and not very long – there won’t be much here that others will want to come and get. We’re sending our money overseas, for oil, for cars, for TVs and for food, and the countries overseas like it that way.

Never in the history of this country has our leadership been on such a wrong, misguided and self-destructive course.

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Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.

— Mark Twain

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The Woman sent me this:

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Norbert at Sunset on Maui — Picture Credit: Trisha

One of the best things about Hawai’i is that it puts me in my place. I love the islands, and I love even more marveling about them.

The islands are one of the most remote places on earth. It takes six hours by plane from the nearest mainland, California, to get here. There is no land in between. And once here, there is no other land in any direction closer than that. We’re in the middle of the Pacific, as far away from any land as you can get.

As the islands formed, only one new species of animal was added every 10,000 years, since it was so difficult for life to get here. Driftwood carried insects and seeds, and occasional storms carried birds. Of course, that all changed when humans started coming here a thousand years ago.

Whenever I am here, I am struck by how young these islands are compared to geological ages. I can see the youngness in the land, and still, compared to human history, it is ancient.

The Hawaiian islands were formed by a single hot spot under the Pacific that has been spewing lava for tens of millions of years, while the Pacific plate is moving from east to west. The oldest of the islands are toward the east, the biggest one remaining is Kauai. There are older islands west of Kauai, or remainders of islands, all washed back to the sea. Kauai is 5.1 million years old. That’s all. Oahu is 3 million years old. Maui is 1.32 million years old. The Big Island is only 400,000 years old. Proto humans already walked the earth and came out into the savannahs in Africa when the Big Island was formed.

And now, Lo’ihi is an active submarine volcano located about 22 miles off the southeast coast of the Big Island. Its top is now about 3,000 feet below sea level. When it finally reaches the surface, it will be the next Hawaiian island as the other ones slide northeast.  

Maui is called the Valley Isle. There are really two major volcanoes on Maui,  the western side is 5,700 feet high, and Haleakala is 10,000 feet high. The valley between the two mountains is pronounced and very obvious when looking down from either mountain. Driving from ocean to ocean from the north end of the valley to the south end takes only about 20 minutes. Looking at the water lapping at the edge makes me think how the ocean is biting into the land, foot by foot. Every time I drive that stretch I am aware that this land will be under water in the not too distant future. It won’t take many feet of sea level rise before this valley ocean, and Maui becomes two islands. Our descendants will see two islands where I only see one. The only question is, will it be my grandchildren, or will it be another 50,000 years?

To think that all of Haleakala will be washed into the sea, completely gone, in another 10 million years boggles my mind. Ten million years is nothing in geological terms. To wash a 10,000 foot mountain completely into the sea in 10 million years, the rain and wind only has to erode it by 1 foot every 1,000 years. Quite possible.

In my entire lifetime I just got to catch a small glimpse of land being formed in Hawaii, and being washed away. A blink of an eye only. This puts my human lifespan into perspective and lets me understand how long a span of 10 million  years actually is.

Watching time shape Hawaii reminds me of a quote in a John Denver song:  I have to say it now, it’s been good life all in all, it’s really fine to have a chance to hang around.

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mattis-and-tillerson

James Mattis and Rex Tillerson

Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are the adults in the room of Trump.

I don’t necessarily agree with the political orientation of the two men, and their agendas, but I sense that they are men of principle and character. They are the adults in the current administration and it gives me some degree of comfort to know these two men are in the positions they are in, Defense and State.

They will not do anything stupid just because “the boss said so.” They will stand up to Trump when necessary. They will not be the lackeys of Trump or anyone else.

They are now working for a petulant, puerile, self-obsessed and basically ignorant president.

The only question I have is: How long will they last?

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