A Philosophy For Everyday Living

January 7, 2009

A Guest Post by John A. Wood

Passing The Buck (Shifting the Burden of Responsibility)


A daydream of mine, destined to be unfulfilled, is to know how my grandfathers saw life – in a sense, what their philosophy for everyday living was. What follows, like the grab-bag of personal musings I’ve penned over the past 15 years, was put to paper primarily for my grandchildren and their offspring. I trust that my descendents will, as I would have, welcome an insight into (if not agree with) one of their ancestors.

This has been troublesome to write. I suspect it may prove difficult to read. Not because it is badly written – it’s passable, but because it confronts the way in which we fail ourselves, each other and the planet by duck shoving issues. It allows no wriggle room. Rewritten several times, I have failed to make it more palatable.


I still feel discomfited, even incompetent around the countless times I’ve passed the buck. That is, shifted the burden of responsibility for my mess, mistakes, misadventures… for life unfolding in ways that didn’t suit me. I blamed him, her or THEM! God and the devil were accused. Luck, or its lack, was another. It was beyond my awareness at those points in time to be accountable for my thinking, feelings and actions (and consequently my life). The weather, seasons, Government, the economy, all were held as the source of my discomfort or difficulty at one time or another. Of course, it was the fault of my first, then second wife, children, step children, blood relatives, in-laws, friends and neighbours. And let’s not forget my employees, customers and suppliers.  The censure was indiscriminate; just as long as I wasn’t to blame for my awful actions, critical words or pear-shaped endeavours. He, she, they, them or it, caused me to be the way I was, or made me do what I did… but only if the result was poor. Odd that…  I always claimed success as mine. And the grand-daddy of all buck-passing (one that has spawned a global burden-shifting industry: psycho-analysis and its derivatives), my parents. They were my real problem. I enshrined them as the genesis for what went wrong with me and my life. Physical and psychological abuse, being an only child, not having the right physical or intellectual genes, my lack of education, opportunity, timing… all or some combination of the above established that I was not responsible for who and how I was and what befell me. Poor me! I was the genuine victim of circumstance.

Get the Picture?


Then what changed? How did I unearth the fact that the buck really did end with me? That I was responsible for my life! Nobody else! No circumstance was at fault!

What enabled me to fully understand that I was the author of my experience… that there was nothing outside my mind creating my reality? What shifted within my consciousness to allow me to see that my life truly is an inside-out experience, not the outside-in reality I had always imagined (and still do when lost in self absorption)?

It was October 1992. I was in picturesque Tiburon across the bay from San Francisco attending a five day Philosophy of Everyday Living Seminar (POEL).  It was named differently back then.  On day three, although I had read and heard the same thing in numerous ways before, this time it was a revelation: what I think is my reality… the only reality I will ever know. I woke to this fact of life: nothing exists for me except through my thinking. Much later, in another place, again in the tick of a clock, I saw that my thinking was more than my brain at work. Thinking was the continuous expression of the Life energy called Thought; the creative force with which we fashion our lives 24/7. Without which we have no life.

Are you wondering where this is leading? What the point is?

It’s this: that split second discovery within my mind, via Thought, freed me from victim-hood. Passing the buck was no longer part of my every day, unless of course I forgot the context of my life. I think my experience, my reality, into being. My experience is not being imposed upon me no matter how it looks and feels to the contrary. My reality is exclusive to me. And it follows that the same holds true for the rest of humanity.

Once awake to the truth that I shifted responsibility as a way of life, I started noticing how common that aspect of human behaviour was in others as well – how pervasive blaming and pointing the finger was in our culture. And more to the point, how that innocently learnt habit, as students of our many teachers, damages or destroys relationships, our health, the environment and (the now topic du jour) the economy. And the biggie: how shifting responsibility frustrates our spiritual relationship with God (or from my reality; Life).

You, like me, may have grown up unaware that a mature human being takes responsibility and is accountable for their thinking, feelings and actions… their entire life. As it has been, is right now, and will be in the future – the cessation of attributing blame to anyone or anything.


Let me give you five examples of passing the buck, each making some jarring and/or challenging assertions. And while I acknowledge that there are equally strong views to the contrary in what I am about to express; I ask that you suspend judgment until you have read each one.

Our lives are fabricated by these and many other facets of 21st Century tests of self responsibility. You may think of others.


Nowhere is duck-shoving more evident, and more invisible to us, than in our personal relationships. And it’s in childhood where we become predominantly responsible or irresponsible (in my view, mostly the latter). Very early on we adopt as our own, not what we are told by our parents and significant others but what we observe; the way we see and hear them live their lives day in, day out. Indelibly imprinted lessons, modeled day after day from our life teachers (some useful and some not so) ‘steering’ us through life. Once the die is cast it is difficult to transform: from routinely shifting the burden, to an assumption of responsibility for one’s thinking, feelings and actions. Passing the buck, learned as a youngster, shows up in how we think, feel and behave for the rest of our lives, and is illustrated in the following (that is, unless we experience a new beginning and see life from a clearer vantage point):

  • Mother chastises her child:  “Daddy will be furious when he finds out.” Or: “Wait till Daddy gets home and finds out what a bad boy you have been.” The mother here innocently passes the buck to the father, for whatever reason, rather than being accountable for instilling discipline herself.  This particular shifting of responsibility (in various forms) shows up later in life; particularly in organisations…
  • A supervisor, rather than taking responsibility for something he needs to achieve, will hide behind an authority figure (who may or may not have been involved in what is to be said and done). He will say something like: “The Boss was very upset…” or “The Directors want you to…” or “The CEO has changed his mind and…”  Each time we shift the burden of responsibility by passing the buck upwards, we become weaker as a leader.
  • Father, not wanting to speak with a phone caller, foists responsibility onto his child: “Tell the man Daddy is not home.” Here we have a double whammy… passing responsibility to the child to deal with the caller and importantly, teaching the child that it is ok to lie. This early lesson shows up in all sorts of avoidance in later life. We habitually get others to do our dirty work rather than face it ourselves. It also manifests in the so-called white lies we live so comfortably with… duck shoving to a lie rather than dealing with the truth. (The latest research shows that 98% of us lie. Is it any wonder?)
  • Children learn quickly to flick past responsibility. When confronted over some misdemeanour, for the most part, kids will say that “he, she, they made me do it.” Parents, grandparents, assorted ‘rellies’ and friends all buy into this classic piece of duck shoving – the rationale being that ‘children are by definition not mature enough to be responsible’ for their actions. After years of collusion you will hear the chorus: “Johnny was such a good boy. It’s a pity he fell in with the wrong crowd. Look how they have led him astray.”

Increasingly, parents (particularly protective mums) find it hard to free their children to take on responsibility for their actions. Instead, they join with their offspring in the buck passing. That irresponsible thinking is so prevalent in Western Society that a myth of giant proportions has developed around the notion that peer pressure is the cause of counterproductive or even illegal behaviour.  In fact, many so-called experts support the idea.  Psychologist, psychiatrists, sociologists, social workers and a host of other well intentioned individuals perpetuate this myth, aided and abetted by the media.

Rather than coaching our kids in responsibility, we give in to their demands on the one hand or create a protective ‘nanny’ culture around them on the other. We give in to them when we fail to hold them accountable. We create a nanny culture when we support Government prohibitions rather than educating our child in being responsible. Early unchallenged experiences of buck passing are a primary cause of our inability to accept responsibility. The remaining examples demonstrate the end result.


Way back when, I bought into an idea often expressed as: “The Universe will provide”. The theme was: “Have faith, relax, and wait until the Universe delivers what I need or want” (no need for me to strive and work hard). Another was: “If it is meant to be it will work out; if it isn’t it wasn’t meant to be.” Again, in this mindset I am a victim who thinks that a divine being is pulling the strings that determine what will and won’t work out for me. No blood, sweat and tears with this philosophy.

Less new age, more traditional was this one: “I will pray to God for what I want.” Health, wealth, love, employment:  a spouse, a new bike, a promotion, car, home or cure; all were available on direct request. Here, we pass the buck to an all powerful God to be the provider rather than take the necessary action to earn, seek out, or be worthy of what it is we want or need. Indeed, I held the idea that God was a mystical entity calling the shots over my life and the lives of others. No probleemo! Leave it to God. This of course was a neat abdication of responsibility for my state of health, general welfare or circumstance. Responsibility lay outside me and ultimate responsibility was in the hands of God, the Universe or fate… que sera sera. How juvenile was that?

Today I believe in God… but as Life. I am grateful to and for Life. I don’t say that my viewpoint is the truth… the truth remains a mystery to me, a mystery I am at peace with. I seek not from God but give thanks to Life for what I have – Life; to which I give as wholeheartedly and as energetically as I can. As to the Universe, I am in awe! And I know that I had better get off my backside and take action for what I seek. There are no free lunches.


Past actions testify that I thought I could sustain myself with whatever I wanted to eat and drink, lead a sedentary life, stress myself and assume that my body could handle the self inflicted abuse. I passed the buck to my body to deal with the toxic stuff I consumed, the physically inactive life I lead, and my stressful thinking. And if my body became overwhelmed with the daily intake of lifeless food, drink and thinking, I could hand-ball my failing health to the medical fraternity; who would prescribe all manner of remedies to fix me. If their pills and potions failed I could have the diseased parts replaced, zapped with radiation, sliced away or chemically poisoned.  No worries mate!

After 64 years of that quality of thinking and behaviour what follows was the end result:

  1. Overweight
  2. Hypertension (high blood pressure).
  3. Hypothyroidism (an under active thyroid).
  4. Continuous diarrhoea.
  5. Various perennial skin ailments.
  6. High cholesterol.
  7. Exhausted much of the time… old and worn out.
  8. Cancer of the prostate

Like other ‘she’ll be right mate’ Aussie males, I didn’t take care of myself. Didn’t grasp at a gut level (bulging bigger by the day) that I only had one body and it needed good care and maintenance. For which I was responsible and accountable.  And more fool me, unlike most males, stored in the recesses of my memory was accumulated knowledge from earlier study on achieving and maintaining optimal health. This I ignored. Instead I put the burden on my body to keep me alive in the face of gross neglect and mistreatment.  A bad mistake!

In the case of the cancer, the specialist presented the news, warning me that there was limited time to have the tumours cut, drugged, or burnt away – or they would metastasize. “When this happens,” she said, “you will die a slow painful death. “ I had already been told a few years earlier that I should take medication for my high blood pressure and my rapidly failing thyroid and would need to do so for the rest of my life. I had a range of creams for my skin conditions that gave temporary relief. And I also had blood tests, endoscopies and colonoscopies all without finding out why I had had ‘the runs’ for the preceding 5 years.

The cancer news jolted me to my core. I was scared. What to do? Having failed to take care of my health, was I now about to pass the buck once more? Was I going to leave it all to the medical, pharmaceutical or complementary medicine fraternities? Or was I going to meet the challenge of healing my body, of which the cancer and assorted other conditions were but symptoms of neglect and abuse… an irresponsible lifestyle?  Had I really discovered the essence of responsibility back in ’92?

Apparently not quite! But from the deepest recess I remembered that the body, given the right conditions – optimal nutrition, appropriate exercise and a peaceful state of mind, will heal from any malady. I remembered books read in my twenties, and recalled a remarkable personal healing experience in my early thirties. Those readings and the natural healing event demonstrated the following: a 100% raw vegan organic diet, coupled with significantly reduced eating done in concert with fresh juicing, an energetic outdoor exercise program and a contented state of mind would, if practiced with daily discipline, lead to healing.

The decision was made; the path forward clear. For me, shifting the burden of responsibility for my health to others was no longer a viable option. I had faith that, as it had become sick with mistreatment, my body would heal, given time and cared for in the way I knew how to.  If in doubt I would dig deeper.

Two years six months later aged 67, following a natural healing regime, my body responded in the following way:

  1. Weight reduced from 83.7kg to 61.7kg: a drop of 22kg.
  2. Blood pressure down from 135/85 to 110/60
  3. Thyroid Function: TSH down from 27.90 to 3.12 (Healthy Range 0.40 – 4.00).
  4. Normal bowl movements.
  5. Skin conditions healed.
  6. Cholesterol has reduced from 5.3 to 3.8 (Healthy Range <5.5*).
    • LDL Cholesterol (the bad stuff) down from 3.8 to 2.6 (Healthy Range <3.5).
    • Coronary Risk Ratio has come down from 5.3 to 3.8 (Healthy Range <5.0).
  7. Feeling stronger, healthier and more energised than I can recall at any point in my life.
  8. The test results show steady improvement.

Passing the buck for our health has become so commonplace that it looks as if it is the right thing to do. The norm! Taking next to zero responsibility for our health is part of our culture. It’s frightening!

We smoke; we use drugs. We consume alcohol, caffeine and sugar laden drinks. Some of us, maybe to salve our conscience, take make-believe health drinks; pasteurised, chemicalised, devitalised fruit and veggie juices and a mind boggling array of other containerised anti-health drinks. We eat make believe health foods; made with dead ingredients. We exist on food that has had the nutrition and nourishment cooked or processed to near extinction. We grow increasingly inactive, fat and unhealthy or emaciated and sickly. We line up in our hundreds of thousands each day across the nation at medical practices. Given pharmaceuticals for fixing our self induced failing health; we merely join the club of life time users. Others, disillusioned at the malfunction of modern medicine – and its clear inability to stem our nation’s declining health, turn to the naturopath or homeopath, hoping that extracts of this or that tree, bark, root, fruit, shrub, vegetable or herb will do the trick. Or that this vitamin, mineral, enzyme, pro-biotic, anti-oxidant or protein supplement will remedy what Mother Nature has the inherent capacity to provide if only we bypass the dead-food dealers and go direct to the manufacturer; Mother Nature.

Unfortunately most of us (me included til recently) refuse to take the natural road that leads to vibrant, sustainable health. Instead, we live on a lifeless food diet. Some, trying to do the right thing, lace their diet with limited value vitamin and mineral supplements; trusting that these will compensate for a lousy diet. Millions, from babies to old timers, are ending up with serious disease. Hundreds of thousands are hospitalised and more of our aged are living a wretched, drug extended but a physically and mentally infirmed old age (many in soul destroying Care). From cradle to grave, we pass the burden of responsibility to an expanding legion of, dare I say it, make believe health providers (main stream or alternative) to fix the symptoms of an unhealthy lifestyle rather than eating, drinking and living naturally.

Becoming responsible for living very simply and naturally has healed 7 of my 8 ailments. Given time, and continuing to provide my body with nature’s natural medicine: organic nutrition, exercise and healthy thinking, the cancer will go the same way as my other lifestyle induced conditions. Passing the buck for my health has stopped.


Having seen how we shift the burden of responsibility for our health let’s look briefly at how we do the same thing with the wellbeing of our common home… the planet.

Polluting the air; degrading the arable soils; acidifying, contaminating and scraping the life from our oceans floors; heating up the atmosphere; killing the lungs of our planet – the forests; and, embracing the potential destruction of our food chain by genetically modifying it – that is just a headline grabbing few examples of our irresponsibility. And, for a second time, I acknowledge that there are others, infinitely more qualified, who will vehemently disagree with my views. But having listened carefully to both sides of the debate on each preceding point for over 50 years, I am unwilling to sit on the fence and in effect, absolve myself of responsibility. I don’t believe we can risk inflicting further potential harm that may take thousands if not millions of years to heal while in the process we destroy the animal kingdom (a kingdom in which we are clearly the destructive species).

Closer to home however is our misuse of water. For two hundred years Australians have refused to be accountable for undervaluing, wasting, poisoning and in other ways destroying our most precious resource.

In my home town Perth we argue the toss over how to deal with water restrictions. We ask “Is it best to use desalination; build more dams; pipe overland or ship it 2000 kilometres from our North; or plumb the depths of additional ancient and finite aquifers?” More of us should ask: “How do we conserve what we have?” Most cures, as with our personal health, address the symptoms not the cause – our chronically irresponsible use and abuse. Each solution passes the buck. We waste water everywhere we use it. In agriculture, industry, at all levels of government and in our homes and gardens. At present we still don’t have a real water shortage! What we have is a massive waste of water in every nook and cranny of our community.

Rather than take personal responsibility for educating ourselves and stopping the waste, aren’t we (individually and collectively) shifting the burden of responsibility to our elected Government to solve the problem? It seems so to me. Our Government in turns shifts it back to the tax payer, us, to pay for what many see as unsustainable solutions. On this merry-go-round, arm in arm with the Government, we form a pact which ultimately shifts the problem onto the environment in one way or another. We build another ecologically damaging dam. Better still; we salt up our local sea while at the same time using massive amounts of CO2 emitting energy to run a desalination plant. We drain another ancient aquifer that takes a thousand years to refill, or we construct an environmentally harmful canal from the north to the south. Passing the buck, the thoughtless way of living, is never better illustrated than when we talk about life sustaining water.

Few of us see to the heart of the problem: our lack of careful and prudent use of this most precious resource, and pricing it in accordance with its economic and environmental cost. Instead, we blame ‘climate change’ or the lack of infrastructure planning by successive Governments. Most of us habitually look outside ourselves to solve the problem. Incongruous as it sounds, we ignore the fact that we live on the planet’s driest continent! We need to respond to that, understand that, and respect that. We need to stop (as with our personal health) treating symptoms (in this case our need to please ourselves how we use water) and address the cause, our lack of adequate conservation.

As with all problems, sustainable solutions are available. There are highly skilled men and women who know exactly what needs to be changed within agriculture, industry, government and in our homes and gardens to conserve this most precious resource. We need to listen to them and to act. The buck can stop with you and me at work or at home for wasting water and for the other ways in which we are destroying our planet. What do you say? Will we, as custodians of our environment, embrace responsibility before it is too late? Being 100% responsible for our personal contribution would be a grand start!


The Australian Government, with the blessing of the Opposition, has committed our taxes by handing out a big chunk of this year’s anticipated surplus, $10+ Billion, to those they think will spend it quickly (and thus stimulate the economy and keep the so-called mindless masses pumping away on the consumption treadmill).

Our Banks, of which the four biggest are in the world’s strongest top twenty, have been underwritten by the Government; excuse me… the tax payer. More Government intervention is promised. Tax payers’ dollars are being pledged by our Prime Minister to prop up sectors of our economy that are finding the going tough. As I see it, we are thus removing the burden of responsibility from poorly managed companies and households and passing it to tax payers as a whole.  What a bloody good scheme! Fail and get bailed out. This of course only happens if you are a car manufacturer, car distributer, farmer, bank or part of a politically sensitive sector of our economy. Too bad about the rest of the poor little sods dotted all over the country who will go broke! They don’t have enough political clout to be invited aboard the gravy train. And anyway, the train is nowhere near strong enough to pull additional carriages of freeloaders.  The present heavy payload, having convinced each other and most of the population that by papering over the widening cracks in our economic system they can stop the dam bursting; will drown millions of us.

What beggars’ belief is that it was only months ago that successive Reserve Bank Chairmen and Treasurers said that our economy was going gangbusters but overheated, and that demand driven inflation was getting out of control! Things were, on balance, very good! Neither the Reserve Bank nor Treasurers seem to understand what causes inflation, which is an increase in the supply of paper money, not an increase in wages and prices. Those increases are a symptom but not the fundamental cause. So what’s happened? If our economies, Federal, State, Local, Business, Family and Individual, were soundly based and wisely managed, would so many now be facing implied (and in my view widespread) financial annihilation?

Instead of persisting with our Lemming-like rush toward total economic meltdown, might there still be time to take a stand for fiscal prudence? Is not the time right to let the responsibility for poor corporate governance stay where it belongs… with the boards, senior executives and shareholders? Is now the time to return to fundamentals; such as ensuring at all economic levels that incomes exceed expenditure? What a novel idea! You may think me a simpleton to suggest that.

What if the excess created at all levels of the economy, just for once, was saved and invested? Set aside for personal, corporate and national development on badly needed infrastructure, rather than being wasted on trying to sustain an unsustainable consumption-driven, debt fuelled, economic model. A corrupted system, in a drunken stagger, that must eventually implode and when it does cause devastation of the like we may have never seen before.

We are a fleabite population of 22 million with $1 trillion in Household Debt, $620 billion in Foreign Debt, and a Current Account Deficit of $60 billion a year. We cannot continue to shift the burden of responsibility to more and more debt that will become increasingly hard to pay back and eventually cannot be repaid. We will be bankrupted as a nation. We must pull our heads in, be accountable and responsible and start living within our means, as families, as local and state governments, as corporations and as a nation.

We have kidded ourselves in thinking we have been clever. Not so! We’ve just been lucky to live in Australia and be a part of a global commodity bonanza.  Before it’s too late, let’s grasp this opportunity and take responsibility to get off the consumer powered treadmill and put our fiscal houses in sustainable order. However painful that might be at this time, it will be but a mild sniffle to the pneumonia we face down the track if we don’t act now. Buck passing has to stop with each of us. A sound economic outlook is forecast for those that apply common sense and accept responsibility for living within their means. Dire consequences await those shifting responsibility to the Government, believing that they have the power to spend our way out of trouble. With that strategy, they will do nothing but delay the inevitable… and in so doing, create even worse economic chaos and greater personal hardship for all but the truly wealthy (and there aren’t many that actually fit that category).


Driving home today I read an outdoor advertising billboard. It said almost everything I’m trying to say in eleven words: “It’s not coz we can’t. It’s coz we can’t be bothered!”  Pictured beneath the words was a new toilet roll sitting on top of a dispenser with an empty cardboard roll left on the metal spindle. Below that were the words: “Chill.” Beside that was a picture of a popular brand of iced coffee. Further on I came across another of those ads. The words were the same: “It’s not coz we can’t. It’s coz we can’t be bothered!”  This time it pictured a gift that had been wrapped as only a year old could have achieved. In both ads the surface message implies: “Don’t get upset by what others do; just ‘chill’ with our iced coffee.” In fact, it’s cool not to replace the toilet roll or not bother making a neat job of wrapping a gift, and “cool people drink our iced coffee.” Trivial, you might say. But at a deeper level, the message is just another reaffirmation that it is cool to be irresponsible. The ad tunes into the growing level of irresponsibility, making it a badge of honour to be uncaring of others and unaccountable to do what is decent.


If you have made it to this point you will know that I have struggled with my own lack of responsibility. I still do. Like everyone, even at 67, I am still work in progress.

Critics of this piece might say that I am just a grumpy old man. That is certainly true on a bad day. Others, who understand the principle of Thought, might say I can only see the world through my thinking and my thinking is jaundiced toward irresponsibility. It is true, each of us can only see through the prism of our own thinking. It is equally true that once we have had a wakeup call we see the obvious… that which we were once blind to.

Australia, at this point, is on balance an irresponsible society. I trust that my grandchildren, great grandchildren (and yours as well) will live in a country where responsibility for one’s life – spiritual, physical, environmental and financial – will be the norm. If that comes to pass we will see people that are psychologically independent, deeply loving and thus interdependent, physically robust and fearless custodians of our planet  – men and women who have moved beyond the mental prison of irresponsibility.

For that to materialise we must recognise that the buck ends with each of us. No more shifting the burden of responsibility. The future is up to you and me.

John Wood’s essay was originally distributed to his friends, family and colleagues. With permission, I am very pleased to bring his wisdom to my audience. John resides in Darlington, Australia. He is a successful entrepreneur and consultant, the founder of Fleetwood Corporation. In 1993, after retiring from Fleetwood, John founded the Philosophy of Living Centre, Australia. This Centre coached and mentored business leaders and later evolved into Dimension 4 Consulting of Perth.


The Bravehearts of Mumbai

December 7, 2008

It is hard not to notice the contrast between the heroism of ordinary Indian citizens and the seemingly inept official governmental response to the terrorists in Mumbai. In the Mumbai train station for instance, over 60 policemen (admittedly, underarmed) were on duty; the gunmen were out in the open; yet, not one of the policemen attempted to shoot the terrorists. In the hotels, about 10 gunmen, up against a force of over 1000 commandos and other law enforcement officials, were able to stay alive for over two days and wreak havoc.

In the same train station, hotels and in restaurants, ordinary Indian citizens behaved heroically risking and in some cases giving their lives to help their countrymen and foreign nationals. In contrast, those in the military and police forces were bound by their “rule books” and bound by a rigid command-and-control hierarchy that was issuing the plan. Their response was slower and less fluid than the situation demanded. How could it have been otherwise? The terrorists were not operating under a central command.

This is not a post written to criticize the Indian military. In the United States at the Columbine High School massacre, innocents were slaughtered or died of their injuries while the SWAT team “staged” outside the high school for an inexcusable amount of time before responding. Unresponsive bureaucracies know no national boundaries.

But this is a post about the heroism of ordinary Indians and the great cosmopolitan city of Mumbai—a city of Hindus, Moslems, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, and Jews—where tolerance is the norm.

One of the targets of the murderers was the Chabad House—an orthodox Jewish outreach center located in a poor, Muslim neighborhood—run by Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka. Immediately, Mumbai taught the world of the character of its citizens—residents in the area, presumably Muslims and Hindus, pelted the terrorists with stones in an attempt to stop them from entering the Chabad House. Some of these residents may have paid with their lives. I wish I could tell you more of their heroic actions, but no account I could find—Indian or American—had more details.

The terrorists entered the Chabad House. Two Indian nationals, employees of the House, Sandra Samuels, a Christian nanny to toddler Moishe Holtzberg (the son of the Rabbi and his wife), and Zaki Hussein, a Muslim, were able to escape the initial carnage and hide themselves away.

The next morning, Sandra heard little Mosihe crying out for her, “Sandra! Sandra! Sandra!” Leaving her safe nest, Sandra made her way up to the second floor where she found two-year old Moishe crying over his parents’ wounded or dead bodies. She scooped up Moishe; and then with Zaki standing watch at the door, Sandra fled the building.

“This baby is something very precious to me; what else could I have done?” Sandra said rhetorically as she tried to explain why she was not a hero. Indeed, Sandra, Zaki, and the neighbors of the Chabad House had functioned as human beings were meant to. There was no time to consult a rule book, there was no one to issue commands, they had no thoughts of “what is in for me.”

Bryon Katie in her book A Thousand Names for Joy has written: “To think that we need sadness or outrage to motivate us to do what’s right is insane… Love is action. It’s clear, it’s kind, it’s effortless, and it’s irresistible.”

In our own lives today, we can honor the bravehearts of Mumbai by doing what we truly value. Doing what is precious to us and not what is expedient or easier, because Love is indeed effortless.

In a Mumbai synagogue, Zaki comforts an inconsolable Moishe at the memorial service for his parents.

In a Mumbai synagogue, Zaki comforts an inconsolable Moishe at the memorial service for his parents.

Sandra is now in Israel living with Moishe. Since Mosihe only responds to her, she has vowed to remain with him for as long as he needs her.

Sandra is now in Israel living with Moishe. Since Mosihe only responds to her, she has vowed to remain with him for as long as he needs her.

In 1970, Neil Diamond wrote a song “Done Too Soon”—a simple song that may well have been about the common humanity that the victims of the Mumbai murderers share. The last verse is:

And each one there
Has one thing shared:
They have sweated beneath the same sun,
Looked up in wonder at the same moon,
And wept when it was all done
For bein’ done too soon.

The Nightmare of Hyperinflation: Tales From Zimbabwe

October 12, 2008

For over eight years, Cathy Buckle has been courageously blogging from inside Zimbabwe as it has descended into a lawless state run by murderous gangsters calling themselves a government.

Her poignant posts are urgent reading; they teach us what horrific things human beings can do to other human beings; they remind us of how despots keep power and show us the terrible consequences to a nation that chooses hyperinflation.

There is no immediate danger of hyperinflation in the United States; a deflationary depression is the most likely scenario in front of us. Although government here is doing everything it can to prevent the transfer of assets from the reckless and imprudent to more prudent conservators of capital, to date, market forces have been far stronger than government intervention. Eventually though, if we continue down our current path of destabilizing the market process through massive injections of money, the terrible consequences of hyperinflation will visit us too. Many Americans see themselves as special, but no nation is exempt from the laws of economics.

Zimbabwe is in the southern hemisphere, and it is currently spring, Cathy writes:

It seems absurd to be writing about the weather and birds when we’ve got no food, fuel, or government and inflation’s hit 231 MILLION percent, but its these routines of nature that help take our minds off the insanity of life in Zimbabwe. It’s the time of year when there should be a frenzy of activity in preparation for the rains and food growing. Seed and fertilizer should be stacked up in sheds waiting to go out to the lands. Tractors should be ploughing and the lands readied but without the inputs it’s not happening.

Goods and services are non-existent and people are desperate, Cathy writes:

People are queuing outside banks from as early as 2 am in the morning in order to draw out their daily limit which is not even enough to buy a single packet of soup. No shops or businesses are accepting cheques anymore. Electronic transfers – known as RTGS’s – have been stopped by the Reserve bank in the last few days and so with no cash, no cheques and no transfers, we are grinding to a halt. For all the people who simply cannot fight their way to the front of bank queues, which are literally thousands strong , there is real hunger, suffering and despair. For others, there are vast fortunes being made in a frenzy of illegal deals.

This week I’ve met pensioners, hungry because they can’t pay for what little food there is by cheque and can’t get cash out of the bank. I’ve met middle aged men desperate because they can’t get enough money out the bank to buy food for their families. I’ve met people from rural areas who say that despite the propaganda being peddled every day in the State media, no food, seed or fertilizer has arrived in their villages yet. I’ve met nurses who say that despite news reports they still have no drugs for their patients. I’ve met shop owners whose businesses are collapsing as their employees are in queues at the banks, and so are their customers. I’ve met parents in total despair as their children are still not in school a month into the term because teachers are on strike.

But yet, as Cathy writes, the elite and their connected cronies continue to prosper:

This week Gideon Gono, the Governor of the Reserve Bank, swept into an underground car park in a dark limousine. A line of well dressed men clamoured forward to greet him and followed him to the waiting camera and microphone of ZBC TV. Speaking as if he was doing us some huge favour and with an ingratiating smile, Mr Gono announced that the maximum bank withdrawal limit for individuals was about to increase from one thousand to twenty thousand dollars a day. In real terms, as I write, this new limit is worth about 20 British pence. It’s impossible to believe that Mr Gono or any of Zimbabwe’s political elite are living on 20 pence a day and yet they offer no suggestion as to how ordinary people should survive.

For weeks we’ve been stuck in a living hell, queuing at banks for hours at a time day after day, to draw out enough of our own money to buy just one single loaf of bread – if we can find it. Riot police and dogs outside banks have become commonplace and so too have men selling money. They strut around brazenly, openly carrying huge bags of local coins that they are selling in exchange for US dollars or South African rand. Police don’t seem to be able to see them or the lines of black market currency dealers sitting on pavements everywhere and so the economic collapse continues to gallop ahead. Less than two months ago Mr Gono removed 10 zeroes from our currency and 7 of them are back already.

The nightmare that Zimbabwe is going through has been building for many years. Robert Mugabe has been a murderous thug since he became president of the country in 1980. His regime for many years was aided and abetted by western governments, including being honored by Queen Elizabeth in 1994 with the title of Knight Grand Cross. Life expectancy in Zimbabwe has fallen to 37 years for women and 34 years for men.

Throughout his murderous reign, Mugabe and his cronies have enriched themselves and partied on. In 2005, Cathy wrote of a birthday party for Mugabe:

An enormous white tent has been erected on the local football field and all week the town has been filling up with government dignitaries, entertainers, scores of police, security officials, youth brigade members and men in dark glasses and big hats. As I write this letter the birthday celebrations are underway and being broadcast live on television. Many thousands of people are in the tent: children in school uniform holding little flags, ministers and government dignitaries wearing red sashes and the usual large number of people who find it appropriate to wear clothes with President Mugabe’s face printed on the fabric. Lines of teenage girls, in youth brigade uniforms and with shaven heads started the day off with displays of karate kicks and punches and were later followed by speaker after speaker who came forward to praise the President and condemn anyone and everyone who is seen as an enemy. As a Marondera resident I couldn’t help but smile as I watched all the VIP’s and even local Marondera government officials, drinking bottled water. I guess they must have heard that our water has been very off for the last couple of weeks, often being distinctly discoloured and almost every day smelling and tasting foul.

When the party had been going on for four hours and after all the speeches had been made, the birthday cake emerged. Slices were cut and handed out to members of the family and then the television commentator made the most amazing statement. She said: “As you can see, Robert junior is actually eating the cake now whilst I am still hungry but it looks very delicious.” The words of the commentator would undoubtedly have been echoed by many of the thousands of people in the tent. There had been no sign of any refreshments being available for the spectators or children during the long hot morning and by this time it was obviously very hot as scores of people were fanning themselves with their little Zimbabwean flags.

According to the government media, donations to the value of one billion dollars were raised for the Marondera birthday party. I needed a dictionary to check how many zeros there are in a billion dollars and then my twelve year old son to show me how to use the calculator in my computer as a normal calculator cannot accommodate all those zeroes. We worked out that the money spent on the Presidential birthday party could have bought 285 thousand loaves of bread which would have been enough to give 6 slices of bread to every man, woman and child in Marondera. Oh well I guess we’ll just have to dream of delicious birthday cake.

What happened during the German hyperinflation in the 1920s is just so much textbook history to many people—and textbook history is something that many people ignore. To those who do not understand why hyperinflation must be avoided in America, please read Cathy Buckle. And make no mistake, no nation is a victim of hyperinflation; it is a calculated choice that the nation makes.

Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

August 27, 2008

In the original Star Trek series there was an episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.” In this episode the Enterprise was transporting two warring alien humanoids who are black on half their body and white on the other half of their body. One of the aliens is Bele, a police commissioner from the planet Cheron, who is chasing the political refuge, Lokai, from the same planet. Bele considers himself superior to Lokai because Bele is white on the left side of his body while Lokai is white on the right side. Their mutual hatred over superficial differences had been going on for 50,000 years and continues throughout the episode. In the final scene, Captain Kirk leaves them to return to their now destroyed home planet presumably to continue to go at it.

The episode was originally broadcast in 1969 and, of course, was a not too subtle, but effective, allegory about race relations in the United States.

Last week we considered Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia and our imprudent involvement in the area. Georgia is a country smaller than South Carolina, and South Ossetia is a region smaller than Rhode Island. Despite the relatively small area that they share on this earth, Georgians and Ossetians have different languages and they view each other through the eyes of simmering ancient hatreds. To a foreigner they are more similar than not; but to the Georgians and Ossetians their “differences”, like those of Bele and Lokai, are very real. The harsh reality is that they would rather suffer than give up their hatreds.

Why, in such a geographically small area, can human beings not live in harmony? There is a simple answer—not united by common principles that make peace and harmony possible, Georgians and Ossetians see each other as different, as less than fully human. Collectively they hate each other, and they have reaped what they have sown.

A few years ago a Kurdish graduate student shared this story with me after he had just received a phone call from his family. In his home village a neighbor had called the police on another family because that family had a chicken running loose in the street. When the patriarch of that family came home that day, he was incensed that his family’s honor had been insulted by the police visiting his home. He got his gun and shot to death the members of the family that had called the police. The student explained to me that a blood feud had now begun that would continue for many generations.

Without common principles, the hatred and superstition that lurks in every ego rises to the top. And those who rise to the top of almost every tribal society maintain their power by feeding and exploiting that hatred.

Their choice to hate can be undone at anytime, says A Course in Miracles:

What would you see? The choice is given you. But learn and do not let your mind forget this law of seeing: You will look upon that which you feel within. If hatred finds a place within your heart, you will perceive a fearful world, held cruelly in death’s sharp-pointed, bony fingers. If you feel the Love of God within you, you will look out on a world of mercy and of love.

But the choice to see love instead of hate must be supported by the institutions of the society we live in. Those institutions begin with respect and support for property rights. And those institutions only thrive if we want others to enjoy the same rights—to not be encroached against—as we would wish for ourselves. In countries that are organized around allegiance to a tribe rather than around abstract principles, the idea that another tribe should enjoy equal rights is a laughable proposition.

With most of the mainstream media continuing to press the point that a resurgent Russia is threatening world peace, the opportunity is passing us by to learn important lessons. There are those Americans who would bring to the United States mindless, cruel, and needless suffering like we see in the Caucasus.

Who are those Americans? They include the bulk of politicians who owe allegiance to no principles other than increasing their own power and the power of the government. They include those educators who fail to understand and teach the principles that promote peace and prosperity. And it includes those Americans who prefer to watch mindless television each evening rather than to seek to understand the principles that protect their liberty.

We are told by politicians, pundits, and educators that our founding principles, which begin with our rights, are out-of-date. What an absurd notion. The rights guaranteed to the American people are anchored in the idea that all power begins with the people, and that the people transfer limited and defined powers to government to protect their inalienable rights. Rather than being out-of-date, these are transcendent ideas of which many are completely ignorant or never accepted in the first place.

Today a student can graduate from many public schools and never learn the differences between societies organized around the supremacy of the tribe and societies organized around the principles that promote prosperity and liberty. Public schools have almost stopped teaching the founding principles of America. In place of that, students are taught multiculturalism and the idea that is impossible to say which system is best.

Of course this is nonsense. We can say which system works best. When the tribe comes first, hatred and ancient superstitions are able to rear their ugly heads and cause poverty and suffering for millions.

Today, almost no politician of either party bears allegiance to the transcendent founding principles of America. Instead their allegiance is to expanding the reach of government into new and seemingly unlimited areas.

Without an understanding of our founding principles, campaigns for public office become popularity contests based on looks, personality, and who can promise the most. In such a cheap popularity contest, individuals making vague promises, who can articulate no principles, who have accomplished nothing in life, but who can speak well into a teleprompter, can rise to the top.

Perhaps because of his high-pitched voice and perhaps because he spoke with a lisp, Thomas Jefferson despised giving speeches. His State of the Union addresses were sent to be read rather than spoken before Congress. One of the great men in all of political history would have no chance of being elected to office today.

For millions of immigrants, the United States has been their last battlefield. They came from countries where their tribe, clan, or ethnicity was more important than their basic rights as human beings. They treasured the principles that made this country great because these principles have allowed more groups to unite in peace, harmony, and prosperity than have ever gathered anywhere on the planet. This rich legacy is being squandered away.

We could be only generations away from descending into tribalism; it can happen here if we continue to lose touch with our founding principles. For the ignorant among us, a vacation in Georgia or South Ossetia would be a worthwhile experience.

Indian Milkmen and Public School Administrators

April 30, 2008

Recently the Wall Street Journal told the tale of former Indian milk deliveryman D.T. Walkar who faithfully comes each day to the Worli Dairy to NOT deliver milk:

Most days, he and his fellow drivers at the government dairy sign in, then move to the rest area. While others read the paper, nap or play rummy, Mr. Walkar likes to do the Sudoku puzzle in the Maharashtra Times, unless someone else has gotten to it first. He then wanders around the complex and talks to friends. The last delivery trucks were sold last year. “The trucks are all gone so we just sit around and talk,” says Mr. Walkar, 50 years old. “We are bored.”

Have Indians stopped drinking milk? Hardly, it is still a key ingredient in Indian cooking and in religious rituals. So what happened? The Wall Street Journal explains:

In 2001, the Indian government started opening the dairy market in Maharashtra to competition. Private carriers with higher quality milk swiftly won customers by delivering milk to doorsteps. The government milkmen have always been restricted to delivering mostly to curbside milk stalls so they could cover a greater area.

At the same time government workers are protected from layoffs– Walkar is reluctant to move to the private sector because he claims he needs the government housing his job provides and so Walker sits every day with nothing to do until he can retire in about 8 years.

As I read this essay—poignant in its description of human energy being wasted—I began to think of American “milkmen.” The first group that came to mind was public school administrators.

No, I am not claiming that public school administrators “read the paper, nap or play rummy.” No doubt though, most schools would be better off if that is all that they did—after all, ask many public school teachers and they will tell you that any effective teaching that they accomplish in their classrooms is frequently done despite the interference of administrators.

Former New York State teacher of the year John Taylor Gatto has been a harsh critic of public schools. He tells a tale about complaining about waste while he was still a teacher:

An assistant principal once said to me, “It’s not your money. What are you getting excited about?”

What if I told you that he was the second best school administrator I met in thirty years? He was. That’s the standard we’ve established. The waste in schools is staggering. People are hired and titles created for jobs nobody needs. There’s waste in services, waste in precious time spent moving herds of children back and forth through corridors at the sound of a horn. In my experience, poor schools waste much more than rich schools, and rich schools waste more than you could believe.

The only public aspect of these places is that they function as a jobs project, although large numbers of these jobs are set aside as political patronage. Public schools can’t understand how the average private school can make profit on a per-seat cost less than half the “free” public charge; they can’t understand how the average religious school makes do on even less.

The answer is of course that their administrative costs are a fraction of the administrative costs in public schools. Not only that, but also they are free to innovate without the stifling rigidity that only layers of bureaucracy can provide.

Back to India—in monopoly conditions, it made perfect sense to milk industry bureaucrats that milk be delivered only to centrally located, unrefrigerated, broken-down stalls and not to homes; and it made perfect sense that the quality of their product could not be improved.

Once we reflect on Indian milkmen, we can understand why the public school lobbyists fight so hard against any form of school choice for parents. Simply put, once parents have a choice, many of the choices that school administrators and politicians have made will not stand. These are just a few of the conditions that can only exist under the near-monopoly that public schools enjoy:

  • Funding a large, bloated bureaucracy.
  • Using quick fixes for disruptive behavior, like helping to place almost five million school children on Ritalin—which some researchers say has a more potent effect on the brain than cocaine.
  • Operating many urban schools without providing a basic, safe environment for learning.
  • Designing curricula that leave many high school graduates unable to handle college level work and unable to compete for employment opportunities that exist in a post manufacturing society.
  • Designing curricula that leave may high school graduates ignorant of the basic principles of political and economic liberty.

Even the veteran insider, the late and former American Federation of Teachers President, Al Shanker has observed:

It’s time to admit that public education operates like a planned economy, a bureaucratic system in which everybody’s role is spelled out in advance and there are few incentives for innovation and productivity. It’s no surprise that our school system doesn’t improve: It more resembles the communist economy than our own market economy.

One day, American consumers of schools, like the “liberated” consumers of milk in India, will have a choice. No doubt, we will be told that the redundant school administrators have to be kept on the payroll anyway. And just like the Indian milkmen, most will choose to put in their time until retirement. When that day comes, at least we can be thankful that, like the Indian milkmen, they will be no longer serving up a sub-standard product.

Tainted Ginger and What it Means For You

November 20, 2007

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported on shipments of fresh ginger from China which were contaminated with a dangerous pesticide. The shipments were discovered in supermarkets in California.

In 2006, China accounted for 78% of the ginger imports to the United States. Much of the ginger was grown by small farmers and then aggregated into larger shipments. Although China has banned the use of the dangerous pesticide Aldicarb on most vegetables and fruits, some small farmers have ignored this ban. At high enough dosages, exposure to Aldicarb can be fatal. Smaller dosages induce nausea, headaches, blurred vision, muscle spasms, and difficulty in breathing. The Wall Street Journal reported that some California buyers of ginger have experienced these symptoms.

Perhaps you don’t buy fresh ginger, and you are ready to navigate away from this page. Not so fast. Ground ginger is an ingredient found in many processed foods.

“So what,” you might say, “I don’t buy processed foods from China.” Unfortunately, that alone does not protect you. Due to a loophole in United States law, you can buy processed food manufactured in the United States and still be ingesting imported ingredients inadvertently.

How can this be? As I have reported before in my blog:

The source of the problem is a little-known loophole in the requirements for labeling ingredients on manufactured food products. If you are like me, you may have assumed that if a food product was made in the USA, than the ingredients were from the USA.

This incorrect assumption is potentially dangerous to your health. The law does require that food labels inform the “ultimate purchaser” of the country of origin. However in the case of processed foods, the consumer is not considered the “ultimate purchaser.” According to the logic of the government, when an important ingredient undergoes a “substantial transformation,” the “ultimate purchaser” becomes the manufacturer of the processed food.

The sole authority of what is a “substantial transformation” is the United States Customs Service. However, ingredients in almost all processed foods are considered to have undergone a “substantial transformation.” Thus, if your favorite processed food uses imported ginger, the ingredient has undergone a “substantial transformation.” The maker of the product does not have to inform the public that they are using imported ginger or, for that matter, any other imported ingredient.

What can you do? Here are my recommendations:

  1. If you use fresh or powdered ginger, buy only organic ginger. Organic ginger is very unlikely to be imported from China.
  2. For all processed foods that you regularly consume, call the toll-free number that the manufacturer usually provides on the package. Ask them specifically for the country of origin of their ingredients.

For more information you may access my previous five blog posts on imported food here.

George Washington Offers Advice on the American Embassy in Iraq

November 2, 2007

In the November 2007 issue of Vanity Fair, William Langewiesche’s The Mega-Bunker of Baghdad offers a fascinating and sobering look at the new American embassy in Iraq—an embassy into which he writes, “American officials and their many camp followers are fleeing”:

The compound, which will be completed by late fall, is the largest and most expensive embassy in the world—a walled expanse the size of Vatican City, containing 21 reinforced buildings on a 104-acre site along the Tigris River, enclosed within an extension of the Green Zone which stretches toward the airport road. The new embassy cost $600 million to build and is expected to cost another $1.2 billion a year to run.

Langewiesche offers a needed historical perspective. Until the federal income tax was passed, our ability to fund a massive overseas presence was limited:

America didn’t use to be like this. Traditionally it was so indifferent to setting up embassies that after its first 134 years of existence, in 1910, it owned diplomatic properties in only five countries abroad—Morocco, Turkey, Siam, China, and Japan. The United States did not have an income tax at that time. Perhaps as a result, American envoys on public expense occupied rented quarters to keep the costs down. In 1913 the first national income tax was imposed, at rates between 1 and 7 percent, with room for growth in the future. Congress gradually relaxed its squeeze on the State Department’s budget.

Toward the end of his essay Langewiesche asks:

What on earth is going on? We have built a fortified America in the middle of a hostile city, peopled it with a thousand officials from every agency of government, and provided them with a budget to hire thousands of contractors to take up the slack. Half of this collective is involved in self-defense. The other half is so isolated from Iraq that, when it is not dispensing funds into the Iraqi ether, it is engaged in nothing more productive than sustaining itself.

What indeed is going on? It is fashionable to dismiss advice offered by the founding fathers as irrelevant for our times. Yet consider the timeless advice offered by George Washington in his 1796 Farewell Address:

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest.

…Nothing is more essential, than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.

What advice could be more relevant? Washington advises, “have with them as little political connection as possible” and yet we have built a sprawling fortress on 104 acres that will cost 1.2 billion dollars a year to run.

%d bloggers like this: