FANDANGO’S PROVOCATIVE QUESTION #33

Fandango’s Provocative Question #33

It’s hard to talk about this stuff without sounding pious or self-righteous. Personally, I always wonder if I have a price too and it’s merely that no one has offered to pay it that I have managed to stay true to my fundamental beliefs. When you’ve never been tempted or at least not tempted enough, it is hard to know what your own boundaries truly are.

This question was plucked from my post, so to a large degree, I’ve answered it already. Still, it’s a valid question with many possible answers and even more questions that lie along its borders.

The question of whether morality is part of “God’s personal patch” versus being a basic human issue is old. It’s a question that goes to the heart of every religion and dogma — as well every set of personal beliefs. It’s older than our literature and for all I know, they were pondering some version of this in cave dwellings.

For at least most of my life, as a child, adolescent, and adult, I have believed that we are all born with a fundamental knowledge of good and evil, of right and wrong. It isn’t something we need to be taught. We know it. Actually, Genesis essentially says more or less the same thing.

In our bones, in our brains, in that strange space we have that is neither physical or “brain matter,” but rather a special place where we preserve our personal beliefs.

That we all know what is right and wrong from our earliest youth through all of life does not mean that we always adhere to it. We have all done the wrong thing, whether it was big and bad, or little but nonetheless, wrong.

The cynical saying that “Everyone has a price” means no matter what you believe — or why you believe it — if you are offered a good enough deal, you’ll fold and do the wrong thing. It insinuates that greed is ultimately the most powerful emotion of which man is capable.

I want to believe that this is untrue and some of us cannot be bought. But do I know that? Or have many of us never been offered a high enough price? After all, the payment doesn’t have to be money. It can be power: legal power or religious power. It can make us godlike or rich beyond the ability of our calculator to count.

Greed can be the lust for knowledge, power, drugs, or land, though somehow money seems to squeeze into the equation somehow.


To quote Gordon Gekko, “Greed is good.”


Do you agree that greed is good? Or only that greed is good within limits, to a certain extent, but not beyond? That it’s okay to be greedy as long as you don’t get excessive about it?

What is excessive?

Does it mean only if you aren’t killing or crushing other people to reach your greed level, it’s okay? Or are there other issues?

I don’t believe that greed is good. The concept that greed is good offends me. I understand why greed feels good, though. I understand everyone wants to be safe from hardship and live life in comfort and dignity. I don’t consider that greedy. More like survival with benefits.

I certainly don’t think survival is greedy until you have to murder other people to achieve it. At which point you need to put down the gun and think about it.

It’s the excessiveness of greed that’s the problem. Because once you’ve broken through the comfort barrier and moved into luxury, when is enough, enough? What amount of whatever is sufficient?

When everything the eye can see, a man desires and comfort has long been surpassed, at what point do you stop? Do you ever stop? Can you stop? When you have the greedy bit clamped between your teeth, is there an end to your run?


ALEXANDER LEARNS VIRTUE

Gold coins of Alexander of Macedon

When Alexander had flown on the back of an eagle to the gates of Heaven itself, he bangs on the door until finally, a wise man answers. Because he is a great and powerful leader, he demands the right to ask questions of the wise men. These are his questions:

“Who is wise?” asks Alexander.

“He who can foresee the future,” answers the wise man.

“Who is a hero?” asks Alexander.

“He who conquers himself,” replies another wise man.

“Who is rich?” asks Alexander.

“He who rests content with what he has,” the wise men respond.

Alexander depicted on an ancient synagogue wall

Following this question, there is a story Talmudic legend about Alexander (who was a Jewish hero — a story too long to explain here), a balance scale, and a human eye.

The eye is placed on one side of the scale. On the other side, are piled mountains of gold, gems, and all other riches. Yet the human eye is heavier, no matter how many riches are put on the other balance. Finally, one of the wise men sprinkles a bit of dust over the eye. From that moment, even a feather is heavier than the eye.

Until a man is dead and covered in earth, he will always desire more. Only death can end his greed.

“By what means does man preserve his life?” asks Alexander.

“When he kills himself.” (Talmudist notes: By this, the wise men meant when a man destroys within himself all passion.)

“By what means does a man bring about his own death?” asks Alexander, referring back to the previous question.

“When he clings to life.” (Talmudist notes: When a man holds onto his passions and belongs to them.)

“What should a man do who wants to win friends?” asks Alexander. This is his final question.

“He should flee from glory and despise dominion and kingship,” the wise men conclude.

At the end of the Judaization process, Alexander is a humbled dictator. Although the lesson does not make him a wise man, the Talmudic dialectics bring Alexander the Great down a notch or two, make him a better person and a more benevolent leader.


If anyone assured me that one can be moral and hold a strong belief system without a formal belief system, my mother did that. She believed in virtue — goodness for its own sake. She believed in dignity, kindness, fairness, and equality. She was not a racist although she was positive that education made you a better person. If there was a break in her “system,” education was it.

She loved beautiful things for their beauty, yet before she died, she gave away or sold all her jewelry and art.


In the end, I do not believe anyone of any faith is incorruptible. We all have a weak spot. Something about which we feel so passionate, we would give or do anything to achieve it.

Incorruptibility is a choice. To find out if you are incorruptible, you’d need to be tempted by whatever it is that means the most to you. You would have to make painful choices and would forever wonder if you were a fool for choosing virtue over greed, especially if you urgently needed what you refused.

If you do not have a God about whom you can say, “His laws made me do it,” you will probably feel even sillier than the religious man who at least believes he is following the route God laid out for him.

A non-believer has only his self by which to gauge the rights and wrongs of life. Standing alone is hard. A good life is a hard life.

And no one ever promised it would be easy.

THE CLEANSING OF THE DOG – Marilyn Armstrong

It costs $60 to get one of our dogs groomed. With three grimy dogs, that comes to a chunk of change and I couldn’t do it. Usually, I manage to find the money somewhere, but this time, there was no hidden money.

Really, we can only wash Bonnie because she is small enough to fit in the kitchen sinks (one end in each sink). Gibbs is too big and too crazy, while the Duke is completely wacko and also way too big. In any case, Bonnie is always the dirtiest of the three. Something about her relatively soft coat and its curliness, but it attracts mud and bugs and poop and things I can’t even talk about in public.

About a week ago, I pointed out to Garry that lacking the money, we were going to have to give Bonnie … a bath. He didn’t look happy. I’m sure I didn’t look happy either, but what must be, must be. This morning, pre showering, we put her in the sink and with a mixture of Dawn for cleansing, Suave for conditioning, the big kitchen scissors, my bamboo comb, and a big blue Turkish towel, we set to do it.

Bonnie was surprisingly calm. Maybe I got the water the way she likes it (tepid) and after all the kids I’ve scrubbed, managed to keep the soap out of her eyes, but she was surprisingly cooperative. The major problem was maneuvering her so the right piece of her could be scrubbed, conditioned, and thoroughly rinsed. Then I had to comb her.

I am not a groomer. When I meet a matte, I cut it out. Actually, I had to cut off a lot of her coat. She’s a Scottish Terrier and her resemblance to a small black sheepdog was purely coincidental. Normally, she gets clipped rather than cut. I do have clippers, but they aren’t the expensive ones like groomers use and they get too hot. Both of us got burned. So it was me and the scissors. I’m proud to say I got her ears looking more like Scottie ears than the groomers usually do … but the rest of her? Well, it is shorter and a lot cleaner. Is it neat and even?

No.

Is it smooth and shiny?

No.

Does she smell better? She smells so delicious that the Duke was filled with lust. Bonnie was not filled with lust and tried to remove his nose. The Duke decided maybe not. Gibbs was just really really happy it wasn’t HIM getting The Bath and I was happy it wasn’t the Duke in the sink. When I finally finished clipping and combing, Garry looked at me, suggested he should clean up the kitchen and I could take a shower. I probably looked about as slimy as I felt. I’m not sure that all the dirt on the dog somehow transfers to the human doing the washing, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

I did not, as they groomers do, preserve all of Bonnie’s very long beard. All it does it get full of food and mud (she’s a digger — head down straight into the mud). But oddly enough, she looks pretty good. I’m sure any professional would sneer at my efforts, but the odeur de doggue with which she normally imbues this household has been reduced by a good 75%.

And she looks clean and cute. No longer the kind of grimy mess that makes you wonder if it’s safe to touch her without rubber gloves.

PLENTY OF WATER IN THE WATERSHED – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Water

Our valley is full of rivers. Mostly, it is full of the Blackstone which winds its way down from the Worcester hills to its end in Newport, Rhode Island. Incidental to its biggest river, are several substantial tributaries including the Mumford in the heart of Uxbridge and a few others.

Hard to say if they are creeks or smaller rivers, but lots and lots of water from tiny little streams, to large lakes, to big shallow ponds beloved by swans and geese for nesting.

Red kayak by the Blackstone

Paddling up the river

Bridge over the Blackstone

The dock at River Bend

Great Blue Heron

Shiny canal in summer

Autumn at the lake in Webster

Blackstone Gorge – Photo: Garry Armstrong

Spillway on the dam

Manchaug – Photo: Garry Armstrong

Upward at Roaring Dam

BUT NOT REALLY FUNNY – Marilyn Armstrong

The last couple of years have been hilarious if you prefer very dark humor. It was a big year for late-night comics but it was depressing for regular people. Like us.

We laughed because comics are funny and it was easier emotionally to get our news from comic writers on late-night TV, but we weren’t really laughing.

Wrapped around the humor was the realization we weren’t going to get out of this mess for years to come. Two years if we do it right. Much more if we get it wrong.Remember way back in 2016 when Clinton said, “Look, I respect his children. His children are incredibly able and devoted, and I think that says a lot about Donald.” She was lying. I knew it. You knew it. I suppose it was the best she could do. She still thought she had to be polite.

We have learned otherwise in the years since. His children are as awful as he is, though they have a better education and at least seem able to read and probably aren’t demented.

Yet somehow, they are still stupid. I didn’t know you could get that much education and remain stupid. Perhaps it’s closer to ignorance — and unwillingness to learn.

In 2016, I could still remember the high points of the previous year. I don’t believe there were any high points in 2017 or 2018, except that Roy Moore wasn’t elected to the Senate and Democrats took over the House of Representatives. Otherwise, it’s been a down and dirty year with more on the way. I’m trying to feel better about it but the disorganization and confusion of the Democrats are not buoying my spirits.

This year may turn out to be hilarious at some point in the future when the world has gone around the sun a few more times, maybe it will be very funny. If I live long enough, it might be ROTFL for me and mine.

But not yet. I think my sense of humor needs an attitude adjustment.

This is my current theme song. I’m counting on something more upbeat for the future.


Lyrics: WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE


Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio

Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe

Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, “The King and I” and “The Catcher in the Rye”

Eisenhower, vaccine, England’s got a new queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc

Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dacron
Dien Bien Phu falls, “Rock Around the Clock”

Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn’s got a winning team
Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland

Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Krushchev
Princess Grace, “Peyton Place”, trouble in the Suez

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, “Bridge on the River Kwai”

Lebanon, Charles de Gaulle, California baseball
Starkweather, homicide, children of thalidomide

Buddy Holly, “Ben Hur”, space monkey, Mafia
Hula hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go

U2, Syngman Rhee, payola, and Kennedy
Chubby Checker, “Psycho”, Belgians in the Congo

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Hemingway, Eichmann, “Stranger in a Strange Land”
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion

“Lawrence of Arabia”, British Beatlemania
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson

Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex
JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again
Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock
Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline
Ayatollah’s in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan

“Wheel of Fortune”, Sally Ride, heavy metal, suicide
Foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz
Hypodermics on the shores, China’s under martial law
Rock and roller cola wars, I can’t take it anymore

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
But when we are gone
Will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it.

Songwriter: Billy Joel
We Didn’t Start the Fire lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group