Don’t cry for me Argentina …

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Newly elected Pope Francis I from Argentina

The happiness solution

happy_success_and_happiness-300x270March 13, 2013 – I’m not a fan of the self help section of the bookstore, but here is some of the best advice I’ve ever read, courtesy of www.dumblittleman.com. The list is long, and they all may not apply to you, but I’ll bet you will relate to many of the items on it.

75 reasons you’re unhappy (and 75 solutions)

1. Desire – “When you are discontent, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied. But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself – Oh yes, I already have everything that I really need.” – Dalai Lama

2. Loneliness – “Language has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.” – Paul Tillich

3. Materialism – “An attitude to life which seeks fulfillment in the single-minded pursuit of wealth – in short, materialism – does not fit into this world because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited.” – E.F. Schumacher

4. You wish you were someone else – “The snow goose need not bathe to make itself white. Neither need you do anything but be yourself.” – Lao Tzu

5. You don’t make time – “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.” Michael Jordan

6. You surround yourself with the wrong people (unhappy people) – “Surround yourself with good people. Whether they’re the best or not, people are capable of learning if they’ve got good hearts and good souls.” – Kid Rock

7. You haven’t found your purpose – “Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness, not pain or mindless self-indulgence, is the proof of your moral integrity since it is the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values.” – Ayn Rand

8. You compare yourself to others – “When you stop comparing what is right here and now with what you wish were, you can begin to enjoy what is.” – Cheri Huber

9. You’re being someone you’re not – “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest achievement.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

10. You’re stuck in the past – “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” – Buddha

11. You’re stuck in the future – “The future starts today, not tomorrow.” Pope John Paul II

12. You’re unhealthy – “The way you think, the way you behave, the way you eat, can influence your life by 30 to 50 years.” – Deepak Chopra

13. You’re negative – “Quit thinking that you must halt before the barrier of your inner negativity. You need not. You can crash through… whenever we see a negative state that is where we can destroy it.” – Vernon Howard

14. You’re irresponsible – “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

15. You’re a perfectionist – “I’m a perfectionist. I can’t help it, I get really upset with myself if I fail in the least.” – Justin Timberlake

16. You’re afraid of failure – “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill

17. You’re insecure – “The task we must set for ourselves is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity.” Erich Fromm

18. You’re in debt – “A man in debt is so far a slave.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

19. You seek validation – “Choose yourself.” – Seth Godin

20. You have a get mentality – “A few people, not many, but a few, take. They take the best education they can get, pushing teachers for more, finding things to do, exploring non-defined niches. They take more courses than the minimum, they invent new projects and they show up with questions. What have you taken today?” – Seth Godin

21. You don’t pick yourself – “You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what to do. And you are the guy who’ll describe where to go.” – Dr. Seuss

22. You’re unskilled – I really believe that everyone has a talent, ability, or skill that he can mine to support himself and to succeed in life.” – Dean Koontz

23. You neglect personal relationships – “Trust is to human relationships what faith is to gospel living. It is the beginning place, the foundation upon which more can be built. Where trust is, love can flourish.” – Barbara Smith

24. You procrastinate – “Know the true value of time; snatch, seize, and enjoy every moment of it. No idleness, no laziness, no procrastination: never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.” – Lord Chesterfield

25. You don’t give enough – “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” – William Arthur Ward

26. You don’t receive enough – “Asking is the beginning of receiving. Make sure you don’t go to the ocean with a teaspoon. At least take a bucket so the kids won’t laugh at you.” – Jim Rohn

27. You try to control everything – “As your faith is strengthened you will find that there is no longer the need to have a sense of control, that things will flow as they will, and that you will flow with them, to your great delight and benefit.” – Emmanuel Teney

28. You hold grudges – “I’ve had a few arguments with people, but I never carry a grudge. You know why? While you’re carrying a grudge, they’re out dancing.” – Buddy Hackett

29. You play by the rules – “If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.” Katharine Hepburn

30. You’re unrealistic – “I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.” – Walt Disney

31. Your professional expectations are out of line with reality – “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” – Lao Tzu

32. You’re not learning – “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” – Henry Ford

33. You have unrealized dreams – “Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.” – Winston Churchill

34. You’re bored – “The life of the creative man is lead, directed and controlled by boredom. Avoiding boredom is one of our most important purposes.” – Susan Sontag

35.You’re too busy – “If work and leisure are soon to be subordinated to this one utopian principle – absolute busyness – then utopia and melancholy will come to coincide: an age without conflict will dawn, perpetually busy – and without consciousness.” Gunther Grass

36. You don’t sleep enough – “I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?” – Ernest Hemingway

37. You don’t spend enough time alone – “Solitude is the place of purification.” – Martin Buber

38. You spend too much time alone – “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” – Kurt Vonnegut

39. You’re acting (you pretend to be happy when you aren’t) – “I write from my soul. This is the reason that critics don’t hurt me, because it is me. If it was not me, if I was pretending to be someone else, then this could unbalance my world, but I know who I am.” – Paulo Coelho

40. You’re jealous (of people who are happy) – “Don’t waste time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind.” – Mary Schmitt

41. You don’t take the time to actually set goals – “Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” – Tony Robbins

42. You never act on your dreams – All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney

43. You’re dependent – “The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” Denis Waitley

44. You can’t accept happiness (don’t think you deserve it) – “We all of us deserve happiness or none of us does.” – Mary Gordon

45. You’re always one step away (you think the next step will finally do it for you) – “Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.” – Erich Fromm

46. You ignore opportunities – “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas Jefferson

47. You’re complacent – “Don’t let your special character and values, the secret that you know and no one else does the truth – don’t let that get swallowed up by the great chewing complacency.” – Aesop

48. You hate your job – “Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

49. You’re with the wrong person – “People are not perfect… very often the relationships that are strongest are those where people have worked through big crises, but they’ve had to work through them. So the challenge to us is to work through that.” – Patricia Hewitt

50. You have no spiritual life – “Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.” – Buddha

51. You do not provide any value (to others) – “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” – Albert Einstein

52. You’re lazy – “Aim at perfection in everything, though in most things it is unattainable. However, they who aim at it, and persevere, will come much nearer to it than those whose laziness and despondency make them give it up as unattainable.” – Lord Chesterfield

53. You have no excitement – “If I had my way, if I was lucky enough, if I could be on the brink my entire life – that great sense of expectation and excitement without the disappointment – that would be the perfect state.” – Cate Blanchett

54. You don’t belong – “By building relations we create a source of love and personal pride and belonging that makes living in a chaotic world easier.” – Susan Lieberman

55. You have no real friends – “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” – Oprah Winfrey

56. You’re afraid of yourself – “I’m sure not afraid of success and I’ve learned not to be afraid of failure. The only thing I’m afraid of now is of being someone I don’t like much.” – Anna Quindlen

57.You mistake structure for control – “As your faith is strengthened you will find that there is no longer the need to have a sense of control, that things will flow as they will, and that you will flow with them, to your great delight and benefit.” – Emmanuel Teney

58. You don’t live where you are – “Learn from the past, set vivid, detailed goals for the future, and live in the only moment of time over which you have any control: now.” – Denis Waitley

59. You over-complicate life – “Truth is, I’ll never know all there is to know about you just as you will never know all there is to know about me. Humans are by nature too complicated to be understood fully. So, we can choose either to approach our fellow human beings with suspicion or to approach them with an open mind, a dash of optimism and a great deal of candor.” – Tom Hanks

60. You don’t focus – “One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything in particular.” – Tony Robbins

61. You care too much about what others think – “I think we all have blocks between us and the best version of ourselves, whether it’s shyness, insecurity, anxiety, whether it’s a physical block, and the story of a person overcoming that block to their best self. It’s truly inspiring because I think all of us are engaged in that every day.” – Tom Hooper

62. You lack gratitude – “Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” – Denis Waitley

63. You don’t relax – “To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.” – Alan Watts

64. You don’t take risks – “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. – T.S. Elliot

65. You limit yourself – “The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.” – Helen Keller

66. You limit others – “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

67. You’re impatient – “Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.” Robert Schuller

68. You don’t have a hobby – “Artists usually don’t make all that much money, and they often keep their artistic hobby despite the money rather than due to it.” – Linus Torvalds

69. You commute too far – “I’m very fortunate in that I don’t have money problems. I have lunch with my wife at home. I don’t have to commute, so I have much more time with my family.” Kazuo Ishiguro

70. You don’t like your town/city – “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” – George Burns

71. You don’t have a dog – “Any dog under 50 lbs. is a cat, and cats are worthless.” – Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation

72. You equate comfort with happiness – “Western culture has things a little backwards right now. We think that if we had every comfort available to us, we’d be happy. We equate comfort with happiness. And now we’re so comfortable we’re miserable. There’s no struggle in our lives. No sense of adventure. We get in a car, we get in an elevator, it all comes easy. What I’ve found is that I’m never more alive than when I’m pushing and I’m in pain, and I’m struggling for high achievement, and in that struggle I think there’s a magic.” – Dean Karnazes

73. You’re self-absorbed – “To attempt to advise conceited people is like whistling against the wind.” – Thomas Hood

74. You’re out of shape – “Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” – John F. Kennedy

75. You don’t love yourself – “Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” – Lucille Ball

Movie review: Oz the Great and Powerful

Kunis--Franco--Williams-in-Oz-the-Great-and-Powerful-jpgMarch 11, 2013 – It’s not often you find the perfect story, match it with the perfect song and create the perfect movie.

“The Wizard of Oz” is that story, and “Over the Rainbow” is that song. Both express something we’ve all felt at one time or another, that we would be happier if only we could be somewhere else, that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, or over the rainbow in this case.

I’ve loved “The Wizard of Oz” since my childhood, when I first saw it on television, in the days before DVD players and On Demand, and when you had to wait for it to come on once a year. I fought with my cousin when he burst my bubble and told me that it was all a dream, not wanting to believe that the magic didn’t happen to Dorothy, and as an adult, I still believe it did.

So, why mess with perfection?

The previews of “Oz the Great and Powerful” thrilled me like no other because as a writer and reader, I love back-story. A visit to my multiplex would answer a lot of my questions, since I haven’t seen or read “Wicked”, the story of the Wicked Witches of the East and West and why they turned evil. I also decided to fork up the extra bucks and see it in 3D since I never experienced it before, and this looked like the perfect movie to give it a try.

And it was a magnificent visual banquet. The colorful images danced before your eyes in 3D, and unfortunately they were the best part of the movie. The story itself was flat and predictable. A few tokens were thrown in to appease Oz fans, such as cowardly lions, scarecrows and the woman the wizard (or magician) loves from Kansas was supposed to marry someone named John Gale. Were we to believe they’d turn out to be Dorothy’s parents? Sadly, it lacked imagination, something the original, and the stories by Frank L. Baum had in large quantity.

In a small tribute to the original, the movie begins in Kansas in black and white, and isn’t seen in color until the characters are in Oz. I didn’t care for James Franco in this role, or his weak portrayal of the wizard. Weak script and character aside, the better acting (and roles) belonged to the women in this film. Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz were believable and quite good as the sisters in this story, but it was Michelle Williams and her understated role as Glinda the Good Witch who stole each scene in which she appeared. Many other actresses might have turned in a hammy performance because that’s the type of role it is, but Williams was soft, serene and angelically bathed in light.

So, why mess with perfection indeed? Loving “The Wizard of Oz” as I do, I should have known better than to expect it anything else but disappointment. Aside from the “Godfather” when are prequels ever good? As far as the 3D experience, I can’t say it was worth the extra money to watch in that format. It was fun in the beginning, but it started wearing on me about a quarter way through the movie.

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Rating: 3

Rating System:
5. Great Movie, see it now
4. Good movie and worth the price of admission
3. It’s OK, but I’d wait for the DVD
2. Proceed with caution
1. Don’t bother

The origin of downtown

Center City PhiladelphiaMarch 8, 2013 – Driving home from work one night I was treated to the oldie but goodie “Downtown” on the radio. Not the Lady Antebellum song they play today, but the Petula Clark classic from the 1960s that pays homage to the part of a city that never sleeps.

As my head bobbled from side to side and I sang along, I began thinking about the concept of downtown, where the word originated and why they refer to the city that way. Shameful I don’t know, especially when I have an entire category dedicated to “Downtown” on this blog.

In Philadelphia, where I live we have a few names for the downtown district. We call it center city or the “city” for short. We also refer to it as downtown, of course, or simply the mondo cool version, “town”, such as “I am happening because I hang out in town.”

Referring to this area of Philadelphia as center city makes sense because it is located in the center, surrounded by many colorful neighborhoods. But downtown is another story. It works for me because I live north of “town” and have to travel down to get there; but for someone who lives south of center city, they travel up to get to downtown Philly. Where is the sense in that?

Perhaps whoever came up with the word wasn’t thinking direction, but rather rhyming because that can be fun; Nutter Butter, Lean Cuisine, Reese’s Pieces, or Ronald McDonald, anyone? It makes it easy to remember.

A little research put an end to the mystery, and I learned that it did indeed originate from a direction. Downtown is a term that refers to a city’s “core”. The term was coined in New York City, where it was used in the 1830s to refer to the original town at the southern tip of Manhattan. As the city grew, and the only direction it could move was north, so that area became known as uptown and the original area became downtown.

I’m a little disappointed the reason is more adventurous than that. Still, the word downtown caught on big time since it is used by dwellers in many major cities throughout the United States and Canada, and the very city Clark sings about, London. To think she followed up that hit with the odd little ditty, “Don’t Sleep in the Subway”, which makes be believe she really had her finger on the pulse of the big city. Wise advice, for sure.

So remember, “When you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go downtown…”

The perfect commute

introMarch 6, 2013 – Can I tell you how much I hate traffic, especially when there is road construction involved? Sitting in it day after day zaps you of all of your energy and makes you grumpy.

If only when I stepped on the elevator after a long day at work, the doors would open on the ground floor not to the parking garage, but to my living room.

Now, that would be the perfect commute.

Should China’s Execution Parade make supporters re-examine the death penalty?

RIPDeathPenaltyMarch 4, 2013 – Just as I thought reality TV couldn’t get any lower, I learned that China recently aired a two-hour broadcast that showed four foreign death-row prisoners being led to their execution. Their actual death by lethal injection was not shown, but the “execution parade” depicted just about everything else in the two hours leading up to their demise.

The Chinese government has used this public parade policy for years to shame criminals. This latest stunt is surprising because in 2010 the government responded to public protests about this practice, and prohibited police from publicly shaming criminals. It was a definite step in the right direction for humanity, but it appears that ban has been lifted.

The parade of shame is used as a deterrent, showing people exactly what their punishment would be if they commit a crime. The Chinese population is divided on how they feel about the most recent broadcast. About half believe it was macabre voyeurism and others say it was judicial resolve for a heinous crime committed.

The four men executed were Burmese drug traffickers who allegedly murdered a crew of Chinese sailors to steal the drugs on board their ship. Quite heinous, I agree. But in a country that blocks much of what appears on the Internet – supposedly to protect its people – showing the last minutes of life of these four prisoners is inhumane and even crude. No matter how awful their crimes were, they are still human beings.

While I don’t believe anything like this would ever get the OK in the United States – although probably not from the lack of trying – we cannot sit back and feel proud of ourselves for our reserve. The fact that we still execute prisoners in this country, something that most progressive countries have labeled barbaric and outdated and have since abandoned, keeps the United States in the company of third world countries whose other practices we condemn.

In the United States, the rates of executions have slowed dramatically, which indicates hope that it will be overturned once again.  Polls show most Americans still favor capital punishment, but the numbers grow less every year. In China, nearly 8,000 prisoners are executed each year, according to Human Rights groups. That’s nearly half of those on death row worldwide, according to statistics from a few years ago.

Other statistics show that those who oppose the death penalty do not believe in softer penalties for criminals convicted of murder in the United States. Rather, many of us believe murderers who receive life in prison should spend the rest of their life in prison. Life should mean life, and not just 20 years as it does in many states.

For those who cry that it costs too much to keep someone in prison for life, the numbers tell a different story. According to figures from 2007, in California, for example, the death penalty system costs taxpayers $114 million per year beyond the costs of keeping convicts locked up for life. In Kansas, the costs of capital cases are 70% more expensive than non-capital cases, including the costs of incarceration. In Indiana, the total costs of the death penalty exceed the complete cost of life in prison by almost 38%. In North Carolina, the death penalty costs $2.16 million per execution more than life in prison. In Florida, it costs $51 million per year above what it would cost to punish all convicts with life. And in Texas, a death penalty case costs an average of $2.3 million, three times the cost of life in prison.

A free and democratic federal or state government should not have the right to kill someone. Killing is  wrong, and sentencing those who do to imprisonment is enough. Doesn’t it seems odd that we argue the right to bear arms, yet we let the government decide who shall live or die? The 2nd Amendment sates that “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” This includes protecting ourselves against the very government who has the power to execute us.

Also, it is the 8th Amendment that protects citizens against cruel and unusual punishment. Killing is always cruel and unusual, so why is the practice of the death penalty still in existence? Those who break this law should be punished for their crimes, including government officials who sentence people to death.

In a perfect world we would not have to worry about whether or not we should execute our citizens. We don’t live in a perfect world, but we can make it a little better if we remember that we are all human beings and act accordingly.

Charlie’s wager

mailMarch 1, 2013 – The number of people claiming to be atheist seems to increase every day. I’m not sure if they are multiplying as swiftly as it appears, or if atheists are simply more outspoken about their beliefs, which makes me more aware of it.

Whatever the reason, atheism is the trend, and I can’t help but wonder if people have climbed aboard the bandwagon because the God vs. science argument is the main weapon used to make people of faith look stupid. I believe in God and scientific theories, and there are prominent scientists out there who embrace both, as well. It can be done.

My son is one of the “scientific” thinkers. For several years, he’s claimed to be an atheist, but I’m still not sure if I believe him. Maybe I don’t want to because I was raised to believe in God, and I never questioned it. He was raised in the same manner, yet he questions everything about it. And he’s always been that way. Since he could talk, he’s challenged things and questioned everything. That’s why it wouldn’t surprise me if he said he was agnostic, but claiming to be an atheist seems extreme.

Like the French mathematician Pascal, who argued that if you erroneously believe in God, you lose nothing, whereas if you correctly believe in God, you gain everything and vice versa, I thought he could accept this philosophy, but he does not. Yet he is a good person who leads a moral life.

We discuss this topic often, although he’s a much better debater than me, so I usually give up the argument first. I’ve come to understand that he’s the type of person that needs to see proof, or at least have a clear understanding that something is real or possible before he commits. That is where faith comes into play, I explain, and he just shakes his head. I once explained that since he couldn’t prove there wasn’t a God, his theory is based on faith, too. That kept him quiet for a little while.

A few nights ago, we got into a discussion about heaven and hell. We both agreed we don’t believe in hell, him because of his atheistic beliefs, and me because I tend to lean toward the theory of reincarnation. It is the only way that life seems balanced. How else can you explain why someone is born into a tragic situation, while another is leads a completely happy life? Not to dwell on the “karma is a bitch” rule, but the more we live, the more we experience, and the more we learn. It makes sense that God would use this practice as a learning tool for us.

When it comes to heaven, it is a little fuzzier. My son doesn’t believe in the afterlife for obvious reasons, but I do. I’m just not sure what it is. I simply accept it as one of the mysteries of faith. Do I see my friends and family members who have passed on up in the clouds having one big party? Not really. I believe it is peaceful, tranquil and beautiful. But I don’t how to visualize it.

My son proceeded to tell me he’d rather go to hell anyway. Even though I don’t believe in the fire and brimstone theory, this completely shocked me. Why, I asked. He explained that some of the fun things in life that might get you sent to hell obviously wouldn’t be permitted in heaven anyway, so why wouldn’t he want to experience them on earth. Forget Pascal. That’s Charlie’s wager.

Of course, he’s not talking about committing a horrible crime, murdering anyone, hurting them in any way or coveting thy neighbor’s goods. He’s simply referring to other things that may be considered fun that certain religions frown upon. A few of the seven deadly sins come to mind, although that title always seemed overly dramatic.

I understand where he’s coming from, but I still have faith. I respect his opinion, even though I don’t agree with it, and I admire his passion and his sense of humor. I wonder if he would say the same about me. I’ll have to ask him sometime.