Improving The Lot and Lives Of Women

I saw this women dancing openly on top of this boat moored to the docks in Florida. 


I don’t know why she was doing this (simply entertainment?) and whether this was completely out of her free choice (or at all coerced), especially while these 2 guys on board apparently leered and even recorded her.


But it made me think that we definitely need to better respect and improve the lot and lives of women in society. 


Yes, beauty is something to be appreciated, but there is also something to be said for modesty and showing proper respect.


Further, while people can be physically attractive, they are not just objects, but rather complex, thoughtful, and productive wonderful human beings.


Each person is a whole world and they bring that to the table of life.


There is much to admire, but women (and men) need to provided every opportunity to break through the glass ceiling and not just dance on it. 😉


(Source Video: Andy Blumenthal)

Did You Know You’re A Sinner

sin-jpeg

So walking down the street here yesterday, I ran into a sign and was handed a postcard, declaring:

“Sin Awareness Day”


Then I was confronted by a gentleman (or not so gentle) who proceeded to explain to me that I–and everyone else–are sinners!


Innocently, I ask, “Well, what have I done?”


The missionary answers with a stern face, “I’m sure you have lied!”


I said, “I don’t think so,” but then to play alone, I smirked and said, “Well what if I did?”


He answers and says, “You’ll need to repent!”


Thinking that Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) is right around the corner in a couple of weeks, I thought to myself, hey that’s right in line with where I’m going anyway…


The guy continues–of course–to try to enlist me to his “savior” that he believes can save us from all our sins. 


I challenged and said, “Well, how about Moses?”


He roars back, “Moses?!!!” and starts railing on about “convert, convert, convert.” 


Uh no, thank you, I am fine with the faith of my father, and grandfathers, and great grandfathers, etc. 


And I appreciate if we can avoid the forcible conversion parts of yesteryear from various empires, caliphates, crusades, and inquisitions, with no shortage of associated torture, executions, and expulsions. 


Then breaking this historical context and glancing at the back of the postcard that he handed out, I did like this one thing that it said:

“Sin is not primarily a measure of how bad you are, but a measure of how good you are not.”


Heck, why be negative about ourselves (we are not inherently bad); instead see that we not living up to our potential and try, always, to do better. 


In that I am definitely a believer!  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Return Of The Hare Krishna

Hare Krisna 1 Hare Krisna 2
I hadn’t heard the rhythmic chanting of the Hare Krishna since my days in New York City probably 20 plus years ago. 



Today, we see them on the streets of downtown Silver Spring, MD singing their Hindu mantra…again and again. 



The boys sitting on the rent-a-bikes are banging the drums to the chanting across from them. 



As they chant, they implore people to take their literature and chant along with them. 



Whether you see them as a cult or just practitioners of another faith…these people seem mesmerized by their own chanting “meditation”, which was a steady beat but also had no meaning whatsoever to me.



As a kid, we were told and would steer clear of anything that smelled of Hare Krishna, Jews for Jesus, or others trying to pluck away at the souls of our youth. 



While Jews have wonderful people like Chabad who try to bring Jews closer to Judaism, we really don’t proselytize others…it’s not our belief and is more of a live and let live attitude for all. 



I never quite understood why some feel literally a mission or compulsion to convert others to their beliefs, instead of practicing what they believe themselves, being devout and good people, and letting their actions speak for themselves and inspire others, if truly deserving.



There really is no need to stand on street corners with megaphones or at the auto-da-fe stroking flames of burning flesh to get others to your way of thinking.


In my opinion, honest belief and genuine faith is not gotten through yelling the loudest, standing the longest, or even threatening or menacing others. 



Be sincere and good, and let your actions speak for themselves. 😉



(Source Photos: Andy Blumenthal)

Imprisoned and Reeducated

Imprisoned and Reeducated

China always seems like such a beautiful and mystical land to me.

The innate beauty of this huge, yet sort of remote country, a homogenous people who have a raw brilliance yet type of innocence about them, and the ancient practices of natural medicine and martial arts, and a meditative demonstration of inner tranquility.

In contrast to this image, I have read about forced labor and tough punishment on people in various Asian countries, with a poignant focus on the North Korean camps with untold horrors. But recently, there seems to be more information being shared about forced labor camps in China as well.

First, I read about the notion by China’s ruling elite that the individual is nothing, and the State is everything. Therefore, the sacrifice of one or tens of millions of individuals for the sake of the greater country and those in power is acceptable, perhaps even desirable. This aligns with an extreme of utilitarianism–the greatest good for the greatest number, but irregardless of the effects on the individual.

This is very different than Western Countries, which have a tremendous value that is put on each individual–their voices and opinions, their rights and freedoms, and the protection and safeguarding of each person’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. There is emphasis on the individual and the social contract that exists between them and their government. In this system, the whole (State) is greater because of the sum of it’s parts (of individuals), not in spite of it.

Last Friday, I read about the consequences of these differences in political philosophy in an article in the Washington Post about the grim conditions in Chinese labor and reeducation camps.

What struck me the most was the opening of the article that described one of the Chinese reeducation camps.

“For the first weeks, Shen Yongmei was told to sit on a rough plastic stool from 6 a.m. to 8. p.m., her back absolutely straight, her hands on her knees, and stare in silence at three sentences painted on a wall.

– What is this place?
– Why are you here?
– What attitude are you going to employee in order to comply with the police?”

The 55-year old women was told to contemplate on these and any slackening could result in a beating.

After this, the women went through months of “reeducation through labor”–screwing on the plastic plugs on ballpoint pens–a quota of 12,000 a day.

All this to wash clean her “disobedient thoughts”!

In Judaism, there is a teaching that we don’t really get punished for thoughts, but for actions. A person can’t fully control where their thoughts stray, although we can take steps to control our wondering eyes, mischievous speech, gluttonous eating, and so on.

Similarly, in America, we are not punished for having a bad thought, but for committing a criminal act.

Yet, in China just being suspected of harboring disobedient thoughts can get you (and your family) into a whole lot of trouble and necessitate your rehabilitation through coercion.

For the last week, I have not been able to stop thinking about the image of the lady on the stool for 14-hours a day starting at those three questions in order to reform her.

Treating people like misbehaving children who are put in a quiet corner of the classroom for a short time and told to think about what they did and when they are ready, they can come back and join the rest of the class.

But these are not misbehaving, they are not children, they are not in a classroom, and it is not contemplative for a short time, but punitive and threatening of much worse to come if they don’t comply.

There are so many horrors out there that can be inflicted on human beings–not even for doing something wrong and violent, but for simply not agreeing with those in power.

Of course the state is important. But perhaps it is not a state, but a prison, if the people are forced to consent both in body and mind?

I would suggest that we can learn from the Chinese that a hedonistic, near-constant focus on the “I” and immediate gratification does not achieve long-term, well being for the “us”. And that there is an important place for individual self-sacrifice for the greater good.

This reminds me of the Jewish saying from Ethics of Our Fathers, where Hillel says that “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself what am I?”

Perhaps, a balance of looking after oneself and giving generously to others and the Nation can provide for both personal growth and satisfaction as well as a higher, long-term, purpose for the survival and advancement of the collective.

My belief: Education and not reeducation is the answer. Good jobs with fair pay and benefits and not labor camps is the answer. Self-determination and sacrifice and not State protectionism is the answer.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

What’s Diplomacy Anyway?

What's Diplomacy Anyway?

This was a humorous engraved stone that I found in a gift shop today.

It is a Concord “Words From The Wise,” engraved paperweight, crafted in England.

Diplomacy is generally associated with negotiation, persuasion, consideration, tactfulness, etiquette, and respect. However, this engraved paperweight has a little bit of a different view of it–“The art of letting someone have it your way.”

Diplomacy has traditionally been differentiated from the use of military power in that diplomacy relies on “soft power” (co-opting or winning over cooperation), whereas the military employs “hard power” (coercion). Both are ways of handling relations and resolving conflict.

More recently, some foreign affairs experts have started to use “smart power,” which is situational-based–leveraging alliances and partnerships in some cases and a strong military in others.

In any case, it’s all about working together to bridge differences–and like the “Easy Button” the best way is to maintain a strong relationship, whether you get your way or not. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Human Trafficking Hurts Everyone

Cbp_report_human_trafficking

A few years ago, I saw the movie Taken (2008) about a 17-year old girl kidnapped in Paris and sold into prostitution. Fortunately, in this movie, the teenage girl’s father is a retired CIA agent, and he is able to get his daughter back and inflict some serious punishment on the traffickers. The scariest scene in the movie that’s been shown repeatedly in the trailer is where the girl is hiding under the bed pleading with her father to help her, when she is discovered and pulled roughly from underneath to disappear into this netherworld of child trafficking and sex abuse.

This week, I saw another movie called Trade (2007) with a similar theme, where a 13-year old girl is abducted outside her home on the streets of Mexico City while riding her new birthday bicycle. The scenes of sexual abuse, violence, forced drugging, and more were enough to send me for an emotional deep dive. In the movie, while other innocent women are trafficked, abused, and murdered, this little girl is saved by her brother and Texas cop who join forces to rescue her (and other children found behind a secret door in the same house) from being sold into sex slavery.

At the conclusion of the movie, the tagline comes up about 50,000 to 100,000 girls, boys, and women being trafficked annually to the U.S. to be pimped out or sold for forced sex–and more than 1 million are trafficked annually across international borders against their will.

According to The Department of Homeland Security U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “There are at least 12.3 million enslaved adults and children around the world at any given time.” I would guess that these numbers are quite understated given all the silent victims around the world that have been silenced by fear, coercion, and violence and so we don’t even know about them and their plights.

Further, The Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons has many good resources including information, tips, and training located at that site.

I’ve attached, at the top, the phone number of the Customs and Border Protection hotline to report human trafficking. There is also a non-profit hotline at the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

While this is frequently portrayed as women’s issue and it is, it is also a family and societal issue that affects all of us. When a women or child is abused, the impact goes way beyond the individual.

I know that I can certainly not understand how anyone can inflict these cruelties on others. Money doesn’t explain it. Circumstances doesn’t explain it. To me, there must truly be such a thing as evil in this world, and unfortunately, we are all witnesses to it.

Look out for others, the way you would want them to look out after your own–maybe together, we can help tilt the scale in favor of the victims.

One Hand Washes The Other

Dirty_hands

This week the House overwhelming approved an notable ethics reform package to ban insider trading on the hill and in the executive branch. (Washington Post)

However, ethics and conflict of interest in government decision-making is something that affects politicians and civil servants alike.

Two specific areas come to mind, including employment decisions and acquisitions awards, where there is probably no greater area of public trust.

Because personnel and contracting decisions affect livelihoods and pocketbooks, they are ripe for corruption and undue influence, favors, and other mitigating factors such as preference or tit for tat arrangements.

To safeguard these actions by public officials, the Federal government has set out rules that govern personnel practices and acquisitions.

On the personnel side, there is an exemplary set of rules commonly referred to as the ” Prohibited Personnel Practices” (Title 5 U.S.C. 2302(b)).

For example, they set out rules against such things as:

Discrimination against employees or applicants and even for off duty conduct

Preference in personnel decisions

Soliciting or considering recommendations not based on personal knowledge

Retaliation against whistleblowers or those filing appeals

Coercion of political activity

Similarly, there are laws in government that govern federal acquisitions such as the Federal Acquisitions Regulations.

Included in this are are specific rules that mandate ethics and integrity in procurements, and these for example bar activities such as:

Conflicts of interest in making acquisition decisions

Soliciting and accepting gifts

Seeking employment with a bidder

Disclosure of protected information

Of course, these guidelines are only as good as those following them. When these rules are bypassed with winks, excuses, or even outright deceit, the system and the ethical principles embodied in them are doomed by backroom politics.

As the same time, the specifics of the rules and regulations, and the interpretations of these to each situation is critical, and officials should regularly consult with their ethics officers and legal counsel to ensure that they are not only doing the right thing, but doing things right.

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) for each department and agency plays a vital role in ensuring that officials are managing in such as way as to avoid fraud, waste, and abuse, and the OIG can usually be contacted both by phone or email and is available to assist the public in investigations, inspections, and evaluations.

To ensure the integrity of government at the highest level, the rule-makers (Legislative Branch), the implementers (Executive Branch ), and the interpreters (Judicial Branch) are all involved in ensuring the ethical foundations of our government.

On the ground, day-to-day, senior executives, human resource and procurement officials, ethics and legal officers, internal affairs and the OIG play important roles in guiding the process and hopefully weeding out the “bad apples.”

However, when people involved are lax, derelict, or intentionally overlook corruption and endemic bad behavior as part of a one hand washes the other culture, everyone loses in terms of not only the smooth and efficient running government, but in the underlying principles of integrity for which it stands.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to “Brain Malfunction”)