So, what is socialism?

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(c) AlexMax http://www.fotosearch.com

If you were alive during the cold war the words “communism” or “socialism” can easily bring back memories of the stories we heard of the bleak life behind the Iron Curtain.  I think the words “democratic socialism” which we hear on the political scene quite a lot today call up those memories for a lot of people.  Memories of stories of a system where you lived where the State told you, worked where the State told you, and the State took and doled out all the goods.  During those days we heard the stories of the want, the poverty of both material goods and of spirit that was life as we heard about it within communist countries.  But the democratic socialism being talked about today is not your father’s socialism.  This picture sums up what we in the U.S. heard about socialism behind the Iron Curtain:

konstant www.fotosearch.com
(c) konstant http://www.fotosearch.com

Does that look appealing to anyone?  How could it?

In spite of all the efforts to equate democratic socialism as practiced in Scandinavia and as advocated by Bernie Sanders with the bleak conditions of life in the Iron Curtain countries, that comparison just isn’t reality.  But the detractors from the messages from democratic socialists today don’t seem to be able to grasp the differences.  Often the issue seems to be haggling over the word “socialism”.  It would be great if a different word had been pulled up when ideas about universal healthcare, state funded (tax-payer funded) higher education and other current “democratic socialist” ideas began being espoused.  But, as the ideas have to do with the well-being of our society, socialism seems a pretty descriptive term, even if the new socialism has only a distant relationship with socialism ala Marx/Lenin.

If someone has visited Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, (I don’t mention Norway because I haven’t yet visited Norway) and paid attention to how things were working, the term democratic socialism doesn’t take a lot of explanation.  It has nothing to do with soviet Russia or communist China.  It has everything to do with a healthy population, living in healthy communities.  It’s not about the State owning everything, millions in poverty, having massive parades of tanks and missiles and turning in your neighbor for stealing bread.  Come to think of it, substitute “predatory capitalists” for “the State” and that pretty much resembles what’s happening in the U.S., not Scandinavia.  

What today’s Scandinavian democratic socialism is about is the majority of people who are engaging in capitalist, private enterprise businesses, of the workers in all the various industries, agreeing that there should be certain guarantees to protect the material well-being of all the citizens.  This isn’t “warm and fuzzy” thinking.  People in Scandinavia, from what I’ve seen, are expected to work to support themselves and contribute, via taxation, to the social benefits:  universal healthcare, publicly funded higher education, public sports and music opportunities, pretty pervasive public transportation, and of course fire and police services to name a few.  Along with that there are the unemployment and welfare benefits for those that need them.  “Need” being the operative word.  From what I’ve seen, thinking “I don’t want to work, take care of me.”, doesn’t qualify as need.

Democratic socialism, as practiced in Scandinavia, does mean people in towns and cities actually experience a substantial return for their tax dollars.  What a novel idea.  They don’t let their government spend it all on bonuses, extravagant salaries and retirements, extravagant “defense” and other government contracts and cronyism.

What I’ve personally seen this system deprive a people of are:  bankruptcies from medical expenses, wasted talent because one can’t afford higher education, being trapped in a job because the one you really want doesn’t offer medical benefits, seeing people sleeping on the street and in doorways (for the most part).  It seems that thinking in terms of having a healthy society (along with having a healthy personal life and bank account) shows itself in other ways also:  people being more conscientious about not littering, people respecting each other on the street to name a couple.  Little things?  Not when they don’t exist within a culture.

The other thing the E.U. has brought to these countries are immigrants and refugees.  Immigrants and refugees these individual countries may not have admitted before.  Of course the immigrants and refugees are often coming from countries despoiled by western corporations.  So…what can we learn from this?  On a more recent trip to Helsinki I was saddened to see some people sleeping in doorways and much more litter in the street than I had ever seen before.  It was kind of like seeing a beautiful woman show up to the party in a soiled dress.

However, western style cutthroat capitalism is insidiously finding it’s way into these countries, it seems especially since the formation of the E.U.  Businesses are starting to “offshore” production, the idea of wanting to be a billionaire, as opposed to just having a really nice lifestyle, seem to be creeping in.  “It’s all about me” thinking seems to be finding a foothold.

The insidious infection of “me, me, me, it’s all about me” being pushed by many in the movies, TV shows, music, magazines, even by sports celebrities is a particular challenge to democratic socialism in Scandinavia today.  Are Scandinavians immune from contagious narcissism and greed?

As mentioned above, democratic socialism as being touted today is not your father’s socialism.  There needs to be a new definition in the dictionary, and, in fact, that change is in process.  I found this in Merriam-Webster online:

“In the many years since socialism entered English around 1830, it has acquired several different meanings. It refers to a system of social organization in which private property and the distribution of income are subject to social control, but the conception of that control has varied, and the term has been interpreted in widely diverging ways, ranging from statist to libertarian, from Marxist to liberal. In the modern era, “pure” socialism has been seen only rarely and usually briefly in a few Communist regimes. Far more common are systems of social democracy, now often referred to as democratic socialism, in which extensive state regulation, with limited state ownership, has been employed by democratically elected governments (as in Sweden and Denmark) in the belief that it produces a fair distribution of income without impairing economic growth.”

Of course even “extensive state regulation” is going to send some dyed-in-the-wool individualists into a spin.  And, truth be told, “extensive state regulation” and “oppression” are cousins which are known to sometimes travel together.

 This brings us to the inescapable reality that no matter what social/economic system a people employ in their attempt at creating and maintaining a civilization, ultimately whether that civilization succeeds or fails depends upon the wisdom and the intent of the people themselves.

Which, while wisdom, intent, and knowledge are not necessarily the same thing, it is still a pretty good argument for publicly funded higher education.  Because, the more we learn about how things function here on this Earth, the more it is becoming apparent that our fates our interrelated.  We ignore the well-being of our fellow humanity and our environment at our own peril.

 

 

The relationship between freedom, tyranny and oppression.

All tyranny arises (2)We in the U.S., and elsewhere, hear and read a lot about “freedom”.  It seems everyone wants it, some want all they can get of it, the more the better.  It sounds alright at first blush, right?  What can possibly be wrong with lots of freedom?  And let’s throw liberty in there as well.

Actually, a lot can be wrong with too much freedom.  Perhaps it’s better to state that a lot can go wrong with too much freedom.  When I want the freedom to choose my own vocation, to pursue higher education, to access medical care, to travel where and when I want and am able to, to open my own business, live where I choose and am able to, to read what I want and to express my viewpoints freely, to marry or not marry, to choose my spouse, these freedoms are some of the more obvious ones most, if not all, of us want.  Maybe these are the freedoms that come to mind when we see or hear the word “freedom”.

But, unfortunately, this isn’t the case with everyone.

Some see freedom from a different perspective.  They interpret freedom as the freedom to engage in what are essentially predatory business practices.  The freedom to pollute the environment.  The freedom to misrepresent products and services.  The freedom to oppress others.  As absurd as it may seem to many of us, some interpret their freedom as the freedom to engage in tyranny; allowing them to take away freedoms from others.  Of course there is a difference between “freedom” and “power”.  Some would say that tyrants are exercising power, not freedom, when they oppress others.  Actually it’s some of both, but true, it’s mostly power.

However, at some point in their rise to power as a tyrant, that person was most likely doing so exercising the freedoms the people who were to become their victims, gave to them.  Freedoms like freedom of speech, the freedom to assemble, the freedom to acquire armament, and if not involved in it themselves, most tyrants seem to make alliances with those busily exercising their freedom to engage in predatory business practices.

Interestingly, some of the freedoms tyrants customarily take away from others are the very ones that allowed them to come to power.  They include:  freedom of speech, movement, assembly, to own armament, and various freedoms associated with financial/business dealings.  And we can be sure tyrants give little or no freedom for the public to view government meetings.  It seems freedom is great until a sociopath or psychopath discovers a way to exploit it.

So what’s the answer?  None of us want to give up our basic freedoms, at least no one I know.  

But neither do we want to keep “bumping into doors” like children playing hide and seek with blindfolds on…do we?

Somehow, there is a reality in which freedom is tempered with responsibility, compassion, and wisdom that is the answer.  Perhaps part of the key is to be found in the Buddhist “Middle Way”?  In the reality that within moderation we find a path to community harmony?

When we see our economic resources being drained from our lives and our communities; when we see our air, water and earth becoming polluted; when we see essential goods and services being priced out of reach of the average person; I feel safe in saying that we can be assured we have allowed somebody to take criminal advantage of the freedoms we desired for them.  

(Add. 11/9/2018)  We need leaders, of industry and of government, who have genuine humility and who recognize that all the benefits and blessings of civilization and progress that we enjoy are the result of the work of millions throughout many centuries.  That all these millions had and have dreams and hopes for a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, for their descendants.  To ignore and negate these hopes and dreams is to ignore and negate the foundation upon which all progress has relied.

 

To Steal or Not To Steal?

AvariceThroughout most, if not all, of recorded history, humankind has been faced with the challenge of one person or group wanting what another person or group has.  It’s nothing new.  Religions/spiritual traditions have been recognizing this reality for as long as we have records of their teachings.

Within both the Torah and the Bible, two of the Ten Commandments address this issue.  Commandment 8 states (in modern American terminology): “You shall not steal”.  This Commandment definitely implies someone wanting what someone else has.  However, Commandment 10 gets straight to the point:  “You shall not covet.”

The Koran, from what I can learn, states things a little differently.  Essentially a Muslim may not steal from another Muslim.  Some pretty harsh penalties are prescribed if that crime occurs.  However, again from what I have been able to find, according to the Koran, the property rights of non-believers, non-Muslims, are at the discretion of their Muslim rulers.  This presumes situations in which Muslims control the lives of non-believers.  More on this later.

In Buddhism, at least one translation of the Second Precept reads:  “I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given.”    Although this Precept does not seem to be always translated exactly in that manner, the rule of not stealing seems pretty clear in the Buddhist tradition.

Hinduism takes a much more relativistic view on stealing:  “Stealing is not always a bad thing to do and Hindu scriptures allow it under certain circumstances. For example, if one is starving and has not had food for 3 days in a row, and yet no one is willing to give food in a charity, then the hungry person may steal food from somewhere. Poverty, hunger and starvation etc., are mitigating circumstances…”.  (Hindupedia)  Yet within Hinduism there is the recognition that stealing very well may cause harm and there may be karma attached.  So, again, it seems everything is relative to the situation and is subject to whatever karma may be attached.  I suppose one might term it;  Steal at your own risk.

I am not going to examine every religions’ viewpoint, I think most of the world’s population is covered with these five major religions.  It’s enough to see that stealing is generally considered wrong, however, within Hinduism, some extreme circumstances may allow for some leeway.  I think this is pretty much how things play out in “street-level” reality.

Islam seems the major exception.  Islam seems to take the position that stealing from a peer, a believer, is very, very wrong.  However, non-believers may be deprived of their worldly holdings without regard for their wellbeing depending upon the position of the Islamic rulers of a particular time and place.

With some changes in terminology, this last view, that of Islam, may best exemplify the reality in the world of high finance, the rich and famous.  In other words, in that world it’s okay to deprive the common people, the general population, of their worldly holdings without regard to their well-being as long as you (at least visibly) stay within the laws relating to commerce and finance established by the political rulers.

This latter system is usually referred to (however inappropriately) as “capitalism” and/or “free enterprise”.  If any attempt to mitigate the deleterious effect of this system upon the general population is proposed, that is, any attempt to implement a system of provision of goods or services which takes free-rein profiteering out of the picture, it is usually referred to by those in control of the system as “socialism” and/or “communism”.  Ideas which fall under either of these latter terms seem to be viewed by the ruling class within the western world pretty much the same as religious heresy was viewed in the Middle Ages.

I think all this begs the question of what is stealing, really?  And is it wrong?  And if it is, why?

But before we look at those questions, it is only fitting that we first look at what it is to “covet”.  Because even though the Commandment against stealing is number 8 while the Commandment against coveting is number 10, in reality, coveting always precedes stealing.

To covet, in the sense referred to in the Tenth Commandment, is to deeply, intensely, desire something which belongs to someone else.  In Biblical times coveting was a pretty straightforward thing.  A person might covet a neighbor’s house, livestock, clothing, wealth.  The  person doing the coveting would need to take some action directly against that person or persons in order to take what they owned.  Such an action was personal and could be readily viewed as such by others in the community.  People could see the wealth being physically carried from one house, or country, to another.  Or they could see the new owner moving in to the house and taking over the wealth of another.  It was all very personal.

Today, with our method of banking, we often are dealing with numbers in a computer or on a page, in which there often is no actual, physical money, gold or silver involved in the immediate transfer of wealth.  One person, or a small group of people, by manipulating abstract devices such as interest rates or investments, can capture the wealth of vast numbers of people with nothing more than a few keystrokes on a computer.  Our new economic reality makes the actions of coveting, and taking material wealth from others, often seem very abstract and impersonal.  However, the effects within our lives and communities are essentially the same as they were in at any time in history.

One of the ways technology has changed our world is that it has enabled those prone to doing so to capture the hard-earned wealth of countless people without ever having to look any of them in the eye.  Without ever having to really face the human consequences of their actions.  And, quite often, those who have lost their homes or life savings don’t even know exactly who “captured” them.  All we know for sure is someone else coveted them and someone else got them.  But were they stolen?

This brings us back around to the question of what is stealing?  Is it a legal term?  Does whether or not something is stolen depend upon a culturally agreed upon set of rules and procedures?  Or is there something deeper involved?  Is there a spiritual, energetic reality involved which is the same as it has been since the beginning of the world?  Since before the beginning of the world?  Does it matter?

What do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

The irony of NFL players taking a knee.

Kneeling figure
(c) ylivdesign http://www.fotosearch.com

NFL players taking a knee to protest social injustice in the U.S.  There is such a level of irony in that scenario I don’t think anything could best it.  Is there social injustice in the U.S.?  You bet there is.  First and foremost is the injustice of economic imbalance, the predatory economic system running amok.  There are those who, while most of the citizens simply worked at their jobs, working to keep their lives and communities on a stable footing, were busily working with the single-minded purpose to acquire more.  Often stealthily, behind closed doors, working to see cronies obtain key political positions to shore up their single -minded purpose.  Working to see laws passed to aid in the furtherance of their, by default or by design, malevolent advance.  Always grasping for “more”.  Using force, force of law, or sometimes simply force, to both create their path and protect their rear.  All in the name of inordinate gain with very little, if any, return of substance to the public they feed upon.

Kind of like professional football.  As a matter of fact, not kind of like, exactly like.

The NFL is quite possibly the number one mascot for the thinking, the spirit, that has created and maintains the economic imbalance in the U.S.  They do a lot, quite possibly more than any other recognizable entity, to keep the spirit of “I got mine, too bad about you” alive and well.  I can remember when street gangs wore NFL jackets as their “colors”.  I can’t be the only one who saw the synchrony in that.

The NFL is a crude microcosm which exemplifies the spirit within the more sophisticated, unjust, macrocosm that some within the NFL’s ranks are protesting.  And as such, this renders the NFL a de facto PR agent of that predatory system.  Undoubtedly one of the most well known and effective PR agents of that system.  The media coverage of the NFL plays to the minds of the young, and older folks alike.  The media glorifies the greed rampant within the NFL and entices fans to lust after inordinate wealth.  And it glorifies brute force in the process.  The glorification of greed which is part and parcel of the reality of the NFL, helps white-wash greed everywhere.  So, the irony of NFL players protesting the larger system’s injustices is, at the very least, ironic.  Possibly even grotesquely so.  But maybe it’s a start?

The last great extinction event on Earth?

Fotosearch_k22192444
(c) AlexMax http://www.fotosearch.com

(Significantly edited on 9/19/18.)

It’s happening all around the world.  Once thriving oceans, seas, lakes, rivers are dying.  People are experiencing various forms of cancer at unprecedented rates.  Also hypothyroidism, diabetes, and other diseases are increasing in prevalence.  Then there are the dis-eases often categorized as mental disorders:  anxiety, depression, anger, and more.  What do all these things have in common?  All of these maladies, environmental and human, are either caused or exacerbated by one or more of the various forms of pollution which are rampant in our world today.

These forms of pollution include pollution of our water, air, earth, bodies, minds, and spirits.  Many types of corporeal pollution are listed above.  Regarding our minds and spirits, we are currently experiencing widespread pollution of human kind by greed, fear, hate and anger.  It only takes picking up a newspaper to find instances of this pollution at work.

Who to blame, or is there anyone to blame?  Do we always have to look for someone to blame?  In this case, yes, there most definitely are people at the root of the problem.

One source; a company, a government, a religion, or other agency with financial or other special interests produces “X” amount of physical and/or mental/spiritual pollution, another company produces 2 times as much.  Another company maybe only produces 1/2 as much.  And all of them are saying that they do not produce enough pollution to be causing such problems.  And all of them are right.  And all of them are wrong.  If you aren’t familiar with Aesop’s fable of the “The Crow and the Pitcher”, I hope you’ll read it.  It explains a lot.

Regarding the environmental pollution, where is the E.P.A. in all of this?  They’ve been busy repeatedly firing Dr. William Marcus and then repeatedly trying to defend that action in court.  And I imagine other activities of similar ilk, all conducted behind closed doors.  Don’t ask, don’t tell.  Many believe that today, under the Trump administration, the fox has been put in charge of the henhouse at the E.P.A.  (Personally I think that has effectively been the case for at least a few decades.)

Regarding the mental/spiritual pollution, what human agency is watching out for the common person?  At this point, no one.  We are pretty much on our own to decide what ideas, beliefs, we incorporate into our lives.  Which, in order for us to retain our humanity, is as it should be. Free will is a wonderful thing.  Yet, why are so many so quick, so willing to incorporate ideas filled with greed, hate, fear and anger?  One reason, I believe, is because those are the ideas people are being repeatedly exposed to by, again, those with the reins of power around the world.

Around the world, we see people being led to embrace greed, hate, fear and anger en masse by those whom those people trust to tell them what’s happening in the world. Special interests have most definitely infected many of the media, schools, and religious institutions. I heard a proverb years ago that: “When interest enters in, truth flies out the window.” Again, it’s a matter of no one contributing source being the whole problem, and again, the fable of “The Crow and the Pitcher” tells the story.

Don’t we see what’s happening?  Don’t we understand the real and potential problems associated with pollution?  Don’t we, with all our technology, possess the means to prevent and correct such problems?  The answer to all these questions is the same:  “Yes we do”.  However, there is another question and an answer which, together, underlie all these problems:  Don’t those with the reins of power around the world possess the wisdom and will to value our planet’s ability to sustain life, and the myriad benefits of humankind cooperatively coexisting, more than the unbridled acquisition of power and material wealth?  Unfortunately at this time, the answer to that question which we are seeing repeatedly demonstrated is:  “No”.

Too many people want their stock dividends, too many CEO’s want their large bonuses, the power and influence of too many public offices are for sale.  Amongst the common folk, apparently too many people are contributing to the culture of pollution with the purchases we make.  To some extent we are at the mercy of those in control of production and marketing.  However we should all be mindful of the impact our purchases have upon the burden of waste in the world.  And, I would add, too many are too readily accepting the “reasoning” being put forward by those in power for why our natural resources and our treasuries are being managed in the way they are.  And too many people are accepting the special interest driven “reasoning” being offered for why we should embrace greed and hold hate, fear and anger toward others.

I think at some point in the future when archeologists, quite possibly from another planet because Earthlings will have become extinct, look for the “whys” to the last great extinction event on Earth, they will find a direct causative chain of:  human greed – pollution – willful ignoring and exacerbating of the problems – extinction.

Yet, around the world, little by little, people are waking up.  So the last question is;  will enough people be awake and taking corrective action before it is too late?  It truly is a case of “United we stand, divided we fall.”

I am using the same artwork for this article as the last one because, well, it is just so appropriate.  And I would rather think optimistically then post a picture of the pollution, and it’s effects, which we can all see without any great effort.

Re-humanizing our World

Fotosearch_k22192444
(c) AlexMax http://www.fotosearch.com

This is a “laundry list” of things which, if put into effect, would go a long way toward effectively stabilizing human culture, re-humanizing humanity, doing away with war,  decreasing the prevalence of many illnesses, and making life worth living!  None of these, except one (I won’t say which one), are my original ideas.  They are from people who have studied the issues and weighed the related factors.  As I have accumulated them over years I apologize that I do not cite the source.  In the interest of brevity I have sometimes combined what were originally separate ideas but which dovetail nicely together.

  • A three day work week with a living wage.
  • Abolish the stock market.  Keep companies in the hands of their founders and workers (employee ownership).  Let the consumers decide via their purchases, or lack thereof, when a company’s product is no longer desired.
  • New ideas for products/companies can be financed via bank loans, personal loans or the sale of bonds.  All at a reasonable rate of interest and able to be paid off.
  • Eliminate speculation in agricultural or any other products.  This only artificially raises prices thereby fueling inflation.  (Essentially do away with a “casino economy”.)
  • All industrial or other waste which poses a threat to the health of our environment must be discontinued or treated in such a fashion as to effectively neutralize any threat it may pose.
  • Legalize the production, sale and use of all natural substances which may be categorized as “drugs”.  These include marijuana, coca, poppies and their derivatives.  No prescription needed for these substances.  In order to purchase these substances a person must have a card indicating they have completed an introductory class of at least 3 hrs. in duration about the potential dangers and benefits of each substance they wish to be allowed to purchase.  Including tobacco and alcohol.
  • Re-institute regulations around the number of television stations, radio stations, newspapers and other media outlets that any one person or corporation may own.
  • Via regulations affecting banks, arms manufacturers and other government contractors, remove the the profit motive from war.
  • Make the dissemination of false and/or misleading information by elected and/or appointed government officials/employees a criminal offense (if it isn’t already) and enforce it.
  • Restrict election financing.  Cap the dollar amount any one candidate can spend during an election campaign.  Make it a felony with significant penalties for any person, corporation or foreign nation, or any agent thereof, to give donations, gifts, or make promises of future financial/material gain to any elected or appointed government official/employee.  Or for any elected or appointed government official and/or employee to receive such donations or gifts.
  • Maintain and adequately fund community based (not private) and regulated police forces, fire departments, schools, parks, hospitals, ambulance/EMT services (universal healthcare) and other services.  Such as concert and sports venues as a community desires and can support.
  •  Income from concerts, sporting events, etc, above and beyond that used to pay workers, performers, athletes, etc., should go to public coffers and to fund public services and infrastructure.
  • Establish and enforce both a minimum and maximum personal income.  The minimum income would insure basic housing, food and essentials for all.  There could be some work requirement (public service) upon those receiving it.  The maximum income would include income from all sources combined.  This would be in force for all people regardless of profession.  The maximum income should be no more than 7 times the minimum wage (not the minimum income which may be slightly less than the minimum wage).  

While in a rough draft format, as mentioned above this is at least a partial “laundry list” of actions which, if instituted, would serve to stabilize and re-humanize our cultures and our world.

Setting a new course…

IMG_1995For the next few weeks, months, years (?), I am going publish short commentaries on what’s happening in the world rather than longer essays.  My goal is to publish one a week, on Saturday mornings.  I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read, “liked” and/or commented on articles on my blog!

 

A lot of (most?) people in the U.S. have played “Monopoly” at some time. The board game that’s designed to produce a winner and losers in an imaginary battle to acquire wealth. There is maneuvering for advantage, developing properties, lucky and unlucky roles of the dice. In the end someone bankrupts everyone else and owns it all. Then everyone can put the game away and head to the kitchen for snacks. That’s the part that’s missing in real life.
As in the game, in real life most (all?) people contribute in some way to building up and maintaining our communities. Most contribute throughout most of their lifetime. Building, serving, performing tasks meant to help keep the community vibrant. Unfortunately, these days it is happening within a system that is increasingly resembling the board game: designed to produce a relatively few big winners and lots of losers. Because we live in a finite system, there cannot be unbelievably extravagant winners without a whole lot of losers.
In the U.S. it hasn’t always been this way. Regulations against monopolies, a progressive tax system, wages and benefits people could thrive on, social safety nets and other safeguards kept the playing field more balanced; viable for the majority of, if not all, people. Then, those with more wealth began to find ways to manipulate the system. The regulations and safeguards which previously existed to protect the well-being of the whole have been, and are being, dismantled. This is leading to increasing economic imbalance with all the attendant debilitating effects on the general population that one can expect, even predict. We’re now seeing individuals with more wealth than millions of others. Others who have also been contributing.
The system needs repair. We need to restore lost safeguards. We need greater community mindedness. We need greater recognition of our inherent interdependence.

Update, 6/15/18:  The best laid plans of mice and men and all that.  I thought this was a good idea at the time, however, life has intervened and this plan for my blog did not materialize.  I’m not quite sure what I’m doing in terms of blogging these days.  I am certainly in a period of transition in my life.  To everyone who has read my blog at some time, maybe “liked” it or commented;  thank you!  I hope to be more actively involved at some time in the future…