Monday, March 20, 2006

Viva Las Vegas

Las Vegas…a playground for grownups.

I’ve been here many times over the years and I must admit that I LOVE Las Vegas! I’ve never been a gambler and I don’t think I’ve bet more than $20 in the dozen or more times that I’ve been here, so it’s not the gambling that I like. The food here is wonderful and if you read this blog, then you know I love food! There’s sex here if that’s what you’re looking for (I never have). What I love the most about Vegas is the energy. There is something happening here 24x7…they don’t even put clocks in the Casinos because they think you don’t, or shouldn’t, care what time it is.

Hedonism is big here. Live for the moment and have fun…This philosophy drives a lot of condemnation, mostly from those who feel that it violates their religious and moral beliefs.

I am not without moral beliefs, but I don’t agree with judging others based on these. I may agree that a dangerous murdered must be imprisoned (in some instances for life) to safeguard society, but I don’t judge the murderer. I don’t presume that I could ever know what drove him/her to commit their crime or what I might have done with the same motivation. Likewise, I don’t judge others on where they find their pleasure.

I don’t have a problem seeing Sex being promoted…
I don’t have a problem with Drugs or Alcohol…
I don’t have a problem with Gambling…

If these things bother me, then I can take or leave them as I see fit. I don’t think it’s right for me to tell other people how to live their lives. If what you do doesn’t hurt or limit the rights of anyone else, then it’s your business (as far as I’m concerned). Some would say that this belief makes me immoral in some way (certainly many of the Christians that I grew up with would say this). I think that their judgments make them immoral. There is nothing in this world that scares me more than some one who is so arrogant in their belief that they know truth (know what God wants) that they can condemn others based on their beliefs…that they can even condemn and hate others based on their beliefs. This is when belief (even in good things) becomes dangerous and evil.

I find that I can’t bring myself to hate anyone. Still, there are many out there who I pity in their arrogant ignorance (and I fear them). Please give the other guy the benefit of the doubt, or at least admit that doubt might exist…that you might not know everything.

Best! Norm.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Gag Me With a Spoon

After I made my last post from Hong Kong, I continued on to the PRC (People’s Republic of China). The area where we stayed was on the south of Hainan Island. It was obvious that this area was heavily dependent on tourism and was likely atypical of the rest of the PRC…I will soon see as I have work in Beijing in a few months. Still…not being accustomed to a Totalitarian environment, a few things struck me…

I went to my blog to see if my post from Hong Kong had been successful, and found that all blogs were blocked in the PRC. I had never considered blogs as being that subversive or threatening, but I guess where ideas are your enemies…you have to keep a tight rein on them. Funny, but it made me feel kind of subversive to know that the things that I’d been writing were banned somewhere…I’m sure they don’t give a sh*t about what I think and say, but I’ll take credit for being subversive anyway ;-{)}

We visited a huge Buddhist Temple Complex that was relatively new. I have great respect for Buddhism (probably comes closer to my beliefs than any organized religion) and I kowtowed to the Buddha with the other worshippers. My colleague, who is a consummate Scientist and Cynic, commented that the whole place appeared to be a religious “Disney World” and that the Communists (who he reminded me are atheists) had likely built the place to attract tourist dollars from Indians (and Tibetans). I had to agree with him as far as the intent of the PRC building the place, but in my heart I felt that God was having a good laugh at the Communists for funding his outreach program…I guess I’m just a cynic of a different stripe.

One last observation…it is very enlightening to go somewhere where you clearly don’t fit in…The Chinese knew not only that I was European, but it was clear to them that I was an American. It’s a little disconcerting to have everyone staring at you on the street (I suspect I won’t encounter this in the bigger cities of Beijing and Shanghai, but it was evident in Sanya). I also noted that the reactions fell into two distinct categories, and generally were broken down by age. To the Young, I was an exotic American and they looked at me like I was some kind of Rock Star and they wanted to change places with me…To the Old, I saw an unadulterated hate in their eyes. For them, I was the Capitalist oppressor and enemy. No change in world politics would ever change the opinion of some of these people that I was evil…

I wonder at the ability to hate someone without ever knowing the content of their heart. I hear about this type of hate on the news, but seeing it directed at me was a sobering and depressing thing. I know that I’m guilty of many things, but I could never look at a stranger with hate in my eyes. I wonder what we can do to fight this ??? I hope love works as it’s all we have to fight with.

Best! Norm.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Hong Kong

I find myself working in China. My gateway to the People’s Republic is through the city of Hong Kong, where I am spending a 13 hour layover. Hong Kong is a very rich and beautiful city. It is obvious that the money that is flowing through this place is greater than anywhere that I have ever been in my life. It makes me think about the things that I was brought up believing and about the cycles that the global economy takes (and what it means).

I am reading a book on China as I want to know more about this strange place and its people. The book is written about three generations of Chinese women and is written by the third generation (she is an expatriate, currently living in London). In the book, she talks about her parents (both of whom were Communist Officials) and the lies that were promulgated during Mao’s “Great Leap Forward”. One of the things that the Chinese were told at that time was that the children in Capitalist countries were starving (which was actually true in China at the time) and that the Chinese were far better off than the rest of the world. She talked about how real these lies were to her and how surprised she was to see the vibrancy of the west when she finally left China to study in England.

It is a little harder to perpetrate lies in America…the press is independent and largely at odds with the government. Still, we have beliefs (even if they are not official and more often self inflicted) that are inconsistent with the reality that I see around the world. The first is that we live better than people everywhere else…that we are richer and that we are happier. America is very rich, but most people live frantic lives of desperation where their work overshadows their families and the other things that should be the center of their lives. As a result, most Americans are stressed and many are unhappy. Their wealth has not given them the things that bring happiness…that bring peace-of-mind. Still, wealth remains the barometer of happiness in America.

And the world follows…

Economics…economics is not about happiness, but economics is the driver of the world and economics is a race where the leadership changes as the situation changes. It used to take a long time for these changes to take place, but not anymore….now things change at lightning speed. Rome was an economic powerhouse for a millennium, England for centuries, and America…if you say we became the dominant economy in 1945, then I’d say our rule lasted about 60 years. Now comes the dominance of China

It seems sad that while so many focus on building wealth, the center of wealth keeps moving to somewhere that is more conducive to its maintenance (lower wages for less skilled labor). I think the cycle is inevitable, but it troubles me to know that my children will grow up on the downward side of the wave. I obviously want the best for them, but realize that there will be hard work ahead if they are to maintain the type of life that they have grown up with. I think what troubles me is that I have no way of giving my children the thing that I would most like for them to have….peace and stability.

I’m not sure if I will be there when their trial comes or that I will be able to help them through it. Maybe it is right that I am not there…Ultimately, we must all face the challenges of this world and either overcome them or be swept away by them. I know this, but it is hard to be objective about these trials coming to those you love. I hope that I can convince my children to keep their focus on happiness (and not on wealth). This will be hard as everything around them is telling that they must be richer to be happier. This was not an easy lesson for me to learn…I hope my children get the message more quickly than I did.

Best! Norm.

Friday, March 03, 2006


Failure…this is something that seems to scare us above all else.

I walk the fields of Waterloo and I think about endings and I think about failure. Napoleon’s domination of Europe ended here. Ultimately, Waterloo became Napoleon’s swan song as he was exiled to St. Helena and ultimately killed there. Napoleon had encountered failure before. He had actually experienced failures that many thought would end his career long before Waterloo, but he overcame them and was perhaps stronger from them. This failure was different and there was no doubt when this battle ended that the Emperor would not be left standing.

I think what really scares us is that we never know which failure will be the one that tips the balance against us. Every one tells us that our failures teach us much more than our successes. I would agree with this, but I’d also say that it’s a pretty expensive school to go to and that there are those around us who may not wait for our graduation.

Yes…learn from your failures.

Yes…failure will make you a more mature and empathetic person

Yes…do not let your failures affect your outlook or your enthusiasm

I will give you this warning though….Learn fast because this world has teeth and if you fall down too many times…you’re bound to get eaten! Wouldn’t it be nice to know which one is just a bump in the road and which one is your Waterloo?! I guess its not knowing this that really scares us about failure.

Best! Norm.