Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Time and a Word

Anyone who knew me in the late 70's and early 80's, knows that I was a huge fan of the progressive rock ban Yes.  For a number of years in a row, when Yes came to Philadelphia on tour, my friends and I saw at least one show, often two.  At the time, the big rock groups performed at the Spectrum, and in the case of Yes, they made full use of the venue by positioning the stage in the middle of the stadium, performing "in the round".  This design upgraded virtually every seat into a good seat.  Further, the stage rotated slowly so that you could see the members of the band full on with each circle they made.


Finally, unlike some bands with a high energy sound and a myriad of ways to make that sound, the members of Yes were talented enough to duplicate their albums in a live setting.  The entire experience was incredible, and seeing Yes live, solidified their standing as my all time favorite rock band.


Sadly, Chris Squire, one of the founding members of Yes and the bass guitarist, died a few days ago.  When I heard the news, I immediately remembered a Yes song that had touched me deeply when I first heard it.  I mistakenly thought that Squire had written the song, but when I did the research this morning I discovered that it was penned by Jon Anderson, the lead singer of Yes, and David Foster, a contributing musician on the album with the same name.


Hopefully then, Anderson and Foster will not object to my recreation of the words to Time and a Word below.  It is not a long song.  So many wonderful songs are short.  And the words repeat themselves, and not just in the chorus.  But as is so often with words, the right combination does not have to be verbose.  Finally, in light of the recent supreme court ruling on gay marriage, it seems appropriate. 




Time and a Word


In the morning when you rise,
Do you open up your eyes, see what I see?
Do you see the same things ev'ry day?
Do you think of a way to start the day
Getting things in proportion?

Spread the news and help the world go 'round.
Have you heard of a time that will help us get it together again?
Have you heard of the word that will stop us going wrong?
Well, the time is near and the word you'll hear
When you get things in perspective.
Spread the news and help the word go round.


There's a time and the time is now and it's right for me,
It's right for me, and the time is now.
There's a word and the word is love and it's right for me,
It's right for me, and the word is love.


Have you heard of a time that will help get it together again?
Have you heard of the word that will stop us going wrong?
Well, the time is near and the word you'll hear
When you get things in perspective.
Spread the news and help the word go round.


There's a time and the time is now and it's right for me,
It's right for me, and the time is now.
There's a word and the word is love and it's right for me,
It's right for me, and the word is love.
There's a time and the time is now and it's right for me,
It's right for me, and the time is now.
There's a word and the word is love and it's right for me,
It's right for me, and the word is love.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

More on Philanthropy

In my last post, I mentioned that I am reading the Summer edition of Lapham's Quarterly entitled Philanthropy which is separated into 3 sections, The Ask, The Gift, The Get.  I just finished the first section, The Ask, and was surprised to find just as many essays about the problems, even the evil of philanthropy, as about the positives of the concept.  Surprised, not because I was unaware of those that do not favor philanthropy as a way of improving humanity's condition, but because the logic of some of those against its use was solid.  While certainly there are those who abhor what they consider the giving away of hard-earned material gains to those whose only claim is their need, simply because they are selfish, arrogant, leeches who have little concern for anything not related to the gratification of their own egos, they are also those who have a well thought out understanding that there is a diminishing rate of return for giving and receiving that does not include some sort of responsibility for both parties to strive to end the cycle of need.


In other words, it is better to teach a man to fish, than to merely provide him with fish to eat.


If you google the above quote, you will find its origin attributed to many different sources.  One of the sources I found was Moses Maimonides, a scholar of Jewish law and philosophy who lived in the 12th century.  Among his many accomplishments, Maimonides (full name Rabbi Mosheh ben Maimon) wrote the Mishneh Torah, a text still studied today for its advanced understanding of Jewish laws and ethics.  Oddly, although I say oddly in the context of the current vitriolic relationship between Jews and Muslims, Maimonides was influenced in his writing by both Jewish and Muslim philosophers, and was well regarded in both the Jewish and Islamic worlds of his time. 


In the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides describes the ladder of charity in which he details eight degrees.
The first and highest degree is related to the fish quote above. In essence, the highest degree of charity is the act which places the receiver in a position where he can dispense with other people's aid.  It reminds me a bit of how parents should treat their children.  Provide them with the basics, shelter, food, morals, and confidence, then give them the opportunity to grow from this foundation, and to use their talents to become happy, healthy, productive adults.  A presence without hovering.
Comforts, but perhaps not luxuries.  Can anyone say roots and wings?


The second level of charity are acts in which the giver and receiver are unaware of each other.  In this scenario, the giver gives without the need for recognition; charity for its own sake.


One step lower he describes as an act where the giver knows to whom he gives, but the receiver does not know the origin of the charity.  The giver acknowledges the needs of others, but gives in a public setting so does not know specifically who is benefiting.


One step lower still is that in which the poor person knows the source of their succor, but the giver is unaware of how his donation is used.  Maimonides considers this form important in that the receivers can accept assistance without shame, a feeling that seems less prevalent in today's world.


One step below that is when the giver bestows the gift personally to the recipient.


Next lower is one who donates only when asked.  (This is important in that it sheds a new light on all the steps above, in that those who give at those levels do so without being asked.  They understand their role as humans; to help those with less).


Below that is one who gives less than is fitting, but is gracious in doing so.


Then finally, one who gives grudgingly, as if it pains him to help others.


Note again, the scrooges among us don't even make the list.  One might say that people who do not give at all are missing the main point of life, the actual meaning of life.  To help others.


So, how do we judge charity today?  Government assistance?  Non-profits?  Huge philanthropic organizations with their philanthropoids, people who act as gate keepers, monitoring the flow of money to those groups and individuals they deem deserving?  Our own giving?


The good news is that Americans are one of the most giving peoples on earth.  (A chart on the first few pages indicates that in 2013, 68% of Americans donated money, 44% donated time).  And, that chart aside, it may be said that we all donate via our tax money, as the United States, directly, and through organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank, allocates billions of dollars to groups and nations in need.   


But the bad news is that much of our giving seems to land on the bottom of Maimonides' ladder.  We debate the amount of our assistance, domestic and foreign, frequently with malevolence, and often by describing those to whom we give in a not very flattering manner.  And when we do give anonymously, it is often through a religiously affiliated organization that uses heaven and hell as the reward or punishment for not giving.  Or when anonymous, there is still a splash on the internet about someone donating millions to charity X.  Even anonymous is not without acclaim.  (As a side note, if the IRS were to eliminate charitable donations as a tax incentive, how severely would donations tumble?  25%?  50%?  More?)


Still, by all means, be human.  Donate what resources or time you can.  And perhaps, every once in a while, don't take the deduction.  Who knows, perhaps there are eight degrees of heaven gauged according to our own level of charity.







 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Philanthropy

Received the Summer Lapham's Quarterly last week.  This edition is entitled Philanthropy and is broken into three sections; The Ask, The Gift, and The Get.  The contributors range from Cicero to Harry Belafonte, Karl Marx to Bill Gates.  So far, I've only read Lewis Lapham's traditional opening essay and a few others, but I am already excited about this quarterly, already have been thinking about the topic.




Or more precisely, am thinking about this topic again, as, four years ago I composed a letter which I had planned to send to a number of left leaning people of means in hopes of attracting their attention and their largesse.  Unfortunately, I had a hard time finding actual contact information, emails and such, for those I thought might respond, so I only sent a few requests, and received no responses.




The letter is as follows with my phone number starred out for privacy reasons.




Dear


Throughout history, it was common for artists, musicians, writers and philosophers to seek patrons among the wealthy and powerful.  This legacy continues today in the work of both famous and anonymous philanthropists and foundations.  To me, this tradition of selfless giving is one of the most important and critical human endeavor that exists and therefore bestows the highest esteem to one who can be called a philanthropist.


My name is Joe Pugnetti.  I am married, and my wife and I have two children.  We are middle class folks, living in a suburb of Philadelphia.  My oldest child, a boy, just completed his first year in college, and my second child, a girl, is just finishing her sophomore year in high school.  My wife works full time for a local pharmacy chain and teaches fencing (the sport) a few nights a week and on the weekend.  I work full time for the state of Pennsylvania and I deliver newspapers in the morning.


After an early adulthood of travel, journal entries, poems, stories and many, many letters, I have spent most of my adult life NOT writing.


On the first of January, 2010, I lost what was my full time job at the time.  Immediately, I began a blog about the ups, downs and everyday life events of my unemployment experience.  A few of these entries morphed into social and political commentary.  I also contributed a series of “letters to the editor” to my local, once-a-week newspaper.  Fortunately, I was able to upgrade my part time job with the state to full time status within 2 months, so I ended my “unemployment” blog and started anew focusing my writing on current events, opinion, and even a few stories. 


At this point, I now consider myself a writer, and, assuming that one can be called a writer regardless if one’s work is read, I will be writing for the remainder of my life.  I have no grand illusions of my talent but I do know that I have something to say, and that it needs to be said.


My problem is that my mind is filled with ideas, stories and opinions but my time is limited due to the 60+ hours a week required for me to spend on my two jobs.   While I blog about once a week, I know I have material enough in me to blog 2, 3, even 4 times a week.


Hence, this letter.  Would you consider sponsoring me in lieu of having to work my second job?  I am at your mercy in regards to the terms of your philanthropy but hope that it will focus on length, and/or frequency of my increased writing output as opposed to content.  Certainly, I am willing to discuss any requirements you might consider.


I am looking for $10,000 for the year which would replace the earnings of my second job, but I would certainly accept any amount short of that sum.


Please, feel free to peruse my blog so as to gauge both the direction and quality of my writing.  Here is a link for you to easily access it;   http://wurdsfromtheburbs.blogspot.com


Thank you so much for reading this letter to its end and considering my request.  If you wish to contact me in a more personal manner, my home phone is ***-***-****.


Respectfully,


Joe Pugnetti


------------------------------------

Since composing this letter, a number of things have changed.  My son has graduated college while my daughter just finished her 2nd year.  My wife now has a new job with a better salary.  While I no longer deliver newspapers every day, I still work a 2nd job, but now only work 48 hours a week instead of 60.  At this point, $5,000 per year would produce the extra time to blog, although at this point, my hope is that through my writings, an opportunity to "earn" the extra money will result as opposed to receiving money from a patron. 


More importantly, my view of philanthropy and philanthropists has changed since I wrote the above letter, partly from my research into the bureaucratic mentality that seems to control so many established philanthropic organizations, and especially this past week with the arrival of Lapham's Quarterly.  


In his opening essay, Lewis Lapham breaks down the na├»ve perspective of philanthropy that I expressed in the first paragraph of my letter, detailing the difference between those who give to advance the cause of humanity and those who give for their own glory.  It seems even more stark, when donations for political reasons are examined.  Of course, we donate to candidates that we agree with, but there seems ample evidence that too many of the donations that emanate from the super rich, are motivated to influence candidates, to support those candidates that will pass laws favorable to the interests of those donors, and, even worse, to legally slander those candidates that do not agree with the opinions of the donor, creating a negative opinion not easily countered, and too eagerly accepted by an electorate that spends very little time researching before voting.


Then too, there are innumerable organizations, created under the guise of a non-profit entity, that bestow lavish salaries on their creators or benefactors, yet direct a very small percentage of donations into actual work that most would consider the purview of a charitable organization.  Add to that the "experts" that some of these companies retain on their payroll to advance a cause through the appearance of facts and hard science, without either being present, and it becomes clear that philanthropy has been hijacked by some whose motives are anything but inspired to improve the human condition.


Hopefully, as I continue reading, I will find ample evidence that philanthropy, like all tools created for and by men, can be used for good and bad.  And that, as quoted from Nuruddin Farah, "Every gift has a personality - that of its giver".


 






 

Monday, June 8, 2015

God, guns, grins and crazies

My wife, daughter and I recently had dinner with good friends.  At one point, I engaged in a conversation about politics during which we touched on the ever growing crowd of candidates who are running for the GOP presidential nomination.  (I often refer to that group as reminiscent of a clown car at a circus; they just keep coming out!).  Anyway, my friend, who had been a registered Republican for a good portion of his voting career, agreed with my assertion that the GOP has moved too far right (hence his departure from the fold), and that there does not appear to be any moderate Republicans in the mix for the nomination.  What continues to baffle both of us, is that there seems to be room for a fiscally conservative, socially liberal candidate, there seems to be a significant percentage of the population that describes themselves as such, yet neither party seems to be interested in presenting a candidate with those credentials.  Perhaps this lack of a viable candidate that represents the middle slice of the electorate, partially explains the dismal voting percentages that mark elections in America today. 


My friend disagreed with me when I posited that, since poll after poll demonstrates that Americans are far more liberal on social issues than the GOP platform, if more people voted, more Democrats would win.  The recent elections of a Democratic president (where 50+ percent of registered voters turnout),  compared to the increase of Republican candidates who win state and national representative elections (and where frequently 1 out of 3 people vote) seemed proof for my assertion.  But he countered with the concept that too large a percentage of voters do not vote based on their self interest, or on facts, or even on familiarity with the candidates and their positions.  As it was said to him by a colleague from the deep south, "Even though I know I would be better off, I just can't bring myself to vote for a Democrat".  His point being, more voters just might result in more of the same; poor logic and decision making.  His opinion was that we need a generation of new Americans, immigrants and the young, who appreciate their right to vote, invest time and energy in understanding the candidates and their positions and understand the critical importance of choosing wisely.  In his viewpoint, it has been the continual flow of immigrants into the United States that created our great country.  From the mid 1700's when people sought freedom in the "new" world, through the early 1900's, when people flocked to our shores looking for opportunity and freedom to today when oppressed people throughout the world continue to risk life and limb for the American dream.  The constant mix of the old and new, all jumbled together to create the United States of America.


Returning to the GOP field again, my friend just shook his head.  Is it really going to be Bush vs Clinton, I pondered?  Have we reached such a place that we can only look backwards to past names that served for our future leaders?  This is not to say that Jeb Bush or Hilary Clinton aren't fine people, but are there no other families in America with fine people? 


In his recent book, God, Guns, Grits and Gravy, Mike Huckabee makes the point that there are two Americas, the one that he believes he represents, those that live in the heartland of America, in small towns and on family farms, and the one that encompasses the east and west coast.  His world, filled with people who fear God, believe in the 2nd amendment, and eat meat and potatoes, is far different from the world of Washington DC, New York City, and Hollywood where they believe in secular humanism, gun control and eat weeds.  While I can't say I have read his book (I saw Huckabee on Bill Maher talking about it), I would agree that he does have a point; the melting pot that is America includes a wide variety of perspectives, people and positions.  To expect that our leaders would represent such a diaspora of viewpoints, and then work together to improve the condition of all Americans, when that condition varies so greatly, is a lot to expect.  The problem, and I am guilty of this as well, is that if we continue to focus on our differences like Huckabee does in his book, then we will never find the common ground that we need to address our joint problems.  As long as both sides act like children in grade school with their lines drawn in the sand, it will be very difficult for our leaders to make the decisions that need to be made.


Now, I don't know if Mike Huckabee actually quotes the bible when linking God with guns.  Frankly, I prefer the example of Jesus, who generally preached understanding, compassion and forgiveness to those that disagreed with us or injured us.  But, I do like steak and potatoes much more than tofu.  Is two out of four enough for Mike?  Is there room in his tent for people who eat "real food" but also think that more guns equal more violence, and that the fire and brimstone God of the old testament should be replaced by the love your neighbor Jesus of the new?  


Conversely, am I willing to sit down with people who believe that dinosaurs and man walked the earth 6000 years ago, and discuss the topics of the day towards finding solutions that we both can live with?


Or is that the rub?  Common ground requires common purpose.  When a significant percentage of the population believes, and yearns for, the rapture, is there any chance in agreement of where to go from here?


In the end, my hope is that the one commonality that we all share (Stannis Baratheon aside), the desire for our children's' lives to be better than our own, will enable us to sit at the same table, talk through our differences and find those areas of agreement that will result in all of our children living in an America that is even better than the one we have today.