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Jack is a graduate of Rutgers University where he majored in history. His career in the life and health insurance industry involved medical risk selection and brokerage management. Retired in Florida for over two decades after many years in NJ and NY, he occasionally writes, paints, plays poker, participates in play readings and is catching up on Shakespeare, Melville and Joyce, etc.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Santa's Belt, Tainted Shrimp and Tainted Art, and Some Thoughts on Religion


Each year at this seaon, the blog includes our traditional holiday story.  Here it is again.

Santa’s Belt  

Jack Lippman

It was that time of the year when things were getting hectic at the North Pole.  Santa and the elves had

been working overtime to make certain that everything would be ready to go on Christmas Eve.  After 

all, children of all ages throughout the world were waiting for Santa to bring them the gifts which they 

had been wishing for, gifts to make their dreams come true.

“Rufus,” Santa called out.  “Are all of the presents ready to load into my bag?  Have our helpers down on Earth, the toy manufacturers, gotten their toys and games ready for the kids?  And how about the parents?  You know, they all have to do their part too!  Hey, we only have a few days left!”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Claus,” Rufus replied.  “There won’t be any foul-ups this year.  The toys are all ready to go!”

“And is my sleigh ready?  Are the reindeer in good shape?”

“Don’t worry, Santa,” Rufus reassuringly replied.  “The sleigh has been repainted, the runners greased and the harnesses repaired.  And the reindeer are just fine.  Comet and Cupid are over their colds and the others have even gotten used to Rudolf, who wasn’t even in that poem about us.  Even Donder and Blitzen have calmed down.  Santa, you must stop worrying.  Everything is going to be fine!”

It had been three years since Rufus had been promoted to the position of Chief Elf in Santa’s workshop.  Of course, he had been helping out there for many years but only recently had Santa learned of Rufus’ prior experience working closely with Merlin the Magician centuries ago.  Some of Rufus’ innovations, obviously learned from that apprenticeship with the ancient wizard, had greatly increased the efficiency of Santa’s operation.  For example, it was Rufus who had developed the mathematical formulas which, when put into practice, enabled Santa to defy mere physical laws and be in many different of places at the same time.  Rufus had solved the problem of running out of toys with a procedure which in effect, cloned one toy from another, so Santa’s bag was never empty. And of course, he used a lot of old Merlin’s techniques to ease Santa’s trip up and down chimneys throughout the world, without his red outfit ever getting dirty.  Finally, it was Rufus who convinced Santa to include intangible things such as peace, love, brotherhood and wellbeing among the gifts he left on Earth for those who deserved them.

It was just a few nights before Christmas when Rufus encountered Santa in a state of real panic.

“Santa, what’s the matter?  Why are you holding your waist like that?”

“Can’t you see, you darn fool!  I’m holding my pants up!  If I let go, they’ll fall down.  It happened this morning.  My suspenders snapped and I don’t have a belt big enough to fit around me to hold my pants up.  Rufus, they keep falling down and if we can’t fix them, how can I go out on Christmas Eve?  Rufus, do something to help me!  You must!”

“Now, Mr. Claus” the elf answered, holding back a snicker.  “I can see how this happened.  Come to think of it, I should have seen it coming and done something about it.  I’ve watched the way you’ve been eating all of that delicious food Mrs. Claus prepares for you.  Pies and cakes, chickens and steaks, soups and puddings, pizzas and knishes, pasta and dumplings and on and on.  I’ve seen you put away enough for an army at one sitting and top it off with a banana split and a chocolate bar.   What did you expect?”

“Stop your preaching, Rufus!  What would your Merlin do?  Come on.  Think of something so that I don’t disappoint all the children who’ll be waiting for me on Christmas Eve!  I can’t go out there with my pants falling down!”

“Santa, I don’t think suspenders will do the job for you any more because of the pear shape you’ve developed!  We must to get you a belt big enough to hold up your pants!”

“What do you think I’ve been doing all day?  I’ve been looking for one and there just aren’t any made that big.”

Rufus thought for a minute and stroked his chin.  He then turned his eyes upward and look toward the stars, fixing them on the constellation Orion the Hunter.  In an instant, using a mystic incantation remembered from his days with Merlin, he turned himself into a thunderbolt and flew up into the heavens directly at the strip of stars which formed Orion’s belt.  Grasping as many as he could, Rufus flew back to Earth and fashioned a belt from them for Santa.  The old man, finding for the first time since his suspenders had snapped that he was able to keep his pants up, was ecstatic.   

               Star map showing the constellation, Orion the Hunter

A few nights later, Santa was able to travel his appointed rounds delivering gifts to children of all ages throughout the world.  As he headed back toward the North Pole, he smiled up at the constellation Orion the Hunter, whose belt, as you can see on any clear evening when you look up in the sky, consists of only three stars, which was all that Rufus left up there.

Circling the Earth, Santa made a promise to go on a diet.  He had learned his lesson.  Soon, recognizing the welcoming lights of the workshop far below, the reindeer guided the sleigh into a slow descent and the jovial old man once more waved his hand to the world, crying out, “Happy Holidays to all, and to all a good night, especially to you, Rufus!”

Shrimp and Art

The one magazine I subscribe to, and read each week, is Bloomberg Businessweek.  
It is far more than just a business magazine.  It also focuses in great detail on technology, politics, economics and almost every other important aspect of our culture.  It even comments on fashion and style.  (Discounted annual subscriptions at about $30 a year for 50 issues are available if you look for them on the internet.)  I get the feeling that the news and articles in it cost far more to produce than what its advertisements and subscriptions take in, and that it must draw upon other resources of Bloomberg’s vast communications network to make it such a fine publication.  I recommend it highly.
In any event, last week’s issue included two articles which I would be remiss if I did
not pass them on to this blog’s readers.  One, dealing with tainted seafood, shrimp in
particular, has resulted in my deciding to permanently forgo that tasty delicacy. But 
decide for yourself.  Read the article on contaminated shrimp by clicking right here! 

The other fascinating article dealt with art auctions on cruise ships, and made it very clear that a vessel’s gambling casino is not the only place on board a cruise ship where passengers can easily be separated from their money.  You can read that eye-opening article by clicking right here.

After checking out these two articles, I suspect some of you will be doing three 
things … swearing off shrimp, staying away from art auctions on cruise ships and 
possibly subscribing to Bloomberg Businessweek.


One Can Be "Too" Religious

Religious beliefs give meaning to life.  Mankind has always wondered how the universe came to be, how “life” was created and what forces govern that “life” as it has evolved over time.  Some say we will never know the full answers to questions like these.  Some say the answers are such that the human mind is incapable of understanding them.  And so, until we have the true answers to such questions, if ever, mankind must depend on faith to satisfy its curiosity. 

The form the organized structure of such faith takes is known as religion.  By believing in religion, any religion, mankind is provided with answers, but they must be accepted as unprovable matters of faith, not requring universally irrefutable evidence.  Proof is not necessary.  Such answers in the form of religious beliefs serve to give meaning to life for some. Others who lack such faith appear to be none the worse for it.  Those who turn to religions are equally comfortable.

Religion takes many forms.  All seek to provide answers and all are equal.  The answers provided by the Roman Catholic Church, for example, are equal to the answers accepted by an illiterate native on a remote Pacific island who worships the vastness of the ocean or a gigantic tree which has been there for generations.  It doesn’t matter what a religion’s beliefs are.  What is important is that the believer is satisfied that he or she has found answers to the “incomprehensible” in that religion’s teachings.

Problems ensue when believers in one religion are strongly convinced that their beliefs are the correct ones and that those who accept what other religions teach are not correctSome are so zealous in their beliefs that they are intolerant of those who believe otherwise.  The word “non-believer,” to them, is no longer merely descriptive but suddenly becomes one of damnation.  Sometimes this can lead to their attempting to deny the right of other religions to exist. This attitude on the part of zealots can even result in the justification of murder of those who believe differently.

As a result, we have had massacres, inquisitions, pogroms and bloodshed in the name of religion throughout history.  The Crusades are an example as are the Shia-Sunni division in Islam and the Roman Catholic-Protestant division in Christianity, all of which involved the killing of people who believed differently.  When the Biblical Israelites entered the Promised Land, they did not treat those already living there kindly.

What I am getting at is that a great deal of the trouble in this world can be blamed on people who believe too fervently in their chosen religion.  To me, that is a greater curse than a total lack of religious belief or having faith in things like witchcraft or devil-worship. 

It appears that of the three major Western "Abrahamic" religions, Judaism and Christianity have matured sufficiently so that they no longer insist on their respective faith’s exclusivity.  Islam, the youngest of the three, has not yet reached that point, and some of its adherents still believe in jihad, a war or struggle against non-believers, which does not exclude violence.  In the Middle East where Islam is dominant, sadly, religious belief and politics are inseparable, complicating the problem. 

A final word of caution: Be careful of those who take their religious beliefs too seriously, putting them ahead of their membership in the human race.  Their zealotry can lead to violence. Religion and its rituals seek to provide comforting answers to questions which are unanswerable for many.  That is good, but that is all it should be. It should never be a justification for violence against those who believe otherwise.

A religion which cannot even tacitly accept the existence of other religions and which denies their right to seek another path to the mountaintop is very dangerous.  It can inspire its most zealous followers to commit heinous acts.  This has been true throughout history, and it remains true today.

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Jack Lippman 

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