Mort Mather Author Writer Organic Farmer Philosopher Thinker Restauranteur

How to improve your life and save the world.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Political change

My sister, Christie, living in New Zealand asks “In my whole lifetime and I am fairly sure in your whole lifetime, no change has been made. We are doomed to a mediocre world when we could have so much more. Why can’t we live in a perfect world?”
Dear Chris, There has been a lot of change during my lifetime. I was born at the end of the great depression. Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. He had instituted many programs to bring the country out of the depression and regulations to keep it from happening again. The 1950s was a decade of good times as depicted in television shows like Father Knows Best, Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It to Beaver—the good old days when one wage-earner could support a family. Interestingly, and I think it is related, income of more than $1.3 million was taxed at over 90%. In other words, someone earning $2.3 million only got to keep less than $100,000 of that last million. What would be the incentive to make more than $1.3 million if you could only keep $100,000? This question is usually asked with the assumption the high wage-earners are those who create wealth by creating more businesses, more employment etc. That’s not the way it actually works, however, as we see today in the multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses of CEOs of individual companies.
Let’s look at a very public business owning a sports franchise like the New York Yankees. The owners of sports teams don’t go out and create new teams. They may build a new stadium (or get the local government to build one for them) but the business is largely the expenses of paying team members, paying the people who sell hot dogs and the like. The income side is from ticket sales, sale of broadcast rights and advertising. If the owner had to pay really high taxes on really high income thus taking away his incentive to make gross amounts of money; he would have no incentive to keep salaries low either to players or other workers, no incentive to raise ticket prices. In fact the tax would have the exact opposite effect. Why raise ticket prices and why not pay higher wages and bonuses? Star athletes would have little incentive to hold out for an outrageous salary making it likely the other athletes on the team would get higher salaries. Now we have more people with a high enough wage to support a family. Isn’t that what family values are all about?
The change from the 50s has been gradual, wealthy people exerting more and more influence on politicians. I remember when Congress removed restrictions on banks allowing them to get into all sorts of other businesses; just one of many changes from the regulations that FDR put in place to keep the country from going into another depression. Reagan did the major drop in taxes for the rich which has created the super-rich who can exert even more influence on our political system.
You want a change away from rule by the greedy? It will come. It will get worse before it gets better but it will come.

I’m reading The Story of Civilization by Will and Arial Durant, 11 volumes averaging about 1,000 pages each. I read the last two first Rousseau and Revolution and The Age of Napoleon before beginning at the beginning. I’m about to finish volume IV now, six down and five to go. I admit to being proud of my accomplishment but it is not a chore. I’m having trouble putting them down (I’m also having trouble holding them up as they are heavy.) Every large society has gone through changes from caring about the people to focus on wealth and the power of the wealthy over the rest of society. Greed is really interesting, much like a disease. People who have it can’t get enough. They think that more—more money, more power, more things—will bring happiness yet when they get more they think they are happy yet a hunger for more persists. Rather than consider the possibility that the more they have been chasing is like the donkey chasing the carrot suspended in front of him on a stick tied to his back, they keep chasing the carrot rather than looking around to see if perhaps there is something other than money and power that would bring them contentment.
Obama did bring change. He brought us back from the brink of a depression. The loudest voices are those of the greedy who override voices of reason. Change takes time. We are a society of the instant—no patience, no foresight.
As for a perfect world, it may exist right now waiting for us to perceive it. Would a video game be perfect if everything went along easily? Would chess be fun is the opponent always made the moves you wanted? Perhaps all we need to live in a perfect world is the ability to accept this world as it is and play the game it presents to the best of our ability without unrealistic expectations.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Best Christmas present ever

When someone accompanies their gift with “It’s the thought that counts” it probably means not much thought went into the gift. Here is a gift idea I have used with wonderful responses; write a letter. You don’t have to be a great writer to give this gift because it isn’t the words that count but the thought. It works in all situations. How do I give my wife a present that was purchased with money that was ours? What do you give to someone who has everything? There is only one gift that is absolutely unique, that no one else can give; the gift of yourself, your time and thought. Here are some thoughts that might prove helpful.
1. I’m going to say it again. It is the thought that counts so start thinking about the person. Make a note to yourself if necessary to think about the person perhaps while driving or doing the dishes or some other activity when your mind has free run.
2. The most difficult part of writing is the first few words. Take pen and paper in hand or open a blank page in your word processor, write or type “Dear ______”. You are already thinking about the person whose name you put down. You may sit and stare at the page for awhile. If nothing comes, put it aside and do some random thinking but be sure you come back to the page. Put down “I (love, admire, respect, enjoy) you” if nothing else comes. Think about that for a bit. Why do you have feelings for this person? When did the feelings begin? (eg “I remember the day you were born…” and carry on from there.)
3. Recall some time you spent together (eg “Remember that time you borrowed my mower and forgot to return it.” No, no, no. Keep it positive. “I was just thinking about the time your leaves blew into my yard and you raked my yard for me. You really didn’t have to do that. I feel fortunate to have you as a neighbor.”)
4. When you have finished pretend you are the recipient and read it over. If there are any parts that don’t make you feel happy to have received in this letter, fix them. Hardest thing for parents writing to their children is to try not to ‘help’ them become better people. All of my letters from my father devolved into lectures. I wanted his love. I wanted him to know me, to respect me, to accept me, to care about me. I don’t think I was much different than anyone else in what I wanted. If you express love in your letter, your gift will be greatly appreciated.
Good luck. I’ve got some letters to work on.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


A friend of mine thought the following was “priceless”:
Governor Mike Huckabee said, “If we want to keep our Nation’s secrets ‘SECRET’ … store them where President Obama stores his college transcripts and birth certificate.”
I replied:
That is priceless. I thought Huckabee was smarter than that so it's good to know this stuff. Not to worry, I know he was making a joke and that he is smart enough to know that the President was born in the US and has shown his birth certificate at least as many times as he has and that his college transcripts are at least as public as his but this humor panders to those foolish enough to believe the transcripts and birth certificate are less than genuine. Those people, and, unfortunately, there are even some in Congress, should have their driver's licenses and passports revoked. Let them try to get them back without a birth certificate.
PS The President has a valid passport and drivers license though I don't think he has to show them anymore.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hate to pay taxes? They have been around in various forms since the beginning of civilization. Those who point to a time when there were no taxes in the U.S are pointing to the beginning of the federal income tax. People have hated to pay taxes, tithes, duties, dues and the like to those in power (church, state, lord of the manor, etc.) also since the beginning of civilization.
There was a time when I hated to pay taxes. I would rail in frustration, “I’m working the first four months of the year for the government!” I got so worked up that I did something about it. I got my income tax burden down to nearly nothing. Steve Forbes, take note, here is how you can stop paying income tax. It’s really fairly simple and I found it very invigorating. They don’t tax income if you don’t have any. Of course in Mr. Forbes case he would have to give away about half a billion that is earning him income without his having to work for it but it would still be easier than being president which he has tried to do twice.
I no longer hate paying taxes though I’m now paying more than ever before. I’m paying more because my income is bigger but I’m still able to keep the taxes at a reasonable level by giving away some of my income. It feels good to be able to help others and to help with projects people are doing to protect or improve our environment. As for the taxes? I just gave myself an attitude change. Rather than feel bummed out about having Uncle Sam’s hand in my pocket I now feel good that I can be a part of all the good the country I love is able to do. Oh yeah, I can point to things my country is doing that I don’t think are good. The last “good war” (one I feel we were compelled to enter) was WWII. I also think there are things the federal government messes in that local governments and citizens could do better but if I get focused on the negative, I’ll loose my good feeling about paying taxes.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


The Democrats need top stop trying to be reasonable, that is to apply reason. They need some catchy phrases. Take lessons from the conservatives and dismiss any reporting that doesn’t agree with your agenda as the Don’t-confuse-me-with-facts media. The Republicans say they want to overturn the health reform legislation which they label as Obamacare. Do they really want to go back to the way it was before “Obamacare”? How many years have both Democrats and Republicans been proclaiming the need for change? For goodness sake Democrats get on television and radio demanding Boehnercare!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dumb populace

10/19/10 In the news: French Pension Protests. Masked youths clashed with police officers and set fires in cities across France on Tuesday as protests against a proposed hike in the retirement age took an increasingly radical turn.
Idiots! Sure the government screwed up plus the baby boomers will be retiring very soon putting more pressure on retirement funds plus people are living longer putting more pressure on retirement funds and there will be fewer, percentage wise, people paying into the funds making the gap between what is available and what is required even wider; but, “Idiots, what is your solution to the problem? You just want to get yours even if it bankrupts the government? Open your foolish minds and try to help yourself and your countrymen (and women). Recognize the larger problem and say, ‘Yes, I want to be part of the solution.’”
Golly I really got wound up there. Thank goodness nothing like that will happen in this country. We aren’t just for ourselves and damn the rest of the population. We know that we will have to make sacrifices for the good of our country and our fellow citizens. We…. About now you should be wondering what drug I’m on because we, the majority of us, not you and I of course but the majority, will vote against any sensible way to save social security like making the retirement age older or even dispensing with cost of living increases. Some people are getting riled up because the cost of living hasn’t gone up so they aren’t getting an increase in their social security check.
We blame the politicians but we are the problem and the tea party solution of throwing the bums out is not the answer because if the new politicians want to be reelected, they will have to be bums. Several years ago a Maine representative the US Congress voted for closing a military base in Maine. It was the right vote for the good of the country. Usually the politicians work it out so that everyone can vote for the narrow interests of the state, take cover as it were, while others make the hard vote, though not hard for them because the vote doesn’t affect people in their state. This representative was slaughtered by his opponent in the next election on that one issue. Politicians are not as dumb as we may think. They just do things that are dumb for our country but smart in getting reelected by a dumb populace.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Glenn Beck might scare me

Global warming started concerning me before Reagan became president. I remember because he appointed a study group which I cynically thought was just to shut up those of us who were concerned. The group came back with a report much sooner than expected saying it was a serious problem and that action should be taken. I thought this was great news and that surely something would start happening. That was nearly 30 years ago. Incredible!
Back then I thought this was a problem we should be working on for future generations but that climate change would be slow and I would not see any dramatic difference in my lifetime. How wrong I was. Changes in weather patterns around the world and changes in insect populations in my garden are already dramatic. That I would see such change in my lifetime (and I’m likely to live another 20 years or so) was scary. I was thinking recently that it will be even scarier when the warming deniers like Glenn Beck and others on Fox acknowledge the problem. Yeah, that will really be scary. It will also be annoying because I’m sure they will not say, “Gosh, I guess global warming is a real thing. I’m sorry I misled people for all those years when, if I had recognized the problem earlier, I might have been able to help get the people behind making positive changes to reverse the trend.” Much more likely they will blame government for getting us into this mess and, of course, they will be right but I’ve got to believe that the Republicans in congress who are holding up any progress would change their tune if the don’t-confuse-me-with-facts media opened their ears to what they call the “liberal media”.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

How to love everybody

There are two adults in their thirties who are good citizens of the world. I have given them my love for their whole lives. I don’t think my parents ever doubted that I loved them. I have been in a loving relationship with my wife for over forty years. I have studied, thought about and written extensively about love. However, none of that makes me an expert if there is such a thing. I’m going to tell you what I have learned that is contributing considerably to what I call my profound happiness in the possibility that it may resonate with you.
Self-love is the foundation for any love. Acceptance and respect are the tools for building the foundation.
I spent a depressing hour with a paraplegic a number of years ago. I was not depressed because he had lost the use of his arms and legs but because he was so unhappy. Wouldn’t I be unhappy if I were confined to a wheelchair? I doubt I would be thrilled about my condition. If I had done it to myself, as this man had driving drunk twenty years earlier, I might be pissed at myself for my stupidity but I wouldn’t be taking it out on others. I would start with acceptance. I don’t delude myself into thinking it would be easy but the sooner I got over being angry at myself, angry at the world, hating myself and the world, the sooner I would be on the road to finding happiness.
Thinking of life as a game helps me accept my life as it is. In this case a card game works best—any card game except poker. In poker you can throw in any hand you don’t want to play but in most card games from Go Fish to Bridge you have to play the cards you are dealt. Playing a poor hand well can be very satisfying.
Paraplegia is an extreme but none of us is perfect. In our teens we tend to focus on our physical imperfections. Rather than focusing on the zits we need to step back from the mirror. I am who I am and a lot of who I am is pretty good. Others may not see it but I know I’m special. I guess that was my attitude when I was in my late teens. I remember thinking that girls who didn’t want to date me were missing something. The wonderful irony here is that I don’t even know if they didn’t want to date me because I never asked. I desperately wanted to be in the company of girls but I was too shy to initiate a relationship.
In my twenties I had a number of relationships with women; several could have been good partners in marriage. I didn’t realize why I rejected commitment then and what changed when, at 31 I asked a woman to marry me and a year after that fell apart I proposed to my wife of 40 years.
The journey from shy to beginning a stable marriage was largely unconscious. Feedback from relationships at play and at work probably built my self-confidence and self-respect, which, in turn, helped me accept myself. My “zits” disappeared as I move farther from the mirror and saw myself reflected in the impression I made on others.
My conscious effort to find happiness began a year after marriage when I found myself to be unhappy. As it was my happiness that was in question I thought the best place to look was within. I investigated what made me happy and what made me unhappy and began doing more of the former and less of the latter. I was not looking for frivolous pleasures but things I had done that I could look back on with pleasure. I found that the unhappinesses were things that prayed on my conscience or things I took to be unfair.
I won’t go into what I found rummaging around in my mind. The point is that a good place to look for happiness and love is within. One of the things to look for is anything about yourself that you find unacceptable and fix it. There are two ways to get rid of unacceptable parts of yourself—change if it is possible or accept.
For example if you masturbate and you don’t think you should, either stop masturbating or accept that it is part of who you are and that it is fine. I know some say masturbation is a sin but there are very few people between the ages of 7 and 90 who don’t masturbate. Smoking, taking alcohol or other drugs, biting your nails may be things you feel you should change to improve your self-respect. Work on them however you can. There are only two universal rules: 1) Do no harm to another living now or in the future 2) sex only between consenting adults. I say that only for someone who may have a conscience that would allow either of these.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


My daughter and her husband bought an older home and the yard is filled with BINDWEED! How does one rid the yard of this noxious plant? Please help! We grow vegetables as well and do not want to use chemicals to kill this plant.
I look forward to your response.
Donna, your email box was full so I'm posting my answer here.
This is a tough one. The empathetic gardener thinks, “The plant needs energy which it gets from the sun. The only way it can get this energy is through leaves. If I can keep it from having leaves, it will eventually die.”
I have only dealt with it in gardens which is curious since I have extensive mowed areas. Bindweed must have been or still be in some of these areas since, I suppose, it was already present when I converted sod to garden. In my reference books (including Weeds of Lawn and Garden) I only find solutions for dealing with it in cultivated soil. The books say to till or cultivated repeatedly, every other week or sooner and that this may take more than one growing season. When my son was preteen I would pay him and a friend by the ounce for the "gold" roots. Perhaps I didn't pay enough or use the right motivation because, though he and his friend loved to dig, they tired of gold mining too soon. When my Tom Sawyer plan failed I found myself out there digging up the rhizomes. It was just a matter of keeping after them, getting as many as I could in the time I had and keeping an eye on the patch and going after any as they appeared above ground.
For the lawn I would probably just mow and see what happens. If it doesn't get worse, I'd forget about it and accept bindweed as part of the diversity of my organic lawn. I have a ground ivy that shares a lot of my lawn and has spread over the years but it doesn't bother me. However, if you want to get rid of bindweed without tilling up the whole lawn and keeping it that way for most of a year, I suggest going after it one stem at a time on hands and knees with a hand lawn weeding tool. This tool is about 18 inches long including the handle and has a V shaped end that you stick in the ground at an angle to cut the stem below ground surface. They will keep coming and you will have to keep after them. Pick a small patch to work on and keep after it until the bindweed is gone then move on to another patch. This will be a test of your persistence.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Empathy and romance

I want to get to know that woman. I lust for her. I wish I could just go up to her and say, “You are very attractive. I’d like to get to know you, maybe date, maybe kiss, you know. What do you think? Do you share my interest?”
Actually, I think she might be at least a little interested in me. I see her once a week. We say “hi” to each other. We know each other’s names but the only thing we have in common that we know of is the class we take together. “How’d you like the class today?” “Good.” “Yeah.” We have also talked about the weather.
Those extremes—the weather and other inanities at one end and “wanna fuck” and any other overtly direct approach—are not likely to advance a relationship. It’s time for an empathetic approach. If I want to get into that lady’s pants, the best approach is to get into her head. What is she thinking? Who is she? What does she want in life?
When I was younger, more physically attractive and closer to her age, I would likely have used an old favorite line of the time: “What’s your sign?” How obvious and maybe even shocking coming from someone my age. I really don’t want to be thought a dirty old man. Asking someone their astrological sign is certainly advancing in the right direction, however. Even “how are you?” is better than the weather.
I need to know more about her. Does she have a job? What is it? How long has she had it? Does she like it? What would she rather be doing? What does she do with her idle time? Does she read? What is she reading? Has she been married? Does she have children? Has she traveled? Did she go to college? Now I’m cooking! It’s not all about me and my desire. I need to get to know her, what makes her tick.
I’m pretty sure there is no such thing as a mind-reader. There have been times when I felt that I knew what someone was thinking but when something important is on the line the best any of us can do is to think empathetically. The closer we can get to understanding what another is thinking, what they want, the more successful we will be in getting what we want.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

How to Curb Greed

When I ask people to name the best decade, the 50s are the most popular—the age of Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best and Ozzie and Harriet. I graduated from high school in 1956 and I certainly wouldn’t argue with that choice. What made it so good—family values, families with just one-wage earner, low taxes, low unemployment. One of the reasons I propose is not true. Family values is a subjective judgment though I suspect most would agree that “family values” were higher in the 50s than now. I can’t find statistics to back up my belief that the percentage of single-wage-earner households was higher in the 50s but it certainly was on television. There was low unemployment--the lowest average unemployment for the decade than any decade since (4.5%). The one that isn’t true is low taxes, at least for the wealthy. The highest tax bracket throughout the 50s was 91%. In fact, in all the years Americans have been taxed there were only two years, 1944 and 45, when there was a higher tax bracket.

I believe there is a direct correlation. The incentive to make millions of dollars when you are only allowed to keep 9% is much less than if you get to keep 65% as currently. Some corporate CEO who might today have gotten a 17 million dollar bonus, might, in the 50s, have said, “Never mind. A million is enough.” Where would the other $16,000,000 have gone? Maybe to share holders. Maybe to consumers of the produce the corporation produced. Either way it would spread the wealth around and make greed less likely.

There is no rational reason for making more than $1 million a year. Bring back the 91% tax on income over $1 million. For those who say that would slow recovery from the recession I suggest you go back to the unemployment table. The decade with the highest rate of unemployment was….can you guess? The 80s, of course. The average for the 80s was 7.27%. I guess there wasn’t enough trickling down. The most recent decade was 5.54%.

Friday, January 29, 2010

How to love 2

Not how to love another or your dog or vegetables or your country--just how to love. Not how to love your spouse or how to love your mother or how to love your father or how to love your son or daughter. My daughter didn’t wait to teach her son how to jump until he was old enough to broad jump or high jump. She taught him what fun it was to jump in puddles and to jump into her arms. Knowing what jumping is he will be ready for someone to teach him how to jump over a bar or to jump a distance or to jump out of an airplane.
It seems to me we ought to learn how to love without the encumbrance of all the different kinds of love. Sure my grandson is learning how to love his parents and grandparents. That is easy because he is being loved but what is that love that he is receiving? It is a feeling, to be sure. Basking in the radiant love of his parents and grandparents feels good, so good he returns it in kind with a smile, a giggle, a wriggle and even a full body spasm. How wonderful that feeling is. That must be part of love, a warm, happy feeling.
How can we have a warm, happy feeling about someone we hardly know? If we are to believe that we should love our enemies, what is that love? Can we have positive feelings about Osama bin Laden? Maybe love for our enemies doesn’t include a warm feeling, but what then?

Friday, January 15, 2010


We are all different. I say this a lot because I want you to understand that when I write about something that works for me, it may not work for you; just because I like broccoli and George H.W. Bush does not does not make him a bad person or less good than I am or visa versa. We are all different [Period or exclamation point, you choose.]
Sonja Lyubomirsky writes in The How of Happiness, a scientific approach to getting the life you want “happy participants [in a test against another] felt more upbeat than they had been earlier and thought better of their ability, regardless of whether they had witnessed someone perform much better or much worse than they. The self-assessments of unhappy people, by contrast, were keenly sensitive to the experience of witnessing another person’s superior performance.”
My reaction is, sure, it’s because happy people are self-contained. It is all inside. We perform up to our own potential and recognize that there are likely others who would do better. We are unique and able to celebrate our uniqueness without care of being different, not better or worse, just different, than anyone else.
You are unique and that’s a good thing. I wish that were taught more in our schools. Some children will be “left behind” in math, others in reading, others in sports, others in music, others…well, you get the idea. “Left behind” what? We fail each other when we fail to recognize each other’s uniqueness. If you are reading this, you are old enough or advanced enough in thinking to recognize your own beauty and value, your own strengths. Let me say that again. If you are reading this you have the ability to recognize your own strengths, value, and beauty? I have no idea to what extent you may be using your ability.
Self confidence, self-respect, and self-love are gained through self-understanding. Self-love is the foundation for all love.

PS Each of us has someone to love that does not depend on another. The ability is within each of us to love ourselves. That doesn’t make it easy, just possible. To love ourselves we need to keep tabs on what makes us happy and what does not and do more of the former and less of the latter.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Thinking empathetically

Good news! I have heard the terms “thinking empathetically” and “empathetic thinking” twice in the past week in different contexts. I hope it becomes ubiquitous. If the previous administration had understood empathetic thinking and used it before invading Afghanistan and Iraq, over 4,000 Americans and an untold number of Iraqis would still be alive, and more than 30,000 young men and women would not have received physical injuries not to mention mental injuries.
Thinking empathetically before invading would have revealed that Osama bin Laden’s purpose was not to kill as many Americans as possible but to draw us into a war that could be played up as a religious war. We could have used the compassion and sympathy of people and countries around the world to root out terrorists quietly using our intelligence (and intelligence agencies). By declaring war and using our military might we have helped al Qaeda recruit more terrorists.
After the Christmas bomber some thoughtless people in congress pontificated that the president should be more forceful in his rhetoric. And what!? Scare terrorists?! Think empathetically. If you are hanging out in some al Qaeda training camp and you hear the President say something like, “This dastardly act will not go unpunished. We will track down terrorists wherever they are. We will…” I’m too lazy to look up the previous president’s remarks after any of the terrorist attacks since 911 or Tony Blair’s after the London bombings but they were leveled at the homeland populace and were the laughing stock in al Qaeda camps. Think about it, please. Put yourself in an al Qaeda camp. Imagine yourself sitting around a campfire listening to the President of the most powerful nation in the world spouting threats. As you listen, you are pumped up. “Oh, yeah, come and get us. Ha, ha, ha. How long you been looking for Osama? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Oh, man, we are scared. We are so scared we may just strap on some more explosives and do God’s work.”
Belligerent rhetoric is ignorant, ignorant of what the enemy is thinking, ignorant of what they want, ignorant of how to deal with terrorism. Thought, empathetic thought, is smart.