Thursday, December 4, 2014

When all lights are green

There are days when all lights are green; everything runs smoothly, sometimes even better than expected. Then there are days when everything goes wrong; we struggle from morning to night.

This morning on my way to town every traffic light was green, the first time in 26 years. Not once did I use my brakes; it was a thrill to keep moving.

It felt like having a winning streak at a card game and I wistfully thought how pleasant it would be always to win. Yet the left side of my brain objected to my selfish thought: Who would want to play with you if you always had the upper hand? Nobody. Nor would you ever feel challenged to play to the best of your ability. There’s great satisfaction in playing a poor hand well.

Life is an inscrutable, incorruptible taskmaster. It rarely deals us the hand we’d like, but—as the saying goes—when given a lemon, we can endeavor to make good lemonade.

Some lemons are especially bitter. They can be difficult to swallow, but they can also make us stronger. Effort, patience and persistence often pay off. If nothing else, they strengthen our ability to handle life’s voluminous vicissitudes.

At times, a particularly capricious challenge may become the crucible of something grand. As Goethe wrote in his Faust, “Wer immer strebend sich bemüht, den werden wir erlösen.” He who keeps striving shall be set free.

Until next time,


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"The ABC's of Staying Young"

       Tomorrow, November 12th, is National Philanthropy Day, the day I'd like to remember my Alma Mater, Smith College. Those happy days, filled with youthful exuberance and joy!  I had come from war-devastated Germany where even years later in 1953 the stores were empty; we had nothing to eat. The daily noodle-soup lunch at school—thanks to America’s extraordinarily generous Marshall Plan—had kept us alive.

      Since November coincides with the publication of my fifth book, “The ABC’s of Staying Young,” I’d like to donate all royalties from the sale of the book on November 12th to my Alma Mater. After all, it was the memory of college days and the radiance of youth that inspired me to write the book.  I wanted to discover and rekindle the secret of youthfulness in order to retain it for life.

      Your purchase of “The ABC’s of Staying Young”—be it for yourself or your friends—will be greatly appreciated. Your generosity will touch the lives of others too.

      The book is available on, specially priced at $8.95, and for Kindle devices at $3.99. Excerpts, reviews and more details on

      Or go directly to amazon

      Until next time,


Tuesday, October 28, 2014


What is happiness?

Is happiness the joy that the weekend is near or the prospect of dining out? Or is it the purchase of a new laptop or a great new car? They certainly can make us feel good, but sadly, that feeling may last only a few hours or a few days and then it will fade away.

What then is enduring happiness?

Long-lasting happiness is a feeling of contentment that is not dependent on external events, but something that springs from within us. It’s caused by our attitude, that is by the way we view the world. Is our glass half empty, or is it half full?

Long-lasting happiness is within reach for all of us. The primary step is to accept life and whatever it may bring. This includes life’s many hardships.

Once we whole-heartedly embrace life in all its diversity, our negative emotions, such as hate, anger, jealousy, desire, and thirst for revenge, will diminish — a good thing since they are the cause of much agony and pain. In effect, we are much better off when we focus on counting our blessings.

 In addition to accepting life’s complexity of events, it is important to find meaning that reaches beyond the satisfaction of our personal desires. The discovery of a purpose in life is often the cause of deep happiness.

Albert Schweitzer, the great physician, philosopher, musician and medical missionary in Africa, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 for his book, “Reverence for Life,” put it this way: “Those among you, who have sought and found how to serve others, will truly be happy.”

Around two thousand years ago, a Greek slave called Epictetus heard two adults discuss philosophy. He was still a child, severely crippled, but the topic so enthralled him that he asked his master’s permission to study it.

The young slave learned eagerly, and gained wisdom and respect. He was eventually freed from his bonds and spent the rest of his life sharing the wisdom of his beloved philosophy with humanity.

One of Epictetus’ maxims for achieving happiness advocates accepting events that we cannot change:

Conduct me, Zeus, and thou, O Destiny,
Wherever thy decree has fixed my lot.
I follow willingly; and, did I not,
Wicked and wretched would I follow still.

Not many mortals will reach a perfect state of inner contentment, such as the Dalai Lama or Epictetus found. But we can get better at warding off unwarranted discontent, and get closer to finding happiness.

Until next time,


Saturday, October 4, 2014

25th Anniversary of East Germany's Collapse

On October 4th, 1989 a tumultuous uprising agitated the East German city of Dresden. After 44 years of Communist rule they had enough.  Thanks to humane-minded Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Hungary had eased its border control to the West, but East Germany’s Honecker wanted no part of it—the iron curtain was to stay closed.

During that summer some 200,000 East Germans tried to make their way to Hungary and escape across that border to the West. Honecker panicked. He forbade all travel to Hungary and reinforced border control. Agitated would-be refugees flooded the embassies, they were determined to leave.

The situation became desperate and Honecker agreed to allow 5,000 refugees to leave, but not for Hungary. He “expelled” them to West Germany in “sealed” trains.

Thousand of refugees started protesting, cowing the state’s police. So a second set of trains—tightly sealed—was allowed. It became known as “the last train to freedom.” Yet thousands of restless and desperate refugees were left behind and refused to go home.

Secret Police and Stasi troops decided to fight these people and clear the station. Terrible scenes of violence and brutality unfolded. Extraordinary efforts of opposition leaders were able to bring about peaceful demonstrations, and they succeeded.

The movement could not be halted. It spread throughout East Germany, culminating in the peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall. Putin was a KGB officer then and most likely saw it first hand, though all records of his where-abouts in 1989 have been carefully destroyed. He refers to the collapse of the authority of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe as the greatest tragedy of the 20th century.

Yet it brought peace and freedom to many.

Until next time,


Sunday, September 21, 2014

To Work or Not to Work

Why would a nation that is deeply in debt punish those who work, and reward those who don’t?  Wouldn’t it get deeper into debt?

Why, surely. And then? Simple! It will print more money.

Indeed, our printing presses are vigorously at it. Soon people may need a wheelbarrow full of money to buy a loaf of bread. It happened in Germany in the thirties and it can happen here. Work needs to be rewarded and encouraged, so people find pride again in their civic responsibility. John F. Kennedy put it so well, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Sadly, today’s employment agencies go begging for qualified applicants. They say that those who receive unemployment benefits would jeopardize them if they’d return to work. So many don’t. Even their medical benefits are better than those of the working middle class, who pays a high price for them.

In an attempt to refute the accusation that the United States is becoming an entitlement society where social programs undermine work ethics, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showed where the benefits go. Among its charts is one entitled: "Wealthy Households Receive Disproportional Share of Tax Expenditures." According to this chart 21% of the country’s top earners receive a 90% “Share of Tax Expenditures.” Unfortunately, the meaning of tax expenditures is not defined. (Figure 3, ),

Yet, many people do take pride in their work. Actually, honor and ethics are an innate trait of most people—well, for some it may be hard to resist the lure of government handouts. Would job training improve the situation? The job market is changing faster than ever.  Skills needed today did not exist twelve years ago.

Those who do work, tend to work hard and long hours to make ends meet because the government must take the money somewhere. That somewhere is the American working middle class. They are punished with higher taxes, increased medical costs, and endless restrictions affecting their business.

In 2013, an extra 3.8% Medicare surtax was levied upon people who have an annual income of 200,000 a year or more.

Since 2014, there’s a stiff “Marriage Penalty.” For example, a single person earning $300,000 a year will be in the 33% tax bracket; if both husband and wife earn that amount, they’ll pay 39.6%, a difference of $39,600 a year in higher taxes (U.S. News & World Report Mar 12, 2014 ).

One could go on and on, but enough. Who would forgo that grand feeling of having done a great job? The joy of accomplishment is often worth every drop of sweat and sweeter than government handouts.

Until next time,


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Meaning of Peace

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No word carries more cherished meaning for me than Peace. I endorse it with all my heart. Having grown up in Germany during World War II, the horrors of war are still vividly in my memory—spending nights in cold, dark, damp air shelters, always being hungry, destruction all around us, the air heavy with grief, the wounded and many deaths.

Peace. What glory to savor life!

Yet, scholars of history point to the indisputable perils of peace.
Peace brings abundance and comfort, enjoyment and pleasure, something we want to hang on to and safeguard. Yet such comfort leads to extravagance, privilege, lethargy and inertia.

After the First World War, Europe was tired of the horrors of war and desperately wanted peace.  Do you remember Mr. Chamberlain, Prime Minister of the Great British Empire “where the sun never set,” flying to Munich? He wanted to meet with the leader of his neighboring country and make sure that Hitler was on the same page and could be trusted.

After long chats with Adolf Hitler he returned home and pronounced to an eagerly waiting and delighted world: “There will be Peace in our time!” And the world eagerly cut back on defense spending.

Theodore Roosevelt would not have approved of Chamberlain’s political philosophy. “Speak softy and carry a big stick,” was his approach. In 1901 he sent his Big White Fleet, sixteen fine battleships around the world on a peacetime tour — to let the world admire the prestige and power it implied.

Throughout history, civilizations have risen to power and then reclined in the glory of their might — unaware that others have dreams of glory too. Predators always, always abound, waiting to jump upon the unwary.

In Europe of the thirties, the idea of appeasement was coined, the idea of ignoring unreasonable actions and demands in order to avoid confrontation and preserve the peace. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect—appeasement became an invitation to attack. It’s been proven over and over again. As long as mankind is endowed with a lust for power, carry that big stick or be willing to crawl into the dark!

Peace by all means, but balance it with muscle to protect against the hungry world of predators.

Until next time,


Friday, August 29, 2014

The Miracles of Nature

Miracles abound all around us and capture our imagination. Take a little baby, for instance. What could be more miraculous! Everything about it fills us with awe and amazement.

So helpless, yet it runs our life. So tiny, yet the volume of its voice cannot be ignored. So innocent, yet it never fails to get our attention.

How does Nature pull this off? How can Nature turn a young couple — free and unencumbered — into adoring slaves of this tiny creature? Suddenly, overnight!

It does not only happen among humans; it happens among animals too. We used to refer to it as the mother-instinct. But there’s more to it.

Researchers have finally discovered Nature’s secret, revealing again Nature’s infinite wisdom.  The enigma is veiled in the baby’s little head. That little head exudes a delicate, hardly noticeable odor. When parents nestle the baby’s head against their shoulder, close enough for the nose to absorb the fine scent, they will be caught like a fish on a hook. A deep, deep attachment to the tiny creature starts to envelop them.  Irresistibly, they fall in love with the baby and become devoted guardians.

What wisdom of Nature to prepare parents for the immense task that lies ahead—to protect the little one, to care for it and make life-long sacrifices for their child.

Researchers have found that siblings of the baby, no matter how young, are also affected by the baby’s scent, just as their parents or caregivers are. If they are given a chance often enough to hold their little brother or sister, they will love it and devotedly look out for it. As a result, instead of strife, envy and competition among them, there'll be more harmony and affection. It's a most worthwhile thing a parent can do, let siblings carefully nestle the baby.

Until next time,


Saturday, August 2, 2014


Give me liberty, or give me death — brazen words boldly spoken. Freedom is part of our culture. It is part and parcel of our democracy. We take freedom for granted.

By freedom we mean personal freedom, the right to live as we please as long as we don’t harm others, national freedom implying freedom from foreign control, and political freedom, the right to vote and to be involved in the political process.

Three hundred years ago Voltaire expressed a similar sentiment: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. In modern parlance: “You may disapprove of what I say, but I will defend to the death my right to say it.”

We have fought wars to “make the world safe for democracy.” World War I and II are good examples. The First World War and the Versailles Treaty created a restless, disenfranchised people, with dire consequences, while WW II and the Marshall Plan were a resounding success, probably the greatest the world has ever seen.

Freedom is a luxury. We consider Freedom an essential criterion for political success, though those in power may argue that a staff of clever spin-doctors can achieve more. Historians, however, assure us that most of the world believes that Power, not Freedom, is key.

In a totalitarian government where power rules, the people are spared the obligation of making informed decisions, and are usually excluded from the political process. Democracy appears daunting to them, imposing upon the individual the weighty responsibility of self-government.

An effective democracy, however, requires a leader who is guided by a moral compass — such persons do exist, but can and will they be elected? History has shown that all great democracies of the past have declined when an ill-educated and disenfranchised population created the right environment for leaders with lust for power and greed to rise.

Freedom does not imply “free for the asking,” such as free medical care, free legal advice and free housing. A shocking 46,000,000 American families are presently receiving food stamps.

Not surprisingly, most of the world’s nations are currently ruled by powerful governments. Look at China and Russia, at India and the Middle East. Look at most of the nations on the African continent. Is it because the essential criterion for a successful Democracy calls for a well-educated people willing to fight for their freedom and their culture? Or is it the irresistible allure of power?

As Ronald Reagan put it, Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We can’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same.

Until next time,


Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Day

It was 238 years ago, on the Fourth of July 1776, when the American colonies declared their independence from the King of Great Britain. We still celebrate that hard-won, all-important independence.

Our first President? George Washington of course. Everyone knows that.

Yet Washington did not become president until 1789, thirteen crucial years after the birth of the new nation. Who ran our newborn country? Who kept it alive and independent? Obviously people of enormous talent, whom we can be proud off and should never forget.

These thirteen years are veiled in mystery. Had you ever heard of John Hanson, the first president of our new nation? I hadn’t until I stumbled across it on Google and Wikipedia. It’s indeed a little known fact that our first president was John Hanson, elected unanimously by the Continental Congress, and apparently one of the greatest patriots and statesmen the world then knew. He came from a highly distinguished family whose members had participated in the founding of New Sweden in Maryland. One had been the military secretary to George Washington, another was Governor of Maryland, still others were members of Congress, and two of his sons gave their lives while fighting in the war.

Hanson himself distinguished himself as a brilliant administrator, both in the State of Maryland and in the new Congress. When he became President, the war had just ended and the troops demanded to be paid.  Since there were no funds, they threatened to overthrow the government. Yet Hanson managed to calm the soldiers and maintain peace.

He established the Treasury Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs; he created the Great Seal of the United States still used for all official documents. He ordered all foreign troops out of the country and declared the fourth Thursday in November as the nation’s official Day of Thanksgiving.

Hanson was followed by six other forgotten presidents elected by the Continental Congress—Elias Boudinot (1783), Thomas Mifflin (1784), Richard Henry Lee (1785), Nathan Gorman (1786), Arthur St. Clair (1787), and Cyrus Griffin (1788)—until in 1788 the Constitution was signed and in 1789 George Washington became the first president under the Constitution.

Thank you, John Hanson, for establishing the blueprint for the role of an American president.

We look back with pride upon the great accomplishments of all Presidents of this great Nation who have maintained our hard-won Independence.

Happy Fourth of July,


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Our Sexy Ancestors

Five to eight million years ago our ancestors were covered with dark hair and spent their days swinging from tree to tree. We shared that ancestor with the gorillas and chimpanzees, until some chimps branched off and developed into hominids.

Chimps still inhabit the African continent. They band together in tribes that are fiercely dominated by their males. Aggression and violence are their trademarks—nothing better for them than to fight wars against neighboring tribes.

They are close relatives of ours—96% of our DNA is identical to theirs. Why is it then that many humans are gentle and kind and have little in common with the aggressive chimp?

Researchers have finally figured it out. Apparently, the chimps weren’t all mean and bloodthirsty. Some were peaceful and mellow and decided millennia ago to separate from their brutal brothers. They retreated to the inaccessible jungle of the African Congo where they hid high up in the treetops and enjoyed peace and harmony there. Few humans have ever come to this remote jungle and when they do, these Bonobos carefully avoid being seen. No wonder they were not discovered until quite recently, and it took researchers infinite patience to discovered some of their secrets.

What are some of the secrets of these happy Bonobos?

They love having fun, they are sensual and emotional and form lifelong friendships, they groom one another, take naps, share their food and are surprisingly compassionate. They enjoy meeting neighboring tribes and are glad to roam with them for a while.

The key to their happy harmony?

There may be two. According to Bonobo Researcher Frances White, they are matriarchal, a fact that was long disputed by her colleagues. Bonobo females band together in a powerful sisterhood; they are the ones who are in control. They allot the food and eat before the males are allowed to even touch theirs.

Their other secret? 

They favor constant sex. It’s their favorite pastime—many times every day. They are not choosy; every male has sex with every female. It leaves them no time for gnashing their teeth.

How about the Bonobo babies?

All Bonobos love babies; after all, each baby could be anybody’s baby in this happy world.

Homo sapiens has come a long way since our ancestor roamed high up in the treetops of the jungle and swung from branch to branch. We have gathered considerable knowledge and skills, we’ve multiplied and become ever more diverse. We’ve acquired great riches and have grown increasingly dependent on them. Have we become happier too?

Until next time,


Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Value of an Open Mind

It was 1953 when a Fulbright scholarship took me from war-devastated Europe to Smith College. I had landed in Paradise. Until I graduated, my smile never vanished. The joy of learning, of open discussions, and of discovering a world poles apart from mine was truly exhilarating.

I had grown up under Hitler when asking questions was strictly forbidden.  You said the compulsory “Heil Hitler” and kept silent, because informers were everywhere. A word that wasn’t the Party line or a joke could land you in jail if not worse. Conversation had died, for we all knew that the walls have ears. Even your best friend could be an informer. When people are starving, the promise of extra food stamps for denouncing others was a temptation that not everyone could resist.

How refreshing to come to Smith College. A student’s questions were encouraged. We invited members of the faculty to join us for dinner and had marvelously heated discussions with our French Professor while living in French House. He usually prevailed for his French was much better than ours!

With mounting curiosity I read the article in the Wall Street Journal that protesters at my beloved alma mater caused an accomplished woman luminary to withdraw her acceptance to give the commencement address.

Christine LaGarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, might have conveyed a wealth of knowledge to the students. Countries in dire need and on the verge of starvation come to the IMF for help, their last resort. In turn, the IMF imposes a stern program to cut back on spending, to tighten their belts and pay back their debts.

Apparently 477 students and some members of the faculty had signed the online objection because, according to the Wall Street Journal, listening to her would mean that we are supporting the IMF and thus going directly against Smith's values to stand in unity with equality for all women, regardless of race, ethnicity or class.

A curious thought. Why refuse to listen to an extraordinarily capable woman? Why deny her the courtesy to speak and other students the chance of hearing her? They might have learned about the hardships of less privileged countries and their struggles to cope and survive. I am sadly reminded of my early youth when only the viewpoint of the person in command was permitted.

After all, what is the purpose of education? Isn’t it to learn about the boundless diversity and variety that life has to offer? As Malcolm Forbes stated: The purpose of education is not to fill an empty mind with facts and figures, but to create an open mind receptive to new knowledge and ideas. The Old Bard puts it most elegantly: Man, proud man, dressed in a little brief authority, most ignorant of what he is most assured.

The students’ protest at Smith College was obviously not directed at Ms. LaGarde, a highly accomplished woman with a long and successful track record whom Forbes considers the 7th most powerful woman in the world. Their objection was to the IMF, a powerful organization, but not perfect; few are. But then, why object to hearing Ms. LaGarde? It might have contributed to a better understanding of the problem and possibly encouraged rethinking the guidelines of the IMF.

It is a grand privilege to have the right to express our views, but we cannot deny this right to others. As I know from bitter experience, the path to tyranny is a slippery slope that begins with intolerance.

Until next time,