To defeat bullies, punch them in the nose with facts

With the proliferation of social media, it has never been easier to lie, misinform and disinform. To autocrats like Vladimir Putin, who was trained as a KGB agent on disinformation, it is like shooting fish in a barrel. People might say Putin is not such, as he stands for election, but jailing your opponents and controlling the airwaves, does not lend itself to a fair election. This is disinformation in its own right.

The only way to beat bullies who lie, misinform and disinform, is to not believe them and do our homework. Folks like Trump, Kim, Xi, Cuomo, Morrison, Johnson, Nunes, Gosar, Taylor-Greene, Cawthorn, Gohmert, DeSantis, Abbott, et al, do not want to be questioned on facts. They do not handle it very well.

I have many favorite stories about the last former US president not being aware of details, but when one reporter questioned him after the umpteenth time he had said he passed a bill, she pointed out the bill had been passed in 2014 and he was not president until 2017. He was clueless that he did not sign the bill. It is harder to argue when you just don’t know.

If you read Kim’s bio, he is God-like with super-human powers. Really? I expect people like Xi, Putin, and Kim to control the narrative. That is what they do. The uptick in right wing extremism is correlated to Putin’s hackers and trolls controlling the narrative in other countries. He has succeeded in making the west more unruly, due to his shenanigans. My guess is even Putin is amazed at how easy it has been. Common sense is not all that common, Mark Twain is alleged to have said.

What frustrates me is how gullible Americans, Brits, and Australians have been to elect people who overtly lie and bully people to submission. The fact they do this is not newsworthy. The fact that people elected these folks is. Here in the states, we could very well reelect a person who is trying his best to mask evidence that he betrayed his country on top of trying to “burn it all down” as his niece put it, because his shallow ego cannot take losing.

Johnson, who would daily thank his lucky stars for Trump, as he looked better in comparison to the US president, is ironically Prime Minister during the sluggardly Brexit execution as his selected blindness to facts helped precipitate the leave vote. Of course, seeing Johnson get elected was stunning to me, but pales in comparison that we Americans elected a person who has a measurable track record of being untruthful and cheating people as did Trump.

So, what do we do? Read and watch several credible sources of information. What is credible? First, they are not opinion shows. Second, the decibel level is lower with less screaming and yelling and more civil debate. This is a reason I like NPR as one of my sources – thoughtful people sharing news and their opinions whether you fully agree with them or not. Third, the amount of namecalling and labeling is less. Fourth, they will disclose conflicts of interest and provide errata when they get something wrong.

People used to be upset when they found out they were fooled. Now, when fooled by misinformation, they just go back to the source to confirm the facts are not real. The last former US president will have many legacies which will go down in infamy, but the one which may be the worst legacy is calling criticism “fake news.” This term is now used worldwide.

Here is a person who has lost about 64 out of 65 court cases (I lost count above sixty), saying the election was stolen from him and lost every audit and review of election results, and his fans still believe him. That is an unfathomable track record of losing, yet it is fake news according to the former president. Those followers may want to ask why his attorneys are forking out $175,000 in court costs for frivolous cases in Michigan, announced last week. And, one attorney of his has been suspended in two locations (DC and New York) and another is facing disbarment.

Facts. Details. Questions. An untruthful and bullying person’s worst fears.

Monday morning you sure look “fine” – December 6, 2021

Since I believe I have used this title before, I will date this post. Fleetwood Mac fans will recognize the title as a lyric sung by Lindsey Buckingham in “Monday Morning.” The word “fine” has different meanings that fall in and out of favor. It also takes on different meanings with the tone of your voice.

It can mean things are going OK and don’t ask any more questions with a rebuttal tone. Or, it can mean a certain action is OK with you when askef permission. With a more welcoming response, fine can mean things are better than OK, actually pretty good or even good. And, it can be used as a noun to mean a penalty one must pay for a transgression.

My favorite meaning is from older times. Using a line from the Liam Neeson movie “Rob Roy,” about an honorable and heroic Scot, he would tell his wife, played by the lovely Jessica Lange, “You are fine to me.” In this case, he is telling her how beautiful she is to him. So, we have gone from OK to good to punitive to beautiful with one word.

It also finds itself in humor. I will avoid using a very funny, but very risque line from Richard Pryor in his bit the “Wino and the Junkie.” This is far from a PG line, so if you embark to hear it, you have been forewarned. Yet, it does address a couple of the definitions above in one sentence. One of my favorite cleaner lines about being “fine” comes from an unknown comic; “She is so fine the fine folks call her fine.”

After having my COVID booster shot on Friday, I am now fine after a sluggish Saturday. I may not look fine in the eyes of the fine folks, but I do feel fine and hopefully will avoid any fines in the future. Since it is the holiday season and we are eager to see friends and familly, let me quote two lines from the song “Fine fine day” by Tony Carey:

“It’s a fine, fine day for a reunion
It’s a fine, fine day for comin’ home”

Things are so fine, it has to be said twice. Have a fine, fine day.

I’m easy like Sunday morning

Lionel Ritchie made famous this chorus in his song “Easy.”

“That’s why I’m easy
I‘m easy like Sunday morning
That’s why I’m easy
I’m easy like Sunday morning”

The irony of this song, filled with this chorus, is it is about him leaving a woman who is trying to make him out to be what she wants, not who he is. He no longer wants to fake it. Ritchie sings so beautifully, we lose the meaning of the words beneath the melody of his voice.

I think many of us do this in life. We hear words without paying attention and people in positions we should trust end up lying to us. They sound so smug or convincing, we believe what they say, when in fact they are lying. We are easy like Sunday morning, as we don’t want to be bothered with digging into the facts or considering alternative views.

The truth is a commodity these days, being used only when it supports an argument the speaker or writer favors. People who frequently are untruthful do so with impunity. To me this is an arrogance that we need to address, but those who do, get vilified by sycophants of the deceitful person.

The easiest thing to do is let it slide, saying everyone lies. That may be true, but that is part of an overall strategy of those who lie the most. Convince everyone that lies are prevalent, that all institutions are bad and all media is making stuff up, to hide that the strategist is doing more of that than anyone else. The fact the former president has a very difficult time with the truth is not a surprise. What is a surprise is the number of people who lie for him to cover his lies. Lying is modus operandi.

So, we should do what my boss repeated to me, “My Daddy used to say, believe half of what you read and nothing of what you hear.” That may be on the extreme side, but the point is well taken. Question things and read other sources to verify the facts.

When a very untruthful talk show host says January 6 was a “false flag” operation, read further. When a former president continues to beat on his chest about his Big Lie that the election was stolen, read further. When people use labels or name call to support their argument, read further as people usually resort to such when their argument is poor. When people are smug or overbearing with their opinions, read further.

Be easy with your Sunday mornings. Enjoy that large cup of coffee or tea and extra time of leisure doing what you want to do. But, don’t be an easy target for untruthful people. To be frank, they expect you to be.

Vaccine Booster Done – no worries

Yesterday, I received my COVID booster shot, a third shot from Pfizer. So far, there have been no worries except some expected arm pain, but I will provide any updates later, if circumstances change.

I am aware of several folks who have received the booster, with two experiencing some tiredness. As with the first two vaccines, I encourage folks to get the booster. If people have not gotten the first vaccines, I urge folks to move forward.

Too many folks have died from COVID. And sadly, too many vaccine naysayers have passed away, recognizing only at the end their error in judgement. Are the COVID vaccines perfect? No, as are all other vaccines, medicines and surgeries – just read the possible side effects on any drug description.

Yet, those who have had issues with the COVID vaccines, may seem like a lot, but when compared to the number of vaccines given are a very small percentage. That does not diminish the angst or poor experience of those folks. But, we need to keep these results in context, noting the huge percentage of positive experiences.

As before, please do not take my word for it and check with your own doctor. Be safe. Be healthy. Stay alive.

Sports movies that echo real life lessons (a reprise)

Last month, I highlighted a sports movie that made even men cry called “Brian’s Song.”  The movie was about friendship between men of different backgrounds who were competing for the same job on a football team. So, the movie inspired me to note a few other sports movies, that echo longer, due to the story and/ or circumstances. There are many sports movies that can easily be forgotten, so those that are not have a reason for lasting in our memories.

To me, the most profound sports movie is called “Invictus” which chronicles the greatness of Nelson Mandela using the example of the national rugby team. Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon star in the movie directed by Clint Eastwood. Mandela would not let the Springbok team favored by white South Africans lose its support and galvanized a whole country behind it as it hosted and won the world championship. The team was a metaphor for inclusion and showed why Mandela was able to bring a fractured country together. Mohammed Morsi should have taken notes when he took over Egypt and he may still have a job.

“42” about Jackie Robinson becoming the first African-American major league baseball player is of the same ilk. The story is far more than about baseball, as Robinson (played by Chadwick Boseman) and Dodger owner Branch Rickey (played by Harrison Ford), showed a huge amount of courage to break the color barrier years before the Civil Rights Act. Both received death threats, but Robinson had to face so many obstacles, hatred and abuse by racists, fans, players and even teammates and do so, without responding with anger. Many people would not be up to this challenge and, at some point, would have reacted. By example, he helped pave the way for others.

A movie some might be surprised is on this short list is “Bull Durham.” The reason I picked this one is it captures the camaraderie of teams quite well and shows the not so glamorous side of baseball in the minor leagues. But, the movie is about an old player and unique woman mentoring a young talented pitcher with a “million dollar arm and a five cents head.” Kevin Costner plays the veteran catcher, while Susan Sarandon plays a unique and astute baseball fan. Ironically, Tim Robbins, who becomes her husband in real life, plays Nuke Laloosh, the pitcher who needs seasoning. It also provides advice for that would resonate in the non-baseball world.  Here a few:

– Strikeouts are fascist. Throw more ground balls, they are more democratic.

– Don’t mess with a streak. If you think you are on a streak because of….then you are.

– I am not interested in anyone who is interested in that boy.

– Don’t think, just throw.

But, one you may not have seen is a worth the watch – “Bang the Drum Slowly” which is similar to “Brian’s Song,” but about baseball. It stars Michael Moriarty as a pitcher who will not play unless his catcher played by Robert De Niro can play. The catcher has cancer, so this will be his final season, a secret only Moriarty knows.

There are several others that could have been highlighted. “Hoosiers” with Gene Hackman as the imperfect coach of a high school Indiana basketball team that beats all odds to win, is excellent. “Field of Dreams” is also excellent where Costner creates a baseball diamond in his corn field and has the best game of catch at the end. “Seabiscuit” and “Phar Lap” are two movies about race horses and people who should not win, but do while overcoming great adversity. The latter is an Australian movie and is worth the watch. “The Greatest Game Ever Played” about a teenage golfer, Francis Ouimet, who beat three of the best golfers in the world is a little cheesy, but excellent. “The Lou Gehrig Story” is cheesy at times, but with Gary Cooper playing Gehrig, it is worth it. And, even “Rocky” is a classic, although they should have stopped at one.

Let me know your favorites. I know I have left off some good ones,but would love to hear your thoughts.

God is not an American

I wrote the following piece about ten years ago. It is even more pertinent today with a few voices in the halls of Congress saying and acting out toxic things and behavior. We need our elected officials to represent our better angels, not our worse demons.

“And we pray to our Lord
Who, we know, is American
He reigns from on high
He speaks to us through middlemen

And he shepherds his flock
We sing out and we praise His name
He supports us in war
He presides over football games”

Don Henley of The Eagles in “Frail Grasp of the Big Picture”

I begin with these song lyrics as they come from a tongue and cheek song about how we lose sight of the big picture with misconceived beliefs that make us focus more on our differences rather than our common problems. The provocative title of this blog is to state an obvious point that is oftentimes lost on people of strong faith in our country – God is not an American – he is bigger than that and so must we be in our thoughts and practices.

Our country has been taken hostage by a very ardent religious right whose intolerance is causing us to be worse citizens of the world and in our own country. The greatness of our country is our diversity and we should embrace our various cultures and coexist in our vast melting pot. There is a reason our founding fathers believed in a separation of church and state. Their parents and the founding fathers themselves left religious persecution in England to begin a new life in our country. So, it was imperative to them to grant the liberty of freedom of religion, but separate that from the state of government.

We need to be more tolerant and respectful of everyone’s beliefs. I have observed in my 32 years as an adult those who are the least tolerant of others, tend to require the most tolerance of others in dealing with them. As we are human, we bring our imperfections to bear on every issue – we are all biased in some way, prejudiced to some degree and generalize when we should not. There is a body of people in our country who have tended to treat all Muslim Americans, for example, with a generalization based on the acts of a few who have imposed terror on the world.

The flak over Lowe’s and other sponsors dropping ads for a documentary about Muslim Americans is very unfortunate. The documentary is designed to be inclusive and show Muslims are not terrorists. The group who caused the issue has a mission of maintaining and improving the moral character of the US. To me, this group is hypocritical, as a key tenet of morality is treating people fairly and tolerating our differences. We teach our children this in our own home – respect people’s beliefs and treat people like you want to be treated.

The same holds true with other disenfranchised groups – such as gays and lesbians, immigrants or people of color who are still fighting an uphill battle. Or, even the Occupy movement. Each group deserves respect, the same freedoms and an attempt to understand their views. I am reminded of the WWJD bracelets asking “what would Jesus do?” From my studies of the bible, Jesus tended to hang out with the disenfranchised people more than He did the Church leaders. In fact, He had a disdain for the hypocrisy in some of the leaders of the day. I am not saying Church leaders are hypocrites as I work with many in our charitable efforts to help the impoverished, but I do believe we need to focus more on inclusion, compassion and tolerance rather than highlighting our perceived sins and imperfections.

When we witness intolerance, we should identify it as such and call it out. This is easier said than done. At a very minimum, we should not advocate such behavior or, if we can, help the person see the other side of the equation. That is the only way we can break down the barriers. If get people to see another’s point of view, that will promote greater understanding of our differences.

Finally, this is bigger than America. The world has looked upon us to be the “shining light on the hill.” They need us to be the moral compass we once were. That is one reason why those outside of the US favored Barack Obama 4 to 1 over John McCain. They saw him as a beacon of hope. That was an unfair burden to place on anyone, but for an African American to win the most important job in the world, showed many that we are a great country.

My wife likes to sing the old song when I make a comment about our lack of tolerance – “United we stand, divided we fall …” So, let’s relish our freedoms, embrace our differences, be inclusive in our mindsets and work together to solve our problems. And, let’s pray to God for help in granting us wisdom and compassion to address our problems and those of others. I hope He does not care who wins a football game.

Wednesday wanderings and walkabouts

With the no specific topic in mind, let’s put on our hiking shoes on this cool fall day and wander outside. Our Australian friends have a more earnest term of “walkabout,” so let’s walkabout and ponder as we stroll through a forest or path hopefully with a friend, given the stories below. If your significant other cares to join you, even better. Holding hands is optional but recommended.

In no particular order, here are a few items to ponder.

One of the things I have discovered is politicians and their staff members really like it when you call them and thank them for positive or courageous actions. Representative Nancy Mace, a South Carolina Republican, is getting flak from a member of her tribe for calling said person out for bigoted and mean-spirited remarks toward another congressional representative. I called and complimented Mace on doing the right thing and her political courage. We need more of that in Congress and in her party and less of the mean-spirited name calling and bullying.

I read yesterday the North Carolina School of the Arts, a high school for talented young artists, has now increased the number of plaintiffs to 41 accusing the school of allowing sexual misconduct occur. This school has failed to learn the lesson that groups like the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America, Penn State University, Michigan State University, US Women’s Gymnastics, Ohio State University, the US Military, et al. have failed to learn. The victims, not the institutional brand, matter the most. And, by focusing on the victims and bringing the alleged predators to justice, the institutional brand will actually be helped not harmed. Doing the right thing matters.

Unfortunately, I am aware of a couple of folks I know who have been victims of sexual assault. It makes you angry that this can happen. My advice to any person on a college campus or in a large organization, if you are sexually assaulted, do not go to the campus or security officials of the organization Call the police. You will be better served if you go to an entity that is not involved with the institution who will try to protects its brand first and foremost. As for college students, I would suggest young women not let anyone handle their drink, drink judicially and go to parties with a friend. Be in control of your destiny. When testosterone, alcohol and groups are mixed together, a woman’s best interest may not be top of mind.

Putting these stories together, I admire courageous and egalitarian leaders, especially women who exhibit these traits in the face of more adversity than a man faces. I also believe women must be extra vigilant in a world that continues to prey upon them. There are too many men like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes et al out there who have used their positions of power to force themselves on women, whether it is a major retail store manager or a plant manager in a small town. These local managers who prey on women workers are far more prevalent as they control the hiring and scheduling.

It is hard, but it can be done. And, it may affect your income, which makes it harder. Women should not let any man or woman in power take advantage of them or others. I saw two stories this weekend on CBS Sunday Morning News that are telling. The actress Rita Moreno says she was raped by her agent when she was a teenager. Back in the early 1950s, she said she had no voice as a young Latina American and no one would do anything about it, so she did not even try. The other story is of the rock-n-roll singer Pat Benatar who said radio people in the early 1980s said if she slept with them her record would get played. She told them to go screw themselves.

We cannot expect all women to be as feisty as Pat Benatar and many still feel constrained like Rita Moreno did as a Latina American, but we men and women should be advocates for all women who are being pressured. And, we should applaud courage when we see it, whether it is political or personal courage.

Lower-cost clean energy rises in NC

The following are a few excerpts from an editorial written in The Charlotte Observer on Sunday by columnist Ned Barnett. While the focus is on what North Carolina has done the past ten years, it shows what can happen with a focus on renewables and attracting business. It should be noted a lot of NC’s success is in part due to companies like Amazon, Facebook (now Meta), Google and IKEA setting up centers powered by renewable energy, which got the attention of legislators.

“A new report from Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group gives North Carolina strong grades for renewable energy. In measures of growth since 2011, North Carolina ranks third nationally in solar power, 10th in energy efficiency, 17th in electric vehicle sales, 20th in battery storage of renewable energy and 26th in wind power. ‘It’s amazing the difference that a decade can make and how many people are choosing to embrace renewable energies like solar power,’ said Krista Early, an advocate with Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center.

That growth raises prospects that seemed hopelessly remote just a decade ago: widespread use of electric cars that could eliminate the volatile cost of gas and a power grid driven by renewable energy that will reduce utility bills. North Carolina’s move toward renewables will be accelerated by this year’s passage of a major energy bill, House Bill 951.

Steve Levitas, a vice president at Pine Gate Renewables in Asheville, one of the nation’s fastest growing renewable energy companies, said the new state law will have a big effect. ‘HB 951 is going to drive a dramatic transformation of the state energy sectors,’ he said. ‘It will drive retirement of (Duke Energy’s) coal fleet and will result in more renewables. That’s going to happen.’

The new federal infrastructure law and the possible passage of the Build Back Better bill will also expand the use of renewable energy. While renewables still produce a small fraction of electric power, Levitas said the rising use of solar and wind power will make renewable energy an increasingly cheaper option to fossil fuels. ‘People predicted a long time ago that if you created demand, that would drive down costs and that’s been proven to be true many times over,’ he said.”

Note, while the reference to renewables providing a small fraction of electric power may be true in NC, in places like Iowa, Texas, California, Oklahoma, et al, the percentages are not small fractions. Iowa gets over 40% of its electricity from wind energy while Texas is right at 20% on electricity from renewables, primarily wind energy.

Progress is being made, but we now need to hasten it as we have passed the tipping point. Yet, what business has started realizing the past several years, if they do not keep up, their ability to compete may be compromised. State legislatures must recognize this as well.

Read more at: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/article256092197.html#storylink=cpy

News that is not news

While I do like reading and watching less biased and more credible news sources, I have dialed it back some. A key reason is even the better sources focus too much on whose tribe is winning or losing on an issue and less on the issue itself. As a result, fewer issues of import are discussed. 

One reason is the politicians focus more on getting or keeping their job and less on doing their job. What results is a mind-boggling amount of time spent keeping things from getting done even when the action is helpful to people and the majority actually want it done. And, it is even more frustrating when politicians are against something they have supported in the past only because the other tribe brought it up

This blocking of actions is aided and abetted by pseudo-news sources and opinion hosts. These sycophants play a heavy hand in the BS that is a poor substitute for facts and data. I sadly expect this from pseudo-sources and opinion host, but it frustrates me when better news sources speak on who is winning or losing as much as they do.

Our infrastructure bill is at least ten years overdue. There are have been multiple bipartisan pushes to get something passed. Even the preceding president mentioned it during his campaign and Democrat leadership actually welcomed discussion, in spite of efforts to rewrite history that they did not. It has finally gotten passed and yet the tribal protections have gotten in the way of saying this is a good thing even though Americans favored it.

So, let’s encourage our elected officials and news sources to focus on the issues and less on zero-sum games of winning and losing. Accelerating action on climate change, addressing global water concerns, addressing the huge plastic island floating in the Pacific, dealing with debt and deficit issues, expanding health care access further, etc. are all issues that need to be discussed and dealt with.

News that is not news can be ignored. And, citing the latest name calling or labelling of a perceived enemy tribe is just reporting on childish behavior. I don’t need the news to tell me some politicians are being childish.

A Beautiful Mind has it Right – the Nash Equilibrium shows the power of working together

The following post was written seven years ago, but holds true even more so today with the recently passed infrastructure bill as well as the need to work together in our global economy on trade, environmental, and human rights issues.

One of my favorite Russell Crowe movies is “A Beautiful Mind” directed by Ron Howard about the schizophrenic Ph.D. in economics, John Nash. If you saw the movie, you know that Nash won the Nobel Prize in Economic Science for his theory which became known as “Nash Equilibrium” that was used in game theory, economic development and other areas. In short it was all about maximizing everyone’s gain. From Wikipedia, this example might help define what Nash’s theory was all about:

“Stated simply, Amy and Will are in Nash equilibrium if Amy is making the best decision she can, taking into account Will’s decision, and Will is making the best decision he can, taking into account Amy’s decision. Likewise, a group of players are in Nash equilibrium if each one is making the best decision that he or she can, taking into account the decisions of the others in the game.”

The reason I raise is this is that we can all benefit more if we work with each other rather than against. If we all try to win the game, whatever that is, we will actually end up in a collective lesser state. This is a key reason why collaboration is vital to the success of most endeavors, including and especially politics. But, let me use a real example of how a region can benefit more economically through collective partnering under Nash Equilibrium.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, we have a terrific new “transmodal distribution facility” that is near the airport. The facility is adjacent to and incorporates railroad train tracks in the distribution process. It is also very conveniently located to three interstates (I-85, I-77 and I-485) and a fourth four lane highway (US 321) which connects to I-40 about forty miles away. If you know your North Carolina geography, you will know that Charlotte is right on the border with South Carolina and several towns in SC are actually included in the Metro Charlotte area.

A key reason for its success is more than the rail, highway and air access. Charlotte is also a convenient driving distance from ports in Charleston, South Carolina, Wilmington, North Carolina, Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. With the deepening of the Panama Canal set to be complete in 2015, bigger ships can sail from Asia-Pacific (China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, etc.). Yet, unless these ports are dredged to become deeper, the bigger ships cannot enter the harbors there and will sail past. Activity has begun in various stages, but here is where Nash Equilibrium should come to fruition.

The states of North and South Carolina (and Florida and Georgia) should work collectively along with business and the Federal government to deepen all ports noted above. We will all benefit more greatly if we invest together. This would be true on other economic investments where we should work less at cross purposes and compete as a region. I recognize there have been pockets of success where this has been done, but to me, with the significant cost of dredging these harbors and the stalemate in fighting in Washington where Congress is moving money around to fund a very limited transportation budget for infrastructure, this a keen example of why we must work together to benefit more.

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell have been promoting a bipartisan investment in our infrastructure, each representing the major political parties. LaHood said this is the best jobs program we could possibly have. And, as I have said before, borrowing money to invest in assets, is different from borrowing money for operations. This is where we need to spend our money as the collective return on investment is huge.

So, to the state legislatures and Congress, let’s get with it and work to invest in America’s ports and roads. As Rendell said, if we don’t deepen our ports, the ships will sail right by us to Canada. John Nash indeed had a beautiful mind. We should follow his direction to maximize our collective gain.