I just felt like running

In my younger days, I could do my best Forrest Gump impression and go for run. Unlike Forrest, there would not be older men looking out the window saying “That boy sure is a runnin’ fool.” And, I would not be running across country so much that interviewers would ask me why I ran. I would spare them the Forrest answer of “I just felt like running.”

My running post college was around a desire to get a collection of T-shirts, preferably long-sleeved ones, from the various 5K, 8K, 10K and 15K races. I was not into longer races and I was no threat to run a marathon. The road races came in handy as milestones to make me run to practice. “Well I better run a few weeks before, so I do not kill myself in the next race,” was the thought process. Nowadays, I am a walker and hiker. Running causes too much stress on the body, if you don’t have a regular routine, so the slower pace better suits the old bones.

Please note, the walking pace is not that much slower than the jogging pace had become. For some reason, I was a fast boy, but I think the bigger I got, the slow motion knob seemed to be turned on more. A few funny stories that my friends and I encountered illustrate the lack of speed this big, tall guy had even on his best day.

  • A good friend was jogging in a race on this woody 5K trail near where we live. He was one of the few people that was slower than me, only because I was younger. He could probably dust me today. He heard two women come up behind him nearing the end as they said “I think we can catch him.” My friend practically killed himself making sure he finished ahead of these two women.
  • In another race (a 10K), he and I had a small bet that I could finish ahead of him. He had actually goaded me into the race as he knew I was adding too many pounds. After some training, the race day came. I was ahead of him as we neared the last 1K when I heard this “Keith, I am going to catch you!” So, like he did with the two women, I practically killed myself to beat him. What I did not know he was spent when he yelled out, but he did not want me to know, so he hollered out his challenge.
  • Yet, to illustrate how slow I had become, I was running in an 8K race. The crowds got a little thicker as we neared the end. With about 1K to go, I apparently was wearing my suffering on my face, as I saw a little boy point me out to his father and say “Dad, look at him.” From the mouth of babes…..
  • In my younger days, I ran cross-country in high school. But, before you get too impressed, note I was a basketball player whose coach was also the cross-country coach, so I was obligated to be on the team. I have two memories, one funny and one painful. The painful one was running intervals (or gassers), which is running a series of sprints that went something like 2 x 800m, 4 x 400m, 8 x 200m. Living in Florida, in the middle of the night I would cramp up from the dehydration. Ouch.
  • The funny memory is about a fellow basketball player named Gary who had a unique style. He broke the 5K cross-country run into a series of sprints with walking intervals. So, I would pass Gary, then Gary would pass me. This would go on for the whole race until he tired, which usually meant I carried the day due to attrition. Yet, note we both were well back in the pack. So, my speed was indeed relative.

I actually have fond memories of the running. It is exhilarating to expand your lungs and do something. The pleasure of nearing the finish and completing the race is a great moment, even for the slowest of runners. Your only race is to finish and maybe beat a personal best time. I did run a Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta where the number of people is astounding. When the gun shoots to start the race, you stand there for about fifteen minutes until the crowd starts to move.  Just do not fall.

I also ran a 15K race where the namesake created a trust fund after he died to help keep the race going. It was called the Charlie Post Classic. I had the pleasure of finishing third from last in that race which was at Sullivan’s Island near Charleston, SC. Seaside, you learn quickly the difference between running down wind and up wind. On the latter, I was definitely in slo-mo mode. But, yes I did finish and not every one did.

So, if you see this walking fool on the trails, know he is running in his heart. Not much faster, but indeed running. Me and Forrest, Forrest Gump.



Mental Health is one reason, but that means…

After the most recent mass shooting tragedy at Umpqua Community College, the new defense that it is not a gun problem, but is a mental health problem, have arisen. This is not an either/ or debate, as both are problems, but it is even more than that. But, let’s keep it simple and focus on mental health side for now, as there are some very telling things that need to be addressed.

Of course, someone killing people like this is indicative that there is likely a mental health issue. Even if the killer was aligned with a domestic terrorist group, wanted to commit a hate crime, or tried to start a race war as was the motivation in Charleston, SC, there is a sociopathic problem where the killer believes he is justified to do this.

Yet, as tragic as these types of mass shootings are in the US, the most prevalent reason for gun death is clearly a mental health concern and that is suicide. Suicides account for two-thirds of all gun deaths and are the leading cause of death in nine of the top ten states for gun deaths. Also, homes with a gun have a much greater propensity toward suicide than homes without a gun. All it takes is one impulsive act and it is over.

So, yes improving access to mental health is important. Denying access or restricting access to guns for those who have mental health issues is also a concern. Yet, that means you should not advocate actions to the contrary. What do I mean by this?

The folks who are shouting the loudest that this is not a gun issue, but is a mental health issue, have taken steps to block the path to addressing the mental health aspects, sometimes overtly advocating a policy change to make it easier to kill with a gun. The easiest example is the NRA, through the conservative group ALEC, has been supportive of state legislation that will make it a crime if a doctor asks a patient if he or she owns a gun. These laws are being considered in several conservative led states and have passed in a few.

So, think about this. The NRA, who says gun deaths are a mental health issue, advocates that a doctor cannot ask a presumably depressed patient if he or she has a gun at home. Maybe this doctor is already prescribing Lexapro, Risperdal or Seroquel, but the NRA and ALEC want to say it is a criminal act that the doctor inquires whether the patient has access to a weapon. Again, two-thirds of gun deaths in the US are suicide. I think it is well within the domain of the doctor to ask these questions.

But, it goes further. The retiring US Speaker of the House struck language earlier this year to some funding of looking at health care data in the US. He felt it was not appropriate to track gun death data as that was not germane to health issues. Please reread this statement as it takes a second to sink in. A conservative leader, whose party is heavily influenced by the NRA who says gun deaths are a mental health issue, does not want to spend our money to track reasons for gun deaths.

Finally, access to mental health care is key to this process. How are you going to do it? A behavioral psychologist, I used to work with, who helps employers design mental health wellness programs cites the following two statistics. 1 out of 5 people will have some level of depression during their lifetime. She also says that you can pick up any large employer’s health claim data and 1 out of 10 plan participants would be on depression medication. So, the need for access to mental health care is critical. The beauty is the Affordable Care Act provides more people with access.

Yet, the people who say gun deaths are more of a mental health issue also want to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If this is done, what would they propose to make sure access to mental health care exists? The ACA is successful in getting uninsured people access to health care, including mental health care. My recommendation is if this is what they believe, then they should do what most Americans want and continue the ACA and improve it.

We obviously need better gun governance. Two keys are detailed background checks on all sales and elongated waiting periods. Per various surveys, there is a clear majority of Americans who want these, even conservative voters. The waiting period may help save a life, as if someone is depressive, the wait may allow the impulse to wane. Yet, both of these steps along with some others, could help make a difference in gun deaths.

Yet, mental health is a concern. But, that means we should not restrict doctors from having conversations with their patients about guns, especially if they are treating a patient for depression. That means we should track gun death data and use it to make informed decisions. And, that means we should promote the access to mental health care through the Affordable Care Act. To do otherwise on any of these three issues, is highly hypocritical. Saying mental health is a concern and then doing the opposite is antagonistic to solving the problem. It has to be more than words.


Rainy Weekend Musings

Being on the east coast of the US, we are getting the rain that is so needed out west with the droughts and forest fires. Blending with other fronts, Hurricane Joaquin is promoting the continual showers, but I am surprised this illegal alien has been allowed to touch our shores given the hateful rhetoric going on in one of our political parties here. I am sure one candidate will ask why did they give it a Spanish name, just as one candidate criticized Former Governor Jeb Bush for answering a question in Spanish that was asked in Spanish.

Seeing the President’s anger and disappointment yesterday with the latest shooting speaks to the feelings of most people in the country, even responsible gun owners. But, our politicians do not care what people think, as they only care about funders like the NRA who makes them wet their pants and skirts. Surveys have shown all Americans, even Republican voters where guns are more sacrosanct, favor better background checks on all gun transactions and extended waiting periods. Neither of these actions take guns away, but are in the right direction. Yes, other actions are needed, but doing nothing is not the answer. Otherwise, our new slogan is “Welcome to America. I hope you are packing heat.”

Vladimir Putin is the best liar on the planet. And, he does not care. He will lie and two days later speak of his real position, but reporters seem reluctant to say that is different from what you said the other day. We are after ISIL he says initially, then when Syrian rebels are bombed that are nowhere near ISIL, his Secretary of State says “a terrorist, is a terrorist, is a terrorist.” Of course, he also said he is all for supporting a government and accuses the US of supporting the rebels. Yet, Mr. Putin, aren’t you supporting the rebels in Ukraine against a government? Truth be told, the effort to be battle extremists needs the support of Russia and others as it is a collective problem. But, I would encourage him to not be too much in bed with someone who has launched chemical weapons on his own people and has killed 200,000 of his countrymen. It is bad optics.

It is invigorating to see the United Nations meet in New York. Leaders tend to behave better even when they speak their mind, which may be at odds with others’ views. That is a great construct that all  leaders are entitled to speak. Coming together can only help find some common ground on issues. Yes, there are disagreements, but seeing the side meetings that occur to address issues is wonderful. And, this year’s festivities had extra gravitas with Pope Francis speaking about global poverty and climate change, two of our biggest problems in the world.

Finally, it was nice to see the US Senate working in a bipartisan manner on important legislation. Senators Cory Booker and Mike Lee led an effort to put forward a bill to significantly address our criminal justice issues and unfairness along with the overcrowding in federal prisons. This effort brought strange bedfellows into the mix and the result is very positive. The Senate will vote on the bill and, if passed, send it to the House, where collaboration has not been as apparent. Let’s hope we see this ray of hope on how governance should be done and listen less to people who just want to pitch a hissy fit in the middle of the theme park, one who thinks this qualifies him to be president.

That is all I have for now. Have a great weekend.




Is Donald Trump a Manchurian Candidate?

Salman Rushdie, the noted author, commented on Bill Maher’s show a few weeks ago about the absurdity of Donald Trump’s candidacy. He tongue-in-cheek made reference to the possibility of The Donald being a Manchurian Candidate. He was joking and did not believe that to be the case, nor do I, but it is an interesting supposition that echoes what a small number of folks have said from the outset.

For those not familiar with the movies (1962 and 2004) and novel by Richard Condon penned in 1959, “The Manchurian Candidate” involves the machinations by the Chinese government to have a manipulated puppet candidate be in position to win the White House. The story involves the brainwashing of a soldier, who returns a hero, but is psychologically programmed to assassinate the nominee for the White House at the national convention to enable the Manchurian favored candidate to win. The candidate is not what he appears to be.

In the context for today’s presidential race, there is a small cadre who have opined that Trump is really a Democrat who is masquerading as a Republican to win their nomination. The basis is his past Democrat leanings and statements made in public. Those who have opined this have noted that would enable the Democrat candidate to win. Yet, if this were indeed true, The Donald would want to ride this surfboard all the way in if he could given his ego. He would want to win. As I noted earlier, I do not believe this to be true, but Rushdie’s comments coupled with over the top, inane comments made by the candidate make it plausible.

What would it take to do this? First, you would need a demographically challenged party where the demographics are at odds with the rest of the country’s. There would be a strong feeling to “take the country back” as it is changing in front of their eyes. Second, you would need a party who is on the wrong side of most issues, but does not realize it until the resolution of issues does not go their way. This is attributable to telling people a version of the news they want to hear, that has been fed to them by strong personalities. They would feel everyone is out to get them.

Third, you would need a growing voice of malcontents who have more access to power due to gerrymandering and funding bent on using them. What is not realized is these funders have been using their votes for the funders’ purpose. Fourth, you would need the opposing party in power making it easy to portray them as the archangel from hell. Fifth, you would need most of the party at odds with the malcontents, so when what the malcontents want is not accomplished, they would want someone’s hide.

With that kind of stage setting, a candidate who is well-known, highly confident, and brazen, can swoop in and tell a thirsty electorate, everything they want to hear and blame the other side for their problems. Further, the candidate can blame the weak-kneed politicians on their own team for being too weak to take on the bad guys. It does not matter if any of this is true, it just has to appear to have some element of truth, as the fantasy can take it from there. The candidate need not have serious plans, but should release a few that feed the beast – like building a wall, kicking out all immigrants who do not pass muster, saying guns should be handed out much more freely, and taxes must be cut. The candidate would need to have a sense of bravado, that would let him denigrate others and deflect criticism with words accusing questioners of incompetence, being a loser, or being out to get him. And, he would have enough money to say “I cannot be bought,” which is not needed since he is doing the buying.

Again, I don’t believe this to be true, but it is not hard to fathom how it could happen. Yet, either way, The Donald is speaking the so-called-truth like it is a variable commodity, changing today what he said yesterday, and differing with what he will say tomorrow. So, with such variability, it gives him license to do whatever he sees fit if he wins. So, maybe he is his own Manchuria.

We need Columbo to interview candidates

Back in the 1970s, my family loved to watch the weekly detective show called “Columbo” starring Peter Falk. For those who never had the pleasure, Columbo always wore a crumpled up khaki rain coat and drove an old Peugot. He smoked a cigar, or at least had one in his mouth at all times, and looked rather unkempt. Plus, his manner of asking questions seemed like he was not on top of things, but that was part of his charm and his way of disarming suspects. As a result, suspects would give him one piece of information too many and he would solve the case.

He was famous for starting to leave a room and then stopping and scratching his head. He would then say a variation of “oh, one more thing” and ask the question he wanted to ask in the first place. Oh, how I would love for Columbo to interview our presidential candidates on camera. We ask far too few “how” and “why” questions when talking with candidates. They get off way to easy. In fact, one of the candidates is so brazen, that he ridicules you if you ask a question where he obviously does not know the answer. Columbo, would act like he is leaving the room and then stop and ask him the question he really wants to ask.

“One more thing, Mr. Trump. You said filing for bankruptcy is very common. But, help me understand why most companies never file for bankruptcy and very few file for bankruptcy four times.”

“Oh, Dr. Carson. It is doctor, right? You have said you don’t believe in evolution, but help me reconcile that with your being a neurosurgeon. Are you just saying that to get votes or do you really believe that?”

“Senator Clinton, are you absolutely sure, there are no emails on your personal server that had classified information at the time?”

“Ms. Fiorina, help me understand why a Board of Directors would go to great pains to fire you and give you $21 million in severance if they felt that was not in the best interests of the company?”

“Oh, one more thing Senator Cruz, you do not seem very popular in Congress among your own colleagues. Why is that? Can you define grandstander for me?”

“Senator Rubio. I have a problem with some thing. You were part of a bipartisan Senate group that passed a well-received Immigration Bill. Help me understand why you have distanced yourself from your greatest legislative achievement?”

“Governor Bush, help me understand why you hired the same defense advisors that your brother used, when that may have been his Waterloo?”

There are many more questions to be asked to everyone, but especially to some who have a longer list of questions to be answered. Yet, we need Columbo to ferret out the chestbeaters and help find the better leaders. We have many of the former and much fewer of the latter.




Don’t hesitate to chat someone up

My wife laughed at my use of the term “chat someone up,” as she said the phrase is code for flirting. Yet, my intention is not to flirt, but to reach out to others and find some connections. Also, since I do this with men as well, I hope I am not considered to be flirting. With that said, I want to share a few true examples that make life richer and, sometimes, find unbelievable connections.

Last week, we were traveling to my home town three states away to see my mother who we recently moved into an assisted living facility. Early in our trip and a long way from our destination, we grabbed a bite to eat. While paying for our breakfast bill and waiting on my wife, I started chatting up the cashier. Through “where are you going?” questions and answers, it got weird quickly. It turns out her husband grew up one street away from me. When I found out his aunt and uncle lived on the next street over (which was my street), I said my dad worked with his uncle and I played with his son. And, I remembered I had met her husband, as well. So, this entire connection started with me asking her if I should call her general as she had four stars on her apron.

A few years before, I was talking with someone I knew from collaborations to help folks in need. During this conversation, she noted she was going to visit her brother in my home town, again three states away. So, asking her if that is where she grew up, the conversation again got weird quickly. It turns out, she went to my high school and was a year behind me. While my high school was large, we knew many of the same folks and discussed a humorous event that she abetted on stage during a Mr. Ugly contest (where guys dressed up as girls and made fools of themselves). I was in the audience and remembered it well.

She always seemed familiar, so we went on to discuss where she went to college. And, then it got even more weird. She dated the roommate of a friend of mine and I actually was at a party she attended at their apartment. That was why she looked so familiar, more so than the mutual high school time. So, all of these connections were discussed, with a simple question of why are you headed to my home town?

It never ceases to amaze me the many connections we can find if we simply engage in conversation. Or, it may not be a historical connection, but one of just connecting with another passenger on our planet. On our favorite family vacation to Ireland, near the Cliffs of Moher, which are breathtaking, we stopped for a quick bite to eat before we ventured on. In this tiny café, we met Oola. Oola was from Belgium, but her village was so close to the border, she could walk to two different countries quite easily. This was six years ago, but I can still see Oola and her cherubic smile and interest in others. That conversation was one of the great memories from the trip, so much that I can still recall pieces of it six years later.

Why am I writing this? We are part of a fabric of life. Yet, we are talking to people less, too concerned with what we can access with our hand-held devices. We miss so much when we don’t pay attention to what is around us. We miss so much when we don’t engage other humans on our planet. If I had not started simple conversations above, I would have missed out on two interesting paths that crossed with mine and would have not had the pleasure and memory of talking with one of our more interesting souls.

My advice is to put yourself out there. It is not hard. Look for something that strikes your interest or is unusual and start chatting someone up. When working, if I was in someone’s office, I would look at their pictures, diplomas, books, desk items, etc. looking for some connection to discuss. I told my children to search for common bonds with people. Life is short, so if we can find these common bonds, we can make it richer through conversation with others.

What do these organizations have in common?

Based on the question asked above, I want you to think about the following organizations for a minute: Adelphia, American Express, Bank of America, Citigroup, Duke Energy, Enron, GM, Goldman Sachs, Healthsouth, Lehman Brothers, Lumber Liquidators, Marsh and McLennan, Massey Energy, Merrill Lynch, Penn State University, Toyota, Tyco, Volkswagen, and Wells Fargo.

What thoughts pop into your head? What do these organizations have in common? Yes, they have all been successful and many still are. The answer I am looking for is they have all been fined, publicly shamed or found guilty of some level of malfeasance, criminal neglect or fraud. The disappointing truth is I have been a shareholder in four of these organizations, so it hurts me both morally and financially, to see leaders forsake their roles as stewards of the company.

Volkswagen is the latest to join the infamous group. I was speaking with a Volkswagen owner the other day. While I was talking about the fine and decline in stock value around their purposeful fraud to avoid poor EPA emissions test results, he was thinking of it as a further depreciated car value. As with the others, what Volkswagen did was wrong and it will hurt them for a long while. The poor emissions will be hurting all of us until the cars are fixed. The CEO resigned earlier this week, and well he should, as a fraud like this has to be understood or even sanctioned at the very top. As of this writing, some car owners and shareholder groups are considering class action lawsuits against Volkswagen’s leadership.

Why do I bring this up today? Quite simply, we have politicians running on a platform of eliminating regulations so business can flourish. We often confuse bureaucracy with regulations. We need to investigate and remedy inefficiency in the latter, as bureaucracy can be antagonistic to efficiency. But, we need to also challenge ourselves to be smart with our regulations. If regulations are not efficacious, we should make changes, which might include their elimination. But, as evidence of the above well-known examples, which do not include countless others, doing away with regulations carte blanche would be unwise and foolish.

So, when you hear a statement like “we must do away with regulations,” ask yourself why? Who does that serve? The answer may be illuminating. I will leave you with a quote from Senator Elizabeth Warren who led the effort to create the hugely successful Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This agency has fined several of the financial companies above for hundreds of millions for aggressive marketing and outright fraudulent practices, over 90% of which goes back to the impacted customers. In response to a question about why she does not like Wall Street, she said “I like Wall Street, I just do not like cheating.” Neither do I, nor should any of us.