Dad would have been 83 yesterday

Dad’s birthday was yesterday. He would have been 83 years old. He passed away in 2006 and I think about him from time to time. Usually, it is a circumstance that he would have been interested in or it could be I just wanted him to help counsel my boys in college or my daughter in high school from a non-parental view. Mom kept his voice on the answering machine until this past year, when her machine needed replacing. She wanted a man’s voice to dissuade other from thinking there was no man in the house. I must confess, it gave me chills even seven years after his death to hear his voice on the answering machine.

I wrote about “Lessons from Dad” on Father’s Day, 2012. Here is the link: https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/lessons-from-dad/. Like all of us, Dad was not perfect, but he was a terrific mentor and role model. His funeral was very well attended by former workers and college friends, some couples who were still married, like my mother and father, who met in college. He was a beloved supervisor and the stories of his working alongside his colleagues overtime are many. But, also the stories of his staying up all night to smoke a ham and turkey in his smoker were many. He often would promote having picnics in the office where everyone brought something in. I would wager his colleagues did this at least four times a year.

Dad loved to cook on the grill or with his smokers. He also loved making Oyster or Brunswick stew. I used to tease him that he would always bring a wingless chicken in from the grill. He would sample the wings outside as he said they absorbed most of the seasoning. He also made the best roast beef on the grill. He had several approaches, but I have never found anything like it in a restaurant. And, like the picnics above, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter would always have him smoking a ham and turkey.

Dad was happiest when his grandchildren were over. He loved watching ball games with my older brother’s son who lived in the same city. Dad was a great athlete in college – basketball, baseball and track – so he loved to watch all, especially basketball and golf. He was married to my Mom for 55 years, so they were devoted to each other. His Achilles’ Heels included a couple of bad habits that would affect his health later on. He did cease the habits, but some damage was done.

Dad started smoking when he was 12 years old. That was not unusual in rural Georgia where he was raised. He did stop ten years before his death, but I believe it was due to direct doctor’s orders. This was a major reason he had blood circulation issues and several stents later on. He also drank way too much and, though, he also stopped this bad habit, some lingering effects remained. I will write more about this in a few weeks, as his youngest son had this bad habit as well. The only times he and Mom would have words is when he drank. And, the only times he would have lapses of reliability were when he drank.

Yet, setting those aside, my memories of Dad are very positive. He was my ball coach, my mentor and my inspiration. He was not perfect, but he was great. I love you Dad.

You are only as good as your worst operator

One of the more telling comments I have heard about fossil fuel extraction was made by a scientist who worked for one of the big companies. His comments apply to deep sea oil drilling, coal mining and fracking for natural gas. To paraphrase, he said the industry does its best to make sure the process is as safe as possible, but leaks do occur. Yet, even if the process could be made fully safe, you are only as good as your worst operator.

In my home state of North Carolina, there was a last minute attempt by some legislators to sneak language into another bill to circumvent the study process going on to make fracking as safe as possible before the state embarks down this path. I say last minute as the General Assembly finished their work for the year, unless a special session is called. The bill fortunately failed and the inserted language was one of the reasons cited. It is ironic that this Machiavellian attempt occurred on the day it was announced Halliburton, one of the largest fracking companies in the world, pleaded guilty to destroying evidence which showed they knew the cement casings on the BP Horizon (which dumped all of the oil in the Gulf of Mexico) needed more metal support than was given and contributed to the leakage and blow out. For more on the story, here is the link:

http://money.msn.com/business-news/article.aspx?feed=OBR&date=20130725&id=16741169&ocid=ansmony11

You may be interested in knowing it is the cement casings around the fracking housing that fail immediately 1 in 20 times according to another fracking industry expert and fail over time at an even higher rate. The industry knows about this and has for years, which is one reason Vice President Dick Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton, inserted langauge (in a Machiavellian way) into the 2005 Energy Policy Act to forego frackers from being subject to the Clean Air and Safe Drinking Water Acts and did not have to disclose chemicals used in fracking, the last item which was proposed last week in the bill defeated in North Carolina.

Please ponder this as you watch on the news about the natural gas well in the Gulf of Mexico which was on fire and venting methane into our environment and leaking into the Gulf. We are focusing on the leakage into the water after the BP Horizon collapse, yet the bigger story to me is the leakage of methane into the air. Here is an article from Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/26/natural-gas-rig-blowout_n_3660717.html. The reason for this blow out is still being determined. Yet, I am hopeful people outside of the companies involved will get to the bottom of this.

We need to rely on data from scientists and not those involved in the industry whose livelihood and profit margins are dependent on telling as good a story as they can. I say this as the fossil fuel industry does an excellent job of masking their troubles and especially their bad operators.  The industry has a Public Relations firm which is used to mask the real stories. This is the same PR firm the industry used to countervene the now apparent evidence that global warming is happening and is man-influenced. The real story is fracking is not safe and cannot be made to be perfectly safe. Yet, even if it were, it is only as safe as its worst operator. And, Halliburton has pleaded guilty to trying to hide this fact from the public.

I urge everyone to get all the facts and not someone’s spin of the facts. In my reading, I have noticed several websites that are geared around creating doubt about the arguments of fracking critics who are demanding more from the industry. I firmly believe when you look at the data, the prize is not worth the price everyone will pay. There is no question the industry will make money and the landowner who has the mineral rights will be compensated. But, everyone else will be left holding the bag due to a more toxic air and water supply, the resulting health deterioration of people and livestock, a degraded environment and less water to drink and use.

Yet, the supporters of the industry like to throw back as their final argument, but this industry is creating jobs. Yes, but so are others and they tend to be local jobs, not hired fracking guns from out-of-state. Just in North Carolina, there is a company in Chapel HIll called Strata Solar whose solar panel installers are flat out busy. California, if measured as a country, is the 7th largest producer of solar energy in the world. Appalachian State University is doing cool things with its Wind in Schools program and has completed eight wind mill projects. As of last fall, there are 75,000 wind energy jobs nationwide with wind energy in 39 states. As a case study, the retailer IKEA will be energy independent with wind and solar energy by 2020 and already has solar panels on top of 39 of its 43 stores in North America.

This is the direction we should go. The jobs are local, the industry is cleaner and renewable and safe for the environment. If I were the Governor of West Virginia, I would embrace this new path forward, plead for matching federal funding and train my coal miners to install solar panels and build windmills. If you tell a coal miner he or she need not go down in a hole and can make good money doing something better for all of us, I believe he or she would take that trade.

I would also remind you of the West Virginia coal mine disaster in the past two years, by a company whose owner had funded several politicians and judges to look the other way as he cut corners. You are only as good as your worst operator. And, one final comment courtesy of Bill Maher answering is own question – what do you hear when a windmill crashes into the sea – a splash. So, a bad windmill operator won’t be nearly as detrimental as a bad fossil fuel operator.

Rocket Girl – The Story of Mary Sherman Morgan

Per the description of the biography called  “Rocket Girl” by George D. Morgan about his mother on the Amazon website: “This is the extraordinary true story of America’s first female rocket scientist, told by her son. It describes Mary Sherman Morgan’s crucial contribution to launching America’s first satellite and the author’s labyrinthine journey to uncover his mother’s lost legacy – a legacy buried deep under a lifetime of secrets political, technological, and personal. Blending a fascinating personal history with dramatic historical events taking place on the world stage, this compelling narrative brings long-overdue attention to a modest but brilliant woman whose work proved essential for America’s early space program. In 1938, a young German rocket enthusiast named Wernher von Braun had dreams of building a rocket that could fly him to the moon.

On the opposite side of the world, a young farm girl named Mary Sherman was attending high school in Ray, North Dakota. In an age when girls rarely dreamed of a career in science, Mary wanted to be a chemist. A decade later the dreams of these two disparate individuals would coalesce in ways neither could have imagined. In a vivid narrative, Morgan relates how World War II and the Cold War space race with the Russians changed the fates of both von Braun and his mother. When von Braun and other top engineers could not find a solution to the repeated failures that plagued the nascent US rocket program, North American Aviation, where Mary Sherman Morgan then worked, was given the challenge. Recognizing her talent for chemistry, company management turned the assignment over to young Mary.

In the end, America succeeded in launching rockets into space, but only because of the joint efforts of the brilliant farm girl from North Dakota and the famous German scientist. While von Braun went on to become a high-profile figure in NASA’s manned space flight, Mary Sherman Morgan and her contributions fell into obscurity.” You can see more about the book with the following link:

http://www.amazon.com/Rocket-Girl-Sherman-Americas-Scientist/dp/1616147393

I learned of Mary Sherman Morgan the other day while watching PBS Newshour. They interviewed her son George about his book about his mother, the rocket scientist. Many things strike me about this story. First, her talent could not be restrained by the social limitations of the day. She succeeded in spite of being the “only woman in the room” on almost every occasion. To do what she did with the constant push back, both verbally and non-verbally, speaks volumes of both her ability and character. Whether due to race, ethnicity or gender, to always be the lone different one in a group of people, takes some chutzpah to succeed that many don’t have.

Second, she was an unassuming woman. Her family and friends had little, if any, understanding of the huge role she played in the US space program. She did not wish to be in the limelight and because of her gender, no one pushed her into it. So, others took her portion of the credit for the glory and she was OK by that. Her son wrote this book to tell the real story. He had to do a lot of digging. His mom made a difference and others need to know about it what she did.

I am a father of three, with my daughter the youngest at age 16. I want every opportunity for her and do not want anyone to limit her because of her gender. That is grossly unfair to her and society. Unfortunately, women do not get these opportunities in many places around the globe. I have said often, on top of the gross unfairness, it is economically suicidal for a country to limit the opportunities of at least half of its intellectual capital. What if they have a Mary Sherman Morgan in their midst, but deny her educational opportunity? They would never realize the potential of her ability.

This is why it so important for all of us to push and keep pushing for equal opportunity. It is imperative that all people be treated with dignity and be in a safe and secure environment. I personally do not care what religion you follow, but if your group’s interpretation of your scripture puts down women and treats them like possessions, then either you need to get a better interpretation or maybe find a new religion. Social justice is a moral imperative. We must treat all with respect and just because you’re a man, does not mean you should get more than your fair share.

To flourish, we need more Mary Sherman Morgans in our world. If we have them and let them be successful, our world will be a better place. You go, Rocket Girl!

Sex is not the issue – it is your poor judgment

Now that former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford has been elected to Congress (a poor move by voters in that state) and Anthony Weiner and Elliott Spitzer are running for political offices again, the thought that is lost on them is obvious to many. We are asking you to be a leader representing our interests. How can we expect you to make good decisions on our behalf when you exercise such poor judgment on misdeeds and then try to rationalize or make excuses? We are all human and make mistakes. Yet, a key test for many is what kind of mistake was it, did you fess up and did you stop doing the misdeeds? If Tiger Woods was running for office, we would be asking him these same kinds of questions, as he had a girl in every port, while a married father.

I know some people say what someone does in his personal life should matter less to whether they would be a good politician. In some respects, that is true. Yet, when you misuse our time, our money and our trust while doing it, that should be fair game for inclusion in the debate over your veracity. You showed poor judgment. Sanford was reelected to his former Congressional seat after leaving the governor’s office. As many recall, he walked the Appalachian Trail (his story) while he was flying back and forth to Argentina to see his mistress. There were reports of where is the governor as he was missing in action for periods of time with no public knowledge. Yet, since he stayed with his mistress after his divorce, that seemed to make it all better. As an aside, I believe his greatest mistake as governor was not accepting stimulus money to boost his state’s economy when his state is one of the most impoverished and unhealthy states in the country. He declined out of principle, yet it was obvious later, he had no principles.

Weiner, whose name is more than symbolic of his ongoing willingness to reveal more than he should, is guilty of extremely poor judgment. And, it appears he continued to exercise this poor judgment for several months following his departure from Congress. In this day and age where we tell our children anything you put online can be seen by anyone, how can we expect Wiener to make important decisions for us when he does not act like an adult? My strong advice to Mr. Weiner is stop wasting our time. His wife, who has a tremendous track record in her own right, has stood by him after his misdeeds. Yet, I am not sure she knew his online sexual trysts continued long after his first mea culpa.

Spitzer deserved some credit for taking on Wall Street as the New York Attorney General. He may have been overzealous at times, yet he was directionally correct even when he was a tad zealous. The New York voters gave him due credit and elected him governor. So, why would someone who had done all of that, exercise such repeated poor judgment in frequenting a high-end prostitute on state time and expense? This was not one paid tryst, but was a routine of misbehavior. His wife’s stance is somewhere in between that of Weiner and Sanford’s. Jenny Sanford kicked her husband to the curb. I think it was the “soul mate” reference he made about his Argentine lover.

Spitzer’s wife lives away from her husband, but is still married to him. She has not been part of his campaign and has not condoned his earlier actions. I also feel sorry for his kids, when it is hard for dad to explain his improprieties. Spitzer is probably more deserving of office given his track record, but if I lived in New York, I would most likely not vote for him. I do know his judgment would be in question if I had to make that choice. The voters in SC weighed that choice and, in fact, the national Republican Party distanced themselves from Sanford and he had to win on his own. He probably benefitted from his then mistress being is now fiance. Yet, most of the traditional GOP voters who elected him in as the majority from his district, were less in tune with his poor decision on not accepting federal stimulus dollars which SC so badly needed.

Finally, there is the story of the serial groper, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner (these names are not made up). Filner has a hugging, squeezing and groping problem among other offensive behaviors. The problem on the former is a growing number of women are coming out of the woodwork to claim sexual harassment against Mr. Filner. He is going to counseling, but I think most Americans liken this to what Tiger Woods did when his numerous trysts came out – “I have an addiction to sex.” Please. Unlike Woods who is a private citizen, we expect more of a mayor, so he needs to protect what little dignity he has and resign. The citizens of San Diego deserve more than being a punch line to a joke. It does not do a lot for your credibility when husbands and fathers tell their wives and daughters to stay out of arm’s length of the mayor.

So, note to Weiner and Spitzer. You should likely call it a day and not run. Filner, you need to ride off into the sunset. Like Sanford, Spitzer might win, but we shall see what the future holds. So, politicians, please remember, what you do in your bedroom is your business, unless you make it ours by showing incredibly poor judgment and misuse our dollars, time and trust. What Filner is doing is out in the open, so his judgment cannot be contained in the bedroom. If what you do makes headlines, then it is something that should be considered in future voting decisions. It is your choice, but it later will be ours.

A Pretty Sad Group of People

Through the lens of this fiscally conservative, socially progressive Independent voter, as low as the Republican led US Congress has been ranked, there is a legislative body that dwarfs them in terms of poor legislative activity. While the US Congress has been favored less than a “colonoscopy” per Senator John McCain, the Republican led General Assembly of the State of North Carolina truly takes the cake. The key difference is both chambers of the General Assembly plus the Governor are all Republican, so my fellow citizens get to witness up close what happens when you have an unfettered body passing legislation that is not only contrary economically to what is needed, but stomps on opportunity and rights of others who are disenfranchised.

As a 54 year-old former Republican, I have never been so embarrassed and disappointed by a governing body of people. But, don’t take my word for it. They have been ranked low in formal polls with approval ratings beneath 40%. In an informal poll by the online Business Journal magazine, which tends to be a more conservative cross-section of people, the General Assembly has been given a D or F grade 55% of the time. Also, the Moral Monday crowds which have been protesting every Monday since the first of May, have grown in number and the arrests have increased to close to a 1,000 people. There would have likely been more, but the authorities are weary from arresting ministers, professors, teachers, doctors of all races and ethnicities. The national attention that the Moral Monday protestors have been given at the expense of this legislature is appropriate.

The legislature is following the GOP playbook that is being used by many GOP led states. Our Governor, who initially said the Moral Monday protestors were predominantly from out-of-state (a random survey said 97% were from in state), has had no qualms about having Grover Norquist, the de facto leader of the GOP, fly in to NC on numerous occasions. Note, he was not boarding a plane from a NC city to fly here. Yet, the citizens in this state apparently do not matter in this lobbyist-fueled legislature, which is prima facie evidence of what can happen with unfettered access to decision-making. Well, what have some of those decisions been?

– Significant reduction to unemployment benefits – NC is the only state to reduce long term unemployment benefits so much that they lost Federal long term unemployment benefit funding. This was done in addition to cutting regular benefits by 1/3. Cuts were needed, but this was well beyond the call of duty and will harm people, as well as the economy with $780 million flowing out of the economy the rest of this year alone.

– Not expanding Medicaid benefits under Obamacare – I have written several posts on this failure to act. This will harm 500,000 people and forego bringing billions of dollar to the state that would help the healthcare economy where rural hospitals are suffering as they chase dollars to pay for services. The Rand institute is the latest group to say expanding Medicaid should be a no brainer for a state.

– Reducing funding for education – Teacher pay in NC ranks 46th in the country. So, the solution was to provide very little for raises, cut teacher assistants, cut tenure, cut extra pay for Masters’ degrees and install a voucher program for going to private schools. NC is attractive to industry because of its innovation and education. We have just fallen from 4th most attractive in 2012 to 12th best in 2013. By my math, that is not progress.

– Reducing taxes that benefit the wealthiest – Estate tax is gone, plus the upper end will enjoy the largest of tax cuts. This is called a job creating law, yet trickle down economics has been shown by numerous studies to fail in creating jobs, the most recent of which was by the Congressional Research Office last fall that was buried by Senator McConnell before the election. A recent informal poll by the Business Journal shows its more conservative readers judge this tax change as a positive by only 44% to a negative view of 43%, the rest undecided. Note, this is a tax cut, mind you these readers are not supporting overwhelmingly.

– Funding for environmental protection continues to get cut and oversight committees either disbanded or replaced by business friendly members. The NC Biofuels group that I touted only a few weeks ago for creating a new source of ethanol with reed grasses, will have to shut its doors. We are investigating ways to allow fracking and it took a lot of effort that showed even conservative legislators to not derail an admired law put in place in 2007 to require utilities to provide 15% of their power by alternative energy (or be responsible for the perpetuation if in another state) by 2021. This repeal effort was fortunately defeated by some saner heads.

– The General Assembly has just passed a restrictive abortion rights bill that copy cats other states’ laws like that which was signed in Texas after the famous filibuster. They are about to pass concealed gun laws which will allow guns in restaurants and bars with a permit and alow them on college campuses, if locked in a car. Plus, some of the licensing is being changed over the objection of law enforcement, which is a group you would not typically want to ignore on crime issues. And, they are about to pass a Voter ID law which will reduce early voting, making it harder for college students to vote, eliminate same day registration and require photo IDs. As I have noted, the problem in our country is not enough people voting, not voter fraud, yet this law’s unstated purpose is to make it harder for people to vote and impact typically non-Republican voters more.

– If that were not enough, the state legislature initiated a spitting contest with the City of Charlotte over a city run airport that has been well run by the state’s own admission. Back in February, the legislature proposed a bill to yank control from the City and place it with a regional authority. This was without previous discussion with the City. Whether this is a good idea or not, it was extremely poor form to pose this without detailed conversation with stakeholders before unleashing the news. As of this writing the City of Charlotte has an injunction against the state to cease and desist. Note, this is after the state started down the path of yanking the control over water and sewage resources from the City of Asheville. I believe this is being decided in the courts as well.

My friend Amaya who blogs on www.thebrabblerabble,wordpress.com from another part of our state has written several similar posts. We both are pulling our hair out over this sad group of people. The litany of changes that will harm people, harm the economy, harm the environment, increase gun deaths and make it easier to win elections just boggles the mind. The last point about the airport and water fights with two of its cities show lack of good faith negotiation. These may be the right courses of action to take, but the process to get there showed that the General Assembly has not been very trustworthy. Maybe that is the best way to leave this. They have breached our trust on almost every front. They have been more concerned with the business interests of wealthy donors than its own citizens. The unfortunate part is with the gerrymandered districts from last year, we are likely stuck with this untrustworthy lot. And, that leaves the NC citizens with being sad for this body’s actions.

Most things tend to be interrelated

Not unlike the famous book “Six Degrees of Separation,” most things are interrelated at some level. They may not be cause and effect related, but if you look hard enough, you can likely find connections where you did not think they existed. I have used this example on a few occasions, but it is not uncommon or ironic to see someone in a social services capacity fail to recognize a problem with one of his or her clients and something bad happens. Invariably, the newspapers and public will be alarmed and say “how could you possibly let that happen?” Yet, when you find out the social worker is handling 160 clients, when a more effective number of clients might be 16, you can see how budget cuts have caused people to do more with less and a case falls through the cracks.

There is a similar example that is being highlighted in a HBO Documentary film called “Gideon’s Army” which focuses on a vastly overworked group of public defenders. A link to the website is as follows: http://gideonsarmythefilm.com/. These folks are so overworked and underpaid, they cannot do their job and save people who have been given a raw deal or honor the defense of people who have done what they are accused of. As a consequence, justice is not well-served and innocent people or people whose crime is not as significant as portrayed, are put into a prison system and are lost. These big-hearted, hard-working public defenders should be applauded and given more support, both financially and emotionally. The problem is we end-up with an over-crowded prison system including people who should not be there and who will tend to commit more future crimes by having been in the prison system.

Crimes committed by people in poverty are another good example. If we do not educate and mentor kids they may seek paths forward that are not fruitful. If we do not counsel teenage girls and boys on sex education and give them means of birth control, unwanted families will occur. I have shared before there is a strong correlation between family size and poverty. There is also a strong correlation between teenage mothers and poverty. And, with only one parent and a young one at that, it places the children in harm’s way.  Parents, just like you, these kids are going to be tempted and want to have sex. You cannot stop them. Feel free to preach abstinence, but also teach your teenage girls how to say “no” to a teenage boy. Mothers and fathers teach your teenage boys to respect girls. But, also give both of them condoms. The message is I would prefer that you not, but if you do, please (have him) wear this.

Poverty manifests itself in many ways. Lack of education is a key reason for poverty be it not having a high school, GED, two or four-year college degree or skilled in a trade. Lack of a job above minimum wage is another key reason. The minimum wage jobs perpetuate poverty as people cannot live as an individual, much less feed a family, on these jobs. The absence of healthcare or poor healthcare insurance is another reason. This is the leading reason for personal bankruptcy. We must invest in our people. That includes keeping them alive through food stamps and unemployment benefits. That includes giving them access to affordable healthcare.These programs actually reinvest dollars into the economy. Yet, we must help educate people to gain better jobs. When crime evolves out of poverty, all of society pays the price. If we can invest in these communities and education, dividends will be paid to the community through a more robust economy and greater number of taxpayers and consumers.

Also, our communities need a safe and flourishing environment. I see a huge ROI in treating the environment well. Health (including mental health) care costs will improve, infrastructure won’t be as degraded if we build in an environmentally supportive way and cleaner jobs will lead to longer lifespans. Some folks may scoff at the improved physical and mental healthcare costs, but there are strong correlations between asthma, autism and other diseases and chemical toxins in the environment. Since a child’s brain does not fully form until he or she is in their 20’s, the kids are more prone to be impacted to these toxins being closer to the ground, mouth breathing more, and placing their hands in their mouth more times per hour than an adult. Also, there has been observed increases in pre-mature births in more toxic areas and since the lungs are the last organ to fully develop, these pre-mature births make the babies more prone to breathing abnormalities down the road perpetuating the problem.

I could go on, but let me end with a comment about obesity. If you are overweight, you are a train wreck waiting to happen. It may not occur until you are in your 40’s or 50’s, but if you do not take care of your body, it will cause a problem. Doctors are not surprised when many people have heart attacks, strokes, joint pain, diabetes, liver malfunction, etc. and are overweight.  Your obesity will cause you problems in a vast many ways. It will also affect you financially, as there are these things called deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance. Plus, there is a correlation between depression and obesity. You cannot treat the latter without treating the former. So, if you eat better, drink less and exercise more, it will improve your health, mind and pocketbook. But, go see a mental health professional if you are overeating due to being depressed, disappointed, stressed, etc.

I mention these interrelationships as examples as we need holistic solutions to our many problems. This is not the movies and there are no silver bullets. We need to spend our money judiciously and in several areas where improvements can be made. Like many issues, the improvement may not be overnight and it may take a long time, but if we identify problems and underlying causes, develop a plan, determine what success will look like and when it might occur, develop milestones and measures and invest in our future, we will have a better chance of success. Things are interrelated. If we don’t understand that, we may not solve the problems.

Please check out Elon University poll on gun control

If you do crossword puzzles, you will be quite familiar with Elon University as it is a common answer to the clue “NC University.” Elon is a fine liberal arts university located between Greensboro and Raleigh, NC that attracts its 6,000 students from all over the country and world. For several years, its students have conducted numerous surveys and polls that are meritorious. A recent Elon poll on the issue of gun control is representative of their efforts. It is excellent for the questions it asked as well as the breakdown of results by political party preference and demographic group. Here is the poll link: http://www.elon.edu/docs/e-web/elonpoll/030413_ElonPoll_guncontrol.pdf

I have sent the above link to numerous legislators representing the interests of the state of NC and US. My request is that they listen to the citizens they represent rather than lobbyists. I would encourage you to link to the survey results and give it a read. The survey is not very long, so it is not a major investment of your time. I will let you draw your own conclusions. Please feel free to share it with others, especially your representatives.

I will refrain from comment at this point. I have written numerous posts on gun control that you can reference, but I truly believe this poll is informative and well done.

The psychology of wealth can make you less compassionate

This title may seem strange, but it is based on a study completed by the University of California at Berkeley and University of Toronto. The folks who scoff at this title and study authors would also be the ones who would say “what would you expect from a study done in UC-Berkeley.” Yet, the principal author Paul Piff, noted in the LA Times “I regularly hear the Berkeley idiot scientist who’s finding what they expect to find. Let me tell you, we didn’t expect to find this. Our findings apply to both liberals and conservatives. It doesn’t matter who you are. If you’re wealthy, you’re more likely to show these patterns of results.” Piff was interviewed along with Dr. Dacher Keltner on a PBS Newshour story by Paul Solman last month called “Exploring the Psychology of Wealth, ‘Pernicious’ Effects of Economic Inequality” which can be found with this link http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/business/jan-june13/makingsense_06-21.html.

The study concluded that people with wealth, whether it was real wealth or created in a game format, showed rather conclusively a higher propensity to have a sense of entitlement to get more than their fair share. It is not saying that every wealthy person would act this way and there are many exceptions, yet there was clear evidence to show a propensity to use their position to cut corners and gain further advantage. It also noted there tended to be a higher degree of compassion and fairness by those with less for others in similar or worse circumstances. In other words, it was harder for those who “have” to walk in the shoes of the “have-nots.”

I observe this often in trying to explain the needs of homeless or impoverished people. No matter how hard I try, there are audiences who can not be dissuaded from their pre-conceived notion that homeless or impoverished people are not deserving of help and that they should just get a job. This is one reason I always emphasize that 84% of the homeless families, an agency I work with helps, have jobs. We are also seeing it manifest in the United States with the increasing divide in wealth between those with and without and the decline in economic class mobility.

But, don’t take my word for it. I would encourage you to click on the link above and judge for yourself. The aforementioned study observed the following in multiple tests:

– At a four-way intersection, drivers of the priciest cars were 4 times more likely to fail to correctly yield the right of way than other drivers;

– In a waiting room with a jar of candy where the participants were all told the candy was being saved for a children’s meeting soon following, the wealthier participants took candy from the jar 2 times more frequently than non-wealthy participants;

– In a dice game to add up the results of dice rolls, with the person with largest dice tally winning $50, the wealthier participants were 4 times more likely to cheat; and

– Similar results were also found on other exercises around reporting of incorrect change to a small financial transaction or getting an incorrect grade on an exam when the participant knew they earned less. The wealthier participants reported the infraction in their favor fewer times.

The study went further to show the results of a weighted Monopoly game. One person would get to roll two dice to the other’s one, the same person would also get $2,000 to the other person’s $1,000 and get to use the car game piece to the other person’s lesser token. What the study observed, the person in the game who had the most money and best opportunity to win, used directive comments that showed a sense of entitlement to their success. When the study flipped the weighting, the person who in real life was less affluent, but who now had the upper hand in the game, would also exhibit some of the same traits of entitlement.

The troubling part of the study, is people with wealth, whether real or contrived, exhibited a sense of entitlement to their wealth. It is the same reason when I wrote a few months ago that Warren Buffett said he was also “lucky” to be as wealthy, it bothered people. He said he worked hard, but he was born a white male in America, which gave him a leg up. By the way, Buffett is definitely one of the exceptions to the rule about compassion.

Yet, there is hope. Dr. Keltner, who heads the Greater Good Science Center at UC-Berkeley noted: “One of the things that wealth and money does is it comes with a set of values, and if you want a deeper ideology, and one of them is, generosity is for suckers and greed is good. But it turns out, there are a lot of new data that show, if you’re generous, and charitable, and altruistic, you will live longer, you will feel more fulfilled, you will feel more expressive of who you are as a person. You probably will feel more control and freedom in your life.”

The above translates to business success, as well. In the highly acclaimed business book by Jim Collins called “Built to Last,” his team indicated that one of the reasons companies are much more successful than even their best competitors is called “Be more than profits.” These companies were terrific community citizens and invested their money and people’s time in needs of the community. As a result, people valued working there and the community was more supportive of the companies, in both good time and bad.

So, the key takeaways from this study to me are (1) do not let what you own define you, (2) do your best to understand what people in need go through – if you have not been there, you really don’t know what it’s like, (3) there is a huge psychic income to helping others and (4) doing the right thing can only be viewed in a good light. You will be on the “side of the angels.” Note, this post relied on several news articles in addition to the PBS Newshour piece mentioned above – LATimes,org, Dailycal.org and Highandernews.org.

What I own does not define me

As an Old Fart, one piece of advice I would share with our younger folks is please do not let what you own define you. It does not define me as if I thought this way, I would truly have a superficial, shallow view of my worth as a person. I know it is easier for me to say this as I do own nice, but not necessarily extravagant, things. I also know in my work with people in poverty or who are homeless, money is important, but there is a diminishing marginal return the more you gain. Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley in their book “The Rich and the Rest of Us” define poverty very succinctly as the “absence of money.” Yet, once you amass enough for a comfortable living, money can easily become a way of keeping score.

In the US and in most first world countries, we are relentlessly marketed to. People want to sell us new and better things. Take a car for example. Most dealers want you to lease a car rather than buy one. Why? The dealers know if you buy a car, you will keep it on average over nine years. If you take care of your car, it will last even longer. You may have guessed I am not a car person. My wife and I have nice cars, but not extravagant ones. We also keep them. My previous three cars were kept for ten years or more. If you do this, you will end up with more money for other things that are more important, like your kids’ education.

Continuing with this example, I do not care what people think about my car. To be honest, people cannot really tell that much difference between cars. Many new cars resemble each other and are pretty well made. And, do you know what car brand has the best retention rate at 64% per JD Power and Associates? – Hyundai, with a retention rate much higher than BMW, Lexus, Mercedes, etc. The emblem on the car seems to not matter a great deal, so don’t spend a fortune for it.

One of the best decisions we made with our current house is we did not “over buy.” We only did this with our first house as a married couple, which was a mistake, as there were a few moments when we questioned our sanity. With our current house, we bought one which is nice, but is something we could live in once the kids leave the nest. Yet, where I live does not define me either. I like it as it is nice, comfortable, safe and close to day-to-day shopping for errands, food, gas, etc.

So, what does define me? Being a good husband and father. Note, I am not a perfect one, but we have been married for almost 28 years and have three wonderful children who get along with each other and have for years. They share friends and involve each other in their mutual interests. I have said before the greatest sound in the world is to hear your children and their friends laughing. Nothing else comes close. My wife and I have always wanted and have a house where our children’s friends are welcome. With that comes a level of chaos, but I would not trade the chaos for the neatest house in the world.

What I also hope defines me is my interest in speaking out and taking care of the least fortunate in our society. I detest people taking advantage of others and will do my diplomatic and, when needed, candid best to remedy that. Life is unfair, but there are times we it need not be so unfair. People deserve opportunity. It is up to them to use that opportunity, yet when they are denied opportunity by virtue of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual preference, disability, socio-economic class,  etc. that is wrong. This is one reason why I do not believe in unfettered capitalism as those with the most money have tended to taken advantage of those without. It may not be blatant, but there is a recent study which showed empirically, the more money you have (even in a board game), you feel the world owes you more and the rules are meant less for you. I will write a future post on this study, yet the data is pretty powerful.

I do believe in capitalism and meritocracy, mind you, as we should reward hard work and success. Yet, we also need to keep things fair. Which is the last thing I want to be known for and that is a term an HR test giver gave me once. He said your strength and your weakness is you are a “truthseeker.” I added his comment about weakness as well, but for the most part it is a strength and something I feel I must do and want to do. I have always been thirsty for information that is known to be true. My blogging friend Barney at www.mountainperspective.wordpress.com just wrote an excellent post on the “Death of Journalism.” We have lost our truthseekers in news, so we need more of them on the ground. Barney is one of our truthseekers.

The weakness of being a truthseeker is I have on occasion put on my Don Quixote armor and charged a windmill. I did this at work on occasion, usually when I felt someone was included on a RIF list unjustifiably. I fought like hell for several folks, did save one who is still flourishing and had the leaders vet further a few more, but did not change the outcome. I told my boss I know I will be unsuccessful, but still had to try. I said I would do the same for him if his name was ever included on a list. My boss even gave me the Serenity Prayer, which is about the serenity in knowing the difference between the things you can change and not change.

But, even if you cannot make a difference, there are times when you did need to channel your inner Quixote and try. Some of my blogging friends know I have been charging uphill toward the windmill that is our North Carolina legislature. Will I make a difference? I hope I can at least help others see the short-sightedness of some of the decision-making. I also want the legislators to ask more questions as they are accepting too much misinformation as the truth. We are going against some well-funded lobbying and donors who want their playbook executed, right or wrong. Unfortunately, most of the rightness is for a limited few and most of the wrongness is for all us Sanchos and Dulcineas in the world.

So, if there is a takeaway, the acquisition of things becomes less important in life. What is important is other people in your life. When I had a health scare at the age of 44 and was by myself in an Emergency Room at the hospital all wired up and monitored, I can assure you  of two things. First, I did not think of work or my possessions, not once. Second, what I thought of was my family – seeing my wife and kids. I thought of surviving to see my grandchildren one day. So, my advice is to think less of what you don’t have in terms of possessions. Think more of your family and friends. Think more of how you can make a difference in the lives of others. And, keep the armor handy for your next windmill chase.

Ain’t no fortunate son – Tribute to CCR

You know a song has staying power when current events make you think of it, even though it was written over 40 years ago. “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival is one of those songs. Everytime I hear politicians eager to send troops into harm’s way, I tend to think that very few of them have had sons or daughters placed in harm’s way. This may be why many of us are so perturbed by the fabrication of weapons of mass destruction by the Bush/ Cheney leadership team, as Americans and our allied troops died for a false pretense. Here is a sample of the meaningful lyrics:

Some folks are born made to wave the flag. Ooh, they’re red, white and blue.
And when the band plays “Hail to the Chief” Oh, they point the cannon at you, Lord. It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no Senator’s son. It ain’t me, it ain’t me. I ain’t no fortunate one, no.

This song was an anthem for its time, but Creedence Clearwater Revival, had so many more. John Fogerty, his brother Tom, Stu Cook and Doug Clifford formed CCR back in San Francisco in the mid-late Sixties. They usually are voted one of the greatest American bands for good reason. Their music and impactful lyrics resonate with so many and are reflective of America from its bayous to its towns. In fact, some refer to their music as “roots rock” or “swamp rock” depending on what source you read. Yet, rock they did and they did it so well, their songs are covered by others. The most noteworthy copy is probably “Proud Mary” which launched Tina Turner to another level with the Ike and Tina Turner Revue’s version.

Two of my favorite songs have the word “rain” in their title. “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” is probably voted by many as their favorite.  Here is a sample:

Someone told me long ago, there’s a calm before the storm.
I know, it’s been comin’ for some time.
When it’s over, so they say, it’ll rain a sunny day.
I know, shinin’ down like water.
I wanna know, have you ever seen the rain? I wanna know, have you ever seen the rain, comin’ down on a sunny day?

I like this song because of John’s almost crying out, mournful lyrics. His voice seems to be suited for slower songs as they became more enriched. I feel this song is saying life will throw some challenges at you, even when things seem OK. It will even rain on you when things are sunny, so you just take the good with the bad and wake up the next day.

The other rain song is “Who”ll Stop the Rain?” Here are a few lines that resonate:

Long as I remember the rain been comin’ down.
Clouds of mystery pourin’ confusion on the ground.
Good men through the ages tryin’ to find the sun
And I wonder, still I wonder who’ll stop the rain?

Unlike the previous song, I feel this one is saying life is hard for some people. They don’t have as many opportunities, so it always seems like it is raining on them. There is an element of luck in where, when and to whom we are born.

One of my favorite songs which I used to sing to my kids while rocking them is “Lodi.” The song speaks of how we journey out to find ourselves, then for some reason get stuck someplace and make do. Lodi is that place.

Just about a year ago, I set out on the road.
Seekin’ my fame and fortune, lookin’ for a pot of gold.
Things got bad, and things got worse, I guess you will know
the tune. Oh ! Lord, Stuck in Lodi again.

CCR’s most famous tune is “Bad Moon Rising” in part because it is one of the most misunderstood lyrics of all time. No, there is not a bathroom on the right – it is “there’s a bad moon on the rise.” This song is telling our Vietnam troops to be wary. They had several Vietnam oriented songs. Here is a sample:

Hope you got your things together. Hope you are quite prepared to die. Looks
like we’re in for nasty weather. One eye is taken for an eye.
Well, don’t go around tonight. Well, it’s bound to take your life. There’s
a bad moon on the rise.

There are many other favorites – “Down on the Corner,” “Green River,” ‘Run Through the Jungle,” and “Commotion” just to name only a few. CCR would not want to be called an American institution, so let’s call them who they are – they are us. We are not fortunate ones and have to work hard for what he get. We get scared and we have things go wrong. And, some of us don’t get as many chances.

For those of you who have never dived into their music and lyrics, you are in for a treat. Their lyrics are still pertinent and poignant. They should be voted one of America’s top bands. As they are.