Alan Turing – a WWII War Hero Posthumously Pardoned for being Gay

One of the key successes in 2013 has been the movement to advance the civil rights of the LGBT community. While restrictions continue in too many places, the movement is garnering more favor than not. Yet, on Christmas Eve, we were reminded on how far we have come, when Queen Elizabeth signed a pardon for the then criminal behavior of Alan Turing for simply being a gay man. Turing was not an ordinary man, as his efforts helped shorten World War II by two years, in the estimation of more astute historians. He led the efforts to break the Nazi’s Enigma Code working with a team of people at Bletchley Park near Oxford. He saved the lives of countless military and civilian people and helped end the crusade of one of the more vicious villains in history.

Turing committed suicide using Cyanide in 1954 after becoming an angry and depressed man. He was imprisoned and maltreated with his guards giving him estrogen treatment to control his perceived wrongful sexual urges. Historians have termed this “chemical castration.” This brilliant mathematician went on to contribute advancements to computer science and biology on top of his war contributions. Yet, we will never know what other contributions he could have made to society, as he was treated like an animal and, eventually, took his own life. More on Turing’s story can be found with the attached link: http://www.maysville-online.com/news/world/europe/uk-finally-pardons-computer-pioneer-alan-turing/article_7d1b71a7-e131-5123-b623-d369a011bf5b.html

Treating people like you want to be treated is the greatest teaching I gleaned from the bible. It is the right thing to do. When Pope Francis answered a question on homosexuality being a sin, he made the most significant statement of the year – “Who am I to judge?” Yet, we still have too many who do judge acrimoniously and want to exclude people who act and believe differently. These folks deem LGBTs as not worthy to be loved by their god. I used a small “g” with purpose here, as the God I tend to believe in as an inclusive one. A god that excludes people deserves a small “g” because the people who created that image are being small-minded.

Turing was a war hero and was still treated like criminal when he committed no crime. A pardon sixty years later seems to be a far cry shy of what is needed. But, setting that aside, let me offer the same comment I make when I speak of women being treated as second class citizens and possessions around the globe. If you consider people as assets and intellectual capital, by treating them poorly and not giving them opportunity and liberty to live a productive life, then you are short-changing not only them, but society as well. What is interesting is the number of corporations who are realizing this and are leading change as noted in the attached link to an article from this week in Benefits Pro: http://www.benefitspro.com/2013/12/26/corporate-lgbt-policies-drive-social-change?ref=hp

Even if Alan Turing was just a Joe Schmoe, he deserved to be treated better than he was. The fact that he was one of the most brilliant mathematicians who saved many lives and made the world better, but was treated like an animal is a horrible tragedy. It makes me wonder how many other brilliant accomplishments have been squelched out before they ever began because of the infringement on the civil liberties or lives of people who were treated differently due to their sexual orientation, gender, caste level or color of their skin. Treat people like you want to be treated. Jesus’ Golden Rule did not have any caveats. We should not either.

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Why it is important to help

When I am asked about my volunteering to help the disenfranchised and how can someone go about doing it, my answer is to follow your passions. I usually ask what interests you, how much time do you have and what groups of people do you feel most comfortable helping. For some, it is visiting, talking, reading and singing with the elderly; for some it is mentoring or tutoring school kids; for some it is helping homeless people find shelter, find employment, or gain assistance. These folks need what you have to offer – your time, your experiences, your feedback, your coaching.

I was reminded of this yet again earlier this week. I was meeting with a formerly homeless father who the organization I serve with helped regain a home after he and is wife made poor decisions. He was a former Army soldier and was gainfully employed when he began a cocaine addiction journey that led him to being imprisoned. It also claimed his wife, as he noted, she was in worse shape than him. After his release from prison, he had a hard time and became homeless. He also did not have custody of his son.

Through the help of this agency, he regained a home, regained custody and eventually reconciled with his wife. He was doing well until he lost a second job in short order. He was among seventeen workers who were asked to not come back on January 6 unless called as the company is downsizing to four staff. He is in a bad mental place, so I met with him as I am helping the agency expand a pilot an employment initiative.

He was doing all the right things (resume drafted, applied to 25 or so places) to find another job and I offered some additional suggestions and companies he may wish to consider based on his needs. He also needed someone to offer support and reinforcement. Someone to say keep doing what you are doing and offering constructive feedback. He has interview on Thursday, so keep your fingers crossed.

Yet, I also want to share with you another reason why we should help. You see, through all of these troubles the mother and father have had, his son just graduated with a Master’s degree at a state university. Through all of this, his son was able to find opportunity. Through all of this, his son was able to complete his education. Through all of this, his son was able to break the cycle of poverty. One of the things we emphasize to others, is the homeless kids don’t have a place to study. Oftentimes, they may not eat or go without healthcare. So, helping the family find a home means more than just a roof for kids – it is stability.

When I speak with some people who are more conservative in mindset, I do my best to convince them to help these people climb a ladder. To some, I am wasting my breath, as they view these parents as lazy, drug addicted, or welfare bound. Some like to paint with a broad brush everyone who is in need based on the observations of over-dramatized anecdotes. Yet, the people I encounter are hard-working and are in need of a second job as hours have been cutback or they lost a job. Before the state of Florida was asked to unwind unconstitutional drug testing of welfare recipients, the data from the four months of the program said welfare recipients’ rate of drug use was 1/4 that of general society.

Yet, what I do get even these strident conservative folks to agree on is let’s do something to help the kids. There is a higher propensity for homeless children to become homeless adults than for general society. There is also a higher propensity for children who are violently abused to marry or become abusers themselves when they grow up. I mention the latter as 30% of our homeless families are homeless due to getting away from a domestic violence situation. So, if we can help the kids and parents find homes and help them climb the ladder, we can break the cycle of homelessness and domestic violence.

The Christmas season brings out the generous spirit of many. Yet, the needs last beyond the season. As someone who volunteers, I can tell you there is such great sense of purpose to help others. Follow your passions and offer your help to others. You will be helping more than just one generation. Plus, you will be helping yourself.

Merry Christmas and have a successful New Year.

Sound of Music Revisited

I have probably seen the “Sound of Music” fifty times. My special affinity for this movie can be traced back to a birthday party I had as kindergartener in 1964, when my mom took some friends and me to see it on the big screen. Seeing my first movie with all of those mountains, music and story, proved to be a good first choice. We watched it yet again Sunday night with my kids and niece giving me a hard time. My niece watches a “A Muppet Christmas” every year for a similar reason, so she understands.

I was thinking on the various reasons beyond the obvious one (of Maria and the kids finding themselves) on why I love this movie so much. First, Maria is at heart a rebel. I adore the fact that she stands up for herself and what she will and will not do. “I will not answer to a whistle. Whistles are for dogs and not for children and certainly not for me,” she tells the Captain early on. Her rebellious nature is why she was sent to be a governess in the first place, and it made all the difference to the children and Captain von Trapp. And, herself.

Second, I greatly appreciate the sense of country that the Captain has for Austria and his utter disdain for the Nazis. His singing of “Edelweiss” twice during the movie are evidence of this love. Once when he shows his kids his love of country, music and them and once when he cannot complete the song at the competition. He also has a rebellious tendency as he is not about to succumb to the rule of the Nazis and join their navy.

Third, a father finding the love he lost for his children is probably the biggest reason. Here is a man who has lost his way after the death of his wife. I am somewhat reminded of the movie the “Secret Garden” which has a similar concept. Christopher Plummer, the actor, said he did not care for this role very much. Note, the actors did not care for Casablanca either and look how it is loved. Having seen the movie so many times and compared him to other roles he played, to me he is a key part of the movie and no one else could play the role as well.

Yet, Julie Andrews and the kids make the movie what it is. The music of Rodgers and Hammerstein is as good as it gets, but to hear Andrews and the kids sing the songs make it live. I have seen the play in a community theatre and while very good, the movie eclipses the play because of Andrews, Plummer and the kids. With that said, to me, “Climb Every Mountain” is the best song in the movie and is a great lesson for us all.

I would welcome your comments and thoughts. Do you feel the same about this movie? What movie resonates with you? And, happy holidays to all of you and safe travels.

Affordable Care Act – Tomorrow is First Deadline

Whether you are a fan of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or not, the end of day tomorrow is the deadline for signing up for coverage effective January 1. You can sign up after this date, but to avoid the first year small penalty to have coverage under the mandate, you will need to sign up by end of March. I was one of those folks that lost coverage, but knew it was coming since I signed up for my existing plan back in May. I was able to go online and find similar, but cheaper or better, but slightly more expensive coverage under the federal exchange, even without factoring in the subsidy.

Keeping my policies was not an option, as we had to get a second special state high risk pool policy, as one of my children was denied coverage when I first got my existing coverage due to a pre-existing condition. This last point is vital as this is one of the major selling points for ACA – you cannot be denied coverage now or in the future for a pre-existing condition. When I signed up in May, we had to give family medical history, etc. and on the exchange we need only provide demographic data and all five of us are now on the same plan effective January 1.

For the past two years, I have been a broken record that law is imperfect, complex and, beginning October 1, has been rolled out poorly. The President deserves every criticism for the poor rollout and he has jeopardized a needed law as it moves the ball forward in a huge way for those uninsured and folks who cannot get affordable coverage due to pre-existing conditions. Its opposition deserves every criticism as well, with not expanding Medicaid in 20 states, not doing state based exchanges in 36 states and not enabling better communication of how to use the system. Voting to repeal the law over 40 times, while misusing the time to not make it better, was unfortunate.

Even with the balky rollout, as of November 30, almost 1.2 million Americans (803,000 for expanded Medicaid and 365,000 for the insurance policies had signed up on top of the 3 million young adults who were able to stay on their parents’ plan as a result of an earlier implemented part of the law. In December, the numbers are significant and I am eager to see the results. Note, we are not out of the woods on the implementation issues, as I am positive we will see some poor handoff and billing issues arise in January. Yet, we need to work through those as well, as at the end of the day, more folks are getting insurance (and guaranteed coverage) who could not previously.

One final comment and I wrote a post about this three months ago. As a retired actuary, benefits consultant and former director of compensation and benefits, young people should be evaluating their own risk/ cost profile as they make their decision whether to sign up. For someone (especially a politically motivated person) to advise you not to sign up for coverage without knowing your circumstances is inappropriate. As a parent, all I can say is I am carrying my age 22-year-old and age 20-year-old children on my policy. In my opinion, the catastrophic risk is too great, plus even if healthy, they do need to see the doctor for preventive care.

A copy of this post can be accessed with the following link: https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/advising-young-people-not-to-have-healthcare-insurance-is-imprudent/

The major phase of the Affordable Care Act, with all of its imperfections, is here. If you don’t have coverage, look at your options and talk with people who know what they are talking about and not trying to make a political point – this is too important for you.

Good night Marjorie (and other funny misunderstandings)

The other night as my wife and I settled in for our slumber, I said “good night, mon cheri.” To which she responded, “who is Marjorie?” not hearing my last two words correctly. We could not stop giggling, as it was so funny. Earlier, I wrote a post about misunderstood song lyrics called “Did Parsley Save Rosemary in Time?” Here is link, if interested: https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/did-parsley-save-rosemary-in-time/, so misunderstandings are not limited to our household.

I started thinking about those times we have been misunderstood. I remember when my two boys were little, for some reason they mistook the word “sassy” for “sexy.” They thought they were being so devilish when they described something as “sassy.” After a few weeks of this, I asked them what they meant and, once informed, I debated on whether to burst their bubble. Since they would use it with their friends around as well, I decided I should correct their misuse. So, I sat them down and told them while “sassy” is neat word with several meanings, the word they were looking for was “sexy.” They appreciated the heads-up and I did not need to worry.

All of my kids have a good sense of humor, which comes in handy. I try to tell them how I have messed up, so that they know it is OK to laugh at yourself and move on. My daughter defends herself well with two older brothers. The other night, one of my sons, who has a gift for languages and will use words that none of us knows, described something at the dinner table with such a word. My daughter looked at him and said “bless you” as what he said sounded like a sneeze, in retrospect. However, saying it immediately, made it so very funny and the alleged sneezing brother took the humor well.

I have written about this before, but when our children were small, we used two sisters who lived next door as baby sitters . One night, when the younger sister was baby sitting, one of our two children (at the time) had a melt down and she called her Dad over to put the other to bed. Our oldest kept telling him “I need Jesus” as the Dad tried to put him to bed. So, he knelt down and prayed bedside with him. “No, I need Jesus” my son said after the prayer. So, he sang a lullaby hymn. “No, I need Jesus,” my son said and pointed at the outlet. The Dad saw that my son was pointing at a night-light that had a Jesus lamp cover my mother-in-law gave us.

Last month, my brother-in-law and his wife were over for Thanksgiving with a large gathering. They had given us a picture a few years before which we liked so much, we had it framed and hung in our den area. They had visited before after we had hung the picture, but this time he must have really noticed the picture. Standing with his wife, my daughter and one son, he starting raving over how much he loved that picture, not realizing that he had picked it out. His wife was in tears and my kids were smiling, when I surmised what was happening. Later, I asked my sister-in-law, “did (her husband) not remember he gave us the painting?” “No,” she said, “I think I will tease about it on the way home.”

Let me close, with another one of mine, which I have noted before. One of the places I worked was huge on wellness initiatives, in large part to my friend and colleague’s efforts. Back in 1995, she ran a very successful mobile mammogram program, that actually detected 11 cancers out of 11,000 screenings of our employees and spouses. In October, which in the US is “Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” we were discussing within a small group promoting these mobile mammograms . And, I added “after all it is Breast Awareness Month.” She noted, that would be “Breast CANCER Awareness Month.” We giggle about that to this day.

Please let me know some of your funny miscommunications in your house and workplace. I would love to hear them. Good night, Marjorie.

Janis Ian – an original truthteller

About a dozen years ago, my wife and I got to see a concert where two old favorites regaled us for a wonderful night. I remember the evening to this day. Don McLean was the closing act and he is always worth the effort with songs that go well beyond “American Pie.” Yet, just as entertaining, was a tiny Jewish girl who came on stage by herself and mesmerized us – Janis Ian.

Many women (and men) within ten years of my age will know her immediately for her huge hit which told the unvarnished truth she learned “At Seventeen.” This song spoke to so many as most of us are not blessed with model like looks and effervescent charm. And, when you are not, you face a different set of challenges. Yet, the other part of this “truth” is even when you are born with looks and charm, you need to be able to find and be yourself, because looks don’t last forever, even with Botox. Here are a few lyrics, which ironically were penned by two men, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.

I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear-skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired

The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth

And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone

Who called to say, “Come dance with me”
And murmured vague obscenities
It isn’t all it seems at seventeen

…To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball

It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
When dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like me

Yet, if you download her body of work or purchase a greatest hits CD, you will find a number of enchanting songs. Once you do, pour yourself a glass of your favorite wine, light a few candles or stoke the fire and listen. Here is an excerpt from “Between the Lines” written by Janis which speaks to how people do not know what to say to each other after the games and banter end.

There’s never much to say between the moments of
Our games and repartee
There’s never much to read between the lines of
What we need and what we’ll take

There’s never much to talk about or say aloud
But say it anyway
Of holidays and yesterdays, and broken dreams
That somehow slipped away

In books and magazines of how to be and what to see
While you are being
Before and after photographs teach how to pass
From reaching to believing

Another one of her classics, is called “Jesse” by  Columbier and Michel Jean Pierre, about her loneliness over her lover Jesse’s departure. The pacing of this song is emblematic of her style. She is never in a hurry and she has a voice that soothes, as well as portrays her pain. So, you can find the words amid the tune.

Jesse, the floors and the boards
Recalling your step
And I remember, too
All the pictures are fading
And shaded in grey

But I still set a place
On the table at noon
And I’m leaving a light on the stairs
No I’m not scared – I wait for you

Hey Jesse, I’m lonely, come home

Many people likely do not know Janis Ian. My older brother was the first person who turned me onto Janis Ian. She followed in the tradition of similar singers like Joan Baez and Judy Collins and a contemporary Phoebe Snow. If I had to find a more current performer, I would liken her to Traci Chapman. But, I think her words and music resonate with people as she would never be considered a glamorous person. In fact, when she walked on stage with her guitar, she came in from one side and walked all the way to the other side and exited the stage. This shyness was characteristic of her and her music.

A link to Wikipdedia will help tell her tale. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janis_Ian

So, if you do not know her music, you are in for a treat. Every 17 year old girl (and boy for that matter) should listen to “At Seventeen.” If you know her, please use the opportunity to revisit her songs. And, remember the glass of wine and the candles.

The Pursuit of Truth in a World of Lies

Stephen Colbert invented a word a few years back on his show “The Colbert Report” which was prescient – “truthiness.”  His painful point for all of us is every source seems to have its own version of the truth. In his comical way, he noted truth is fluid rather than being more concrete. Yet, we must endeavor to seek the real truth. We must all be “truthseekers” which is actually a Human Resource personality test term given to people who want to help others understand the truth.

I think one thing people would all agree on is we don’t care for being lied to. With so much money and power at stake on so many things, politicians, business leaders, industry leaders, religious leaders, etc. have been prone to embellish the truth. Yet, with the advent of the internet and competitive news sources who don’t (or care to) dive into detail, there are so many misinformed and disinformed truths to combat the real underlying truths.

Some people and organizations even hire public relation firms to establish their version of the truth as the underlying gospel, when in fact they know it is a lie – I call this disinformation which is straight from George Orwell’s classic “1984.” As a result, you truly have to work at understanding what the real truth is. You have to be a truthseeker. And, absent these truths, it is quite difficult to come to more sensible solutions.

To give a few examples of what I mean, here goes:

  • The US fossil fuel industry hired a public relations firm whose sole purpose was to dissuade people from believing global warming was real. They did their job so well, Congress even took up in committee the issue of “global warming is a hoax.” This PR measure set the US years behind where we should be on combatting climate change. There is a good chapter in the “Global Warming Reader” compiled by Bill McKibben, one of the planet’s global warming experts, on this topic.
  • The same PR firm was hired by the natural gas industry (per McKibben) to convince people how safe fracking is. By its nature, fracking is not safe nor can it be made totally safe. In “Gasland II,” a former fracking engineer notes that 5% of fracking cement casings fail immediately, so if a firm is fracking 10,000 wells, then 500 will fail immediately. The question to which I have never been provided a good answer is “if fracking were safe, why did Vice President Dick Cheney, the former President of one of the largest fracking firms, have inserted in the 2005 Energy Policy Act that fracking companies need not be subject to the Safe Drinking Water or Clean Air acts or have to disclose the chemicals they use in the process that wind up in our environment?”
  • Bill Clinton told us time and time again, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Of course you did. You will be remembered as one of our better presidents, but you lied to us about this issue. And, by the way, my guess is you had sex with all of those other women, too.
  • Ronald Reagan told us on national TV that we were not selling weapons to Iran to pay for fighters in Central America. He lied to us about the “Iran/ Contra” affair and could have been impeached if Oliver North had not fallen on his sword. Reagan went on TV later to say he lied. By the way, this is the origin of the disembodied helmet in Doonesbury to define George H.W. Bush, as he denied being in meetings about this topic where the roll call said he was present.
  • Richard Nixon lied about so many things, when the knowledge of the tapes of the Oval Office became known, he started erasing things. Two of my heroes are Elliott Richardson and Archibald Cox who both resigned as they did not want to give up the pursuit of the truth when their boss the Attorney General told them to stand down at the President’s behest.
  • President George W. Bush, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld and our friend Dick Cheney also built a case of lies of weapons of mass destruction that led to the invasion of Iraq. One of Rove’s men, Scooter Libby, went to jail for outing a CIA operative to discredit her husband whose report was misused for going into Iraq. American and allied troops died along with countless Iraqi civilians. So, this was a disservice to Americans and our friends.
  • While Barack Obama lied about not having to give up your insurance policies (he did), the bigger lies have been perpetuated by the Republican Party distancing themselves from the fact Obamacare is largely a GOP idea. While not perfect, complex and rolled out poorly, Obamacare needs to continue as it will help millions of people. What I find hypocritical is when people like Jim DeMint who supported Romneycare before it was morphed into Obamacare, was a huge fan, yet, once the latter was passed, said both are unconstitutional. I also detest people doing everything in their power to make it fail and then point a finger and say “I told you so” when it struggles. By the way, the President deserves every criticism he is getting for the roll out.
  • Obama is far from perfect, but he has been given a bad rap on the “failed stimulus” bill to help boost the economy. This PR campaign mantra, where all Republicans had marching order to always say “failed stimulus” worked so well, the legend has become the acceptable truth. The trouble is the truth is it did not fail. As reported by Time Magazine, six econometric firms said the stimulus bill actually aided the economy by 2%. It was just not enough. In my mind, it could have been better if it did not restrict itself to “shovel ready” projects, but it did not fail in its efforts.
  • Even after last night’s “60 Minutes” show on the NSA, I am not fully convinced that Americans are not being spied on. It sounded all good, but I am struggling with this still and don’t believe the President is giving us the unvarnished truth.
  • From the movie “Toxic Hot Seat” regarding the flame retardant chemicals used on furniture covers, we learn the three chemical producers have been proven to collude against those who say the chemicals were causing cancers in firefighters and residents. The critics said the data indicated that the retardants actually did not work very well and the industry information was pulled erroneously out of context from a report that the exact opposite conclusion. Writers for The Chicago Tribune got to the bottom of a story that these three companies had an organization advertised for firefighters, when in fact, the chemical companies were its only members. Once this was known, the states of California and Maine abolished the use of these flame retardants going forward.
  • According the Journal of Acute Trauma and Surgery the US has 87% of the children and teen gun deaths from the top 23 wealthiest countries. Yet, this fact is largely ignored by the NRA whose primary mission is to perpetuate the sale of guns. Guns are part of the problem and we must do what 90% of Americans want and extend background checks to all purchases and make longer waiting periods.
  • Finally, we have Tea Party whose premise is we are “taxed enough already.” While they are right to focus on the deficit and nobody wants to pay taxes, according to the Paris based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the US is one of the least taxed countries in the world. Out of 34 countries, we are third from the bottom on taxes as a percent of GDP and almost 10% below the average ratio of the 34 countries.

I welcome your comments and thoughts. I have tried to be truthful with the information I presented above. As an independent voter, I am not a fan of biased version of the facts of either party. People may say I am more one-sided in my comments above. That is true. I left the GOP in 2006 for several reasons – stance on global warming, guns and social issues, but also due to a higher propensity I see of making stuff up. Democrats embellish the truth as well, but I see a much a heavier weighting toward our conservative friends, especially with the popularity of Fox News which has taken it to a new art form.