New Year’s resolutions I can keep

It is that time of year to say farewell to an old year and welcome a new one. I am not too keen on making resolutions, as they usually don’t last too long into the year. They are not unlike the sand castle virtues I wrote about in my previous post. So, with that in mind, what are some resolutions that I can keep alive in 2015?

– I resolve to remain imperfect. I will do my best to mitigate the impact of my imperfections, but they will shine through.

– I resolve to try to maintain my weight. I am good at trying to do this and sometimes I am successful. It is the sustainability of that success that usually gets me.

– I resolve to lose more of my hair. Look at it this way, I am just gaining face and visible scalp. Maybe I will invest in Coppertone stock.

– I resolve to retell stories I have told several times before. And, when I ask my kids if I told them that before, they will say only five or six times.

– I resolve to try to stay married for my 30th anniversary. Thank goodness my wife has a good sense of humor, otherwise we may not have made it to ten.

– I resolve to treat others like I want to be treated. I will fail on occasion, but know that I will feel badly when I do and apologize when I can.

– I resolve to continue to focus on the issues of the day and not who is winning a political game. I will do my best to give a needed voice to the disenfranchised, as they tend to get lost in far too many political calculations.

– I resolve to love my kids and my wife. That is the easiest resolution to make.

So, I think I can keep the above. But, I did note my resolution to remain imperfect. So, we will see. Let me know some of yours. Have a safe New Year’s celebration and a wonderful 2015.

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Sand castle virtues

I was listening closely to an old song called “Thick as a Brick” by Jethro Tull, when a phrase struck me more so than before. Jethro Tull is renowned for interesting and unusual lyrics mixed in with equal parts flute, guitars and piano making a unique sound. Yet, amidst the lyrics is a reference to “sand castle virtues.” Here is the stanza which includes the term, penned by Ian Anderson:

And the sand castle virtues are all swept away
In the tidal destruction, the moral melee
The elastic retreat rings the close of play
As the last wave uncovers the newfangled way

I found this reference profoundly insightful, as many of our so-called virtues are not as concrete as we would like them to be. In other words, they are easily washed away by the waves and replaced by a modified version meeting a new paradigm. This is one reason people can support a candidate or politician who changes posture on a topic. Or, when the candidate was against an issue earlier when the opposing party supported it, but now favors it as it suits his interests today, we followers can overlook the previous stance.

The tide has washed away the previous virtuous stance and has been replaced. What is interesting to me is this song was written in the 1970s, so it is referencing that these malleable virtues or positions have been around a lot longer than today. The only difference is today we can more easily find the previous position, which may have only been stated a few years before. Yet, we don’t ask questions of why you have changed. In essence, we are “thick as a brick” by not staying on top of things and realizing when smoke is being blown at us.

Speaking through my imperfections, I find it hard to fathom why we choose virtues like we are at a cafeteria. A friend of mine uses the reference to “cafeteria Christians,” not to pick on this religion, but use it as an example. Some will cherry pick the parts of the bible they support, but overlook overarching themes. But, this occurs in other religions as well.

If we focus on the overarching virtues and endeavor to do the right thing, we will be on more solid footing. It is when we try to massage a virtue to meet an ideologue or a position, do we risk our position being washed away with the tide. Here are few that would solidify our foundation:

– Treat others like you want to be treated

– Be more inclusive, rather than exclusive

– You have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion

– Kindness is not a weakness and in fact is a quiet strength

– It is easy to love someone when things go well; only when they don’t is it hard

– Help your neighbor when he needs it, as you may be in need one day

– Pay attention to what leaders are doing and shine a light on poor behavior

– Treat our environment well for the next generation, which is even noted in the bible

I could go on, but these are a few virtues that would not be washed away. These virtues are far more than sand castles and could stand the greater test of time and barrage of waves. And, if we did these things day in and day out, they would become ingrained making us less “thick as a brick.”

Bottom-up history

In the movie “Bull Durham,” Susan Sarandon’s character Annie Savoy confides to Kevin Costner’s character Crash Davis the morning after their tryst that due to her love of horses, she must have been Catherine the Great in a previous life. Davis laughs and says how come when people bring up previous lives they are never Joe Schmo? To his point, history is made up of us normal, everyday people more so than the ones that get notoriety, whether it is deserved or undeserved. We live our lives the best we can and sometimes it matters not who the leaders are, unless they have done something very bad or very good.

I was watching PBS Newshour earlier in the week and I found a segment very moving and enlightening which I will call “Bottom-up history.” David Isay formed an organization called StoryCorps about ten years ago, whose purpose is to capture recorded interviews with everyday people. His organization began in Grand Central Station in New York, but moved onto several other cities. It now has a mobile unit that caravans across America. And, recently he has teamed with some innovators to craft cartoon stories than will be aired on PBS. A link to his Wikipedia page is below.*

His mission is to capture the bottom-up history and not the top down version that is taught in school or makes the headlines. The interviews are facilitated to tease out as much information as possible. In his view, we have a wealth of information in our older people or folks who have gone through amazing journeys that needs to be captured. I have recently seen similar efforts with young volunteers who help older people capture their histories.

Our blogging friend Z who lives in Ecuador captures these stories on a daily basis with her pictures and interactions. ** I often find myself gravitating toward the people she meets, their faces, their postures, their livelihoods and their interactions. This is where life exists. It is not the air-brushed, heavily made-up, well-dressed, and polished images we find online or in photo shoots. Life lives in the one who gets up everyday to feed their children, their animals and themselves and goes to work.

And, it has been that way for ages. For every Catherine the Great, there are millions of Joe Schmo’s. We Joes and Josephine’s are the ones who ran across open fields in Poland to escape Nazi shooters with our child holding onto our back. We are the ones that climbed walls to get out of danger when extremists came to our village. We are the ones who hid people in our basement to escape persecution. We are the ones who boycotted buses in Alabama and walked to work. We are the ones who journeyed to America with nothing but a suitcase, our family and our dreams for a better life.

And, we are the ones who with quiet dignity do jobs that we don’t love every day, then get up the next day and do them again. We are the ones who parent our children, sometimes without a partner, and then work a full-time job or several part-time ones to make ends meet. We are the ones who forego taking our medicine, so a child can be clothed and fed or maybe get that used musical instrument, soccer shoes or ballet tutu.

Hero, star and superstar are words that are thrown around much too often. Very few people who are given that term are truly worthy of the label. To me, the real heroes of the world go about their business in quiet fashion. They are the unsung heroes, who I have only touched on above. They are the bottom-up history of the world. Let’s find out more from them, while we can. Talk to a relative, friend or someone who interests you and learn more about how they arrived to this point. Your ancestry is in the stories, not the lineage.

Have a peaceful rest of your year and best wishes for 2015.

* Here is the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Isay

** Here is a link to Z’s blog: http://playamart.wordpress.com/

 

 

Happy holidays, travel safely and tread lightly

I want to wish everyone happy holidays and safe travels. With lower gas prices, more people will be driving, so take your time, expect delays and put on some good music. I will be traveling up and down I-95 before year-end and I know, at least in one direction, we will hit huge waits, so we will likely take some back roads on occasion. We call this the Florida Bowl Game effect which adds to visiting retired relatives in balmier climates.

Please do enjoy your time with family, friends and football. If dinner table subjects take you into directions that are risky such as religion and politics, plan diversion topics to drop in the conversation. “Enough of that stuff, do you remember when Uncle John did the toast and fell off the chair?” you might ask. Or, “Remember when Sarah complimented the painting she forgot she gave you?” you could tease.

If religious conversation does continue, tread lightly. Here are few universal truths. “You know I read that almost every religious text has some form of the Golden Rule. You know if everyone practiced what we preached, then many of our troubles could be minimized.”

If the conversation gets stuck on politics, you could make a universal point such as “Politicians should be like golfers or NASCAR racers and wear the logos of their sponsors on their clothes. That way we will know why they vote the way they do.” Or, you might say “Neither party can lay claim to all of the right ideas, so from my view, they need to work together.”

To any universal comment you could add a tongue-in-cheek comment to embellish, “But, what do I know, that is just my view?”  A final diffuser could be if someone goes on and on about a pundit, politician, or  personality, you could use my friend Ed’s priceless closer, “Of all the people in the world, he (or she) is certainly one of them.”

Happy holidays, drive safely and tread lightly.

Some good news for the holidays

Billy Joel’s song “We didn’t start the fire” is an accurate reference that problems exist in the world and always have. I think the key difference is with the Internet and social media age we live in, you can find bad news anywhere in the world. It even slams you in the face if your browser opens up to the news of the day. But, it is not any worse than it has been before. I don’t know if that gives people greater or less comfort. To me, the worse issue is the amount of money it takes to get elected makes politicians beholden to funders and not the issues that face their constituents. So, real issues are not addressed in the way they should be.

However, in this time of bad news first, or per my friend Barney’s favorite quote about the press, “if it bleeds, it leads,” there are a few bright spots, even in the darkest stories.

  • The state of New York has banned fracking in their state due to a report that brings into the equation the health risks that fracking poses for its residents. This caught even anti-fracking advocates by surprise with the report noting there is a correlation between health risks and fracking and it warrants further study under the Precautionary Principle, which scientists around the world uphold. This principle states if there appears to be a risk to humans or the environment which impacts humans due to a process, then the group who benefits from the process needs to convince others that it is safe before proceeding.
  • The number of uninsured folks without healthcare coverage has dropped significantly per the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation from 17.7% to 12.4% as of September 30, 2014. With the huge enrollment success underway with the Affordable Care Act, with over 2.5 million new enrollees as of December 13, this uninsured rate will drop further. This helps people and the economy as it keeps more folks from becoming a train wreck through preventive services and medications, lessens the risk of bankruptcy due to medical reasons and gives them more money to spend. And, the healthcare costs increases are moderating due in part to the Affordable Care Act per multiple sources.
  • While the war on Ebola is far from won, significant progress has been made to the extent people can get a breath of air. Also, with candidates not in election mode spreading fear about Ebola risks, it is less center stage in the US. While it is still a real threat in those countries where it started, there seems to be more concerted efforts and positive stories in the battle to contain the virus. Time Magazine hit a home run with its recognition of the Ebola Fighters as the persons of the year in 2014.
  • Beneath the bad news on ISIS and the Taliban attack that killed the children in Pakistan, the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds are beginning to see who the real danger is to their existence. It is not the US and western allies with all of our imperfections. It is extremists who take advantage of economic strife and blame others for their problems. Killing children glorifies no one. Killing women glorifies no one. Killing people who disagree with you means you fear your argument cannot stand up to debate. The counter balancing problem is the corruption in the leadership. When leaders pocket money for aid, permit bribery to be standard operating practice, and squelch dissent, then they also are as guilty for sowing the seeds of disenfranchisement.
  • For all the crap the President is taking for immigration actions and the recent action on normalizing relations with Cuba, the moves are supported by many including the US Chamber of Commerce and will enhance trade, facilitate the retention of intellectual capital and let the economy be the best goodwill ambassador. Even during the Jim Crow era, economic trade benefitted all and normalized relations to a certain extent. The economic goodwill set the stage for civil right changes. So, if we can leverage what has been done and pass supportive bills to both, getting beyond the “gotcha politics,” then these efforts can be made even more significant.

Some people may not agree with my conclusions, but I see the above as positive developments, even though some of the good news has been instigated at a horrible cost. To me, we must honor those who have died to make sure that others do not die in vain, especially our children and women who are maltreated in far too many places.

Happy holidays to all. And, bless the women and children in the world. They need our support.

And, yet we choose not to act

It has been a few months since my last post on gun deaths in America. Since that time, we have seen the following:

several more school shootings,

– several more hostage situations unrelated to schools that ended in death,

– many more accidental deaths of young children,

– several more law enforcement officers who were killed,

– several law enforcement officers who used their weapons to kill,

– many more homicides, and, of course,

– even more suicides, by far, the number one reason for gun deaths in America.

And, yet we choose not to act. Our leaders choose to let the ownership of guns dwarf the discussion, when it need not. Our leaders choose to be afraid of the National Rifle Association (NRA) who threatens legislators out of reasonable debate which would interfere with the revenue stream of guns and ammunition.

We are number one, by far, in gun deaths in the civilized world. We have 87% of all gun deaths among the top 23 wealthiest countries. Also, violent crime is up in states that have looser gun laws. And, then there are suicides which cause almost two-thirds of the gun deaths. In the top ten states for gun deaths, suicide is the number one reason in nine of them, with the probability of suicide 3x larger in a house with a gun.

In the debate, the right to own a gun is not being questioned by most people, although the Second Amendment has been expanded from what it meant when written. Per surveys, Americans are supportive of tighter background checks and elongated waiting periods, including Republican voters. Many are supportive of a restriction on the type of weaponry that is sold to the public.

And, yet we choose not to act. To be honest, this is extremely poor stewardship in our leaders. The sad truth, from a federal legislative standpoint, nothing good will happen. In North Carolina, when the GOP took over the General Assembly, they did the following: allowed concealed weapons to be carried into bars and on playgrounds and allowed weapons to be contained in the trunk of the car on college campuses.

These changes were pushed by ALEC, a conservative legislation engine. These changes are directly opposite of the kinds of action needed. Guns, testosterone and alcohol do not mix very well. Guns and children on playground do not mix very well. Guns on college campuses, which have a higher degree of depression than general society (just ask how busy the counselors offices are on campus) do not mix very well.

On the good side, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the new Surgeon General has rightfully spoken against lax gun control as a threat to health, which is a position supported by the Journal of Acute Care and Trauma and other medical journals and groups.* On the good side, several parents of the Sandy Hook shooting are suing the gun maker and gun seller based on the premise a Bushmaster assault weapon should not be sold to non-military people.

Folks, we are well past time to act. The NRA does not represent most gun owners, but they cause fear in elected officials as they can mobilize a vocal grass-roots group almost anywhere. The vote to pass a heavily endorsed Surgeon General nominee this weekend was 51 to 43, and the NRA has placed all 51 Senators in their cross hairs, metaphorically speaking.

Personally, I would be concerned with the conflict of interest of the 43 Senators (Republicans and some Democrats) who voted no, as a doctor who says that guns kill people and we should govern them better, would seem to be a sane choice for the position. This is especially true with the resounding number of physicians who support his candidacy.

And, yet this new Congress will likely not act to tighten gun control laws. If they do act, they may follow the lead of ALEC, which has been shown to be more expansive of gun ownership rights. On the good side, maybe others might act like parents and do something about gun restrictions that will be a step in reducing gun deaths. Someone needs to act.

* http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/senate-approves-obama-pick-for-surgeon-general/ar-BBgQAMd?ocid=ansnewsap11

I would do it again says former VP

The subject of the use of torture by the CIA continues to get debate, as it should. Of course, those who had a hand in it, don’t want them sullied by the use of the vile word “torture” and would rather euphemistically call it “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Our former Vice President who played a key role said he would do it again to keep Americans safe.

As mentioned in my last post, I have never been a fan of the use of torture, as you lose the moral ground very quickly. If our country is to lay claim to exceptionalism, it may want to listen to someone who was tortured, Senator John McCain, than someone who sanctioned the torturing. The argument for it is torturing gains the torturer more information than less onerous means, but that evidence does not seem to be borne out by the study or supported by war crimes experts. Plus, there is an element of CYA going on when you speak with someone who did the deed.

Yet, are we really safer? To me the answer is no, as we now have tens of thousands and multiple generations of terrorists that despise us, when back at the time of 9/11, al Qaeda numbered only 200 people. Yes, there were other terrorist groups, but suppose we took the higher road. We would have been safer as the numbers would likely be fewer who are out to harm us.

However, the last person we should listen to on these issues is the former Vice President. He said he would do it over again, but would also do the following again:

– would he help invent the story of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that led to the invasion of Iraq, where al Qaeda was not present,

– would he ignore the advice of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to go in with more troops to secure the country (this later became the surge after many years),

– would he send our troops into battle with inferior equipment that cost lives,

– would he rely on the counsel of less than trust worthy advisors in the Middle East, which was the subject of later scrutiny,

– would he send in too few speakers of the various languages as our advisors, so as to avoid smoke being blown at us when we asked questions,

– would he fire the Iraqi police force, who later abetted the efforts ISIS and could have been allies to squelch fighting?

4,000 Americans died over there, so far. Many more of our allies died. Even more Iraqis, Afghanis, and others died. My thesis if we are going to send our troops into harms way, then we better support them and we better have a good reason other than unfound WMDs. As to do otherwise is a disservice to our country, our troops and their families.

So, excuse me for not giving much credence to what you would do over again. Your track record is not very good on these issues. If I had the choice to do over again, I would vote for Al Gore for President. And, make no mistake, it is torture no matter what you call it.