A few suggestions for a better 2017

As many blogs have highlighted, 2016 has been the most interesting of years. My biggest concerns go beyond any electoral issues. They are the decrease in civil discourse and the increase in fake news and misinformation.

On the lack of civil discourse, we must start listening to each other and not just to respond. We need to listen to understand the other’s point of view. We need to decrease the decibel level and the use of name-calling and labeling.

The louder people are and the more shortcuts they use by labels show their argument is poor. I personally find labels to be a lazy form of argument to dismiss the other’s point of view. I have been called a tree hugger for this purpose, but I usually counter that I am also a capitalist to make that person think a little more.

On the fake news and biased news sites, we must do a better job of labeling the veracity of these entities. If you are going to call yourself a news source, then you need to be doing what it takes to be right far more than you are wrong. And, you need to have an errata where corrections are made public. We must also do our part to understand the veracity of our news sources.

So, what can we do better in 2017? Treat others like we wanted to be treated would be a huge plus. Listen and provide feedback like you want to receive it. Also, know the following statements:

– neither political party has all the good ideas and both have some that are not so good or don’t factor in the holistic causes of the problem.

– political incorrectness does not give anyone license to lie or be a jerk. One can be candid without taking someone’s head off.

As for the fake news sites, be on your guard. If it reads like a tabloid, then that is a sure sign. If mainstream news is not covering an issue, but this source is, check out its veracity. If it says Sponsored Advertisement on it, that is opinion, not news. If you are getting your news from shock jock entertainers, that is opinion. Also, be guarded of Facebook forwarding of news and even blogs on this source (by the way, my site is not news and represent the opinions of its user).

These fake news creators are very good as they make a nice profit through advertisements. They can afford to be good at it. So, it does take effort and homework on our part.  I read a variety of sources, Reuters, The Guardian, Wall Street Journal, news summaries and watch or listen to several others – PBS Newshour, BBC World News America, NPR, some mainstream news, etc.

Our issues are hard enough without us debating over the facts. We must gain common ground, listening and asking questions. Otherwise, we will solve the wrong problem.

 

 

 

A tribute to my mother – may she rest in peace

My mother passed away early on Christmas morning. She was as fine a Christian as we ever knew, so passing on Jesus’ birthday seems fitting for her. She was an elementary school teacher and taught Bible Study Fellowship for many years. She was predeceased by her husband to whom she was married for 54 years after meeting at college. She left behind three children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

My mom loved her husband who passed in 2006. Their meeting at college was eventful, as our father actually fell into her lap. The story goes he was playing basketball for the college team and she arrived late. As she quickly sat and waited for the action to clear on one side of the court so she could walk around, he chased a loose ball and landed in her lap. She told me of another story where she jokingly pushed him into a pond, when the Dean saw her talking with a male student on the female side of the dorm buildings, as she did not want to be accused of fraternizing.

Mom loved her children and grandchildren. She was an avid reader and shared that love with each of them. When not preparing lesson plans for her students or fellow bible study worshipers, she was avid about her crossword puzzles, sometimes completing three a day. She was involved with the church making arrangements when outreach to people was needed for sickness, funerals, and celebrations.

And, she was devoted to her mother and siblings before they passed before her. She often travelled to visit them during their times of need. She simply was a doer who helped others. As her memory faded, her ability to help others faded as well, although she was an active participant in events at the assisted living facility.

There are two saving graces to her passing. We were told she did not suffer much and went quickly. One of the caregivers said Mom asked her to pray for her earlier that day, when helping her to bed. Also, with Alzheimer’s, my mother still remained the sweet person we knew, so she had not gotten to the point where the paranoia and unawareness causes routine belligerent behavior. She knew we were on her team, even though she was not certain which teammate we were. I am a better person because of my mother. I will miss her. We all will.

I

 

Happy Easter, too

While I did not grow up Catholic, my best friend did. So, one of our rituals that lasted about ten years was going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve. One of the traditions of that mass was the Father would also wish Happy Easter, as he knew he would not see more than a few parishioners until next Christmas.

While fewer people are church goers than before and some check the box “none” when surveyed, Christmas remains an important holiday for the promise it brings. Whether you believe that Jesus is the son of God, there was a man by this name who walked the earth and spoke to gatherings of people of all sizes. He reminded us of four key themes among his many parables and lessons. And, these themes can be found in other religious texts.

– Treat others like you want to be treated.

– Help people less fortunate than you.

– Recognize each of us is imperfect.

– Forgive those who trespass against us.

To me, if we live our lives doing our best to remember these four things, Jesus’ words will help us be better people. And, if enough of us do this, the world just might be a better place.

 

Jesus on my mind

On PBS Frontline, they are airing a two-part series called “From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians” about how Christianity took shape. It is a fascinating history lesson that blends biblical writings with other known historical and archaeological findings. It interviews twelve religious scholars, theologians and historians who offer terrific insight.

I gained a greater appreciation for the role Paul played in spreading the teachings of Jesus following his death around Year 30. His followers were scared after Jesus’ death in Jerusalem as the Romans did not tolerate much dissent. So, Paul spread the word through home gatherings away from Jerusalem and through his many letters which were the first writings about Jesus. These home gatherings were usually over meals and sharing of prayer and stories. It was noted that these followers were a mixture of socio-economic classes, whereas around Jerusalem Jesus’ followers were more agrarian. Hence, Jesus’ parables had to be interpreted for more urban followers of Paul.

I also got a better understanding of the context of when the Gospels were written. Mark was the first Gospel author who wrote around forty years following Jesus’ death, but after the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem squelching the first rebellion of the Jews. He also wrote just after the deaths of three key Christians – Peter, James and Paul. Following this massacre, there was a much somber audience, so Mark highlighted the agony of Jesus’ death noting how much he suffered, just like they were now. He also wanted to record the life of Jesus, with the passing of these three principals.

Matthew and Luke years later followed with their Gospels and used some of the same words as Mark did, which gave the scholars the sense there was another document that had recorded some of Jesus’ teachings. The scholars noted they had to be working off a previous text of Jesus’ parables, as they were written in different regions by different men.These three Gospels are more symbiotic than John’s Gospel, as a result.

The scholars also note that Luke’s writings must be viewed in tandem with his second piece called Acts. They said Luke was more educated than Mark, so his writings flow more like the stories of the day. He also was writing to a more urban audience around the Aegean Sea who spoke Greek. John’s Gospel writings took a different tack as his writing was later and at a time when people were looking for something more lasting. He wrote more of a spiritual Jesus that is the basis for much of modern Christianity.

These scholars spoke of the Gospels in terms that makes sense to me. Gospel means “good news,” and that was the purpose of writing them to share the news of Jesus. But, as one scholar pointed out, these were not four reporters summarizing what just happened in a courtroom. They were writing down the stories that had been told and retold following Jesus’ death. He went on to say he would err on the side that these writings were meant symbolically and have been interpreted literally, rather than the other way around. Since four people are telling the same stories from different perspectives and times, there are inconsistencies in the stories.

Two examples would indicate this, as the day of Jesus’ death is different, where in one it is occurring at Passover where others showing it occurred later. Also, the example of Jesus’ overturning the gambling and trading tables in the temple, occurred earlier in one Gospel, while it is the reason for his ultimate arrest and later crucifixion in the others.

The final key takeaway for me is the separation between Judaism and Christianity became more prominent after these writings. Jesus was Jewish and much of the earlier teachings especially near Jerusalem were in keeping with the Jewish faith. The scholars explain that 90% of people in the Roman empire were paganists worshipping multiple gods. So, the only organized religion around one God was the Jewish religion. This is one reason the Romans feared teachings that wrapped religion and politics together, as in the Roman rule, the emperor was the supreme leader. This is also the reason Christians worshipped in secret in their homes.

The Frontline piece is excellent. It helps better understand context and the history of Jesus and those who followed him and created Christianity. Below is a synopsis of the two episodes.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/etc/synopsis.html

 

The Harmony Project – Sing, Serve, Share

What do you get when you have a choir which does not require auditions? You get a tremendous amount of harmony, but not just the musical kind. From a recent CBS Sunday Morning report, David Brown has formed a choral group whose primary purpose is to bring different kinds of people together to sing, serve and share.

Based in Colimbus, Ohio, its members must serve the community in various community projects, as well as practicing and performing. During the interview, Jane Pauley talked with what sounds like the set-up to a joke – a CEO, a warden and a Rabbi. These diverse people epitomize what the group is all about – getting to know people who are different from you, then realizing how similar we are.

Brown has even taken this concept into the warden’s prison where female inmates have their own chorus. Recently, the incarcerated chorus joined the larger one for a performance, which brought down the house.

Brown’s history has been one of being diverse. It started in high school when he moved into a new school district and was the lone white student at an African-American school. In college, he came out as a gay man. So, getting along as the non-main stream person has formed his bent toward diversity.

The Harmony Project is such a positive effort to bring out the best in us. While these examples happen on a daily basis, we need to celebrate them and our humanity by sharing our common threads. This is what America is all about. It is not finger pointing and hate speak. Let’s bring America together by celebrating our diversity, as well as these common threads that bind us.

Hillary should have heeded Arnold Palmer’s Example

Today, unless thirty-seven electoral college members decide not to vote for the President-elect, Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. We will likely never know officially the extent of the influence of the Russian hacking on the election results, but it had to have some impact at least in my opinion. But, to me there was a key failure by the Democrat candidate that should be noted – Hillary Clinton wanted to win big and took her precious time away from where it was needed most and tried to run up the score.

Arnold Palmer, who passed away this year, could have told her not to follow his example back in 1966, when he was well-positioned to win his second US Open and eighth major golf championship. Palmer is remembered as one of the greatest golfers in history, but also for his go-for-broke style. Because of this style, while he won often, he also fell short when playing it smart would have been the better course of action.

In 1966, at the Olympic golf course in San Francisco, Palmer came to the back nine of the final day of the US Open with a seven shot lead. That number is correct. Standing on the tee, he decided to go for a record victory and continued to go-for-broke. Now, if you do not follow golf, note that rough off the fairway is grown higher than normal for the US Open, so it is very unforgiving if your ball misses the shorter fairway grass. I have actually played this course and can attest it is not an easy one to play, but even more difficult from the rough.

So, Palmer’s swashbuckling style caused him to bleed strokes off his lead at the same time one of the most underrated players ever, Billy Casper started making a few birdies. By the end of the nine holes, Palmer had lost all of his lead and ended the day tied with Casper. The next day Casper was able to be beat Palmer in a playoff denying the latter another crowning achievement.

Why do I bring this up? Clinton decided she had a slim chance to win Arizona and decided to spend more time there than she should have. Where she should have spent her time was in states she should have won, but lost – Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. She did not visit Wisconsin at all after the convention, while many snickered at Trump going there. Flying to Arizona is a long flight, so she lost at least a day each time she went, a day that could have been invested in states nearer to each other.

Truth be told, she had a good story to tell for helping the middle class get jobs, a well thought at plan which included investing in our infrastructure and renewable energy industries which are growing at a fast pace. But, she was not there to tell it. So, she gave the mike to Trump, who knows what to do in front of people wanting to be told what they want to hear.

People talk about what a flawed candidate she was and is, but she still won the popular vote by almost 3 million votes. She just did not have enough of those votes in states where it mattered to the electoral college. I feel that she could have run a better campaign from the get go. I realize it is easy to say that now, but many said that before the election was long over. The drip-drip-drip of the constant email leaks did not help her at all, as it distracted us from issues and her opponents spotty business record and poor treatment of others along the way. Yet, half of success is showing up and she missed a few places to tell her story.

I am also quite perturbed by those who on November 9th saw that not voting at all and voting for a third-party candidate did a disservice to her efforts to give us some rational governance. Jill Stein’s voters wanted clean energy, so by voting for her instead of a candidate who could have moved us further down the path, we will have a new President whose cabinet is filled with fossil fuel protagonists. As I have said before, if you did not vote or voted for someone else, your voice is less compelling to complain about Trump winning.

So, unless something significant happens in the next 24 hours, we will have a President who will scare the hell out of most of the citizens on our planet and in our country. I hope he does some good, because I anticipate many things that will lead us down the wrong paths. Arnie could have told you Hillary – you should have played it smart.

 

It takes more than a sickle to hack like this

The CIA and now FBI have our President-elect and his supporters with their dress over their head based on their strongly held concerns that Russia attempted to influence our election in favor of the President-elect, hacking not with a sickle but something more high tech. I had a friend who would use this analogy to describe someone’s frustration based on his daughter’s example of getting madder and madder with her inability to get her dress off over her head.

The President-elect and his supporters have condemned this story as unproven and having no impact on the election. The line of attack most used by Trump and his PR people is that there is no evidence of hacked machines, conveniently ignoring the fact that the influence is more to do with what happened before the voting took place.

Trump and his PR folks also blame the liberal media and leaders, which seem to have converged as a composite evil entity. They are in cahoots against this victimized truthful man his supporters imply. And, if so important, why did the President wait until Clinton lost to bring this up his supporters say? The last statement has been said often, but also been confirmed as false as the evidence exists that proves the President-elect is being untruthful. He is saying don’t believe your own eyes and ears, believe me alone.

As for the former claim that story is being made up by the composite liberal enemy, there are several key Republican senators, including Senators Mitch McConnell. Marco Rubio, John McCain and Lindsay Graham among others, who have said this must be investigated. I have not heard the word liberal used to define these senators. And, as an Independent voter who cares about our country’s governance, I agree with these Senators.

The truth needs to be discovered as these are serious claims made by our intelligence community that must take their job seriously. We need to think of this as if the President was named John Smith and came from the ABC Party. We cannot have Russia or anyone hacking anything to influence our elections, period.

I have also seen editorialists say with conviction that this did not have any impact on the election because it did not change votes. The latter claim is unknown as I have seen security experts discuss back in July that impacting certain machines in select districts was doable and someone was pinging the machines looking for weaknesses. But, the larger issue is more clear to me as I have feared Russian involvement when I first saw reports that pointed fingers at them beginning in July.

One candidate, his team and the press got to read daily feeds of emails from a key staffer of the other candidate. They also got to read emails from larger dumps of hacked data from the other candidate’s political party. That did not seem fair then and as Senator Marco Rubio said in October, this is not right as it could be us (the GOP) the next time. My guess is the RNC emails would have been more entertaining with such infighting and angst over their candidate.

But, let me be as frank as possible. To say that reading your opponents’ emails did not have any impact on the election is a false statement. This is akin to a football coach reading key planning remarks (along with the media) made by the other team’s coaches. It had to have an impact, especially in light of fake news and biased news sources that were like rabid dogs looking to exploit information. And, given the word email becoming a leaky faucet when used with the word Clinton, more meaning was conveyed with each new daily talking point eroding her consideration drip by drip.

One final point should be noted. If the Russians did hack RNC and other emails, what assurances does our President-elect have that those emails won’t be used against him if he happens to do something that the Putin does not like. Putin is a KGB trained agent and it was not surprising to learn that he has a hand in disinformation efforts. If you do not believe this, note a senior newscaster from a Russian American News television network resigned on the air because she was being told what to say by Putin.