You don’t have to be an expert to make a difference

“You don’t have to be an expert to make a difference.” Gerald Durrell

Who is Gerald Durrell? If you watched the BBC show “The Durrells in Corfu,” you would know Jerry was the young boy who loved all animals, birds, reptiles and insects. This true story was based on this progressive zookeeper’s book “My family and other animals,” which was a best seller in the UK in the 1950s.

The context for the quote was his warning that humans were destroying the forests to harvest the wood and farm the land. We were killing off the homes to many animals. This was prescient and could reemphasized today.

Yet, the quote applies to so much more. We do not have to be expert on climate change to make a difference. We do not have to be expert on the long lifespan of plastic to use fewer plastic contsiners. We do not need to be an expert to know we need to use our water resources wisely.

And, to Durrell’s point, we do need to be an expert to preserve and replenish forests. Trees, mangroves, etc. are also carbon eaters, so it is not just the animals we are protecting. Remember the title of the best seller above.

Monday Maxims

Our philosopher friend Hugh spawned this post citing a maxim. While unattributed, it bears repeating: those who are the least tolerant require more tolerance from others.

So, on this Monday in late October, let me mention a few maxims. Where I can, I will cite the source.

I have found the more I practice, the luckier I get – Gary Player, legendary golfer

It is better to be thought the fool, than to speak and remove all doubt – attributed to Mark Twain

It gets dark early out there – Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame baseball player

Wise men say, only fools fall in love, but I can’t help falling in love with you – sung by Elvis Presley in “Blue Hawaii

Those who shout the loudest usually have the worst argument – author unknown

I can’t wait ’til tomorrow, because I get better looking everyday – Broadway Joe Namath, Hall of Fame football quarterback

A good plan today will beat a perfect plan tomorrow – General Patton

When walking through hell, it is better to keep walking – Winston Churchill

Sleep is a weapon – Robert Ludlum in “The Bourne Supremacy”

Love a girl who holds the world in a paper cup, drink it up, love her and she’ll bring you luck – Kenny Loggins in “Danny’s Song

The longest journey begins with a short step – author unknown

There are many who talk about doing things, but few who actually get up out of their chair and go do them – author unknown

You have two ears and one mouth, it is better to use them in that proportion – recounted by an old CEO

Please feel free to amend or add your sayings.

Five easy memory tricks

With two of our four parents succumbing to complications due to Alzheimer’s, memory maintenance is of interest to my wife and me. Readers’ Digest ran an article by Andrea Au Levitt called “5 Easy Memory Tricks.” Her intro paragraph follows:

“You know that eating healthy, staying active, and solving a few brain games can help keep you sharp. But these lesser known habits work wonders, too.”

1. Sit tall – when slouching it follows or promotes defeated, anxious and depressive thoughts, which hinder memory.

2. Exercise – once – gains in memory after one exercise are similar to gains after regular exercise (note still do the regular stuff).

3. Limit TV – including online versions of TV, too much screen time can harm cognitive development and maintenance.

4. Doodle – people can remember things better if they doodle or draw a picture of what they are thinking of. Writing the words of the thing is not as memorable as drawing a picture.

5. Walk backward – real, imagined or watched walking backward or even forward, can help remember something. So, in keeping with #2 above, take a walk (and walk backwards on occasion).

Let me take one of the above and break it down more. One of the examples from Malcom Gladwell’s book, “Talking to strangers,” notes that torture is a horrible way to gain information. Why? Under trauma, people remember less than they would normally. The comment about sitting tall in #1 above, notes if we slouch we increase anxiety or depressive thoughts, a mild form of trauma.

Outside of the walking backward, I do the above things. The sitting tall actually helps this tall person with his back. As for doodling, for some reason when I work the various puzzles in the newspaper, I blacken in the circular letters (O’s, D’s, P’s etc.) in the title of the advice section (sorry Dear Abby). Maybe it helps me with the puzzles (or advice).

As I leave you, think of Barbra Streisand walking backward singing “Memories light the corners of my mind, Misty water-colored memories of the way we were.”

Our Republic is under attack by its president says a retired admiral

An increasing number of people with gravitas are going on record to heighten concerns over the abuse of powers and attempts to obstruct such from view by the US president. Thomas Friedman has penned an excellent editorial along these lines (below is a link to a blog which includes Friedman’s piece). He contrasts the political courage and heroic words under oath of Former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch to the words at various rallies by the US president calling those who criticize him as enemies of the state.

Also, below is a link to a summary of an editorial by retired Admiral William McRaven, who led the raid on Osama Bin Laden among other career accomplishments. He has penned a piece that is simply called “Our republic is under attack from the president.” As he notes, this is not just McRaven’s opinion as an unnamed General took him aside and said the president is a threat and has to go. The summary starts out with the following statement:

“Former Adm. William McRaven (Ret.) argued in an op-ed Thursday that President Trump is ‘destroying’ the United States, warning that the future of the country is ‘in peril if Trump is not removed from office.'”

As more reasoned voices who mitigated Trump’s worst instincts and impulses have left the building, the nation should be concerned. We have an unshackled president who prides himself on not doing any homework. As conservative pundit David Brooks said yesterday – the score after the Kurds were abandoned is Erdogan 56, Trump 0. GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said the following in a editorial in The Washington Post about the grave mistake to withdraw support from the Kurds:

“Withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria is a grave strategic mistake. It will leave the American people and homeland less safe, embolden our enemies, and weaken important alliances. Sadly, the recently announced pullout risks repeating the Obama administration’s reckless withdrawal from Iraq, which facilitated the rise of the Islamic State in the first place.”

I have long believed the US president is a clear and present danger to our democracy, to our planet and to the Republican party. The latter group is beginning to realize that fact. I hope it is not too late. They need to call upon a dose of that political courage of Ms. Yovanovitch and others who are telling the truth knowing a vindictive president will react.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/ex-special-ops-commander-our-republic-is-under-attack-from-the-president/ar-AAIWxE8?ocid=spartandhp

The Words Of A Wise Man

The only woman in the room – a novel about the amazing true story of Hedy Lamarr

Hedwig Eva Marie Kiesler was born in Austria and would later become a famous and beautiful actress known as Hedy Lamarr. But, her story is far more compelling and complicated than that. Marie Benedict penned a novel based on Lamarr’s incredible true life story called “The only woman in the room.” Not only was she an iconic actress, she was a scientist and was in the room when her domineering husband, a munitions manufacturer in Austria, hosted Austrian, Nazi and Italian leaders.

I will stop short of giving the story away, but this fast-paced novel told in first person, provides a narrative of a woman frightened by her first husband and the plans she overheard. Staying only with the teaser written on the back cover, she would eventually flee to London where she met a movie mogul who was recruiting actors and actresses leaving Europe as Hitler expanded his evil reach.

Yet, she would lament what was transpiring in her homeland, as a Jew and as an transplanted Austrian. So, based on what she heard in these many meetings back in Austria, she would work with a talented avante garde pianist and composer to devise an electronic communication system for the war effort that laid a foundation that is used today. I will stop there at this strange point, so as not to say too much. I will leave you thinking the obvious – an actress and a pianist did this?

The book found its way to The New York Times best seller list. It is a quick and compelling read. I highly recommend this book as it is far more than an unknown history lesson.

A man called Ove – a curmudgeon worth a deeper look

The title of bestselling author Fredrik Backman’s book “A man called Ove” or the reference to the subject may not be inviting, but give this book a chance. We all have curmudgeons in our lives and sometimes we may even channel our inner curmudgeon. But, why do some people act the way they do?

People Magazine opines on Ove, “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel new sympathy for the curmudgeons in your life.” I agree.

Backman introduces Ove in real time, so you will start off with a full-frontal view of a curmudgeon. But, through changes in his daily life and a series of reveals as Ove remembers the good and bad in his life, you gain a new perspective on how he has evolved to be who he is. You will learn Ove has a tough outer shell, but different layers are buried beneath.

To avoid any spoilers, let me mention what is written on the back cover to invite you to read the book. Ove’s daily routine is disrupted when chatty new neighbors with two young daughters announce they have arrived one November morning by accidentally backing their U-Haul trailer over Ove’s mailbox.

Their interactions and related others take an ice-pick to Ove’s icy outer shell. The book is an easy read, but do give Ove a chance. Your initial reaction to Ove will be like everyone else’s whom the character meets in the book. So, bring your proverbial ice pick along. And, some tissue.

Talking to Strangers – another good read by Malcolm Gladwell

I just finished reading “Talking to Strangers” by Malcolm Gladwell and highly recommend it. Gladwell is one of my favorite non-fiction authors and has penned multiple best sellers such as “Outliers,” “Blink,” and “The Tipping Point.” His style is to season examples with a touch of data and analysis, without infringing on the story.

“Talking to Strangers” shares numerous examples and data that we humans tend not to read strangers very well. The main reason is we “default to truth.” In other words, we give more benefit of the doubt to strangers than we should. A healthy dose of skepticism would help in this regard. Without giving too many of his examples away, here are few to think about.

  • Neville Chamberlain wanted to meet Adolph Hitler to see if he could be trusted at his word. It should be noted that Chamberlain was not the only person to meet Hitler and misread him. The ones who saw Hitler more clearly never met him.
  • Amanda Knox was convicted of a crime she did not commit on very flimsy evidence, primarily because she did not react to the news of her roommate’s murder as the Italian police expected her to. Her manner convinced them she had something to hide.
  • Bernie Madoff did not come across as someone who was running the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. When investigators met him they could not believe he was so doing. Yet, a man who had not met Madoff named Nat Simons handed the case to the investigators years before they paid attention – he saw too may red flags and dug deeper.
  • Fidel Castro had seven double agents working in the CIA that went unnoticed for years until the US allies caught a key Cuban agent in Europe. The CIA dismissed what would have been red flags rationalizing that the lie detector was picking up a false positive, for example.
  • Brock Turner was convicted of raping a co-ed at Stanford, primarily on the evidence that two Swedish grad students came upon him having sex with a comatose women near a dumpster. Gladwell notes meeting a stranger at a college party is bad enough, but made far worse when both have been drinking.
  • The Penn State president and Athletic Directors could not believe coach Jerry Sandusky was a prolific pedophile. People gravitated to all the good he had done without heeding the first witness to have observed something. The witness was not forceful enough to follow-up and make sure something was done.
  • Sandra Bland was arrested on a very minor traffic offense in a conversation that went awry when it needed not. There were too many incidences where the conversation could have been diffused, yet was not. She was taking a job at Prairie State University in Texas and her Illinois license plates gave Officer Brian Encinia pause. She committed suicide in her jail cell.

Gladwell highlights a study that concluded through tests that we tend to think people who are innocent, but nervous or anxious, as guilty and tend to give a free pass to the good bluffer who is guilty. The folks inbetween, we tend to judge a little better. Given the above CIA and other intelligence, judicial and police examples, those who say they are better at judging are not as good as they think.

One of the examples noted a computer algorithm looking at criminal history was far better than a judge who met the person at setting bail or releasing the offender. The judges released too many that should have had higher bail. Another noted the use of torture was not a good elictor of truth, as when people are tortured, they go into trauma and cannot recall the truth very well.

Like all Gladwell books, “Talking to Strangers” is a quick read. Yet, I hope you will walk away with a few nuggets of knowledge as I did.