Reaction to hate speech – two posts from today

Two fellow bloggers have written today about online hate speech they have received. One lives in Australia and the other in America. The latter focuses on some anti-semitic comments she has received. Each post can be linked to below. They are must reads.

Below are my comments offering up a few thoughts from someone who detests hate speech and sees it for what it is – fear of the other.

First comment –  “I was chatting with my sister about how some folks are just looking for a fight online. I love the Aristotle saying – ‘There is only one way to avoid criticism: Do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.

Let me add one that a friend and guidance counselor used to tell her high school students. You are the boss of you. Don’t cede your power to anyone, especially someone trying to provoke a reaction. If you do not take offense, you are not offended.

I just love her words, even more especially since she passed away early. It is my tribute to her to remember them.”

Second comment – “I am sorry you have to go through hateful and spiteful denigration and persecution. It is not right and never has been right. When I see one group of people, pick any, that is taught to ‘fear the other’ and shun them, dehumanize them, punish them, and persecute them, thinking beyond the obvious hate, I am reminded of one thought – how could one group be so arrogant to think they can do without other groups of people?

This point is not focused on enough, so let me. The Jewish people have contributed so much to the world in every community they chose to be in (or were forced to be in). They value family, faith, hard work, education and community. One of my favorite part’s of Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Outliers,’ about successful people, is when he focuses on the children and grandchildren of the ‘piece goods’ workers who migrated from Europe to New York City (piece goods are zippers, button holes, collars, belt loops, etc. that make finished products easier to produce). Looking at these hard working people’s descendants revealed lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, etc. Their forebears valued hard work and education.

My point is simple. If a group practices an exclusionary belief system, then they may be a self-fulfilling prophesy and wither away. Simply, we need each other. If that does not do it for these folks, just think Steve Jobs was the son of Syrian immigrants. African-American Vivian Thomas had a heavy part in curing the blue babies syndrome, and the contribution of Jewish folks is an exhaustive list, but picking only two, Jonas Salk gave us the polio vaccine and actress and scientist Hedy Lamarr invented a technology that exists in every cell phone. Just think of where we would be without our diversity.”

Please note, I added a few words to the comments I left. My point is “fear of the other” is not only hateful, it is foolish and self-defeating. I saw a documentary where religious scholars and historians noted Jesus probably spoke four languages (Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek and Latin), given his trade as a carpenter, his ministry as a Rabbi and where he grew up. In other words, treat others like you want to be treated were not just words – he learned languages to communicate. Think about that.

https://forestwoodfolkart.wordpress.com/2020/10/25/how-to-deal-with-internet-criticism/

From a retired federal employee

In the letters to the editor in my local newspaper was the following letter. It speaks for itself, but I will make one comment following the letter.

“As a retired federal employee with over 34 years of service during the administrations of eight presidents of both political parties, I want to offer my heartfelt thanks to the millions of current federal employees across the country and around the world for your work on behalf of all of us.

Never in my experience have I seen such disdain from a president and his administration for federal employees, calling them “idiots,” “a disaster,” and otherwise demeaning service.

Federal employees deserve better than that, and I am here to just say thanks for your service.

Any boss who treats federal employees the way the current president does should not be the boss.”

This is well said. In Michael Lewis’ well researched book “The Fifth Risk” which looks at what these federal employees actually do and how the current administration did not take much time at all to learn what they do and the heightened risks as a result, he noted the following theme. The deep state (as these folks are often called) are the people who actually know what they are talking about.

Life’s Little Instruction Book – an old gift

On my first Father’s Day many years ago, my wife gave me “Life’s Little Instruction Book” compiled by H. Jackson Browne, Jr. I was leafing through it today as it lay on an upstairs table near my computer. Here are few of the 511 pearls of wisdom that can be found therein.

#454 – Show respect for everyone that works for a living, regardless of how trivial their job.

#276 – Patronize local merchants even if it costs a little more.

#186 – Be insatiably curious. Ask “why” a lot.

#158 – Pray not for things, but for wisdom and courage.

#107 – Smile a lot. It costs nothing and is beyond the price.

#246 – Wave at children on school’s buses.

#426 – Share the credit.

#375 – Take charge of your attitude. Don’t let someone else choose it for you.

#127 – Wear the most audacious of underwear under the most solemn business attire.

#58 – Always accept an outstretched hand.

Many of the above are not among the usual instructions. The first two remind me of what we need to do more of in today’s pandemic. Of course, the more startling one is my favorite about “audacious underwear.”

It reminds me of the a staid company I worked for, where the very dignified manager of a department had an “underwear optional” day for the troops. Going commando was never so much fun.

The last one is hard, but should not be. Why don’t we want to accept help? After 9/11, America’s approval ratings were at its highest. Other countries wanted to help, but we did not accept it very well. That was unwise.

The one I gravitate to the most and often advise is a variation of don’t cede your power to someone else. Take charge of your attitude. You are not offended, if you do not take offense.

Don’t worry about keeping up with the Jones’ spending

This morning I made the following paraphrased comment on a blogpost which was offering sound advice to budding business owners and young adults (a link is below to “Push through your fear to achieve financial freedom”). It is a variation of a theme I have written a few times about.

As an almost 62 year old fart, part of the theme of this post – “The fear of being ostracized causes us to keep up with the Joneses” caught my eye.

A key word of advice to all people who feel they must spend to buy more things in some level of competition with the infamous Joneses. Ask yourself do you really need this? Will it make you happier if you buy it? I have an attic-full of things we forgot we have, that are obviously not that important anymore.

There is an instructive documentary movie called “I Am” by an action movie director. He wrote and produced it after he realized that buying the biggest of houses, did not make him happy. His realization occurred the moment he entered the house with his new set of keys and closed the door.

The movie reporter speaks with religious, spiritual, psychological and medical folks about what makes us happy. The key conclusion that is revealed is straightforward – money does not make you happy; however, the absence of money does make you unhappy. Once you have enough to put a roof over your heads and feed your family, there is diminishing marginal return to more money. And, more things.

I hope this thought might help. It helped me. So, don’t keep up with the Joneses. And, if you don’t like the above argument about watching your spending, there is book that might interest you called “The Millionaire Next Door.” It is about the person who spent wisely and saved and is now wealthier than you imagined as you were swayed by his ten year-old cars and his beat up lawnmower.

The Appeal – a book with relevance today

With the pandemic, I have been catching up on the many unread books we still have on our shelves. Recently, I finished a book John Grisham published in 2008 called “The Appeal,” that was #1 on The New York Times bestseller list back then.

Even though it is twelve years old, the theme is relevant today. Without giving too much away, a married couple law team in a small town in Mississippi win a court case for their client against a company who had been proven to dump poisonous waste chemicals that made it into her community’s water supply. Their client lost both her husband and son to cancer as did many others in the county. She was awarded $41 million including punitive damages.

While others awaited to file suit, the verdict gave them reason to hope. The verdict was expected to be appealed, so no money traded hands. The CEO of the holding company for the chemical company decided to be proactive at the behest of a senior Mississippi Senator known for his wealth amassed through lobbyist funding. So, the CEO hires a secretive consulting firm whose expertise will help to unseat a less-friendly (to companies) judge running for reelection. Most of the $8 million fee is off shore and never declared.

The consulting firm recruits a young lawyer, with a young family and no baggage or judicial experience. So, he has no rulings that could be highlighted in a negative way. Once on board, they quietly fund his campaign commercials and strategy before announcing his candidacy. In essence, they use a surprise attack and overwhelm the sitting judge who thinks she is unopposed and has not raised funds.

I will stop there. The scary part is how easily this could be done. People were convinced to vote for this young, photogenic judge with a nice family, not knowing he was going to severely limit liability for companies who screwed people like these voters. He was supposed to be their judge.

So, when I see the stated reasons why judges are running, it makes me want to dig further. The true reason for a well-funded campaign is money. What judge will be the most friendly to companies? I have said this earlier, whether it is a supreme court seat or appellate court or some other court, lip service is given to issues that interest the voters. But, what interests the lobbyists is counting on a reliable vote in their industry’s favor.

Big Stone Gap – a quick read about an eccentric mountain town and a self-proclaimed spinster

If you are unfamiliar with “Big Stone Gap,” the book is about a real town in the Virginia mountains written by Adriana Trigiani. There was also a movie called “Big Stone Gap” made about the book starring Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson, Whoopi Goldberg, John Benjamin Hickey and Jenna Elfman. Plus, you may remember a true story included in the book, when Elizabeth Taylor, while visiting with her Senate candidate husband John Warner, choked on a chicken bone in the town at a welcome dinner in the late 1970s.

The book revolves around the main character, a thirty-five year old pharmacist named Ave Maria Mulligan. Her mother was born in Italy, so the name is not as unusual as it sounds, but is still not common. The pharmacy was owned by her stern father who had passed away years ago. Her mother has just passed away when the book picks up. Another key character is a mining friend named Jack MacChesney, who goes by Jack Mac. Judd and Wilson play the lead characters in the movie which was co-written and directed by the author.

Without giving too much of the plot away, Ave Maria is an avid book reader and her best friend is Iva Lou (played by Elfman), the woman who drives the bookmobile into the library-less town once a week. Iva Lou is unmarried as well, but she encourages Ave Maria to be more like she is with her healthy libido. Ave Maria also has a big heart and busy calendar as she is one of the two EMTs in the area, directs a regional theater performance about the town, and is best friends with the very creative high school band director named Theodore (played by Hickey).

Her mother taught her Italian as a shared hobby her husband did not know about. Ave Maria felt her relationship was always strained with her father and the book reveals how she discovers why this was the case. And, as an important context to the story, her mother was an expert seamstress and did pro bono work for band uniforms, prom dresses, and wedding dresses in this relatively poor mining town. This goodwill endeared her too many including Jack Mac.

If you love small towns, the book will hit home with its local flair. Goldberg plays Fleeta, a pro wrestling loving clerk at the pharmacy. You will learn who the gossips are and why very few stories are private. You will love the eccentricity and become frustrated with the stubbornness of some of the characters, including Ave Maria, who stiff-arms suitors.

You will treasure and be proud of Ave Maria standing up for the disenfranchised, like a young heavy-set teen named Pearl who gets picked on and others in need of work. She is also friends with her customers and delivers medicines to those who cannot get out. You will like Ave Maria, as do the town residents, but she will frustrate you as well, like a sibling or good friend sometimes do.

If you have not read it, give it look. It is a quick read. It won’t solve world hunger, but it is a nice distraction, which we all need. Let me know what you think.

When a heart is empty – words from conservative pundit David Brooks

I have shared before David Brooks is one of my favorite conservative pundits. I read his columns and have read two of his books, “The Road to Character” and “The Social Animal.” I even went to hear him speak when he came to town, as he focused on remembering community and community gathering places. Monday’s editorial column by Brooks is called “When a heart is empty.”

Brooks highlights how an unfeeling, self-absorbed author named Emmanuel Carrere is forever altered by a crisis, when he loses his granddaughter to a horrible tsunami. Per Brooks, Carrere “develops a deep and perceptive capacity to see the struggles of others” and he writes about the change in “Lives Other Than My Own.”

Brooks uses this change to contrast it being “opposite of the blindness Donald Trump displayed in quotes reported by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic and Bob Woodward in his latest book about the administration, ‘Rage’

Brooks goes on to say “Trump can’t seem to fathom the emotional experience of their lives (the deceased soldiers he called ‘losers’ and ‘suckers’) – their love for those they fought for, the fears they faced down, the resolve to risk their lives nonetheless.

If he can’t see that, he can’t understand the men and women in uniform serving around him. He can’t understand the inner devotion that drives people to public service, which is supposed to be the core of his job.

The same sort of blindness is on display in the Woodward quotes. It was stupid of Trump to think he could downplay COVID-19 when he already knew it had the power of a pandemic. It was stupid to think the American people would panic if he told the truth. It was stupid to talk to Woodward in the first place…

It is moral and emotional stupidity. He blunders so often and so badly because he has a narcissist’s inability to get inside the hearts and minds of other people.”

There is more, but the gist of the piece can be gleaned from these quotes. Brooks said earlier this year, “Donald Trump does not have a sense of decency or empathy.” He reiterates this theme above. And, there is a line from one of my favorite political movies “The American President” with Michael Douglas and Annette Bening. “Being president is entirely about character.”

The Buffalo Soldier – a good read about relationships in tough times

The recipe is simple, but tragic. Mix in a young couple living in Vermont who loses their twin daughters to a terrible flood. Season with a ten-year old African-American foster child that they take in two years later. Understand the couple grieves differently and the husband has a one night affair that produces a pregnancy. Finally, layer in a kind, retired couple across the street, one of whom is a retired history professor who introduces the boy to a book on an African-American regiment called the Buffalo Soldiers. What results is an excellent book by Chris Bohjalian called “The Buffalo Soldier.”

The book is told in first person, through the eyes of five sets of characters. Laura, the young wife, works at a pet shelter. Terry, the husband, is a Vermont state trooper. Alfred is the young boy who has moved from foster home to foster home. Phoebe is the woman who Terry becomes infatuated with and is the expectant mother of his child. And, the Heberts, Paul and Emily, are the retired couple whose view is told together. Bohjalian alternates the first person narrative by chapter which provides perspective.

Alfred becomes fascinated with the Buffalo Soldiers, especially after Paul tells him the Native Americans gave them that name as an honor. To them, the buffalo gave life – food, clothing, shelter – so they revered the animal. This becomes important when Paul and Emily get a horse and ask Alfred to help. Alfred is treated differently by others because there are not many African-Americans in this small town or his school, so the Buffalo Soldiers intrigue him and give him a connection.

The story has many relationships, but the foster family is at the heart of it. As noted therein, losing one child is trying to a family, but losing both of your only children can cause relationships to end. As noted above, people grieve differently and for long periods of time. So, while Alfred helps bring Laura out of her grief, Terry has still not stopped being mad at the world and misses how his relationship with his wife was before the death of the twins.

Each chapter begins with a little paragraph on the Buffalo Soldiers, so we see what Paul and Alfred find so compelling about them. I will stop there so as not to reveal any more of the plot. Give it a read and let me know what you think. Please avoid the comments in case others have already read it.

Bob Woodward – a few tidbits from “60 Minutes” interview on Sunday

For some reason, the president of the United States agreed to be interviewed by Bob Woodward, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and author. This is a writer who, with Carl Bernstein, helped uncover the truth behind the corruption and deceit of Richard Nixon leading up to and following the Watergate break-in. So, the most untruthful and corrupt president, in my lifetime, including the aforementioned Nixon, sat down for recorded interviews with Woodward.

Relating to the “60 Minutes” interview between Woodward and Scott Pelley, I found the three paragraphs from a news summary by Ted Johnson called, “Bob Woodward Tells ’60 Minutes’ Why He Made A Judgment Call That Donald Trump Was The ‘Wrong Man For The Job: ‘It’s A Conclusion Based On Evidence'” revealing

“In his last interview with Trump in August, Woodward said, the topic again was on the coronavirus, as the pandemic continued to spread throughout the country. Trump insisted during the interview that ‘nothing more could have been done’ to curb the virus.

‘Nothing more could have been done. Does he remember what he told me, back in February, about it’s more deadly than the flu?’ Woodward told Pelley. ‘I mean it almost took my breath away, that there was such certainty, when he was absolutely wrong about the issue that defines the position of this country right now.’

Meanwhile, Trump continues to downplay the potential for the virus to spread, as he has mocked his rival Joe Biden for wearing a mask. His campaign continues to hold rallies in which supporters are tightly packed together and many not wearing masks. In fact, just as the 60 Minutes interview was airing, the Trump campaign was getting ready to hold its first indoor rally in three months, an event scheduled Sunday evening in Henderson, NV. Masks are recommended but not required.”

What troubles me about the last paragraph is even after the beans were spilled that Trump knew of the danger and lied about it, he still continues to hold rallies. It is akin to inviting people to a party where you know some of the food has spoiled. Trump has called Woodward a “wack job” and his book as “fake,” but most of the trouble from Woodward comes from Trump’s own words. His followers might want to listen to what Trump said.

Caleb’s Crossing – a good book with a dose of history

Take a surprising true story – the first Native American to graduate from Harvard in the 17th century. Season it with a historically appropriate context. And, mix in a story told through the eyes of a growing young daughter of a minister and you arrive at “Caleb’s Crossing” by Gretchen Brooks, who is a Pulitzer Prize winner for her 2006 book “March.”

Bethia Mayfield is the girl growing up in the settlement of Great Harbor on what is now called Martha’s Vineyard. Her father has an earnest effort to convert and educate members of the Wampanoag tribe on the island. While Bethia is not allowed advanced schooling given her gender, she listens to her father’s lessons to her older brother, Makepeace. Since her brother is not the best of students, unlike his younger sister, she gets the benefit of hearing the lessons repeated.

As she lost her twin brother in a terrible accident, she wanders the coast, woods and meadows. She befriends a a Wampanoag boy about her age. She eventually gives him an English name of Caleb. He is as curious to learn as she is and he teaches her about where good berries can be found and how to fish. He also teaches her his language and vice-versa. Yet, other than taking her berries home, she must keep her learnings to herself.

I will stop there as not to reveal too much plot. If you are a woman, this book will exasperate you at times. You will pull for Bethia throughout and wince when she does headstrong things that her mother cautioned her about. She will acknowledge that she may have said too much on occasion in the book.

While Bethia and her story is fiction, there are many parts of the story that are true. Brooks points these out at the end of the book, as she does not want her book to replace history. Yet, so much is unknown about Caleb and another Native American Harvard student, that the story is a good teaching aid.

“Caleb’s Crossing” is a good book. It is not a can’t-put-down-read, at least to me, but it is entertaining. Men will find it of interest, but women will likely be more invested with how it portrays the subservient nature of girls and women in the mid-to-late 17th century and how Bethia overcomes obstacles.