Wednesday wanderings in mid-May

We should have another warm day here, so walking may make us “glisten,” a word my wife uses for perspiration. So, as we glisten on our walk about, let me share a few of my wandering thoughts.

The votes from yesterday’s mid-term primaries are being tallied, so I will save commentary for another day, with two exceptions. With almost 100% of the votes counted, it looks like Rep. Madison Cawthorn will be unseated in his first election as an incumbent. His failure to: realize on three occasions a driver needs a driver license, understand he cannot carry a weapon onto a plane on two occasions, appreciate claiming your Republican colleagues are having orgies and coke parties is not the way to make friends, and recognize that not doing much of anything other than abet the former president’s Big Lie and insurrection of Congress is not conducive to good governance. It should be noted Cawthorn lost in the middle of a heavy Republican district, which speaks volumes.

The other exception is Rep. Ted Budd, a non-apologetic Trump sycophant, won the Republican primary to fill the US Senate seat of retiring Richard Burr. That is unfortunate, as we may end up with another strident Senate member who is replacing a more moderate Republican in Burr. He will be running against a very good Democrat candidate in Judge Cheri Beasley’s whose commercials and record are exemplar. I am sure she will be attacked, but she is a far more credible candidate than Budd. I just hope the voters in North Carolina listen to her and what she is saying. And, that there are no termites in the woodwork like with the candidate who was about to beat the junior Senator in 2020 before he did something stupid.

I am certain there will be a mixed bag of results in the Republican primaries due to the support of the former president. When I see or hear the endorser on a TV ad, it truly makes me ill. A person who has divided our country further with his Big Lie because he is not man enough to accept defeat and who instigated an insurrection on a branch of government to stay in power is not someone whose opinion lends itself to credibility. But, with too few Republicans actually pushing back on the bullying and untruthful acting former president, coupled with troubling policies on climate change, gun governance, civil rights, health care access and making rich people richer, it makes it easier to not vote for any Republicans in the general election. The climate change and environmental issues alone are a reason to avoid putting more Republicans in place.

I know I will offend Republicans and conservatives, who will offer “what about” comments. As an Independent and former Republican of twenty plus years and Democrat of five plus years, I disagree on policies with both parties. Yet, I find myself arguing policy issues with Democrats and the truth with Republicans. With too many Republicans listening to sources who parrot disinformation and conspiracy stories makes it difficult to counter arguments that will be heard. And, Republicans are much better than Democrats at PR on focusing attention on issues that are not really as big a deal as portrayed. It is akin to creating an issue that can be carried around like a handbag and hit someone over the head with it.

People laugh when I say this, but in 2010-12 elections, the GOP candidates all spoke of the “failed stimulus” plan, with a mandate that both words be used together. Even Democrats believed it. The problem is the stimulus did not fail and was measured as accretive to GDP growth by six econometric firms. And, it should be noted both a Republican and Democrat president were involved in separate stimulus plans. Yet, the PR campaign was successful.

All I ask is to look at people’s stances on real issues, not contrived ones. What do you plan to do about climate change? What do you plan to do about gun governance? What do you plan to do about the growing white supremacy movement? What will you do to assure health care is available to people? What will you do to preserve the rights of women as the exist today? What do you plan to do about our US debt and deficit? What do you plan to do about inflation, other than just complain about it? And, so on.

Comedians and Congress

The very astute and funny comedian Sarah Silverman said yesterday on a segment of The View, “Why is it we hold our comedians to a higher standard than our Congressional representatives?” She was responding to the trend for comedians to come under physical attack on stage and verbal abuse online. I want you to re-read the emboldened sentence of hers and let it sink in. Why, indeed?

If that is not enough to stew on, I want you to think of recent and not so recent comments by several members of Congress with names like Taylor-Greene, Cawthorn, Jordan, Gosar, Breitbart, Gohmer, Brooks, Gaetz et al. If that were not enough, fold in comments from folks like Senators Cruz, Paul. etc. Then we have the former president’s comments which take it to an even lower level.

These comedians make their living making fun of uncomfortable topics. Do they cross the line on occasion? Absolutely. Yet, we seem to vilify them more than we do for people who are supposed to represent our better angels as elected officials. I can disagree with a policy position of an elected official and that is OK. Yet, I want them to be respectful of the office they hold.

I disagree with Democrats and Republicans on various issues. I think some Democrats tend to forget we need to pay for things, e.g. But, the names I mention above are all Republican for a reason. They have a strident manner in dealing with opposing arguments. Name calling is not an argument. Parroting conspiracy theories is not an argument. Saying truly inane things does not make you more credible.

It is not ironic that the most touted leader in the world is a former comedian. President Zelenskyy of Ukraine has stood up against the invasion of Russian troops and rallied his country against the onslaught. To be frank, Vladimir Putin did not count on that stance thinking he could steam roll Ukraine in three days. He could not have been more wrong.

When I watch shows that are news centered comedy discussions, the more astute guests tend to be comedians. To be able to make fun of something, you tend to have to know what it is and why it could be funny. In this same vein, one of the best news shows on TV is actually a comedy show – John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight.” Invariably, his writers will have an in-depth discussion on issues that do not get air time elsewhere such as predatory tele-evangelists, predatory lending, predatory court fees, et al. Other new sources have actually complimented their efforts.

Since comedians seem to be more knowledgeable, maybe we should do like sports teams do. When an elected official is obviously not up to the challenge, like in a sporting event, let’s just replace him or her with a comedian. In my view, we will be far better off.

Wednesday wanderings on a spring day

It is certainly a great day to wander about, but I think I will mow the grass first. Mowing has always been a chore I don’t mind, as you can see your progress as you go. Plus, freshly cut grass has a fresh smell. Since I have a battery powered mower, I don’t have to worry about inhaling gas fumes.

As I mow or wander, I can do some good thinking. I find myself thinking about past events and friends, since some of the current day issues are puzzling at best. I read a post (it may have been Jill or Joy’s) that some celebrity said “act like a grown up” used to be an admonition to misbehaving children. Now, we have too many grown-ups that act like spoiled toddlers. Of course, when some stand firmly behind one of the biggest acting toddlers as a former and possible future presidential candidate, it truly shows how low we have fallen.

We have too many that forget there is a responsibility that comes with our liberties. When my freedom to do things could be harmful to your freedoms, then we must cease or reconsider those actions. The opposite should be true. It reminds me of the caution to the newly launched Spiderman, when his grandfather said “with great power comes great responsibility.” Our freedoms to do things that are not permissible in some countries is a great power. Yet, we must honor it, nurture it, protect it for all.

Some have taken reaction to actual or perceived offenses to an awful degree. Just because someone disagrees with you, does not entitle you to hurt, threaten or kill the other person. Full stop. Just because you cannot tolerate failure, does not entitle you to turn over the chess board, throw a tantrum, claim cheating or instigate an attack on a branch of government. Full stop. Just because you are in a position of authority does not entitle you to ignore the people you represent. A good leader listens to others. A foolish one does not. Full stop.

There are many old lessons that are getting ignored these days. A key one is if someone has to tell you how great he or she is, then maybe we should look a little deeper as to why he or she is having to tell us such. When a colleague was complaining about being removed from marketing to a prospective client, unsuccessfully over several years, he said “I have known John for twenty years.” The thought running through my head was “And, he has known you.”

Whether you are religious or not, in many religious texts is some variation of Jesus’ golden rule. Treat others like you want to be treated. Let’s be responsible to each other. Let’s be civil in our discourse. Let’s protect their freedoms like they were our own. Let’s try not to be blowhards and listen to each other. Spiderman’s grandpa has a good lesson for us all.

Recent history lessons

After seeing the border wall with Mexico touted by more than a few candidates as a campaign issue, I felt a recent history lesson would help the focus. Both parties have failed to address fixes to our immigration system over the years, but the “build that wall” issue is one touted as the major solution dating back to the famous escalator ride by a former president to announce his candidacy. The following is a letter I sent to my newspaper.

As campaigners speak of the border crisis as a major issue, we should remember our history. In June 2013, a bipartisan group of eight Senators helped pass a pretty good immigration bill in the Senate by a vote of 68-32. Yet, Speaker John Boehner refused to bring it to a vote in the House as not resolving the issue was better politically for his party. This led to President Obama’s executive order on DACA as the House would not act.

A few years later, President Trump agreed to a deal of $25 billion for his wall and to allow DACA to become law one morning with Senators Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin. By that afternoon, Graham and Durbin arrived for the big announcement only to find the more hard core Senators convinced Trump not doing anything would be better politically. Mind you the wall was his #1 issue, but he reneged on his deal.

We can solve problems only if we act instead of beating on our chests saying we will.

Saturday in the park – great day for a walkabout

Spring has definitely sprung. The flowers have blossomed and the green leaves have returned. It is a good day for a walk in the forest. Especially, now that I have taken my antihistamine for the pollen.

As I walk, I will likely think of the news of the day and time. In no particular order, I might chew on the following thoughts.

I saw where a mother and daughter were sentenced for their role in the January 6 insurrection. As their roles were less violent, they were given 36-month sentences where they need not go to prison. Yet, the thought continues to occur to me, how many people have to be convicted of crimes for people to realize that doing what the former president wants is not a good thing?

In this same vein, the ever flip-flopping minority House leader Kevin McCarthy has been revealed in a recording to blame the former president for the insurrection saying he would ask for him to resign. This is not a surprise as he was critical of the former president on the floor of the chambers shortly after the insurrection. That was, of course, before he was called to Mar-o-Lago to bow before the king and repent. Now, his flip-flopping is back in the limelight and the former president denies telling McCarthy he had some culpability.

Russia is flexing more muscle in Ukraine with more troops and attacks. This is a bolder step to save face and may prove difficult for Ukraine. It is hard to filter through the noise to find out the truth. I feel sorry for the people of Ukraine who are props standing in the way of a malevolent bully. Too many have died and will die, as civilians do not matter in the eyes of this autocrat. I see some offer of settlement where Russia can claim some part of Ukraine in the future. It is sad that this bully must be rewarded for his invasion, while the Ukraine and Russian civilians must bear the brunt of the pain.

I see Boris Johnson is taking a page out of the Richard Nixon playbook. When things are tough at home, go on the road. Nixon did his best work in China while being investigated for the Watergate break-in. Speaking of Nixon, there is a new miniseries out called “The First Lady” which goes back and forth looking at three first ladies – Betty Ford, Michelle Obama and Eleanor Roosevelt. Ford was hoping to retire to Florida when her Gerald got asked to replace the convicted Vice President Spiro Agnew (that was an omen). Then, Gerald became President when Nixon resigned before he could be impeached and convicted. Betty was none too happy with this turn of events, but made of the best of it.

The governor of Florida has decided to punish DisneyWorld for daring to be critical of his “Don’t say gay” law. He led an effort to abolish a state tax break the amusement empire was getting. This is not the first and won’t be the last time the governor has been petty. He is taking a page out of the playbook of the aforementioned Mar-o-Lago resident. Ironically, since the famous resident sees the governor as a huge threat to his possible campaign, he has already started dissing the governor. I am sure they both will go pretty low in their back and forth – as they just cannot help themselves.

I just realized this post includes a host of folks who will go down infamy, rightfully so. At least I mentioned a few first ladies with good reputations to salve these wounds.

More and more movies

Since the weekend is upon us, I thought I would share a few more movies for your consideration. We have seen a few excellent ones and a few that are worth a look. I won’t mention a couple I exited before the end.

“Solomon and Gaenor” is a British award-winning movie set in Wales in 1911. It stars Ioan Gruffudd and Nia Roberts in the title roles about a young Jewish man and young Christian woman who fall in love. Due to the times and tensions, they cannot be together, nor can they stay apart. This is Roberts’ first picture when released in 1999 and she is charming. Paul Morrison wrote and directed the movie and did a marvelous job of making the audience pull for these two lovers.

“C’mon, c’mon” is a more recent movie starring Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffman, and Woody Norman. Phoenix plays a free-lance reporter who is traveling the country to interview kids about the future. His sister, played by Hoffman asks him to look after her son, as she helps her separated husband with a bad bipolar meltdown. The movie is how the boy Jesse played by Norman teaches and learns from Phoenix and his colleagues. Jesse has anxiety and other issues but has learned coping skills. The other key is how Phoenix and Hoffman rebuild a sibling relationship that was tested when their mother died.

“Short Term 12” starring Brie Larson, John Gallagher, Jr, Rami Malek, Kaitlyn Dever, LaKeith Stanfied and Kevin Hernandez takes you through the up and downs and challenges of helping at-risk youth in a non-lock down facility. Larson and Gallagher are in a relationship, but both have obvious experience in talking down kids who are in need of help. Dever plays a pivotal role as she arrives with a host of problems and attitude, which reminds Larson of herself when she got help. It is a powerful movie, but tough to watch at times.

“Jack Goes Boating” is the only movie directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, where he stars as Jack. Jack is a limo driver and is smitten with a shy woman named Connie played by Amy Ryan. It also stars Daphne Ruben-Vega and John Ortiz. The two were set-up by their friends, whose own marriage has some challenges that reveal themselves later as Hoffman and Ryan hit it off. To be more interesting to Connie, Jack learns how to cook, swim and boat, as Connie has this fantasy date of being on the water in the summer. The movie is charming in its own right but knowing this is one of Hoffman’s final films makes it even more endearing. You pull for the two of them, especially Connie who Ryan plays so well.

A few other movies worth a look include “Mona Lisa Smile” with Julia Roberts, Dominic West, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles and a host of other young stars, “Eavesdropping” which is filmed without break in a restaurant as we listen in on various conversations, “The Squid and the Whale” with Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Anna Paquin and Jesse Eisenberg which has a cool title that has symbolic meaning about who was really there for you and “A conversation with other women” with Helen Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart about two people who hook up at a wedding as we learn there is more to their past.

“Mona Lisa Smile” is likely the only one of the movies that people may have heard of. It was for me. But, the four I highlighted surprised me at how good they were. Phoenix has done some excellent movies, especially playing Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line,” but “C’mon, c’mon” may be one of his best. Let me know some of yours that struck a chord of late.

Thursday throwdown – a trip to Asheville

My wife and I just got back from a couple of days in the mountains in the very eclectic town of Asheville. I am not sure if the people watching or the mountain viewing was more enjoyable. We did walk in the North Carolina Arboretum which is a lovely spot, so the views of the flora, statues and mountains did take the prize. What is nice is we met folks from Kansas, Minnesota, Michigan, South Carolina, Iowa, etc. who were visiting or had moved.

We went to see the wonderful performer and actor Cindy Williams, of “Laverne and Shirley” and “American Graffiti” fame tell stories about her career and explain behind the scenes stuff with various footage she cared to show. With the help of a “stage-hand” actor, she regaled us for ninety minutes. The stage-hand offered comic relief and helped punctuate the story telling. Williams’ self-deprecating humor charmed us, but when she got too full of herself, the stage-hand would help bring her back to earth. It was funny how they planned that.

We watched some of “Laverne and Shirley” growing up, but it was amazing to see the physical comedy they brought to the table. Penny Marshall, who has passed away, would rival Lucille Ball in that arena, but she was ably supported by Williams. One of the crowd asked in the Q&A if either of them ever got hurt, and she shared that Marshall did suffer a severe sprained ankle. She said the rehearsal prepared them for the acts. I did like that she said if something did not make them laugh in rehearsal, they improved or scrapped it.

It was truly nice to get away on one of our small trips. We love taking day trips and over-night trips reasonably close by. We stayed in a marvelous bed and breakfast, which is our wont, and enjoyed speaking with the guests and staff, who suggested a couple of restaurants. If you do go to Asheville, the Biltmore House (and gardens) is its most famous tourist attraction, but there a number of other places – spas, waterfalls, hiking, golfing, canoeing, antiquing, etc. that might peak your interest along with the eclectic downtown.

What are some places that you like to visit nearby? Are the places in the Carolinas that you frequent?

Collaboration does not mean you have to be best friends

Like relationships, collaboration is hard work. If it wasn’t, it would happen more often. One of the push backs I sometimes receive when I say we need more collaboration is why should we when the other side does not do it? There is a short-sighted belief that one has to collaborate with only their best friends. The short answer is very little gets done when you do not involve all needed parties in the discussion.

Let me mention just three examples, two from America and one from Denmark.

After World War II, President Harry Truman appointed former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to lead a team to help establish the United Nations. She was joined by some Republican elected officials, who were not huge fans of Ms. Roosevelt. After seeing her in action insisting that human rights had to be a key part of the mission of the new global group swaying opinion to her point of view, these Republicans said something interesting. They said we take back every bad thing we ever said about Eleanor Roosevelt.

After the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Franklin wanted to return home from Paris where he was quite successful in raising funding for the war effort from France. Instead, he was asked to lead a delegation of three to forge a peace agreement with England along with John Jay and John Adams. Per the Ken Burns documentary on Franklin, Adams did not care for Franklin especially his extracurricular activities, yet the men put their feelings aside and worked on what turned out to be the most one-sided peace agreement achieved to-date in favor of the former British colonies.

With Denmark largely below sea level, climate change has been considered with serious intent. Rising sea levels have always been a concern to this small country, but now the prognosis was alarming. The elected leaders knew they needed a long-term plan that would survive no matter which party was in power. They could ill-afford the flip-flopping of strategy every election cycle. So, collaboration across party lines was critical. And, they forged such a plan.

The Denmark example is illuminating. They responded to a “burning platform” issue. Yet, elected officials should not wait for the platform to burn. They should care less about binary win/ lose issues and work on solving problems. We need them to work together to get something done. And, we need to focus on issues of import not contrived ones that make the other side look bad. To be frank, I am extremely tired of this we/ they tribalism.

Workshops designed to reduce the we/ they polarization

Yesterday, I heard on NPR a report about a group workshop held in Lagrange, Texas. The workshop consists of eight Republican and Democrat voters each with a purpose to reduce the temperature on polarization. In the piece called “Red/Blue Workshops try to bridge the political divide. Do they really work?” by John Burnett of NPR’s “All things considered,” we learned more about this and other sessions.

Here are a few excerpts with a link to an article at the below.

“‘I just see our country being torn apart with polarization. And so anything that we can do to work together as Americans and depolarize our conversations is important,’ retired tax lawyer Karl Schmalz tells the group before they get started. He’s serving as a co-moderator for the workshop.”

“Betsy Harwood, retired family therapist, Democrat: ‘I think that what we see here in this room is the true America. It’s a group of people who can get together and talk politely with each other and understand each other. It’s not what we see on the news or what we see in social media. That’s not the real America.'”

“Doherty is a Minneapolis family therapist and professor who modeled the workshops on his counseling experience: get antagonists to meet face to face. A recent paper by a group of political scientists concluded that the Red/Blue Workshops ‘significantly reduced polarization’ among undergraduate students at four universities, though the results dissipated over time.”

These sessions will not be panaceas, but they head us in the right direction. They are climbing a large mountain that has been built rock by rock by public relations strategists advising politicians to “fear the other.” It is their fault the PR people tell us. They are the enemy. They will destroy our country if we let them. My purpose is not to debate the veracity of claims, but instead to say we must be better at understanding the real issues, not what we are spoon fed by opinion hosts, conspiracy parrots or politicians whose currency is not consistently truthful.

So, what can we do? Be more informed by considering multiple sources of news. Recognize opinion hosts are not news people. One news network in court said in a defamation lawsuit do not misconstrue their most popular opinion host as one of their news people. And, some opinion hosts are less inclined to be truthful to garner ratings. My suggestion is to either not watch or listen to them, or just understand better what you are hearing.

Do not get your news from social media. As Bill Maher said in an ad for a comedy tour, do not argue about Brett Kavanaugh with someone on Facebook that you knew in the fourth grade. More than a few of these opinions recorded on social media are gleaned from questionable sources. Just because someone is smug when they argue with you does not make them right, it just means they are being smug.

Demand our politicians to be more truthful. To ask them to be always truthful is a bridge too far, as politicians like to pat themselves on the back and give more credit to themselves than is due. Yet, do not let them get away with overt untruthfulness or name-calling. The blame game and name-calling is now standard fare in the lexicon of most politicians. And, we need them to work together to solve problems and serve our needs. One sided legislation will not stand the test of time as most of our problems require time to be resolved or mitigated.

We need our politicians to be among our better angels, not our worse demons. If they cannot more consistently tell the truth, then they need to step aside and let someone who can take on the role. We deserve better than this.

https://www.npr.org/2022/04/06/1090910863/red-blue-workshops-try-to-bridge-the-political-divide-do-they-really-work

“Dialogue” by Chicago – a reprise of a much needed conversation

Robert Lamm, of the wonderful band Chicago, penned a song about fifty years ago called “Dialogue” that could still ring true today. The song resonates with me and is one of my personal favorites of the band because of its theme and musicality, but also the fact Lamm and lead singer Peter Cetera sang it as a dialogue. Two guys talking about the problems in the world. Here are the words:

Are you optimistic ’bout the way things are going?
No, I never ever think of it at all
Don’t you ever worry
When you see what’s going down?
No, I try to mind my business, that is, no business at all
When it’s time to function as a feeling human being
Will your bachelor of arts help you get by?
I hope to study further, a few more years or so
I also hope to keep a steady high
Will you try to change things
Use the power that you have, the power of a million new ideas?
What is this power you speak of and this need for things to change?

I always thought that everything was fine
Don’t you feel repression just closing in around?
No, the campus here is very, very free
Don’t it make you angry the way war is dragging on?
Well, I hope the president knows what he’s into, I don’t know
Don’t you ever see the starvation in the city where you live
All the needless hunger all the needless pain?
I haven’t been there lately, the country is so fine
But my neighbors don’t seem hungry ’cause they haven’t got the time

Thank you for the talk, you know you really eased my mind
I was troubled by the shapes of things to come
Well, if you had my outlook your feelings would be numb
You’d always think that everything was fine

We can make it happen
We can change the world now
We can save the children
We can make it better
We can make it happen
We can save the children
We can make it happen

I heard this song the other day on the radio for the first time in a long while and listened with my daughter as we drove to school. I found myself pointing out how the song is sung and called a dialogue. She thought that was cool. But, it got me thinking about the words. The problems then still exist today. The more things change, the more they stay the same. We have a national and global poverty problem. I am glad Pope Francis is bringing attention to this more.

We have a national and global problem with how we treat women and girls. Former President Jimmy Carter’s said his new book “A Call to Action” on this issue is the most important mission of his life. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book “Half the Sky” speaks to these issues as well. I would add global poverty and how we treat women are linked, as woman hold up “half the sky” per the Chinese proverb used by Kristof and WuDunn. If you treat women poorly, in addition to their maltreatment, you are impacting half of your intellectual capital and economic value as a community.

Per my blogging friend George Dowdell, through his vast experience on a mission to help the impoverished, global poverty is also directly traceable to violence and corruption. Corruption takes the money that could be used to help others and violence is the mechanism to keep control and keep others down. These two seem to go hand in hand. Deposed leader Hosni Mubarak of Egypt had a net worth of $81 Billion, while his constituents got by on less than $2 a day, e.g.

Throughout history, the “haves” have taken advantage of the “have-nots.” The “have-nots” do not have a voice or when they have, it has taken a huge effort over time to change the paradigm. It is only with this groundswell of effort that will help change the world. Per Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

So, back to Chicago’s song “Dialogue.” Re-read the final chorus that closes the song. It is repeated as a mantra over and over again. The influence of the “haves” is huge and, in the US has been made easier with recent Supreme Court rulings. The “have-nots” need that voice. They need those committed citizens that Mead and Chicago talked about.

How do we do this? One step, one block, one community, one city at a time. Find your passions and reach out to help others. But, don’t just band-aid a problem. Look to find ways to improve people’s lots in life. Become better informed through reputable news sources. Speak out against injustice or just start asking more “why” questions of leaders and people with strident views that seem harmful. Why do you think that? Why should we do that? Write letters, write emails, make phone calls. Go to events to educate yourself on an issue. Go to protest injustice.

Many of the leaders of efforts to help did not listen to naysayers and blockers who said they could not accomplish change. There is an old line about change. Get people on the bus that will help you make change, not hinder it. We are more powerful than me. So, enlist or join your efforts with others. The operative word is “we” – “we can make it happen.” But, it starts with me.