Sucking the oxygen out of the room

I have written often about relevant issues not getting discussed as certain politicians and sloppy reporters and opinion people would rather discuss sensationalized and exaggerated issues, which may not be that big of a deal to begin with. Or, worse, the party complaining the most chose not to act to leave an issue open to blame the other side for its failure to address it. This last step is happening too often for my tastes. It truly sucks the oxygen out of the room.

When Donald Trump used “build that wall” as his bumper sticker theme in 2016, immigration was a problem, but down on the list of issues causing disenfranchisement in people in run-down areas. The two main culprits of companies chasing cheaper labor and technological advancements would not fit on a bumper sticker. Plus, it is hard to fear a robot like you can an illegal alien brought in as cheap labor in some industries. But, it should be noted when his bluff was called on his number one issue and Senators Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham got him to agree on a wall funding for DACA being made law, he reneged on his promise in a matter of a few hours as not solving immigration was better as a campaign issue.

Right now instead of discussing more our US and global water crisis, our poverty and hunger problems, the threats to our civil rights and democracy, the need to further stabilize health care costs and access, the continuing threats to inflation and climate change, etc., we spend far too much time speaking about things that are not really problems based on some variation of “fear the other” as a threat. When I see “fear the other” issues being bandied about, I just move on as these are purposeful wedge issues to garner votes.

We just passed a good, but imperfect Inflation Reduction Act that included elements to reduce the deficit with increased taxes on the wealthy, help with renewable energy investment and stabilizing health care premiums continuing what happened with the pandemic funding. Although Republican led states will benefit from this, no Republican voted for it. If a party is going to complain about inflation, why did no one vote for it? No legislation is perfect, but no one, even when your state benefits?

Democrats have just done a similar ploy delaying a vote of the marriage equality act until after the election. It is arguable that it could not have passed, but the Democrats feel some lame duck moderate Republicans will be more inclined to vote in favor after the mid-terms. Yet, the bill had support and some momentum. Some Republicans in tough campaigns wanted to vote for it.

Politics has become a new sport with a zero-sum mindset – I must win and you must lose. We even have folks who taunt the other side. In this construct, the people who lose are the voters and citizens of our country and other countries. When the US fails to be a responsible global partner and citizen, then the rest of the world thinks less of us. Botching our pandemic response showed that the US cannot effectively deal with a major issue. The January 6 insurrection showed that even the US can look like a Banana Republic. The unproven bogus election fraud claims planned and touted by the losing former president, made us look like an autocratic country pretending to look like a democracy.

We must strive toward our better angels and civilly discuss our problems truthfully and factually. If any leader from any party cannot do this, then he or she needs to resign. And, we certainly do not need them running for office. Full stop.

When real people are used as pawns

Three governors of states have decided to play with people’s lives in an overt way to win some delusional wedge issue to garner votes. These governors have decided to transport migrants and refugees from Venezuela and other places to Democrat majority cities for them to deal with the problem. Our friend Jill has a good piece on the subject which I will link to below.

Here a few thoughts that share how I feel about stepping on the neck of the disenfranchised:

If grandstanding were an Olympic sport, these three prone-to-exaggerating governors would vie for the Gold. If bullying the disenfranchised were a Commandment, these three prone-to-condescending governors would be very pious. If letting your dog go in your neighbors yard without clean-up was a character trait, then these prone-to-screwing-people governors would be honorable..

The migrant stunt is just poor form, but not outside of these three governors’ modus operandi. I did read the migrant stunt is not playing well with Latino Americans in South Florida, nor should it. People need to recognize when folks are grandstanding, bullying and screwing people like these governors often do. 

With that said, I am all for healthy and civil debate on how to help and deal with the influx of people from other places. Ironically, before he turn and ran from his greatest legislative achievement, Senator Marco Rubio (of that very same South Florida) was part of a gang of eight Senators who helped pass a pretty good immigration bill in 2013. The Speaker of the House chose not to bring it to a vote, although it would have passed, because Republicans felt it was a better election issue if left unpassed. This is the same reason the last former president was talked out of his wall funding for DACA deal the same day he agreed to it.

Working together should not be as hard as the elected officials have made it. My strong advice is stop the grandstanding and get in a room and work things out. Truth telling and civility would be helpful.

Random thoughts on a rainy Saturday morning

Good morning everyone. We are getting a nice rain this morning, not the loud kind with all of the electricity of a usual summer storm. I type beneath a skylight and it is soothing to hear the rain on the overhead window.

Here a few random thoughts on this rainy Saturday morning.

King Charles made a nice speech, but I was also impressed by his speaking and shaking hands with mourners outside the palace. It added a very human touch to his new role. I would love to see more of that from him. The country will need it the months and years ahead as the financial woes continue. Charles will be leading a more diverse country than his mother inherited.

On the flip side of how a leader must lead, Brazil is seeing more violence. Here is a paragraph from VOANews: “A supporter of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro stabbed to death a backer of leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, authorities said on Friday, in the latest example of rising political tensions ahead of the upcoming election. The violence happened in the west-central state of Mato Grosso, after tempers frayed during an argument over support for the two candidates. Bolsonaro trails Lula in the polls in an election riven by intense polarization.” If Bolsonaro loses, I do not see a very peaceful transition of power which will reflect poorly on the country.

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a very enlightening play called “No Exit.” In essence, his definition of hell is to be locked in a room with people who exhibit traits you detest. Given his craving for attention and keen focus on perception, what irritates the former US president the most is when people publicly criticize him, but he can at least lash out. He is suing Fox News for airing a Lincoln Project ad which he does not care for addressing his con of MAGA fans, eg.

If Sartre is correct, the perfect way to torment the former president would be to ignore him. I think if news channels simply said “the former president made some statements that we have found to be untrue, so we are not going to air them,” that might get under his skin. I did see the former president approached CNN to become the new conservative network since the bloom is off his rose with some at Fox News. When I see a picture of the former president with a headline that he is mad at someone or something yet again, I just move on. He tends to be routinely angry, so why bother?

Liz Truss is the new Prime Minister of the UK. I may not agree with much of her politics, but I do like that she picked a lot of women to be in key seats. That has to unnerve a few of the old male guard. I do think the Queen’s passing has given her an opportunity to say the right things as a PM should. Yet, I worry greatly about her embracing an unproven model of trickle down economics (it has been shown not to work in five studies and almost bankrupted the state of Kansas), especially with the predicted and actual Brexit financial woes, which should continue. I said “predicted” as financial analysts predicted before the Brexit vote that it would be dilutive to GDP growth.

That is all for now. Have a great weekend. Pray for peace in the world and for leaders to somehow find the wisdom of Solomon.

A few straightforward suggestions to fight poverty (a reprise)

The following is a reprise of a post I wrote three years ago. After the pandemic and its lingering tentacles, along with increased apartment prices due to a housing boom fueled even more by investors buying up property, it is even more of a concern today. I welcome your ideas and thoughts.

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.”

The above quote comes from the Pulitzer Prize winning book “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond. Its subtitle is also telling – “Poverty and Profit in the American City.” The dilemma is we have a poverty problem that stretches from urban to rural America. Yet, it manifests itself daily in the eviction courts of American cities and towns, whether it is from apartments, houses or mobile homes.

The book speaks of how fragile the rental community is regardless of race, yet the black community tends to have a higher rate of exposure to evictions in urban areas. Unexpected expenses, transportation problems, and tragedies can push people paying a very high portion of their rent over the edge and out the door. Ideally, 30% of family income should be toward housing and utilities. Too many of these folks are paying well above that percentage.

It should be noted that there are other drivers of fragility. Some have opioid and other dependencies. Some are fragile due to too many children that stretch the budgets of even the best planners. Some are in downward spirals with unsupportive landlords. And, many of those unexpected expenses that arise are healthcare related.

What are some suggestions to remedy these issues? Based on my experience as a volunteer Board member helping working homeless families and my reading, I would like to throw out some ideas for consideration.

First, we need to talk more about it. America has a huge disparity in distribution of wealth which is not talked about enough by leaders. Where and to whom one is born are greater predictors of success as the American Dream  has waned for too many.

Second, we need to fund more family planning efforts not less. There is a high correlation between poverty and large families. When family planning is funded and birth control access and education are increased, poverty declines, system health care costs decline and abortions decline.

Third, more mechanisms to reduce evictions need to be in place and funded. Crisis assistance funds show success in helping keeping the electricity on and, when funded, reducing the number of evictions. Stopping homelessness (or fragility) before it starts can make a huge difference and will have a positive echo effect.

Fourth, we must invest in impoverished  areas making them more suitable for families both with opportunity and resources. In their absence, crime and other poor influences fill the void.

Fifth, while I have concerns about the new Tax law (passed in early 2018) with its impact on debt and heavy emphasis on the wealthy and corporations, a huge opportunity was missed when we could have added an increase in the minimum wage tying it to automatic increases due to wage inflation. I worry that less money than expected by the law’s drafters will end up in the hands of workers.

Sixth, we must address our opioid crisis in America. And, we must look at our rising numbers needing mental health counseling. To be frank, cutting access to healthcare and mental care insurance benefits are not the answer. We should actually be expanding access where it does not exist. We must stabilize access and cost of healthcare, yet opposite measures have been taken in the past few years under the guise of political gain.

Seventh, too many go hungry in the United States, especially children. That may be one of our greatest tragedies as a nation. We must address food deserts where grocers choose not to go. Too many are living off horrible fast food or nothing at all. Food co-ops would be a big help to those areas, but they need help funding the build-out.

There are many more ideas, but these will help. On the investing front, many locations have seen success with using historical tax credits leveraging private money. There is a concept called ABCD (Asset Based Community Development) which shores up or repurposes a deteriorated asset creating jobs and revitalizing areas.

But, first we need to talk about this real and pervasive problem.

From the Holocaust to Hogan’s Heroes – Robert Clary’s story

For those of us who grew up in the 1960s or watched a lot of reruns on television, there was a comedy show about a prisoner of war camp in Germany during World War II called “Hogan’s Heroes.” One of its stars was a diminutive and funny character named Corporal LeBeau, played by French actor Robert Clary. Yet, while a POW camp is a not a concentration camp where Jews were exterminated, Clary also had the horrid experience of being a survivor of the real Holocaust in a camp called Buchenwald.

I learned this watching a movie made in 1982 called “Remembrance of Love” starring Kirk Douglas, Chana Eden and Pam Dawber where two young lovers were split apart by the Nazis and Douglas’s character went to a Holocaust event in Israel to see if she was still alive. Clary played himself in the film as an ambassador to these Holocaust survivors.

Per Wikipedia, here is Clary’s early story:

“Born in 1926 in Paris, France, Clary was the youngest of 14 children, 10 of whom would die in the Holocaust. At the age of twelve, he began a career singing professionally on a French radio station and also studied art in Paris. In 1942, because he was Jewish, he was deported to the Nazi concentration camp at Ottmuth, in Upper Silesia (now Otmęt, Poland). He was tattooed with the identification ‘A5714’ on his left forearm. He was later sent to Buchenwald concentration camp.

At Buchenwald, he sang to an audience of SS soldiers every other Sunday, accompanied by an accordionist. He said, ‘Singing, entertaining, and being in kind of good health at my age, that’s why I survived. I was very immature and young and not really fully realizing what situation I was involved with … I don’t know if I would have survived if I really knew that.

Writing about his experience, Clary said,

‘We were not even human beings. When we got to Buchenwald, the SS shoved us into a shower room to spend the night. I had heard the rumours about the dummy shower heads that were gas jets. I thought, ‘This is it.’ But no, it was just a place to sleep. The first eight days there, the Germans kept us without a crumb to eat. We were hanging on to life by pure guts, sleeping on top of each other, every morning waking up to find a new corpse next to you. … The whole experience was a complete nightmare — the way they treated us, what we had to do to survive. We were less than animals. Sometimes I dream about those days. I wake up in a sweat terrified for fear I’m about to be sent away to a concentration camp, but I don’t hold a grudge because that’s a great waste of time. Yes, there’s something dark in the human soul. For the most part, human beings are not very nice. That’s why when you find those who are, you cherish them.'”

Clary published a memoir, From the Holocaust to Hogan’s Heroes: The Autobiography of Robert Clary, in 2001. Rather than summarize his career before and after “Hogan’s Heroes,” I encourage you to link to the Wikipedia article on his behalf. He was often asked to distinguish between the fictional POW camp and the real concentration camp he survived.

“Stalag 13 is not a concentration camp. It’s a POW camp, and that’s a world of difference. You never heard of a prisoner of war being gassed or hanged. When the show went on the air, people asked me if I had any qualms about doing a comedy series dealing with Nazis and concentration camps. I had to explain that it was about prisoners of war in a Stalag, not a concentration camp, and although I did not want to diminish what soldiers went through during their internments, it was like night and day from what people endured in concentration camps.”

To this day, there are people with hard-hearted and hateful motives who want people to believe the Holocaust did not happen, that over 6 million Jews, gays and lesbians and gypsies were not exterminated by the Nazis in World War II. This is not only a blatant attempt at disinformation, it truly is evil. It is on par with people trying to white wash all the bad things in history committed by humans against one another and the Holocaust ranks as one of the greatest atrocities in our history. These Jews and others were arrested, stripped, starved and gassed, because of some lunatic idea set forth by Adolph Hitler and his henchmen.

Interestingly, Clary remains alive and well at the age of 96, one of the last two survivors from the “Hogan’s Heroes” show. Yet, he said he still has nightmares at this age and lost many of his siblings due the Nazi genocide. We must never forget what happened to Clary and his family among the multiple millions of Jews and others that were impacted.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Clary

32 million fewer words – a second much needed reprise


The following post was written ten years ago and I provided a reprise of it last year. Given its continuing relevance with attacks on education by a short-sighted few and difficulty in recruiting, rewarding and retaining good teachers, I thought I would republish it. It is a little longer than my current posts, but it takes a more holistic view of the issue, so please bear with it.

While reading David Brooks’ excellent book called “The Social Animal,” I was alerted to a key result of classic study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley of the University of Kansas. One of the conclusions of the study is by the age of four, children raised in poor families have heard 32 million fewer words than those raised in professional family households. Breaking this down to an hourly basis, children of poor families hear on average 178 utterances of words per hour as compared to 487 words per hour in a professional family home.

And, it is not just what they hear, it is the emotional tone. There tended to be far more encouraging words than discouraging words in the professional home setting. Translating this to today’s time, there is a greater propensity to see single head of household families in impoverished families, so with one less adult and with the greater stress of earning a paycheck, doing housework and raising children lends itself to fewer conversations to hear those missing words.

In my volunteer work with homeless families and tutoring underprivileged children, I witness this first hand. I see kids who are having to overcome more obstacles than the very difficult one of coming from a homeless or impoverished household. They are starting school even further behind than the other children and will have to work hard to catch up. Just using the tutoring example, the two 5th graders I tutored were smart children, they just needed more time, targeted explanation and encouragement. The encouragement is as or more important than the first two needs.

In this same book, Mr. Brooks introduced me to a Greek term called “thumos.” We apparently don’t have an identical match in our language, but the word explains a lot of what we all need, but especially children. Thumos is the desire for recognition and union. People want to be recognized for their contributions, but through such recognition they want to have a sense of belonging. Translating this to the 5th graders, the children reacted well to the recognition of their efforts and especially the successes. When they “got it” it was like giving them the keys to the kingdom. It truly exhilarated me as much as it did them. To see their faces light up at the moments of clarity was truly joyous. High fives and fist bumps seemed to be insufficient to celebrate the moments.

I mention the tutoring as I see the resolution to this effort as “taking a village to raise a child.” This African proverb is very much on point, as parents, teachers and counselors all need hour support to help these children climb their individual ladders out of poverty. Why is this important for everyone? Education is probably the greatest challenge for our country as we have fallen asleep at the switch and will not be able to compete as well in the future. I do not have any statistics for what I am about to state, but I believe our best can compete with others’ best students. I think other countries have caught up and made this echelon highly competitive. Yet, when you get beneath this small sliver of talent, I think other countries are kicking our hind end all over the place.

The jobs of the future are not the jobs of the past. Even manufacturing jobs and high skilled blue-collar jobs require an understanding of technology that may not have been required to the same extent before. If our children are not educated we will continue to be left behind. There are too many examples of where the United States is not in the calculus of whether to invest in a facility, but the one I like to use, is Mercedes had to dumb down their manuals on how to build their car for the plant they built in Alabama. They had to use more pictures than words. If we cannot offer an employer a capable workforce, they will find it elsewhere and they do.

So, what do we about finding those 32 million words? And, what do we do from that point forward? In this age of budget cuts, which are totally understandable, we have to be zealous in defending educational investment. We have to invest in pre-school programs to help kids get off to a better start. The “Smart Start” and “More Before Four” programs do pay dividends and we need to find more ways to reach kids. And, we need to invest in our teachers – we need more and higher quality of teachers, but we need to give them the freedom to tailor their teaching.

We need to continue the focus on providing resources to parents through the various “Parent Universities.” To my earlier example, we need more volunteers to help tutor, mentor and baby sit while the parents attend self-education or teacher conferences, etc. In my work with helping homeless families, the significant majority of whom are employed, I come across a contingent that cannot be swayed from their belief that all homeless people are bums and addicts. I have argued until I am blue in the face to dissuade them from this erroneous belief, but the one area I do get some nods of approval, are to say let’s set aside the parent(s) and focus on the kids. They did not choose to be homeless. If we help them, we can break the cycle of homelessness. Quoting a forward-thinking minister, he said “we have no idea of the untapped intellectual capital that may reside in these kids in poverty.”

So, spending in the area of helping children is not only the right thing to do, it is the smartest investment we could possibly make. I need only look at the second prize winner in a recent Intel science project who was a former homeless child. Yet, we also need to spend money on organizations like “Planned Parenthood.” This organization has become a pawn in an idiotic political game. As an Independent voter, this pariah status placed on such an important organization makes me ill. There are numerous studies that show causal relationships between family size and poverty in the US and abroad. In the work on homeless families I do, I tend to see larger families than in non-poverty settings. I place a lot of criticism on the churches for this. Birth control is used by many women and men, but it not as available or universally understood as needed in all segments of our population.

One of my old colleagues who is an African-American woman told me how frustrated she was at her minister and church leaders. She said the teenage kids in her congregation are so misinformed about pregnancy and STD risk. As an example, some told her they heard you could not get pregnant if you had intercourse standing up! When she went to her minister to see if they could offer some guidance she was scoffed at.  Abstinence is the only thing they will teach. Well, as a 53-year-old let me state what everyone seems to know but the church leadership – kids are going to experiment and have sex. You can preach all you want, but it will not stop that train. So, we must embrace planned parenthood and the use of birth control. And, to me what better place to teach than in church. In many respects, I think some ministers and church leaders are misusing their authority to not be forthcoming with these kids. Please note through all of this discussion, I did not use the word abortion; I see that as its own issue with its own debate. I am speaking of birth control which is used by well over 90% of Catholic women, a fact the Catholic church tends to overlook.

You probably did not expect a discussion on education to include planned parenthood and birth control. Yet, I see them linked with the causal relationship I noted above between poverty and family size. Having an unfettered number of children, will put the family and children at risk. I love children, but with the cost of raising a child the way it is, I don’t think I could afford a fourth child. Yet, my wife and I have access to birth control and governed our family size to a manageable level. We would have loved a fourth child, but we have the family size we want. I think many church goers would say the same thing.

However, I would prefer to end on a more targeted note and that is the volunteerism. I described the need for the help, but also the joy to the giver. The gift of your time is immeasurable to those in need, but it will lift you up as well. At our agency that helps homeless families, where we do not permit the proselytizing to those in need, our executive director likes to say “who is witnessing to whom?” Our volunteers get as much out of the experience that the families do. The families are witnessing to the givers. So, find some way to give back. It will be a fulfilling experience. Match your passions with the needs in the community. My wife likes to say on her involvement “I am giving these kids a soft place to land.” Let’s all provide these soft places to land and help find the missing words in the children’s lives. You may even find a few words for yourself.



A first step in breaking down barriers

Many of us have written about how divided we are as a nation. We are more divided than ever, but what does not get written about enough are what brings us together. We do not hear or read as much about the good news stories or people just getting along. Our friend Jill does a weekly post on these kinds of good news stories, but her frequency of covering good news is greater than that of most news publications.

One of the things I have observed in my many years is people will set up we/ they groupings, even when they do not need to or it serves no purpose. I recall a true story from 1987, when a large housing development we moved into had a North side and a South side. At a party, I heard someone make reference to “those folks in the North side” not being good people like us. Really, I thought. This person made up an artificial group to fear and ridicule. Now that is inane.

So, the first step to breaking down barriers is not to create them. Try to avoid we/ they groupings. If we do that, there is no one to blame for our troubles but us. A good step down this path is do not identify yourself as a member of a group unless you actually have to in response to a question. I am guilty of taking pride in being an independent voter, but even that is a grouping. I do that to get my message heeded by members of political groups, but it is still a banner I am waving.

When I hear or see people put down someone for the way they look, worship or love or their heritage it builds off we/ they barriers that have been created. For a diverse country, we tend to complain about the most superficial of things. Just taking food as a counterexample, think of the rich diversity of choices we have as consumers to eat a variety of foods from around the world. We even have “fusion” restaurants that blend together tastes from Asia and Mexico or Italy and Greece, for example. A Hawaiian pizza did not originate in Italy and Fried Chicken and Waffles is alleged to have started in California not the south.

If we can eat these wonderful foods from diverse sources, I think we can break down a few barriers. Think of it as breaking bread with people with different backgrounds. If we did not eat a variety of foods, we would certainly live in a bland world. And, think of how more seasoned the conversation will be as we delve into histories and mutual interests.

So, test yourselves. Lessen the identification of groups. Don’t define yourself by where you go to church and especially not how you vote. An old line comes to mind that is less applied now, but don’t ever bring up religion or politics at a party, as it will start an argument. If you must, focus on an issue at hand, not the grouping. The one group that matters is the human race. Let’s be better human beings.

There are no caveats – a mantra from a help-oriented church

We were catching up with an old friend whose wife had passed away earlier this year. He is a devout man who sings in the choir of his Baptist church. His church is not an evangelical church as he notes their mantra is “God loves everyone.” He added, “there are no caveats.”

As evidence of their mantra, his choir will be singing with a LGBTQ+ choir at an upcoming event. I think this is very cool. It is a big tent approach to sharing their faith. They are walking the talk so to speak.

As further evidence, a charitable organization I was involved with has benefited greatly from working with this church. The organization helps homeless working families to get over a rough patch and place them in housing with a temporary subsidy and social worker support. The church provides space for the administrative staff of the organization and one of its shelters which can house seven families until they get placed.

In my advocacy work with churches for this organization seeing churches who focus on outreach to those in need is a joy to see. I have seen exemplars like this one. I have also seen some that are not so organized. That is unfortunate.

To me, there is a psychic income to helping others. The giver gets as much good out of the encounter as the recipient. So, when I see churches focus on being exclusive, it makes me sad. Using the Bible as a weapon to divide does not serve its mission very well. Using it to invite and connect with people is a far better message. The same goes for other religious texts. Inclusion is a much better sales approach than exclusion.

We should remember our desires as humans are the same regardless of religion – love and raise our families in a safe environment where we can feed, clothe and house them. That is the mission we should enable. Remember, there are no caveats.

The best teammate ever has passed away

I wrote this nine years ago about Bill Russell who passed away this week. Even if you do not like basketball or sports, please give it a read as there are many life lessons about collaboration within a team or group. It is a little longer than my current posts, but if you want to cut to the chase, at least read the last three paragraphs, which show you how much he cares about his team and the disenfranchised.

With the NCAA basketball tourney in high gear and the NBA playoffs nearing, I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight the best team player of any sport. With all due respect to my hockey friends, he is not Henri Richard of the famous Montreal Canadiens, who some would argue could lay such claim. The best teammate ever happens to have been quite successful as a college and pro basketball player, so it is apropos to mention him here and now.

His college team won two national championships, his pro team won eleven NBA championships and his Olympic team won the Gold Medal, as well. Who is he? He is not Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Larry Bird, although he is appearing in two commercials during the NCAA tournament with the latter three around the kids pre-school desk and the guy who usually does this funny banter with kids. His name is Bill Russell and he is remembered as the legendary center for the Boston Celtics and University of San Francisco.

Bill’s teams were good for two primary reasons. First and foremost, he was on the team. He had personal achievements winning the Most Valuable Player award five times and was a twelve time all-star. He is in the Hall of Fame and was voted one of the 50 Best NBA Players of all time. Yet, by his own admission, Wilt Chamberlain was a better basketball player. Wilt, though, did not win that many championships or have near the same amount of team success.

Second, his team won because Russell understood the concept of team play better than anyone. You see Russell’s forte was not scoring, although he did do some of that averaging 15 points a game as a pro. His forte was doing those things on the court which involved effort and intellect as much as skill. He was a voracious rebounder averaging an unheard of today 22.5 rebound per game. Rebounding requires calculation of where the shot was taken and where a missed shot might carom or bounce. Most basketball shots taken from one side of the basketball court, when missed, will carom to the other side. Then, it requires a huge amount of effort to get to the best position where the missed shot might go and use your body to block out an opponent, another lost art in the US.

By rebounding well, the opponent gets fewer shots and your team gets more shots. An explanation of basketball success doesn’t get any easier than that. Yet, he also was one of the best shot blockers the game has ever known. Shotblocking is timing as well as skill, but he made it a craft. But, the one thing he did that is rarely done when you watch the tournament games today, is Russell blocked the shot to a teammate. This normally started a fast break which has a higher chance of scoring than a set play. He was known to have said, “If I block it out-of-bounds, it may look more theatrical, but we still don’t have the ball.” When you watch the Final Four and the NBA playoffs, see how many times the blocker just blocks it out-of-bounds.

The third thing he did well in addition to the shot blocking was play good defense. Offense is more fun to play. Defense requires an effort. Offense is what the fans want to see, but defense wins championships. The shot blocking was his signature trait, but he also did other things to make his team defend the goal  better. He worked hard to disrupt the other teams’ offense through disrupting passes and shots.

The final thing he did well is his passing. He knew his teammates could shoot better than he did, so he would get them the ball passing out of the post position. Plus, by having his teammates involved, he knew they would pick up their defense. Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said this the other day, “I know I am not supposed to say this, but when a player is scoring and involved in the offense, he usually plays better defense as a result.” Having been around basketball for years, I have never heard a coach utter those words, yet I think Russell knew this intuitively.

Russell actually was a player coach his last three seasons as a Boston Celtics and his team won each year. But, when he kept coaching after he retired, his teams did not win like before. The key reason was Bill Russell was not playing. He brought all of the above to the court – intellect, effort, skill and energy. But he brought one other thing. His desire to win. Before almost every big game, Russell could be heard in the locker restroom throwing up. His teammates knew that if Russell was throwing up because he was nervous, they were going to win. And, they did.

One final thought about Bill Russell, which I also admire him for, is his activism. He was very intelligent and he knew that African-Americans were continuing to be maltreated in the 1960s. He joined together with Jim Brown, the superb NFL football star, and others to make a statement because their athletic prowess and notoriety gave them a platform to be heard. They did what people like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan have not done because of fear of lost endorsements. They stood up for African-Americans who were being disenfranchised and said this is not right.They convinced Muhammad Ali to take part as well. This needs to be done today, but the players and stars of the same ilk will not stand up for causes like these men did.

I think his activism shows what kind of man and teammate Bill Russell is and was. In today’s me first world where statistics mean more than they should with fantasy leagues and big contracts, winning year-in, year-out with energy and effort, seems to be a lost art. And, with fourteen championships to his teams’ credit, win they did. Maybe that is why we may never see another Bill Russell. The team has to be bigger than the player.

A Real Life Star Trek Hero Nichelle Nichols passes away

The following is an encore post to someone who deserves an encore – Nichelle Nichols – who passed away yesterday at the age of 89.

After the first season of the original “Star Trek” television series, African-American actress Nichelle Nichols was speaking with a prominent public figure about her role as Lt. Uhura. The public figure noted “Star Trek” was the only show he watched regularly with his children. Nichols told the man she was leaving the show, but he encouraged her to reconsider, which she did. He said you are a role model showing Blacks and Whites that there is a place for women of color in key roles in the future .His name was Martin Luther King.

She took that inspiration seriously and did far more than I ever knew until a recent documentary enlightened me. The Scyfy network has written an important piece called “NICHELLE NICHOLS’ NASA ‘WOMAN IN MOTION’ DOC BOLDLY BLASTING OFF FOR ‘BLACK HISTORY MONTH.’” Here are a few paragraphs, with a link to the full article below.

“A new documentary is boldly tackling one of actress Nichelle Nichols‘ greatest achievements. In addition to playing the iconic Lt. Nyota Uhura on the original Star Trek TV show, Nichols used her pop culture influence as a fictional space-farer to help pioneer a NASA recruitment program in the 1970s and ’80s that hired the first astronauts who were women and persons of color.

Directed by Todd Thompson (The Highwaymen), the documentary features exclusive interviews with Neil deGrasse Tyson, George Takei, Pharrell Williams, Martin Luther King III, Al Sharpton, Vivica A. Fox, Walter Koenig, Rod Roddenberry, Michael Dorn, Guy Bluford, Charles Bolden, Ivor Dawson, Frederik Gregory, Benjamin Crump, and, of course, Nichols herself.

The movie’s title refers to the company Nichols founded (Women in Motion, Inc.) that brought over 8,000 African American, Asian, and Latino women to NASA. Thanks to the actress’ work, the agency became one of the most diverse institutions of the U.S. federal government.

‘We are thrilled that Woman in Motion will be getting its U.S. premiere and launching the Fathom Events Celebrates Black History Month series next month! This is a great American story with incredible global impact,” Thompson said in a statement. “Nichelle Nichols helped create the brighter future we are living in today by proclaiming that space exploration is for everyone. It’s a simple but very strong statement that opens doors and allows all humankind to boldly go!’   

‘We are proud to bring pioneer and role model Nichelle Nichols’ inspiring story in cinemas across the nation,” added Fathom CEO Ray Nutt. “It is an honor to have Woman in Motion as the debut film in the inaugural Fathom Events Celebrates Black History Month series.”‘

To see Nichols speak of her efforts later in life is a treat. She is a very dignified person and understands the importance of these earlier efforts. A key comment was during a speech she made in the 1970s to a large group of NASA people. She looked out in the audience at all of the white men and observed “Where are my people?” The NASA leader heard her and asked for her help. She said she would do so, but did not want to be a figure head. She wanted to help make a difference. And, she did. She did her part to help NASA “boldly go where no man (or woman) has gone before.”

Nichelle Nichols/NASA ‘Woman in Motion’ documentary boldly blasting off (syfy.com)