Planning and more planning to reopen schools (then plan some more)

Listening to a well-rounded discussion on NPR on going back to school makes one realize the need to plan. Buses, class sizes, cleaning, masking, outside vs. inside schooling, etc. All with a back drop of limited budgets. If this is the path forward, we should not be planning today, what should have been done months ago. The continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic should not have been a surprise with the caution-to-the-wind re-openings fueled by the president and some impatient governors. So, planning ahead should have started before the past few weeks.

NPR also played several vignettes from interviews with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. She led off several comments with “As everyone knows…” Actually that is a false introduction, as everyone does not know. It is a ploy to make the listener cede her point. Here are a few things to consider, which are not being so considered, in this binary discussion of to re-open or not.

– Schools include teachers, administrators, staff, bus drivers, etc. who are not children. Some are even in their fifties. They will be at risk as will be the folks they come in contact with.

– Kids may be less susceptible to dying, but they can still get COVID-19 and can become carriers. They have parents and grandparents and come in contact with other adults and children as will these folks.

– Kids can be harmed by COVID-19. A rising senior who had COVID-19 says walking to the bathroom even now that she has recovered leaves her out of breath. So, she is frightened by coping with walking the halls of the school. She could not even read her own story on a local NPR show, as she did not have the wind capacity, so a reporter read her narrative.

I know parents and kids want to go back to school. We all want our economy back to normal. But, we let misinformation create false hope. Misinformation has and still gives people a false sense of security. Masks, social distancing, hand-cleaning, less hand-to-face contact, etc. are keys regardless of the path we choose. What we lose sight of is the exponential risk of contact.

So, we need to plan for all variables. We need to allow for the safest path forward. That may be delay for some. That may be online schooling for others. That may include small class sizes with outdoor learning. Whatever it is, the path will not be a normal one for quite some time. And, if any politician tells you differently, then they are not shooting straight with you. So, we must look out for each other. Is that too much to ask?

Eight habits of the heart – a quick review

Recently, I revisited an old post about “The Porch People.” This was a summary of the book called “Little Cliff and the Porch People” by Clifton Taulbert. One of his other books is called “Eight Habits of the Heart.” It’s subtitle adds “Embracing the values that build strong families and communities.” When I met him, he was meeting with executive groups to go over these eight habits.

Below, I will summarize these eight habits and repeat the phrase Taulbert uses on each chapter page. The book is a quick read, so please do not let this summary get in the way of picking up or downloading the book. Each chapter has questions at the end for self-reflection and the end of the book has an outline on how to pass along these habits in small learning groups.

1. Nurturing attitudeIn the community, a nurturing attitude is characterized by unselfish caring, supportiveness, and a willingness to share time.

2 and 3. Dependability and responsibilityWithin the community, dependability is being there for others through all the times of their lives, a steady influence that makes tomorrow a welcome event; and responsibility means showing and encouraging a personal commitment to each task.

4. FriendshipWithin the community, friendship is the habit that binds people together when they take pleasure in each other’s company, listen, laugh, and share good times and bad.

5. Brotherhood or sisterhoodWithin the community, brotherhood or sisterhood is the habit that reaches beyond comfortable relationships to extend a welcome to those who may be different from yourself.

6. High expectationsWithin the community, high expectations involves believing that others can be successful, telling them so, and praising their accomplishments.

7. CourageWithin the community, courage is standing up and doing the right thing, speaking out on behalf of others, and making a commitment to excellence in the face of adversity or the absence of support.

8. Hope Within the community, hope is believing in tomorrow – because you have learned to see with your heart.

Whether you agree with these eight habits, they provide a great foundation to better understand yourself and become a better community citizen. I like the inclusion of high expectations, as we look to lift each other up. A spouse, parent, grandparent, friend or mentor can inspire someone to be better than they would otherwise be, settling for a lesser plateau.

Each of these habits, if practiced and reinforced, will make our communities better. As Gandhi said, a community’s greatness is measured by how it takes care of its least fortunate. Thinking of the classic movie, “It’s a wonderful life,” do we want to live in Bedford Falls or Pottersville? Do we want to emulate George Bailey or Mr. Potter?

As you think of these habits, also consider paying forward good deeds done for you. I recall the story of someone paying for the college education for a young person in poverty. She asked how could she repay him and he said, pay it forward doing the same for someone else. And, as noted under “Nurturing attitude,” if you don’t have money, the gift of time is so very valuable.

What is not said above, is practicing these habits has a psychic income for the person so doing. Being a better person, being a better community citizen, being a friend to many, will be rewarding in and of itself.

Straight talk from Tom Hanks on COVID-19 – there is a part we can all play

Last night, Tom Hanks was interviewed by Lester Holt on NBC News (the three plus minute interview can be linked to below). Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson caught COVID-19 while traveling and self-quarintined in Australia. Hanks tends to be worth listening to, as he speaks in a straightforward, reflective and unthreatening manner.

When Holt asked him about the concerns and uncertainties of many, Hanks noted how to address such by doing what is asked of us. Hanks said what we have been asked to do to help each other and our community is the least we can do. It is disappointing that it is even an issue as there is a part we all can play. Wear a mask, socially distance and wash your hands. Something so simple that requires so little effort.

Hanks noted earlier that he and Rita are doing fine after quarantine and are participating in blood work studies now that they are back home. He said they both have fewer antibodies, so they remain at risk of getting a recurrence. He said their symptoms were a little different, with both feeling at first they were a little “punky.” They have been open about their illness, treatment and recovery so that people are aware.

Please watch the interview from the link below. It is refreshing to hear straight talk from someone who we feel we know from his career and how he has conducted himself. I kept thinking these are the simple messages more people in leadership positions should be saying.

https://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/full-interview-tom-hanks-on-coronavirus-pandemic-87167557813

Different, not less

I spoke recently of a movie that caught my eye the other day which is well worth the watch – “Temple Grandin” starring Claire Danes as the title character with Julia Ormand, David Strathairn and Catherine O’Hara in key roles. It is a true story of Grandin who overcame her autism to get a Ph.D and become one of the foremost designers of cattle management systems. It is well worth the watch, but please pull out the Kleenex, especially when she first speaks up for autistic kids with her mother beside her.

A key moment in the movie is when her mother, played by Ormond is trying to find a high school that will help her daughter navigate a world with autism. To her credit, her mother defied those who said she needed to institutionalize her daughter back in the 1960s. A science teacher at the prospective school, played by Strathairn, hurried out to convince Ormond to stay as she was leaving with her daughter. He said, Temple is “different, not less.” Grandin had a brilliant mind, but understood better through visualization. She could see things we could not.

“Different, not less.” The line is so powerful, Grandin uses it later as she speaks to searching-for-answers parents of autistic kids. It reminds me of a similar line in a movie about a fictitious band from the 1960s, “Eddie and the Cruisers.” Michael Pare plays Eddie, the lead singer and driving force behind the band. He looks like a “cruiser,” but is well-read and intelligent. He drafts into the band an English major played by Tom Berenger, whom they call “Wordman” because of his profound lyrics.

During the movie as they are playing a college campus, Eddie tells Wordman these people are not like them. They are different. Wordman innocently replies, “they are no better than we are.” Eddie corrected him saying “I said different, not better.” Given the reference, this comment is the same as the above title and equally powerful.

We are different. It would be rather boring if we all thought, learned and said the same things. While we may be different, we are no better or worse than the next person. Grandin designed a system that is now used in over 50% of the cattle business, but she was laughed at because she was a woman and autistic. Her simple questions were pertinent, yet ignored. Her autism allowed her to see what the cattle sees and she factored that in her designs.

As for Eddie, we should always be careful with our first impressions. People dress differently, look differently, and act differently. Yet, Eddie was a deep thinker and knew literature. We are all different, but we have the same rights, responsibilities and need to be heard. My rights are no more important than yours and vice versa.

Both of these movies are worth the watch. They each will help us appreciate what others go through. Different, not less. And, not better either.

What I care about – a note received

I shared that my local newspaper published my letter to the editor whose theme was “Listen to the truthtellers.” I included the letter in a recent post. Today, I received a very gracious letter from someone I do not know thanking me for my letter and “taking a stand and for expressing my views publicly.”

Attached to the letter was a summary prepared by John Pavlovitz (see link below) entitled “What I care about.” I thought I would share that summary below:

“I care that families are being separated.
I care that medical bills are bankrupting people.
I care that we’re drowning in guns and daily shootings.
I care that we’re talking about an asinine multi-billion border wall that won’t solve a crisis, even if there were one – and there isn’t one.
I care that our climate is changing and our planet is warming and our environment being degraded ad we have politicians who see science as an adversary.
I care that this Administration solicited and welcomed foreign interference in a Presidential election.
I care that voter suppression and gerrymandering are making it almost impossible for poor people and people of color to be heard and represented.
I care that racists march without hoods now, that elementary school teachers dress up like border walls, that wrestling coaches cut off a man’s dreadlocks in public.
I care that our President is mentally unfit to lead, and that he is buffeted by a group of professional enablers who know he is unfit and defend him anyway.
I care that every single day brings new legislative attacks on people who are already pushed to the brink.
I care that we have accused predators in the White House and on the Supreme Court.
I care that Muslims are caricatured into terrorists, migrants into advancing hordes, and LGBTQ people into imminent threats, by our elected leaders.
I care about families and sick people and underpaid teachers and hungry kids and unpaid Federal workers and transgendered teenagers – and the millions of beautiful, vibrant, disparate human beings who are daily endangered by the leadership of this country.

That’s what I care about.”

This list boils down many concerns to one piece of paper. It is worth the read and reaction. Let me know your thoughts.

Note: At the bottom of the summary is a quote from Neil Carter, “Why are we voting into office men who don’t even accept basic principles of biology, geology, immunology, and astronomy, and who believe we don’t have to preserve our planet’s natural resources.”

The weblink to Pavlovitz’s blog is as follows:

https://johnpavlovitz.com/

Be careful of what you read, even if comments in your own blog

As an independent voter who tries to stay well read from legitimate sources, I continue to get puzzled by the level of vitriol and zeal in some comments on various blogs. I do not mind if someone is more conservative than me on some issues or more progressive. Tell me what you think without telling me I must be insane for believing the way I do or someone else does.

I read in the news Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is dropping out of the race and supporting Joe Biden, even though she does not agree with all of his positions. Of course not, there is not a candidate running that anyone can rightfully claim they agree with every position he or she has taken or is taking. If they do, then they are not being truthful with themselves.

I don’t agree with everything Biden or Bernie Sanders posit, but I would vote for either one over the incumbent president who I view as corrupt, untruthful and bullying. Both Biden and Sanders are decent people. I cannot say the same for the current president, who will only do something decent if it helps his image.

But, my main thrust is be mindful of your sources. There is one progressive blog I follow where I am convinced a frequent and lengthy contributor is not what he or she seems. I actually think the person is a Trump or Russian troll doing very zealous and heavy lifting to garner victory for the incumbent. I may be wrong, but the zeal and frequency of comments far exceed that of the blog’s host who welcomes other opinions.

One of my other blogging friends was visited by a Russian troll to the point the blogger had to block the commenter. How can one tell? You really can’t. I may be dead wrong, but I worry how blogs can be taken over by someone who tries to own your blog. I have had a few bizarre commenters in the many years, one where the theme of the post is hijacked for other messaging.

So, please be careful of what you read and where you read it. Misinformation abounds. So, does disinformation. Do I worry that this is or may happen to my blog? Of course. I do not mind passion or zeal. But neither give someone permission to take someone’s head off. I fortunately follow some very good bloggers who welcome push back, provided it is done civilly. I am fortunate many of these bloggers follow mine in return.

So, let’s just be civil. Let’s remember that Golden Rule which can be found in most religious texts. Just like politicians, there are no perfect bloggers or commenters. This one included.

The Best of Enemies

Yesterday, my wife and I watched a movie released last year called “The Best of Enemies.” It stars Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell in true story about the debate over integrating schools in Durham, NC in 1971. Henson stars as Ann Atwater, an outspoken (self-described) African-American community organizer, while Rockwell stars as C.P. Ellis, the Durham chapter president of the KKK. They are asked to chair a two-week group meeting called a charrette to flesh out possible resolutions to the African-American school being partially destroyed by fire with lingering toxic fumes.

The movie is excellent and reveals the tensions, scheming, learning and fighting that went on. It also permits a deeper dive into the lives of the people in the middle of this fight. Realizing the similarity of all of us, empathy begins to emerge.

I will try not to spoil the movie. It is based on the best selling book “The Best of Enemies: Race and redemption in the New South” by Osha Gray Davidson. The film was written and directed by Robin Bissell, with co-writing credits to Davidson. It also stars Babou Ceesay as Bill Riddick, a mediator who plays a huge role in bringing the people together. Key roles are played by Ann Heche, the wife of Ellis, Bruce McGill, a closet supporter of the KKK as a councilman, and John Gallagher, Jr., a former Vietnam veteran who plays a pivotal role.

The movie did not receive rave reviews, but that may be due to its closeness to reality painting obvious bias and hatred into the plot. It is inspiring, troubling, and believable. I was in the middle of the integration of schools and remember it well. My schools integrated in 1971 and, to be frank, it went off reasonably well. It did not do so well in other communities or may be other schools. Yet, I think this relates to the leaders behind the effort in each community and school.

Let me know what you think. Give it a look. Rockwell and Henson are terrific actors and bring their passion to each project. Rockwell, in particular, plays complicated characters quite well. Also, do you remember integration efforts in the early 1970s?

The greatest coronavirus risk is in the White House

Per Reuters “Breakingviews – Donald Trump is rising risk factor in virus battle” this morning before the additional precipitous stock market decline “Donald Trump is becoming a growing risk factor in the virus battle. The U.S. president’s address to the nation on Wednesday night sparked more market panic. A $50 billion pledge for small businesses hit by Covid-19 is good, but his speech lacked public-health remedies, was full of mixed messages and focused on a Europe travel ban. He’s missing both diagnosis and cure. Trump’s primetime speech followed his administration’s trend of inadequate and confusing responses since coronavirus cases started rising in the United States.” A link to the full editorial is below.

The Washington Post echoed these remarks in an opinion piece called “Trumps oval office failure.” A link to the editorial is also below.

About three years ago, after the absolutely disastrous travel ban that was implemented without vetting, advance communication or planning was pulled after two days, conservative pundit David Brooks gave us a clarion call. He said the Trump White House is “equal parts chaos and incompetence.” Sadly, per the book by Michael Lewis called “The Fifth Risk,” the White House started out that way by firing the entire transition team, trashing their research of candidates, leaving positions unfilled, not attending scheduled briefings of how the many government departments work.

Even after filling many jobs, this White House has the highest turnover rate of any of the previous ones, the boss is walking powder keg who people try to keep from blowing up and who has a disdain for study and, as a result, push back on poor decisions is not occurring as it was when a few capable people were there. Plus, there is no consistent planning or communication messaging. To say it is willy-nilly, would not be an overstatement.

So, along comes a real crisis. Not one that is on a distant shore, but one that is here. We need a leader who is calming and we know will shoot straight with us. The president does neither in calmer times, so it is not a surprise he is not so doing in a crisis. I have shared with our Senators for many months the president is a national security risk and a threat to our democracy, our country and our planet. I wish I was off base in my feelings, which are not my own.

If we want stabilization and planning, the best the president can do is let some one else handle it. He needs to step back and let someone who is first and foremost trying to solve the problem, solve it and be the face to America. What I see is a president whose first mission is protecting his own brand, then second helping people. That cannot be the priorities of the US president.

One of my wife’s friends, who is a huge Trump supporter, made the comment to her “at least we have the right person in the White House.” That statement could not be further from the truth.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-breakingviews-idUSKBN20Z0GR
https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/opinion/opinions-trumps-oval-office-failure/ar-BB115UhK?ocid=spartandhp

Missing context

It is not uncommon to see simplistic solutions or rationales skirt passed needed context. The other day, I read an op-ed that more of the blame on education problems should be laid at the feet of parents than teachers.

Actually, the problem has multiple factors, parents being one of them. But, the missing context is the high percentage of single parents and parents living in poverty. It is quite difficult for single parents to juggle a job (or two) and children and be able to attend all parent/ teacher meetings and help kids with their homework. And, kids in poverty have heard far fewer words in the home and start and remain behind as reported by David Brooks in “30 million fewer words.”

It is not unusual to read a letter to the editor say the problem with poverty is too many single parent families. Again, that is one of multiple causes, but why? There is a high correlation between poverty and large families. So, better funded family planning efforts have shown they can address both issues. Holistic sex education, better access to birth control, and straight shooting answers to questions can help young women and men with these issues.

Healthcare access is another concern that impacts people in poverty. The US is a leader in western world countries in a bad area – maternal death rates in delivery. We still have fifteen states who did not expand Medicaid. Rural hospitals have closed without needed funding. As a result, we have fewer doctors and nurses in these underserved communities. And, this does not reflect food deserts and their impact on community health.

Poverty, poor education, and poor healthcare issues go part and parcel with large family size, more single parents, and lack of opportunity in the community. There are multiple factors that drive these issues, but not doing enough to support families and children, whether it is better and safer after-school programs, whether it is more active community policing to address crime that comes with fewer opportunities, whether it is job retraining where companies and community colleges can address shortages, whether it is asset based community development to restore old buildings to something inviting and/ or commerce related, are all contributors in their absence.

I have worked with a number of homeless working families in an organization I was involved with. These folks were not in poverty due to lack of piety. Some of the most pious people I have ever met are homeless mothers. Poverty is simply the lack of money. Many had multiple jobs. They simply lost their home due to a healthcare crisis, due to childcare issue, due to the loss of car or one of the jobs, or their spouse or boyfriend beat them and they had to get out.

When we discuss the reasons why things happen, we need to think of the larger context. Otherwise, we will solve the wrong problem. A community developer from New York noted his chagrin when a community tore down a school (or left it empty). A community needs an asset like this not just for children, but for community activities for adults and children. This is the premise of asset based community development – repair or repurpose buildings.

Let’s think holistically. Let’s dig into the real causes. Let’s think of those who are in need and how we can help them climb the ladder. We cannot push them up the ladder, but we can make sure the rungs are well built and help them make the first few steps. A social worker I worked with used the phrase that she walked side by side with her clients. I like that. Let’s do more of that.

Five feet apart – movie on teen angst

Even at the ripe old age of 61, I still will pay attention to well-crafted movies about teen angst. While channel surfing, I came across a 2019 film called “Five feet apart,” written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis and directed by newcomer Justin Baldoni.

The movie is inspired by a real couple dealing with cystic fibrosis named Dalton and Katie Prager. The movie stars Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Spears who meet in a wing of a hospital dedicafed to serving patients with this life shortening disease.

Because of the deteriorated lung capacity and susceptibility to infection, the patients must stay six apart. Through the eventual relationship, they decide they can shorten the distance to five feet.

The movie received mixed reviews, but I found it worth the watch. I actually watched it three times as I seemed to pick it up 2/3, then 1/3 and finally from the beginning, so it put puzzle pieces together for me.

It also proved educational about cystic fibrosis and what patients must go through, both physically and mentally. Yet, at its heart it is a story of a slow courtship.

I don’t think I am alone in liking movies like this. I recall enjoying “The fault in our stars” a couple of years ago. But, we can trace teen angst movies back to the play “Romeo and Juliet.” Of course, the play and movie “Westside Story” is based off the Shakepeare play.

So, give it a watch. If you have seen it or are a still a sucker for such moviea, let me know what you think.