Family reunions bring out the old stories

My wife, sister and I met my brother at a large family reunion this weekend. The annual gathering is of descendents of my mother’s maternal grandparents who had eleven of their fourteen children survive to adulthood. This is the first time we have gone in many years and is the first one after my mother passed. To top it off, the three of us stopped at the home of family friends who went to college with my parents.

The old stories were wonderful to hear, many which were new to our ears. Here are a few highlights beginning with a couple we shared about our grandparents.

– My grandmother worked for a retail store overseeing the men’s and boy’s departments. When the CEO of the company visited, he was given a tour by the store manager for whom my grandmother worked for years. The CEO borrowed her pen and then put it in his pocket. She said “Sir, that is my pen; my boss is too cheap to buy us any pens. So, if you want any sales, you may want to give it back.”

– My step-grandfather would take us fishing leaving around 5 am. My Great Uncle would follow my grandfather’s truck and boat trailer with his. One morning my grandfather had to stop suddenly and my Uncle smashed into and crumpled my grandfather’s boat – we still fished, but had to rent a boat.

– One of the second cousins (the family was so large, the older children’s grandchildren were contemporaries of the younger children’s children) told a story about listening under the porch while her mother, grandmother and great grandmother sewed on the porch – it was too hot to be inside, so she heard all the gossip. Later, she said she helped them with the foot pedals as the sewers were too feeble to manually spin the bobbins of the old sewing machines.

– One of my mother’s cousins confirmed a story that my mother shared as her memory was fading. The cousin shared that she and another cousin hid in the backseat of the car in which my father and mother drove off to their honeymoon from the wedding reception. After a couple of miles the two culprits surprised the young newlyweds and they had to drive them back. As I told the confirmed story to my table, the wife of another cousin shared that she sang at my parent’s wedding. She recalled singing “Whither thou goest.”

– I confirmed with a couple of my mother’s cousins, that her younger sister was similar to Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” taking up for my mother when she was slighted. She was deemed a tad bossy at that age, but would give you the shirt off her back to help. Ironically, she was small in stature, but married a man who was 6’7″ making the oddest of pairs.

– The best reunion story relayed a piece of advice from the lone childless couple to his niece who shared it with us. He said don’t put everything off; go out and live. He lamented they have money and time as  retirees, but cannot travel. So, the niece said each time they felt they were saving too much for later, they remembered these words and went on a trip. This was voted the best story.

– My grandmother’s younger brother liked to do gymnastics. When a boy, he fell snd knocked out his two fronf teeth. Their mother, who was like a local nurse, sat him down and soaked a towel iin boiling water.  She let it cool a little and told him ti put that in his mouth as hot as he could stand it and his gums swelled. She then shoved his cleaned up teeth into the swollen gums and they held the teeth. To have that presence of mind is amazing.

– At the later gathering with my parents’ college friends, who we have known for years, they shared how hard they had to work at their college work study program. The two guys worked on a sawmill crew, where they took down trees for several days a week, loaded and trucked them back to the mill the next few days, then sawed them up later in the week. The women worked in the cafeteria, laundry and sewing areas. The work was hard, but it was the only way they could afford college.

I hope you enjoyed these vignettes. What are some of your memories of your older relatives?

Note: Looking over a photo of ten of the siblings, one of the cousins noted the older female siblings were much more conservative in dress, pointing to the closed toed and shorter heels. The younger female siblings had more stylish clothes along with open-toed and higher heels.

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The hook brings you back

The group Blues Traveler had a huge hit with a song called “Hook,” which intentionally says nothing of substance. The chorus is as follows:

“Because the hook brings you back
I ain’t tellin’ you no lie
The hook brings you back
On that you can rely”

The song is about their frustration with MTV or popular music which relies on a “hook” to grab your attention. A hook is a catchy riff, phrase or gimmick used by songwriters. The Blues Traveler song is a tongue-in-cheek criticism of the use of a “hook” while using one.

To me, this song is a metaphor for companies selling products harmful to people’s health. The “hook” is an addiction, that brings people back to buy more.

The vaping industry is repeating the successful sales model of selling smoking to kids and young adults to get them hooked. The tobacco industry knew dating back to 1964 that nicotine was addictive. So, they hid this fact as they added more nicotine. The subterfuge lasted until the mid-1990s when an insider blew the whistle. This was after eight tobacco CEOs sitting at a table in front of a Congressional Committee lied saying nicotine was not addictive. What is troubling about the vaping industry is they are selling these vapes as candy in all kinds of flavors.

An even more dramatic and traumatic sales job relates to the opioid pain killer business. These companies were not forthcoming about how addictive their product is. People have died and families have been ruined by this subterfuge. And, once again we have a heroin and worse drug addiction problem in America, as it is cheaper than the opioid product. Please strongly consider non-opioid painkillers if you have surgery or an injury, if permissible by doctor.

On a more widespread basis, food companies have asked their chemists to make their products more addictive. How? By adding more sugar to their products. The sweeter taste is more alluring and gets people to eat more and buy more. What is the harm in a little more sugar? The US is the most obese country in the world and kids are now getting adult diabetes, not just juvenile diabetes.

So, like catchy songs, these hooks are designed to sell lots of products to unsuspectingly addicted consumers. Please be mindful of when you buy to make sure you are not being reeled in.

Melania Trump, thank you for the invitation, but no thanks

Yesterday, I received a letter from First Lady Melania Trump and the Republican National Committee asking for donations for her husband’s campaign. The letter espoused all of the good things which have occurred under the president and all the bad that would happen should he not win in 2020. Since a pre-addressed envelope was enclosed, I sent the following letter.

August 14, 2019

Republican National Committee
c/o Melania Trump
PO Box 96994
Washington, DC 20090-6994

Dear Ms. Trump,

Thank you for your service to your country. I received your invitation to support your husband’s campaign for 2020 and I must respectfully decline. As an Independent and former Republican voter, I must confess I see your husband’s presidency differently from what you noted in the letter.

While I am pleased the economic growth that was almost eight years strong has continued under his presidency, we are at least dialoguing with North Korea and a bipartisan law was passed to push prison and sentencing reform, I am concerned with several other policy positions and his overall behavior as president.

On the policy side, I am very concerned with the our building debt and the US decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Change Accord as well as unwinding several regulations that make it easier for companies to degrade our environment. I am also concerned with treating our allies and trading partners so poorly. We are retrenching from our leadership position and we are less trusted by other world leaders. That is unfortunate as we are diminishing a major strength of our country. We cannot shrink to greatness.

On the behavior side, it is frustrating that our president consistently dishonors the office he holds. Our president must be one of our better angels, not our worst. We need our president to be truthful and not denigrate and bully people who disagree with his positions. And, we must not have our president spouting racist and xenophobic comments. Country leaders from Sweden, UK, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, New Zealand , eg condemned his recent remarks.

Please encourage your husband to become the leader we need him to be. Right now, he is just a person occupying a leadership position. We need more from him than that. If he is not prepared to make such changes, I would ask the Republican Party to find a replacement candidate. I am concerned for our democracy and our planet. It frightens me to have to say these words.

Please forgive my candor. You are the best thing he has going for him, so maybe you can encourage some change. Thank you again for your service and doing your best to bring honor to the First Lady role.

Keith Wilson
Charlotte, Independent Voter

 

Unsurprising news

The Associated Press reported today the US deficit for the first ten months of the 2018-19 fiscal year has increased by 27% over last year’s ten month deficit. The $867 billion deficit is in line to pass $1 trillion for the year ending September 30, 2019.

This is not a surprise as the tax law passed in December, 2017 is projected to increase the debt by $1.5 trillion over the next ten years. That is on top of the expected increase without change of $10 trillion. And, to make matters worse two spending bills in 2018 and 2019 have increased spending, with the latter increase yet to be felt.

Expenses are up 8% and revenue is up only 3% with such a good economy. As mentioned before, we should be paying down the debt in good times, but the tax bill reduced the revenue from where it would have been.

Politicians, including this president, have an unhealthy focus on short term results. The long term impact can be blamed on future politicians, in their minds. We have a ticking time bomb, where our $22 trillion debt will be closer to $35 trillion in ten years sans change.

Some poor president and Congress will have to step up to solve this problem. And, they will unfairly get blamed.  It will take both spending cuts and tax increases to get us there. And, to show how frustrating harmful action is, a Senator from Florida yesterday said we need a tax cut to spur the economy with the pending recession – really? More debt is the answer?

We need fiscal stewardship and leadership. We are not getting it from these incumbents. And, that is a dereliction in duty.

 

The young folks see the need to act now

“I am growing up in a world whose life systems are unraveling”

Jamie Margolin

The young Mr. Margolin is an attendee at the second annual International Congress of Youth in San Juan, Puerto Rico. People like him and Greta Thunberg recognize the need to act.

Unfortunately, too many of the adults in legislative positions are too beholden to funders to do the right thing. Whether it is not acting on climate change, allowing companies to pollute, or perpetuating profit margins for industries that prey on consumers off fear or some form of pacifier, the legislators are obsequient to their cash cows. And, why do these funders give them money? The Return On Investment (ROI) is huge. The fossil fuel industry has benefitted from multi-trillion dollars of government welfare.

But, these young people look at what is happening and clearly realize what the beholden legislators cannot – WE ARE SCREWED, unless we act. What makes their battles so uphill, is the funders are spending an awful lot of money to keep their ROI going.

The money being spent to convince people climate change is a hoax, not too bad, a natural evolution, etc, dwarfs those trying to get scientific peer reviewed information. As an example, there are about 700 peer reviewed websites discussing the realities of climate change, but there are 30,000 plus faux science sites. And, the current US president’s cabinets are busy burying peer reviewed reports on climate change, deleting data and reports and repositioning or running off climate scientists. Yet, one more climate scientist left the Dept. of Agriculture last week, as his warnings on rice harvests were being buried. “Why?” is an excellent question.

Climate change is not just causing rising sea levels, but that is a huge problem for coastal cities like Miami, the most at risk large city in the world. We are seeing stallled weather systems consistently flood areas. We are seeing drought areas experience worse droughts. We are seeing larger forest fires. And, we are seeing more tick and misquito borne illnesses with more standing water and higher average heat.

Action is occurring due to innovators, cities and states. We need the US federal government to leverage these efforts and not block them or mask the problem. The kids get it. They will also live with the world we are leaving. So, what kind of world do we want to leave them?

Welcome back – John Sebastian

On Friday, my wife and I had a real treat as we watched John Sebastian perform in a wonderful venue. If his name is not top of mind, he was the lead singer and songwriter for Lovin’ Spoonful. And, one of his hits following the band’s break-up was called “Welcome back.” More on that later.

What made Sebastian’s performance so wonderful extended beyond his many great songs. He told us the backstory behind each song, at times revealing the musical influences, referring to his use of other styles as his “kleptomania.”

And, while his 75 year-old voice was not as velvety as before, his guitar playing was surprisingly superb. He exhibited various styles ranging from Mississippi John Hurt to several folk musicians to a Martha and the Vandellas song and a specific guitar riff called the St. Louis shuffle.

Sebastian performed many of his hits, as well as some of those artists who influenced him. Of his hits, he played (a little vignette he shared is in parentheses) the following:

– Do you believe in magic? (he sped up the notes in Dancin’ in the Street”)

– Daydream (this is one of my favorites and he invited the audience to accentuate it)

– You didn’t have to be so nice (Steve Boone wrote the bass line and Sebastian took it from there saying it took 15 minutes to complete it as Boone did far more than a bass line)

– Summer in the City (he said they played the drum part in the stairwell for a unique sound)

– Darling be home soon (this is a classic love song which was terrific in the small venue)

– Did you ever have to make up your mind? (he wrote the lyrics on a Lucky Strike wrapper in a taxi on the way to record it)

– You’re a big boy now (theme song for a Frances Ford Coppola movie)

– Amy’s Theme (an instrumental he thought up in a Grand Central Station restroom, then forgot it and went back to recall the tune)

– She’s a lady (not the Tom Jones’ one)

– Welcome back (he wrote it overnight to the surprise of the “Welcome back Kotter” TV producers, saying he was one of those students portrayed on the show)

Here is a taste of two song lyrics with the title of each in the first line:

“My darling be home soon
I couldn’t bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled
My darling be home soon
It’s not just these few hours but I’ve been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to”

“Welcome back, your dreams were your ticket out
Welcome back, to that same old place that you laughed about”

Please do visit or revisit his many songs. Whether they are along with his Spoonful mates – Boone, Zal Yanovsky, Joe Butler and Jerry Yester – or on his own, they are a treat.

Helping people climb a ladder – a perspective

The following is an edited version of a comment on Hugh Curtler’s (a retired college professor of philosophy) post regarding whether we should help people in need or let them fend for themselves. I provide a link below to his post. I am going to cite the work a charity I used to be a part of that builds off the book “Toxic Charity,” written by a minister who lived with the disenfranchised people he sought to help. His name is Robert Lupton.

Lupton’s thesis is simple: true charity should focus on emergency or short term needs. What he argued for to help others long term and we did (and still do) is help people climb a ladder back to self-sufficiency. That should be the goal. An easy example is he would advocate for food and clothing co-ops rather than giving the food and clothes away. People love a bargain, so let them maintain their dignity while they get discounted help. This dignity thing is crucial – people would rather not have to ask for help.

Note, we cannot push people up the ladder. They must climb it.  A social worker I have advocated with used to say “we walk side by side with our clients.” The folks we helped are homeless working families. We had two keys – they received a subsidy for rent based on their ability to pay, but they had to plan, budget, get financially educated working with a social worker and attending required training programs. Our homeless clients had to be responsible for rent and utilities up to 30% of their income, which is threshold for housing risk. Another key is we measured success. Success to us is being housed on their own without help after two  years.

As a community and country, we need to better identify what we mean by success in our help for people in need. Also, are things like healthcare a right? Is food on the table a right? Is a roof over the head a right? What we need is better measurement of what we spend and how it helps. It actually is cheaper to provide housing to chronic homeless and partially-subsidized housing to those who are more acutely homeless (due to loss of job, reduction in hours,  loss of healthcare, problems with car, predatory lending on a car, etc.) than let them go to the ER or commit petty crimes and be jailed. People should know all homeless are not alike, so the remedies to help need to vary.

My former party likes to argue off the extreme anecdotes – the significant majority of people do not cheat the system, but the perceived thinking of such is much higher in Republican ranks. When I have spoken to church groups, chamber groups, rotary clubs, United Way campaigns, etc., I come across this bias which is firmly believed. Just last month, the US president announced curtailing a rule on food stamps which will put 3 million people at risk, as one man was able to purposefully game the system. Yes, there is a small percentage of folks that do that, but the significant majority do not.

What people like David Brooks, a conservative pundit, tout is a dialogue on what kind of country do we wish to be? Our economy is a fettered capitalist model, with socialist underpinnings to help people in need and keep people out of poverty. What is the right balance? Is it better to pay a much higher minimum wage or have a higher earned income tax credit, e.g. Is it better to have a Medicare for All system, subsidize those in need or have a free market system only? A factor in this decision is many employers now employ a larger part-time or contractual workforce (the gig economy) to forego having to provide benefits. This is especially true in retail and restaurant industries.

At the end of the day, Gandhi said it best – a community’s greatness is measured in how it takes care of its less fortunate. With so great a disparity in the haves/ have nots in our country, I can tell you we are out of whack as our middle class has declined and far more of them fell into a paycheck-to-paycheck existence. Ironically, even in the age of Trump promises, we have many people who do not realize they are voting against their economic interests. Doing away with the ACA and not expanding Medicaid are very harmful to rural areas, e.g.

So, I agree with Gandhi, Lupton, and Brooks that we need to help people, but decide what is the best way. We should measure things and adjust them when they get out of whack. It is hard to fix what you do not measure. The group I was involved with would alter its model, if the numbers showed less success than hoped. What I do know is over 80% of the people we helped are still housed on their own after two years of leaving the program. In other words, they live without a subsidy.

Finally, what we need most is for politicians to check their tribal egos at the door when they enter the room. Having been a member of both parties, each party has some good ideas, but both have some bad ones, too. I do not care what a person’s party preference is or if he or she is more conservative or liberal than me  (I am fiscally conservative and socially progressive), we need to use facts and data to make informed choices. And, continue to measure the results making modifications, if needed.

Dilemma