A path forward

As we end one decade and start a new one, there are plenty of posts and articles telling us what is wrong with the world. I agree we have numerous challenges, but please remember this one truism – negative news has a higher bounce than positive news.

Since the many good things happening don’t get reported with the appropriate frequency, it is hard to avoid getting despondent. Our friend Jill has a weekly summary of about three to five good news stories (see link below to a recent one). These folks are the “points of light” the elder George Bush spoke of. We must shine a spotlight on these exemplars.

Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof wrote a year-end column (see link below) called “2019 has been the best year in human history – here’s why.” He largely makes the above point, but cites the following observations:

“The bad things that you fret about are true. But it’s also true that since modern humans emerged about 200,000 years ago, 2019 was probably the year in which children were least likely to die, adults were least likely to be illiterate and people were least likely to suffer excruciating and disfiguring diseases.

Every single day in recent years, another 325,000 people got their first access to electricity. Each day, more than 200,000 got piped water for the first time. And some 650,000 went online for the first time, every single day.

Perhaps the greatest calamity for anyone is to lose a child. That used to be common: Historically, almost half of all humans died in childhood. As recently as 1950, 27% of all children still died by age 15. Now that figure has dropped to about 4%.”

But, what do we do about those negative stories with a higher bounce. They are real and concerning. Here are few thoughts, some of which may be Pollyanna-ish:

– engage in thoughtful discussion asking probing questions and listening – only then will you be permitted to offer your thoughts that may be heeded (“Help me understand,” “That is an interesting view, why do you believe that to be true?”, etc.).
– advocate your beliefs, focusing on the issues, not the people are parties; often one party is not 100% wrong and the other is not 100% right.
– write and call legislators – they may not be listening, but we need to let them know where we stand; calling is better, but don’t chew the head off a staff member – give it like you want to get it.
– write to the news paper, publications or other blogs, again focusing on the issues and not just wanting to disrupt.
– avoid name calling, labeling, denigration, smugness and raised voices – all of these are masking poor arguments; when I hear name calling or labeling, it raises a red flag (unfortunately, a certain global country head does this often).
– avoid less than credible sources – be a truth seeker; if they do not print or post errata when they get it wrong, it is not credible; fact check claims made by various sources, especially those who have a habit of sensationalism or conspiracy BS.
– finally, understand that almost every issue is more complex than portrayed, so solutions are less black and white; be wary of easy fixes and panaceas.

Happy New Year to all. Happy decade to all. Let’s be civil and active truth seekers.

Good People Doing Good Things — Little Things Mean A Lot

https://www.iol.co.za/news/opinion/2019-has-been-the-best-year-in-human-history-heres-why-39896456

A few why moments the past decade

Since I speak often that we need to ask more why questions, as well as a few more what, how, and when questions, permit me to ask a few why questions about the past decade.

Why would Prince Andrew think it was a good idea for him to visit a known pedophile’s house and be photographed with teen girls he is accused of having sex with?

Why do people still not find it a national security concern when a US president bends over backwards to support various Russian narratives and running shadow diplomacy?

Why do mass shootings continue at such a rampant rate in the US and no tangible action is taken to address these and everyday shootings?

Why do the kids (such as Greta Thunberg, Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, eg) understand our climate change and gun problems better than many adults?

Why are two of the heroes of the decade female – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who led to new gun laws in one week after mass shooting and the 16 year old climate activist, Thunberg?

Why have people allowed the media to be labeled around the world as enemies of the people by so-called leaders not known for truth – Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Xi, Johnson, Erdogan, et al?

Why are we not actively condemning hate groups for domestic terrorism – this is not right?

Why is the current White House trying to solve our growing poverty problem by kicking people off their healthcare and food stamps, and defanging the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau designed to punish predatory lending?

Why is there not a bigger outcry for screwing over our Kurdish allies who fought our enemies?

Why is the Hong Kong story being covered far more than China’s abduction and brainwashing of Muslim and other religious groups within concentration camps?

There are so many more why questions than I have space. Please add a few of yours.

A brief, but profound sermon from a surprising movie

In the early evening of Christmas Eve, my wife and I watched for the second time. the movie “Chocolat” starring Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin, Hugh O’Conor among others. While it seemed a strange choice to show on Christmas Eve, the movie is about the ugliness of exclusion toward newcomers who do not fit in and the redemptive power of kindness and inclusion.

The mayor played by Molina, led a town who used overt piety as a means to treat a single woman and her daughter poorly, even trying to close down her sinful chocolate shop. The mayor even edited the young priest’s sermons.

After the realization he was on a bad path late in the movie, the mayor and others see the error of their ways. Freed from the mayor’s editing, the priest, played by O’Conor, offers an off-the-cuff homily on Easter Sunday. Its brevity should not betray its profound message.

“I’m not sure what the theme of my homily today ought to be. Do I want to speak of the miracle of Our Lord’s divine transformation? Not really, no. I don’t want to talk about His divinity. I’d rather talk about His humanity. I mean, you know, how He lived His life, here on Earth. His *kindness*, His *tolerance*… Listen, here’s what I think. I think that we can’t go around… measuring our goodness by what we don’t do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think… we’ve got to measure goodness by what we *embrace*, what we create… and who we include.”

Amen. This is the overarching message of Jesus, which is so profound, it can be found in other religioius texts. Treat others like you want to be treated.

Let me close with the other key message of the priest and the movie theme. When religion includes it is at its finest. When it excludes it is at its absolute worst. Welcome people. That is what Jesus did.

Book recommendations for the holidays

If you are looking for a last minute gift for the holidays, here are six suggestions for consideration.

A Man called Ove
by Fredrik Backman

Ove is a great read, but tough start as you get full on curmudgeon in Ove from the outset. Through memories and interaction with new neighbors, you get to peel away the layers and better understand him.

Flat Broke with Two Goats
by Jennifer McGaha

Based on her own story, the author wife discovers the hard way they are flat broke with the IRS wanting even more. Getting back to nature in a run down cabin was a crazy, but interesting path forward for her family.

Where the Crawdads Sing
by Delia Owens

This is a book about a woman who grew up on her own in the rustic North Carolina inlets. She is accused of a crime she did not commit. I am in the middle of this best seller and it is an enjoyable read.

The Only Woman in the Room
by Marie Benedict

This is a non-fiction novel about the actress (and scientist) Hedy LaMarr who escaped Austria and her domineering husband just prior to WWII. Her husband sold munitions to the Nazis and Italians, so she witnessed conversations as the only woman in the room including one with Mussolini and eavesdropping on Hitler berating her husband.

The Road to Character
by David Brooks

Brooks has written several good books. This non-fiction book defines the importance character plays. How we conduct ourselves matters. On this day, the president’s lack of character and common decency is underlying context to the impeachment subject.

Quiet: Introverts in a World that can’t stop talking
by Susan Cain

This is a very informational read. At one time, introversion was thought to be a deficiency that must be remedied. The book highlights how introversion finds it way into many surprising places of leadership and even with people who seem to be extroverted.

All are worth the effort, in my view.

Thunberg accuses leaders of creative public relations

In an Associated Press article called “Teen activist accuses leaders of ‘creative PR’ at UN climate talks” by Aritz Parra and Frank Jordans, Greta Thunberg did not shy away from calling leaders on the carpet. The activist who was recently awarded the Time Magazine Person of the Year for 2019, “accused governments and businesses of misleading the public by holding climate talks that are not achieving real action against the world’s ‘climate emergency.'”

Using a multitude of scientific facts, Thunberg “told negotiators at the UN’s climate talks in Madrid they have to stop looking for loopholes and face up to the ambition that is needed to protect the world from a global warming disaster.” It should be noted, the US is present, but its attendance is on the shoulders of lower level folks who cannot make decisions. Unfortunately, sans the US leadership as one of the two biggest polluters, other countries did not send decision makers either.

“‘The real danger is when politicians and CEOs are making it look like real action is happening, when in fact almost nothing is being done, apart from clever accounting and creative PR.’ said Thunberg.” Even at age 16, she is savvy to an age old practice by leaders to look like they are doing something when it is all a part of a subterfuge.

There was a positive action last week, “where the European Union announced a $130 billion plan to help wean EU nations off fossil fuels. German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said she hoped the “European Green Deal’ would ‘give the discussions here (in Madrid) a boost.'”

“Some experts echoed the activist’s concerns about lack of progress. ‘In my almost 30 years in this process, never have I seen the almost total disconnect that we’re seeing in Madrid, between what the science requires and the people of the world are demanding on the one hand and what climate negotiations are delivering in terms of meaningful actions,’ said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a US based non-profit group.”

The lack of leadership on climate change is appalling and was a major concern of mine if the current US president won the election. Good things are happening in the US in spite of his naysaying efforts, but the world needs its leaders of the bigger polluters to be part of the solution. Thunberg is well deserving of her honor and continues to speak truth to people in power. It is sad that she knows far more about this topic than many adults who could make a difference. That would include the US president who is more concerned with perception and awards than helping the planet address this pandemic-like issue.

The majority of the people want better gun governance

From an article called “Polls find Americans mostly are supportive of stricter laws on guns” by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughn of the Raleigh News and Observer, please note the following cited survey results. Note these results have been fact checked by the paper’s Fact Checking Project.

– Gallup’s poll from August, 2019 noted “61% would support a ban on semi-automatic guns known as assault rifles.”

– The Civitas Institute (a conservative policy group) poll from September, 2019 showed “58% of respondents saying gun laws were not strict enough.” Note of the Civitas poll respondents, “48% either owned a gun or had someone in their home who owned a gun.”

– A Quinnipac University poll from May, 2019 showed “61% of Americans support stricter gun laws. The same poll showed 94% of Americans support required background checks for gun buyers. And, 77% of those polled support ‘requiring individuals to obtain a license before being able to purchase a gun.'”

– In 2017, Politifact Wisconsin “found multiple previous polls citing support for background checks ranging from 84% to 94%.”

The numbers 58% and 61% are meaningful, but let’s focus on the 94% (or even 84% to 94%) of respondents who want required background checks and the 77% who want a license before hand.

These are consequential majorities. Earlier this week, the Houston Chief of Police challenged his two Texas Senators (Ted Cruz and John Cornyn) and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell to act after yet another police officer was killed.

The NRA has spoken. Now, we need to set their ardent, sales focused rhetoric aside and act sensibly. Just the two items highlighted above will help – background checks and pre-buy licensing. No loopholes. Cars require ownership and driving licenses to operate. Yet, they are not designed to kill.

I am long-ago tired of the standard “thoughts and prayers” line offered by legislators followed by “now is not the time to discuss changes.” Since people are dying everyday by suicide and other reasons, waiting for a time with no deaths will not happen. Further, the mass shootings of more than a few victims are happening with alarming frequency.

To be brutally frank, Democrats should push this issue to the nth degree. Maybe, the Senate and president will act. It matters not who pats themselves on the back – JUST DO SOMETHING!

Dark Waters is a must see

On Friday, I went to see the movie “Dark Waters” about a long uphill battle some West Virginia families had against Dupont. Mark Ruffalo stars and co-produces the film, playing the attorney, Rob Bilott, who fought so long and hard as a favor to his grandmother. The movie also stars Anne Hathaway as his wife, Tim Robbins as his managing partner and Bill Pullman and is directed by Todd Haynes. Some of the families impacted by Dupont and involved in the court cases show up in cameos throughout the movie.

The movie is a must see. Your emotions will flow with Bilott’s throughout the movie. You will be inspired by his courage and tenacity and that of the first client a farmer named Wilbur Tennant, ably played by Bill Camp. You will also be saddened by how a company could cover-up for decades they were harming their employees, community and the buying public. Yes, we too, are also impacted by this story. Not to spoil the plot any further, but the word “Teflon” plays a key role.

Like “Erin Brockovich” before it, these movies should not have to be made. Companies need to do the right thing. Yet, when government agencies ask the companies and industry to police themselves, short cuts are made and information is hidden. Think Boeing for a recent example. Dupont is not very happy this movie was made. They should not be as it paints them many times over in a very poor light. They had many opportunities to do the right thing, but did not until their hand was forced. Even then, it had to be reinforced.

I will stop short here. Please go see it. Make sure the kids see it, as well. This is why our voices matter.