Thursday this and that’s

Thursday has arrived bringing the last day of November. One month is left in the most interesting, befuddling and alarming of years. A few “this and that’s” on varied topics follow.

2017 will be remembered for two major global events, one good and one bad. And, the bad may have helped open Pandora’s Box on the good. The good will be the “year women fought back.” The bad will be electing a global leader who is known for his lying, his narcissism, his maltreatment of women, his bigotry and his bombast.

Women have been sexually harassed and assaulted for years. In some places in the world, their rights are secondary to men and/ or their husbands. Starting with Bill Cosby and Donald Trump, women are coming forward with claims of sexual misconduct. The sad part is this was not enough to prevent a man, who boasted of his assault in at least three taped settings and the fact he could get away with it, from getting elected. To me, it takes a huge effort to come forward, so these women should be heard and heeded.

The bad is the election of a man who is far from being qualified for office. Last year, I was told many times he would hire good people to make up for his inexperience. The more capable people either refused or would not kiss his ring. So, we have had a parade of folks who had to resign or were fired and our White House is filled with “chaos and incompetence” per several staffers noted by David Brooks. But, the worst part is the daily degradation of the our standing in the world, the office of the Presidency and civil rights and decorum. If not remedied, this period will be remembered as the time the US ceded its global leadership role.

Another key storiy is 2017 will be the year of backlash against the refugee crisis. With all of the turmoil in the Middle East and Africa, the flood of refugees has caused massive problems for Europe. Welcoming countries had more refugees than they could handle. So, nationalistic movements grew in size and clout. Some groups won seats in their parliaments and a few won majorities. Refugees need our help, but it has to be managed and we need to realize the US minimized its role, which further exacerbated Europe’s issues.

The other big stories are the reality of Brexit negotiations, China extending further its reach and clout with the diminishing US role, the reemergence of Russia along with its cyber manipulation of other countries, and Kim Jong Un accomplishing the build-up of nuclear weapons and ICB missiles.

Going into 2018, I worry most about the man in charge of the United States. He is not trusted, he attacks critics, he uses false news as much as Putin, he belittles legitimate news sources and he not only remains inexperienced, he does not care to do the work to become so and is rather incoherent when he defends what he does. Read a transcript of what he says and it is embarassingly nonsensical.

Let’s forget all of this and enjoy our remaining holiday season. I can leave you with this one thought – there is far more good news than bad, it just seems the opposite since the good is vastly underreported and bad is overreported. Here is one such good story – a team of Afghani girls won the global robotics competition this week, after being initially denied entrance to the US due to our Muslim travel ban. You go girls!

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Get out of the pool

Although a religious person, I am more of a pragmatist with a goal to simply treat everyone like I want to be treated. I have grown increasingly frustrated by more zealous followers of any religion. I wish for God, Allah or the Supreme Being to simply call out from his ultimate life guard chair “Alright, everyone, out of the pool.”

The attack in Egypt which has killed over 300 Sufi Muslims is yet one more example of why most violence is caused by religion. Your branch is different than my branch which is more pure, so you must die for your blasphemy. Or, you are going to hell for not worshiping our way. With all due respect, “who appointed you judge and jury?” I ask.

Christians do not get a hall pass on this either. Many deaths have been caused by fighting between Protestants and Catholics. Jesus would not condone such behavior. We should remember The Church of England was started because of a horny king, which is not a good reason to start a church at least in my view.

Then there is the fighting between different religions with Muslims, Christians and Jews at odds throughout history. Muslims pushing north into France about eradicated Christianity while the Crusades tried to do the same with the Muslims.

And, while all of the intersectional fighting was going on, the Mongols eventually were at Europe’s doorstep taking advantage of various rifts and divisions with their superior fighting force. Religious views provide a reason to divide, not unite. Under the Mongol rule, religions were allowed to continue. In fact, In the Capitol city of Mongolia, various places of worship were represented as Genghis Khan wanted enlightment.

I mention this last example as it showed how letting people worship their on way can be done even in close proximity. Trying to stop this worship is counterproductive to keeping the peace. So, if God can follow this example and tell us all to “get out of the pool” until we learn to live together, that would be most helpful.

Let me close with how I started. Jesus called it the Golden Rule. And, it can be found in various forms in most religious texts. Treat everyone like you want to be treated. It is that simple. Then, you can get back in the pool.

Note: Please forgive the many oversimplifications above. I recognize I greatly oversimplified and these events did not overlap.

Prayers are not enough

There is an old joke where a man prays and prays for God to let him win the lottery. After years of praying, he asked God why have you forsaken me and deny me winning the lottery? The clouds parted and God said “It would help if you bought a ticket.”

After yet another gun tragedy, many have offered prayers in public places for the victims and their families, even in the halls of Congress. Being a religious man, I am all for praying, but after so many gun tragedies, it is time we “bought that lottery ticket” and take legislative action. The status quo is not working and legislators are simply not doing their job.

I have written variations of this several times and will have to write it again in the future as our Congressional representatives are too concerned with upsetting the NRA than trying to solve an obvious problem. For example, we have 300 million guns, one for each person in the US, and have over 30,000 gun deaths per year. Japan has an average of one gun per 100 people and had 27 gun deaths for the whole country last year. And, that increased from 8 the year before.

Yes, gun deaths are a mental health issue. They are also a lack of civil discourse issue, they are a drug crime issue, they are a violent entertainment issue, but make no mistake they are an access to gun issue. This is especially true for guns that can kill far too many at one time. But, mass shootings are only part of the problem – the bigger problems happen every day, suicides and homicides. 2/3 of our gun deaths are suicides.

There are measures that can be taken that will help if done holistically. We could begin with by unwinding the horrible legislation that Congress passed and Trump signed that allows 75,000 Social Security mentally health disabled people to be left on the OK to buy a gun list. We could also stop attacking the ACA and its Medicaid expansion which provide mental health benefits. These two practices fly directly in the face of calling gun deaths a mental health issue,

We could follow the lead of states with tighter gun laws and lower gun death rates and start conducting background checks on all purchases and have more elongated waiting periods. We could require gun safety training that must be renewed. We could encode all bullets to help with crime solving and finger print control weapons to prevent child deaths.

And, I am firm believer that no citizen should have fully automatic weapons or even semi-automatic weapons. These weapons have no place in a non-military person’s hands.

King Solomon encourages us to use our brains in Proverbs. Why would God give us this wonderful creation between our ears, if He did not expect us to use it? I have spoken before that people pray for miracles, but isn’t our brain a wonderful miracle that can help solve problems? We are the solution to the problem.

We must act. Our legislators must act. If they do not, we need to share our concerns and share them again. It is obvious doing nothing is not working.

If I see you on the trails

I long ago ceased my running and have been a walker and hiker instead. Often, I will go to one of the four trails in parks near my home. If you see me on the trails, you will see a friendly, but tall 59 year old man. Yet, I understand why women running alone will pause when they see me coming towards them.

The news of the day only heightens the concern women must have in the workplace. Similarly, they must be diligent when away from the crowds. I do my best to be overly friendly when walking on the trails, but I am a big guy and people don’t know me from Adam. Female joggers and walkers have to be on the guard.

Since I walk the trails quite often, allow me to offer some advice as this old man and father sees it. Please do not run or walk alone. It is that simple. There have been too many stories where lone women have been attacked. A dog will help, but another person is even better.

Another piece of advice may be harder to follow. Shed the music and earpieces. Sound is a good indicator of trouble, so when it is blocked by music, one of your senses is disabled. I know of several stories where the assailant came up from behind. Another sad story is a woman running at night on a street did not realize a truck passing had a trailer, so she stepped off the curb after the truck passed only to be killed by the trailer. If she had been without earpieces, she might have heard the trailer. Plus, it is not uncommon for a runner to dart in front of a car when listening to music.

The final piece of advice is to avoid running at night or dusk. It is hard to see you, first and foremost, but it is harder to see the assailant. The best option is to run or walk at a park with a crowded parking lot. If yours is the only car, it is best to avoid the trail that day. It gives me pause when I am the lone car.

I have come across some interesting things along the paths. I saw about eight deer earlier this week. I have seen snakes and been spooked by rustling squirrels and birds. I have yet to see any bears, although there have been more sightings in the city. I have witnessed what I think was a police/ informant meeting, which hastened my pace. I have seen people who have given me pause. And, I have seen too many women jogging alone.

Be safe and happy trails.

One Black man influences KKK members to give up their robes

Our blogging friend Jill highlights weekly a few people who are shining lights in our world. Typically, these folks fly under the radar screen, as they do what they do to help people, not garner publicity. They are all about substance over optics.

Daryl Davis is one of those people. An African-American man, Davis has a mission to reach out and befriend members of the Ku Klux Klan. His goal is to change hearts and minds and he has successfully influenced over 200 members of the KKK to give up their robes, which he collects.

Davis grew up mostly outside the US as his father was in the diplomatic corps. He said his school classes included the children of other diplomats from around the world. So, he was gaining a very open-minded education interacting with others. He notes if grew up here, his education would have been either segregated or pigeonholed limiting interaction with diverse people.

Davis said he did not experience racism until his family moved back to the states. In fact, he did not believe his parents when he learned he was being maltreated because of the color of his skin. He was incredulous that people could be so cruel for such an inane reason.

Davis recognizes that bigotry has to be taught. No one is born hating or demeaning others because they are different from them. Their parents and other adults have to teach kids to be racist  or bigoted. So, he would seek to change those learnings by having open conversation. Per the link below, he says how can someone hate me without even knowing me?

He is an overtly friendly and approachable man. Having seen him laugh, I would say he is cherubic in a St. Nick like way. He does not insult, he asks questions and tells folks what he believes. When a KKK person said they burn the cross to light the way for Jesus, he would say you worship a different Jesus than I do. Jesus lights the way for you.

Through these matter-of-fact discussions, he gets people to think. He has studied the KKK and through reverse examples , he can illustrate the absurdity of certain claims. When he appeared on Bill Maher’s show, he astounded the other guests  into silence just to listen to what he had to say. For the longest while, even the host remained silent, which is rare for him.

Please check out the attached link to learn more about him. “Bigotry has to be carefully taught” says the famous Oscar Hammerstein song from “South Pacific.” The converse is also true. Let’s teach kids and speak with others about being open-minded. It begins with conversation. Thank you Daryl Davis for showing us how. You are to be commended.

http://www.npr.org/2017/08/20/544861933/how-one-man-convinced-200-ku-klux-klan-members-to-give-up-their-robes

That confederate thing was about slavery

Being raised in the South, I was taught the Civil War was more about states’ rights and northern aggression rather than slavery. I saw a recent poll that showed 48% people believed that states’ rights was the principal reason for the war and only 38% said it was about slavery. This recasting of history by groups promoting white supremacy or merely teaching a white-washed message is influencing too many people. To be frank, of course, it was about slavery.

Why do I say that? One needs only to look at the formal declarations of the states who seceded from the United States of America (see the third paragraph from Texas’ declaration below*). In those documents, the words to preserve the right to own slaves (or something similar) can be consistently found. The states’ rights argument was used in support of the need to perpetuate slave ownership. If people think otherwise, let me speak purely in terms of economics, setting aside the important human argument.

In economic terms, the South quite simply treated slaves as assets to be used. Once the asset was purchased and maintained, the fruits of the labor went to the owner. Since slave owners were the wealthiest people in the South, as a result, they had the most to lose if slave ownership was done away with. Slave ownership was an economic boon for the South. It is that simple.

But, to get the white non-slave owners to fight, a good story had to be crafted. Politicians have done this for ages and still do. So, they told a good story that “we don’t want those folks in Washington telling us how to do things. We want to govern ourselves.” If they told these poorer whites what they were really fighting for, they may have been less enthusiastic participants. The pitch would have been, “come fight so I can still own slaves. And, maybe you can someday.”

I mention all of this as this fight over monuments is secondary to the renewed fight on civil rights. Many of these symbols were erected at the height of the Jim Crow era or the KKK’s fifty to ninety years after the Civil War ended. In fact, Stone Mountain, outside of Atlanta, was finished in 1972, just 45 years ago. Very few of these monuments were erected just after the Civil War. The same goes for the Confederate flag, which became more prominent after the Civil War when carried by white men wearing white sheets and hoods. These monuments are more about honoring Jim Crow than they are the Civil War. As a result, they are an insult to our African-American citizens.

Slavery is evil. God had Moses lead the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. Yet, too many ministers seemed to overlook that part to reinforce why it was OK to own slaves. Then, it was continued to why the races should be segregated during Jim Crow and the 1960s Civil Rights movement. One only needs to listen to the haunting words of Billie Holiday as she sings “Strange Fruit,” to get first hand what the Jim Crow era did. Humans should not own other humans – it is wrong and sinful. And, per our Constitution, which has been improved several times since it was first written, every American has equal rights, not more, not less.

Scrolling forward to today, we seem to have groups that want to refight the Civil War and Jim Crow disparaging non-whites and non-Christians. White supremacists, the KKK and neo-Nazis are hate groups stirring up racial tension. Do they have a right to speak in America? Yes, that is how it works. Do we have the right to say in rebuttal your words and actions are evil? You are damn right we do. Civil protest is the answer. Uncivil protest cannot be tolerated. If you bring a weapon to a protest, then you should be sent away or get a ticket voucher for the weapon as it is detained. But, it is more than OK to civilly protest evil words and actions.

America is about freedom and rights. There is a huge difference in those who say we are not being treated fairly from those who say to treat us better than they you treat others. Those missions are not the same. We all have equal rights, not more, not less.

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* Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated Union to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery – the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits – a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slaveholding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?

Two movies, two thumbs-up

We caught two of the recent movie releases and can give them both a thumbs-up. They are two very different movies – “Blade Runner 2049” and “The Battle of the Sexes.”

“Blade Runner 2049” is a sequel of a cult classic movie with Harrison Ford. It was a dark futuristic movie and the sequel does justice to the original. Ryan Gosling and Robin Wright star along with Ford, but the other supporting roles add greatly to the movie, especially Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Mackenzie Davis and Jared Leto. If you did not like the first Blade Runner, you won’t like this one. But, it does have a good plot and theme. I would add what seemed so science fiction when the first movie was made in the early 1980s, seems less so now, which is a little unsettling.

Gosling plays his role quite well as does Hoeks. De Armas’ role is quite interesting too, and she is ideally suited for it. I will try to stay away from further reveals, but encourage you to watch it. Some have called the movie sexist given some of the roles. I understand their point and would agree that parts of the movie are. I would counter that Wright and Hoeks have a lot of screen time and play key roles, so I will let you be the overall judge.

“The Battle of the Sexes” is about the lead up to the famous tennis match between former men’s champion Bobby Riggs and current women’s champion and advocate for women, Billie Jean King. Riggs was a renowned hustler who loved to gamble in conflict with his wealthy wife’s wishes. At the age of 55, he saw a chance to make money by challenging King, who initially turned him down.

King knew Riggs for what he was, a showman, and she was deep in the middle of the start of the women’s tennis circuit called the “Virginia Slims circuit” when they boycotted the USTA for the much smaller money being paid to women. Riggs did find another opponent in Margaret Court, who was married with one child, playing her on Mother’s Day. Although, the current number one player, Court was not prepared to play that day (and greatly underestimated the situation) and Riggs easily beat her, which drew a match with King.

I remember this national prime time match between King and Riggs, so the movie brought back a lot of memories. The other key subplot is King was dealing with her own Lesbianism which began to manifest itself during the Virginia Slims tour. To say, she was conflicted at this crucial time is an understatement. Her husband Larry stood by her for awhile, but to see his angst through this is also important, as she loved him and respected his input and support.

The movie stars Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs. Sarah Silverman, Alan Cumming, Andrea Riseborough, Elisabeth Shue, Bill Pullman and Austin Stowell also play key roles. Stone and Carell are excellent in their roles. Cumming, though, eats up the screen with his role, in my view.

Check them both out. Let me know what you think. Is Blade Runner too sexist? Do you remember the King/ Riggs’ match?