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.

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

Mom would have been 88

Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 88 years old. Mom left us early Christmas morning in 2016. She was a Christian woman, grade school teacher and bible study fellowship leader. So, dying on Christmas seems fitting.

Maybe not ironically, my wife’s Mom died around Christmas a few years before. She was a converted Catholic. My wife says that made her extra devout. As a result, she grew up around the church, as did my family.

Mom would push us out of bed to go to Sunday school. For a kid, more school was not mission critical. But, off we went. And, like regular school, we had the same kids in your class year after year. The church service was actually the denouement, so we could relax some.

Mom loved teaching, so seeing her embrace BSF (bible study fellowship) was not a stretch. In college, she studied Education and Home Economics. The latter helped her raise three kids on a limited budget. Meals were planned around Dad’s paycheck every two weeks. She left teaching for a few years, then went back to first substituting, then full-time teaching after we kids got older.

She met my father in college and they were married for 55 years before he died in 2006, She had a good sense of humor and we treasured hearing them laugh. She was seemingly at every ball game, recital or school event that we three children had.

Mom was one of those “lights” in the community the first President Bush spoke of. She took care of people, arranged many a church food outreach when someone passed away, and was a good friend. One of her best friends died in her fifties and she survived both of her sisters and, of course, her parents. Plus, her mother had osteoporosis, so Mom frequented her often.

Her mind was betraying her with Alzheimers when she died at age 84. The only saving grace is she still knew her children and grandchildren were on her team when she died, even though she could not introduce us. Yet, she could sing every lyric to spngs performed at her Memory Unit at the long term care facility. She loved singing aa she was in a “double trio” as she called it while in college.

In our loft area where my laptop sits, is a picture of Mom in the middle of her three kids and my wife. It was taken about a month before she died  in front of a favorite restaurant. She is beaming with a broad smile as she hugged us surrounded by her family.

Mom, we love you and miss you. My wife and i used to call her about 3 or 4 times a week, so I occasionally think of the need to call her. I think that sums it up.

The art of exaggeration

The following are paraphrases of actual quotes from a person known to exaggerate and even prevaricate. A famous comedian from the same area as this person noted three years ago that this was “schtick” used to improve your image.

  • I am the least racist person in the world,
  • I am a stable genius.
  • I know more about taxes than anyone in the history of taxes.
  • They love me in England.
  • My gut is smarter than an expert’s brain.
  • No one has treated Black people better than me.
  • African-American people love the job I’m doing.

These are just top of mind from a longer list of exaggerations. Often, these are said following scrutiny that he has brought om himself.

This last point is important as I have said repeatedly this person is his own worst enemy. Through exaggeration and prevarication, he is the biggest purveyor of fake news by far. Even when the news is good, he must make it better or the “best.” Things he must change are “disasters.”

Yet, exaggerating and lying is bad enough, in and of themselves, but become  far more serious when policy is set off one of the two. Here are some real examples that should concern us all.

  • He said eliminating the subsidy to insurers under the Affordable Care Act to repay them for co-pays/ deductibles they absorbed for people making less than 2 1/2 times the poverty limit would only effect their profits – this is not true, as the CBO said it would increase the US deficit by $10 billion per annum and increased premiums for all members.
  • He said the illegal immigrants were taking all the jobs and are the reason for the malaise in certain areas – this is a gross exaggeration, as the primary reason for job loss is technology gains and CEOs chasing cheaper profits by offshoring manufacturing plants.
  • He said to reporters in front of the Pakistan PM, the India PM asked him to mediate the conflict in Kashmir – this is not true and statement was made by the India PM within an hour to state “no such request was made” as well as the White House staff going silent on the issue. India is an ally and experts noted this was a slap in their face as Kashmir is hyper-sensitive.
  • He said it is OK to have trade issues with China as we are raking in tariffs from them in our treasury, a statement he has repeated multiple times, including yesterday – while tariffs are being collected, this is a lie that China is paying them; US importers are paying the tariffs and passing much of the cost to US consumers.

I could go on as there are many examples to choose – he promised a better and cheaper healthcare program than the ACA in the election, but it has yet to materialize, and he is advertising it again for 2020. What is it Mr. President?

Politicians, business people and marketers tend to exaggerate and even lie to sell their message. Yet, the people who track lying say the incumbent has lapped the field. By the way, a key message from the Mueller report is the president is not very truthful and his staff knows it. And, Mueller testified that Trump was “generally” untruthful in his responses to his questions.

Dog whistle racism

My wife suggested that when I use the term dog whistle racism it may not resonate with everyone. In short, it means implying racism without resorting to actual racist words.

“Send her back” is a prime example as countless minority groups of all colors have been told to go back where you came from. Defenders of the president have said he did not say racist remarks, but they did not hear the dog whistle. His remarks were directed at four women of color with non-WASP like names.

Variations of this are “we don’t need your kind around here” or the more innocent version of “where are you from?” It also applies to athletics where black and brown athletes are not defined as “heady athletes” as white athletes are. Even a famous sportscaster said a black quarterback could not be successful because they had to read and react to complex coverages implying blacks could not do so. Times have indeed changed.

Alabama Governor George Wallace was not the forerunner of racism in politics, but he was the face of white supremacy as he stood in the doorway trying to deny entry to young black students. He used dog whistle racism as well as the old fashioned racist rhetoric when he ran for president following the various civil rights movements.

He did not win, but Richard Nixon did using a southern strategy that reeked of dog whistle racism. His purpose was to take advantage of what LBJ feared. LBJ predicted the Democrats would lose the south following his push for the civil and voting rights laws. Ironically, these laws were passed with the help of several Republicans, but that did not matter. Nixon and his strategist Lee Atwater made sure of that.

Scrolling forward, Senator Jesse Helms routinely used dog whistle racism to get elected. But, one of his tougher races was against Harvey Gantt, the first black mayor of Charlotte and first black student at Clemson University. Helms ran commercials that implied racism, one in particular focusing on a pair of black hands as a negative message was spoken.

Dog whistle racism uses code words to imply inferiority or difference. Trump’s attacking four elected women of color denouncing their right to criticize our country is flat wrong. His using more code words to attack Congressman Elijah Cummings also is racist with references to rat infested areas. It should be noted the president had to settle two court cases over discriminatiory rental practices.

Dog whistle or not, we cannot condone and must condemn the president for his racist and xenophobic remarks. Racism is a part of our history, but it represents the worst of our nature. We must guard against it, especially when it comes out of the president’s mouth. We need to hold up our better angels.

Endangering people to win politically is not leadership

One of the sad and scary truths with a president who lies, demeans, denigrates and bullies his critics is his more strident followers believe his rhetoric. A consequence of this stirring up of emotions is it places people who are critical of the president in danger of bodily harm or death.

Let me state this plainly. That is not leadership. It is promoting criminal behavior. It is not becoming of a president or any other legislator or person, for that matter. And, it should not be tolerated regardless of who does it.

Three items of late come to mind. The president stirred up his audience beforehand, but after stretching the truth and taking statements out of context, he had his followers chanting “send her back” in response to his demonizing four elected representatives. And, do not believe a word the president said when he tried to weasel out of responsibility the next day. He knows precisely what he is doing – using racism to divide America to get elected. That is beyond poor form.

It does not stop there. A law enforcement officer in Louisiana said this weekend what Representative Omar needs is a bullet. Really? And, you are in law enforcement. These four Congresswomen are already receiving death threats before the president’s recent racist comments. And, take this to the bank – if there is an attempt to harm any of them, the president will again weasel out of any responsibility.

Finally, we seem to be headed down a path to autocracy. That is scary for our democracy. So, pay attention to what happened in Hong Kong yesterday. Pro-Beijing gangs beat and harmed about 45 pro-democracy demonstrators in a transit center. The police were not used as that would look worse. So, as done on the mainland, gangs of thugs beat dissenters.

Could this happen here? Easily. Has it happened here. Yes, but not on a government sanctioned basis. But, with this “wind-up-the-extremists” president, it only needs Trump to do what he does well  – use lies and half-truths to rile people up.

Finally, to be fair, we do not need Antifa extremists promoting violence either. We do not need people treating others they disagree with like they would not want to be treated. Civil discourse is critical. When people use violence it diminishes their argument and cedes the higher ground. And, legislators please condemn violence, racism, lying and bullying, no matter who does it and that includes the president.

Let me close with the fact multiple global leaders have condemned the US president’s racist remarks – including, but not limited to New Zealand, UK, Ireland, Scotland, EU and Canada. That ireveals Trump’s comments as not exemplary behavior.