Four disasters this week

Between the horrible earthquake outside of Mexico City and Hurricane Maria, two disasters are harming people. This is on top of the two terrible hurricanes that hit Texas (Harvey) and Florida and the Caribbean Islands (Irma) in the past three weeks. We need to help those impacted and who may still be impacted as Maria continues onward. At last count, 245 people in Mexico City and the area have died from the earthquake and Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, etc. have been decimated by Maria.

While it is highly likely man-influenced climate change has made the hurricanes more powerful, two other disasters are clearly man-made and harmful to people. For one, we have to travel to Myanmar and Bangladesh as the government of Myanmar is doing an ethnic cleansing of a minority group of Muslims called Rohingyas. Over 400,000 Rohingyas have sought refuge in Bangladesh to escape the raping, killing, beating and burning of their homes. Sadly, the leader of Myanmar is Aung San Suu Kyi, who won a Nobel Prize for standing up to the military rulers she has replaced, has stood silent.

The other disaster was embodied in the US President who did his best impersonation of former USSR Premier Nikita Khrushchev. During the Cold War, Khrushchev beat on his table with his shoe and announced to the United Nations crowd that if you don’t watch out “We will bury you.” This is beyond the pale of decorum and tact and painted the Soviet Leader as a pariah, rightfully so.

Scrolling forward fifty plus years to this week, the current White House incumbent spoke to other world leaders at the United Nations in a bombastic manner that could not be confused with civil discourse or diplomacy. Compared to low expectations, Trump had some presentable parts of his speech, yet he falls way short when compared to his predecessors. Beating on his chest, he told the world he would have no problem in killing tens of millions of North Koreans wiping the country from the face of the earth.

While a few more controlling leaders are OK with Trump’s bombast, many leaders have been critical of the Nikita-like speech. I have witnessed in interviews the UN Leader, the President of France, the Leader of the International Monetary Fund, the current Mayor of New Orleans and the former Mayor of New York each show their dismay over Trump’s words and bombast. There are others. Watching the body language of General Kelly, Trump’s Chief of Staff, during the speech was very telling.

Long before this, Trump has shown to other leaders, he is not trustworthy or knowledgeable about global affairs. A Republican global advisor to Mitt Romney even used the word “ignoramus” to define the President’s foreign policy. Trudy Rubin, one of the best writers on global affairs, said Trump “Does not care to learn what he does not know.”

But, Trump has done even more, as evidenced by his speech. He has made America out to be a pariah in the world. That is highly frustrating to this American. I clearly recognize North Korea is a dilemma. I also fear the man who will make our decisions on this as he has little understanding of the situation and will likely stir up matters where cooler heads are needed.

When boys with toys start comparing egos and name calling, it makes military action a higher probability. We should not confuse being tough or having seriousness of purpose with sounding tough – the White House incumbent does not understand this. And, one thing Americans, the majority of whom support military action, need to think about is the other side will shoot back and millions will die in South Korea, Japan and maybe in the US. We only need to watch the documentary series on The Vietnam War to understand what happens when we think we are invincible and don’t tell the truth to the American people. Let’s seek diplomatic solutions.

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Opportunity missed

One of my favorite quotes about opportunity is “Opportunity is missed because it is often dressed up as hard work.” To me, this speaks volumes. Too many look for easy answers, when success comes from doing some heavy lifting.

Along these lines, in his book “Outliers,” two of Malcolm Gladwell’s four traits of successful people involve opportunity. I should mention the other two are being smart or talented enough and putting in 10,000 hours or more of practice. But, the two pertinent to this discussion are recognizing opportunity and seizing opportunity.

A quick example illustrates this point. By the time he was age 21, Bill Gates was one of the top programmers in the world. Why? He had the opportunity to work on the mainframe computer after 1 am at the University of Washington. As Gladwell points out, it was recognizing this opportunity and getting up or staying up to program while others slept or had fun. He was learning.

Gladwell points out that even the smartest of people sometimes overlook opportunity. In a genius grant project, money was given to watch these geniuses flourish, but many of them were not successful. The reason is they missed opportunity. The ones who were successful either saw opportunity or had someone who brokered opportunity for them.

Some very smart people fail to see that they are in competition for people’s time, interest and money. By waiting until something is perfected or their schedule frees, that opportunity may be gone.

So, what conclusions can be drawn from this brief discussion. First, don’t be frightened of hard work. A man will never be shot while washing the dishes.

Second, keep your head up, network, ask questions and just be involved in your surroundings. Connect dots by looking for or asking about things you see in someone’s office or something you saw online.

Third, be prepared for these moments. Do your research on companies and people that you are meeting with. This will help in making those connections.

Fourth, seize opportunities. If you are driving and see an interesting shop – stop the car and pull in. This is a metaphor for business, volunteer or investment opportunities. Since the average person has had eleven jobs by the time they’re forty, take a chance on something that interests you. But, honor that interest and invest your time in it. These life experiences will build your wisdom.

Opportunities abound. Look for them. Seize them. Work them.

The first missed anniversary

In late August, the 66th anniversary of my parents wedding occurred. Yet, it was the first one that neither parent was alive. My mom passed away last Christmas morning. Being a religious woman, it is somehow fitting she left us that day.

My dad passed away just over eleven years ago. We still miss his laughter and love, but have gotten used to him being gone. They were married just shy of 55 years before he died having met at Berry College in Rome, Georgia.

Mom’s memory had been on the decline for several years, as she was diagnosed with a progressive memory disorder, most likely Alzheimer’s. On the phone, she knew I was her son, but in person she often mistook me for her husband as I look like my dad did when he was my age. She often thought my sister was her older sister Betty.

They were a loving couple that endured each one’s imperfections. Young folks are looking for the perfect match, but there is no such person. We are all fixer uppers. So, couples teach each other how to coalesce.

Both my parents were smart. My mom became a teacher working primarily with first or second graders. After she retired, she was a devoted bible study fellowship leader. My dad started in the grocery business, but migrated to a new profession called data processing. He used to take me to the elevated computer room which was quite cool. I remember the tape readers were as large as refrigerators.

My brother, sister and I were blessed to have such wonderful parents. They loved and supported us, even when we hated being pushed out of bed to attend Sunday school. Thanks for everything Mom and Dad.

That happiness thing

“Success is not the key to happiness,
Happiness is the key to success.
If you love what you are doing,
Then you will be successful.”

I do not know the author of this quote, but we have it hanging as a beautiful banner in a hall. I believe it is important to be the best you can be at whatever endeavor you embark upon. But, it makes it far more rewarding if you enjoy what you are doing.

I am reminded of the successful producer of movies who, after closing on his beautiful home, realized this did not make him happy. He decided to make a documentary movie which he called “I Am,” about what makes people happy. After interviewing a number of sociologists, philosophers, doctors, religious leaders, etc., his conclusion was money did not buy happiness. But, the absence of money could cause unhappiness.

Using economic terms to describe this, as people earn money beyond funding basic needs of food, shelter and health, there is a “diminishing marginal utility” to having more. Once you have enough to survive with comfort, having more does not make you happier. This documentary reinforced doing something that gives you purpose.

Having said that, many of us cannot afford to do what we want. We have to do what we can to make ends meet. And, sometimes the ends don’t meet. So, find joy where you can be it work, volunteer work, helping friends and family, attending classes at the community college, hanging with your mates, practicing your faith, etc. Don’t let your job define you.

At almost 59 years of age, I can attest life can be hard. It can beat you up. So, laugh, sing and dance more and often. Be a friend and listen with both ears and help when needed. When times get rough, take it a day at a time and do what you can.

Billy Joel sang that it iseither sadness or euphoria” which defines our moments. I think we live most of our lives in between those two extremes. If we find ourselves leaning toward sadness, we need to change the scenery. When euphoric, we need to remember well those moments especially when the sad ones intervene. We should recognize euphoria is fleeting, so find contentment where and when we can.

In another old song, Bob Dylan offers the simplest advice to our complex challenges. Just “keep on keepin’ on.” It beats the alternative and helps us navigate those rough waters.

 

Strange Fruit is the Monument we need to guard against

The question on whether to remove monuments built to honor Confederate leaders is a distraction from the real issue that unfortunately lingers on. The real issue is those who feel that other citizens who look, act or worship differently do not have the same rights in our country. These white supremacists are perpetuating bigotry and hatred that ran amok during the Jim Crow era. Sadly, this Jim Crow-like   oppression has resurfaced in the eyes of too many.

The real monuments we need to remember and guard against are captured in the song “Strange Fruit*” powerfully and mournfully sung by Billie Holiday. The monuments that should scare us are young black bodies swaying in the wind hanging from trees. As Holiday sings, this “strange fruit” is a painful reminder of what bigotry and hatred can do.

“Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop.”

White supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK must be condemned for their bigotry and hatred. It is that simple. We should not have tolerated it then and we must not tolerate it now. And, since the President won’t condemn such behavior and his past and current words have emboldened these white supremacists, we Americans must take up that mantle and say this is not right.

* Written by Lewis Allan, Maurice Pearl, Dwayne P Wiggins

Two favorite memories

Many moons ago, my wife and I drove to New York City with her parents. Our mission was to visit her sister’s family on Governor’s Island, since, her brother-in-law was in the Coast Guard stationed there. The trip was eventful and a lot of fun, but two memories linger on as favorites of mine.

The first memory is of a kids play area which overlooked Manhattan. We would sit on benches as our niece and nephew played in a huge sandbox with the skyline across the river. In the early evening after dinner, it offered such a relaxing view and allowed easy conversation. I should note the Coast Guard moved off the island and those two kids are now married, one with two of her own, and the other expecting a first.

The second memory was on the ride home. While we split the ride into two pieces on the way there, we decided to drive the fourteen hours home in one day. But, that set the stage for the memory which was my wife’s parents singing old songs in the backseat after sunset.

My father-in-law was a good guitarist and singer who tried to make a living early on in a band. Unfortunately, he was unable to make a living, so he limited his singing to church and retirement homes, as he got a more mundane job. So, he knew lots of songs to sing on our journey home. We heard Sinatra, Bennett, Como, Clooney, Martin, Cole, and many others.

They are both gone now, but when I think of them, this memory comes to mind. What a nice trip. Thanks for the memories. What are some of yours?

Expansion of the Chris Rock Solution

One of the funniest, yet provocative routines performed by the comedian Chris Rock is his proposal to solve gun violence. Price the bullets at $5,000 per bullet. He goes on to describe, as only he can, that shooters will become very judicious with how they use ammunition at that price point.

I was thinking of his idea today and thought it might be a good strategy on other things that are causing problems in America. Civil protest need only require a permit, yet if you bring a weapon that will cost extra. Bring a bat, baton or stick and that will be $5,000 per weapon per person. Bring a knife, sword, dagger, etc., that will be $10,000. Bring a hand gun or rifle that will be $25,000. Someone has to pay for the police cost.

If Congress wants to fund raise on our tax dollars, that will be $5,000 for two hours worth of calling payable by the political party. In person fund raising will be $10,000. If a lobbyist wants to talk with you, they must pay Treasury $25,000.

As for making people tell the truth, if a news agency tells a falsehood and doesn’t visibly retract a story, $100,000 fine. If a President or member of Congress tells a falsehood without a visible retraction, $25,000. If a story is repeated, the fine is tripled. If the politician hits ten lies, the fine is tripled, as well.

The job to collect national fines will be imposed on the Secretary of the Treasury. Local fines can be collected by the City Tax Collectors. Failure to pay, will double the fine and require public disclosure by name and party. This may cause folks to think about how they use their time. It would also help with our deficit and debt.